Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Happy Thanksgiving 

Off to Granny's for Thanksgiving -- be back next week.

Friday, November 21, 2003

Go Away Kid, Ya Bother Me 

Florida Senate President Jim King says that there just isn't going to be enough money to fund the constitutionally-mandated reduction in class sizes for public schools.
The constitutional provision that voters approved in November 2002 requires the state to give school districts enough money to lower class sizes over the next eight years. Absolute caps take effect in 2010: 18 children per classroom for the early grades, 22 children per classroom in the middle grades and 25 students in high-school classrooms.
King had previously vowed to give the voter-approved measure a shot, but with Governor Bush and House Speaker Byrd seeking to overturn the constitutional amendment, King doesn't see the political will to make the necessary funds available.
"I think we've come to the idea that there's no way in the world we can fund it," [King] said, adding that a "change of heart in the other chamber and the Governor's Office" might preserve the status quo of the provision.

There will be no change of heart, said Alia Faraj, a spokeswoman for Bush, who campaigned passionately against passage of the measure.
Unlike Bush and Byrd, King is a moderate Republican, very much akin to the conservative Democrats who used to run the state. He is more a pragmatist than an ideologue.

Oh, by the way, Florida is ranked number 44 among the states in state and local tax burden per capita.

New Museum in St. Augustine? 

A proposal for a new museum in St. Augustine that would exhibit some of the state's salvaged treasures that now reside in vaults in Tallahassee has drawn a mixed reaction. According to the St. Augustine Record, the museum would be located in the Casa del Hidalgo, a reconstructed house of the first Spanish Colonial period (1565 - 1763) and would display artifacts recovered from shipwrecks off the Florida coast. Under a rather complicated formula, the state receives a 25% cut of all treasure and artifacts salvaged offshore. Even though the state has large museums in both Tallahassee and Gainesville, only a fraction of the state's historical collection is on exhibit.

The new museum, still in the conceptual stage, would be a private-public partnership and would interpret Florida's Spanish era.
"This is an opportunity to bring home the efforts of maritime archaeology as part of our heritage tourism experience," [St. Augustine Mayor George Gardner] said. "Obviously, there are concerns about how it should be done, who should do it and how to display the artifacts."
Not everyone is in favor of the proposed museum. The head of the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum expressed concern that such a museum would encourage looting of underwater archeological sites. And it might compete with some of her museum's programs.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Charter Trouble 

Two charter schools, one in Boca Raton and the other in Orlando, have questionable futures due to financial troubles, according to reports in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and the Orlando Sentinel. Charter schools get public funding, but operate independent of their local school district.

Although the immediate problems are financial, the underlying issues relate to the schools' academic performance. Low test scores and teachers working outside of their subject area have led many parents to transfer their students back to public schools or to not enroll them in the first place.

Now I'm sure that some would say that this is the way it's supposed to work -- the free market in education at play. But education is not like buying a television. If you don't like the TV you purchased at Circuit City, you take it back and get one from Costco. You might miss a day or two of programming, at worse. But when schools, public private or charter, have problems it's the students who suffer. The time lost is lost forever.

Charter schools were made a part of Florida's educational system supposedly to foster flexibility and innovation, and so that parents could "vote" against traditional public education by sending their kids to a charter school of their choice. It would be like getting a private education at public expense.

But unlike public school systems which can modify attendance boundaries and transfer teachers to insure a reasonable stability of both programs and funding, the charter schools are pretty much on their own. Lacking economy of scale they, and especially their students, are more financially sensitive to fluctuating student enrollments.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Communicating While At War 

The Wyeth Wire reminds us that today is the 140th anniversary of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, and it's certainly worth rereading:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract.

The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.

It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion--that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.
Among the greatest speeches ever given, and done without political consultants, speech writers or pollsters.

Class Warfare 

A link at Florida Politics led me to the website of the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, and then to this report: Florida Tax System is Nation's Second Most Regressive.

Among the report's conclusions:
When all Florida taxes are totaled up, the study found that:

The state and local tax rate on the best off one percent of Florida families—with average incomes of $946,000—is 3.0% before accounting for the tax savings from federal itemized deductions. After the federal offset, the effective tax rate is a mere 2.7%.

The average tax rate on families in the middle of the income distribution—those earning between $24,000 and $38,000—is 9.9%. After a trivial federal offset, the rate is 9.8%, three times the effective rate on the richest Floridians.

But the tax rate on the poorest Florida families—those earning less than $15,000—is the highest of all. At a whopping 14.4% it is more than five times the effective rate on the wealthiest Florida families.
I'm not in favor of a state income tax, but somehow we've got to do better than this.

