Life and politics from the Sunshine State's best city

A round-up of Sunday editorials from Florida’s leading newspapers

in Apolitical/Top Headlines by

A round-up of Sunday editorials from Florida’s leading newspapers:

Tampa Bay Times — Pinellas should be flexible with resort tax

With Pinellas tourism hitting record levels, it’s a good time for the county to raise the resort tax by an additional 1 percent. But when the County Commission takes up the issue Tuesday, it should be careful about dictating how the resort tax money should be spent. The emphasis should be on remaining flexible rather than on locking in specific allocations of the revenue for tourism advertising and construction projects.

As a high-tourism county, Pinellas has the authority to raise the resort tax on hotel rooms and other rentals from the current 5 percent to 6 percent. The additional 1 percent is expected to generate at least another $7 million a year, bringing total resort tax revenues to $42 million. The controversy remains not about raising the tax but how to divide up the money, particularly when there is a lack of clarity about potential construction projects.

As the debate has dragged on, the line for resort tax money for construction has gotten a bit shorter. An Olympic-style BMX track in Oldsmar received state money, expects to open in the fall and is off the list. So is the Clearwater Marine Aquarium’s plan for a new home downtown, which proved to be too ambitious. But there still are likely to be significant demands on the resort tax for construction projects, including a new spring training home for the Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin and a soccer stadium for the Tampa Bay Rowdies in St. Petersburg. And then there is the Tampa Bay Rays stadium stalemate.

The bonds that helped pay for Tropicana Field will be paid off this year, freeing up 1 cent of the existing 5 cent resort tax and at least another $7 million a year. The Rays need a new stadium and want to search for sites in both Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, but the St. Petersburg City Council is deadlocked over allowing the team to look. A new stadium likely would cost roughly $500 million, and even with a substantial contribution from the Rays it probably would take more than 1 penny of the resort tax to make the numbers work.

The Bradenton Herald — Manatee Technical College bucks state trend with smart outreach

Manatee Technical College defies a downward statewide enrollment trend. How did this technical and vocational career institution do that? Smart marketing and outreach.

As the economy continues to recover and jobs become more plentiful, potential MTC students could be lured into the workforce and skip training that could lead to better opportunities and higher pay. But isn’t it a bad idea to trade a stronger future for immediate paychecks and fewer chances at advancement while working in a low-end job or even dead-end career?

Statewide, enrollment in technical colleges fell 9 percent from 2011-2012 to 2013-2014, the Florida Department of Education notes. The hard number shows the number of students dropped from 122,412 to 111,804 in those two academic years.

MTC, however, can lay claim to upward movement. During those same two years, the college’s enrollment rose from 3,053 to 3,250. Not only does the school offer training in 50 programs and certificates in appealing to a broad cross-section of the populace, MTC continues to be proactive in student recruitment.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal — Homelessness is everyone’s problem

This month, a group of local leaders will start collecting public input on a plan to create a centrally located homeless shelter. But even before the process gets started, Volusia County’s most populous city has given it a cold shoulder.

That’s a loss, both for the city and the overall discussion. Deltona and other cities have legitimate concerns about the shelter plan crafted by a consultant over the past year. But if city leaders stay away from those discussions, their concerns will never be addressed. And if enough cities aren’t willing to work together, the attempt to create any type of countywide response to homelessness is probably doomed.

It’s easy to see why Deltona officials are reluctant. Deltona doesn’t have the density of retail establishments and social services that attract visibly homeless people. Official sources add to that impression. An annual survey of homelessness in Volusia County found seven people unsheltered in Deltona.

But Deltona and other cities balking at joining an effort to find a solution to homelessness are missing the big picture. All Volusia County residents are impacted by this problem. Their taxes go to support county jail cells used to house people who commit petty “status offenses” due to their homeless status, and hospital emergency rooms overburdened by people with no other place to seek care. Homeless people are likely to be both victims and perpetrators of crime, increasing the need for law enforcement.

Moreover, Deltona residents are closer to the economic edge than residents of many other Volusia cities, with per-capita incomes lower than Florida and Volusia averages. As part of the discussion at Monday’s City Commission workshop, officials discussed the possibility of hiring a social-services coordinator to help residents on the brink of losing their homes.

The Florida Times-Union — Women provide crucial leadership in nonprofit sector

When I opened the Times-Union on June 16 and read the editorial about the dearth of women on the boards of Jacksonville-based corporations, I was delighted to see attention brought to this important issue. After all, corporations with the most women on their boards consistently outperform those with the least, and we all want our local companies to succeed. I composed a tweet, thanking the Times-Union for taking the time to cover the topic.

