The South Florida Sun Sentinel editorial board: "The region, as well as the state and nation, is mired in the worst economic slump since the early 1970s. Home forclosures, bankruptcies and rising unemployment have left many of our neighbors destitute, and the rest of us anxious about what's next." "Happy New Year anyway".
The Palm Beach Post editorial board:""
Florida faces stark indicators as 2009 gets under way. The Legislature meets in four days to plug a $2.3 billion budget gap. The governor has proposed raiding trust funds to the point of ruin. The Legislature hasn't offered anything much better."Economic misery is everywhere, but there is a historical reason Florida has been hit particularly hard. For decades Florida and the officials running the state, counties and towns have perpetuated the myth that growth will pay for itself and provide a prosperous lifestyle for everyone who buys into the myth. With special tax breaks for longtime residents, the expectation that an ever-increasing supply of newcomers, snowbirds and tourists would pay most of the bills was as enticing a Ponzi scheme as any that Bernard Madoff promised."
Housing values are down as much as a third from a year ago, which means local governments will have as hard a time as state lawmakers raising enough to meet basic needs - demand for which increases during a recession.
Construction - particularly home construction - on which Florida has relied forever for stable employment is in full retreat, contributing to a statewide jobless rate of 7.3 percent, the highest in 15 years.
Will tourism rescue Florida? No, unfortunately. Even the tourism juggernaut Disney is offering room and merchandise discounts.
School enrollment figures reflect all this woe. ...
Where are all the children? Some left with their families after the hurricanes of 2004 and 2005 made life miserable and insurance unaffordable. Some left when parents lost their jobs. Foreclosure drove out others.
Now, Florida's growth scheme has collapsed. The growth myth should collapse along with it. Yes, the real estate market will come back - let's hope in a more rational form. As fear subsides and credit markets ease, more people who can afford to spend will do so. But unbridled growth never again should be seen as Florida's perpetual money machine.Here's the story that needs to be told, over and over again:
During boom times, political leaders such as former Gov. Jeb Bush resisted all efforts to move Florida's tax structure away from unhealthy reliance on income generated by construction growth and the unsustainable housing bubble. Illogical sales-tax exemptions were sacrosanct. Internet sales went untaxed. The intangibles tax was repealed, a favor to Florida's wealthiest residents.And this, I believe, is what one calls a "pipe dream":
The affable Gov. Crist, who smiled and waved his way through his first two years in the governor's mansion, has a chance to stop coasting and become a leader by fixing the tax system. "Time to think about 2010".The St. Petersburg Times editorial board:
the special legislative session set to start Monday in Tallahassee to fill a $2.3-billion state budget deficit. So far, Republican Gov. Charlie Crist and the Republican-led Legislature — still mired in the mind-set that all tax reform is bad — have rejected calls to close loopholes in the sales tax code to offset the deficit, opting instead to raid fast-dwindling state reserves. But such a plan only sets the stage for more painful decisions in the spring, when a 2009-10 state budget faces a $5.8-billion deficit and possibly as little as $1-billion in reserves. The potential implications are dreadful to imagine: Chronically ill Floridians kicked out of Medicaid; schoolteacher pay cuts; state parks shuttered."Time for bold ideas, shared sacrifice".
Florida's economic future has changed in the past year and Republicans, who have controlled the Legislature for the past 12 years, must look beyond their old standbys of shrinking government and cutting taxes.
Sansom death spiral
The Daytona Beach News Journal editorial board writes today that "In the coming special session, Florida lawmakers will be discussing deep and painful cuts to the state budget. But one of the people at the very top of the legislative pecking order has irretrievably damaged his credibility, using sleazy tactics to divert state money and then taking a well-paid, unadvertised job from the very entity that benefited from his largesse."
The editors continue:
Do they think Floridians are stupid? Or just powerless?"Speaker Sansom's greed betrays public; can him".
As it stands, voters can't do much about Sansom's unmitigated money grab until the 2010 elections. But lawmakers can, and should, in part because Sansom didn't act alone.
"The special legislative session set for January will plug a $2.3 billion hole in state revenue collections with a combination of cuts in program spending, raids on state trust funds and reserves, postponement of some construction projects and bonding rather than paying cash for prisons. One thing not in the mix, though, are staff cuts in state agencies."
In words that would make "Jeb!" and his cronies cringe, Charlie said "Our state employees provide an invaluable resource to all Floridians and should be commended for their continued service."
The bright lights in the Legislature don't necessarily agree - Representative Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, a leader of the appropriations panel on government efficiency in the House
noted that the governor's plan calls for $135 million in gambling revenue to be gained by legislative ratification of his casino pact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida. That won't happen in the special session, said Galvano, who is vice-chairman of a select committee on the gaming deal."State workers' jobs safe for now, Crist says".
So that revenue will have to be found elsewhere, possibly in staff expenses.
Contingency plans included layoffs, unpaid furloughs and salary reductions of as much as 5 percent. But those are for the regular session in March, when the budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 has an even bigger shortfall looming.
"Big in Florida"
"Officials announced this week that some companies across the country must now post $50,000 surety bonds if they want to continue as Medicare providers." "Medicare fraud, big in Fla., prompts new bond rule".