You've Got To Admit They Have Guts 

The Broward County School Board is in negotiations with the teachers union and is taking a hard stand on pay raises. The union wants four percent, the school board says it cannot afford more than three.

Meanwhile, the Superintendent of Schools received a twenty percent raise and now the School Board wants to give its members a ten percent raise.
"I anticipate there is going to be a hue and cry from the public," said Board Member Stephanie Kraft, who not only voted against the 10 percent increase but also said she could not support any raise.

"I don't understand how you can do it," she told her fellow board members.

Several members had wanted to delay the vote until after reaching an agreement on teacher salaries, but their attorney advised that they had to act immediately.
Although teachers viewed this as a slap in the face, a Broward Teachers Union representative suggested the School Board's action "gives a boost to the union's bargaining position."

Some board members argue that they are underpaid for the work required of them; that their job is ". . . seven days a week, 24 hours a day." And maybe that's part of the problem.

The School Board is supposed to be composed of individuals who take on the task of policy-making and oversight of the public schools, bringing to the board the perspective of the citizenry on a part-time basis. Unfortunately School Board members have made it a full-time job -- only two of the nine members hold other employment -- and thus become part of the system.

I am convinced we would be better off if board members averaged about 20 hours a week (actually, most probably do, the rest of their "work week" being taken up with political and fundraising activities). Limited to twenty hours, board members would have to use their time more wisely and avoid interference in day-to-day operations and the endless debates that characterize School Board meetings.

Instead of giving themselves a ten percent raise, they ought to set an example and take a pay cut. Then they can follow the example set by many of the system's teachers and get a second job.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Guess Who's Coming To Dinner 

John Hawkins at Right Wing News (believe me, I got there by a link) has an interesting blog called "Right-Of-Center Bloggers Select History's Most Interesting Dinner Companions" Essentially, 150 "right-of-center" bloggers were asked to list who they would invite to a dinner party. Their guests could be living or dead, and language would not be a barrier. With the results based on thirty-nine bloggers responding, there were thirty guests listed as top vote-getters.

First, let me say that anyone who had the choice of anyone who ever lived, and then chose Ann Coulter or Rush Limbaugh (tied at #20), should be required to take a brain scan. The list contains twenty-three English-speakers, nineteen Americans (not all native-born), only three who lived outside of what we would consider Western civilization, and six who are still alive. Half the people listed lived within the past century.

Of course the people doing the nominations were self-professed conservatives, so maybe we should be surprised at the narrow scope of selections. And with a few exceptions, and taken by themselves, the selections are worthy figures.

Here's my alphabetical list of twenty who weren't included by the "right-of-center"crowd (I'm purposely excluding individuals from the twentieth century):
Alexander the Great
Dante Alighieri
Sir Francis Drake
Genghis Khan
William Gladstone
Alexander Hamilton
Samuel Johnson
King Louis XIV
Karl Marx
Prince Klemens von Metternich
Sir Isaac Newton
Saint Paul
Suleiman the Magnificent
John Winthrop
Sir Christopher Wren
And then we would have to have Steve Allen to coordinate the affair.

UPDATE: For other guest lists, go here or here.

Sail Away 

Geitner Simmons has an extended essay on the great wooden warships of the Napoleonic era at his blog, Regions of Mind. If you plan to see the newly released movie, Master and Commander, read this first.

Much of Simmons' post is based on John Keegan's marvelous book, The Price of Admiralty. Keegan is, in my mind, the very best military historian working today. Of late he has been on a number of television programs, including a three hour interview with Brian Lamb on C-Span2, and is a delightful (and stereotypically British) personality.

Finally, although Keegan doesn't reference it in his book (at least I don't believe he does), his title, The Price of Admiralty, comes from a poem by Rudyard Kipling
We have fed our sea for a thousand years,
And she calls us, still unfed,
Though there's never a wave of all her waves
But marks our English dead;
We have strawed our best to the weed's unrest,
To the shark and the sheering gull,
If blood be the price of admiralty,
Lord God, we ha' paid in full!

Monday, November 17, 2003

End of Another Tradition? 

The St. Johns River town of Palatka prides itself on its azaleas, and has had a festival celebrating its signature flower for quite some time. All that may end soon as the logistics of putting on a community special event is becoming more than local volunteers can handle.
Azalea Festival organizers have said that various things over the years led up to the decision of whether to continue the festival: competition with other festivals and events for the same limited number of sponsors; increased fees from the city of Palatka; a lack of volunteer organizers as well as organizers who backed out of their commitments; and being at the mercy of the weather.
Unfortunately the demise of festivals with local color (pink, in this case) is a growing trend. Many charitable events begin to support a good cause, with everyone lending a hand. Then that which was free comes with a charge. Before long the municipality that benefits from the event begins to treat it like any other business, complete with overtime charges for public works and mandated police presence at specified rates.