Then I moved on to looking at my calendar for the day, and it brought me up short. I was scheduled to attend a meeting with the CEOs and chief program officers of eight local nonprofits that provide critical services for women and girls in the area: 16 smart, thoughtful, experienced and passionate women.

I could have expanded the list significantly by bringing in the top three local funders — the United Way, the Community Foundation for Northeast Florida and Jessie Ball duPont Fund — all helmed by extraordinary women, and 20 other agencies that I could think of off the top of my head, all with talented female executive directors.

So there’s really no lack of female leaders in Northeast Florida, but the largest critical mass by far work in the nonprofit sector. All of these women know how to read a balance sheet and balance a budget, how to evaluate risk and employee performance, and how to identify talent and opportunity.

In short, they would all make outstanding directors of public corporations.

Florida Today – Missouri city proud of Cronkite

When I come into a city, the first thing I do is ask the locals about famous people who may have been born or buried in the area.

For example, here are some great opening lines for waiters or waitresses: “So, how is the food here and have you buried any celebrities recently?” And, “Has the town given birth to anyone it is proud of?” Smooth, aren’t I?

I used the last line when I was in St. Joseph, Missouri. This is how I found out that “the most trusted man in America,” Walter Cronkite, was born there, so I visited the museum and memorial dedicated to him.

Here is what I learned: Mr. Cronkite was the evening news anchor at CBS from 1962 until 1981, so you could say he took me from being a child to a man, news-wise. Included in those years were such memorable events as the assassinations of President Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, the first Americans in space, the moon landings, the Space Shuttle, the Watergate break-in and Nixon’s resignation.

In addition, here is a bit of trivia for you: On what program did the Beatles first appear on American television? If you said Ed Sullivan, you would be wrong. Walter Cronkite did a news story about them first. In fact, Sullivan called Cronkite and asked him where he could get those “Crickets or whatever they were called.”

The Gainesville Sun – Marijuana as medicine

The state of Florida has made a mess out of its initial foray into medical marijuana, giving voters another reason to take the issue into their own hands.

State lawmakers last year legalized the use of a non-euphoric strain of marijuana known as Charlotte’s Web. The marijuana is administered as an oil or vapor, and has shown promise in treating conditions such as epilepsy, Lou Gehrig’s disease and cancer.

But subsequent state health department rules for implementing the law have faced legal challenges and delays, leaving patients in limbo. In the meantime, municipalities such as the city of Alachua have passed misguided bans on medical marijuana dispensaries.

People with serious medical conditions shouldn’t be denied treatment due to the political views of state or local officials. Florida voters nearly passed an amendment that would have more broadly legalized medical marijuana last fall, and now have more cause to support another proposed initiative.

The News Service of Florida reported last week that supporters of the proposed amendment submitted 100,000 petitions, one of the first steps to putting it before voters next November.

Last year’s version received 58 percent of the vote, just short of the 60 percent required for passage. The new version has been improved to address issues raised by law enforcement officials and others who campaigned against it.

“What this will do is to clarify things that will make it really impossible to misinterpret,” Jon Mills, a University of Florida law professor and former House Speaker who drafted the amendment and revision, told the News Service.

The Lakeland Ledger — Health Care Panel — An Odd Approach To Reform

Gov. Rick Scott’s Commission on Healthcare and Hospital Funding concluded its statewide tour last week, and with this phase of its mission completed, the panel presumably will now retreat to compile its findings and report to Scott and other leaders in Tallahassee on whether public support for our hospitals is reaping benefits for taxpayers and patients alike.

Well, that was the theory, at least, when Scott created the panel three months ago. It remains to be seen whether the exercise pays off with any meaningful policy changes that will benefit taxpayers while ensuring that the millions of uninsured Floridians — including an estimated 492,000 children — can someday obtain health insurance. We hope that comes to pass. But forgive us for harboring doubts that this commission will produce such results. For one thing, we couldn’t help noting some of the glaring ironies that emerged as the process rolled on, and which seemed to indicate some other agenda was afoot.

The governor started by questioning hospital profits — $3.7 billion collectively last year — and suggesting through his directions to the commission that those were somehow exorbitant, that hospitals receiving federal funding to care for the uninsured were fattening their bottom lines at taxpayer expense by seeking excessive reimbursements.

His background may influence that position. In 1997 Scott stepped down as CEO of Columbia/HCA, the nation’s largest hospital chain, after federal authorities announced an investigation into the company. A few years later Columbia/HCA paid $1.7 billion in fines for fleecing Medicare and Medicaid, at the time the largest health care fraud settlement in U.S. history.

