"Florida's becoming a wasteland"
The Daytona Beach News Journal's five diamond columnist, Pierre Tristam asks "Whose side is government on?"
Floridians should be asking themselves that question as legislators claim, falsely, that the only way to fill a $2.3 billion budget gap is to cut the budget and cripple public education and public health, among other presumably indispensable services. Legislators won't consider tax increases."But if state legislators are captives of the same no-tax ideology that broke the state to begin with, voters are their wardens. Now the state is reaping what it votes for."
They defend the strange calculus that it's better to fire a $40,000-a-year teacher and trigger all sorts of likely hardships than add ... a 10 percent tax on a few rich people's stock profits (such as they are these days). Which would you rather do: Pay those taxes or lose your job, your home, your health insurance, your purchasing power, not to mention losing quality schools, roads, nursing homes, parks and other basics of civilized life?
Tristam continues, arguing that "the means -- fair, equitable and necessary -- are available." He gives us several "examples, based on Florida Department of Revenue calculations", beginning with one of our favorites, the delightful estate tax,
In 2002, Florida's estate tax generated $558 million. Last year, it generated $0, because unlike 17 other states, Florida went along with President George W. Bush's phasing out of the estate tax (at least until 2011). Eliminating the estate tax is poor public policy. It concentrates wealth instead of circulating it, crimping, not stimulating, growth. It's also elitist social policy. It eliminates taxes on rich dead people while denying services to living, breathing millions. Restoring the estate tax to its reasonable, pre-Bush level would hurt no one, the fatal damage being already done. It would merely reduce rich survivors' windfalls while benefiting anyone with a stake in the state's general revenue fund."Add it all up: $2.26 billion. Deficit erased."
· Net new annual revenue from restoring estate tax: $600 million. ...
· Net new annual revenue from an extra 5-cent gas tax: $520 million. ["Florida could easily raise its tax 5 cents per gallon without burdening wallets: The price went up that much last week, only oil company shareholders and Saudi Arabia will benefit."] ...
· Net new revenue from an extra 64-cent cigarette tax: $640 million. ["Only four states have lower cigarette taxes"] ...
· Net new revenue from a 15 percent soda tax: $500 million [Tristam explains: "there's one beverage excise tax Florida, whose collective girth is nothing to celebrate, should jump on: a tax on soft drinks, about 10 cents on a typical can."]
That's without eliminating sales-tax exemptions ($12.3 billion), raising the sales tax by 1 penny on the dollar ($3.8 billion), restoring the tax on intangibles such as stocks and bonds to pre-2001 levels ($300 million-$400 million), or raising the corporate income tax, currently a paltry 5.5 percent (12th-lowest in the country), to 8.5 percent ($1 billion)."If they wanted to, legislators could run Florida like a civilized state. They choose not to, because voters -- you -- don't want them to."
Just go read it: "For want of a few sensible taxes, Florida's becoming a wasteland". Pierre's web site: "www.pierretristam.com".
Troxler homers yet again this morning, about RPOFers using "Florida's terrible budget problem as an opportunity to go after just about everything that is good, decent and forward-thinking."
Schools and teachers? Whack. "The Legislature's answer to everything was, don't you know there's a crisis on? We can't be foolin' around with all this sissy stuff. We have to stop investing in Florida's future."
The "Florida Forever" program for saving land from development? Rename it "Florida Sometimes."
The legacy of the late Gov. Lawton Chiles, who sued the tobacco industry for the harm it has caused to society? Let's blow it.
The state's fund for catastrophic emergencies? Let's drain it.
Medicaid, pollution cleanup, protection of gopher tortoises, rehabilitation of manatees …
(Investing in the future of Florida's electric companies remains okay, of course, thanks to the Legislature's law that forces customers to pay in advance for power plants.)"The one thing the Legislature absolutely refused to do was lift a finger to increase the revenue of the state, even where common sense cries out for it."
In fact, the document calling the special session went out of its way to prohibit talk of "any fees related to alcoholic beverages, cigarettes or tobacco products.""Everybody in the Legislature's leadership seemed to have the same talking points, which means somebody sat down in a room and typed them out. They include:"
I especially liked the explanation of the House majority leader, Adam Hasner, as to why a higher cigarette tax is a bad idea. He noted that one early estimate had predicted a cigarette tax hike would raise $1-billion, but that more recent estimates predict only $750-million.