"That law requires hospitals and health care facilities to give patients a good-faith estimate of anticipated charges for planned procedures if requested." "Health measures prominent among new Florida laws".
Stars in his eyes
"Florida GOP Chairman Jim Greer says he might join a half-dozen declared candidates for the Republican National Committee's top post. ... Before he determines whether to seek the job, Greer said he will be focus on keeping his state chairmanship in a contest to be decided Jan. 10 in Orlando. Greer has opposition but appears headed to victory with the backing of Gov. Charlie Crist." "Fla. GOP Leader Weighs U.S. Job".
"Soft-spoken and reserved, the retired electrical engineer who favors Hawaiian shirts and bags groceries at a gourmet foods store describes himself as a 'let's all be nice to each other kind of guy' who hates confrontation. But after learning that House Speaker Ray Sansom had secured a $110,000-a-year job at Northwest Florida State College after steering millions to the school, Plyer, 62, says he felt compelled to act." "Ethics complaint seen as a civic duty".
Theme park economy
Scott Maxwell points out that "Central Florida rode the crest of the growth wave with reckless abandon. And now that the waters have receded, reality has set in. With hotels half-empty and theme-park lines thinning, the recession is a good reminder that no community should have too much of its economy dependent upon a single industry. Especially a low-paying one." "All in all, a lousy year, but a glimmer of hope".
Jeremy Cox writes that "consumer advocates and insurance experts say that the more than two dozen Cover Florida plans aren't much more attractive than the stripped-down health-care plans already on the market - and sometimes less so." "Cover Florida plans similar to what's on market now".
"A Florida mother is awaiting word from Cuba after her son and his girlfriend accidentally ended up on the island while boating in rough waters."
"Forty-year-old Robert Vassallo told his mother they were unharmed and being kept in a home outside the Havana jail where they were first taken." "Fla. mother says 2 from US being held in Cuba".
We're the yellow ribbons now?
"Angered over two recent slayings, veterans gathered to demand more help in getting homeless vets off Miami's streets." "Veterans demand help for homeless vets after deadly beatings".
Here's a shocker
"Florida's energy future should be 'clean' - not just 'renewable' - and include nuclear power as a source of green energy, according to recommendations from the staff of utility regulators released Wednesday."
The report follows months of lobbying by Florida Power & Light - the state's largest utility and producer of nuclear power - to persuade regulators to create a "Clean Energy Portfolio Standard" rather than a "Renewable Portfolio Standard." Florida statues do not include nuclear power in the definition of "renewable" energy. FPL generates no renewable energy in Florida. ..."State report backs nuclear power as clean energy".
The report describes nuclear power as a "cornerstone of an energy efficient Florida."
We're FPL and you aren't
"Mystery solved. No, it wasn't Dick Cheney, Santa Claus or nuclear waste shipments, as one enterprising reader suggested, that forced the unannounced closure two weeks ago of Interstate 95. Blame the power company. Yes, Florida Power & Light was replacing transmission lines. The company's excuse for not informing the public? A good old-fashioned "communication breakdown.
Why communications went awry - and an FPL spokeswoman admits it was their fault and they're checking into why it happened - is FPL didn't let anyone know when the work would take place. Well, someone told the FHP troopers who got overtime pay for stopping traffic and conducting what they call a "rolling roadblock." But no one told the public relations people, whose job it is to tell the public, even though the permit granted in June required FPL to provide two weeks notice."FPL's secret plan to close I-95".
The Miami Herald editorial board: "Undoubtedly, Mr. Obama will be beseeched to end the trade embargo that has been a mainstay of U.S. policy for four decades, even to upgrade diplomatic relations. Those steps should be considered only when Cuba is ready to adopt the freedoms its people have long awaited." "After 50 years, waiting for freedom".
We don' need no stinkin' government regulation
The Miami Herald editorial board: "Some lawmakers already are buckling. State Rep. Rich Workman, R-Melbourne, who supported the victims' compensation fund, now says that he wants to explore whether having brokers buy bonds instead would work." "Get crooks out of mortgage business".
Not so bad
"Courts won't see budgets cut as much as expected".
The poor things ...
"For the considerable number of state House members who are University of Florida alumni or fans, the enormity of the state's fiscal crisis will hit home next week. As part of the special legislative session to address Florida's $2.3 billion budget chasm, House Speaker Ray Sansom has scheduled a key budget debate for the full House to begin at 3 p.m. on Jan. 8. The University of Florida plays Oklahoma for college football's national championship in Miami that night." "Budget takes a bite out of lawmakers' Gator fanfare".
"Year in review: Amid tough times, little change in county government".
One mayor, no charge
"The city of DeBary's incoming mayor says he doesn't want a salary. Mayor-elect Bob Garcia recently told the city's finance administrator to keep the $600 per month and apply it where it's needed." "Incoming Mayor In Volusia City Rejects Salary".
Never mind the paramedic stuff ...
"Miami taxpayers have started receiving their fire-fee refunds. But many residents are grumbling about the amount of the payout." "Taxpayers say fire-fee refunds `should be more'".