Sunday, December 30, 2012

After reading the hard copy of your hometown newspaper, please consider joining FLA Politics on Facebook and following us on Twitter. Our digest of, and commentary on today's Florida political news and punditry follows.

"Scott still denies he cut school funding"

Aaron Deslatte "Gov. Rick Scott was following a well-read playbook when he campaigned in 2010 to kick-start the economy in part with deep property-tax cuts. It just didn't come off as scripted."

Capping out-of-control property-tax spikes was once a surefire appeal to voters in Florida — so much so that Scott made "long-term relief" an integral part of his "7-7-7" campaign plan two years ago. Cutting property and corporate taxes was the single largest job-creating element in the plan, projected by his campaign economist to generate 364,000 jobs after seven years.

But Scott's first-year call to slash school property taxes flopped with legislators — who nonetheless cut $1.38 billion from public-school spending. And his second-year push to cut tangible-personal-property taxes for businesses was defeated by voters at the polls in November.

Now, facing a potentially difficult re-election in 2014, Scott has replaced his property-tax pledge with a campaignlike mantra to do no further harm to public schools.

"The governor's original plan combined a whopping $1.4 billion first-year cut to the $6.9 billion in school property taxes that Florida requires local districts to collect — called the "required local effort" — with a pledge to slash other programs so that 'not one dollar is shifted away from our schools.'"
It just didn't work out that way.

Lawmakers rejected Scott's proposed budget cuts — among them, laying off 8,000 state workers and slashing $1 billion from prison spending. But they did cut state education funding by $1.38 billion by refusing to replace federal-stimulus funds, which President Barack Obama got through Congress in 2009, that were drying up.

Scott still denies he cut school funding at all.

"Scott's attempt to fulfill property-tax promise backfired".

"What’s coming up in 2013"

Education watchdog, StateImpact Florida "peers into the crystal ball for what’s coming up in 2013. Florida’s new education commissioner is likely to be the big story, but Common Core is on the horizon as well. Here’s what we’ll be watching for in the next year." "The Education Stories To Watch in 2013".

"Florida should be a leader among the states"

The Sun Sentinel editors: "Florida should be a leader among the states, because it is among those most threatened with ecological problems and rising sea levels."

Tallahassee should take its cues from South Florida, where local governments have long recognized the dangers associated with climate change. Raising seawall heights, moving drinking-water wellfields farther inland and imposing tougher development regulations for particularly vulnerable areas — ideas once unthinkable — are now part of a regional climate-change plan designed to help local communities address a changing environment.

While the flooding and saltwater intrusion now seen in South Florida occur regularly, far more devastating effects are happening in other parts of the world. According to the Climate Vulnerable Forum, a 20-nation consortium of developing countries, failure to act will result in about 100 million deaths worldwide by 2030 from mega-droughts, floods, disease, crop failure and major water shortages. The forum puts the economic costs of climate change at $1.2 trillion a year now, and says it will double by 2030. Some nations could lose 11 percent of GDP. Oxfam, an anti-poverty group, puts potential agricultural and fishery losses alone at $500 billion a year by 2030. . . .

South Floridians may think droughts and wars in faraway places are no threat to them. They are wrong, but in any case, we are dealing with the effects of climate change here at home. Some of our cities have wisely begun to include resources to address the problem in their long-range planning. Their foresight is commendable. It may not be long before every coastal city on earth is doing the same.

"No denying climate change".

Florida is "determined to hit rock bottom"

After decades of blithley endorsing right-wing candidates and issues (except for occasionally, courageously opposing the dumping of raw sewage into Florida's lakes and streams), The Orlando Sentinel editorial board takes issue with the lack of government spending on mental-health treatment.

The editors bemoan "a recent, hideous murder in Orlando made all too clear, serious gaps in mental-health care can be a menace to public safety."

The Orlando murder took place at a McDonald's on Christmas night. It was a random, brutal and senseless act. Jerry Tyson, a convicted killer with a history of mental illness, allegedly took the life of Steven Lang, who was in a wheelchair, when Lang refused to hand over his pocket change to Tyson.
"Records show Tyson has been treated for mental illness for at least 20 years. In 2000, he stabbed another man to death. He then underwent seven years of treatment at a state hospital and the Osceola County Jail before pleading no contest to manslaughter in 2007 and was sentenced to 12 years in prison. . . . Yet when he was released from prison on Dec. 20 — he got credit on his sentence for his time under treatment — Tyson got a bus ticket home to Orlando and instructions to report to his probation officer within 24 hours. He never did. Five days later, Lang was dead."
Florida ranks 48th among the 50 states in per capita funding for mental health, spending less than a third of the national average.

