This page has been saying for a while that the billions in Medicaid expansion dollars will enable the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to prevail as cash conquers kooky ideology. That money-money-money theme still holds true, only the audacity of taxpayer theft has been expanded to monstrous proportions.
It has never been about health care for needy citizens, in case you were under some delusion that the GOP majority in Tallahassee gives a rat’s heinie about the “health care” part of “health care dollars.”
Since the US Supreme Court decided ultimately to uphold the ACA (Florida led the legal fight), and then the election victory of Barack Obama (even in Florida), Florida’s GOP has been hinting that it was giving serious consideration to playing ball on federal health care reform [ahem] given the billions of dollars that could flow into the coffers of their corporate sponsors. The billions of federal dollars would be part of an expansion of Medicaid to reach uninsured citizens with low incomes, directly and fully paid by the US government for the first 3 years and then 90% of the cost until 2020.
When Gov. Rick Scott recently allowed that he would sign a Medicaid expansion bill in an apparent quid pro quo exchange for the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) permission to privatize Medicaid statewide, the gauntlet was then thrown down to the Florida House and Senate. (By the way, Medicaid privatization is a profoundly bad idea that has been costly and performed terribly in trials in a 5 county test program in Florida. Despite the evidence, HHS catered to Scott, a profoundly stupid move by HHS.)
Without the privatization permission, it’s still a really sweet deal. How sweet? States get the uninsured covered, but as was stated earlier, only a few seem to care about health care for citizens. More importantly to GOP legislators, health care providers get a huge pot of new money to help with their profitability, and in the case of hospitals, some payment for the millions of dollars in monthly losses from providing care to the uninsured. Such losses have been a huge burden for community hospitals like Munroe Regional Medical Center in Ocala, and have been a primary driver in the negative fiscal forecasts. These billions of federal dollars would help not only hospitals but also medical practices which have taken losses, and generally provide a generous boost for the entire state economy. This infusion of cash may end up having greater economic benefit than the billions in high speed rail money that Rick Scott cavalierly tossed back to DC.
Add in the Medicaid privatization permission that HHS gave Scott in an apparent quid pro quo for his acquiescence on Medicaid expansion, and you can see a whole new string of companies, private insurers and their HMOs, cashing in on the deal. What seems to be the theme is that every corporate interest is getting bought off to provide health care at taxpayer expense, meaning the corporations get big profits and citizens get nickled-and-dimed on their health care plus, as taxpayers, fund their leveraged profits. Giving citizens less health care becomes the corporate goal, subsidized by taxpayer’s health care dollars. What? Is something wrong with this picture?
But now it gets worse.
HHS recently gave permission to Arkansas to take federal Medicaid expansion dollars and hand them directly to private insurance companies to pay for private policies for the uninsured. Why is this idea even worse than privatized Medicaid?
According to Congressional Budget Office estimates, it will cost about $9,000 to buy a person private insurance on the health insurance exchanges created by the law, compared with about $6,000 to add the person to Medicaid.
That would be a 50% increase in cost for the Arkansas plan! It certainly doesn’t bother Arkansas legislators since they won’t be paying much of anything for it.
(Despite the obscenely hysterical rhetoric about state costs to administer expanded Medicaid, everyone knows it amounts to chump change and it’s a great deal for the states. Funny how that noise has evaporated these days, isn’t it?)
With this 50% increased cost, will there be more health care, more people covered, more generous or comprehensive benefits? No. NO! It’s the exact same health care, but with a 50% profit premium for corporations. This is why corporations spend what amounts to a pittance to buy some legislators; their return on investment is mammoth … and shameful.
If legislators and their corporate sponsors ought to be ashamed, it is hard to think of the appropriate punishment for HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius and her administration for handing out such an absurd and useless gift to GOP dominated state legislatures since water-boarding really is torture. It certainly wasn’t necessary since privatization permission – again, a terrible mistake – had already been granted. Now a key lever for cost containment has been eliminated. There will be no incentive to responsible management, just the vast sucking sound as taxpayer dollars are transferred to corporate profits and shareholder equity. Remember W’s Medicare prescription drug bill? Deja vu all over again!
Clearly insurers like Florida Blue (Blue Cross/Blue Shield – the biggest campaign donor in Florida; sorry, hospital association) and others are upset at the thought of having to provide coverage without guarding against pre-existing conditions, i.e. cherry picking the “healthy ones.” They don’t believe they will benefit sufficiently, and, let’s not kid ourselves, their corporate benefit and bottom line are the primary concerns, not health care.
