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Guest Author

John Sowinski: Gambling lobbyist finally admits it – casinos prey on customers

John Sowinski

Marc Dunbar is one of Florida’s best-known gambling advocates. When it comes to pushing for more and bigger casinos, he wears the hats of a lawyer, lobbyist and investor.

And so, call it a Freudian slip or just a moment of candor, it was interesting to hear someone from the inside let us all in on how the industry views its customers – as prey.

This came out in a recent interview with the News Service of Florida. In it, Dunbar discussed the state’s longstanding rejection of Vegas-style resort casinos — something the industry has sought in this state for decades.

Because of that prohibition, he said, “you arguably have the kind of gambling that you don’t want to have, the kind that preys primarily on your constituents, as opposed to the tourists.’’

It’s an interesting argument to make to state lawmakers – fleece the tourists to spare your voters. Perhaps it would be an argument some might buy if there was any validity to it.

But it’s a fake choice.

Before getting into that, however, let’s deal with the part of Dunbar’s statement that is accurate.

Casinos do indeed prey on customers. And the most effective method they have for doing so is with high-tech, digital slot machines. Researchers have documented that these machines create a fast-paced, immersive environment in which gamblers lose track of time and losses.

A professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology documented the phenomenon in the book, “Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas.”

These machines entrap those prone to become problem gamblers, who in turn represent a significant slice of casino revenues. This is why pari-mutuels throughout Florida are pushing so hard to get slot machines.

So, Dunbar’s comparison of customers to prey is appropriate. Where he runs afoul of both research and reality is the premise that bigger and splashier casinos will target tourists instead of locals.

The Spectrum Gaming Group, hardly an anti-gambling organization, looked at this issue in a comprehensive $400,000 study of the Florida gambling market. Spectrum calculated that if Florida expanded gambling, including major resorts in South Florida, only 5 percent of revenue would be from non-residents and 95 percent from seasonal and permanent residents. Since the money spent at casinos would not, in effect, be new money coming into the state, Spectrum concluded that any impact on the economy would be minimal at best.

State economists have hit on the same point in their analysis. More casinos simply would redirect how residents spend their money – putting it in slot machines as opposed to dinner at a neighborhood restaurant or other such activities. (Florida EDR presentation, March 26, 2015, slide 1)

In fact, what we see going on across the country is rapid casino expansion and a dwindling customer base. As more casinos go up, they cannibalize each other’s customers, creating declining revenues and, in the cases of Atlantic City and Tunica, Mississippi, devastating crashes.

Outside of Las Vegas, casinos are not a big tourism draw.

According to the Spectrum report, you basically can draw concentric circles around a casino with the densest concentration of customers coming from the inner circles, and thinning out thereafter.

That this is well documented begs the question of who does Dunbar think he is fooling or, more interestingly, why. Dunbar has invested in a gambling enterprise run by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, which is hoping to build a “resort’’ casino west of Tallahassee in the small, impoverished city of Gretna.

It would include 2,000 slot machines, the current legal limit. The “resort” label would appear to indicate that tourists are the intended targets. But given that proposed casinos in a tourist-draw like South Florida wouldn’t draw in any significant revenue from tourists, one has to wonder how one in the rural Panhandle would pull it off.

Rather than draw in tourists, convenience casinos like Gretna simply focus on maximizing revenue within their respective concentric circles. The idea that a casino that would draw nearly all of its revenue from locals could somehow be a benefit to a local community seems like the worst kind of snake oil peddled by those with ulterior motives. In this case, what may seem to some to appear to be a lifesaver is, in reality, an anchor.

Fortunately, the Florida Supreme Court recently unanimously against the Gretna gambling interests in their attempt to circumvent the Florida Legislature and Florida Constitution in building their slots casino. Unfortunately, this simply means Dunbar and his gambling allies simply will be back for another fierce round of lobbying and backroom dealing in the next legislative session.

A steadfast no is the only response.

Whether we’re talking about the Florida Panhandle or downtown Miami, there is no magical pot of gold at the end of the gambling rainbow – just more local prey to be had.

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John Sowinski, a native of Fort Pierce, is President of NoCasinos.org, Orlando.

