A round-up of Sunday editorials from Florida’s leading newspapers:
Tampa Bay Times — Boehner’s resignation reflects fight for soul of GOP
John Boehner has had enough. The U.S. House speaker’s stunning resignation Friday indicates he is as tired of the political infighting in Washington as most Americans. It reflects the deep ideological divisions in Washington and the nation, and it emboldens the most extreme conservatives in Congress and in the crowded field of Republican candidates for president. Expect more dysfunction in the dysfunctional House and more gridlock at least until next year’s election.
A day after the pope’s historic speech to Congress, Boehner announced he would leave on his own terms at the end of October rather than continue to fend off efforts by perhaps 30 House Republicans intent on ousting him. The silver lining is that in exchange for Boehner’s head, those conservatives will go along with passing a clean spending bill next week to avoid a shutdown and keep the federal government open until mid December. But that is a temporary victory for common sense, and the deep divide within the Republican Party just got more difficult to navigate.
This has been the least productive period for Congress in history. Significant issues such as immigration and climate change are unresolved, and even the routine business of running government has veered from crisis to crisis. There are votes coming up this fall to raise the federal debt ceiling. A bill funding transportation has been stalled. The Export-Import Bank’s future is up in the air. On and on and on — even with Republicans controlling both the House and Senate. Even mainstream conservatives such as Rep. David Jolly, R-Indian Shores, had grown frustrated by the inaction and concluded it was time for a change in House leadership.
Yet the gridlock is likely to get worse before it gets better. Boehner was hardly a moderate speaker. He refused to bring immigration reform legislation passed by the Senate to a House vote in 2013. He allowed the government to be shut down for 16 days that same year over a fight over the Affordable Care Act, which the House has voted to repeal more than 50 times. He agrees with defunding Planned Parenthood even as he wanted to avoid using that issue to force another shutdown next week.
The Bradenton Herald — Thanks to Bill Hutchison, Manatee County Animal Services is a stronger agency today
Sad to say Bill Hutchison is soon gone from his leadership post at Manatee County Animal Services, as of Sept. 30. He served longer than he planned in his supposed retirement, putting in 13 months though he first stated upon taking the tough job as only a six-month project. “Interim” indeed.
He will be missed.
Hutchison’s steadfast leadership brought a beleaguered Animal Services into a stronger place, one the former county public safety director and information technology chief aspired to achieve when brought out of retirement by county Administrator Ed Huzeker. That masterful hire, one Hutchinson acknowledges as a good move, leaves the agency in a great position to maintain the county’s goal of being a No Kill community.
The Animal Services’ live release monthly average of 93 percent of abandonded pets, the improvement of medical care and the partnerships with local volunteers and rescue organizations is a testament to how far the county agency has come from the dismal aftermath of the disasterous Napier shelter crisis. (Under the global no-kill movement, shelters must save animals at a rate of 90 percent, those being healthy, treatable and rehabilitatable pets.)
Manatee County’s oversight failure of a private so-called animal shelter, Napier’s, exposed a neglectful and abusive organization that untimately led to criminal convictions of the owners. Today, Animal Services shapes up as an accountable and successful agency. Critics remain, of course, but goverment will always garner that.
The Daytona Beach News-Journal — Bringing JetBlue in for a landing
A new airline is on course to arrive at Daytona Beach early next year, which not only should give a welcome shot in the arm to the airport, but also could help boost the area economy.
The Volusia County Council on Thursday unanimously approved a $400,000 marketing agreement with JetBlue, the popular low-cost airline that operates direct flights to and from New York City. Under the agreement, Daytona International Airport will contribute $200,000, while the Daytona Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau, Southeast Volusia Advertising Authority and West Volusia Advertising Authority will contribute a combined $200,000 to a marketing plan, which is expected to launch in October and November. The first JetBlue flight is scheduled to land here Jan. 7.
Previously, the business community negotiated an incentive package that includes pledges by members of the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce to purchase nearly $250,000 tickets for JetBlue flights in both 2016 and 2017.
The airport had been pursuing JetBlue for more than a decade before the airline finally announced in February its intentions to add Daytona Beach to its routes. That was a big catch for the airport in a very competitive market. Along with Southwest Airlines, JetBlue is one of the nation’s most desirable carriers. For example, the Cincinnati Enquirer this week published a story asking the question, “What will it take to lure JetBlue?”