Expect our state legislators to come up with disgustingly transparent spin as they pivot toward an Arkansas plan. Try these code phrases, like Senate President Don Gaetz (R-Niceville):
… they seek a Florida solution, not a Washington solution….
or summa cum weenie Mark Wilson of the Florida Chamber:
If it’s a take Washington’s mandate or nothing question, the Florida Chamber stands in opposition to Washington’s version of a one-size-fits-all Medicaid expansion. While we are against what Washington passed in its current form, we are for a flexible Florida solution.
or House Speaker Will Weatherford (R-Wesley Chapel) trying to stay on message with the Chamber – okay, Wilson told him what to say and he memorized it:
Like the House, the committee gathered the facts and decided that Washington’s inflexible approach to force Florida to take a ‘one-size fits all’ policy choice is not in our state’s best interest.
Obviously it isn’t a one-size-fits-all policy, and they know it. The GOP/Chamber spin doctors should be convicted of malpractice and incompetence for that pathetic line.
There is some other nonsense about personal responsibility and other window dressing you may hear like the Chamber’s 11 prerequisites for expansion (LOL!), but you, wise reader, understand that the real ambition of GOP legislators is unfettered profits for their corporate sponsors, not minding at all that it comes at taxpayer expense … again.
In a reversal of his longstanding contempt for and condemnation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) known as Obamacare, Gov. Rick Scott endorsed Medicaid expansion. His hasty press conference came immediately on the heels of an announcement by the US Dept. of Health and Human Services that Florida could largely proceed with its scheme for privatizing Medicaid statewide.
Ah-ha! The fix was in, you think – a quid pro quo. The feds and the guv say, ‘No way.’ But you, smarty pants progressive, Daily Marion reader, “You’re right!” You have read our posts on this subject.
Following the Supreme Court decision on the ACA, it seemed to us like ideology would remain Scott’s guiding light, but then in considering the amount of money involved, it was recognized that billions of dollars can motivate remarkable turnarounds in attitude. While Scott is alienating his Tea Party base and other (former) allies by betraying them on Obamacare, he exposes himself to a challenger from –hold your breath – a worse conservative who will continue to demonize Obamacare. Still, the possibility of a quid pro quo seemed in the works to us:
Did Gov. Scott manage to pull a quid pro quo from HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius that will have Florida as more cooperative participant in the ACA Medicaid expansion in exchange for this scandalous profit-from-the-poor scheme?
A huge concern is oversight of this privatization scheme. Those are the details that should be of paramount concern. The feds need the ability to apply close scrutiny, intervene, and have the authority to cut off poor performers swiftly since dismal performance has plagued the pilot program in a variety of ways. In general, Florida has a terrible history of compliance with federal rules.
Florida CHAIN, a health care advocacy group, stated:
Consumer health advocates have fought hard to ensure that access to care and consumer protections remain a top priority. We are encouraged by the inclusion of those protections and the movement toward a more transparent, inclusive process and more robust independent monitoring. We are hopeful that the final language and implementation will reflect what is most important – full access to quality health care for Medicaid beneficiaries with proper oversight.
There has been an expected push back from the legislature since they don’t like it when governors act independently. House Speaker Will Weatherford (R-Wesley Chapel) released a statement:
“Governor Scott has made his decision and I certainly respect his thoughts. However, the Florida Legislature will make the ultimate decision,” state GOP House Speaker Will Weatherford said in a statement Wednesday. “I am personally skeptical that this inflexible law will improve the quality of healthcare in our state and ensure our long-term financial stability.”
Don’t think that the legislature is likely to torpedo this deal. This is just turf defense. They have all been waffling since the SCOTUS decision, and got really shaky-bakey when Romney lost. Prime legislative health care leader, Sen. Joe Negron (R-Stuart) said this week:
Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, chairman of the Senate panel reviewing the law, told the Palm Beach Post there is “clearly a nexus between the two … Without the waiver, we are not likely to move ahead with expansion.”
How likely is the Senate (and the House for that matter) to move ahead with Medicaid expansion? With Gov. Scott taking the lead, and the heat, it opens doors for the GOP legislative leaders to kick a little dirt, look down, and admit the federals dollars will make their best-est friends, the medical and insurance lobbyists, really damn happy. Um, what ideology?
Scott lamely tried to conjure a fig leaf to cover himself; a three year test drive of Medicaid expansion. Right. Once you let it in, it will be as entrenched as Medicare.
Now it would be a pleasant surprise to see the GOP leaders doing a bona fide, come-to-Jesus, on their knees expression of compassion for the poor souls who have no health insurance, who have suffered, who have been in pain, and who even stood to lose their lives. So, maybe a bit more emotive than the Governor:
Scott … said that he still had questions about the health care law but called the three-year Medicaid expansion a “compassionate, common sense step forward.”
Gee, that’s “gushing” for Gov. Scott who was also quoted as saying:
“I cannot in good conscience deny Floridians [healthcare].”