Dennis Ross: Giving community banks, credit unions Financial CHOICE

This week, the House of Representatives will consider an important financial reform package, known as the Financial CHOICE Act, which provides desperately needed relief to community financial institutions from the harmful, complex and excessive regulatory environment created by the Dodd-Frank Act.

The Dodd-Frank Act, signed into law by President Obama in July 2010, was more than 2,000 pages long and directed federal regulators to implement more than 400 new rules and regulations to reform our financial system.

When the Dodd-Frank Act was enacted, it was sold to the American people as a solution to the financial crisis that would hold Wall Street banks and bad actors in the financial services arena accountable.

In the years since its enactment, however, big banks have grown larger, and small banks and credit unions across Central Florida and the rest of the country have suffered. In fact, community financial institutions are disappearing at an average rate of one per day. This is because the large Wall Street banks are the only ones with the manpower and resources to navigate the complex Dodd-Frank regulatory environment.

In addition, as a Member of the House Financial Services Committee, I am distressed by the anemic economic growth our country has experienced in the wake of the financial crisis.

In May 2015, the American Action Forum estimated the Dodd-Frank Act would reduce U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) by $895 billion between 2016 and 2025. In 2016, the U.S. saw only 1.6 percent GDP growth. The impact the Dodd-Frank Act is having on our GDP is not only affecting Wall Street banks and financial institutions, it is harming hard-working blue-collar families across Central Florida and the Tampa Bay Region.

To reverse this trend, and instead grow our economy and provide relief to community banks and credit unions from the crushing burden of over-regulation, I am proud to support the Financial CHOICE Act.

This legislation protects taxpayers, ends bank bailouts, empowers investors and holds government bureaucracies accountable. It makes it easier for hardworking Americans to save and invest for retirement, college and their futures. Importantly, this legislation increases access to, and reduces the cost of, credit for families that want to purchase a home or start a business. Finally, the Financial CHOICE Act holds Wall Street accountable and increases civil and criminal penalties for financial fraud and insider trading to their highest levels in history.

The Financial CHOICE Act is just what we need to jump-start our economy and provide more hope and opportunity for Floridians and all Americans.

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U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross represents Florida’s 15th Congressional District.

Steve Hayes: Tourism industry in jeopardy with House Bill 1A

The Florida House of Representatives has recently espoused a philosophy of not “picking winners and losers,” but House Bill 1A does just that.

As I watched Gov. Rick Scott, Senate President Joe Negron, and Speaker Richard Corcoran announce their plans for a special session to discuss tourism funding, I felt hopeful for the fate of Florida’s tourism industry. However, my optimism faded when I read the strict VISIT Florida provisions tucked inside House Bill 1A. Of course, I am deeply appreciative of our lawmakers’ willingness to rethink the issue of VISIT Florida’s funding, but I am concerned the severe restrictions still hinder VISIT Florida’s ability to help smaller communities compete in the increasingly aggressive tourism promotion industry.

VISIT Florida must be able to operate to keep tourists, and revenue, flowing into the Sunshine State. Restoring its funding to $76 million is certainly a critical component to ensuring our tourism industry continues to flourish, but the bureaucratic red tape proposed by HB 1A counteracts the increased budget.

I am a proud member of Pensacola’s tourism industry, so the fund matching provisions found in HB 1A are especially troubling. In its current form, HB 1A could force VISIT Florida to partner only with the larger tourism industry businesses that can match funds, shutting out county destination marketing organization. The small businesses that previously benefited from state tourism promotion efforts by partnering with their local destination marketing organization (DMO), like Visit Pensacola, will no longer be afforded this opportunity — and they are the ones who need tourism promotion the most. Seafood shacks, bed and breakfasts, kayak rentals and numerous other companies do not have a marketing team and therefore rely on their local DMO to partner with VISIT Florida. Similar are the smaller destinations in Northern Florida, without the same brand recognition as some of our state’s larger cities — without cooperation between state and local tourism promotion, many of Florida’s hidden gems would remain a secret.

