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

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

Tampa Bay Times — Too many in Florida struggling

Despite steady job growth, a new report gives a sobering perspective on Florida’s economy. Forty-five percent of the state’s 7.2 million households struggle to make ends meet, even though the adults are working. These are the people whose lives are often affected by government and the very constituents lawmakers should keep in mind as they return to Tallahassee this week to begin work toward the 2015 session.

The report on financial hardship was commissioned by the United Way of Florida and conducted by Rutgers University-Newark School of Public Affairs and Administration. It details the amount of money needed to cover basic necessities such as housing, child care, food, transportation and health care in each of the state’s 67 counties. According to the study, 1.1 million Florida households live below the federal poverty line.

But another 2.1 million households live below the ALICE threshold, a measurement that means the households don’t earn enough to provide necessities and are vulnerable to collapse should a financial emergency as simple as a broken-down car arise. These are the struggling workers, holding jobs such as customer service representatives, laborers, retail sales people, movers and some health care aides. Many work more than one job to make ends meet and would benefit from the expansion of Medicaid.

The households span all age groups, though the largest segment is people aged 25 to 64. More than 79 percent are white, but African-Americans, Hispanics, people with disabilities and unskilled immigrants are overrepresented, the report said. These struggling households are spread across the state, making up at least 20 percent of the population in every Florida county. Of St. Petersburg’s 104,431 households, 50 percent meet the criteria. About 49 percent of Tampa’s 135,591 households are economically at risk, the report said.

The Bradenton Herald — Welcome snowbirds! How about a special Bradenton welcome, too, with festival

 Our winter friends have been flocking back to Florida on their annual migration away from cold and ice — which came too early this year, which likely chased more northerners our way. Welcome back to the land of warmth and sand.

We’ll gladly suffer the additional traffic to enjoy your friendship in our restaurants, at the beaches and everywhere else we meet. You enrich the social fabric of our community with your enjoyment of our arts and entertainment, our parks and festivals, our golf and spectator sports.

Here’s a thought: How about a “Welcome Snowbirds” or “A Celebration of Snowbirds” street festival along Old Main in downtown Bradenton sometime in January when the population grows some more after the holidays? That would showcase the Friendly City in a big hugfest with our winter friends. How about that, Realize Bradenton? Wouldn’t that fit into the city’s twin strategies for economic growth: place making and place branding?

The Daytona Beach News-Journal — Help for victims of violence

Volusia County is slowly rebuilding its shattered safety net of rape-crisis services, drawing deeply on community resources to ensure that victims of sexual assault can receive forensic exams, counseling and other assistance. It’s a heartening response to a distressing situation.

Rape crisis services have been in upheaval for nearly a year, when the state began pressing The Children’s Advocacy Center for repayment of a six-year-old debt. The situation quickly unraveled, and the Children’s Advocacy Center lost its certification this summer. In the aftermath of that breakdown, services were taken over on a piecemeal basis by various service providers — and while there seem to be no reports of people falling through the cracks, or cases compromised by faulty evidence handling, the potential for trouble was real and troubling. And local officials saw that.

This week, Volusia County Sheriff Ben Johnson announced a partnership with Halifax Health and Florida Hospital to provide forensic exams at six area hospitals by a team of nurses trained to preserve evidence while treating victims with dignity and compassion. That offer stands for any victim of sexual assault, even those who don’t want to pursue criminal cases against their assailants. And it will end a shameful situation that has forced some victims to travel out-of-county to be examined.

There could be more good news soon. Stewart-Marchman Act, the area’s largest mental-health and substance-abuse provider, plans to start a hotline in January for victims of sexual assault. And the organization could be close to finalizing its plan to offer crisis counseling and long-term assistance to targets of sexual violence, SMA CEO Chet Bell said Friday. Stewart-Marchman is nearly a perfect fit for that role.

The Florida Times-Union — Major changes in local government proposed

A special committee on consolidated government has done most of its work under the radar.

This task force, appointed by former City Council President Bill Gulliford and headed by Council Member Lori Boyer, is the classic use of the legislative function.

The task force embarked on an exhaustive number of meetings that are available on the City Council’s website.

It’s a treasure trove for local historians.

Now the results are about to come into public view with a series of bills and two important matters that probably will require a public vote.

The first issue involves the general counsel position. Jacksonville’s government has been called a “strong mayor” form. Actually, though, it’s really a strong general counsel form of government.