Maybe Palatka can keep the Azalea Festival going, but probably not if everyone doesn't pitch in and support it.

You Can't Spell Voucher Without Ouch 

The Palm Beach Post has looked into Florida's voucher programs deeper than anyone else -- certainly more than Governor Bush and Education Commissioner Horne. The Post's conclusion is that having created a nightmare program, the Gov and Education Commish are trying to cover up:
The Post has uncovered a book's worth of scandals in the voucher programs. One school's founders include an alleged terrorist. Some "schools" are fronts to get money for home-schoolers who aren't entitled to it. Others pass vouchers on to parents after skimming off big fees. After the Department of Education belatedly told voucher schools to fill out minimal forms, it turned out that the state might lack authority to cut off vouchers to the 41 schools that failed to comply.

The need for rules and reforms is clear, but not all those calling for changes are sincere. When Gov. Bush and Education Secretary Jim Horne found out that The Post was asking questions about a bankrupt Ocala businessman who had claimed $400,000 in vouchers but might not have provided any to students, Gov. Bush's staff brainstormed about how to deal with James K. Isenhour and Silver Archer, his Scholarship Funding Organization. Scholarship is code for voucher. But they weren't talking reform; they were talking coverup.

Aides to Gov. Bush and Mr. Horne tried to invent ways that the state could cut off money to Silver Archer and another SFO without revealing the possible misuse of voucher money.
The Post bases its coverup charge in part on Bush administation internal emails.

Water War Strategy 

The Ocala Star Banner thinks the Florida Council of 100's proposal to scrap the state's "local sources first" water policy should cause north and inland Florida communities to better manange their resources.
Marion County, like most of Florida's interior counties, has not experienced as much growth as coastal regions. But as the cost of coastal living increases and hurricane concerns become more imbedded, more Floridians - present and future - are recognizing the benefits of living inland.

And that means Marion and other inland counties need to plan for their own water needs, not worry about areas that have been shortsighted.

Furthermore, South Florida's extravagant use of water is not conducive to any sympathy from this region. For decades, those areas of the state that are currently dealing with water shortages or are predicting future problems, have been negligent in planning for their water needs.

It is encouraging that Marion County and water management district officials are discussing this looming problem. But please, let's not have any more talk of denying water use permits later, rather than sooner. As it now stands, there's scarcely time to write and expedite tight new conditions and restrictions on issuing water use permits.
The Star Banner correctly notes better planning and conservation methods won't be any easier to impose later rather than sooner.

Saturday, November 15, 2003

Your Grounded! 

The St. Petersburg Times doesn't think much of the way President Bush stopped the congressional attempt to easy the ban on travel to Cuba:
President Bush and Republican leaders this week subverted bipartisan support in Congress for relaxing the 40-year-old travel restrictions on Cuba. Unlike the strong majority votes in the House and Senate this fall to ease the travel ban, there was no public debate, no open meeting, no vote before the legislation was stripped. Has the administration's Cuba policy really sunk to this, to the point where the travel ban can survive only through undemocratic means?

Fidel Castro should appreciate this perversion of democracy. The House, which has voted repeatedly to relax the embargo on Cuba, voted again in September (227-188) to ease the travel ban. The Senate followed suit (59-36) in October.

The votes were a recognition of how flawed the Cold War policy has become. They also were a recognition of U.S. citizens' right to travel freely across the globe.
That's the bottom line -- our right to travel.

The Sun-Sentinel also has an editorial on this, and accuses President Bush of pandering:
Lifting the prohibition would have ended an unnecessary impediment to Americans' right to travel. It also would have increased needed contact between Americans and Cubans, which promotes democratic ideals while putting more dollars in the hands of grass-roots businesses on the island.

The veto threat had clear political motives. With re-election looming next year, the White House believes winning the support of hard-line, anti-Castro voters in South Florida is more important than effective and rational diplomacy. So, political back scratching has squandered another opportunity to push the island toward a transition to democracy and a more productive economy.

Friday, November 14, 2003

Governor Scrooge 

Florida is ranked number 44 among the states in state and local tax burden per capita, right between Wyoming and Alabama. I just want to get that clear up front.

And yet, Governor Bush and the Republican Legislature are still trying to convince Floridians that they are overtaxed and couldn't afford to pay a penny more for state services. This is, of course, an argument based on ideology and not reason.