Okay, that last one made Snow White awaken and Pinocchio blush. Scott’s medical history indicates he has never been plagued with “conscience,” certainly not a good one, and is highly unlikely to be afflicted by one now.
Seriously, you know what’s going to make this a no-brainer: b-b-billions! How much are we talking about? Well,
Families USA released a report that said making more lower-income Floridians eligible for health coverage under Medicaid will yield 71,300 new jobs and pump $8.9 billion more in economic activity into the state.
Lawmakers have been getting an earful, like from the hospitals. You can imagine all the lobbyists who have been pressing legislators to figure a way to say “yes” to Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion billions. The Florida Chamber is among those cheering Scott’s decision – here the Miami Herald has a nice compilation of the wide variety of reactions.
With HHS okaying a privatization scheme for Medicaid, it’s definitely a done deal, not “compassion” at all. Health insurers and HMOs will be scrapping for a piece of the multi-billion dollar pie and market share, instructing the legislators that they’ve purchased to simply set the table for their taking.
It’s a sweet deal, alright. First and foremost, about a million Floridians will finally be getting health care. For them, it’s the sweetest deal – a genuine life-saver.
No matter how predatory the health insurers are likely to be (and rest assured, some will be true to form), it will still be better than no health care for the uninsured, and there will be recourse. Expect some shaky years for starters, but honestly, a competitive private marketplace for Medicaid could force insurers to do the job right or lose the contract to a competitor. But it’s definitely a sweet deal for the Florida health care industry, too.
Will everyone be happy? Not the Tea Party. The rest? Well, they certainly won’t admit to happiness … on their way to the bank.
In an appalling show of bombastic and bumbling ineptitude, three of five Marion County Commissioners – all 5 Republicans – voted Tuesday morning to deny the Amendment 11 tax exemption to poor, longtime resident seniors. Despite public pressure from news articles and a Star Banner editorial that chastised the Commissioners for their reluctance, and about a dozen public commenters who appealed for its adoption during the meeting, commissioners made it clear that poor seniors are not as important as half-baked, hypocritical ideological positions.
After approving $350,000 in tax breaks for R+L Carriers, a huge trucking company owned by local mega-millionaire “Larry” Roberts, which is locating a logistics center at the old Taylor, Bean and Whitaker office building near North Magnolia Ave., Ocala, pictured right, there was a presentation by an official from ICE of US Homeland Security whose ill treatment by Commissioner McClain is the subject of another post.
A parade of public comment ensued, most seeking adoption of the Amendment 11 tax exemption which was passed by Florida voters last November by 61%, and also by 61% of Marion County voters. Adoption would require a super-majority of commissioners – 4 of 5.
Amendment 11 narrowly defined who would qualify for a complete property tax exemption;
- resident in the home for 25 years,
- income under $27,000 per year, and
- over age 65.
An exact number of possible qualifying properties has not been provided, but the County Tax Appraiser estimated the annual cost at $162,000 per year. The Marion County Commission’s annual budget exceeds $500,000,000; yes, over $500 million.
Among those struggling to pay their property taxes, James Bowden of Belleview explained how he had lived in Marion County his entire life, never made great money in a community known even today for its abysmally low wages, and how his taxes had increased to accommodate others as the community grew by leaps and bounds.
David Sullivan from northwest Marion told how he was now “broke” and too old to work any longer, and called the impact on the county budget “miniscule.”
Anita Frauenshuh of SW Hwy 200 said that her household would not benefit from Amendment 11 but she stood as an advocate. She noted that the affected seniors had paid taxes and contributed to the community’s economy and well-being for over 25 years, and were still doing so. Further, the 61% voter approval was not simply votes from likely beneficiaries, but a popular endorsement by all citizens.
Irvin Curtin of Belleview, who had been mentioned in the first article raising the issue to the County Commission, asserted that 60 of 67 Florida counties plus 118 municipalities had adopted Amendment 11. He wryly commented that with a $162,000 cost and a $500,000,000 budget, “there isn’t much slack to be picked up.” He noted that there are dozens of tax exemptions in the county’s property tax code, and it was “reprehensible” for commissioners to oppose this one.
Nancy Noonan of Summerfield contrasted the commissioners’ willingness to commit $30 million of taxpayer funds for rich local developer John Rudnianyn to have an unneeded exit ramp on I-75 to benefit his neighboring property, yet couldn’t allow a mere $162,000 for longtime resident, poor seniors. Sge calculated that the funds set out just for Rudnianyn’s wish would pay for the Amendment 11 exemption for 185 years. She said it seemed that the wealthy and privileged could get taxpayer funds, but deserving seniors were dismissed.