Yet earlier this year, determined to hit rock bottom, lawmakers cut funding for mental-health treatment.

All Floridians who suffer from mental illness need access to the treatment they need. But it's especially crucial for those with a history of violence.

It's chilling to think there are other ex-felons like Tyson still walking the streets. What will lawmakers do about this? How will they protect the public? What would they say to Steven Lang, if only they could?

"Knifing exposes gaps in mental-health treatment".

"Dubious use of a federal work-visa program"

Andrew Marra for The Palm Beach Post editors: "It took plenty of foot-stomping and arm-twisting, but it appears that more Palm Beach County residents are being hired for hospitality jobs once given to foreign workers brought into the country for short stints."

Last year, an investigation by The Post’s John Lantigua exposed the extent to which the county’s high-end resorts and country clubs bypassed local residents to hire imported foreign laborers for such jobs as dishwashers, maids and waiters. Rather than make efforts to recruit and train area residents, the Post found that many high-end employers preferred to bring in their own workers through their dubious use of a federal work-visa program.

But the pressure and attention seem to be paying off, at least in some parts of the county. As the Post reported this month, the use of the overly abused federal work-visa program appears to have dropped by nearly a third this year in Palm Beach County. That means hundreds of extra jobs for county residents. And some indicators suggest the use of this foreign work visa program may fall even further next year.

To receive permission to hire foreign workers through the federal government’s H-2B temporary work-visa program, businesses had to demonstrate they had tried unsuccessfully to hire Americans. But the Post’s investigation found that such resorts and country clubs as The Breakers, the Mar-a-Lago Club and the Ritz-Carlton in Jupiter appeared to be complying only with the letter of the law while making no real, discernible efforts to hire locals. Their cover story: most Americans don’t want these jobs.

Thankfully, this alibi didn’t fool everyone.

"Effort to hire American workers is paying off".

"Democrats in Seminole County," say what?

"Democrats in Seminole County, which has been dominated by Republicans for decades, are heading into the new year with a rare sense of confidence after several of their candidates performed better than expected in November's election." "Seminole Democrats buoyed by election results as they head into 2013".

Really? Teaching in pixels?

The Sun Sentinel editorial board argues that "The digital revolution that's shaken so many businesses has not bypassed the hallowed halls of higher education, so it is good to see a new focus emerging on how to improve the range and quality of online classes offered by Florida's universities." "Florida's Higher Education Challenge".

Pixelated professors? Sure it is cheap, but is that really the way to go?

Big of him

The latest speaker of the state House of Representatives, Will "Weatherford said he's not writing off Democratic legislation out of hand." "5 to Watch: New House Speaker Weatherford seen as moderate".

"Frenzied buyers swarm gun stores"

Joe Henderson: "Gun critics need to learn from NRA success". Meanwhile, "Fearful of ban, frenzied buyers swarm gun stores".

What's a wingnut to do?

Teabagger extremism has taken its toll. "Everett Wilkinson, a Tea Party leader in Florida, said the number of active groups statewide had 'diminished significantly.'"

Billie Tucker, an activist with the First Coast Tea Party in Florida, said she and others suspected that corruption on local election boards had led to Mr. Obama’s victory in the state. Activists want to investigate.

"Some people say it’s just a conspiracy theory, but there’s rumbling all around," she said. "There’s all kinds of data, and no one’s talking about it, including, hello, the mainstream media."

Another issue boiling is the "nullification" of the Affordable Care Act. Angry that Mr. Obama’s re-election means that the health care law will not be repealed, some activists claim that states can deny the authority of the federal government and refuse to carry it out.

At a Florida State Senate meeting this month, two dozen Tea Party activists called the law "tyrannical" and said the state had the right to nullify it.

"Clout Dimished, Tea Party turns to narrower issues".

'Ya reckon?

The Palm Beach Post editorial board: "Florida colleges should not charge math, science majors less".