Monday, September 24, 2018
Opinion

Ruth: Business as usual in Tallahassee

WHAT YOU MAY NOT KNOW is that Tallahassee is an old Seminole word for "Where's my check?" or words to that effect.

As the Florida Legislature begins this year's 60-day session on Tuesday, there will be wonderful speeches delivered by our elected representatives extolling our freedoms, pledges to work together for a better society and great huzzas about what a swell democracy we are blessed to live in.

Then Wednesday will roll around. And once again the Legislature will be transformed into the Best Little Whorehouse in Tallahassee.

Florida has a silly law. As long as the Legislature is in session, lawmakers are prohibited from accepting campaign contributions — as if for 60 days the public is supposed to believe their elected floozies are as pure as a baby's breath and oblivious to the charms of special interest lobbyists.

So before the two-month delusion of holier-than-thou probity begins, there is the annual Associated Industries of Florida pre-session party. Togas optional. It is at this event legislators mingle with various lobbyists to share a cocktail and collect a last-minute alms. Bonhomie abounds.

There are plenty of other pre-session legalized baksheesh-fests. But the Associated Industries soiree is sort of interesting since the party is also heavily attended by a Tallahassee press corps more than happy to record for posterity which member of the Florida Legislature is in the bag for which special interests.

And then Tuesday dawns and all those Fagins, who only hours before were selling themselves out to the highest bidder, are now reconstructed as high-minded Mr. and Ms. Smiths go to Tallahassee. But not for long.

There's work to be done. And here's what to watch as the Mustang Ranch of legislatures goes about its labors. If you are big business, big sugar, big guns (really big guns), big agriculture, big development, big whatever, then you are in great shape for the 2016 session. And why not? You paid for it.

But if you are poor, or sick, or a teacher, or a student, or a corrections officer, you are so forgettable.

Florida is a state led by a hologram, Gov. Rick Scott, who hasn't blinked since 1963. And that was only because his batteries were running low.

Scott wants $1 billion in tax cuts this session even though he refused to accept federal Medicaid expansion funding that would have helped more than 500,000 uninsured Floridians. And even state parks are always at risk. Revenue ideas have been floated to allow cattle grazing, timber harvesting and even hunting. Has anyone considered the crazy, zany idea of simply fully funding the parks? Let's not get too carried away with fiscal responsibility.

Florida's reputation for having one of the most far-reaching public records/open government laws will come in for its annual mugging. Each year the Legislature carves out an exception to the state's Sunshine Laws here, a sliver there. If the Sunshine Laws were a physical structure, it would look like the ruins of a Syrian apartment building.

This actually makes sense. In a state often regarded as one of the most corrupt in the nation, would you want nosy members of the media and the public noodling around your public records?

It's difficult to determine which issue the Legislature will bungle the most. Sixty days. So much time; so little common sense. One place to start might be gambling, as Tallahassee wrestles with signing off on a new gambling compact with the Seminole Tribe that would guarantee $3 billion to the state over seven years. Could the Legislature royally bollix the deal? Stop laughing.

With so many other gaming interests wanting a piece of the gambling pie, you better believe by the time the Legislature gets done fiddling around with the Seminole compact this state is going to resemble Deadwood.

What is uncertain is whether the Florida House will hang around to finish its work for "Sine Die" or run away early as it did last year when the job got to be too hard.

What does "Sine Die" stand for?

It is an old Seminole phrase, "We are such toast."

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