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Editorial: Glimmers of hope out of Tallahassee

As the Florida Legislature approaches the halfway point of its annual session next week, there is plenty to criticize. Medicaid expansion is uncertain, campaign finance reform is not really reform and utilities are not likely to stop gouging ratepayers for nuclear plants that may never be built.

Yet there are a few bright spots that suggest working Floridians still can win once in a while in Tallahassee. Here are three:

• Repealing an industry tax break and using the money to help consumers is the Tallahassee equivalent of man bites dog. A Senate budget-writing committee has voted to repeal a decadeslong tax break to the insurance industry and use the savings to lower motor vehicle registration fees.

By repealing a 15 percent tax break on the salaries of Florida insurance industry employees, the state would recoup about $220 million a year. That's enough to reduce the vehicle registration fee for cars and light trucks by roughly $12.

The insurance industry is not happy and claims losing the tax break threatens tens of thousands of jobs. But for all its bluster, insurers have not offered any alternatives to pay for a cut in vehicle registration fees.

Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, noted State Farm made a $3.2 billion profit last year and paid its CEO $9.6 million. It's hard to work up sympathy for profitable corporations that won't sell Floridians property insurance and whine about losing a tax break.

• After years of bad trend lines in which students at Florida's universities paid more for less, Gov. Rick Scott and state legislators are finally investing in higher education.

Though the budget process is in the early stages, House and Senate leaders want to restore $300 million cut from university budgets last year and then boost funding by another $100 million. The University of Florida and Florida State University also could get more money to boost their national stature, though the amount and the performance measures are still being decided.

"We're having a very good legislative session," university system chancellor Frank Brogan said.

Now, if only the Legislature could fix the folly that is Florida Polytechnic University. There are proposals to limit its funding, and House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, has suggested it might be better off as a branch campus, not the 12th public university. None of that talk has been written into official language, but if the positive trends continue …

• The unwillingness by lawmakers to expand Medicaid to cover 1 million uninsured Floridians remains indefensible. But at least the House is prepared to offer health insurance to more than 8,000 part-time state employees and their family members.

Of course, lawmakers are motivated to do the right thing. If the state doesn't offer health coverage to part-time workers under the Affordable Care Act, it faces a $318 million fine. It's less expensive — and smarter — to provide the health coverage. It would be even better to offer those part-time workers the nicer health plan offered to regular state employees than the less attractive version the House offers, but it's something.

Editorial: Glimmers of hope out of Tallahassee 03/29/13 [Last modified: Friday, March 29, 2013 3:55pm]
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