A round-up of Sunday editorials from Florida’s leading newspapers:
Tampa Bay Times — Rick Scott’s economic fairy tale
Gov. Rick Scott wants this election to be all about the economy. In debates and television ads, the Republican incumbent portrays Democrat Charlie Crist as the former governor who destroyed the state’s economy and casts himself as the governor who brought back the good times. It is a fantasy based on half-truths and misrepresentations, and voters still struggling to make ends meet in this plodding recovery should not fall for it.
Like a broken record, Scott kept repeating during last week’s debate that Florida lost 832,000 jobs while Crist was governor. A new state Republican Party ad released Thursday makes the same simplistic argument and rounds up to “about a million” jobs lost. In fact, governors have little control over the economy, and the factors that contributed to the economic recession, such as the housing bubble and the reckless practices by mortgage lenders, were occurring before Crist took office in 2007. Crist is no more responsible for the nation’s economic meltdown and the impact in Florida than Scott is for housing prices that are rising again.
The reality is that Crist should get credit for helping lessen the impact of the economic collapse. He accepted the federal stimulus money at great cost to his own political future as the Republican governor who embraced the Democratic president. That stimulus money, which Scott opposed, saved thousands of jobs in Florida. It also paid for projects such as the highway connector to the port in Tampa and improvements to U.S. 19 in Pinellas County that are critical to the region’s economy. Scott neglects to mention that the Republican-led Legislature happily spent billions in federal stimulus money to get this state through the worst of the crisis.
The Bradenton Herald — Bullish on Manatee County’s economic growth, thanks to EDC
The Bradenton Area Economic Development Corporation continues to play a valuable role in Manatee County’s business growth, as evidenced by Thursday’s annual Progress Update event attended by some 240 people. The EDC’s glowing report on its contributions to business and job growth over the past fiscal year, alongside strong projections for the future, shows a community on the rise.
In lending assistance to businesses either expanding or relocating here, the nonprofit calculates the addition of 570 new jobs and 332 retained positions during fiscal 2013-2014, which ended last month. Those figures could rise as the EDC’s work on behalf of other businesses last year bear fruit. While the job numbers impress, the capital investment figures should have a greater impact. Those 570 new jobs are expected to bring more than $3 million in capital investment.
The future looks bright indeed. The EDC projects local companies will invest $447 million in capital improvements, create 3,500 jobs and contribute $1.8 billion in wages through 2021. Sharon Hillstrom, the nonprofit’s president and chief executive, told the audience these capital investments are a strong sign of business confidence in the county. That’s a lot of money that companies are unlikely to be gambling with.
Hillstrom took the reins of the EDC in December 2011, just weeks before the organization formally separated from the Manatee Chamber of Commerce and became a nonprofit. As an independent entity, the EDC could better grow its private investor base.
The Daytona Beach News-Journal — University corporations can’t have it both ways
Florida’s 12 public universities are subject to the state’s Sunshine Law, meaning they must disclose salaries, contracts, expenditures and communications just as other government entities are required to do. That’s as it should be. Those who conduct the public’s business must be as transparent as possible.
However, a loophole in the law has allowed these institutions to avoid Sunshine-mandated disclosures, while at the same time avoiding civil accountability.
These universities have created private corporations that control billions of dollars, overseeing expenditures on salaries, construction projects, facility maintenance and sports programs. Even though these corporations perform in many of the same ways as public entities, because they are legally classified as private they are not subject to the Sunshine Law.
Although these corporations hold public meetings and are required to submit financial statements to the schools they support and to the state, there is nothing to force them to disclose their records.
The Florida Times-Union — Adkins deserves another term in House
Rep. Janet Adkins doesn’t just acknowledge that she’s known as “a bulldog” and “a hammer” in Tallahassee, she does so proudly.
“Leadership is about doing what’s right,” Adkins recently told the Times-Union editorial board. “If you’re going to have this position, you have to have the courage to do the hard things.”
And on so many issues, the Fernandina Beach Republican has shown such fortitude and fearlessness in the Florida Legislature.
Adkins has fought to keep the St. Johns Ferry alive by relentlessly pushing for the state to fund its operation and holding the bureaucrats accountable for following through on promised funding.
“I know they’re about sick of me talking about the ferry,” a chuckling Adkins said of state officials.
She worked hard to successfully prevent the privatization of Northeast Florida State Hospital in Baker County.
And Adkins has done a masterful job of constantly monitoring the pulse of her District 11 constituency, making sure that issues receive adequate attention from the state ranging from the plague of synthetic drugs to educational reform.
