A round-up of Sunday editorials from Florida’s leading newspapers:
Tampa Bay Times — St. Petersburg council should embrace study of Trop site
Leaving Tropicana Field’s vast parking lots vacant and regularly unfilled even during baseball games is an extraordinary waste of valuable public land, so it is encouraging that City Council member Jim Kennedy has proposed an Urban Land Institute study of alternative uses. Kennedy and three other council members are blocking redevelopment of the stadium site by refusing to let the Tampa Bay Rays evaluate other stadium locations. Kennedy’s proposal covers too many issues to be practical, but on Thursday the council should authorize a streamlined study that could help break the stadium stalemate.
A master-planned redevelopment of Tropicana Field’s 85 acres could create thousands of jobs with a mix of green space, apartments, stores, high-rise condos, restaurants, offices, medical, cultural and academic institutions — with or without a new stadium. Even a development of moderate density could add at least $1 billion to property tax rolls. But four council members keep holding the property hostage in a risky attempt to squeeze the last few years out of the Rays’ contract to play at the outdated Trop, which expires in 2027. Instead of helping the team stay in the area for a new generation, council members Kennedy, Wengay Newton, Steve Kornell and Bill Dudley have demanded impractical preconditions for a new stadium search, delaying the redevelopment of the Trop site and losing negotiating leverage with the Rays as more time ticks off the lease.
Cities hire Urban Land Institute experts to interview community leaders, sort through priorities and recommend best uses for large swaths of land. St. Petersburg’s Downtown Waterfront Master Plan started with a ULI study. Council member Karl Nurse recently asked his colleagues to authorize a similar evaluation of the Trop land, but that proposal fizzled amid unfortunate confusion over the Rays’ willingness to participate. Kennedy’s new ULI request suffers from a laundry list of topics so extensive that an institute representative deemed it impractical from the start. The institute would, however, analyze the best way to redevelop the Trop with a stadium, or without, as long as the city does not politicize the study by asking the institute to choose between the options.
The Bradenton Herald — Looking at past lessons, Iran nuclear deal doomed
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
The Iran nuclear treaty brought to mind George Santayana’s quote. We should look at modern history for the failed agreements of the 20th century and how long they lasted.
The Treaty of Versailles: 10 years.
The Chamberlain-Hitler “Peace in Our Time” pact: one year.
Ribbentrop-Molotov non-aggression agreement: The ink was hardly dry.
Reagan-Gorbachev accords: 20 years before Putin started to rebuild a new Soviet Union.
Several items on how the present government in Iran has behaved should give us some idea how long the Obama-Khameni treaty will stay before the Mullahs disregard it.
The Tudeh or Communist Party was banned by the Shah but was offered seats in the new parliament or Majlis if they assisted in the revolt. Upon winning power, the heads of the party were executed by the ayatollas.
The Ba’hia religious sect from the Turkish-speaking northern Iran was guaranteed recognition if they went with the overthrow of the Shah. Their leaders were later executed.
It will take only months before stumbling blocks will be placed in the paths of inspectors; after all, lying to an infidel is something to be celebrated and not shameful.
The Daytona Beach News-Journal — County tax rate puts focus on spending
Government spending always should be closely scrutinized and justifiable. When higher taxes are involved, the burden of proof becomes even greater.
Volusia County’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2015-16 includes the same tax rate that has been in place since 2013 — $6.32 per $1,000 of taxable value. Before congratulating council members for holding the line on taxes, consider that because property values have increased over the last year, property owners would pay larger tax bills next year under the same rate. That’s a de facto tax increase of 4.4 percent countywide.
Under Florida law, taxing authorities can set the millage to the “rolled-back rate,” which is the number which generates the same amount of revenue as the previous year (in Volusia County, the rolled-back rate for 2015-16 would be $6.02). Thus, property tax bills would remain static.