Like many smaller communities, tourism is Pensacola’s livelihood. The tourism industry employs more than 22,000 residents and relies on Pensacola tourists to feed their families and maintain their way of life. And, those outside of the travel industry benefit from our county tourism promotion efforts as well. For example, every dollar invested in marketing Pensacola creates $3.55 in tax revenue. The money generated by tourism helps improve our roads, maintain our beaches and fund other public projects.

DMO’s, like Visit Pensacola, enable smaller, local tourism businesses to participate in VISIT Florida marketing programs they could not afford without local support. The small businesses could maximize their minimal funds by getting a matching contribution from both the state and their local tax-funded tourism bureau. For example, a water sports attraction on the coast can achieve exposure in magazine advertisements by partnering with their local destination marketing organization, reaching millions of potential customers across the country at a significantly reduced cost. Now, local tourism businesses will be excluded from these types of opportunities.

Recently, Gov. Scott announced Florida welcomed a record 31.1 million visitors in the first three months of 2017. This accomplishment is a direct result of last year’s $76 million allowance for tourism promotion, coupled with each county’s investment in publicizing the Sunshine State. Now that counties and other long-term VISIT Florida partners are unable to help fund state marketing programs, the strength of the Florida brand will surely weaken.

We have proven time and time again that investing in tourism promotion is good public policy, and VISIT Florida’s success has been consistent. Small communities and businesses who have been partners since the beginning should not be punished by a shortsighted decision. HB 1A must be modified so that counties both big and small can continue to benefit from VISIT Florida’s tourism promotion efforts. Tourism must work for the entire state — we cannot leave small communities in the dust.

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Steve Hayes is the vice chairman of the Florida Association of Destination Marketing Organizations (FADMO) and the president of Visit Pensacola.

Shevrin Jones: Florida education bill’s path isn’t how the process works

Remember “Schoolhouse Rock”? Many of us remember the process of how a bill becomes a law from that jingle which still rings in our heads. First, there’s an idea. Then this idea becomes a bill, which must be vetted by both legislative chambers and approved through a rigorous process meant to weed out the good ideas from the bad.

This year, we were promised “unprecedented transparency” in how things would be done in Tallahassee. In my heart, I believe the intent, in the beginning, was pure. Unfortunately, as time passed, that promise slipped away from us. Whether due to the crunch of time, or trying to please everyone, nowhere was the notion of transparency abused more than in the development of HB 7069.

When it comes to any piece of legislation, we owe it to you, our constituents, to allow public comment and input before a vote is taken. This principle is even more important when it comes to public education and charting the course for success for our children’s futures.

With HB 7069, at least 55 different bills concerning public education were jammed together at the last minute in a conference report that was sent straight to the floor of the House and by rule could not be amended. Even more concerning, one of the bills included in this giant package was a bill that will make it harder for Florida to retain our highest performing teachers that had been voted down in a Senate committee. This isn’t how the process should work.

While there are undoubtedly good aspects to this bill — including some portions that I had the privilege to give input on such as recess for public school children and the expansion of the Gardiner scholarship for our students who need it most — it is littered with poison pills that teachers, superintendents and parents all oppose. While some argue that charter schools are public schools, this bill contains a massive giveaway to for-profit charter management corporations at the expense of the 90-plus percent of students in Florida who attend traditional public schools.

Let’s also be honest — you can’t develop a 278-page bill in secret and tell us to deal with it. We must do what’s right and start over so that these policies are given a fair examination in the sunshine.

I urge Gov. Scott to veto HB 7069.

You deserve better. Our children deserve better.

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State Rep. Shevrin Jones represents House District 101, which includes southeastern Broward County. He is a ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee.

Gary Croke: Past hurricanes help prepare for tomorrow

Gary Croke

When disasters happen, whether natural or man-made, emergency responders work in unison to protect the public.

In the case of a hurricane, even before the heavy winds bear down on communities, emergency responders are already implementing plans to help residents get out of areas at risk, safely and swiftly.

Behind the scenes utility companies, government agencies, the National Guard and many other first responders are working together to ensure the safety of Floridians and tourists alike.

As a hurricane builds, so does the need to communicate. Police departments need to coordinate with fire and rescue to ensure the most vulnerable have a route out of the path of destruction, and to provide emergency care to those unable to get to safety in time.

