U.S. funds should go to gulf restoration
A year after the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, it's easy to look around the coastline and think that everything is back to normal.
But the gulf is far from normal. While we don't yet know the full impact of the spill, we do know that significant funding is critical to restoration of the gulf. The future of the gulf hinges on congressional action to ensure Clean Water Act funds are directed, as intended, to gulf restoration.
Legislation just introduced in the U.S. Senate would be a key step in ensuring that any Clean Water Act penalties paid by BP and others responsible for last summer's oil disaster go to help restore the gulf ecosystem directly.
Those responsible for the oil spill are expected to pay billions in fines, but unless there is congressional action, the fines will go to the federal treasury, where they could be allocated for other purposes. The gulf cannot afford for those fines to be diverted away from long-term restoration of this national treasure that is vital to our state's economy and our communities' livelihoods.
According to a recent survey of 2,018 U.S. adults conducted online by Harris Interactive on behalf of the Nature Conservancy, 79 percent of American adults did not know that the fines BP pays will be directed back to the federal government's treasury instead of directly to the gulf states. An overwhelming 87 percent believe the fees should be used for restoration of the lands and waters of the gulf.
It is up to us to urge Congress to take action now. Without this critical funding to restore the health of the gulf, we can and will lose this natural resource.
Doug Shaw, Nature Conservancy, Altamonte Springs
Sharing the burdens
A picture often used by Republican legislators to portray the tough cuts needed to bridge Florida's budget deficit is that of a family sitting at the kitchen table agonizing over how to make ends meet in hard times. Where the analogy fails, however, is that the discussion at the kitchen table is never one-sided. The discussion isn't solely about what the family can't do, but also what they can do.
Unlike the Florida Legislature, the parents don't mind finding extra revenue to make up for their deficits. They realize that their children's future is worth extra hours at work or a second job.
It has been argued that further tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy, in a state where those rates are among the lowest in the nation, are needed to create jobs. However, cutting state programs and initiatives as harshly as what has been proposed is like — to use the family metaphor again — selling the house in order to showcase a new pool in the back yard. Some businesses may find it easier to operate at first, but those cuts in education and other social services will ultimately deteriorate the quality of our work force.
Floridians are a rugged bunch. We choose to live in a place known for hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and sinkholes; we don't want to be coddled. We do, however, want to know that when the state confronts a crisis we all share the burden to confront it.
Anthony Fusco, Venice
Feeding the hungry
I wonder what the self-righteous would say if they drove by Williams Park on Easter morning and saw a long-haired man in a robe and sandals feeding the poor and hungry with the loaves and fishes?
Beverley J. Combs, St. Petersburg
Red light cameras
Countdown to red
I have driven in many cities in Florida, other U.S. states and Canadian provinces. One thing that all cities seem to have in common is that there is no consistency in how long the yellow light stays on. I realize that this is necessary because of issues such as traffic flow, approach speeds and so on.
However, if yellow lights had countdown timers built into them, similar to crosswalk signals, then drivers would know how much time they have before the light goes red, thus providing enough information to be able to make a well informed decision to proceed or stop.
I think if this feature was implemented it would eliminate the need for red light cameras and also significantly reduce collisions. The upfront cost would be expensive, but the system could be phased in gradually, first at the most dangerous intersections and then as older signals needed to be replaced.
Carl LeGrow, Largo
The best will earn more
The recent passage of SB 736 adds restrictions and provisions to Florida's public education system. Teachers will no longer enjoy many of the benefits they once did. That does not mean that SB 736 is entirely a bad thing, however. SB 736 will allow our best teachers to earn more money and their skills will be recognized. Teachers who pursue more difficult assignments, such as teaching in low-income areas or higher-level subjects, will also be better compensated.
SB 736 is not perfect. But with it in place, substandard teachers will be removed more easily and other changes in the education system will be more streamlined. We have examples all across the nation of charter schools and magnet schools that have been more effective than regular public schools, and hopefully SB 736 will allow Florida to change its public schools to be more like them.
Does SB 736 benefit all teachers? It most certainly does not. But we need to focus on our primary goal: to teach our youth and prepare them to be productive members of society. Retaining the status quo is something no American should favor.
Travis Todd, Tampa
Bill hurts employees
I believe SB 830, which will stop voluntary payroll deductions for charitable contributions and union dues, is wrong on many levels.
First, if charitable deductions cannot be done by payroll deductions, charitable deductions will decrease. This will harm communities throughout the state.
Second, it will be an inconvenience to members of unions to have to mail union dues on a regular basis. Payroll deductions of all sorts save workers valuable time.
Finally, payroll deductions will continue to be allowed for retirement accounts, credit unions and insurance payments. If administrative costs are the concern, why aren't these being eliminated as well? If political action is the concern, mutual fund companies, credit unions and insurance companies are all involved in political action and contributions.
I urge legislators and voters to oppose this bill.
Forrest R. Kelly Jr., Dade City