A roundup of Sunday editorials from Florida’s leading newspapers:
Tampa Bay Times — A quiet, mixed year for the Florida Legislature
They repealed the ban on unmarried couples living together, closed public records to protect Ultimate Fighter broadcasts and earmarked millions for police radios nobody requested. They kept a new downtown medical school for the University of South Florida on track but refused to spend a nickel on a Tampa waterfront park. They pushed out the state’s surgeon general, approved a new Holocaust memorial for the state Capitol grounds and voted to remove a statue of a Confederate general from the U.S. Capitol.
The Florida Legislature quietly adjourned its annual session Friday with just a few minor bumps, approving an $82.3 billion state budget and avoiding the political infighting that would have further angered voters in an election year. With all 120 House seats and 40 Senate seats up for grabs, this was a session of modest accomplishments and plenty of posturing to please special interest groups. Big ideas for solving big issues, from tax reform to access to affordable health care to mass transit, will have to wait. Again.
Grading on a curve, lawmakers approved a more responsible state budget than they have in recent years. There are just $129 million in tax cuts, and a modest 1 percent increase in per student spending is covered by state tax dollars rather than by local property tax increases triggered by higher property values. There is more money to help restore the Everglades, and there are smart investments to cut waiting lists for services for people with disabilities and to improve mental health services. This was a budget from the Republican-controlled Legislature Democrats could support.
Yet there are serious shortcomings. There still are no general pay raises for state workers. There is no money to hire more than 700 prison guards needed to restore order in the prison system. Lawmakers once again gave both traditional public schools and privately run charter schools $75 million in construction money, even though charter schools have a fraction of the students and facilities. Millions are squandered on foolish teacher bonuses tied to their college-admission test scores that have no relation to their performance. And there was the usual last-minute grab bag of nearly $100 million in local projects that magically appeared and are sure to catch the attention of Gov. Rick Scott as he decides which line items to veto.
After an epic, decade-long battle between 38 Florida counties and state government, a compromise solution has been found over payments for juvenile detention. Manatee County fought hard to end the Department of Juvenile Justice’s excessive and indefensible charges to counties under a billing system too broken for repairs.
Kudos to Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, for his legislation to split the costs evenly, an idea that counties have pushed for years to no avail. A 2004 law set the stage for this costly legal conflict.
That law required counties to pay the predisposition costs of detaining underage offenders. After sentencing, the state picks up the bill. The feud began in 2009 when DJJ first determined the counties’ share should be 75 percent, but an appeals court disagreed in 2013.
Counties sought the return of hundreds of million of tax dollars in overpayments, which killed legislation proposing a 50-50 split. Then Gov. Rick Scott and DJJ implemented the current 57-43 percent formula, with counties paying the higher amount — which they fought as still inequitable. Again, the court sided with the counties earlier this year on the issue of back payments.
The Daytona Beach News-Journal — Local development enjoys big thaw
Since spring is a time of renewal and growth, it’s only fitting that the local economy has seen a sudden surge in green shoots.
It’s especially encouraging given the glacial pace of progress regarding several developments.
As recently reported by The News-Journal’s Clayton Park, more than $80 million in new projects have been approved in the last month. And that’s just from construction permits. If you count interior improvements, equipment and furnishings, the projects total more than $110 million.
They include the planned 200-room Westin Daytona Beach Resort & Spa on the site of the old Desert Inn at 900 N. Atlantic Ave. That $24 million project initially was proposed in 2014 and made official last August, but gutting and renovating the notorious former dump of a hotel has taken longer than anticipated. The shell has been sitting dormant awaiting approval in design changes from Starwood Hotels & Resorts, owner of the Westin brand, and the subsequent permitting required by the city.
The Florida Times-Union — Trump reveals himself in his books
One of the duties of presidential candidate is to write a book.
Usually, it’s dull.
But Donald Trump is different.
His life has been an open book — literally.
On the stump, Trump likes to refer to perhaps his most popular book, “The Art of the Deal.” So we read that book along with two others that promised to offer a more nuanced view of the candidate, “The Art of the Comeback” and “Surviving at the Top.”
The books are written like one of Trump’s campaign speeches, free associations with plenty of boasting, a narcissistic focus on Trump himself and a love-hate relationship with the press.
Yet there also is wisdom, insights into his personality, the occasional bit of humility and even a rare apology.
Florida Today – Trump’s tariffs would hurt middle class
Donald Trump hasn’t released many details of his policy agenda because he hasn’t put much thought into what it means to be president.
The proposals he has put out have shown that he would not be a friend to middle class families. In fact he’d be the exact opposite because he’d significantly increase the cost of everything they buy.