After several years of belt-tightening budgets made necessary by plunging tax revenues from the Great Recession, county officials are becoming comfortable with loosening the spending restraints as more money becomes available. The next total operating budget for the county is expected to be $665 million, or $37 million more than the 2014-15 fiscal year — an increase of about 5.9 percent.
The proposed new budget includes $57 million in capital improvements, such as a new public works service center, an elections warehouse and sheriff’s office evidence and forensic laboratory. The county also is looking to spend money on the design and permitting process involved in extending the Daytona Beach Boardwalk, and developing off-beach parking areas.
“It’s nice to be part of a council that gets to make these decisions for once,” Councilman Josh Wagner told The News-Journal’s Chris Graham. “Instead of having the sole focus on cutting, we can focus on infrastructure and positive changes.”
Indeed, it’s usually more fun to spend money than to not, especially when it’s someone else’s. But by declining to implement the rolled-back rate in order to collect more revenue, the county would be leaving property owners with less to spend.
The Florida Times-Union — UF Health Jacksonville needs more transparency in return for city funding
In recent months, Jacksonville faced the prospect of losing its safety net hospital, UF Health Jacksonville, and the prospect was frightening.
This hospital provides most of the charity care for the uninsured in Jacksonville.
It has the only Trauma One unit in the region.
It produces important medical research.
And its residency program in its academic medical center trains many physicians who later set up practices in Jacksonville.
A loss of federal funds designed to compensate hospitals for emergency services forced city and state leaders to face a possible human and economic disaster for Jacksonville.
Other hospitals do not have the emergency capacity to compensate for the closure of UF Health Jacksonville.
The federal government agreed to deliver a portion of Low Income Pool funds, and the Florida Legislature held harmless the state’s safety net hospitals.
UF Health Jacksonville officials also made a persuasive case that the city’s $26 million a year subsidy does not compare with similar safety net hospitals elsewhere in Florida.
The hospital’s tax revenues when compared to total Medicaid costs are the lowest among peer hospitals by far.
Florida Today – Is it time for an independent redistricting commission?
In news that shook the political world, the Florida Supreme Court ruled 5-2 that the Legislature needed to reconvene to redraw congressional districts before the 2016 elections. Specifically, the court gave them 100 days to redraw eight congressional seats in a manner consistent with the Fair District Amendments.
This was huge. More than eight of the state’s 27 districts will be affected once the lines start shifting. The dominoes will start to fall and there will be a reshuffling of who will run for which seat. Incumbents who occupy safe seats might find themselves competing against each other or running in less favorably drawn districts.
Congressional members might choose to run for another office — like the open U.S. Senate seat. State legislators might decide to run for congressional seats. Local elected officials might be eying a legislative seat. Rumors are running rampant.
Lost in all this political speculation is the real news — the court ruled in favor of the voters. The Fair District Amendments are being enforced and legislators have been reprimanded for circumventing them.
League of Women Voters President Pamela Goodman summed it up: “This ruling is not only a huge victory for the people of Florida, but a great American civics lesson. The Supreme Court took our legislature to the woodshed with a strong whipping for their egregious behavior. This is a victory for the voice of the people and our democratic system.”
For those unfamiliar with the redistricting process, here’s a little background.
Every 10 years a national census is done to measure population and population shifts. Each state must determine new district lines for congressional and state legislative seats based on the new population numbers. In most states, including Florida, this is done by the Legislature.
The Gainesville Sun – Cheers and Jeers
It’s bad enough that state lawmakers continued to draw gerrymandered districts despite state constitutional amendments prohibiting them from doing so.
Even worse, they’re sticking taxpayers with a huge legal defense bill.
Jeer: The Florida Legislature, for spending $8.1 million and counting to defend redistricting maps that the state Supreme Court ruled invalid last week. As the Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald Tallahassee bureau reported, the money would be enough to pay for the average hospital stay for 4,050 uninsured patients or $10,000 bonuses to 810 high-performing teachers.
Cheer: Alachua County commissioners, for unanimously voting to have the county attorney look into whether the county can treat pot possession as a civil offense.