Many Floridians will never forget the unprecedented 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons that caused loss of life and billions of dollars of damage in Florida. In those years, no part of the state was spared. Since that time Florida communities and their leaders have taken advantage of the relatively quiet hurricane seasons to reinvest in a more robust and state-of-the-art public communications infrastructure.

More than 10 years later, microwave technology, provided to local organizations such as the Florida State Department of Transportation, the City of Ft. Lauderdale, the City of Miami Beach, and counties including Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach, has enhanced communication between first responders. It has also helped reduce costs, and improve local networks’ reliability and performance. As the microwave provider to these local organizations, Aviat is proud to play a part in helping these communities be prepared with additional network capacity in future weather emergencies.

However, natural and man-made disasters will continue to test the limits of this technology. As demonstrated by recent public safety incidents in Florida, during times of immediate crisis, lines of communication are often flooded by the number of individuals on the ground trying to help. The addition of more technology, such as body cameras on law enforcement officials, will only add to the onslaught of vital data that needs to shared. It’s also impossible to predict how intense future hurricanes may be. The emergency responders that have prioritized communications are entering hurricane season as well prepared as possible.

More recently, in 2012 when Hurricane Sandy churned through the East Coast, Aviat was helping to provide support for monitoring in real time. One of the AviatCare support services that we offer customers is a comprehensive Network Monitoring and Support service from our security certified North American Network Operations Center (NOC) located far from the threat of hurricanes in San Antonio, Texas. From that location, we can monitor, manage and dispatch resources to address customer issues with their networks. Even before the storm hit the Northeast U.S., our NOC was getting ready to ensure our customers would be prepared for this coming disturbance. With our ability to monitor weather events in real time, we can see immediately what is affecting a customer’s network from a weather perspective.

While preparing for hurricane season, we’ve recently seen municipalities, emergency responders, and utility companies test their communications systems — going through these table top exercises is key and lifesaving. It also means identifying the gaps and making investments to ensure that the bandwidth exists to ensure that our first responders can continue and coordinate, even in the most dire of circumstances.

Emergency communications systems need to be developed from the ground up with reliability in mind — hardened with reinforced infrastructure, redundant equipment, sturdy and robust installations, and battery backup. As technology advances, so do its demands, and communities across the state of Florida need to work to ensure they have access to the technology that supports the realities of local data demands and potential risks to the public — the health and safety of our residents depends on it.

With hurricane season starting June 1, Aviat is poised to work with local emergency responders and utility responders who have made effective communications a top priority.

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Gary Croke is Senior Director of Marketing & Strategy at Aviat Networks, a global provider of microwave networking solutions, providing public and private operators with communications networks to accommodate the exploding growth of IP-centric, multigigabit data services.

Gil Langley: Post-Session reflection on tourism marketing

Last week, Gov. Rick Scott announced record-breaking tourism numbers in the Sunshine State. It may be the last time for a while. Ignoring extensive research, case studies and pleas from travel industry constituents across the state, the Florida Legislature slashed funding for VISIT Florida by a crippling 67 percent — recklessly jeopardizing the tourism industry’s leading role as a generator of jobs and government revenues.

A $25 million budget to market Florida, one of the world’s top travel destinations, is not conducive to success on any front – job creation, revenue increases or lower taxes for Florida residents. By cutting off funds for advertising, marketing, and promotion, Florida will essentially surrender the gains made over the past several years while global competitors steal market share.

Contrary to assertions made by some elected officials, vacation destinations do not sell themselves. Every great product needs to make potential customers aware of the benefits their product offers – and why it is a better choice than the alternative. That is why California spends more than $100 million every year to market their state, even with well-known major attractions such as Disneyland, Hollywood, the Golden Gate Bridge and great beaches.

Tourism is an incredibly competitive industry. Not only are we competing against 49 other states (some with eight-figure marketing budgets), we are battling destinations across the globe to get the attention of potential visitors. Mexico, the Bahamas and Cuba are thrilled Florida’s travel marketing budget has been reduced, allowing them to gain market share while VISIT Florida goes silent in the marketplace.

