A round-up of Sunday editorials from Florida’s leading newspapers:
Tampa Bay Times — Obama’s messy foreign policy still beats going to war
Nothing suggests failure like a president who spends a foreign trip defending his foreign policy. Yet there was President Barack Obama at the end of his Asia trip in Manila last week, struggling to offer a nuanced view of his handling of global affairs. American interests have taken a beating recently in Syria, Egypt, Israel, Ukraine and elsewhere. But the carping from Obama’s conservative critics masks a central difference between the foreign policy of this president and the last one — and for that matter, the Republicans who ran against him for the White House. While the path has been bumpy and occasionally tentative, Obama has avoided making the big strategic mistakes that are so costly in both human and financial sacrifices and that can scar entire generations.
Republicans have hounded Obama for refusing to intervene more directly in Syria’s civil war and for failing to more aggressively confront Russia for its incursion into Ukraine. The criticisms have come against a backdrop of other criticisms about the effectiveness of the president’s foreign policy, from the collapse of peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians to the latest crackdown on the prodemocracy movement in Egypt by the military-led government that ousted the first popularly elected president, Mohammed Morsi. The refrain argues that if Obama was more forceful in threatening U.S. military action the bad actors and outcomes would disappear.
That is an unrealistic view of global politics and of America’s military capabilities. It is unreasonable to expect the United States to intervene militarily in Ukraine. Working with Europe to tighten sanctions is a slower and less dramatic but more effective way to punish Moscow for annexing Crimea. And beyond raising the stalemate to a higher risk of violence, arming Syria’s opposition with advanced weapons would accomplish little beyond increasing the arms pipeline to militant Islamist groups.
Obama has triggered much of the criticism by sending mixed messages about his resolve to strike Syria militarily, the extent that Ukraine should push back against Russia and American expectations of Egypt in the run-up to new elections. That lack of clarity has tangible costs. Some European allies are looking to soften the Russian sanctions because they fear their own economies would be harmed. Others wonder whether the administration will backtrack on America’s security guarantees across the globe.
The Bradenton Herald — A review of major legislation by Manatee County’s GOP legislators
With the conclusion of the Legislature’s 2014 regular session on Friday night, Manatee County’s key legislators proved adept if not always successful.
Sen. Bill Galvano and Reps. Jim Boyd and Greg Steube, all Republicans, sponsored major pieces of legislation that caught statewide attention — some positive, some negative.
The newly minted state budget of some $77.1 billion now awaits Gov. Rick Scott’s signature, as does the mountain of legislation approved by the Legislature.
Galvano’s wins, losses
Sen. Bill Galvano encountered broad opposition to his bill to further dismantle the state’s growth management law — this Editorial Board among the sharp critics.
The measure impacted Manatee and Sarasota counties among others, granting exemptions from state review of Developments of Regional Impact.
The Daytona Beach News-Journal — Put Treasure Island on a timeline
The former Treasure Island hotel in Daytona Beach Shores stands as an 11-story monument to the area’s economic recession, and an obstacle to its revitalization.
After 10 years of the building being in limbo, the city is justified in seeking to resolve its status.
Although it was forced to close due to damage sustained by a hurricane in 2004, Treasure Island was hit hardest by the recession: It has failed to reopen in the ensuing decade because it has not been financially feasible. The previous owner, Bray & Gillespie, went into bankruptcy in 2008. Then for the next several years the building was tied up in litigation involving several parties.
Meanwhile, it has racked up more than $800,000 in code enforcement fines.
The Florida Times-Union — The State Attorney’s scorched earth approach to prosecuting is unwise
This is in response to State Attorney Angela Corey’s misleading assertion that Florida law does not permit “overcharging.”
Unequivocally, there is absolutely no law on the books that can stop a prosecutor from either filing charges that are not aligned with the particular facts or prevent a prosecutor from filing charges that should never have been filed at all.
Two basic potential abuses of prosecutorial discretion must be examined when considering overcharging.
WHEN DISCRETION IS OUT OF LINE
First, filing charges where the hard facts of what actually happened are outside of the legislative intent of the particular law being applied. Two excellent examples are the George Zimmerman and Michael Dunn cases.
The facts in Zimmerman called for manslaughter at best. Had the prosecution pursued manslaughter, the jury would have had a better opportunity to understand the facts, evidence and the law.
However, because the state spent so much time on second degree murder, the jury never heard a clear case on the lesser included manslaughter charge because the prosecution wasted so much time “stretching the facts” to prove second-degree murder.
The same occurred in the Dunn case where the overcharge was first-degree murder. This was so although the actual facts suggested second-degree murder and three counts of attempted second- degree murder. The results in both cases speak for themselves.
The second way to overcharge is filing charges against a person who should not have been prosecuted at all for what “allegedly happened.”
The Gainesville Sun – Protecting students
Florida State University acted quickly this week to suspend Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston from its baseball team for shoplifting crab legs from a Publix grocery store.
The response is in sharp contrast to FSU’s response to rape allegations against Winston, who plays quarterback for the Seminoles in addition to playing baseball.
