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Florida editorial roundup

October 3, 2018

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

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Oct. 1

The Palm Beach Post on housing affordability:

... GateHouse Media Capital Bureau correspondent John Kennedy reported last week that the percentage of Florida households owning homes has now plunged to “its worst level ever seen, with data going back more than three decades.”

State economist Amy Baker told the Legislative Budget Commission that while home prices and sales have rebounded from the depths of the Great Recession, more Floridians are now being forced to rent in an extremely tight and costly market.

“What isn’t back to normal is the homeownership rate,” she said.

According to the latest figures, 64.1 percent of Florida households owned homes in 2017, slightly above the current national average but down from the state’s 66.3 percent average of the past 34 years.

Before the housing collapse, the record high was 2007, when 72.4 percent of Florida households were homeowners.

Let this serve as a reality check on the usual, feel-good message that job growth and low unemployment are the indices that matter when it comes to measuring a strong economy. It takes a little off the shine of becoming a $1 trillion economy, as declared by the Florida Chamber of Commerce in July, when the vast majority of jobs being created don’t pay enough to qualify you for the American Dream of homeownership.

Though no doubt painful for business boosters to admit, it is a hard truth that Palm Beach County — indeed, the state of Florida — is in the midst of a full-blown workforce housing crisis. One that, in its own, way threatens to choke off our access to talented job applicants and the companies that want to hire them.

Yet even with such a bleak report, it remains difficult for this threat to the middle-class dream of owning a home to grab public attention in an election year dominated by toxic algae blooms on both of the state’s southern coasts.

It should. Because there are solutions.

That’s why the Palm Beach Post Editorial Board, for the better part of two years now, has sounded the alarm about our county’s worsening shortage of available workforce housing and chided stakeholders to step up to fix it ...

Online: https://www.mypalmbeachpost.com

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Oct. 1

Ocala Star-Banner on the politics of red tide:

... Science combined with politics is really hard.

Ask Michael Crosby, the chief executive officer of the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, who has been swept up in the politics of red tide science.

Red tides, including the episode that has ravaged the Southwest Florida coast this summer and threatens to linger, have long been the subject of study by Mote and other science-based organizations.

This isn’t the first time harmful algal blooms have devastated marine life, decimated the tourist-based economy and caused respiratory ailments among residents and visitors. The 2005-06 and 1994-96 events, for example, had similar impacts.

But the current event, which has dissipated but not disappeared, has created an unprecedented level of public outrage and political reaction for at least four powerful reasons: the intensity of the outbreak and its impacts on wildlife and businesses; the popularity of social media, which is spreading images of tons of fish washed up onshore, as well as fact and fiction; dramatic photographs of bright, blue-green freshwater algae making their way from Lake Okeechobee to the Gulf of Mexico; an election year that features closely fought, high-profile campaigns for state and federal offices.

Red tides have put Mote Marine on the defensive in the past, due in part to widely held expectations that the research institute should have found a cure for the harmful algal blooms by now.

Tensions have been exacerbated recently as Gov. Rick Scott, whose commitment to limiting nutrient-level runoff has been questioned, proposed increased funding for research and testing by Mote and other organizations.

Last Monday, when new state initiatives were unveiled during a press conference at Mote, Crosby was asked to reconcile the sudden political interest in red tide with regulatory and environmental decisions made in Florida during the past decade.

Caught between a rock and a hard place, Crosby responded truthfully yet defensively, warning against blaming individual politicians, including Scott, for red tide — a naturally occurring phenomenon observed for centuries.

Indeed, the conditions that created the freshwater blooms and fueled red tide have been brewing for decades.

But the challenge for Mote, credible environmental organizations, business interests and the public is to leverage the political outrage that has emerged to demonstrate the need for continued research aimed at pinpointing the most cost-effective strategies for minimizing red tide’s effects.

The same sustained energy is necessary to promote investment in applied science that could — emphasis on “could” — lead to the discovery and implementation of effective mitigation measures that don’t cause negative, unintended consequences.

Crosby said he applauded the “renewed focus” on red tide and “strategic” investments in research, no matter the timing and political season. We do too.

But, a serious threat to achieving these goals is the “out of sight (and smell), out of mind” syndrome.

Here is the question about the science of politics: Once this red tide dissipates and returns offshore, will currently outraged Floridians continue to demand change with the force that makes elected officials respond as if their political careers are at stake?

