A round-up of Sunday editorials from Florida’s leading newspapers:
Tampa Bay Times — If Gov. Rick Scott only had a heart
This time four years ago Rick Scott was a stranger to Floridians. Then he spent $73 million on his first political campaign and rode an angry voter wave to the Governor’s Mansion. For Florida, this has been a hostile takeover by the former CEO of the nation’s largest hospital chain. In three years Scott has done more harm than any modern governor, from voting rights to privacy rights, public schools to higher education, environmental protection to health care. One more legislative session and a $100 million re-election campaign will not undo the damage.
This is the tin man as governor, a chief executive who shows no heartfelt connection to the state, appreciation for its values or compassion for its residents. Duke Energy is charging its electric customers billions for nuclear plants that were botched or never built. Homeowners are being pushed out of the state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp. and into private insurers with higher premiums and no track records. Federal flood insurance rates are soaring so high that many property owners cannot afford the premiums but also cannot sell their homes. The governor sides with the electric utilities and property insurers. He criticizes the president rather than fellow Republicans in Congress for failing to fix the flood insurance fiasco they helped create.
In Scott’s Florida, it is harder for citizens to vote and for the jobless to collect unemployment. It is easier for renters to be evicted and for borrowers to be charged high interest rates on short-term loans. It is harder for patients to win claims against doctors who hurt them and for consumers to get fair treatment from car dealers who deceive them. It is easier for businesses to avoid paying taxes, building roads and repairing environmental damage.
The Bradenton Herald — Florida Legislature poised for swift, positive opening
Florida’s Republican-controlled Legislature begins the 2014 regular session on Tuesday with an ambitious opening agenda set by Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford.
Just like last year, their first as chamber leaders, they plan to dispatch with the customary pomp and ceremony during the first few days and get right down to work on major legislation. This voter-friendly approach should become the new tradition.
Expect swift movement on these estimable measures:
A major crackdown on sexual predators comes via four bills. One requires the state to notify the victims and county sheriffs when certain offenders are released, surprisingly not already a law.
Another orders colleges and universities to alert students when a predator is on campus. In the third, sentences for adult-on-minor sex crimes will be increased. The fourth ramps up registration requirements for sex offenders.
The Daytona Beach News-Journal —Warehouse news is good omen for Volusia
The news that a major retailer is proposing a giant warehouse in Daytona Beach is a good sign of future economic growth to come.
The news itself has delighted Daytona Beach and Volusia County officials. A national retailer would like to build an $88 million, 810,000-square-foot food distribution center on the city’s west side, at the northeast corner of Interstate 95 and Dunn Avenue. The company — not named at this point — promises to create 450 new jobs, with average salaries of $28,222.
The even better news is the possibility that this distribution center, if it is landed, may only be the beginning. Daytona Beach is one of only five Florida locations where two interstates intersect. The fact that a major retailer is acting on this logistical advantage could mean that more warehouses and shipping centers are on the way.
Last week, the Daytona Beach Planning Board approved a rezoning for the 76.5-acre land on which the distribution center would sit, from multifamily residential to planned commercial development. City officials could barely contain their enthusiasm.
The Florida Times-Union — Readers comment on accountability systems
Teacher accountability is all the rage. But coming up with a simple formula is not so simple.
Last week, data were released that the state of Florida intends to use to measure the effectiveness of teachers. It is called Value-Added Model or VAM. It was controversial, to say the least.
So we asked members of our Email Interactive Group if they had any insights into the proper way to judge teachers.
IT SHOULDN’T BE THIS DIFFICULT
I cannot understand why teachers who develop all manner of tests for students cannot develop tools to determine their own effectiveness.
As a retired Human Resources director, we would routinely develop performance evaluations for our workforce.
I suggest a multipart test to evaluate specific aspects of their performance. Perhaps evaluate presentation skills, class and time management, adherence to lesson plans and student success as determined by student test results.
I would also evaluate teacher knowledge of the specific subjects they teach.
Daniel Krawczyk, Jacksonville
The Gainesville Sun – Reform city races
Just as thousands of college students and faculty have skipped town for spring break, early voting is being held this week in Gainesville.
The city typically holds its annual municipal elections in March, sometimes near or even during spring break for the University of Florida and Santa Fe College. It’s just one of the ways that Gainesville structures its elections to discourage turnout.