After Winston was accused of sexual assault in December 2012, he continued playing for the football team before a prosecutor decided that no charges would be filed.
A New York Times report last month found there was virtually no investigation by FSU or police into the incident. The U.S. Department of Education is investigating whether FSU violated federal laws in handling the allegations, which is among similar investigations being conducted at 54 other colleges and universities.
This week, a White House task force outlined a new strategy to prevent sexual assaults on college campuses. It called on colleges to survey students about sexual assaults and promote getting bystanders to speak out and intervene if someone is at risk of being sexually assaulted.
The campaign includes a new website, www.NotAlone.gov, to publicize enforcement data and help students and schools access resources.
The Lakeland Ledger — School Funding in Florida: Upgrade Public Schools
In Florida, the bulk of funding for the 67 counties’ kindergarten-through-12th-grade school districts comes from the state.
On Friday, Florida’s legislators showed their disdain for public school students and their families, and the state taxes they pay, by providing proportionally small funding for maintenance of school buildings and equipment.
State representatives and senators meeting for their annual 60-day session in Tallahassee shortchanged public schools while at the same time giving to charter schools and lab schools a proportionally greater share of building-maintenance funds — really a grand portion.
Worse, based on discussions prior to Tuesday’s race to finalize the state budget, Polk County was expected to receive $2.7 million in Public Education Capital Outlay funding, reported The Ledger’s Bill Rufty in an article Wednesday.
The Miami Herald — Victory is no sure thing for Gov. Scott or Charlie Crist
A Quinnipiac poll released last week showing Gov. Rick Scott trailing Charlie Crist by 10 points, 48 to 38, offers fresh evidence that Florida’s voters are far from happy with the state’s chief executive and may be ready to make a change.
If Mr. Scott wants to turn those numbers around, he must at a minimum be aware of how he got into this fix. Part of it involves early blunders that plunged his approval rating to 29 percent at one point.
A political novice when he entered the race, his learning curve was long and steep, failing to reach out to Floridians beyond his own partisan, tea-party base and sometimes even disregarding the concerns of his party’s own leaders.
Thus, he unveiled his first budget in early 2011 before a highly partisan tea-party crowd in the small town of Eustis instead of Tallahassee, a harbinger of things to come. He even failed to consult his own party’s legislative leaders, who questioned the wisdom of cutting state revenue at a time when the state was facing a budget shortfall of more than $3 billion.
Many other decisions — including opposition to federal funds for a super-fast train and an unwillingness to set up a state health-insurance exchange — can only be explained by ideological preferences and a failure to seek consensus.
The Orlando Sentinel — Revive Seminole’s penny tax
It’s never an easy decision to vote to raise your own taxes. But it’s a call voters in Seminole County should make — again.
They voted in 1991 and 2001 to bump up sales taxes in the county by a penny per dollar to bankroll construction on public projects. They voted in 2012 to increase property taxes to supplement the school district’s budget to maintain its high-achieving public-education system.
Now the County Commission is giving voters the option in a special election this month to reinstate the penny sales tax that expired in 2012. For Seminole residents, the benefits are worth the burden.
At the time the tax sunsetted, the county still had $45 million in uncommitted reserves intended for construction projects. But that balance will have dwindled to less than $5 million by Oct. 1. Soon the county will have to cut other public services, or find another tax or fee to raise, to keep building. County officials project the need at $45 million a year.
Reviving the tax would generate about $630 million over the next decade. Three-quarters, about $478 million, would be split among the county and its seven cities for construction and maintenance on roads, bridges, sidewalks, recreational trails and stormwater projects. The rest would go to the school district to renovate its buildings.
The Ocala StarBanner — New DCF chief faces huge task
The last thing Florida’s troubled Department of Children and Families needed was its third change in leadership in less than a year. That said, Gov. Rick Scott appears to have chosen wisely in naming veteran DCF official Mike Carroll as interim secretary.
Scott announced Monday that Carroll, managing director of the DCF region that includes Southwest Florida, would succeed interim secretary Esther Jacobo. Jacobo, formerly DCF’s top Miami manager, previously had stated her intention to leave the agency for a position with the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office at the end of the current legislative session. She was appointed DCF interim leader last July following the abrupt resignation of secretary David Wilkins in the wake of reports linking multiple deaths of children to failures by the agency. A Miami Herald series in March documented the deaths of 477 children since 2008 whose families had past dealings with DCF.
Carroll takes over an agency still reeling from those revelations, and from a blistering report last November by the respected Casey Family Programs. The Casey review, which Jacobo requested, severely criticized DCF from top to bottom — from poor supervision and legal services to abysmal training and oversight by investigators and caseworkers.
Carroll, a 24-year veteran of DCF who began as an entry-level worker, “has a reputation for openness and strong organizational skills,” the Tampa Bay Times said.
The Pensacola News-Journal — Our community has helping hands
Last week’s flood and deadly explosion once again challenged us, but the acts of courage and compassion in their aftermath should be a stark reminder about what makes Northwest Florida a special place.
