A round-up of Sunday editorials from Florida’s leading newspapers:
Tampa Bay Times – Government saved the day in fiscal crisis
Five years ago this month, the giant Wall Street investment bank Lehman Bros. went bankrupt, touching off a series of events that plunged the United States into its worst financial crisis in 80 years. It’s now clear that another Depression was averted due to one factor: the federal government’s bold actions to backstop the economy. The much-maligned bank bailout, an effort that spanned Republican and Democratic administrations, saved the financial sector from complete collapse. President Barack Obama’s stimulus package and auto industry bailout put the brakes on devastating job losses. Five years later many, Americans are still hurting, and last week the Federal Reserve decided to continue its stimulus program until the economy gets stronger. There is a long way to go, but federal intervention into the free market prevented a deeper crisis.
The overleveraged financial sector panicked when Lehman Bros. went bankrupt. Credit markets froze, cutting off essential lending and resulting in a cascade of job losses, plummeting housing values and economic meltdown. In all, Americans lost 8.7 million jobs and have recovered only about 6.8 million. By September 2012, more than 12.5 million homeowners were deeply underwater, owing substantially more than their home was worth. That is abating as housing prices rise. The U.S. economy overall was walloped by $14 trillion in lost activity, according to economists at the Dallas Federal Reserve who considered their estimate conservative.
A consensus has emerged among economists that as painful as the last five years have been, they would have been far worse had leaders in Washington been free-market absolutists, shrugged their shoulders and let the chips fall. Instead, within weeks of Lehman Bros.’ collapse, Republican President George W. Bush and a bipartisan Congress passed the $700 billion bank bailout program known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP. The program rescued the Wall Street executives whose reckless risk-taking had brought about the crisis, stoking public anger. But it brought financial stability to the banking sector, staving off wider calamity.
The Bradenton Herald – Manatee County school budget rights district’s financial ship
What a tremendous difference a year makes. In September 2012 the Manatee County school district fell into a financial abyss with a multimillion deficit amid improper accounting. One school board member described the desperate plight as a “big nasty surprise” that constituted “gross negligence.”
Last Tuesday, the school board gave final approval to a $568 million budget that rights the district’s fiscal ship. Superintendent Rick Mills and district administrators worked long hours in an extremely tighter time frame than usual to balance the budget and yet come up with a reserve account that meets state requirements.
The remarkable turnaround lifts the district out of the “quicksand of the past,” as Mills described the dire financial circumstances of the last few years during Tuesday’s board meeting.
The last-minute budget approval came only the day before the state deadline, reflecting the emergency-like predicament.
But to the district’s credit, the final meeting allowed the public another opportunity to comment.
That somewhat alleviated the disappointment about transparency since the district misfired on posting the budget online in a timely manner to permit taxpayer scrutiny. Thus, the board postponed budget approval until Tuesday to provide the public time to digest the spending plan.
While the 2013-2014 budget holds a slight decrease in the millage rate — down .22 to 7.57 mills — the district’s revenue will rise due to an increase in property values.
The Daytona Beach News-Journal – Daytona State gets its nursing school
After five years of waiting, Daytona State College will have its own bachelor’s degree program in nursing. It’s a positive development for the region and for future nursing students.
Daytona State has been planning on the degree and building community support for it. It was not approved by the State Board of Education until Tuesday.
And it was not an easy journey for DSC. The plan initially met with opposition from officials with Bethune-Cookman University and the University of Central Florida.
The affordable price tag may have been an issue. The degree is expected to cost about $14,000 upon completion. That’s a real bargain. But the program is a bit different from other programs at regional colleges and universities, as it will target working nurses.
Nursing is one of the growth sectors in the U.S. employment market. Nurses were in demand a decade ago and still are. As the population ages, more nurses will be needed.
And that means there is room for new nursing programs and programs for health technicians.
But colleges and universities have competitive worries.
Bethune-Cookman officials had expressed concern about a DSC program offering a bachelor’s degree in nursing cutting into their enrollment. Bethune-Cookman is a private university where nursing bachelor’s degrees can cost $57,600 over four years.
