Friday, January 19, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Bad farm bill, but could be worse

The tortured two-year path to a bipartisan farm bill — approved last week by the House and scheduled for a Senate vote this week — produced mediocre legislation that foolishly cuts a nutrition program for the needy, rebrands commodity subsidies as crop insurance and leaves unchanged the indefensible policy of lucrative supports for Big Sugar.

Sadly, it could have been worse. The nearly $1 trillion bill, the first farm bill since 2008, notably includes a 10-year, $8 billion cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps. The reduction is double what Senate Democrats had previously approved, but less than half of the $20 billion cut supported by House Speaker John Boehner or the irresponsible $39 billion advocated by some House Republicans.

Those numbers will be of little comfort to 850,000 households (none in Florida) that will lose as much as $90 worth of food stamps each month. The cuts likely will exacerbate the recent trend of end-of-the-month rushes on charity pantries and congregate feeding sites after previous food stamp cuts took effect in November. Congress should make fighting hunger a higher priority, and lawmakers shouldn't be tone deaf to the economics of the food stamp program that produces commerce for local grocers and mom-and-pop stores serving poor communities.

Overall, the conference committee bill reduces spending by $23 billion over the next decade and correctly ends direct payments to farmers, whether or not they grow crops. The alternative, however, also is problematic. The bill enhances crop insurance to provide government payments when yields are poor. Protecting the 2 million people affected by the food stamp cut would have been a far better use for some of the expected savings.

Worse, the bill continues the absurdly favorable treatment for the sugar industry, which routinely spends millions of dollars on campaign contributions and Washington lobbyists and then taps taxpayer pockets to clean up its pollution in the Everglades. The status quo of convoluted tariffs, quotas and buybacks benefits large sugar beet and cane producers but costs taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars for excess crops while consumers simultaneously pay higher prices for domestically produced food. Where is the fairness in that? Lawmakers who want to get serious about cutting federal spending should start by ending sugar subsidies.

One caveat in the bill directly benefits Florida and other citrus-growing states by allocating $125 million to find a cure for citrus greening, the fruit-damaging disease affecting crops in 10 states and threatening the long-term health of Florida's $9-billion-a-year citrus industry. It's a sensible investment, the kind of compromise this bill could have used more of to better put the needs of the public ahead of the wants of special interests.

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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...
Published: 01/18/18

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