These cuts were approved despite warnings from experts in government and the private sector. Detailed case studies about states like Colorado and Washington (who cut tourism marketing, only to lose jobs, revenues and market share) provided a cautionary tale ignored. Prestigious organizations such as Florida TaxWatch conducted economic studies demonstrating VISIT Florida’s return on investment, proving investing in tourism is good public policy.

Our elected officials have demonstrated they know the importance of consistent messaging. Legislators raised $73 million for election campaigns in 2016 – even though 57 seats were uncontested. They spent money to keep the voters informed of the job they do, and explained why they should continue to serve. Reminding vacationers of why Florida is a great choice for their family follows the same principle.

The decision to slash tourism marketing funding and create barriers to VISIT Florida’s success negatively impacts every single Floridian. Less marketing means fewer visitors and fewer visitors means less tax revenue to fund necessary public projects such as schools, beaches, parks, roads and other infrastructure. Even if the entire $61 million cut were dedicated to other programs, the impact would be minimal. For example, according to FDOT, $61 million would construct only 4 miles of urban interstate – in a state with nearly 1,500 miles of interstate. On a larger scale, the $61 million cut from VISIT Florida’s budget would fund state government operations for just five hours out of the year. Invested in marketing the state, however, those same funds would generate over $160 million in new state and local tax revenue that could support transportation, education and senior services. It is also important to note VISIT Florida represents a minuscule portion of the state’s budget, yet any decrease in funding will result in significant ramifications. Even if VISIT Florida were funded at Governor Scott’s recommendation of $100 million, 98.7 percent of the state’s budget would be left for other priorities.

I live and work in the small coastal community of Amelia Island, a community that is twice as dependent on tourism as the average Florida county. We are especially concerned about the budget cuts’ impact to rural communities. To a degree, large urban destinations, mega resorts and world-famous theme parks can rely on global brand recognition, but many of Florida’s hidden gems will be left without the resources to market themselves. For Nassau County, the potential impacts are frightening.

Tourist spending generates 37 percent of the sales taxes generated here. Over 25 percent of the workforce have jobs in the hospitality business. Tourist spending provides a net gain of $40 million to County government, saving every household in the County $2,748 in state and local taxes. If tourism declines, it means fewer jobs, fewer services and potentially increased taxes on residents.

Just as in Nassau County, other hardworking Floridian families will suffer, too. A TaxWatch study analyzed the economic impact of the new tourism promotion budget, and found that reducing funding to $25 million means a loss of at least 5 million tourists. With a 5 percent tourism downturn, every household in Florida would have to be taxed an additional $1,535 a year to replace the lost state and local taxes generated from visitor activity. Perhaps even more disheartening are the 70,000 jobs that will be lost due to fewer visitors.

Our hope is that before tourism losses mount in 2018, legislators will reverse course and fully fund a marketing effort that maintains our status as the Earth’s most popular family destination. If not, jobs will be lost, small businesses will be harmed and tax revenue will be diminished. Objectively evaluating the return on investment clearly proves tourism works for Florida – and supporting it financially is a wise move for all our citizens.

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Gil Langley is chair of the Florida Association of Destination Marketing Organizations, the statewide association representing county tourism promotion agencies.

 

Craig Waters: Florida’s courts lead in use of social media

Long seen as the quietest branch of state government, Florida’s state courts have emerged in the last year as a national leader in social media use.

Craig Waters
Waters during the 2000 election challenge. (Wikimedia)

In fact, we are leading the nation with 20 out of 26 court divisions using Twitter to reach the public right now. That’s an astounding number.

In a report sent this week to Florida’s Chief Justice Jorge Labarga, our staff detailed the first year’s work in a state court communications plan adopted by the Florida Supreme Court in December 2015.

Labarga sent the plan for implementation to a professional association of Florida court staff called the Florida Court Public Information Officers, or FCPIO. I am the group’s founder and its current executive director.

The goal is simple. It’s not enough that courts do justice. They also must make sure people see justice being done.

It was a mission we quickly accepted. Originally set up by a post-9/11 crisis management plan in 2002, FCPIO has evolved into a group of court communications professionals unique in the nation.