Last month, Miami-Dade County commissioners approved a measure allowing police to issue $100 civil citations or the equivalent of community service for the possession of small amounts of marijuana.
Jeer: A new group calling itself Consumers for Smart Solar, for pushing a ballot initiative that would undercut an effort to expand the use of solar power in Florida.
As the Times/Herald Tallahassee bureau reported, the new group’s initiative would give consumers a right to do what they already can do — put rooftop solar on their homes and be regulated by the government. The effort is meant to counter a proposed ballot measure that would allow homeowners and businesses to sell small amounts of solar power to those at the same or a neighboring property — which is being fought by large utilities seeking to squash competition.
The Lakeland Ledger — Commission Should Help Shape Lakeland Budget Plan
Lakeland City Manager Doug Thomas has directed his department heads to ferret out upward of $8.5 million in combined budget cuts for next year. The move comes after the defeat of a proposed fire service assessment that would have generated roughly $8 million.
In a memo to his top lieutenants, Thomas said they should proceed under the assumption that no new revenues are forthcoming, either through raising property tax rates or by tapping savings, as has been done in the recent past. The city, Thomas noted, has reached “a crossroad where the city is no longer in a position where it can fund operations with one-time revenues that are not being replenished through legislative action.”
Translation: Our savings have been eaten up, and the City Commission apparently won’t give us more money, so it’s time to trim people or programs.
Or as Finance Director Mike Brossart more aptly put it, telling The Ledger, “We have to live with what we have.”
Since the Great Economic Tanking of ’08, of course, that situation is recognizable to every home or business owner within the city who does not hold the power to forcibly extract money from others. Prioritizing spending, deferring new purchases and living without has been the new reality for most of us for years.
The Miami Herald — Mats matter
Controversy is simmering in Miami-Dade County, again, over the homeless: where to put them, where they should relieve themselves, where they should sleep and, as important, how to ensure downtown Miami remains an attractive place.
At the heart of the issue? Sleeping mats, and whether they are a sound alternative to having homeless people sleep in doorways and under overpasses, especially the chronically homeless who have not volunteered to enter what is called the “continuum of care” offered by the Homeless Trust, the agency charged with ending homelessness in Miami-Dade.
Trust chairman and lobbyist Ron Book is adamant that no money from the Trust be spent on a temporary solution like sleeping mats. And he certainly doesn’t want the $700,000 requested by the Downtown Development Authority, chaired by Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, to come from the trust’s $57 million budget. Mr. Book wants the homeless to be put into permanent housing, the tried-and-true solution to ending homelessness, he told the Editorial Board.
But a walk around downtown Miami makes clear that tried-and-true cannot not be the one-and-only.
Mr. Sarnoff and other officials don’t have the luxury of viewing the problem from Mr. Book’s singular lens. They have to take a broader view — and the solutions, such as sleeping mats at Camillus House is an appropriate tool. Perfect? No, but the mat program puts homeless men and women within arm’s reach of Camillus’ rehabilitation programs that can transform their lives. And that’s a darn sight better than having them languish on the streets. The homeless in downtown can number about 150 on any given night. Their impact on small businesses and residents whose sidewalks, building entrances and parking lots turn into campgrounds in the wee hours is a quality-of-life issue that must be addressed comprehensively.
In an effort to get its point across, the DDA recently released the eyebrow-raising Poop Map — sites where the homeless relieve themselves in public. The map generated national attention — and local embarrassment. Mr. Sarnoff warns it will all get worse Aug. 1, when the city’s shelter program at Camillus House loses funding, something that shouldn’t be allowed to happen.
The historic 1998 Pottinger Agreement allows homeless people in Miami to engage in “life-sustaining activities,” such as urinating, bathing and lying down, in public. If caught, police can offer them a choice: a shelter or jail. The Camillus mats meet the requirement for shelter. “We’re not going to arrest our way out of this,” Mr. Sarnoff told the Editorial Board, days after heated exchanges with an agitated Mr. Book in front of county commissioners, some of whom sided with Mr. Book.
