Editor's note: Letters to the editor offer a significant contribution to the discussion of public policy and life in Tampa Bay. To recognize some of that work by our most engaged readers, the Times will select a letter of the month and the writers will be recognized at the end of the year. We will choose the finalists each month based on relevance on topical issues, persuasiveness and writing style. The writer's opinion does not need to match the editorial board's opinion on the issue to be nominated. But clarity of thinking, brevity and a sense of humor certainly helps.
Help us choose the letter of the month for September 2013 by reading through the three nominated letters and voting on the ballot at the bottom of the web page.
Scott jabs at Crist, taxes | Aug. 31
Gov. Rick Scott bashes the president and former Gov. Charlie Crist while he takes full credit for Florida's barely improving economy. Corporate tax cuts while decimating state services to ordinary citizens is Scott's and the Republican Legislature's only mantra for attracting jobs.
A lead article in the Aug. 29 issue of Rolling Stone examined Gov. Jerry Brown's record in California, another megastate that Scott has targeted for corporate relocations. Brown and a supermajority Democratic legislature have presided over a recovery from the Great Recession but using vastly different means. The $27 billion California state budget deficit in 2011 has become a $4.6 billion surplus expected for 2014. A tax surcharge for incomes over $1 million combined with some budget "tough love" all contributed to this budget turnaround.
Far from fighting the federal Environmental Protection Agency, California has a huge water aqueduct infrastructure project underway and leads the nation in alternative energy with many tax concessions to "green" businesses.
California gladly accepted the federal billions for Medicaid expansion and worked cooperatively to set up insurance exchanges that are ready to roll with lower average premiums. They expect to cover 95 percent of California's 37 million population. Meantime, almost 25 percent of Florida's adult population is without health insurance and our beautiful environment is rapidly being degraded.
Tony Branch, Madeira Beach (Sept. 4)
Fighting tide of higher rates | Sept. 25
Try national disaster fund
The huge anticipated premium increases for flood insurance will render many waterfront homes (the structures) virtually worthless, as no buyer will or logically can afford to pay the kind of rates going into effect Oct. 1. Buyers will simply make offers for the value of the land only and, once purchased, demolish the house to rebuild. That may be good for FEMA, but equity for retirement and the net worth of those faced with this situation will be seriously eroded.
Soon after the higher premiums take effect, homeowners, especially those who own homes built pre-1974 requiring flood insurance, will be faced with little choice: pay the exorbitant premiums or pay the mortgage off and self-insure. How many will pay the mortgage off if their devalued house is worth less than the mortgage balance? They will simply abandon the property to the bank and the economy will experience another banking and real estate crisis.
Additionally, the tax value on these homes will be diminished. This devaluation will have to be absorbed by either an increase in the millage affecting other non-flood-zoned homeowners, or a budget crisis will occur within the respective coastal counties and cities.
With a national natural disaster insurance program, many types of natural disasters could be insured. While we may have a threat of hurricanes in Florida, we're not as prone to earthquakes as in California, tornadoes in Kansas, river flooding in Colorado or wildfires in Nevada.
Having one national natural disaster program in which every American pays to protect all Americans from the many types of natural disasters that occur, no matter where, makes more sense.
Frank Dame, Clearwater (Sept. 26)
Common Core reversal | Sept. 24
Reform is not one-size-fits-all
Gov. Rick Scott recently issued an executive order that pulls Florida out of the PARCC system of assessments for the new Common Core State Standards. In response, House Speaker Will Weatherford released a statement saying, "I applaud Governor Scott for taking decisive and bold action to affirm Florida's constitutional role in education. For the past 15 years, Florida has been on a purposeful road to improve our schools through higher standards, greater accountability and higher pay for our best teachers. These efforts are paying off and our students are achieving better results."
What is clear is that the education system in Florida is clearly broken. After 15 years of high-stakes testing, school grading and now an evaluation system of teachers based on testing, the public is losing faith in how the state manages public education.
Scott's executive order puts a heavy burden of the blame on the federal government for efforts at controlling local schools. But that is exactly what the state has been doing for 15 years. The real experts on education reside in the classrooms and schools throughout the state. Local communities know better than the state what works and doesn't work in schools. They adapt to local needs and don't use the one-size-fits-all template that has been imposed by Tallahassee for too many years.
While the governor's approach might lead to some positive changes, we need a complete overhaul of the accountability system from top to bottom. Florida's teachers and school employees have been repeatedly ignored when political leaders and the Tallahassee education establishment have built this flawed system. It is long past time that teachers and other school employees be included as an integral part of forming a new education system that can be strongly supported by parents, students, teachers, administrators and the political leadership.
If the same education "reformers" who built this broken system are charged with making minor changes, the system will still be broken. Without any input and buy-in from the education experts in the classrooms and the local schools, public education in Florida will not make any real progress.
This is an opportunity for Florida to set public education on the right path. The governor's executive order said that the evaluation system should help teachers support student learning. That would be a great improvement over the current system that generates data that is used to shame and blame teachers and schools.
Kenny Blankenship, Land O' Lakes (Sept. 30)