Are Floridians overtaxed? No. Are there are lot of selfish Floridians who would rather pocket a couple extra bucks, even if the most needy of their fellow citizens face a bleak future? Apparently so.

The Gainesville Sun has an editorial today on Governor Bush's latest tax-saving gambit -- cutting funds for the disabled.
Threatened are services for thousands of disabled citizens all over the state. And, of course, for the 12,000 developmentally disabled who remain on waiting lists to even get into assistance programs, there is little hope at all.

But here's the really shameful part: State officials are blaming the cutbacks on greedy providers.

Gov. Jeb Bush and DCF Secretary Jerry Regier say the state is being gouged by groups that provide services for disabled people. If the state didn't cut back on payments to those providers, DCF might go broke.

"Shame on these providers, some of whom have scared people to say that we are going to shut down these facilities," Gov. Bush said Wednesday, as protests occurred around the state.

No, shame on you, Gov. Bush.

Such sanctimony ill fits a shrewd politician who has presided over the slashing of billions of dollars in taxes.
The results of this tax slashing? A higher education system that is capping enrollment and raising tuition, poor children that no longer have access to health care, a gross underfunding of the state's public schools (while still finding funds to support private education), and the dismantling of the state's infastructure, to name just a few.

The Gainesville Sun calls the Governor shameless; I believe the word should be heartless.

UPDATE: The Lakeland Ledger on this:
GIG: To the Florida Department of Children & Families, for cutting assistance to people with developmental disabilities by $48 million. Thousands of disabled citizens who suffer from retardation, spina bifida, autism, cerebral palsy and other developmental disabilities across the state will be affected. Gov. Jeb Bush and DCF Secretary Jerry Regier blame the cutbacks on higher charges by groups providing services for disabled residents. Rather than going after the gougers -- if they really exist -- the state simply makes less money available. Bad idea.
No, its a horrible idea.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Where The Money Isn't 

Over the past dozen years, Fort Lauderdale has transformed its downtown into one of the most vibrant and attractive city centers in Florida. Unfortunately, questionable management of the city budget and an adversion on the part of some commissioners to paying for city services has resulted in the following proposals to deal with a fiscal crisis:
Among the proposals to bring the city budget under control, 42 sworn police positions would be eliminated and fire-rescue dispatching would be turned over to the county.

Employees are already facing reductions in pay and increased health insurance costs. The city's jail and trash transfer station would be closed. City festivals would be eliminated if they cost the city anything at all, and public pool hours would be reduced. Cleaning and patrolling of parks and park buildings also would be severely reduced.

Proposals also include closing some beach lifeguard towers and taking out of service a fire engine and ambulance that were stationed at the barrier island when the Cleveland Clinic there closed and residents feared for their health and safety.
Fort Lauderdale's long time mayor, Jim Naugle, who portrays himself as an advocate of small government, doesn't appear worried about the cuts in services:"I think it's something that's needed for long-term sustainability of the city. We can't keep raising revenues. You have to look at cutting expenses, like anyone does in their own household."

Of course Fort Lauderdale residents have not seen their tax bill go up because of increases by Fort Lauderdale, but because of the dramatic escalation of property values. But in many cases property owners have escaped paying their fair share due to a Florida law that caps property tax increases to three percent a year, no matter how much the value of that property has grown. It's not unusual to see double and even triple digit annual increases in property values in the wealthy residential areas of east Fort Lauderdale.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Yellow Dogs 

St. Petersburg Times columnist Bill Maxwell explains why he and most blacks are Democrats.
I cannot recall a single time that Democrats planned how to abuse blacks. Without trying, I can think of many ways that Republicans have been intentionally cruel to blacks and other groups.

Time To Pay For Lunch 

Conservatives like to portray themselves as people who are fiscal realists, often citing the phrase, there's no such thing as a free lunch. Yet here in Florida the conservatives in Tallahassee seem to believe that the state's needs can be met without paying for them.

The Pensacola News Journal editorializes on the disconnect between the state's efforts to foster growth and its refusal to provide the resources to handle its effects:
Florida has been growing fast for years -- but it's looking more and more like Alice in Wonderland, only worse. In Lewis Carroll's fairy tale, Alice was told that you have to run as fast as you can just to stay where you are; if you want to get anywhere, you have to run even faster.

We're running as fast as we can, but we're falling behind.

Our local legislators say there's little or no state money available to help stop polluting the bay with stormwater and sewage discharges because we're going to be spending so much on Medicaid. Stormwater and sewage discharges rise with growth, and Medicaid costs are going up in large part as the population that needs it grows.