Well before the flood waters began to recede, neighbors got to work, helping pull one another out of cars, sinkholes and water-filled homes. They used boats and sometimes just strong backs and shoulders to rescue those stranded. At a time when survival instincts can overtake us, it’s refreshing to see so many hands stretched out to help.
On Thursday, Troy Moon introduced us to Katrina Shannon, who was pulled from her vehicle to safety by three Emerald Coast Utilities Authority workers after a bridge collapse.
“They blessed me,” Shannon told Troy. “Their mothers raised them right.”
Though we can’t write about every act of heroism, we saw many actions last week that would make parents proud of their sons and daughters:
The Palm Beach Post — Find right site to keep spring training stadium in Palm Beach County
Year after year, Lake Worth and its neighbors to the west — Greenacres, Palm Springs and large unincorporated neighborhoods — are passed over as progress lifts Palm Beach County’s other major regions. When corporations move into the county, they usually look north to Palm Beach Gardens or south to the Boca Raton area. High-status retailers looking to expand — Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, H&M — scarcely give the Lake Worth area a passing glance.
So it’s not surprising that community leaders and local business interests are pushing so hard for two professional baseball teams to bring their spring training operations to John Prince Park, the sprawling 728-acre county park west of Lake Worth. Many see the proposal as the best bet in decades to spark revitalization along the Lake Worth corridor.
The Panama City News-Herald — Our wish: Rain, rain, go away
The first thing to say about this late April inundation is that it could’ve been worse. In states north and west of us, the same storm system blew entire neighborhoods to splinters and killed at least 35 people. Tuesday night and Wednesday’s torrential rains from Pensacola to Panama City weren’t that bad.
But they were bad enough.
They were bad enough to close major bridges as close as Destin, tie up traffic on Interstate 10, shut down roads big and small and give students a day off from school. They were bad enough to turn residential streets into angry rivers and flood homes in low-lying areas.
They were bad enough to cause at least one death in Florida, a motorist trapped in deep water in Escambia County.
And they were bad enough to make longtime residents wonder what is going on with our weather, flashing back to the torrential rains of last July and the ice storm of January.
Areas that flooded in July flooded again Wednesday, and across the region some 60,000 lost power Wednesday morning alone. Students dropped off at school were very quickly in need of rides home as the system came in more powerful than expected.
It wasn’t a hurricane, but it felt like one only 60 miles to our west where the storm struck with far more severity. As bad as Wednesday was in our readership area, we appear to have dodged a bullet.
The Tallahassee Democrat – Jay Revell: A thriving Tallahassee? You’d better believe it
I love Tallahassee. This city is a special place for me. It has encouraged me. It has uplifted me. It has given me hope and purpose. Over the past few years, I have spent a great deal of time sharing that love with my friends, family, coworkers, colleagues and just about anyone else who will listen.
During conversations and speaking engagements, I have told listeners that our city is on the cusp of a great moment. Referencing public projects like Gaines Street, Franklin Boulevard and Cascades Park, I have asked people to believe in a bigger and better Tallahassee. Pointing to private investments like new hotels, new restaurants and entirely new districts, I have asked people to believe in a place that we had always dreamed of. Today, I am happy to report that if seeing is believing; we have quite the city to behold.
A few weeks ago, I showed my girlfriend a photograph of Cascades Park with the skyline of downtown behind it. In the photo were fountains, garden-like features and people by the dozens. She asked, “Is that Orlando?” I laughed, of course, and told her that it was someplace much better; it was Tallahassee.
Since the opening of Cascades Park, I have spent many evenings walking through it with my dog, watching people stroll the sidewalks, seeing children play in the fountain, observing people reading plaques and even picking out concert seats. These things are foreign to Tallahassee, but the people have walked right in and taken ownership of the park as if they had known the place for years.
The Tampa Tribune — No gambling expansion, but tax cuts and a shot at college for immigrants
The 2014 legislative session, which ended late Friday, may be remembered more for what didn’t happen than for what did.
A major gambling expansion was considered but put on hold, and a bipartisan effort in the House to substantially increase funding for the state’s ailing freshwater springs was pushed aside for a more modest approach. There was no talk of accepting the billions in federal Medicaid money available to the state under Obamacare and blocked last year by House Speaker Will Weatherford.
But lawmakers did boost education spending, showed compassion for immigrants seeking college degrees and passed $500 million in tax cuts and fee reductions for Floridians. In the end, they passed a record $77.1 billion budget.
Although modest in its accomplishments, the session offers a good start toward correcting years of neglect for education and the environment. We hope that momentum continues into the 2015 session.
Weatherford, a Republican from Wesley Chapel, should be applauded for standing up for immigrants who earn high school diplomas and deserve a shot at an affordable college education. Under a measure he championed along with Sen. Jack Latvala, a Republican from Clearwater, thousands of immigrants will be eligible for much cheaper in-state tuition rates.
With $1.2 billion in surplus to spend in an election year, lawmakers decided to reduce car registration fees by as much as $25 and add sales tax holidays on hurricane supplies, back-to-school supplies and energy efficient appliances, providing some relief to taxpayers.