Sea Glass

Sea Glass

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Best Legislature Money Can Buy


I once referred to a past Legislature as a festival of whores, which in retrospect was a vile insult to the world’s oldest profession. Today’s lackluster assemblage in Tallahassee is possibly the worst in modern times, and cannot fairly be
compared to anything except a rodeo of phonies and pimps. It’s impossible to remember a governor and lawmakers who were more virulently anti-consumer, and more slavishly submissive to big business.

The list of who’s getting screwed in the state budget battle is long and sadly familiar: the schools,college students, foster children, the poor, the elderly, the sick and the jobless. The happiest faces, of course. belong to lobbyists for corporations, insurance companies and utilities, who are getting almost everything they want. It’s astounding that so many voters were suckered into thinking that this new generation of Republicans was going to fight for the common man instead of the fats cats and their special interests.

What a joke. The so-called leadership was plainly bought and paid for by the time their shoes hit the steps of the Capitol. The House is swiftly moving to deregulate 20 different types of business, including intrastate movers and telemarketers — two occupations that aren’t exactly famous for being scrupulous and undeceptive.
Deregulation is estimated to cost the state about $6 million in revenue (and who knows how much it will cost consumers in rip-offs), but just think of all the terrific new jobs it will create. That’s what supporters claim. Seriously.
Just what Florida needs — more telemarketers!

Bills are also sailing through the House and Senate that will allow Florida Power & Light to raise your electric rates for the next five years while at the same time giving the utility a controlling grip on the state’s future solar energy market.
GOP leaders who otherwise love to cheer free-market capitalism have already voiced support of the monopolistic bill, which gives FPL and four other major utilities exclusive rights to develop solar projects, eliminating pesky bids from smaller firms.

FPL achieved this coup the old-fashioned way, by hiring 30 lobbyists and donating about $4 million in campaign contributions to certain lawmakers and candidates for governor. Renewable energy would be good for Florida, but competition among providers would actually hold down electric rates. Not happening.

More bad news: If your home is one of 1.3 million insured by Citizens — the state-run pool that was established after Hurricane Andrew — your premiums could soon rise by as much as 25 percent.

A Senate subcommittee last week voted to let Citizens jack up its rates and start dumping policies on homes valued at more than $1 million. The idea is to eventually close down Citizens and shunt all Floridians back into the private insurance market.
That would be a swell idea except for the many thousands of residents who live in coastal areas where private insurance companies will not offer coverage, or will provide it only at outlandishly high rates. Citizens is indisputably a mess, but if the Senate bill becomes law, many Floridians could be facing a future hurricane season with no homeowners’ insurance, and with their mortgage companies breathing
down their necks.

You might be wondering what the new Legislature has accomplished so far for the greater public good. The answer is not much. But to benefit themselves, lawmakers resurrected and decriminalized a scummy little gimmick called “leadership funds,” which allow special interest groups to give gobs of money to special campaign
accounts controlled by the leaders of both political parties, who can spread it around as they see fit. Outlawed by a long-ago Legislature, leadership funds are simply a sanitized way of buying votes, slightly less sleazy than taking cash in a paper bag.

This time around, donors to the politicians will be listed by name, which is supposed to make us all feel not quite so betrayed. However, there has been at least one instance this spring when the issue of ethics raised its timid little head in Tallahassee. Sen. Mike Fasano of New Port Richey introduced a bill that would have toughened penalties for crooked officeholders and public officials. However, the measure was quickly snuffed in the Rules Committee by Fasano’s fellow Republicans and Democrat Gary Siplin of Orlando, who all felt that the current laws are quite stern enough to discourage corrupt behavior.

It’s hard to know whether to laugh or vomit. On a faintly positive note, at least one terrible scheme that took seed in the Legislature will not become law, at least for now. A few weeks ago, Sen. John Thrasher of St. Augustine and Rep. Pat Rooney of West Palm Beach launched legislation that would have let Jack Nicklaus build golf courses in several state parks, starting with the beautiful Jonathan Dickinson tract near Stuart. No one is a bigger Nicklaus fan than I am, but this truly was one of the nuttiest ideas of all time.

Naturally, Gov. Rick Scott loved it.

Florida already has more than 1,000 golf courses, many of them losing business. Meanwhile our state park system draws 16 million visitors annually and is recognized as one of the country’s finest, a reputation that would disintegrate with the intrusion of driving ranges, fertilized fairways and golf carts(not to mention hotels, which the bill idiotically allowed). The outcry was loud and instant, and within days both Rooney and Thrasher bailed. The golf-in-theparks bill got shelved.

In such dreary political times, it’s good that Floridians can still come together and make themselves heard. The shocker is that they weren’t ignored.

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