The University of Central Florida also objected in the past. They did not see the demand for such a program at DSC.
This year, neither B-CU nor UCF sent letters of disapproval, or letters suggesting alternatives, to the State Board of Education.
The Florida Times-Union – Council needs to find money to address blight
The City Council meeting Tuesday evening is shaping up to be a real donnybrook.
That’s when the full council will take up the city budget the Finance Committee struggled to put together during long and tedious budget hearings held in August.
Already council members have proposed more than 30 amendments to that budget, and more could be added before Tuesday.
The Lakeland Ledger – Lakeland Police Scandals: ‘Slowest Possible Course’
Throughout 2013, a year of scandal in the Lakeland Police Department, State Attorney Jerry Hill has been the official who has delivered bad news to Police Chief Lisa Womack and to officers he has found to be unreliable. Indeed, Hill has been one of the few authorities outside of Lakeland City Hall to have direct input.
This applies not only the sex scandal in which 10 on-duty police officers took part in sexual acts or sexually suggestive behavior over an eight-year period, and more than 20 police officers took part altogether.
It also applies to matters that came to light this year: withholding of public records by the Police Department and a Hill-led grand jury inquiry into that practice in February, and cases of officer misdeeds and incompetence. In seven instances, Hill wrote to Lakeland officers he investigated and found unreliable, and told them he will not use them in court cases — a career-threatening result.
Although the first scandal, involving police public records, emerged in January, the response of Womack, City Manager Doug Thomas and the Lakeland City Commission has been plodding.
The Lakeland Police Advisory Commission, appointed by Mayor Gow Fields, has gathered information within City Hall primarily.
Thursday, Hill delivered scathing remarks on Lakeland’s response to the scandals. He did so in a speech and question-and-answer session at the Tiger Bay Club of Polk County in Bartow.
OVERNIGHT CHANGE REJECTED
The City Commission has “taken the slowest possible course toward hearing the problems with the Lakeland Police Department,” Hill said.
“I think there were two ways to go. One was very decisive. I think it would have improved morale and changed directions overnight — and that’s not the course they took.
The Miami Herald – Once more to the brink
Oh, no. Not again. Like a recurring nightmare, the tea party faction of the House of Representatives is once again threatening to shut down the government at the end of the month if the White House doesn’t knuckle under to their demand to strip President Obama’s healthcare law of financing.
The timing is no coincidence: The threat of withholding funding from the government at the beginning of the fiscal year is a huge bargaining chip. This year, the timing is even better for those opposed to “Obamacare”: The moment of decision comes just as the most important feature of the law — insurance exchanges for those previously unable to obtain healthcare coverage — goes live on Oct. 1.
This may seem like a political winner for the 40 or so tea party lawmakers in the House leading the charge against the healthcare law, but it’s wrong for their party and wrong in every other respect. The only proper response to this political ultimatum is No.
In the first place, it won’t work. No matter what happens in the House, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas — one of the early proponents of the shutdown gimmick — has come to the realization that there’s no chance it can win Senate approval. This rare moment of candor from Sen. Cruz brought howls of protest from allies in the House who claimed he’d surrendered before the fight even began. But he’s right. This ploy is going nowhere.
The healthcare law is not perfect. Mr. Obama has acknowledged as much. The transition period will be particularly difficult. Change always is. But holding the government hostage to demands that the law be killed outright or delayed is not the way for lawmakers to deal with the challenge of implementing a new program.
Instead of using confrontational tactics designed to sink healthcare reform, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle should work with the White House to amend the law wherever it seems wise to do so. That’s the way the government has dealt with programs like Social Security and Medicare — which critics called disruptive and problematic when they were hatched — for decades.
The Orlando Sentinel – War on Obamacare hurts uninsured and economy
Over the past half-century, the government has declared war on a parade of public enemies, including poverty, cancer, drugs and terrorism.
So what’s the latest target? For Republicans in Washington and Tallahassee, it’s Obamacare.
As with most wars, this one risks collateral damage: millions of Americans, including more than one million in Florida, who stand to gain health insurance. And the economy.