Tea Party leader Butch Verrando bellowed against adoption in threatening terms for commissioners’ re-election. Verrando claimed that today the amount was $162,000, but in 5 years it would be $1 million, and in 5 more years it would be $5 million. He was just pulling the numbers out of thin air, of course. He’s Tea Party; that’s what he does. He further showed his complete ignorance of the subject by declaring that if adopted, the exemption would make Marion County into a “repository for every old person who has no income.” He called it a “socialist agenda.” He probably thinks lunch menus are a socialist agenda, too.
Commission Chair Bryant had John Schaefer, the county’s Fiscal Manager, verify the $162,000, and he noted that adoption was up to each county or municipal government. It did not apply to school taxes. As far as Verrando’s assertion of gigantic increases, Schaefer said “one could speculate” that increases could possibly occur over time without guessing any amounts.
County attorney Guy Minter noted that the law allows for “periodic adjustment for income limitations.”
At the end of the public comments, new commissioner Earl Arnett (pic left) moved adoption of Amendment 11 and gained a reluctant second from fellow new commissioner David Moore (pic right). Let the crazy begin.
Arnett noted that 17% of seniors struggle with their day-to-day costs, and allowed that this would provide needed relief. Moore didn’t like a narrow tax break for a special group, and preferred across the board tax cuts, yet remained reluctantly in favor.
Commissioner Carl Zalak tried to claim that charity was not the government’s business, that it was a matter of personal free will. Indeed, it would be hard to categorize the county’s giveaways to wealthy families and rich corporations as “charity,” but they were giveaways nonetheless. It seems he did not consider the difference between the undeserving and the deserving. Typically, the rich and powerful don’t need government charity, but they get it all the time from the County Commission. The deserving simply don’t get (or deserve) anything in the upside-down world of Carl Zalak. To top off his inane comments, he said it was “picking winners and losers.” Huh? Who? Well, that’s so dumb, irrelevant, and out of context, it doesn’t deserve further comment.
Commissioner Stan McClain reiterated his favorite line that property taxes are just plain wrong. Therefore, you might think he would be in favor of this tax exemption for poor seniors. You would be wrong. His view reflects another bowl full of wacky. He correctly chastised state legislators for not simply taking action themselves and making local officials do their work. He went on to rail about the accumulated cost of $162,000 year after year, and what the county would not be able to do as a result.
As Ms. Noonan said, this pittance would be paid up for 185 years with the money committed to Mr. Rudnianyn’s useless exit ramp. McClain had no problem at all with the Rudnianyn giveaway, to cite just one glaring example of wealthy welfare. Advocating the so-called Fair Tax which is a regressive and harmful tax scheme, McClain said there were too many property tax exemptions, it was an unfair system, that only a small segment of the community was actually paying taxes, and soon everyone would want a tax exemption. If you were looking for a consistent and logical explanation from McClain, that was as close as it came. None of it made much sense or held much water. His final flourish was to call the Amendment 11 exemption “progressive, liberal tax policy.” Loopy, I know, but that’s what he said; a tax break is “progressive, liberal tax policy.” Yup, and he’s been elected three times.
Any hope for an intelligent remark from an experienced county commissioner was lost when Commission Chair Kathy Bryant started. She babbled about working two jobs and raising four kids and helping an elderly neighbor, none of which connected to the issue at hand. (What, she is a “real” person, too?) Finally she said adoption of Amendment 11 would “open Pandora’s box” and have everyone wanting a tax break. They must all have been reading from the same playbook. Ya’ think? Niblock’s “Poppycock” or did they think it up by themselves? She, too, parroted the meaningless criticism that the property tax system is broken. She claimed that “only property owners support county government” and it was unfair. This would be shocking news to the many folks who pay a variety of taxes that form revenue streams for county government. If taxpayers don’t own property, they don’t seem to exist in Commissioner Bryant’s world, much less count for anything. Of course, even if you do own property and qualify for Amendment 11 tax relief, you still don’t count for anything with Commissioner Bryant. Get rich if you want attention.
As broken as they claim the property tax system apparently is, none of the commissioners seem capable of lifting a finger to fix it. Isn’t that why they were elected? But enough logic; there are exemptions that rich people need to stay wealthy. Consider the impressive agricultural tax break likely received by mega-millionaire Larry Roberts, private owner of R+L Carriers – yeah, the one getting that tax break mentioned in the beginning of the meeting. His ag tax break for his mammoth horse farm on oodles of northwest Marion acres is worth a bundle. The aerial view at left shows the Roberts estate. Pretty nice.
It’s the same agricultural exemption used by developers for choice properties worth millions; ‘plant pine and you’re fine.’
Sorry, poor seniors who have lived here for over 25 years: you can go and suck an egg.