The Miami Herald — Ground Zero for climate change

The headline on a Herald front-page story last week nearly says it all: Florida leads nation in risk to property by climate change. The report measures the state’s vulnerability in dollars-and-cents and finds, not surprisingly, that we’re Number One. But not in a good way.

Most sentient people in what we like to call the Sunshine State already knew that Florida was Ground Zero for climate change. Our peculiar geography is both a glorious bounty — wonderful, world-famous beaches at our fingertips — and the reason that our state is so dangerously exposed to rising seas and other effects of global warming.

Now we learn that Florida has more private property at risk from flooding linked to climate change than any other state. And, if that’s not enough, the level of risk could double in the next four decades, according to a new report by the Risky Business Project.

The numbers are so big that they are hard for the average person to fathom, but here’s one measure of how bad it is: The $69 billion in Florida coastal property that is not at risk today but could flood at high tide in the future is nearly as big as the current state budget for Florida. And that is projected to climb to $152 billion by 2050.

Short of moving to Iowa — not that there’s anything wrong with Iowa — what are we supposed to do? The short answer is for everyone to become aware that there is no time to lose. And, perhaps more important, for business leaders to get into the game.

The projections cited above are within the lifetime of most people reading this. Which means, it’s later than you think. It’s not about the far-distant future, nor is it a problem we can pass on to future generations. It’s about us.

The Orlando Sentinel — Don’t rush to privatize Lynx

No one has done more than Congressman John Mica to upgrade transportation in Central Florida. In the past few years alone, he has leveraged his seniority and clout in Washington, D.C., to secure federal funding for SunRail, the Interstate 4 makeover, the Wekiva Parkway and the expansion of Orlando International Airport.

But a deliberate, comprehensive study of the idea, as suggested by Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, makes more sense than starting down the road toward privatization.

Mica argues the time is ripe to privatize Lynx with its executive director for the past five years, John Lewis, leaving his job at the end of the month to take over the public transit agency in Charlotte, N.C. The congressman believes the right private operator could save money, improve service and innovate faster. In fact, some of Lynx’s operations, including its paratransit service, already are privately run.

Yet in a comparison presented recently to the board that oversees Lynx, the agency’s operating expenses came in below the average of a dozen other “peer transit agencies” from around the country. Those numbers argue against a rush to privatize all of Lynx’s service.

So does wariness about the idea from Jacobs, the chair of the Lynx board. As does outright opposition from the Osceola County Commission, which also has a representative on the five-member board.

The Ocala StarBanner — Springs plan lacks real enforcement

Every time the Florida Department of Environmental Protection rolls out the latest update of its plan to rescue Silver Springs from nitrate pollution and overpumping, it sounds so proactive, so scientific, so official.

Then those who study the science of our springs start drilling down and asking questions, and what they discover is that DEP’s impressive sounding Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP) is heavy on well-intended suggestions and light on regulatory compliance.

DEP held a public meeting last week to update the community on the progress of the Silver Springs BMAP. The goal is pretty straight forward: reduce the nitrate levels in the springs and Silver River by 79 percent to .35 milligrams per liter. It is an ambitious target.

From its analysis of the sprawling Silver Springs Basin, which covers much of Marion County and parts of Alachua, Putnam, Sumter and Lake counties, DEP knows much of what must be done to achieve .35 mg. Consider:

There are an estimated 66,000 septic tanks in the BMAP footprint and they are responsible for an estimated 38 percent of the nitrate pollution.

Cattle farms are the source of 17 percent of the nitrate loading, while crop fertilizers account for 11 percent.

Stormwater runoff and residential fertilizers also contribute to the nitrate pollution that has caused Silver Springs’ once silvery floor to become covered in brown algae — not unlike most other Florida springs.

The Pensacola News-Journal — Sometimes laws have the opposite effect

“We had a strange day in class today.”

“How so?”

“The teacher was tied up writing up students who had their cell phones out while others were sneaking around one of those electronic vapor machines.”

“You mean a hookah or electronic cigarette?”

“Yeah, that. The teacher finally noticed one of them and he got in a lot of trouble.”

“They should kick him out of summer school. Let him fail. Kick him out of school altogether. Let him be a dead weight on society!”

It’s fun to vent against those who do bad or stupid things, to imagine the worst possible punishments against them, especially when you don’t know them and the consequences are all theoretical. Eventually, though, you need to show at least a trace of understanding and sympathy.