“Getting JetBlue has been viewed by many local leaders as the centerpiece to (Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport’s) reinvention,” the newspaper wrote.
Score one — a big one — for Daytona Beach.
The Florida Times-Union — St. Johns County school system faces a growth crisis
The St. Johns County public school system, Florida’s best, is far more important to the county than education.
It’s an economic engine for the county, says Isabelle Rodriguez, CEO of the St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce.
“A good school system is a shorthand for quality of life,” she said.
So the fact that the St. Johns County school system has been rated the state’s best for six straight years is a huge matter for the county. And it needs to be sustained.
But the schools are overflowing.
And there isn’t enough revenue to pay for facilities.
It’s the result of a perfect storm, Superintendent Joseph Joyner told the Times-Union editorial board.
Florida Today – Timeout needed on school testing
The results are in and the conclusion is — well, it’s confusing.
The long-awaited validity study of Florida Standard Assessment tests, as requested by the Legislature, has been released. And the conclusions are clear as mud.
What does that mean? Let’s back up and review where we are and how we got there.
In 2010, the state adopted the Common Core Standards and started to ease into the new standards and the test to replace the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT.
By 2014, opposition to Common Core reached a fevered pitch. Voters made their opposition to Common Core an election-year issue. Gov. Rick Scott, concerned about the vocal and growing opposition, needed to appear to be addressing its concerns.
Scott’s handpicked education commissioner, the third or fourth since he took office, was instructed to find a solution. Commissioner Pam Stewart suggested a rebranding.
Instead of the Common Core that denoted the dreaded national standards not specific to Florida, our standards — eerily similar — would be called the Florida Standards and our assessment tool would be called the Florida Standards Assessment. Stewart and her team made a few adjustments to the Common Core Standards and poof — problem solved.
That seemed to appease enough voters, so they moved on to selecting a vendor to develop and administer the test. They selected American Institutes for Research and entered into a six-year, $220 million contract.
The Gainesville Sun – Cheers and jeers
Florida has a long way to go before mental health care is adequately funded here, but there are signs state officials are finally recognizing the scale of the problem.
When even a skeptic of government spending such as Gov. Rick Scott calls for more mental health funding, it shows the problem has gotten so big that it demands action.
Cheer: Gov. Scott, for this week proposing an additional $19 million be spent on mental health and substance abuse programs.
The proposal includes $12.8 million for community behavioral health services, $3.7 million to add teams treating young people with significant behavioral and mental health needs, and $2.8 million to expand teams providing services to families with parental substance abuse issues.
Gov. Rick Scott previously signed an executive order aimed at getting state agencies to better coordinate mental health services. Alachua County is one of three counties where pilot programs will test the effort.
Scott had suggested the fragmentation of funding was the big problem, but this week’s announcement is an acknowledgment that inadequate funding is also an issue. Florida ranks 49th in the nation in per-capita mental health spending, according to the most recent available figures.
Jeer: Donald Trump, for a heaping helping of hypocrisy to go along with all the hate he’s been spewing about immigrants.
As CBS4 News in Miami reported, a review of U.S. Labor Department records found that Trump businesses have requested hundreds of visas in recent years claiming they were unable to find Americans to do a variety of jobs.
The Lakeland Ledger — No one should be judged by this test
When the stakes surrounding student assessment tests are so high, it’s not asking too much for those tests to be fair, accurate and substantive, producing reliable results.
Once again, though, Florida’s exams have fallen short of expectations.
Florida’s standardized tests have been controversial for nearly two decades, no matter what they were called — whether it was the original FCAT or the latest iteration, the Florida Standards Assessment, which was implemented last school year.
Students in grades four through eight were tested in mathematics, and those in grades four through 10 were tested in English language arts. High school students were administered an end-of-course exam in algebra. The scores are used by the state to determine school grades and teacher evaluations.
The largely computer-based FSA is supposed to be an improvement over the FCAT, but as is often the case, the roll-out of the new test was fraught with problems.
There were the normal glitches associated with new software and Internet connections.
Students were kicked offline, testing was delayed and answers were lost.
In addition, the testing was subjected to a cyberattack that caused delays in some districts, including Polk County, and raised questions about data security.
The Legislature ordered an independent study of the new testing process. It found problems in “just about every aspect of the administration” of the tests.