It was a sad and shameful day for Marion County as the majority of commissioners failed to serve its people fairly, turning a blind eye to their own hypocrisy while offering a stupidly inconsistent ideology in condemning poor, longtime resident seniors for daring to seek a puny tax break.
Under new management, locals ought to be watching the choices being made at the Ocala Star Banner. Consider today’s papery edition as the news gets shunted to the rear while the slam dunk predictable – “it’s a sunny day in Florida!” – gets promoted to the front page.
Front page “news”: Big corporation of local super-rich guy gets tax break everyone knew was going to be handed out with delight, requiring 20 minutes of blathering and backslapping at the County Commission meeting.
Second section news: Poor, longtime resident seniors denied tax break, requiring 90 minutes of testy testimony and exchanges at the same County Commission meeting. So-called anti-tax Republicans prefer to see struggling seniors pay taxes than give them a break that has been allowed by 60 of 67 Florida counties and was approved by 61% of local voters in the last election.
This is called “cheer leading”, not “news reporting.” The good news about R+L Carriers locating a logistics center in the old Taylor, Bean and Whitaker building off North Magnolia Avenue was already reported, and, yes, deserved a further notation as the process works toward completion. No sane individual questioned the granting of this $350,000 tax handout; not even Tea bully Butch Verrando uttered a peep objecting to this corporate welfare.
The news occurred when poor, longtime resident seniors dared to seek a measly $162,000 tax break and were slammed by County Commissioners following the lead of an irrational and inconsistent ideology.
Did the Star Banner dare to highlight the disgusting contrast between the treatment of the rich and the poor within minutes at the County Commission meeting? That kind of editorial decision would have required some chops, and cheerleaders don’t have chops. Cheerleaders also sell out their community when they soft pedal gross injustice.
The filing of PCB 13-01 (PCB=Proposed Committee Bill), a bill related to charter schools, would require a school district to hand over an educational building that had been used for K-12 purposes to a charter school … for free. How’s that for a sweet deal? But there is more.
[A summary of other provisions in this 36 page bill can be found by clicking here.]
The bill’s language creates an open question as to whether a re-purposed former K-12 facility would need to be made available to a charter school, and when in fact a local school district could determine the destiny of its properties and facilities.
The language is pretty simple. Specifically, the proposal would change the existing statute to read:
If a district school board-owned facility that has previously been used for K-12 educational purposes is unused, it shall be made available for a charter school’s use at no cost.
It’s quite a substantial change. To contrast, here is the existing language:
If a district school board facility or property is available because it is surplus, marked for disposal, or otherwise unused, it shall be provided for a charter school’s use on the same basis as it is made available to other public schools in the district.
Specifically applied to Marion County, consideration should be made of two former K12 facilities in Reddick as an example. The old Reddick High School on County 25A in Reddick is a pretty derelict building that the School Board still owns. A local outlet for Interfaith Emergency Services had operated a food pantry and thrift store there a few years ago, but were forced to relocate due to code violations. The building (or at least the gym) may now be leased to the city of Reddick. The building is certainly “unused,” as the proposal reads. What about maintenance?
The school district shall maintain the charter school facility at the same standard and level it would maintain any other district-operated school similar in age and condition … The charter school shall agree to reasonable maintenance provisions in order to maintain the facility in a manner similar to district school board standards.
The maintenance terms would first require the school district to maintain the facility, presumably passing along the cost of maintenance to the charter school, while the second sentence would require the charter school to accept “reasonable maintenance provisions.” Let’s assume the school board’s essential abandonment of the old Reddick High building precludes the ghastly cost of its revival at taxpayer expense as a charter school.
Consider another Reddick building owned by the School Board, the old Collier Elementary School on NW 155th Street which has been repurposed as a bus depot. The Collier School is not the relic that the old high school is. Does its re-cycling as an administrative or support facility mean that it is “used,” or “unused” – as in “unused” for K-12 purposes and therefore available for use by a charter school? Would a school district be required to make this former K-12 facility available, even if it was being used for administrative or support purposes?
Finally, let’s consider one more facility that is known to face K-12 deactivation, Lake Weir Middle School on Sunset Harbor Road in Summerfield. Built about 50 years ago as the original Lake Weir High, the sprawling school has become a dinosaur positioned in an out-of-the-way south county location. It may be quite a few years before a replacement is sited and built, but what happens to the old building? Does it automatically become possible inventory for a charter school? Would the School Board be required to demolish it to prevent having to hand it over, or would demolition even be permitted?
As Tallahassee seeks to dictate local school board policy, it gives a blank check to charters at local taxpayer expense – that would be you and me. This bill is another muddy and confusing instance of taxpayers getting to foot the bill so that corporate managers of charter schools can enjoy welfare benefits at taxpayer expense.
