The Legislature’s report card comes courtesy of the Orlando Sun Sentinel:
Welcome back from the Easter/Passover holidays, Florida legislators. We hope you got plenty of rest, because judging by your midterm report card, you have a lot of work ahead to prevent this session from being labeled a failure. Let’s review:
•Commuter rail — D-minus
Somehow, SunRail supporters have managed to again get outmaneuvered by a self-interested state senator — Paula Dockery — who’s dead set on holding Central Florida commuters hostage to Interstate 4. Orlando Sen. Gary Siplin’s betrayal of his constituents, based largely on his faulty understanding of state budgets, gave would-be opponents cover.
The hour is late, but not too late. Supporters in the Legislature need to become a lot more aggressive. So does Gov. Charlie Crist.
It should be clear to anyone who wants to expand rail in South Florida, start new systems in Jacksonville and Tampa, or ever break ground on a statewide high-speed rail system, that this is a pivotal moment. For Florida’s transportation future, it’s now or never — at least not in most of our lifetimes.
•Budget — C-minus
There’s good news for smokers: Legislators seem likely to keep cigarette taxes among the nation’s lowest. Instead, they want to generate money by jacking up a variety of “fees,” which includes the cost of renewing a drivers license so you can get to work. Protect smokers, stick it to workers. Why?
Because one is a tax and the other is a fee, and too many legislators signed away their judgment when they signed a national pledge to never, ever support a tax increase under any circumstances. House Speaker Larry Cretul signed it, along with speaker-designate Dean Cannon. So did Senate President Jeff Atwater and president-in-waiting Mike Haridopolos.
Imagine the terror they must feel at what an opposition candidate might do if they support any kind of tax.
The Senate, at least, is willing to consider a cigarette-tax increase. The House not only pooh-poohed that idea but dismissed any talk of repealing even the nuttiest of Florida’s tax exemptions.
•Pension reform — A-minus
Bills to reform the state’s retirement program so government employees — including elected officials — can’t double-dip salaries and pensions have made it through Senate and House committees. But some legislators are trying to water down the measures. Surely even this bunch can sense the public’s rising anger.
•Growth — C
Some of the worst legislation of the session is found here. For example: Do away with the Department of Community Affairs, about the only thing standing in the way of growth-crazy cities. This one may not get anywhere but another proposal might. That one would ease reviews in densely populated counties to encourage growth in urban areas. The thing is, some counties with dense urban centers have plenty of rural land that needs state protection. These measures are flawed. They need to die so the Legislature can focus on growth issues that matter, like commuter rail.
•Red-light cameras — B-plus
Measures in the House and Senate that would authorize cities and counties to install cameras to catch red-light runners appear to be moving along. So why not an A? The Senate version still must pass through the Criminal Justice Committee headed by Paula Dockery; its members include Gary Siplin. If their commuter-rail positions are any indication, the public’s best interests may not win the day.