The study also found that only 65 percent of test questions were aligned with state standards in some subjects.
The Miami Herald — Party in disarray cannot govern
The stunning resignation of Speaker John Boehner speaks volumes about the Republican disarray in the House of Representatives, which has brought it to new lows in the esteem of the American public and made the chamber virtually ungovernable.
Ever since his colleagues elevated him to the speakership in 2011, Mr. Boehner has sought, usually in vain, to bridge the deep differences between the practical members of his caucus who believe in responsible governance and an extremist faction that subscribes to the “my way or the highway” approach.
In 2013, to appease the kamikaze faction, he went along with an effort to shut down the government over a fight involving funding for Obamacare, even though he knew that it would fail — which it did. But that earned him no points with the hardliners. They openly grumbled about his leadership, and neither his patience, nor the shutdown debacle, nor plummeting popularity in public-opinion surveys could sway the extremist faction.
Indeed, the latest chapter of this wearisome melodrama involves a threat by ultra-conservative members to shut down the government — yes, again! — by next Friday over what once would have been regarded as a routine legislative spat about funding Planned Parenthood.
Mr. Boehner’s oft-stated resolve to keep the government open this time, despite the wishes of the diehards, apparently prompted his decision to not only quit the thankless task of leading the House, but to resign from Congress altogether. In an emotional resignation speech, Mr. Boehner made it clear that he’d had enough of the nonstop conservative rebellion and was stepping aside to avoid a prolonged leadership fight that would do irreparable harm to the House, where he has served since 1991.
The Orlando Sentinel — Cooperating, Congress can reduce drug prices
In his historic address this week to Congress, Pope Francis appealed to members to “move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good.”
Lawmakers’ failure to work together on the budget, their most basic responsibility, has left the federal government on the verge of another shutdown as soon as next week. And that’s just one of multiple policy areas where Republicans and Democrats have deadlocked.
But if any members of Congress were listening to the pope, and are looking for compromise instead of confrontation, the August Kaiser Health Tracking Poll offers a sure winner. Seventy-two percent of respondents to that poll said prescription drug prices are “unreasonable.” What’s more, 83 percent favor the federal government doing something about it that is eminently reasonable: They want the feds to be able to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies to get lower prices on medications for people on Medicare.
The nation got a sharp reminder this month of just how excessive prescription costs can be when a pharmaceutical company announced it had raised the price of a life-saving drug, Daraprim, from $13.50 to $750 per pill, a jump of more than 5,000 percent. After a public uproar, Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO Martin Shkreli said he would reduce the increase.
Under current law, Medicare has little choice but to pay whatever outrageous price a drug manufacturer might charge. The program is prohibited from bargaining with manufacturers for discounts, even though that’s a routine practice among private insurers. Meanwhile, other public insurers — Medicaid and the Veterans Administration — are free to negotiate on drug prices, so they pay less than Medicare.
The Ocala StarBanner — Creating jobs vs. poaching them
Gov. Rick Scott deserves credit for trying to diversify Florida’s economy, but taxpayers would be better served if he helped create quality jobs here rather than poaching them from other states.
Scott’s business recruitment tour this week brought him to Kentucky, the latest state with a Democratic governor to be targeted by the Florida Republican. Scott announced Tuesday that 1st Choice Aerospace of Kentucky would be adding 40 jobs in South Florida.
Just a couple problems with that: As the News Service of Florida reported, the company had announced the expansion months ago, and as the Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald Tallahassee bureau reported, the company has closer ties to Ohio than Kentucky.
The company had touted its “Ohio location” near the Cincinnati airport, just inside the Kentucky border, on its own website until the Times/Herald bureau pointed it out. But Scott focused on criticizing Kentucky and its Democratic governor, Steve Beshear, rather than Ohio and its Republican governor, who happens to be a presidential contender, John Kasich.
But the more questionable aspect of Scott’s effort is the premise that Florida’s tax system should be emulated. Scott touts Florida’s tax system, including its lack of a personal income tax, as making it a desirable place to be. But a new survey by the personal financial website WalletHub found Florida has some of the most unfair taxes in the country.
Florida ranked 45th based on the fairness of its state and local tax systems. It was among the top five states in which the highest 1 percent of earners are undertaxed, as well as the top five states in which the bottom 20 percent are overtaxed.