Online: http://www.ocala.com

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Sept. 30

The Miami Herald on Florida’s U.S. Senate race:

Florida’s Gov. Rick Scott was a political unknown before he ran for governor eight years ago and rode into office on the tea party wave. Reelected in 2014, the term-limited state leader wants to move to the national stage.

Floridians should say No. There is too much at stake for Florida — and the nation — for state voters to give Scott a chance to do damage on a larger scale.

Scott, a Republican, is challenging incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson in what has been a nationally watched marquee matchup from the start. Republicans think they can flip it in a state that went for President Trump two years ago. Democrats have to hang onto it if they hope to win a majority in the Senate.

In his three terms in the Senate, Nelson, 76, has made Florida, its people, its environment and its well-being his priority. After eight years, unfortunately, the same simply cannot be said about Scott.

Nelson is a fifth-generation Floridian with wide knowledge of state issues from the Florida Keys to the Panhandle. Representing Florida in the Senate for the past 18 years, he has established himself as a champion of Florida and Democratic principles.

He has been a consistent advocate for providing broad access to affordable quality healthcare and a state education system that works for all families. He has focused on protecting Florida’s environment and tourism-driven economy. A pet project is beefing up job skills training in science, technology, engineering and mathematics in the state.

Scott, a multimillionaire who is largely self-funding his campaign, has spent about $30 million, much of it on a television commercial that touts his hardscrabble childhood, living in public housing with his mother and siblings.

But in leaving his own childhood of poverty behind, Scott, abetted by the Republican-led Legislature, has done little to ensure that many Floridians subsisting in similarly tough conditions can do the same. During his tenure, Florida has consistently beggared traditional public schools, for instance, bestowing more-favorable funding on charter schools.

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Where Nelson has worked diligently to protect Medicare and Medicaid for Floridians, Scott steadfastly refused to expand Medicaid to give healthcare to up to 1 million more uninsured residents. This left local jurisdictions responsible for providing them the most costly care — in emergency rooms.

While failing to make access to voting easier for much of his two terms, Scott, this year, overrode Secretary of State Ken Detzner and insisted that Florida accept federal funds to harden the state’s voting system against cyberattack — too late, of course, to get the funds for the 2018 election. And the governor and the Cabinet hewed to an unfair and arbitrary process to restore ex-felons’ civil rights, struck down by the courts.

... During his 2010 campaign, he was disturbingly open to oil drilling off Florida’s shores. His stance didn’t change even after the Deepwater Horizon oil-spill disaster. In January, however, he boasted that he wrestled a promise from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to not open Florida to new offshore drilling. It was a pledge that no other state with fragile coasts received and it looked like clear election-year posturing. Indeed, there remains no guarantee that new drilling won’t occur.

His poor environmental record, conservation advocates say, has led to the red tide crisis on one Florida coast and a slick of blue-green algae on the other. Red tide began in Southwest Florida this summer. Fingers are being pointed at Scott’s decision to place nutrient testing in waterways in the hands of the state rather than the more strict federal Environmental Protection Agency. The state says nutrient testing wasn’t watered down and that it was developing its own standards for our lakes, rivers, streams, springs and estuaries.

Scott defends his record and says the departmental budget actually increased $300 million under him. And, yes, the governor has since committed $14 million in state funds for research, fishery rehabilitation to address the tide. Wouldn’t that money have been better spent on the front end?

To his credit, after the horrific Parkland high school shooting that killed 17 people, Scott defied the National Rifle Association — finally — and got some modest gun control measures passed in a state that had been one of the most gun-friendly in the country.

The governor has been at his best during hurricane emergencies — although the deaths of 12 elderly residents at a Hollywood nursing home, left without power after Hurricane Irma last year, implicated his office when it allegedly failed to answer telephone calls from the home.

Again, to his credit, Scott did keep his promise to create 700,000 jobs in seven years, but they have not necessarily been the high-wage jobs that allow Floridians to have a comfortable quality of life.

Scott has been touched by scandal. He was the chief executive of Columbia/HCA, which eventually became the largest private for-profit healthcare company in the United States. Scott was pressured to resign in 1997 after the company was accused of defrauding Medicare and Medicaid. In most sectors, he has consistently favored corporate giants over everyday Floridians’ interests.

We think Sen. Nelson is the better choice to fight for Florida. The Herald recommends Bill Nelson for the U.S. Senate.

Online: https://www.miamiherald.com

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