Putting City Commission and mayoral candidates on a ballot that usually lacks other races is the biggest reason for dismal turnout. Turnout ranged from about 14 percent to 18 percent of registered voters in three of the last four city elections in even years, with the exception being a race that had nearly 52 percent turnout in the presidential primary year of 2008.
Other local officeholders are elected with larger mandates. Alachua County School Board elections are held in the summer with state and national primaries, with turnout in those same four years ranging from about 22 percent to 25 percent.
County Commission races appear on the fall ballot with state and national general elections, leading to turnout ranging from nearly 50 percent to 81 percent in those years.
The Lakeland Ledger — Lakeland Police Scandals: Even Survey For LPD Goes Wrong
After a year of police scandals — involving sex, illegal acts by officers, incompetent criminal investigations, questions of leadership and much more — two city efforts produced reports aimed at solving Police Department problems. They were presented to the City Commission on Oct. 21.
The commission focused on one suggestion common to both reports: an employee survey.
On Nov. 18, City Manager Doug Thomas outlined a plan for that priority: City administrators would move quickly to request survey proposals from professional firms.
Three months later, Thomas’ timeline has flatlined. The failure to produce a lineup of top proposals for commission consideration demonstrates a collapse of competency in the city of Lakeland’s administrative leadership.
In January, the process was getting tipsy.
The Miami Herald — Fingers crossed
The recent report by the LeRoy Collins Institute on Florida’s future minced no words: The Sunshine State is near the bottom of the barrel on a wide range of issues affecting Floridians’ daily lives. Whether it’s public transit, housing, education, the tax and pension systems, employment, access to healthcare — chances are Florida is doing badly.
A better future for Florida’s 19 million people depends on how well lawmakers, who begin their session this week, can grapple with the issues. Some issues — gambling and medical marijuana — call for a choice. With others — affordable housing, for instance — all we ask is, do no harm.
The Editorial Board will weigh in throughout the session on these and other issues, imploring lawmakers to vote with their “better angels” in mind. Barring that, they should do so with compassion and common sense.
SADOWSKI TRUST FUND
There always seems to be a reason — and not necessarily a good one — for lawmakers to swipe funds from the Sadowski housing trust fund and add them to general revenue. These funds are supposed to be dedicated to create affordable housing throughout the state. The money rehabilitates vacant homes in disrepair, provides down-payment and closing-cost assistance and renovates existing apartments to give the elderly and people with disabilities a place to call home.
But since fiscal year 2003-2004, the Legislature has taken more than $1.5 billion out of the fund to plug holes elsewhere, a shortsighted “solution” that undercut neighborhood stability, saw fewer qualified families served, kept elderly and disabled Floridians in institutional settings when they could have been in their own homes and created fewer construction jobs for skilled, but idle, workers.
The Orlando Sentinel — Gary Sinise and David Jolly: Champ & Chump
Gary Sinise: The actor who became a star 20 years ago for his unforgettable portrayal of Lt. Dan Taylor in “Forrest Gump” was in Central Florida last weekend to wave the starting flag at the Daytona 500. Rather than bask in the spotlight himself, he turned it on the heroes he has chosen to honor and support through his nonprofit foundation: active military, veterans, first responders and their families. Sinise, who played a vet who lost his legs in “Gump,” has shown a special interest in helping wounded warriors recover. So Dale Earnhardt Jr. wasn’t the only winner at Sunday’s race.
David Jolly: The Republican candidate for Florida’s 13th Congressional District seized on a snippet of a pitch Democratic opponent Alex Sink made for immigration reform and branded her a bigot. Sink said beach-based employers in the Pinellas County district need maids and landscapers, and shouldn’t have to hire undocumented workers. But she also talked about a high-school valedictorian who went on to earn a law degree but can’t practice because of his undocumented status. Jolly conveniently ignored that part. If misleading voters is a qualifcation for Congress, he’s a shoo-in.
The Ocala StarBanner — Of letters and loans
Payday lenders have been called legal loans sharks, preying on poor people with high-interest loans that trap them in debt.
While states have cracked down on these predatory practices, those efforts haven’t provided an alternative to people left out of the banking system — and here in Marion County, with one in five people living in poverty, we have more than our share of people in that position.
Fifteen states have banned payday loans. Florida and nine other states have instituted restrictions such as limiting the size and number of loans. Alabama is the latest state to consider consumer protections.