The Pensacola News-Journal — Judge Rodgers goes to Washington to get results
Teresa Milstead is exactly why our disgraceful federal courthouse must be repaired once and for all. The judicial assistant suffered a decade of health problems that paralleled more than a decade of struggles with mold, leaks and issues that have plagued the building since the day it was built.
Recently, the PNJ’s Kevin Robinson gave readers her story. “Milstead is one of dozens of federal employees who were relocated out of the federal courthouse on Palafox Street this year because of concerns that black mold was harming their health.”
With offices in the courthouse since 2004, Robinson reported that Milstead and others “started developing sinus problems and respiratory issues, and one court security officer contracted a fungal infection in his esophagus.”
Finally, enough was enough. Earlier this year, U.S. Chief District Judge Casey Rodgers blew the whistle when she sent a letter to the General Services Administration that meticulously detailed how the courthouse had been infested with mold for 20 years; how more than half of the building’s employees had reported health problems; and how the GSA had consistently failed to fix it. As if being a federal judge was not hard enough, Rodgers has been saddled with trying to get the courthouse overhauled to prevent water and mold damage while overseeing a relocated court operation.
“When her report went public, I was very emotional,” Milstead said. “I realized, ‘this is why I’ve been sick.’ I knew about the water intrusions, but I never made the connection.”
Robinson reported that Milstead sent a copy of Judge Rodgers’ letter to her allergist, who responded within the hour. “He said, ‘I can’t believe this. You’re never going to get better,’” Milstead recalled. “He faxed me a letter, saying, ‘You have to get out of that building.’”
The Palm Beach Post — Florida lawmakers should act on land acquisition
Appalled that the Legislature has thumbed its nose at a super-majority of Florida voters, environmental groups have gone to court to force lawmakers to abide by Water and Land Conservation Amendment 1.
In a lawsuit filed in Circuit Court in Leon County, the groups charge that the Legislature and its leaders violated the state constitution. They want an injunction forcing Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater to transfer $237 million from the general fund to the Land Acquisition Trust Fund.
It’s too bad that advocates have to go to court to force the legislators to do what they should be doing on their own. But if that’s what it takes, then bring in the lawyers.
An extraordinary 75 percent of voters approved the amendment at the ballot box last year. That thundering “yes” vote changed the state constitution; for two decades, about $700 million a year is to be poured into the Land Acquisition Trust Fund. Source of the money: one-third of the revenues collected on the so-called documentary stamp tax applied to real estate transactions.
The intention is clear: to acquire and restore conservation and recreation lands. Lands such as panther habitat in southwest Florida. Tropical hammocks in the Florida Keys. The Everglades.
Instead, the Legislature approved, and Gov. Rick Scott signed, a budget in June that provided only $50 million in land acquisition and $59 million for Everglades restoration — far less than the $740 million that was available.
More galling, $237 million of the dedicated Amendment 1 revenue went toward ordinary operating expenses, as though it were general fund money.
The Panama City News-Herald — City’s business regulations stymie investment
The frustration experienced by Blackwater Resources in working with the city of Tallahassee over the redevelopment of the former Tallahassee Mall site is, unfortunately, an old song for many local businesses, and the lack of a noise ordinance is just a symptom of a much bigger problem. Discretion in the local regulatory process has delayed numerous projects over the years, eating up critical time and resources as permit applicants respond to ambiguous and unexpected demands by local regulators.
For example, in a study of more than two dozen commercial shopping center projects in Tallahassee, the DeVoe Moore Center found that the typical project took 2.6 years to go from zoning approval to occupancy. Some projects took five years or more, while the shortest was one year. The size and square footage of the project seemed to have little impact on the pace of the permitting process.
If businesses are fortunate enough to propose a high-profile project that aligns with city priorities, they may well find a willing and eager partner. The redevelopment of College Town and Gaines Street is a case in point. Once the city decided to make a prime location best known for its acres of vacant warehouses a priority, city sewer and drainage projects primed the pump for private investment and the city facilitated the permitting process through its redevelopment authority.
If projects fall outside a redevelopment area, or are off the radar of elected officials, the speed and efficiency of the permitting process may well depend on the ambiguous personal relationships with elected officials or local regulators, as Blackwater Resources is finding with its “handshake” agreement over noise limits for their proposed amphitheater.
City officials now justify delaying the entrepreneurial redevelopment of one of Tallahassee’s biggest undervalued resources based on the lack of a noise ordinance that was unnecessary to permit its city-owned and subsidized competitor.