The centerpiece of Trump’s skimpy policy agenda is a 45 percent tariff on everything imported from China. A tariff is essentially a sales tax that is imposed on anything imported into the country from abroad- except it is hidden.
You’re familiar with the Florida sales tax which is 6 percent plus your local add-on rate. You see how much tax you pay on everything you buy on your receipts. A tariff would work the same way, except you’d never how much you’re paying. Tariffs aren’t put on sales receipts like a sales tax.
The Gainesville Sun – Cheers and jeers
Florida is again playing a decisive role in presidential politics — and judging from the number of ballots already cast, voters are taking the responsibility seriously.
Sen. Marco Rubio is counting on his home state to save his campaign, while Donald Trump hopes a victory here will all but assure him of the Republican nomination.
On the Democratic side, Sen. Bernie Sanders’ surprising win in Michigan has given his supporters hope of another upset in Florida despite Hillary Clinton’s lead in the polls here.
Whichever candidate you choose, please vote. Judging from the turnout so far — Florida this week surpassed 1 million ballots cast early — voters don’t need much encouragement.
The Lakeland Ledger —Open government is the best government
One hallmark of the British Empire and its descendants has been a passion for documentation. Perhaps it was the Roman influence on their character, but long before Johannes Gutenberg facilitated the publication of the written word, the Brits ensured those who ran the mechanism of government wrote down their thoughts and deeds, a trait carried for centuries by the rest of the English-speaking world.
For this we can be thankful, because such action provides historical records of our ancestors’ work, fosters common understanding of official policies and establishes guidelines for future actions. The problem is that recording everything creates paper trails that cannot be disputed — and when things go awry, when scandal erupts, having indisputable evidence on paper also creates an incentive for the government to hide things.
At whatever level of government, we must continually push back against the inclination toward secrecy. Those in power may think they are doing us a favor, protecting the public good, or, most likely, saving their miserable hides by concealing their thoughts and deeds. But such activity only spawns mistrust and suspicion.
Access to the records assembled by the folks we elect and pay to manage our affairs is the tonic to dissolving such ill will toward our leaders. Jeremy Bentham, the 18th century British philosopher, once warned about the consequences for the populace of allowing such behavior to go unchecked for too long.
Miami Herald —Opa-locka can’t be officials’ cash cow
Whether any elected official or bureaucrat will be arrested, charged, convicted of corruption and imprisoned is far from known. Whether the feds, which raided Opa-locka’s City Hall on Thursday, can make the case is uncertain.
But what’s clear right now, as it has been for far too long, is that something is rotten in Opa-locka. Allegations of kickback schemes and bribery aside, this is a struggling city, weighed down by massive debt. It is a city victimized time and again by officials who have failed in their stewardship.
New leadership of integrity and ability can help stop the abuse. Of course, so can prison sentences.
The FBI raided City Hall, carrying off official documents and records, computers and other evidence in its two-year corruption investigation. Highly placed officials are in the FBI’s sights, including Mayor Myra Taylor.
Orlando Sentinel —Debates shine light on contrasts
Florida has been the epicenter of presidential politics this week, with White House hopefuls from both parties barnstorming the state and Democratic and Republican debates on consecutive nights in Miami.
After so many debates, it would be easy to overlook the latest pair. But for voters in both parties who might still be undecided before Tuesday’s Florida primary, there were revealing policy differences among the candidates.
In the Republican debate, front-runner Donald Trump didn’t resort to insults in presenting his views, but that didn’t make some of them less outrageous or unrealistic.
Trump refused to back away from his gross and offensive generalization that “Islam hates us,” even after Florida Sen. Marco Rubio reminded the audience that American Muslims have fought and died for this country.
Ocala StarBanner — Medicaid shortchanges Florida’s children
Knowledge is power. And the knowledge to be gained through a privately funded survey of Florida pediatricians could help generate the power to change the state’s woeful record on health care for its neediest children.
As part of the 17-question survey, more than 5,000 pediatricians and pediatric specialists have been asked whether they participate in Florida’s Medicaid managed-care program, what the wait times are for Medicaid patients, and whether the managed-care companies create barriers to health care for young patients.
The survey and subsequent analysis are a joint effort of our sister newspaper the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families and the Florida chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The survey follows an eye-opening series by the Herald-Tribune, “2 Million Kids. $24 Billion Battle,” which found that the state’s privatized Medicaid program is “largely ineffective in caring for children.”
Pensacola News-Journal —We have our own prisons of thinking
“Does Ryan still work here?”
“No, he went to the prison.”
“Yeah, I got some kin like that, myself.”
“No, I mean he went to work there.”
“Well, that’s better but still have to deal with the same people and stuck in the same place. It’s good some can do the job.”