“That said, while I never smoked and it was forbidden when I was in school, everybody knew you could go behind the field house or the equipment shed at Century High to smoke during break or lunch. For that matter, you could walk across Hecker Road to Loby’s Diner and get plenty of nicotine just trying to breathe, there were so many students smoking. At least the new vapor system leaves out most of the toxins tobacco smoke contains and doesn‘t stink.”

You forbid something and people do it anyway. If you allow it for adults but not for children, that’s like telling them that doing it is a sign of adulthood. You might create a demand where there wasn’t one initially.

The Palm Beach Post — Wanted: A primary system that pulls pols toward the middle

Who hates America’s political parties? More and more Americans, it seems.

Allegiance to Democrats or Republicans is shrinking fast. The number of no-party-affiliated voters in Florida has increased nearly five-fold since 1990. They’re now 27 percent of the electorate. That share is expected rise to 29 percent by the 2016 election and to 33 percent – a third of Florida voters! – by 2022.

The trend is fueled particularly by younger people, who increasingly register as independents. Last year, the state’s registration figures showed that an average of 55 percent of net voters (new registrants minus those removed from the system) were of neither major party.

And who can blame them, given the awfulness of partisan behavior these days, when the only thing on politicians’ minds, when not raising money for the next election cycle, is to score points against the other side? And heaven help the pol who reaches out for a compromise, lest he or she be “primaried” — challenged by a well-financed upstart who burns more ardently with ideological fervor.

The results were all too clear in the last session of the Legislature, with House Republicans so unwilling to compromise with Senate Republicans over expanding Medicaid that they folded their tents and went home early, leaving a pile of unfinished business, while Democrats, so heavily outnumbered as to be neutered, watched from the sidelines.

What voters deserve is a system that rewards politicians who speak not to the most extreme elements of their own parties, but who reach to the middle and forge coalitions with independents and the other party.

Such a proposal is in the works. It’s a “Top Two” primary system for Florida congressional, state legislative, governor’s and cabinet races. A ballot amendment called All Voters Vote is being prepared in time for the 2016 election, and, if passed, would go into effect in the 2018 election cycle.

There would be no more Democratic primary, no Republican primary. In their stead would be a single primary that candidates from any party — or none — could enter. The top two winners would go on to face each other in the general election. In state elections, a candidate with at least 50 percent of the vote would be declared the winner immediately.

The Panama City News-Herald — Ringmaster sought for GOP circus

If you’re looking for nastiness here in the early stages of the 2016 presidential race, you’re in luck. If you’re looking for serious discussions of policies foreign and domestic, you’ll have to search a little harder.

There’s a reason the campaign has become a daily dose of vitriol — the most recent fueled by Donald Trump’s remarks that Arizona Sen. John McCain was a war hero only because he was captured in Vietnam. Sixteen Republicans (so far) are seeking their party’s nomination.

The lower they are in the polling, it seems, the more desperate they are for attention.

The current debate setup makes the situation worse. The first GOP debate will be Aug. 6, and the plan is to feature only 10 candidates — determined by their standing in national polls. Six will be out of luck. So they’re all doing anything, saying anything, that might win a small bounce in poll numbers.

So between South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who called Trump a jackass, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who simply said Trump owed McCain an apology, who do you think is comfortably higher in the rankings? It’s the latter, if you’re unsure, with Bush near the top and Graham bringing up the rear.

Trump knows all about getting attention. He proved it a few weeks ago by declaring that Mexican immigrants were drug dealers and rapists. Then he shook off the characterization of McCain as a war hero, saying being captured doesn’t make one a hero. “I like people that weren’t captured,” he added.

After that, it was a candidates’ free-for-all.

Graham threw out the jackass.

Trump called Graham an idiot.

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry called Trump “a cancer on conservatism.”

The South Florida Sun Sentinel – Don’t let judge decide gambling’s future

So here it comes, another costly court fight for Florida taxpayers, this time with the Seminole Tribe of Florida over the future of an agreement that sets the parameters for gambling in our state.

At issue is the five-year segment, negotiated in 2010, that lets Seminole casinos exclusively deal banked table games, mostly blackjack and baccarat, in return for sharing revenues with the state — about $130 million last year. Because a sovereign tribe cannot be taxed and can offer betting games authorized elsewhere in the state, the only way for Florida to collect a share of the tribe’s pot was to give it something exclusive.

But the blackjack agreement — part of a larger, 20-year compact that also gives the Seminoles the exclusive right to offer slot machines outside of Broward and Miami-Dade counties — expired Friday.