"That's a $250-million hole out of the gate right there," Hasner said.
My head is spinning.
(1) Unlike Congress, Florida can't just print more money.Read the whole thing here: "Dick Dastardly and Muttley in Tallahassee".
(2) The state has to cut its budget in hard times just like "the hard-working families of Florida."
In fact, the Legislature can "print" more money by plugging some of the hundreds of special-interest tax breaks that it hands out.
As for the hard-working families of Florida, let's see how they like the school budget cuts, their parents getting kicked out of nursing homes, their state parks closed and the environment degraded.
"Florida's hemorrhaging budget was all but patched up Sunday morning when legislative leaders agreed to cut enough spending and raid enough savings to leave the state about $400 million in the black -- at least for now." "Budget deal cuts savings, spending and leaves $400m in the bank".
Who's on second?
Mark Lane: "After Jeb, nobody's on first".
At RPOFer-World in Orlando: "Just about the entire slate of Florida GOP power-brokers were at the two-day annual meeting at the Rosen Shingle Creek resort in Orlando, including potential candidates for the U.S. Senate seat that will be vacant in 2010. Among them: former House Speaker Marco Rubio; Attorney General Bill McCollum; and U.S. Reps. Connie Mack IV, R-Fort Myers, and Vern Buchanan of Sarasota."
Adam Smith: "The widely perceived front-runner, Attorney General Bill McCollum, looks anything but certain to launch a third attempt at the Senate. Former House Speaker Marco Rubio of Miami looks all but certain to run, and several U.S. House members are testing the waters." "With Jeb Bush out, angling begins for Florida Senate seat".
Jeremy Wallace: "in the hallways outside, in discreet corners around the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort and at the cocktail receptions, the jockeying for a suddenly wide-open Senate race became the show stealer." He concludes that the "politician who sounded most ready to run was Rubio, the Miami Republican who was the speaker of the Florida House from 2006. Rubio has updated his Web site, MarcoRubio.com, with new pictures and videos and said he could make a decision within a few weeks. Unlike the other candidates in the race, Rubio is not currently in an elected position and would not have to risk losing another post to run for the Senate." "Testing the waters for a Senate run".
Big of 'em
"Florida nursing homes and the state will benefit at federal [read: other states] expense from a deal lawmakers reached Saturday as part of negotiations on a budget deficit-elimination package." "Fla. budget deal a winner for nursing homes, state". See also "Nursing homes safe from $73M cut to Florida budget", "New fee to spare Florida nursing homes from cuts", "Florida Legislature takes care of nursing homes during special session" and "Updated: Florida House, Senate decide not to cut $73 million from nursing homes".
So nice to see that the rest of the nation will continue to fund Florida's fiscal irresponsibility. See this report (.pdf) from the nonpartisan "Tax Foundation". On a related note, you must see these amazing maps at "Maybe the Civil War Isn't Over".
... that we have to give RPOFers props for this - The South Florida Sun Sentinel editorial board: "Senate President Jeff Atwater this week instructed his members to consider proposals for the upcoming regular session that include closing sales tax exemptions and raising tobacco taxes. The idea is to put all options on the table, and wisely so, including those designed to raise taxes or collect other forms of badly needed revenue."
With his announcement, Atwater has acknowledged that Tallahassee can't cut its way out of its budget problems. He's right to say so. There are simply too many needed services, from education to criminal justice, that will cost Florida society plenty in the future if slashed too deeply in the present."Encouraging to see big-name Republican buck spending trend".
"Responding to a call from a new president in Washington, local leaders in South Florida lobby for an ambitious wish list of public works projects to put people back to work and improve local living conditions." "Leaders hope 'New Deal' can stimulate growth".
Again, its so nice to see Florida ask the rest of the nation to subsidize our fiscal irresponsibility. See this report (.pdf) from the nonpartisan "Tax Foundation".
We still have Jim Greer to kick around:
Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer was overwhelmingly re-elected Saturday as party activists ignored accusations of lavish spending and the fact that Democratic President-elect Barack Obama carried Florida."Florida Republicans re-elect Jim Greer as party chairman".