In short, Adkins has been a productive legislator and passionate advocate for Northeast Florida.
On Nov. 4, District 11 voters should re-elect her with enthusiasm.
Florida Today – Endorsement: Vote ‘yes’ for school sales tax
Thousands of our children, grandchildren and neighbors in Brevard Public Schools need your help.
Their safety, comfort and learning depends on voters approving a .5-cent-per-dollar increase in the local sales tax. Please vote “yes” on Nov. 4 for this fiscally responsible solution to an embarrassing community crisis.
For the next six years, your modest contribution would pay to replace failing roofs, corroded drinking-water pipes, broken-down air-conditioning systems and other top-priority capital needs. A small portion would pay for security fencing around school campuses to control intruders, something residents have demanded. Another small portion would buy the computers required (but not funded) by the state to administer next-generation lessons and tests.
A “yes” vote would head off another round of school closures on Merritt Island and the South Beaches and would free other funds to replace worn-out school buses.
But your extra half-cent would not pay for play equipment, sports facilities or any other “want” we could think of, including carpet or pothole repairs in school parking lots.
FLORIDA TODAY has spent months examining school facilities and finances to verify whether a crisis exists — and if so, why. We found sufficient answers to our readers’ most frequently asked questions to endorse the measure.
The Gainesville Sun – Wrong message
This week, officials in the college town of Davis, California, voted to send a military vehicle back to the federal government because it damaged police relations with the public.
Gainesville should take note. Our city’s police department has acquired the same Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle with little justification for needing it.
A recent Sun story described the MRAP as the “marriage of a desert beige dump truck and the cabin of a full-size sport utility vehicle wrapped with steel tougher than the hull of an ocean ice-cutting vessel.”
The Gainesville Police Department paid a $2,000 transfer fee to acquire the vehicle as a replacement for its aging armored personnel carrier.
“For cost, it was a no-brainer,” GPD spokesman Officer Ben Tobias told The Sun. “But we’re still evaluating whether it’s the right fit for our needs.”
If you have to search for a reason, chances are it isn’t. GPD’s armored truck had been used in crowds after the University of Florida’s national championships. As Mayor Ed Braddy correctly suggested, the MRAP is inappropriate for that purpose.
Police clashes with protestors in Ferguson, Missouri, have shown that treating citizens like an invading army is hardly the best way to garner public support.
The Lakeland Ledger — Antidotes to Fear: Good News About Ebola
Last week, the U.S. Ebola story was all about recriminations, fear and overreaction. This week, it’s about sanity — or so we hope. Ebola’s entry into the country this fall was marked by a controversial death and official missteps that were truly regrettable. But as of Sunday night, there were several pieces of good news that should ease fears in this country:
The Dallas family most exposed to Ebola cleared the 21-day incubation period without contracting the illness. The fact that the family was not infected, despite close exposure while the Liberian man was sick, should help reassure a public that seemed on the verge of panic. The family’s health underscores what experts have said all along about Ebola: It is not likely to be spread to the general public through casual contact. Similarly, a lab worker with possible exposure to Ebola tested negative for it.
Health workers remain at heightened risk, but one of the two Dallas nurses who contracted Ebola while helping to care for the Liberian man was declared free of the disease Friday, officials say. The other is still being treated. News sources said nurse Nina Pham had received antibodies from plasma donated by a doctor, who himself was given donated plasma after contracting Ebola in Africa. Both are now virus-free. Other health workers have similarly been helped by these blood-derived antibodies. We hope leads to better outcomes for all Ebola sufferers. Currently, there are no FDA-approved treatments or vaccine for Ebola, but they are in development.
The Miami Herald — Cuba hasn’t earned embargo’s end
In October of 1960, the United States imposed an embargo on exports to Cuba covering all commodities except medical supplies and certain food products. That was the beginning of a trade embargo that still endures and still inspires heated debate.
The anniversary of the embargo, plus this week’s upcoming vote in the United Nations condemning it — which the United States will lose, as usual — have prompted calls for a reassessment. Dropping the embargo altogether would require action by Congress. Meanwhile, anti-embargo advocates say, there’s a lot the president can do to soften or minimize its effects and open the door to restoring full ties with Cuba.
We disagree. Such a move would be premature and utterly lacking in justification at this time.
Granted, Raúl Castro has loosened the reins on the tightly controlled economy to permit more individual businesses. Some citizens can own property, and new rules are designed to encourage foreign investment. But it’s only because Cuba has been frozen in time for so long that such minimal change seems so dramatic. The Cuban nomenklatura still runs the Soviet-style planned economy that largely remains in place, and its members remain its major beneficiaries.