The South Florida Sun Sentinel – Let court decide if lawmakers got it right
Of course the Florida Legislature wants the Leon County Circuit Court to dismiss the lawsuit that alleges it trashed the pro-environment constitutional amendment Florida voters overwhelmingly approved last November.
The Legislature bristles at all judicial review. According to its arrogant and mistaken interpretation of the separation of powers, the judicial branch has no business second-guessing the legislative branch. Any legislative body that so fundamentally misunderstands the judicial branch’s duties — which explicitly include the power to review the Legislature’s actions — clearly needs to have its work checked.
That’s particularly true in the case of Amendment 1. It stipulated that one-third of real estate stamp taxes must be spent to buy and protect land for parks, water supplies and wildlife habitat. The lawsuit alleges lawmakers are instead spending too much of that $700 million on salaries, insurance and other routine expenses.
The amendment prohibits that kind of cost-shifting.
The Legislature set aside only about $50 million to buy land, and no land has yet been purchased.
As we have noted before, the Legislature might prevail in the lawsuit, filed by four environmental groups. The amendment’s language is loose enough that some or all of the questionable spending might be squeezed into it. Plus, the courts tend to show appropriate deference to legislative bodies.
But deference does not mean — as the Florida Legislature seems to think — that courts must butt out. The Legislature’s recent record of ignoring the Florida Constitution is too glaring. Just look at the mess lawmakers have made in their attempt to ignore the rules when drawing political boundaries. And, just as in the case of Amendment 1, those rules were imposed by voters disgusted with the Legislature’s actions and inactions.
The Tallahassee Democrat – Government: Here to help!
Government wants you to think it helps you at every turn. Every time you make a decision, a purchase, government wants to be there, looking essential.
But it’s a trick. Most government “help” creates new problems.
Students once went to private banks to get college loans. Banks, since they had their own money on the line, tried to lend only to students who were likely to succeed and then pay them back. Politicians then said, “Banks don’t lend enough, so we’ll guarantee loans or make loans ourselves! After all, college is essential for success.”
Colleges responded by raising tuition at seven times the rate of inflation. It’s a spiral in which taxpayers are forced to give money to colleges — which then charge high tuition, so students graduate deep in debt, and then politicians demand that taxpayers forgive that debt.
President Obama said, sure, just pay back 10 percent or, after 20 years, nothing! Taxpayers will pay the rest, which goes to schools that employ professors who demand more government programs. It’s a spiral that makes government bigger.
The same thing happened with housing. People once borrowed from private banks, which applied market discipline. If they thought you wanted to borrow more than you would likely repay, banks wouldn’t lend you the money.
But now government — Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Housing Administration — guarantee nearly every loan. That helped create the last housing bubble. After it burst, and taxpayers were charged nearly $2 billion to bail out the FHA, the politicians assured the public they would fix this to make sure it never happened again.
But they didn’t. Today, once again, more than 90 percent of home loans are backed by taxpayers, and after briefly raising down-payment requirements, the FHA will again make loans to people who make down payments of as little as 3 percent.
A sensible solution would be to get government out of the home loan business, but even Republicans claim government support for homebuilding is needed.
The Tampa Tribune — Warnings for the GOP
The big loser in the planned resignation of House Speaker John Boehner is the Republican Party.
That certain unruly elements of the House GOP could not tolerate Boehner, a genuine conservative and thoughtful leader, exposes a political party badly in need of getting back to its conservative roots.
Boehner, of Ohio, will resign the speakership and his House seat at the end of October.
The media continually refers to House GOP members who opposed Boehner as conservatives, but there is nothing conservative about having contempt for the democratic process and disdain for those with opposing views.
Yet the 30 or so radicals who sought Boehner’s ouster have continually tried to hold the country — and its economy — hostage, threatening government shutdowns to achieve their goals.
The latest shutdown threat centers on the effort to defund Planned Parenthood. We support defunding of the pro-abortion group, but the demand is irrational given the opposition of the White House and the lack of required support in the Senate. Sometimes achieving a goal takes time, as Boehner recognized.
Yet these members of Congress would put the nation through the ordeal of a possible shutdown, hurting the military, disrupting services and weakening an already wobbly economy.
These are the tactics of spoiled third-graders, not conservatives.