First, it is another instance of the legislature seeking to remove authority from local officials and dictate outcomes that favor the corporate privatization agenda. (Yes, charter schools are technically public schools, but they are often managed by for-profit companies like Charters, USA, and a heavyweight company like Charters, USA can use Florida law to ensure no district can actually refuse their charter request as has been proven repeatedly. Watch what happens with controversial virtual school powerhouse K12, Inc., and its rejection by Marion County School Board )
Second, with this legislation, private corporate charter managers won’t have to worry about the capital cost of starting their charter since they can demand a local district provide space FREE. Maintenance may cost them, but no rent, no mortgage. Thank you, taxpayers, because you bought the land and paid for the property and building. How is that for a nice entitlement? No, the charter can’t sell or lease the local district property or building on its own once it takes possession, but it’s still a tremendous gift.
Third, this dictated outcome deprives the local district of recouping some of the asset value of a building and property. Shifting populations and aging buildings require replacements to be secured, often on another property with a modern structure. The costs are huge. A Star Banner article this week reported the cost of the new Legacy Elementary School in Silver Springs Shores at $20 million for an average sized school.
Finally, the existing language is fairly explicit but would be replaced by broad, inexplicit terms. Such vagueness invites lawyers to drool over costly cases which taxpayers would have to pay to defend.
There is nothing commendable about this blatantly agenda-driven form of corporate welfare. The existing statute should be more than sufficient, but apparently the corporate sponsors want the legislators that they bought to provide a better return on their investment.
The bill easily cleared its first committee.
Key concerns were raised at the first Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP) meeting on Wednesday afternoon. This is the first meeting in the process that aims to address the serious problem of nitrate pollution at Silver Springs and in the Silver River. Those concerns included: how long will the process take, who pays, and how does it get enforced?
The meeting was well attended, considering that it was at 1:00 p.m. on a Wednesday. Many in the audience were environmental activists from throughout the region while most of the remainder were involved with water in one way or another occupationally (agriculture, bioscience, public utility, government agency, for example). It was held at the Marion County Growth Services office at the main library complex. Marion County is regarded as a contractor with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) which made most presentations on Wednesday.
There are BMAPs for a number of water basins throughout Florida, but the process and practice is a relatively new one that is time-consuming. It was acknowledged that the BMAPs for Rainbow Springs, Orange Creek, and the Santa Fe River will likely overlap with areas expected to be addressed by the Silver Springs BMAP because the basin areas are so large. You can get an understanding of the scope by referring to the map pictured which shows the range of different “capture areas” for the Silver Springs basin over different time frames.
The BMAP is a strategic design to significantly reduce nitrate pollution (expressed as TMDLs (Total Maximum Daily Loads) in the targeted area. Initial steps in dealing with nitrate pollution occurred last year when DEP drafted TMDL recommendations in July and DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard signed off on them in December. The rule is expected to be adopted in February.
Nitrate levels at Silver Springs easily exceeded 1.0 milligrams per liter (mg/L) average over a 10 year testing period (2001-2011), up to a peak level of 1.69 mg/L which became the baseline for top measurement. The DEP recommended a target of .35 mg/L average TMDL, a major reduction in nitrate concentrations. Yet environmentalists are frustrated since the natural level is .05 mg/L, far lower than the target. See the chart pictured for the measurements.
Nitrates contribute to high levels of algae growth which can suffocate a water body by removing its oxygen, negatively affect water flows, negatively impact fish and wildlife, and even be toxic to humans while producing green slime on surfaces and various submerged plants. Silver Springs and sections of the Silver River have been identified as “impaired water bodies,” a necessary preliminary step in forming a BMAP strategy.
The audience appreciated the scope of the task and was glad for a comprehensive plan combating nitrate pollution. However, they had significant misgivings.
Guy Marwick, longtime local environmentalist who was champion of the Silver River State Park, commented regarding the 5 to 10 year compliance schedule, saying Silver Springs doesn’t have 5 or 10 years to have its threats addressed. It will be gone by then. Mary Paulic, the DEP Basin Coordinator in charge of completing the Silver Springs BMAP admitted that their planning allows for 5 year blocks in order to implement changes and then measure and assess whatever progress is being made in prepping the next 5 year plan. She reminded the audience that results take time to work through, but she did say that she expected significant measurable improvement in TMDLs within the first 5 year plan.
Another concern was raised by Nate Gilman, a retired educator and community activist. He asked how the plan would be funded, recognizing the significant scope of work. Paulic didn’t mention much coming from FL DEP, pointing instead to local governments and public utilities who would be required to fulfill responsibilities under a BMAP. There were some state and federal grants, and other possible sources, like FL Department of Agriculture providing certain assistance for farm operations needing to take remedial steps. In general, it was sketchy and relied heavily on local government and business to shoulder costs.