Some see vague government statements from Havana welcoming renewed diplomatic ties with the United States as a sign that it’s willing to negotiate longstanding differences. We would attribute that not to any goodwill but rather to Cuba hedging its bets as it nervously watches the slide in oil prices and the rise of political instability in Venezuela.
The Orlando Sentinel — Florida’s governor must cut auto insurance costs
During their two debates, Charlie Crist and Rick Scott competed to sound like the bigger friend of Florida families, but they never discussed a problem facing almost all Florida families — costly auto insurance.
In August, BankRate.com reported that only residents of Louisiana and Wyoming pay more to own a car than Floridians. The problem isn’t expensive gasoline or repairs. It’s expensive insurance.
For most Florida drivers, the main reason for high rates is the high cost of Personal Injury Protection. PIP can be 20 percent of the policy’s cost. Four decades ago, the state required drivers to carry the $10,000 emergency coverage. “No-fault” insurance was designed to get victims quick relief for hospital bills and lost wages after minor accidents without having to involve lawyers.
This being Florida, scammers went after that $10,000 like sea gulls after fish parts. Fraud rings staged accidents. Bogus clinics ran up just enough “bills” to keep under that $10,000 limit. Statewide, drivers pay an estimated $3.5 billion annually in PIP premiums, and insurers calculate fraud at $1 billion per year.
In 2012, the Legislature and Scott tried PIP Reform 9.0. They prohibited acupuncture and massage therapy in PIP cases. They limited chiropractic care. They made victims file lawsuits within 14 days. They limited non-emergency costs to $2,500. The estimated annual savings for insurers: $2 billion.
Insurers were supposed to pass those savings to customers. Sen. Joe Negron, the Stuart Republican who sponsored the bill, wanted to make the savings mandatory — 25 percent by this year. Scott opposed mandatory cuts. Instead, insurers had to hit that 25 percent target — unless they cited reasons why they couldn’t. They found reasons.
The Ocala StarBanner — The amendments
Florida voters are being asked to approve or reject three proposed amendments to the state constitution. Amendments 1 and 2 were initiated by citizen petition. The Legislature proposed Amendment 3.
With early voting beginning today, we offer these summaries of our previously published editorials.
Amendment 1: Yes
Amendment 1 is titled: “Water and Land Conservation.” The ballot summary explains it clearly: “Funds the Land Acquisition Trust Fund to acquire, restore, improve, and manage conservation lands including wetlands and forests; fish and wildlife habitat; lands protecting water resources and drinking water sources, including the Everglades, and the water quality of rivers, lakes, and streams; beaches and shores; outdoor recreational lands; working farms and ranches; and historic or geologic sites, by dedicating 33 percent of net revenues from the existing excise tax on documents for 20 years.”
There is a logical nexus between the fund and its revenue, derived in large part from development that reduces open space, impacts environmentally sensitive lands, heightens demand for water and increases pollution. Between 1990 and 2009, Florida allocated at least $300 million annually to Florida Forever, the state’s leading preservation program. Between 2009 and 2012, no revenue was allocated. In 2012, the Legislature allocated $8.5 million, this year, $30 million. While the economy has rebounded, funding for preservation and protection has not.
We recommend voting YES.
Amendment 2: Yes
Amendment 2 is titled “Use of Marijuana for Certain Medical Conditions.” Twenty-three states already allow the use of marijuana for medical reasons.
The Pensacola News-Journal — Suffering? Don’t Move to Florida
Retired Air Force Capt. Jeff Lahman served 25 years in the Air Force including time in special ops. He ended up with a series of injuries and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
He and his wife, also an Air Force officer, lived in Arizona. He was prescribed a large dose of oxycodone and other pain killers. Those prescription medicines brought him to a new low. A doctor suggested he try medical marijuana. He did and it changed his life. He was himself again. His wife saw the difference. Just last year he moved to Florida. He is a strong supporter of Amendment 2 because it would allow him to legally consult a Florida doctor about using medical marijuana.
Cathy Jordan was diagnosed with ALS in 1986 and given five years to live. She and her husband, Bob, moved from Delaware to Florida hoping a milder climate would help her condition. Doctors offered every prescription possible. Nothing worked. She began hoarding drugs with thoughts of suicide. She tried medical marijuana with the help of Bob and it worked. It acts as a muscle relaxer, anti-depressant and stimulates her appetite. In 2013, six officers entered her home and confiscated her medical marijuana.