Greer was credited with keeping Republican losses at a minimum during a tough election year, in which Obama defeated John McCain and two Florida Republican congressmen lost their seats. ...
Greer has been criticized for spending party money on private planes during the presidential campaign, as well as spending thousands of dollars to join Gov. Charlie Crist on a trade mission to Europe.
Aaron Deslatte: "Despite heat, Jim Greer keeps job as state's GOP chief". See also "Fla. Republicans re-elect Greer as chairman", "Florida Republicans keep Greer as chairman", "Fla. Republicans Re-Elect Greer As Chairman" and "GOP Chairman Greer to serve another term".
"At the midpoint of his term, Gov. Charlie Crist has aced some tests and botched others. But his popularity with voters endures. " "Crist remains popular despite Florida's hard times". See also "Highs and lows of Crist's first half".
"Florida Department of Transportation officials knew the company they chose to build rail cars was in financial trouble." "Commuter Rail Falters Again As Supplier Fails" ("The last-minute change is one more stumble in the state's controversial efforts to bring commuter rail to Orlando.")
Nice to see the off duty reading ...
of some of Florida's political writers extends beyond allegedly finishing the ponderous ode to arrogance, Atlas Shrugged. Pamela Hasterok begins her most recent column with this,
"Well, who do we shoot?""Good riddance, 2008".
-- Muley Graves in "The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck.
"Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz pledged to make jump-starting Washington's floundering commitment to restore the Everglades her "personal responsibility" as she takes hold of Congressional purse strings for the second year in a row." "Congresswoman promises to jump-start Washington's commitment to Everglades restoration".
"This is conservation? Try dereliction of duty"
Carl Hiaasen: "Every day, hundreds of wild freshwater turtles are snatched from Florida's lakes and rivers, and shipped to Asia where they are butchered for food and folk remedies."
It's all perfectly legal, thanks to the state's Fish and Wildlife Conservation* Commission -- or, if you will, the Wildlife Conversation Commission, since its members obviously would rather chat than make actual decisions."Biologists and environmental groups have been begging the FWCC to ban the exportation of Florida's softshell turtles, but the commission remains deep in pondering. Last March, 34 of the nation's foremost scientists wrote to urge state officials to outlaw the turtle harvest."
''For the same reason that it is illegal to kill female sea turtles on a nesting beach, it is a very bad idea to take adult turtles in large numbers from any ecosystem,'' the scientists said. ``Turtles are extremely slow to reproduce and have very low success rates of nests and hatchlings.''Read it all here: "Hiaasen: Florida's natural bounty being looted".
With their snake-like necks and swizzle-stick noses, softshells aren't the cutest critters in the pond. But they play a big role in the freshwater food chain, and their presence is a sign of healthy biodiversity.
In an interview with The St. Petersburg Times, Matt Aresco, a biologist and turtle expert, warned: ``Asian countries are causing the extinction, the near extinction or the endangerment of every species of turtle over there, so now they're turning to the United States to supply their insatiable demand. . .''
Florida has become a prime hunting ground because turtles are so plentiful, and the laws protecting them are such a sham. Alabama, Texas, North Carolina, Maryland, Michigan, South Carolina and Tennessee all have tougher restrictions on turtle killing than Florida has.
Under increasing pressure, the FWCC last fall finally announced some ''regulations'': Any nitwit in the state can take 35 turtles from the wild each week, or 1,820 per year, and sell them as they please.
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*And just who are these conversationalists? Well, take a gander:
- Chairman Rodney Barreto (appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush to the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in August 2001 and reappointed by Gov. Charlie Crist in February 2007, "owner and president of Barreto Group, a real estate investment and development firm. ... widely known for his civic involvement. He most recently was chairman of the 2007 Super Bowl Host Committee.")
- Vice Chair Kathy Barco (appointed to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission by Gov. Jeb Bush in September 2004 and reappointed by Gov. Charlie Crist in August 2007. "Barco is president of Barco-Duval Engineering, Inc., a heavy-construction company.")
