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A Times Editorial

CAPITOL OFFENSES

Five state senators, including one Tampa Bay area lawmaker who already collects two government paychecks, have all but killed a plan to rein in the outrageous abuse of the Florida Retirement System by high-ranking government officials.

Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Seminole, who works at St. Petersburg College when he's not in Tallahassee, joined four other senators Thursday in voting against a bill, SB 1182, to make it harder for state workers to collect both a paycheck and a pension by imposing a 12-month ban on being rehired after retirement. Senate President Jeff Atwater should see to it that the bill is revived when the same committee meets again next week.

Joining Jones in the vote Thursday was University of Florida faculty member Mike Haridopolos, the Melbourne Republican expected to become Senate president in 2012. All five lawmakers who killed the bill for now voted to protect the rich benefits for those who game the retirement system — including judges and other elected officials — just as many state and local government workers are poised to lose their jobs altogether. At least former Citrus County sheriff and current double dipper Charlie Dean got it right and voted for the bill.

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Even for a Legislature widely seen as a branch campus for big business, the Senate Commerce Committee's approval of higher telephone rates this week was an appalling betrayal of ordinary Floridians.

The committee approved a deregulation bill, SB 2626, that forces customers with no-frills telephone service into a new tier that could cause their bills to multiply to nine or 10 times the current rate. These customers — more than 2 million — are, for the most part, working people, seniors and small businesses. And senators approved higher rates at the same time they rolled back practically every consumer protection these customers have.

Supporters defended the move by noting they froze any increases for two years. In other words, we should applaud them for limiting a predatory pricing scheme that they should have rejected. If the full Senate does not kill the bill, Gov. Charlie Crist should.

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Florida lawmakers are poised to raise the cost of renewing your driver's license, filing a lawsuit, fishing from the beach and attending a state university. But if you want to buy a big, expensive boat or plane, some lawmakers are ready to hand you a nice juicy tax break. In what universe does this make sense?

The rhetoric supporting HB 469 — which would cap sales tax collections on a single boat or plane at $25,000 — is predictable: It will spur the economy by creating jobs for support services and products. But state economists say they have no idea of the impact on the private sector, though they estimate it will cost local and state governments $9.2 million in lost revenues.

Consider who will enjoy those savings: Someone who can afford a boat or plane that costs more than $417,000, when the sales tax savings kick in. For a $2 million yacht, the savings would be $95,000. But don't worry, the state can recoup that cash with its new plan to require $15.50 fishing licenses for anglers on beaches and piers. It will just need to sell 6,129 of them.

CAPITOL OFFENSES 04/17/09 [Last modified: Friday, April 17, 2009 7:51pm]

    

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