No other state has anything approaching it – though many states now are studying FCPIO and the plan it is carrying out for Florida’s judiciary.

FCPIO incorporated itself as a federally recognized nonprofit in early 2007, right at the time events in Silicon Valley began shaking up the communications landscape. That was only a year after Twitter opened its doors and three years after the founding of Facebook.

But FCPIO also brings talent to the table. With representatives in every Florida state court, the group has been led by several media-skilled court officers that saw the need for statewide education and coordination with an emphasis on openness.

I am a lawyer and former Gannett newspaper reporter who has worked for the Florida Supreme Court for 30 years and started its public information office, its gavel-to-gavel oral argument broadcasts, and its website in the 1990s.

FCPIO’s current president, Eunice Sigler of the Miami courts, is a former Miami Herald reporter and winner of a Pulitzer Prize for team coverage of the Elian Gonzalez immigration case.

The report on implementing the plan addresses other issues that include:

Websites: Eighteen of Florida’s 20 circuit courts and all of the district courts of appeal currently are working toward redesigns of their websites because they are the judiciary’s most important communications tool.

Social media: The Florida state courts continue to debate the pros and cons of social media because of the strict ethical limits they must shoulder. While Twitter is now broadly used, Facebook has been more controversial – and only a minority of the state courts currently use it. However, FCPIO is studying ways to address concerns and identify best practices employed by courts now using Facebook.

Podcasts: Two courts in Orlando and Miami currently are using podcasts to communicate with the public, and the Florida Supreme Court soon will start its own podcasting program.

Media Relations: FCPIO will continue to educate courts personnel and judges in the methods needed to work in a cooperative and respectful way with news media. And Twitter has become an important tool for getting word out to the press and the public about breaking news.

Community outreach: Court outreach programs such as courthouse tours for schoolchildren, citizen forums, and public education programs remain important parts of the courts’ mission. They include outreach to elected officials, town hall meetings for residents, and innovative uses of Twitter to reach out to student groups and others.

Internal communications: Proper communications with internal court staff remain important so that everyone understands the overall mission, the need to speak with a unified voice, and the ways to address problems when they arise. One important example is crisis communications with staff during hurricanes or other emergencies.

The Florida state courts’ stress on good communications rests on a near-legendary history. It’s part of a longstanding commitment to transparency that began with Florida letting cameras into the courts in the 1970s.

It continues today thanks to several visionary judges leading the state system over the last half century. And despite doom-saying elsewhere in the nation, Florida’s courts really have had a very positive experience.

In other words: Openness works.


Attorney Craig Waters has been the public information officer and communications director for the Florida Supreme Court in Tallahassee since June 1996. He is best known as the public spokesman for the Court during the 2000 presidential election controversy, when he frequently appeared on worldwide newscasts announcing rulings in lawsuits over Florida’s decisive vote in the election.

Christopher Huff: Changing times demand a retreat from enduring fallacies of war between the states

Dr. Christopher A. Huff

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer‘s announcement this week that the city’s Confederate statue will be moved from Lake Eola Park to Greenwood Cemetery represents a positive step in recognizing the changing nature of Southern culture and the diverse set of voices that deserve a say in the ongoing process of commemorating a complex and troublesome past.

The popular memory of the Civil War that dominated the South when the city’s Confederate statue was erected in 1911 was based on white supremacy and the mythology of the Lost Cause. The early 20th century represented the low point for Southern race relations. Following the removal of federal troops that marked the end of Reconstruction, Southern state governments and white supremacists worked intently and often violently to reverse any gains made by African-Americans after the end of slavery. To this end, they orchestrated the rise of “Jim Crow,” a system that created an inferior social status for African-Americans by segregating them from whites whenever possible and denying them political power.

Florida, despite its current cosmopolitan nature, was a full participant in the South’s attempt to control African-Americans through fear and intimidation. During the wave of lynching that occurred in the decades around the turn of the 20th century which helped define the Jim Crow South, white Floridians killed more African-Americans per capita than those of any other Southern state.