Christopher Cano lives in Tampa. He was arrested for possession of 24 grams of marijuana he had bought to ease his father’s terminal dementia. Doctors had given Christopher’s father a year to live when they diagnosed him in 2010. Christopher had used marijuana to successfully treat his father’s debilitating condition, appetite loss and insomnia for four years until his arrest last April.
The Palm Beach Post — Meanest county? School bullying numbers demand action
Do we really live in Florida’s meanest county?
Data from the Florida Department of Education certainly give that impression.
Palm Beach County’s schools had the highest number of reported bullying incidents in the state, with 748 reported in 2012-13. The county with the next highest number was Miami-Dade, which reported 541 bullying incidents.
It’s time to talk about this.
Parents, students, teachers, administrators — everyone — has a role to play in creating schools where differences are embraced, learning is celebrated, and students feel safe.
There are best practices for preventing bullying. School officials say they’re working to implement them, and have recently been recognized for meeting the state’s anti-bullying law, the “Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up for All Students Act.” A big part of that law requires reporting and communicating about bullying incidents. That may be the reason for the county’s high numbers, a school spokesman suggested.
Perhaps. Regardless, those numbers cry out for action.
The Children’s Services Council and the School Board must ensure teachers and administrators are trained to recognize bullying, and respond to it in a way that does not twice victimize the victim. Bullying can be as subtle as exclusion or as overt as fisticuffs.
The Panama City News-Herald — Airport flood plan: Our luck will run out
Sooner or later, Bay County faces that storm of a century that causes real destruction, floods roads and knocks down buildings. That is not something we want to happen, but it is something for which we must be prepared.
Although it doesn’t seem like it in this era of constant and instant communication, Bay County is actually an isolated place geographically. There are only a few roads and bridges in and out of town and to our airport. When a large hurricane hits us, the airport will be critical for moving life-saving supplies and rescue workers into the area — especially if the roadways and bridges are flooded or damaged.
In April officials learned the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport in West Bay may be ready for a hurricane, but isn’t prepared for a 500-year-storm as required by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The airport had flooding problems after receiving only between 11 and 16 inches of rain earlier this year.
That’s more than a heavy summer shower but certainly isn’t as much as we will see in the event of a serious hurricane.
FEMA made an emergency declaration after the storm and freed up federal money that will be used to investigate and repair problems at the airport and ensure the facility can handle 100- to 500-year storm events.
The Tallahassee Democrat – Penny sales tax
Take a moment to think of the public works, the infrastructure, that you appreciate over the course of a week.
Among them might be smooth, wide roads with traffic flowing well; downtown spaces where you can relax on a sunny lunch break; sidewalks that you and the neighborhood children can walk on safely; parks and green areas that keep your city beautiful; stormwater systems that carry heavy rains safely away from your home; and sewer systems that protect the public health as well as the environment.
All of these are projects that have been supported by the local 1-percent sales tax option that Leon County has had in place since 1989.
Now, Leon County voters have the opportunity to renew that tax for 20 more years. The Tallahassee Democrat Editorial Board strongly recommends that you vote “For” the “one cent local government surtax extension.”
This is not just government making up a wish list and socking taxpayers with the bill. A group of 18 citizens has been working for two years to decide what Leon County and Tallahassee need to improve the quality of life. They listened to more than 1,000 of our fellow citizens. The final list is impressive and ambitious.
The Tampa Tribune — Toasting the Riverwalk
Allowing pedestrians to carry alcoholic drinks along the Riverwalk will make Tampa’s downtown waterfront more inviting and fun.
It emphasizes the impressive transformation of the city’s urban core, which is quickly shedding its reputation for being a dead zone after dark.
But the development, although welcomed, could lead to scuffles, litter and crude behavior if care is not taken. A strong police presence will be needed to discourage sodden behavior.
Still, City Council members are correct to pursue an open-container ordinance for the length of the 2.4-mile Riverwalk, which runs from the Tampa Bay History Center on Garrison Channel to Water Works Park on the Hillsborough River.
The sensible measure would allow eight licensed restaurants and bars along the Riverwalk to sell drinks in a special plastic cup that could be carried along the Riverwalk.
The restriction should prevent people from carting a wagon of booze to the Riverwalk. But party-hardy types, as the Gasparilla Parade illustrates, can be remarkably resourceful in smuggling alcoholic beverages. Police will need to make sure people don’t replenish those plastic cups from their own supply.
They’ll also need to closely monitor littering. We don’t want to see those plastic cups scattered along the walk or floating in the river.