The general counsel not only acts in the usual role of attorney in one of the largest law firms in the city, this person also makes binding decisions that resolves conflicts within the government.

The usual criticism of the general counsel is that the position really acts as the mayor’s attorney. Previous general counsels resist that description, saying that this perception arises because the greatest volume of work handled by the office involves the executive branch.

Nevertheless, in recent months as part of a tension between the Mayor’s Office and City Council, that perception has gained renewed traction.

Major changes for the general counsel have been proposed as a key part of proposals by the Task Force on Consolidated Government.

Florida Today – US-China climate deal offers new hope

Global warming is, by definition, a global problem that requires a global solution. But two countries count more than all the rest: China and the United States.

Together, they produce almost 40 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. That’s why Wednesday’s announcement in Beijing of a deal to limit those emissions is such an important step toward averting catastrophic disruption of the Earth’s climate.

Until now, China and the U.S. have been locked in a “you go first” standoff. China has resisted limits because the U.S. and other nations had a decades-long head start on industrialization. The U.S has been reluctant to act only to see increases from China swamp any U.S. reductions.

Wednesday’s unexpectedly detailed agreement points to a way out. President Obama set a new target to cut U.S. carbon pollution 26 percent to 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025. And Chinese leader Xi Jinping pledged — for the first time — to cap his nation’s carbon emissions by 2030 and sharply increase its share of non-fossil fuel energy.

Xi’s pledge wasn’t prompted by a sudden concern about the fate of polar bears. China is doing something it has powerful domestic incentives to do anyway.

The Gainesville Sun – Inequality issues

Alachua County has problems with poverty, but a new report presents an inaccurate picture of inequality here.

A report released last week by the United Way of Florida claimed that Alachua County has the worst income disparity in the state. The bottom 40 percent of workers make 9 percent of the income, as compared with a statewide average of 11 percent, the report found.

Yet by failing to account for the county’s large population of college students, the report presented skewed data.

The data-crunching website Fivethirtyeight.com featured a story earlier this year that debunked the claim that college towns such as Gainesville have some of the nation’s highest levels of income inequality.

The median household income in Gainesville jumps to $35,000 from $28,000 when students are excluded from the data, according to the story.

“None of this means college towns aren’t ‘pits of inequality,’ ” the story said. “They just aren’t pits of income inequality.”

The Lakeland Ledger — Let’s Hope Legislature Listens

Over the past two elections cycles, the Florida Legislature has put a dozen amendments to the state Constitution before the voters. Nine of them failed. The only three that gained enough support to pass involved proposals with the appeal of mom and apple pie — tax relief for military veterans disabled because of combat-related injuries, low-income senior citizens and surviving spouses of military veterans or first responders.

Translated into baseball terms, the Legislature and its leadership are batting a meager .250.

The anemic record is notable because it’s easier for the Legislature to propose amendments than it is for members of the public. Legislators exempted themselves from the requirements that apply to citizen-initiated amendments.

Legislative leaders like to talk about how they are elected to represent the will of the people, yet the failure of nine of the most recent initiatives suggests a disconnect between rhetoric and reality.

In 2012, one of the failed amendments sought to expand the legislative branch’s reach into the judiciary; it was rejected by 63 percent of voters. Another attempted to undermine judicial independence; it was opposed by 55 percent. Three amendments were on the ballot for the general election that concluded last week. The sole proposal by the Legislature also involved the courts.

Amendment 3 was designed and approved by the Republican majority in the Legislature to significantly change the way in which the state replaces Florida Supreme Court justices and appeals court judges who do not qualify for merit retention.

The Miami Herald — Experienced — and apolitical

President Obama could hardly have found a less polarizing choice to succeed Eric Holder as head the Department of Justice than Loretta Lynch, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. Her nomination will be a good test of intentions for Republicans who say they want to govern rather than merely obstruct the president.

For starters, Ms. Lynch, 55, has already been confirmed — twice — by the Senate, once when she served as chief federal prosecutor in Brooklyn under President Clinton (1999-2001), and again in the same position under President Obama since 2010. Her qualifications are not in doubt.

Second, she is an apolitical choice. Mr. Obama reached out to someone who is known primarily for her work, not for her political connections. The president deliberately passed over other possible choices who might have been more controversial (and harder to confirm) because of their ties to him or their role in pushing high-profile policies, such as Solicitor General Donald Verrilli.