As those regulations have put the squeeze on storefront payday lenders, the business has unfortunately moved online and to mainstream banks. It was good news last month that Wells Fargo, Regions and other major banks decided to stop payday lending.
But these developments don’t address the problem of low-income people lacking banking services. It is a huge problem that hurts not only the individual but the business community they patronize like everyone else.
The Pensacola News-Journal — Scarborough: We can’t always fix what foreign leaders break
Smart foreign policy thinkers always warn U.S. presidents on the eve of war that what applies to Pottery Barn customers applies to U.S. leaders: “If you break it, you own it.”
It is a well reasoned approach that ends in disaster, as American troops get bogged down in hopeless nation building exercises.
For 12 years, American troops have been scattered across the globe trudging though endless occupations after tyrannical leaders acted in a way that demanded action. George W. Bush sent troops to Afghanistan after Osama bin Laden killed 3,000 Americans from his safe haven in that country.
Bush then ordered the invasion of Iraq after his CIA director assured him that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. That military operation devolved into a nation-building exercise that cost $1 trillion and 4,000 American lives. Most of those troops should have returned home in 2004 after intelligence experts concluded that Saddam no longer had WMDs.
Instead, Bush and his Cabinet clung to the tragic, utopian belief that they could remake Iraq in America’s image. They could not.
The Palm Beach Post — Florida lawmakers should get to work on legislation creating private flood insurance
Another week has come and gone, and still no movement in Congress on delaying parts of the 2012 overhaul of the National Flood Insurance Program.
After House aides hinted early last week that legislation could be brought to the floor by Friday, proponents of such a bill surely began to exhale that the much-criticized NFIP would be “fixed” to ease hefty premium increases and allow below-market rates to be passed on to people buying homes.
The Panama City News-Herald — Low-drama Legislature
The Florida Legislature opens its 2014 session Tuesday with a budget surplus and a full slate of issues. The biggest question is whether lawmakers — and an incumbent governor — have the will to make waves in an election year.
After sluggish revenues in a bad economy forced several years of belt-tightening in Tallahassee to balance the budget, legislators for the second consecutive year are facing excess dollars — about $1 billion — to spend or return to the taxpayers. The emphasis should be on the latter.
Gov. Rick Scott has proposed using $600 billion of the surplus to cut taxes and fees. The biggest chunk of that would come from rolling back the 54 percent increase in vehicle registration fees the state imposed in 2009 to help cover a budget deficit. Lawmakers have said they are amenable to at least some kind of cut, although they have yet to embrace Scott’s full rollback.
This should be a no-brainer. Even Charlie Crist, who signed the fee hike as governor and who is challenging Scott for re-election in November, supports repealing the increase.
The Tallahassee Democrat – Byron Dobson: Corporate, alumni giving boost higher-ed success
If you hear students from Florida A&M University singing the praises of the Siemens company, there’s a reason behind that. Last week, the tech giant announced a donation of software technology to the university valued at an estimated $85 million.
The donation, largely benefiting students in the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering, is designed to give students training on software technology used by major manufacturers around the country. It’s huge, and it says something about the caliber of student here in Tallahassee.
While the donation was cause for a double-take, it’s an example of the value of having higher-education institutions in a city like Tallahassee. It’s also an indication of the type of financial donations that Florida A&M and Florida State seek as they fortify their academic offerings to prepare students for today’s workplace.
For the rest of us, it means we can brag that our universities are cashing in on national exposure as corporate donors include Tallahassee’s universities among those around the country that are receiving significant in-kind or financial returns.
The Tampa Tribune — Not the right time for Democratic National Convention
It is gratifying the Democratic Party wants Tampa to bid on its 2016 convention, and it underscores the value of Tampa hosting the 2012 Republican National Convention.
But Mayor Bob Buckhorn is correct to turn down the invitation. It could easily turn into a financial disaster.
Host cities must raise $50 million or more in private funds, a tall order any time but particularly when a community has just hosted such a major event.
And as Buckhorn points out, Democratic Party rules prohibit corporate money being used for a convention, making the task even more daunting.
That was one reason the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., badly missed its $35.6 million fundraising target, leaving Duke Energy on the hook for a $10 million line of credit it guaranteed the event.
This contrasted markedly with the Tampa Bay Host Committee’s success. It raised more than $55 million in private contributions and had money left over to give to local charities.
The Democrats, of course, could drop the corporate ban, which was a requirement of President Obama’s re-election campaign.