Meanwhile, programs for the most helpless among us -- developmentally disabled children and adults -- are facing an even bigger deficit next year, piling on to cuts they're already making this year. Local officials say they can't serve the disabled population we have now, much less more.

And state roads across the Pensacola Bay Area are growing increasingly congested because the state can't afford to make the fixes that in most cases should have been started five years ago, such as widening U.S. 98 and four-laning Avalon Boulevard. Don't even think about asking county governments to pay for it -- they don't have the money.

Our schools, meanwhile, are converting computer labs and music rooms into regular classrooms because the state can't provide the money needed to meet the voter mandate on class size.

A growing state needs more of everything: schools, roads, stormwater treatment, health care for the disabled and poor -- you name it. It is a false economy to pretend that we can "save" money by not paying what it takes to accommodate that growth.
Pensacola is one of the more conservative areas in Florida and is not facing growth to the extent experienced by areas of south and central Florida. All the more reason to take the News Journal's warning seriously.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

No Battle Too Small 

During the Civil War, most of the military actions that took place within Florida would, with a few exceptions such as Olustee, best be characterized as skirmishes. Many were fights between Confederates and Federal raiding parties.

These small scale encounters are just the right size for re-enactors. The Ocala Star-Banner reported on a successful re-enactment of the Ocklawaha River Raid.
Hosted by the 4th Florida Infantry, Company G, Civil War Re-enactor/Living History Unit, the event commemorated Marion County's only battle of the Civil War.

The weekend's focus was on the March 1865 battle that began after 30 Union soldiers marched from Jacksonville to Marion County and crossed the Ocklawaha River at Marshall's Plantation, just a few miles down the road from the [reenactment site].

The skirmish began when Confederate troops moved in to cut off supplies to the Union Army.

"The Ocklawaha River Raid was just an itty-bitty skirmish, just a hit-and-run raid," [event organizer Keith] Kohl said. "They just marched in and destroyed Marshall's Plantation and burned it to the ground."
Now in its 19th year, the annual re-enactment of this mostly unknown engagement brought together about "175 costumed soldiers, plus more than 100 civilian re-enactors." A whole lot more people than witnessed the original altercation.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Another Warning 

The University of Central Florida's Provost, Terry Hickey, told the UCF Faculty Senate that enrollment caps are coming if state funds are not, according to the student newspaper, The Future:
Although the issue ultimately will be decided by President John Hitt and the Board of Trustees, Hickey told faculty members that if UCF does not get enrollment growth money, he will recommend a cap for the 2004-05 school year.

If UCF was forced to cap enrollment, restrictions would be evenly divided between freshmen and transfer-level students, he said.

"Those are always very difficult situations to deal with," Hickey told the faculty. "But what people have to understand is that we are dealing with 6,000 students for which we get no state funding and we took a $4.5 million budget cut. We cannot continue to have the resources provided to us by the state reduced, and continue to offer all of the services and courses we have in the past. It's just not possible."
Perhaps the students who will be denied admission can get a job on the cafeteria line at the Scripps Institute in Palm Beach County when it opens.

All In The Family 

The Palm Beach Post, which has been in the forefront of uncovering the abuses of the Florida educational voucher programs, editorializes against another:
. . . millions in public money [is] going to home-schoolers, who aren't supposed to get any. The rip-off comes as the state is quietly dropping a proposed reform that would have required voucher schools to physically exist.
If this didn't affect our children's education, it would be worthy of a Blake Edwards movie. Start with a premise that those who sends their children to public school are either stupid, bad parents or Democrats, and then throw in a desire to pander to the religious right and you get our state's educational policy. Of course when the ineptitude of the programs are exposed, the rules are changed to allow that which heretofore had been prohibited.
. . . Mr. Horne and Gov. Bush run the department as if private schools were family and public schools the lazy hired help. Mr. Horne's statement that "I don't want to make creative schools look like traditional public schools" is typically dismissive. Any school can be "creative," but only the public ones have to get permission from Mr. Horne's foot-dragging department, then prove that they're also effective. Things won't improve for Florida's students as long as the governor and education commissioner wear a badge of disdain for public schools.
Hey, maybe this is the explanation: since most public school students that go on to college stay in state, and since Governor Bush and the Legislature are degrading our univeristy system, then there really isn't any need to provide resources for Florida's public schools.

The Post's Frank Cerabino has a solution -- start your own school!

Friday, November 07, 2003

Universities? We Don't Need No Stinking Universities! 

The Miami Herald has an opinion piece by Joseph Layon, a professor at the University of Florida's College of Medicine, in which he questions the wisdom of investing up to half a billion dollars in public monies to attract the Scripps Institute to Florida.