The Orlando Sentinel — Use cheaper, more reliable school tests
Let schools use simpler alternatives to state tests.
It’s a solution that would have pleased Henry David Thoreau, who urged, “Simplify, simplify.”
Seminole County Public Schools had fits this spring administering Florida’s new standardized test. So Superintendent Walt Griffin wrote state Education Commissioner Pam Stewart on Monday to request her support for a simple, economical alternative for his district: reliable, reputable national exams.
It’ll take a change in state law to give school districts the flexibility to substitute tests such as the Iowa Test or SAT for the Florida Standards Assessment. But Stewart’s support for this reasonable change could help persuade lawmakers to act.
School districts throughout Florida rolled out the FSA for the first time this year. In many districts, the test’s debut was a debacle. The FSA must be administered by computer, and network, software and other technical problems forced districts to suspend testing — in some cases for several days.
The computer mandate also left Seminole and other districts no choice but to close their school media centers to other students for days while testing took place. It forced them to raid classrooms of their computers, making them unavailable as learning tools for students who weren’t taking tests.
The FSA ended up disrupting instruction at Seminole’s middle schools for 29 days and high schools for 31 days, according to Griffin. These testing woes aren’t evidence of poor management in the district. Seminole is A rated, and has been one of the state’s top performers for years.
Widespread problems with the FSA led lawmakers this year to require that the tests be evaluated before results get released. That will delay scores from going out until at least September, three months behind schedule. The evaluation will add another $600,000 to the $220 million that the state is spending over six years on the FSA.
The Ocala StarBanner — Pluto: Strange ‘new’ world
Pluto was discovered only 85 years ago by astronomer Clyde Tombaugh. But the dwarf planet was DISCOVERED this week by the aptly named New Horizons spacecraft.
New Horizons flew closely by Pluto — well, within 7,800 miles — Tuesday morning and began the process of transmitting never-seen-before photographs and new data to Earth.
The information delighted and surprised scientists, providing a reminder that, despite incredible advances in technology and gains in knowledge, the sum of what humans don’t know may still exceed what we know (or think we know).
Pluto went from a blurry figure seen in telescopes to a sharp image relayed to Earth. Thanks to the spacecraft’s powerful camera and proximity to Pluto, a small bright spot turned out to be a large, heart-shaped region.
The huge craters that astronomers expected were nowhere to be found, suggesting that Pluto is relatively young (maybe less than 100 million years old).
Perhaps the biggest surprise, figuratively and literally, was that Pluto contains enormous mountains up to 11,000 feet tall. Early assessments indicated that the mountains are made of ice; observations from Earth had never even revealed signs of water on Pluto.
A sentence in The New York Times made clear just how stunning the discoveries were: “Other aspects of the surface were so unusual that [one astronomer] found it difficult to describe them in geological terms.”
Regarding one image, the scientist said, “It’s like piles of stuff with grooves on it.”
See, sometimes scientists do talk like the rest of us.
Launched in 2006, New Horizons has traveled 3 billion miles.
The Pensacola News-Journal — Stop pussyfooting around
Though we might have chosen to phrase it differently, we’re firmly behind CMPA Chairman Jim Reeves’ plain-language statement Tuesday in urging Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward and the City Council to finish leases at Community Maritime Park.
Regular readers are probably weary of the storyline by now. The lease proposals from Studer Community Development for parcels 3, 6, and 9 have – in some form – been in discussion for almost a year now. There have been no other meaningful offers. The city’s “world class” real estate broker, CBRE, brought only one other proposal to the table – a questionable master developer pitch that offered shoddy return and would have had taxpayers on the hook for millions to build a parking garage. Thanks but no thanks.
Then came the announcement of a partnership between Studer and the University of West Florida to create the UWF Center for Entrepreneurship – an entity that would be based on a striking, campus-like gateway to be built on parcel 6, on the west side of the park fronting Main Street.