As African-Americans experienced brutal subjugation in the Jim Crow South, several organizations attempted to recast the cause of the Civil War. The mythology of the “Lost Cause,” as it became known removed slavery as the war’s chief instigator and instead blamed the conflict on The North, which was hellbent on destroying the Southern way of life and left Southern states with no choice but to secede. According to Lost Cause thinking, Southern soldiers did not die defending slavery but fought to protect their home and honor — a cause that deserved remembrance.

The United Daughters of the Confederacy played a major role in spreading the Lost Cause mythology through its efforts to have Confederate soldiers reburied, shape the content of school history textbooks, and oversee the erection of Confederate monuments — including the one that currently stands in Lake Eola Park.

The efforts of the UDC proved quite successful based on the large number of Confederate monuments still standing in towns and cities across the South and the ongoing popularity of Lost Cause beliefs held by many Southerners. The phrase “Heritage Not Hate,” seen on T-shirts, bumper stickers and baseball hats across the South, is a simplified distillation of the Lost Cause mythology.

Orlando in 2017 is a much different city than the one that erected The Confederate monument at Lake Eola Park in 1911. At the time, the statue represented the belief of many white Floridians in a misinterpretation of the past that helped justify the systematic mistreatment of black Floridians. Those are beliefs that do not generally represent Orlando today.

Moving the statue does not erase Southern history or its Confederate past. Nor does it dishonor those who died in its defense. Moving the statue from its current position, however, does recognize that memorials are not empty of meaning but are instead physical representations of the values and beliefs held by the community that erected them. It is time to place a new memorial in Lake Eola Park that embodies Orlando’s current commitment to diversity and toleration.

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Dr. Christopher A. Huff is an assistant professor of history at Beacon College, the first higher education institution to award bachelor’s degrees primarily to students with learning disabilities, ADHD and other learning differences, where he specializes in 20th American political and social history, focusing primarily on the protest movements of the late 1960s, the civil rights movement, and southern history.

Richard Corcoran: Don’t believe hyperbole, hysterics from budget critics

One of my all-time heroes is Winston Churchill. He’s widely credited with having said, “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”

In the digital age, this phenomenon, which once took days or weeks, now takes mere hours or minutes.

To know this is true we only need to look at the hyperbole and hysterics coming from the special interests and their allies in the news media surrounding the passage of the Florida legislative budget. If you can believe it, one newspaper even argued that Gov. Scott should veto the budget because it offered kids in failing schools hope, and because voters shouldn’t be able to choose another $25,000 homestead exemption on their property taxes.

I wish I were joking, but I’m not.

But rather than indulge in the same scare tactics employed by some opponents, I’d like to just tell you exactly what the budget does and doesn’t do. None of what I’m about to tell you is half true or somewhat true — it’s all completely true.

First, this budget was subject to the most open, transparent, and transformational budget rules in history. No more secret projects at the last minute, no more stuffing university budgets with pork, and no more tricks to hide future spending. And contrary to media hysterics, virtually every bill included in the budget negotiations was introduced, vetted, debated, and even voted on in committee for weeks or months prior to the budget.

Second, this budget refuses to mortgage our children’s future. This year we were faced with billion-dollar-plus shortfalls in the next two years. Due to our fiscal responsibility, we turned those billion-dollar budget shortfalls into billion-dollar-plus surpluses. We also set aside another $3.2 billion in reserves, and we did it all without raising taxes.

Third, not only did we protect the future without raising taxes, we actually cut taxes. We added another $25,000 homestead exemption on the ballot in 2018, and we saved homeowners over $500 million in property tax increases that some in Tallahassee wanted to use to pay for more pork.

Fourth, this budget puts a record amount of money — $24 billion — into K-12 education. In addition, all highly effective teachers will get a $1,200 bonus and effective teachers will get an $800 bonus. And the very best and brightest teachers will get a $6,000 bonus. And yes, children in the 115 failure-factory schools will get the opportunity to attend a new school, in the same neighborhood, with a proven track record of giving kids a hope and a future.

Fifth, this budget eliminated hundreds of millions of dollars in member pork-barrel spending, and I personally encourage the governor to go forth and veto additional pork projects he feels waste taxpayer money.