Ms. Lynch, in contrast, has a strong record as prosecutor. She has brought corruption charges against public officials of both parties and also aided a Justice Department investigation of Citigroup mortgage securities that resulted in the bank paying a $7 billion settlement. She charged the mobsters allegedly responsible for the 36-year-old heist of $6 million in cash and jewelry from a Lufthansa Airlines vault at Kennedy Airport, dramatized in the movie Goodfellas, and helped prosecute police officers who severely beat and sexually assaulted Haitian immigrant Abner Louima.

The Orlando Sentinel — Dems’ turnout plan failed: Front & Center

This year’s contest for Florida governor between incumbent Republican Rick Scott and Democratic challenger Charlie Crist drew interest around the country. Scott, despite struggling with chronically low public-approval ratings during his first term, wound up winning re-election by 1.1 percentage points over Crist, a former governor who switched parties to run again. Veteran political analyst Susan MacManus of the University of South Florida broke down the results in an email interview with the Editorial Board. An excerpt of that interview follows. A longer version is online at OrlandoSentinel.com/opinion.

Q: Did the national wave for Republicans in this year’s elections play a factor in Rick Scott’s victory?

A: Exit polls showed that a majority of Floridians saw the country as headed in the wrong direction (62 percent), were worried about the future of the nation’s economy — both domestically and internationally — (73 percent), and were displeased with the leadership of President Obama (57 percent). The race in Florida was a nationalized one, as it was in many other states where Republicans made major gains in gubernatorial and U.S. Senate contests.

Q: What role did turnout play in the results?

A: Typical midterm turnout patterns held among key Democratic constituencies. The formula for a Crist victory was to increase turnout among young, minority, and unmarried women to presidential election year levels. It did not happen; the typical midterm fall-off occurred among these key Democratic constituencies. Expectations of a presidential election year turnout just never materialized for Democrats.

The Ocala StarBanner — All about the children

When three of Marion County’s five School Board members — Angie Boynton, Bobby James and newcomer Kelly King — are sworn in Tuesday night to new four-year terms, it will be time to put the platitudes and promises of the campaign behind and get down to the business of governing our schools.

While there will be little change in the makeup of the board, except for King, a 12-year veteran classroom teacher, we beseech the board to make a change in their emphasis.

Let it be all about the children.

For the past seven years, the School Board has spent much of its energy and focus on budgetary matters as it and the superintendent of schools worked to deal with severe and repetitious funding cuts. The obvious result of ongoing reduction in dollars was reductions in teachers, technology, course offerings and after-school and summer help programs, for starters.

During that time, we also have seen the performance of our schools, at least as measured by Florida’s high-stakes Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, decline when compared with the state’s 66 other school districts — from 44th four years ago to 50th last year. It’s an unacceptable ranking. We have no doubt the five individuals on the School Board care about the welfare of Marion County’s children and want to help those children go as far in life as they can. But the fact is our schools have declined during the recession, and despite arguments to the contrary by some on the board, so has the quality of education our children our receiving. During the campaign King, a third-grade teacher, stated unequivocally, “I work in the schools, and I have seen the deterioration.” So have we.

The Pensacola News-Journal — Blue Wahoos deliver again

The most recent payment by the Blue Wahoos baseball team for using the Community Maritime Park far exceeded what was owed. It’s time for any remaining opponents to accept that it’s a project worth supporting.

To date, the team has paid $2.1 million during the three seasons it has used the park. Add that to the $3 million owner Quint Studer invested to build the park and it shows the park is a winner. Not only has the team and bayfront stadium won more awards than any other minor league baseball team for the staff, facility and the game experience, it’s a vast improvement over the weed-infested property that wasted away as a homeless camp not so long ago.

Look at the numbers: During a recent meeting with this Editorial Board, Studer pointed out the team is one of the leaders in the minor leagues in the money generated for the use of a public stadium.

The $722,905 to the Community Maritime Park Associates this year was the most for any of the 10 Southern League teams. The next-closest team payment was the $715,000 the Birmingham Barons paid to the city, according to that city’s estimates. Considering that team’s Regions Field has 7,000 fixed seats – about 2,000 more than the bayfront stadium – and 26 suites, the Wahoos’ payment is even more impressive.

The public has shown its widespread support through the attendance each year. And it has been repaid with the financial and cultural benefits that professional baseball has injected into our community.

The Palm Beach Post — Aim for growth without gridlock in transportation planning

Palm Beach County’s 2010 population was 1.32 million. Imagine if, by 2040, it grows by 27 percent, hitting 1.68 million people. Clearly, the region’s transportation network will have to grow, too.