The total estimated investment along with the developments on parcels 3 and 9? As much as $20 million.
We’re talking local contractors and local jobs putting buildings and bodies with a community-oriented purpose on the empty spaces at Maritime Park. We can’t wait to get started, right?
After roughly two hours of sometimes rambling discussion about the leases on Thursday, the City Council voted to pass a resolution to be — what? — resolved? The meeting revealed a council relatively new and to some extent, uneducated, as to Studer’s negotiations with the CMPA. We can’t fully blame council members for being confused. The nearly year-long narrative has been far from straightforward. But that’s a self-inflicted malady. When it comes to developing the park, the city has been making up rules as it goes along. By meeting’s end, all that was decided was to have an attorney review Studer’s proposed leases. In other words, City Council didn’t really do anything.
The Palm Beach Post — Health Care District should bring in management experts
As Lakeside Medical Center bleeds red ink, some people are asking whether the public hospital should stop delivering babies and instead become a sort of emergency room and a place where patients are stabilized until they can be transferred.
When the Palm Beach County Health Care District’s board meets for its annual strategic planning session on Tuesday, that option is likely to come up, if only for discussion.
Downgrading Belle Glade’s hospital may make sense to people east of 20-Mile Bend. But other options are preferable given the $57 million taxpayers spent to build the 70-bed medical center six years ago. Keep in mind, it’s a 30 mile-plus drive to the nearest hospitals in Loxahatchee, Wellington or West Palm Beach; and the special taxing district’s state charter holds it responsible for operating “at least one” hospital in the Glades.
It’s true that the district, or more precisely, taxpayers, may be forced to write a $9.5 million check to keep Lakeside afloat next year, but subsidies have always been part of the hospital’s lifeblood. The state’s failure to expand Medicaid to more people certainly hasn’t helped the situation. But that’s not the whole story.
As the Post’s John Pacenti reported, the hospital booked a $16.6 million loss last year, and over $6 million of that came in the form of a penalty from the state for overcharges, a penalty that hasn’t been paid and is under negotiation, according to district CEO Dr. Ron Wiewora.
The Panama City News-Herald — Jihad on U.S. troops is not a “circumstance”
Four U.S. Marines, barred from carrying weapons at naval training facilities despite explicit ISIS threats against our military, are dead in Tennessee. Another service member and a Chattanooga police officer survived gunshots after Thursday’s two-stage massacre allegedly at the hands of 24-year-old jihadist Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus called the terrorist’s spree “insidious and unfathomable.” President Obama bemoaned the “heartbreaking circumstance” in which the murdered Marines found themselves.
“Unfathomable”? Not if you’ve been paying attention. Islam-inspired hate crimes against our troops have continued unabated since the Obama White House first dismissed the 2009 Fort Hood massacre as “workplace violence.”
Here’s what’s unfathomable: While the social justice warriors in Washington bend over backward to appease CAIR and Muslim civil rights absolutists, Americans in uniform are dying on American soil at the hands of Allah’s homicidal avengers — but the commander in chief couldn’t even bother to deliver a live statement to the nation yesterday about the bloodshed.
Instead, Obama issued another bland, bloodless pronouncement about the assassinations of our disarmed troops.
“Heartbreaking circumstance”? Lightning strikes are random events of unfortunate circumstance. The concerted attacks and plots against our troops in their recruitment centers and on their bases here at home are outrageous acts of war.
Have you forgotten?
The South Florida Sun Sentinel – Florida doesn’t need a lieutenant governor
The race to succeed Marco Rubio in the U.S. Senate expanded Wednesday with the official entry of another Florida Republican, Carlos Lopez-Cantera. If your reaction is, “Who?” you’re not alone.
Though Lopez-Cantera has been Gov. Rick Scott’s lieutenant since February 2014, a Quinnipiac poll earlier this year showed a majority of Florida voters don’t know enough about him to have formed an opinion. His relative obscurity, after more than a year as second in command of state government, is another reason why Scott and other decision-makers in Tallahassee should pull the plug on this unnecessary post.
