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Less done, less damage

If the box score indicates that Florida legislators accomplished little of what they set out to do, that's not so bad. Much of what was left in the trash can belongs there, notably the slew of proposals to close public records and the heavily lobbied bills to exploit budget shortages as an excuse for slot machines at the race tracks. Unfortunately, the session did not end soon enough to stop what could become the largest telephone rate increase ever. The governor will have to see about that (see editorial below).

The failure to agree on a budget was harmless, given that three months still remain in the fiscal year. The session began more than a month early because of the timetables for legislation and congressional redistricting. Though they got those done by the deadline, there remains the possibility that the Supreme Court might not be as content with political skulduggery as the majority of legislators were. One lesson to be learned is that Florida should redistrict in the first year following the census, as most states do, rather than in the second. Another, which became obvious long ago, is the necessity of an independent commission for redistricting. The Republican regime in the House drove that point home by allowing just three minutes per side for final debate on the House-Senate plan. At their worst, the Democrats were never that arrogant.

It's just as well that the school code and chief financial officer bills didn't pass. The House had sandbagged the school code with a number of amendments that couldn't stand the light of day and was trying to use the Cabinet reorganization to assign Secretary of State Katherine Harris rather than Attorney General Bob Butterworth the lead responsibility in defending the House and Senate redistricting plans under the Voting Rights Act. This was partisan mischief at its worst. Such stunts will be harder to pull off during the narrowly focused special session the governor intends to convene next week.

Let there be no illusion, however: Those bills must be enacted by year's end. Legislators partial to Treasurer/Insurance Commissioner Tom Gallagher, who is running for chief financial officer, might prefer to do nothing toward carrying out the constitutionally mandated merger of his office with that of Comptroller Bob Milligan, who's now running also. Gallagher believes another failure would leave the issue to the courts, which would most likely combine the offices as they are without diluting the power to regulate banks and insurance as the House had attempted. It would be irresponsible to leave to the courts an issue so momentous and so political. The governor should make clear that he will keep calling them back to Tallahassee until they get that one right.

The barrage against open meetings and open public records produced a healthy backlash in the approval of a constitutional amendment to require such bills to pass with no less than a two-thirds vote in each house. This measure, sponsored by Rep. John Carassas, R-Belleair, and Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Palm Harbor, will be on the ballot in November, along with the tax reform compromise discussed on this page Monday.

Much less nobly, the session somehow produced a $200-million tax break for corporations (emulating the recent ill-advised federal giveaway) without renewing the much less expensive pre-school sales tax holiday. Neither was wise or necessary given the troubles that lawmakers will have when they do get serious about the budget, but it speaks volumes about the priorities of Florida's Legislature that corporations got additional tax relief while families couldn't keep what they had. That's something to remember in November.