Why not invest those dollars in Florida's universities and get a bigger return, he asks.
Paying Scripps to come to Florida is wrong because we can do and have done the job of creating a world-class biotech sector ourselves. If Bush were to look around at elements of our university system -- including the University of Miami -- he would see that we began doing this before it was a gleam in his eye.

UF research has spun-off 65 companies over 10 years. UF has 299 active research grants from the National Institutes of Health. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office shows that UF has 66 patents from 1976 to present; the same database shows Scripps as having 54. The number of research papers from UF, one major index of academic achievement and quality, for 2002 was 2,233. Each of these indexes is as good or better than that seen at Scripps, with the exception of NIH funding; Scripps has 502 active NIH grants.

The money that Bush wishes to give Scripps should be used to improve education in this state, not for a quick-fix purchase.
In the area of higher education, practically every action taken by Governor Bush, or recommended by his appointees, has made our universities and colleges more politicized, academically weaker and more expensive for students. Why, at this point in his administration, would we expect anything different?

Thursday, November 06, 2003

You May Be Right, But . . . 

I recently received an email from a Democratic legislator which was, I suppose, intended to provide a real example of what Republican rule in Florida has wrought.

Now this shouldn't be too difficult -- underfunded universities, out of control child welfare system, quickie contracts with cronies, privatized prisons that cost more than state run facilities, strong-arm fundraising tactics, etc., etc.

So what do the Dems choose to expose? The Capitol elevators!
The Elevators in Florida's Capitol have expired licenses. In fact, their inspection licenses expired on August 1, 2003--77 days ago.

Florida law requires annual inspections of elevators (s. 399.061, Florida Statutes), and requires the posting of current inspection certification in the elevator (s. 399.07, Florida Statutes).

However, Florida Republicans apparently have determined that these burdens only apply to Florida's hard-working small business owners.

Once again, the big, swollen government of the Republicans held to a different standard than the standard for Florida's hardworking and dedicated men and women who keep our economy running.


Several years ago, Republicans privitized the elevator inspection process. Prior to the privitization, Florida employed a number of inspectors who annually checked Florida elevators. Governments and businesses offered the annual inspections at a very low cost. Now, the same service is being provided by private contactors at a cost that is several hundred percent more.

So, not only does it cost more to inspect elevators, but there is also no accountability to ensure that elevators get inspected.
OK, I don't doubt this is true, but is this the banner to hoist? Come on . . . Bush, Byrd, Horne, Reiger and the gang are virtually looting and pillaging our state and then taking bows for it.

If the Democrats can't come up with a better issue than the Capitol elevators, we'd better head for the hills.

Alas, there are no hills in Florida.

Absolutely Nuts 

Florida's Council for Education Policy, Research and Improvement is a board appointed by Governor Bush and Legislative leaders to "evaluate state education programs and recommend improvements."

Here's its latest offering -- raising tuition will save students money. According to the Council, "It is a bold, creative and forward-thinking approach to university management and funding. Florida could quickly become a model for other states."

Fortunately, there are some sane people remaining in Tallahassee
"This is one of the most absurd reasons I've ever heard to raise tuition," said state Sen. Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, the Senate's budget chairman. "That's absolutely nuts. They need to get out of their cubicles in Tallahassee and get out here in the real world. I had advised them earlier not to waste their time. It's not going to happen in the legislature."
The Council reasons (if that's the correct word to describe the report) that students are taking too long to get their degrees, and that higher tuitions would encourage them to get a move on. Apparently not factored in were the high number of non-traditional students at many state universities and the negative impact tuition hikes (". . . 20 percent the first year at UF and FSU is possible") would have on already grossly underfunded community colleges.

(via Florida Politics, which has a lot more background on this goofball proposal.)

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Look Before You Leap 

I was not against the invasion of Iraq, and certainly believe that the Iraqis have to be better off now than under Saddam, but I do have reservations about how we are going to be able to make progress in remaking Iraqi society. I fear we are suffering from wishful thinking and naivete.

An essay in the blog Defense and the National Interest points out some disturbing trends:
More significant than the destruction of two American tanks is the fact that Iraqi guerrillas are attacking tanks. This is an indicator that the guerilla war is developing significantly more rapidly than reports in Washington suggest. With the second stage of the Iraq war just six months old, one would expect the guerillas to be attacking only weak, vulnerable targets, such as supply columns. The fact that they are going after the most difficult of all ground targets, heavy tanks, is surprising. It means they lack neither confidence nor skill.