This modest proposal is not meant to pick on Lopez-Cantera personally. He’s a former Florida House majority leader and four-term representative who was later elected property appraiser in Miami-Dade County. He has admirers on both sides of the aisle in the Capitol.
But the Florida Constitution spells out only one role for lieutenant governors: understudy. They fill in for governors who are incapacitated, or succeed governors who die or leave office midterm for other reasons. While it’s prudent to have a successor, five other states simply designate another elected official.
Lieutenant governors in Florida earn $124,851 per year. Their office’s annual budget, however, has exceeded $1 million.
Unlike the U.S. vice president, Florida’s lieutenant governor doesn’t fill an official legislative role. While the state constitution allows governors to assign other duties to their deputies, Scott has given Lopez-Cantera little to do. For months, his daily schedule has shown little activity. Even ceremonial duties are missing.
Anxious to develop a line of attack against this possible successor to Rubio, who is running for president and plans to resign his Senate seat, Democrats have accused Lopez-Cantera of campaigning on the taxpayers’ tab before his announcement. He denied it. But the issue will likely remain alive now that Lopez-Cantera has said he will not resign his position to run for the Senate.
The Tallahassee Democrat – Listen to the meaning, not the occasional mistake
Candidates for president have raised hundreds of millions of dollars, made thousands of speeches, criss-crossed the country for months but the race didn’t really start Jeb Bush made the first gaffe last week.
Donald Trump doesn’t count. Saying outrageous things is his schtick. Bush is a grown-up who’s been in this game a long time, and has a serious chance of winning, so his misstatements are mistakes.
“Workforce participation has to rise from its all-time modern lows,” Bush said in a New Hampshire newspaper interview. “It means that people need to work longer hours and, through their productivity, gain more income for their families.”
Social media lit up with joyful cries of Democrats, depicting Bush as an out-of-touch rich guy who doesn’t know how poor and working-class Americans are already working two jobs and scrimping to make ends meet. Bush’s campaign staff hastened to explain that he meant too many people are limited to fewer than 30 hours a week, as employers try to avoid Obamacare’s coverage mandate.
But the damage is done. Hillary Clinton just this week took up the line that greedy Republicans think you’re a lazy slug who should be sweltering in sweat shops just to make them richer. Image is usually more important than fact in a campaign.
Bush’s brother was known for fumbling words, as a candidate and president. George W. Bush once joked, “My critics don’t realize I don’t make verbal gaffes. I’m speaking in the perfect forms and rhythms of ancient haiku.”
Their father, President George H.W. Bush, seemed to muff every attempt to look more like a regular guy than a Connecticut Yankee.
The Tampa Tribune — We’re still under attack
Law enforcement officials are cautious about giving a motive for the murder of four Marines in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on Thursday. But all signs point to terrorism, which remains a serious domestic threat, particularly to our military personnel.
The shooter may have been acting alone, without any outside direction, yet this still looks to be an act of terror instigated by Islamic extremists.
It hardly seems a coincidence that the Islamic State has called on its followers to “slaughter” members of the military and their families. The extremist group more recently urged supporters to carry out attacks during Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting that ends this weekend.
Last fall MacDill Air Force Base, troops and their families were urged to downplay references to their military connections on social media because of such threats. The Chattanooga tragedy underscores the wisdom of that warning.
Earlier this summer, police in Boston killed an extremist who reportedly was planning to kill and decapitate police officers. The shooter similarly was targeting Americans in uniform. It’s impossible to believe these incidents are not connected to the terrorists’ exhortations to kill Americans.
The Washington Post reports the killer, 24-year-old Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, wrote on his blog about how the contemporaries of the Prophet Muhammad “fought jihad for the sake of Allah.” He also wrote that Muslims should not miss the “opportunity to submit to Allah.”
Law enforcement officials said the shooter’s father had once been investigated for possible links to a foreign terrorist organization, but nothing came of the investigation.