Thursday, January 18, 2018
Editorials

A budget only special interests could love

Look no further than the 2012-13 state budget headed to Florida Gov. Rick Scott to understand that special interests remain firmly in control of Tallahassee. The $70 billion spending plan is a study in niche tax breaks financed on the backs of local governments, the courts, public schools, universities, hospitals and in-state retailers. With every legislative seat up for re-election this November, voters should take note.

Republican leaders proudly boasted last week that they once again cut taxes to the tune of $750 million. What they don't say is the overwhelming majority of tax breaks won't accrue to average Floridians, unless they take advantage of a three-day, $32 million sales tax holiday in August. Yet Floridians will lose so much more.

When the dust settled late Friday night, Republican leaders had restored just $844 million of last year's $1.35 billion cut to public schools. And due to enrollment growth, the additional cash will translate to just $150 more per student next year, far less than the $542 cut per student in the current school year. Just how far has Florida's commitment to public school students fallen in five years? About $750 per student.

Never mind the high-minded rhetoric at the beginning of session about building a higher education system capable of diversifying the state's economy. Lawmakers cut funding to state universities by $300 million, but ordered the institutions to spend their reserves to make up the difference. And now the Legislature's willingness to let institutions raise tuition up to 15 percent a year on their own — and a new bill to allow unlimited tuition increases at the University of Florida and Florida State University — looks like just one more way they can shift responsibility.

Other cost shifts include $30 million less for operating the court clerks offices; forcing counties to pay millions in disputed Medicaid bills; and reducing Medicaid reimbursement rates to hospitals and nursing homes — thereby leaving millions of federal matching dollars unclaimed.

Yet lawmakers continued to let out-of-state, Internet-only retailers off the hook for collecting Florida's sales tax. That will cost the state an estimated $500 million in revenue next year and undercut every Florida retailers' ability to compete with online rivals.

In the final day, legislators agreed to cut taxes for AT&T, Verizon and other telecommunications services at least $35 million annually, and possibly 10 times that; approved a bank-suggested scheme that authorizes up to $1.5 billion in tax credits tied to the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund for insurers; and cut businesses' unemployment taxes, further exacerbating the state's ability to recover from another economic downturn.

Tallahassee has missed yet another chance to build a brighter future for Florida, siding with lobbyists instead of Floridians. All 160 seats of the Legislature are up for grabs in November in this redistricting year. Voters should ask candidates exactly whom they plan to represent.

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Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

The Florida Legislature’s abrupt move to strip the University of South Florida St. Petersburg of its hard-earned separate accreditation and transform it back into a satellite of the major research university lacks detail and an appreciation for histo...
Updated: 5 hours ago

Another voice: Self-dealing by nursing home owners threatens patient care

The outsourcing of logistical support services, which became commonplace in the U.S. military in the 1990s and later was adopted by state prison systems, has now come to dominate the nursing home industry. And while nursing homes, unlike the military...
Published: 01/17/18
Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Three years into a crisis with its sewer system, St. Petersburg has a dandy new idea for dealing with the environmental fallout of dumping dirty water into the aquifer. Instead of committing to banning the outlawed practice, a consultant suggested th...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18
Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

A substitute teacher at a Plant City elementary school berated a class of fourth graders — and then the school principal. Another compared a student to a stripper. Others were caught napping, hitting children, making sexual remarks, giving students b...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18
Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

For the longest time, injured workers in Florida were basically at the mercy of the whims of employers to treat them fairly. A 2003 law aimed at reducing the cost of workers’ compensation coverage for businesses had the desired impact, but it also di...
Published: 01/16/18

Another voice: Why just Florida?

Cynicism has always been a part of politics, but rarely are politicians so brazen and self-serving as President Donald Trump and his interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, have been over the past week. First they announced a new offshore drilling plan that ...
Published: 01/16/18
Editorial: King’s legacy still relevant in digital age

Editorial: King’s legacy still relevant in digital age

Today’s holiday honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. couldn’t be more timely. At a moment when the nation’s civic dialogue is choking on personal and political division, it is hard to remember an earlier time when role models were role m...
Published: 01/15/18

Another voice: 38 minutes of fear in Hawaii

In 1938, Orson Welles panicked the nation with a false alarm about a Martian invasion in the radio broadcast The War of the Worlds. That was farfetched, of course. But what happened on Saturday, sadly, was not so hard to imagine — or believe.Authorit...
Published: 01/14/18
Updated: 01/16/18
Editorial: Florida’s chance to make it easier to restore civil rights

Editorial: Florida’s chance to make it easier to restore civil rights

As it has for decades, Florida stubbornly clings to an inhumane, inefficient and indefensible system of justice that permanently sentences more than 1.5 million residents to second-class citizenship. This state automatically revokes the right to vote...
Published: 01/13/18
Editorial: Speak out against Trump’s vulgar remarks

Editorial: Speak out against Trump’s vulgar remarks

President Donald Trump’s vulgar outbursts during a White House meeting on immigration are racist and indefensible no matter how he parses them. They are not presidential, they undermine U.S. foreign relations and they do not reflect America’s values....
Published: 01/12/18