As we create more and more Iraqi armed units, and try desperately to hand the war over to them, don't be surprised if they refuse to play our game. They will tell us what we want to hear to get paid, and then do what benefits them. Often, that will just be seeing and hearing nothing as the resistance forces go about their business. Sometimes, it will be shooting Americans in the back. It doesn't take many such shootings before we have to treat the Iraqi forces we have ourselves created with distrust, pushing even those who want to work with us into our enemies' arms.
We can't afford to lose in Iraq, but I'm beginning to get a queasy feeling that something is not going according to plan, and unless we begin to do something different, and fast, events may spin out of control.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Thanks, Bob 

Florida has been fortunate to have had some quality leaders over the past fifty years: Leroy Collins, Ruben Askew, Lawton Chiles and Bob Graham, to name just the most well-known. Yesterday Bob Graham announced that he would not run for another term in the U. S. Senate. The reaction from some of Florida's editorial pages:

Florida Today - "Graham was very good at [a] deliberate sort of scrutiny, and his absence in national politics will be felt."

Miami Herald - "As governor and senator, he championed laws that protected Florida's environment, expanded businesses, enriched our schools, promoted the rights of immigrants and safeguarded elderly residents. More than anything else, though, Mr. Graham is living proof that politics don't have to be ugly, uncompromising, squabbling affairs. Mr. Graham fought hard for Floridians but always with dignity and class."

Naples Daily News - "Bob Graham has served well -- with style and grace. He has amassed a legacy on the environment, veterans affairs and education. He helped make his state and nation better places."

Orlando Sentinel - "Mr. Graham is the latest in a dwindling line of progressive Southern politicians that includes former Florida Govs. Reubin Askew and Lawton Chiles. Their effectiveness has come from their ability to attract supporters from both parties, and their willingness to make difficult decisions. Florida and the country need more such leaders to step forward, rather than a bevy of politicians who simply reads polls to figure out their stands."

St. Petersburg Times - "Graham, who will be 67 years old on Sunday, certainly has earned whatever leadership role comes next for him. With steady competence and a streak of independence, Graham served Floridians and all Americans well without seeking to divide us."

Sun-Sentinel - "We'll miss you, Sen. Graham. Job well done. May there be more like you."

Tallahassee Democrat - "Mr. Graham's record of accomplishments in the state and in Washington run the gamut from championing comprehensive environmental measures to significant job creation, and tireless support of public schools and universities, improved health care and homeland security reforms.

"He will always be a legend in state politics and, regardless of his successor in the U.S. Senate, hard to beat as Florida history is written."

Daytona Beach News Journal - "By the time his term ends in 2005, Graham will have spent nearly 40 years in public service. First elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 1966, he moved to the state Senate and then served two terms as governor before running for U.S. Senate in 1986.

"That's more than half his life, and a lot to ask of a man who was born with a proverbial silver spoon in his mouth. Yet throughout his career, it was the working class, not the elite, who got most of his attention -- and benefited most from his service."

Lakeland Ledger - "Graham has served his native state well since he was elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 1966. After moving to the state Senate, he was twice elected governor, and then won his first U.S. Senate race in 1986. In all his offices, he won respect for his intelligence, diligence and vision."

Palm Beach Post - "With a new set of leaders in Tallahassee breaking the china just to see the pieces scatter, Sen. Graham has offered needed perspective. A year ago, he organized a successful statewide petition drive to reestablish a statewide board to oversee public universities that the Legislature had abolished. He had Florida's best interest at heart, just as he had the nation's best interest at heart when he warned about Iraq. His last campaign shows why Florida will miss him."

Tampa Tribune - "After a lifetime of wins, he certainly didn't want to lose his final campaign. This state owes him much for his superior service as governor and his conscientious work as a U.S. senator - before his try for the presidency threw him off track. It may be that after many years in Washington his office left him frustrated, as it did the late Lawton Chiles, and we have little doubt he took small pleasure in being a member of the minority party on Capitol Hill."

Monday, November 03, 2003

Prepaid Tuition Chief Optimistic 

The Palm Beach Post reports that Stanley Tate, chairman of the Florida Prepaid College Program, is feeling better about its long term viability.

The largest state prepaid tuition program in the nation has been threatend by economic downturn, rising tuition and a proposal to allow each state university to set its own tuition, but Tate sees better times ahead:
The key to the Florida program's success, its chief Tate said, is that it invests most of its money conservatively in long-term fixed-income securities. Prepaid programs in other states often invested in riskier equity stocks and took a beating, he said.

Tate is confident interest rates will climb substantially in the next few years, and if they do, the prepaid program will get higher returns on investment, further ensuring its solvency.

He's also optimistic that a battle he fought early this year is over.