Sixth, this budget rightsizes VISIT Florida to $25 million and places strict accountability requirements on an agency that threw away tens of millions of your taxpayer dollars and even contracted to advertise to visitors in Syria. Yes, you read that right: Syria. This budget also eliminates corporate welfare and bureaucrats unfairly picking winners and losers. No more Enterprise Florida board members, who pay $50,000 for those seats, handing out your money to their friends or multibillion-dollar corporations getting taxpayer handouts to compete with your local businesses.

This year’s budget does this and so much more. From funding to clear out the backlog of sexual assault testing kits to fully funding the KidCare program, to making feminine hygiene products tax exempt, this budget is tough on waste, generous to our kids, and prioritizes real people.

For some, however, this wasn’t enough. It is this exact same logic and thinking that has put this country $20 trillion in debt and enriched insider elites at the expense of the hardworking, play-by-the-rules majority of we the people.

Well, we have news for them: Not anymore. Not with your money. And not on my watch.

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Richard Corcoran is Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives.

 

Jason Fischer: Our kids deserve hope

Over the past few days, many district superintendents and other defenders of the struggling status quo have attacked HB 7069, a bill focused on reforming and improving K-12 education. As a former Duval County School Board member, I am proud to have voted for this bill and urge Gov. Rick Scott to sign it into law.

The notion that this bill will gut public education or undermine public schools is hogwash. Instead, it provides the reform and disruption our K-12 education system desperately needs.

HB 7069 does several positive things: boosts K-12 funding to a record high $24 billion; rewards teachers and principals with bonuses; reduces standardized and computer testing; expands school choice access for special needs and virtual school students; implements mandatory recess for early grades; and provides the needed funding and incentives to attract nationally-proven charter school networks to Florida.

The last provision listed above, known as Schools of Hope,” sets aside money designated for high-performing charters, which can provide high-quality alternatives for students assigned to chronically failing traditional public schools. School districts who wish to convert a chronically failing traditional public school to a district-run charter are also eligible to access this funding should they choose to submit detailed turnaround plans.

My interest in “Schools of Hope” stems from Duval County, which has 10 failing traditional public schools who have earned failing grades for four or more years. One, in particular, has been failing for 10 years, and the parents whose students are assigned to that school have had little to no options to send their children elsewhere.

No parent or child should have to wait 10 years to be assigned to a high-quality school. Furthermore, taxpayers should not be asked to fund failure year in and out when we know there are proven charter networks from around the country who can do better. This is why certain established charter networks like Great Hearts or YES Prep should be given an opportunity to seek out Florida’s underserved communities and provide the education our own schools have failed to deliver.

The only problem is Florida’s charter school funding and accountability models are so restrictive, the nation’s best actors in the charter school realm face too many financial and structural barriers to coming here. “Schools of Hope” will help remedy these challenges.

The bill also rewards Florida’s 165,000+ hardworking teachers and principals with bonuses for the next three years, ranging between $800 and $6,000, based on eligibility, placing more dollars directly in the pockets of our educators.

At the request of many parents and educators, elementary school students will now receive 20 minutes of required daily recess.

The bill adds more flexibility in testing by rolling back some required state assessments, allowing for paper-and-pencil testing in grades 3-6, and giving state tests later in the school year, so students and teachers have more instructional time in the classroom.

Most importantly, the bill extends school choice to more students by ensuring Gardiner Scholarships for special needs students is fully funded, and it removes longtime barriers to accessing virtual school for homeschool and private school students.

What the bill does not do is cut funding to traditional public schools. Duval County will see an $8.3 million boost overall or $16 per pupil increase in funding.

When a child is assigned to a failing school, one day is too long to wait for a better option. If my child was stuck in one of the 10 failure factories in Duval County, I wouldn’t wait 10 years to see if it gets better.

It is a moral disgrace to insist some of our neighbors here in Duval County remain stuck in failing schools for generations because of personal or political vendettas against nontraditional public schools.

We have a moral obligation to give every child an education that equips them to succeed in life. No one should have to wait another day to access that education. We also know that more flexibility at the local level will lead to better student outcomes. That’s why this legislation is in the best interest of Florida’s students.

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Jason Fischer is a father, businessman, former Duval County School Board member, and current State Representative for House District 16.

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