- Ron Bergeron (appointed by Gov. Charlie Crist. "Bergeron, an engineering contractor, is president and owner of Bergeron Family of Companies, based in Ft. Lauderdale.")
- Richard A. "Dick" Corbett (a "real estate investor". On the FFWCC since "Jeb Bush appointed him to a five-year term in February 2003. In January 2008 Gov. Charlie Crist reappointed him.")
- Dwight Stephenson (appointed by Crist in 2007, "Stephenson is president of D. Stephenson Construction, Inc. - a general construction firm.")
- Kenneth Wright (appointed by Crist in August 2007"Wright is a partner in the Orlando law firm Shutts & Bowen, where he has worked since 1989. He holds a juris doctorate from Cumberland School of Law".)
- Brian S. Yablonski (A Jeb Bush appointee "in January 2004. Gov. Charlie Crist appointed him to a second five-year term in December 2008." He formerly worked as Bush's deputy chief of staff.)
"Florida electric companies would have to rely on an increasingly heavy mix of wind, solar and biomass to generate their power over the next 11 years, under a proposed rule state regulators voted to send to the Legislature late Thursday. " "Renewable energy gets push in Legislature".
With the economy tanking and taxpayers suffering, who do you think should get a tax break?"Tax breaks for developers? You've got to be kidding".
Well, how about developers? You betcha!
He said it
"Asked whether 'in hindsight, is there anything you would have done differently?' his response qualifies as the most-tortured quote of 2009 -- and maybe 2008 as well. Here it is, according to [Pensacola's WEAR-TV News Channel 3]:"
"Well if you would have told me today that if you take this job no matter how pure your intentions, no matter clear or transparent that you, I believe that you and, and even if you could tell people and they would believe you that your intentions are clear and you knew all this would happen, you would have taken the job and I would have said No. And here's the reason why . . . I didn't do anything wrong.""Sansom's tortured quote".
I am shocked ... just shocked
"Although the national mayors convention was only 34 miles from his home, Lauderhill Mayor Richard Kaplan decided it would be too difficult to commute. So he billed taxpayers $995 to stay five nights in June at the four-star InterContinental Miami hotel." "S. Fla. officials are going to conventions on your dime". More: "Examples of other travel expenses since January 2007" and "Palm Beach County officals billing taxpayers for luxury hotels and chauffeured rides".
South Florida "tradition"
Michael Mayo: "Thanks to Florida's weak corruption laws and long tradition of almost anything goes, some public servants think day is night and wrong is right." "Corruption in Broward, Palm Beach counties: Same behavior, different results". Randy Schultz: "McCarty, and other bad drivers" ("Hers was the arrogance of someone who while gaming the system believed herself to be so much more than she was.")
The double dipping thing
The Palm Beach Post editorial board: "The loophole the Legislature opened when it changed the state's retirement rules and gave birth to double-dipping has grown into a giant entitlement that must be ended." "Retirement double-dipping cheats Florida taxpayers".
Florida needs Limbaugh Law
The St. Petersburg Times editorial board: " Deaths from prescription drug overdoses in Florida are rising each year. In 2008, more than 3,000 cases were recorded, up 20 percent from the previous year. Nearly 600 deaths occurred in the bay area alone. The cases include children stealing Valium from their parents' medicine cabinets, people addicted to painkillers and alcoholics who mix their drinks with Xanax. More people die from prescription drugs than from illegal drugs by a ratio of 3-1. Despite such disturbing trends, the Florida Legislature has on three separate occasions refused to pass a bill that would establish a monitoring system that would track every prescription." "System needed to monitor drug use".
"A tough new system to evaluate Florida's high schools could make it harder for them to earn good grades, but it may provide a more in-depth look at what is happening on their campuses." "High marks for Florida's schools may become hard to get".
Mike Thomas: "We are headed toward double-digit unemployment here as the economy hovers in that limbo between recession and depression. There will be massive budget cuts in education, juvenile justice, drug programs, prosecutor's offices and courts. This is known as living within our means. And it means you best be ready to protect yourself and your own, because the cops and courts sure can't do it." "Crime-fighting's future merely a guy with a gun".
"The women's world chess champion is a 24-year-old Russian aspiring model who lives with her husband and baby in Key Biscayne." "World chess queen plots her next move".