And though everyone saw this deadline coming, state negotiators trying to forge a new deal got tripped up by competing interests, the election cycle and the Florida Legislature’s inability to pass even the most modest gambling bill.

Legislative leaders say they are continuing to negotiate with the Seminoles, but in all likelihood, this standoff is headed to court, where a judge could well be the final decision-maker, hardly a popular prospect for conservative lawmakers.

The Seminoles have asked for federal mediation, alleging the state has violated their exclusive deal by letting South Florida racetrack casinos offer electronic blackjack games that look an awful lot like real blackjack games. The gambling industry, however, has classified these video games as slot machines because they rely on random number generators.

Meanwhile, Gov. Rick Scott’s administration last week put the Seminoles on notice that they have 90 days to fold their blackjack and baccarat tables. By then, though, lawmakers will be back in Tallahassee for committee meetings in advance of January’s early election-year session. Some believe that facing the threat of years-long litigation, a compromise may finally be reached this fall.

The Tallahassee Democrat – School of Social Work might help FSU football woes

As a 1975 graduate of FSU’s social work school and longtime fan of FSU’s football team, I find it tragic to continually see our FSU football players arrested, one after another. Tallahassee’s WTXL-TV keeps a running tab of player’s arrests — for physical assault, suspected domestic abuse, animal cruelty, sexual assault, attempted murder, and grand theft.

When I contacted a former classmate, who had been part of the rape crisis center in the 1970s, she said these problems were not new and the criminal behaviors of FSU football players were decades old and ongoing. She felt that football players have been getting a “pass” for bad behavior, with no consequences for years. Since I was asking her for feedback about my idea to use the FSU School of Social Work’s faculty for help, she noted that the athletic department 30 years ago had been offered help for the coaches and their players from several outside sources in the ’70s and the ’80s and had turned it down every time. My question: Is this still the case?

One would think, with so many FSU football players investigated and often charged, that an article in The New York Times (October 10, 2014) about this situation would be a gigantic wake-up call. Something big is wrong here. There is, in my opinion, a pathological use of denial by the Board of Trustees and FSU institutional leadership. I am fearful that unless the Board and FSU’s President recognize the seriousness of this malaise, and take firm, decisive action, our FSU players will continue to act-up and individuals will continue to get seriously hurt or even die.

WCTV interviewed FSU president, John Thrasher, recently about the situation. He said he was “devastated” by the events and mentioned a course for athletes, dealing with character and social responsibility. The athletes will be “asked” to take the courses and he also wants local bars to make certain changes. This effort would be far too little and way too late.

Let’s use our own resources: the FSU School of Social Work (one of the best in the nation) would be a very valuable resource for the FSU Football team and their coaches, to help them out of this terribly destructive pattern. Faculty and staff there can create or recommend an array of interventions, perhaps bringing in outside group and individual therapists and continual seminars to help curb these criminal and destructive behaviors through required counseling and attendance.

The Tampa Tribune —The Bass Pro lesson

The crowds that have swamped the new Bass Pro shop in Brandon since its opening highlights the wisdom of the Hillsborough County Commission funding the infrastructure necessary to make the development possible.

The arrangement has been derided as some sort of corporate welfare. It was nothing of the sort.

The county simply agreed to reimburse the developer $6.2 million for widening Faulkenburg Road and extending Palm River Road.

The county would have funded those roads projects eventually. It made sense to move up the time frame to allow construction of the Estuary development that would include Bass Pro.

After all, providing the infrastructure necessary for commerce is an appropriate government expense.

Virtually every local business, large or small, relies in some way on government work, particularly roads.

In this case, the investment was aimed at benefiting a specific development, but this was hardly a giveaway. Taxpayers will enjoy a robust return.

The 153-acre tract had been generating less than $800 a year in county property taxes. Now it is expected to generate $3 million a year.

The local economy will be given a huge boost by a venture projected to create 1,500 permanent jobs, 1,700 construction jobs and to have an $113 million annual economic impact. Bass Pro has already donated $100,000 to the county’s environmental land acquisition program and donated a portion of its grand opening sales to the program as well.

Opponents scoffed at Bass Pro’s reputation as a destination retail store that would attract shoppers from other cities. But the overwhelming early response to the 130,000-square-foot store indicates it is greatly expanding the local outdoors market, which could boost other local businesses.

The Estuary’s Topgolf driving range-entertainment complex, with the region’s largest sports bar, is also attracting large crowds. More retail, entertainment and office projects will follow.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.

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