He had warned legislators of drastic consequences if they approved a proposal floated by the University of Florida and Florida State University that would have enabled them to set their own tuitions in return for meeting certain performance standards.

Tate opposed this because, with tuitions varying from one school to another, the actuarial tables relied upon by program managers would be rendered useless.
Tate is counting on the support of hundreds of thousands of parents who see the program as the best option for managing colege costs for their sons and daughters.

Let's hope he's right.

The Pensacola News Journal has a more pessimistic take on the situation, given the Legislature's unwillingness to provide adequate state funding for its universities and community colleges -- easier to raise tuition and appear frugal with state tax revenues.
When lawmakers established the program more than a decade ago, it was predicated on annual tuition increases of no more than 6.8 percent. Interest earned from government-backed bonds would provide a cushion, Tate said.

But this year's 8.5 percent tuition hike cut the plan's surplus nearly in half, Tate said. The state guarantees the prepaid accounts, meaning taxpayers could be asked to make up any shortfall.

Tuition increases have killed similar programs in Texas and Ohio. . .
Over half of the prepaid programs have been purchased by families with annual incomes under $50,000. The Governor and Legislature, should they continue to threaten the well-being of the Florida prepaid college program, will have proved once again that their view of the American dream hasn't progressed much beyond the views of William Graham Sumner.

Legislative Myopia 

St. Petersburg Times columnist Martin Dyckman writes that many of Florida's problems can be traced to legislative term limits and non-competitive districts. According to Dyckman, they produce legislators who are shortsighted, need not bear the responsibility of misguided actions, and are at a disadvantage when dealing with the administration.
There was a decent turnover rate long before voters bit on the term limit gimmick in 1992. Most legislators left, voluntarily or otherwise, before 10 years. Among those remaining there was a collective wisdom and sense of responsibility that Florida could not afford to lose. It was worth putting up with the few . . . who stayed too long.

Conspiracy theorists could find more than coincidence in the fact that the instigator of term limits, Phil Handy, is now one of the key figures in an administration whose apparent goal is to privatize half the government and neuter what's left. Throughout the country, term limits were the tool of people who wanted to see government weak and special interests strong. A weak Legislature - the predictable consequence of term limits - is exactly the ticket if one's ultimate goal is, as Jeb Bush boasted at his second inauguration, to leave state buildings standing empty.
One example is the Governor's luring of Scripps Institute to Florida at the same time that our universities are virtually ignored:
If the Scripps vote turns out to be worthy of blame, not credit, who'll still be around to bear it? No one. That made what should have been a tough vote an easy one, and what made it even easier was the fear - among those few who might have competitive campaigns - of how Governor Gimmick would bash them in the media, which he commands, if they turned down the glittery prize he had brought back from California.

Medical research is, of course, a good investment for any government to make. But it is a gross inversion of priorities to invest so much money through a nonpublic corporation, even one that is nonprofit, at the same time Florida is starving its existing universities and colleges. While we fund Scripps, junior colleges in this fast-aging state are turning away nursing students. Scripps is free to pick up and leave whenever it pleases the spoiled scientific darlings who insisted that no place but Palm Beach County suited their California-style tastes. Our universities, on the other hand, are here for as long as the state is. Or so one hopes. What higher education will get from Scripps is ambiguous at best, given that it is within an easy commute of none of our research universities.

Florida could afford both Scripps and a healthy university system. The Legislature would have voted for both, if we had a governor who wanted both. Big things happen only when there is a governor willing to lead. Why this one cares so little for higher education is a tragic mystery.
The mantra of tax cuts and privatization (in a state that has one of the lowest per-capita tax burdens in the nation) is creating a bleak future for Florida.

Every Dog Had His Day 

A great win by the Gators over highly-ranked Georgia on Saturday. Many of us remember that the domination used to go the other way:
Despite winning the last six and 13 of the last 14 games against Georgia, UF still lags behind in the series 44-35-2.
(via Independent Florida Alligator)

Underfunding Florida's Universities 

The University of Central Florida's campus newspaper, the Future, warns students that the state's funding cuts will affect them directly, and soon.
Already at UCF, classes are getting bigger, hiring freezes are being implemented and the quality of education is starting to suffer. If the state's universities don't get the money they need for the next budget year, things will get worse.


Any student at UCF who has a prayer of graduating in four years needs to involve himself or herself in this fight. Students will see the very real, tangible way the state budget affects them this summer, when they can't find the classes they need to graduate.
A major part of this problem is that while Governor Bush and the Legislature are not providing adequate funding, they do not want the political fallout that would result from capping admissions.

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