In the nation’s capital, hard-line opponents of the president’s 2010 health-care law are now bent on defeating it by denying funding for it — even if this scorched-earth strategy forces the government to shut down or default and jolts the economy. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s leading business group, has pleaded with those opponents not to go through with it.
In Florida’s capital, Republican leaders in the Legislature have turned down $51 billion in federal funding available under Obamacare over the next decade. The money would cover more than 90 percent of the cost of health insurance for at least one million low-income Floridians. About a quarter of Floridians lack insurance, the second-highest share of any state.
State residents without insurance end up in emergency rooms, unable to pay for their care, so costs get shifted to others who do have insurance. That raises expenses for Florida businesses that cover their workers, making it harder for them to hire and compete. No wonder some of the state’s top companies have urged lawmakers to take the money from Washington and expand coverage.
GOP leaders in the Florida House have been repeating a straw-man argument — the state shouldn’t expand its budget-busting Medicaid program. But members of both parties in the Senate agreed on an alternative that would use the federal dollars to pay for private insurance coverage.
Even Gov. Rick Scott, who rose to political prominence fighting Obamacare, called in February for lawmakers to expand health-insurance coverage with the federal money. But this month the Scott administration barred navigators — counselors trained to help people shop for coverage — from county health departments.
The governor has insisted he’s concerned about privacy. Funny — similar counselors have been operating in the state for years to help people sign up for other benefits with nary a peep of official protest.
Scott and lawmakers have taken other steps to undermine Obamacare, including stripping state regulators of their authority to limit premium hikes on individual and small-group health-insurance plans. When those rates go up — presto! — the president’s law will get the blame.
Obamacare is far from a perfect law. The responsible course for its opponents is to work on changing it without waging a war that punishes the vulnerable and pummels the economy.
The Palm Beach Post – This is no time to give the school superintendent a chief of staff
Why does Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent E. Wayne Gent need a chief of staff — a position that appeared on the organizational chart included with the 2013-2014 budget? In an email, Chief Strategic Communications Officer Jason Shockley said:
“As one of the largest school districts in the country with 185 schools and 180,000 students, it has been determined that it is in the best interest of the district to have a chief of staff position on hand.” Mr. Shockely said many districts have an administrator in a similar role and “the staff addition has the majority support of six board members.”
The Tampa Tribune – Florida should take the $51 billion in Medicaid money
One million of Florida’s poorest residents are eligible for health insurance under the expanded Medicaid income guidelines associated with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
But many of them will be relegated to the sidelines as enrollment begins Oct. 1 in the health-care marketplaces being formed under the new law, known as Obamacare.
That’s because the state House, under the leadership of Speaker Will Weatherford, refuses to budge on a decision last spring to reject $51 billion from the federal government to expand Medicaid in Florida over the next 10 years.
We call on Weatherford, and Gov. Rick Scott, to re-evaluate that decision now that the state’s business leaders and major health-care providers are pleading with them to reverse course and take the money.
Those pleadings were joined by some prominent Tampa voices last week: Bob Rohrlack, head of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce; John Petrila, chair of the University of South Florida College of Public Health; and Jim Burkhart, president of Tampa General Hospital.
“Sit down with us and work with us and let’s work out a solution,” Burkhart said at the press conference organized by the League of Women Voters last week. They were speaking indirectly to Weatherford, Scott and lawmakers who will be gathering in Tallahassee this week for committee meetings in advance of the legislative session that starts in March.
Weatherford responded by saying the uninsured deserve private health care, not “government-run” health care. He thinks the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare will expand the country’s deficit, and that the federal government can’t be trusted to fully fund the program going forward, leaving Florida on the hook sometime down the road.
State Rep. Matt Hudson, a Republican from Naples who testified last week before a congressional committee investigating the effects of Obamacare on the states, says the expansion won’t lessen the number of uninsured, will strain an already lean health care workforce, and will add to the borrowing the federal government must undertake to pay its bills.
We respect their concerns about federal spending, and we think Obamacare is deeply flawed, but their arguments are not persuasive enough to deny as many as 1 million of the state’s most vulnerable residents a chance at health insurance.