Those growth projections are from the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research, and they appear in the new Palm Beach County Metropolitan Planning Organization 2040 Long Range Transportation Plan, a document well worth reading for the way it maps out likely regional changes over the next three decades.

Most people, once they’ve moved to this sunny, pleasant place, expect it to stay the same forever. It can’t, and it won’t. But opponents of reasonable road extensions and rail traffic proposals also dislike gridlock and traffic jams. A little realism on their part about the area’s transportation needs is necessary to save everyone pain later.

The long-range transportation plan predicts the most intense growth will be scattered in five key areas: along the urban U.S. 1 corridor in south county; along Military Trail in central Palm Beach County; near the waterfront in West Palm Beach; along I-95 in north county; and on rural farmland in central-west Palm Beach County, where Minto West and other projects are planned.

So how would the transportation network need to change?

Under a section named, “Desires,” the plan calls for a mix of new roads, road widening and new public transportation services to handle more people.

A local commuter rail option, Tri-Rail Coastal Link, would run along the eastern urban corridor where All Aboard Florida trains are due to run, with 14 stops from Jupiter to Boca Raton. A grid of express buses spanning the length and breadth of the entire county would link to several of those train stations. The express buses would run along major arteries including Southern Boulevard from Belle Glade to downtown West Palm Beach, and along major north-south arteries, including Florida’s Turnpike.

The Panama City News-Herald — The affluent Catch-22

Downtown Panama City faces a classic Catch-22 situation.

It needs affluent housing, preferably high-quality apartments, so the area can attract more businesses that would hope to capitalize on those residents’ disposable income. The problem is that developers are skittish about putting high-quality residential structures in the area without a better draw for new residents.

Meanwhile, in a follow-up story that found there remains a need for affordable housing for seniors, some of them who live in Panama City told The News Herald’s Ben Kleine that they were insulted by the comments that were made over a plan to put affordable housing for seniors at the Marie Hotel downtown.
They shop, they said. They go to restaurants. And they deserve, after a lifetime of work, to have a nice place to live in a welcoming community. Klein also discovered that Panama City’s affordable senior housing complexes are currently full. So while city officials might feel there are enough in town, apparently, there aren’t enough of them in the area to cover the need.

The Tallahassee Democrat – Eugene Robinson: An accord for the planet needed

The minute we glimpse a flicker of hope in the fight against climate change, Republicans in Congress announce their intention to snuff it out. Fortunately for the planet, it seems they can’t.

This week’s stunning announcement of a long-range agreement between the Obama administration and the Chinese government over carbon emissions is the best environmental news in years. Not to sound grandiose, it means the world still has a chance to save itself from unmitigated disaster.

The significance of the accord, which was doggedly pursued by Secretary of State John Kerry, is not just that the world’s two biggest emitters of greenhouse gases have agreed to take action. China’s ambitious target of generating 20 percent of its energy from sources other than fossil fuels by 2030 promises massive investment and innovation — a huge boost for clean-energy technologies, with impact worldwide.

Pay no attention to the “Yes, but” chorus. It is true that China could have committed to an earlier date for carbon emissions to level off and should have set interim targets. It is true that meeting the new U.S. goals will be no trivial undertaking. It is also true that the multiplying smokestacks of India, the third-largest emitter, will continue to spew heat-trapping carbon at an unfettered pace — for now.

The Tampa Tribune — Obama’s immigration provocation

The word is President Obama soon will issue an executive immigration order that could protect up to 5 million undocumented immigrants.

The New York Times reports he plans to allow the parents of children who are American citizens to obtain legal work documents. He also will loosen restrictions on immigrants with high-tech skills.

Frankly, we don’t find either measure offensive. It’s in the nation’s best interest to keep families united and allow companies to recruit workers who can help our country be more productive.

What we do find offensive is that the president, after a resounding defeat at the polls, would seek to ram through regulations that should be debated and adopted by Congress.

The president talks about wanting better relations with Congress and then promptly pokes it in the eye.

After the election, he quickly issued an immigration ultimatum, saying he wouldn’t issue an executive order as long as Congress adopted immigration reform before the end of the year that he could sign, knowing that was unlikely.

But if Obama would work with Congress, and exercise some patience, he might find surprising cooperation.

Yes, there are some in the GOP who respond venomously to the issue, but there are many more Republicans who want sensible reform.


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.