Gilman’s concerns were timely since this headline appeared in Wednesday’s Tampa Bay Times: Florida water management districts seek $122 million for springs restoration. Youch! The article starts:
Florida’s springs are in trouble. Most have lost flow. Some have reversed themselves. Many of them are suffering from rampant pollution that has spurred the growth of toxic algae. There are signs that saltwater is intruding.
What will it take to fix all this? According to state water officials, $122.4 million — just to start. That’s 10 times what the state spent on springs last year, and four times what the state budgeted for Everglades restoration.
A key part: $10 million to be spent replacing septic tanks and small sewage plants near some of the state’s key springs in hopes of reducing their leaking of pollution into the aquifer.
Looming over the whole proceeding was the specter of the Adena Springs Ranch. With each cow (of an expected 15,000 total) producing 100 lbs. of manure daily, or 750 tons daily for the ranch, the proposed operation of billionaire Frank Stronach threatens the aquifer with a huge water withdrawal permit requested as well as calamitous nitrate pollution from the manure. For an update on Adena Springs, click here for the recent post.
The next BMAP session will likely be in early March where defining the BMAP geographic boundary and identifying the stakeholders within that area who need to be involved in the process will be the objectives.
While it seemed like a positive start, worries about delayed implementation and inadequate funding support exceed the BMAP expectations and need organized advocacy from the community.
Readers of the Star Banner may have been stunned to read the post-inaugural address editorial entitled “Missed Opportunity” that expressed disappointment in the President’s remarks. Their criticism was that Obama had missed the opportunity to
… reach across the aisle, to mend some fences, to create an atmosphere of cooperation in Washington ….
Surely the Star Banner itself featured stories that time and again recognized the dangerously dysfunctional conduct of Republicans in both the US House and Senate. Click here for a review of recent history on the budget alone for the memory impaired.
Here are some highlights; the debt ceiling default threat (round 1) with credit downgrade, Boehner refusing the Obama-initiated Grand Bargains – TWICE! – the government shutdown threats (rounds 1 and 2), the sequestration threat, the new debt ceiling default threat (round 2), and plenty of smaller threats to bring pain and damage to citizens, like the contemptible delays in voting FEMA disaster aid to Sandy victims in the northeast, FAA Re-authorization, and voting down the Disabilities Treaty which former GOP Sen. Bob Dole advocated.
Public opinion has consistently failed to support the GOP’s ideological tantrums that refuse to raise taxes on anyone, and particularly not for rich people or fat corporations. The GOP lost a national election which functioned much like a referendum on these very issues, yet the GOP remains intransigent. They are willing to continue menacing our nation’s well-being while exposing vulnerable citizens to deprivations and abandonment.
But the editors at the Star Banner think Obama missed an opportunity to inspire with
…words like compromise, and sacrifice, and working together for the good of the country.
What planet are you folks reporting on? In the one which most of us inhabit, the most sensible, rational, and constructive ideas are routinely dumped on the junk pile, having been suffocated by the strangling idiocy of Tea Party. Their myopia perceives only one set of answers that applies to every issue; no taxing, cut spending, deregulate, dominate. End of monologue.
Whenever a national threat du jour finally gets addressed and overcome, it is because Republicans have decided to allow a miniscule amount of common sense into their narrow fundamentalist equation.
It is not because Obama and the Democrats failed to offer compromises time after time after time that we’ve had the ghastly national experience of the last four years. It got started in today’s extreme form with the Tea Party in 2009 and has been sustained by those extremists having taken over the GOP today. Congress was nothing to celebrate before, but most thinking folks regard twin pimples on the butt to be more helpful than Tea Party darlings Rich Nugent or Ted Yoho who represent us today.
The Star Banner apparently feels, as most media outlets these days, that there is some insanity that requires a balanced presentation, tilting reality to provide the loonies with an equal seat at the table of intelligent public opinion. Seriously, get a grip. They belong in a time-out chair, not an equalizing booster seat.
Is Obama only okay if he is doing some wimpy sell-out of a compromise, trying to minimize the egregious policy damage of the Tea-crazed while staunching the wound to sanity with constructive measures, however small and hamstrung?
The nation is ready to hear what we can do, what our chief executive can get done, and how we can move forward despite the national minority that has lost its mind and is willing to hold all of us hostage until we capitulate to their demands. That’s what we needed to hear and that’s what he said.