He went on to tell me of another friend who let the job get to him. An inmate stabbed an old man, another inmate. The friend got so mad he beat the stabber badly. He was taken off duty and put through anger management training. In the end, he decided to walk away and let someone else handle the pressure.
In his defense, he looked at a convict the rest of us considered too dangerous to release on society and saw an old man needing help from the latest member of his select social group. We don’t know what the stabber saw, presumably an easy victim or street cred.
The Palm Beach Post —With PBG term limits in place, newcomer Woods deserves shot
Vice Mayor David J. Levy, first elected to the Palm Beach Gardens City Council 12 years ago, has done a great job. The 55-year-old geologist’s strong grasp of environmental issues has been a tremendous asset on development questions such as the planned Avenir project.
But in November 2014, city voters overwhelmingly approved term limits for council members: two consecutive three-year terms, to be applied retroactively. That change in the political landscape calls into question Levy’s bid for another term on March 15.
Levy was elected to three-year terms in 2004, 2007 and 2010. He resigned during his third stint, in November 2012, to run for Palm Beach County Commission, He lost that race to Hal Valeche. Four months later, in March 2013, he won a fourth term to the City Council.
Levy argues that he is now going for his second consecutive term. Technically, that may be true. But it would contradict voters’ clear intent — a desire for fresh faces — were he to secure the same council seat in five straight elections.
The Panama City News-Herald — Trump supporters not ‘ordinary Americans’
The headline: “Millions of ordinary Americans support Donald Trump.” Immediately, I bristled.
Here we go again.
“Ordinary” Americans. We know what that’s supposed to mean. Plain people. Malleable people. Nothing-exceptional-about-them people. Every four years, these white working-class voters become objects of curiosity like pandas at the zoo.
These are the people I come from. Many of their children grew up to do the same kind of work their parents did — but for less money and benefits and with fewer job protections. Make that no job protection — unless they’re in a union, which is increasingly unlikely. As NPR reported last year, almost a third of American workers belonged to a union 50 years ago. Today 1 in 10 are union members.
South Florida Sun Sentinel – Open government under attack
America is the envy of the world because our Constitution gives us the right to live free, speak our minds and pick our leaders. But democracy only works if citizens know what’s going on and can hold government accountable. And increasingly, politicians are creating barriers to hide what government is doing.
So on this Sunshine Sunday, an annual moment in time when the nation’s news media steps back to assess government transparency, we must sadly report that our ability to watch government in action is eroding.
In Washington, the Obama administration has a terrible record on transparency. Its spokesmen are often unresponsive or hostile to press inquiries. Federal employees suspected of leaking information are subject to investigation, including lie-detector tests, according to a report by Columbia Journalism Review. New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan has said this administration is “turning out to be the administration of unprecedented secrecy and unprecedented attacks on a free press.”
You see the attitude in the secretive behavior of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. After her appointment, she set up a private email server at her home, putting public records off limits. On the campaign trail, she has refused to release transcripts of her Wall Street speeches. Indeed, her reputation for secrecy goes back to her 1993 health care task force, her 2006 secret energy task force and her continued refusal to disclose foreign donations to her family’s foundation.
The Tallahassee Democrat – Public office still scares off many good people
Over the years, when I’ve noticed someone in a crowd or at a party who is especially articulate and well-informed, I’ll pop the big question: “Why don’t you run for office?”
A specific office sometimes comes to mind. For instance, a woman I know who is full of energy, has a lawyer’s mind (plus a law degree), perseverance to spare and four children in the public schools would be, I think, a natural for the school board.
Then there is a businessman in town who is such a quick study and so good natured, tactful and resourceful that he’d be, it seems, a terrific city or county commissioner.
“Do you ever think about it?” I’ll ask. “Running for office?”
Of course they’ve thought about it. They’re naturals to think about public life, and they do get involved from time to time. They’re smart and steady and driven to make a difference. But their answer never varies.
“Not in your wildest dreams,” they add, in case I’ve missed the point.
The Tampa Tribune — Working together to revive a neighborhood
Plans for an apartment complex and hotel to be built in a once badly blighted section of Tampa’s urban core underscores the wisdom of local officials who committed to the neighborhood’s revitalization.
The Tampa Housing Authority is expected this month to sell 3 acres on two parcels to a development group, Pinnacle Group Holding, that plans to build a 20-story hotel and 28-story residential tower.
The projects will bring further vitality and investment to a neighborhood once plagued by poverty, crime and hopelessness.
As with any such revitalization effort, there may be fits and starts in the neighborhood’s transition. But no one can deny that the outlook for the once forlorn Central Park Village site is bright.
Local officials deserve credit for their resolve and foresight.