The outreach to these dangerous deluded won’t stop, but by omission, Obama has made it clear that reconciling with the dissenters won’t be a priority like it had been four years ago. They’ve had their best chances over the last four years. Incredibly, they blew off every single opportunity, even repeatedly defeating measures that they had supported themselves, simply to deny Obama any victory of any kind. They arrogantly believed that their destructive efforts would achieve a Republican giving the Inaugural Address on Monday. They gambled and they lost. But they can’t accept it.
We know the president will need to compromise, and we progressives expect to be pretty pissed off at some of the things likely to appear on the trading block. But for heaven’s sake, let’s get moving! We’ve had enough of being held hostage by the GOP at every turn. Call their bluff and act like you won the last election handily, President Obama, despite the highly successful and coordinated GOP efforts to suppress voter turnout.
If the austerity reactionaries can’t abide with working with the president, if they demand Obama’s failure and damn the national cost as they have for the last four years, then Obama would be an ass to emphasize the nicety gestures for which the Star Banner pines. That editorial may have given your Republican readers something to feel good about, but really, Star Banner editors, Tuesday’s editorial focus was pure crap.
This year’s Marion Legislative Delegation meeting had several presenters articulate positions on progressive issues, something Marion’s legislators are not used to hearing, much less considering. This should be recognized as the seeds of something that will grow.
Each year, the delegation of state representatives and state senators gathers in the respective counties to hear concerns from constituents prior to the start of the annual two month legislative session. In Marion County, there are three state senators and four representatives, all Republicans except for Rep. Clovis Watson.
The progressive coalition, Awake Marion, had several of its participants make presentations. [Disclaimer: the writer is Awake Marion’s coordinator.] Combined with several human services agencies, legislators heard about a number of areas of concern where state funding for key community-building programs and services was the primary focus, contrasting against the skewed priorities of legislators who can always find money for a corporate tax credit, can always ignore tax loopholes, and can always award lucrative, unaccountable contracts to privateers.
Despite the absence of anyone (anyone!) from the public schools, Nancy Noonan, president of Marions United for Public Education, an advocacy group that shares in the Awake Marion coalition, was present so that someone spoke up for public education. Noonan highlighted the unfunded mandates like teacher merit pay and the requirement for digital textbook technology that the legislature should correct with an allocation of proper funds. She said that money should stop being thrown at unproven, largely ineffective, and often unaccountable “reform” schemes that divert funding from public schools. Finally, she reminded legislators that there was an ongoing need to add revenue, readily available by ending corporate tax and sales tax exemptions, credits, and loopholes.
As if deaf to what Noonan had just said, State Senator Alan Hays (R-Umatilla) then called attention to the pension case awaiting a court decision which could overturn the 3% pension contribution that the Tea Party/GOP legislature had enacted for state employees. If decided against the state, it could result in a $1.3 billion bill for the state. Hays said that would change everything. Had he so quickly forgotten Noonan’s call to raise revenue by addressing the hodgepodge of wasteful tax breaks that litter the state tax code? Or did Hays never hear her words in the first place?
Whitfield Jenkins, representing Marion County NAACP, another Awake Marion coalition participant, urged legislators to pay attention to “underserved communities” which most often meant minority communities. While he cited progress locally in multi-level government partnerships to spur economic investment and development, he urged sustained vigilance and commitment to forging a new direction in such communities.
Pat Hawk of Water Well Justice, an Awake Marion coalition participant, reviewed the history of wells going dry in the area, including her own not long ago. She called attention to the disturbingly low water levels in Lake Weir and Orange Lake as well as the historically low flow rate at Silver Springs, acknowledging that there are mostly unknowns when it comes to what is happening in the Floridan Aquifer. Noting how drilling a new well was a major cost for families and seniors, Hawk sought special state funding for citizens forced to drill new wells since there is no apparent intention by the legislature to protect citizens and their water by limiting new water withdrawal permits.
Guy Marwick, noted longtime Marion environmentalist, admonished the state for its Band Aid approaches to water and conservation policy. He expressed his deep concern about water quality, citing nitrate contamination, permits for large withdrawals, and the spreading threat of saltwater intrusion and contamination of the aquifer and wells due to excessive withdrawals. Comprehensive solutions are needed, and are long overdue, he emphasized.
Michael Davis, an activist leader in Awake Marion’s Juvenile Justice Project, called for repeal of SB2112, a law which allowed county governments to assume control of local juvenile justice detention services. Previously, Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) handled all juvenile justice detention since it was uniquely capable of dealing with youth with issues. Duh. But for financial reasons, counties were given the option of taking them over from DJJ and saving large sums. It was such a really bad idea that only 3 of 67 Florida counties have begun handling juvenile detention; Marion, Seminole, and Polk. As Davis stated, Marion’s is considered a model operation, Seminole’s program is passable, and Polk’s is a disaster that has resulted in dangerous and abusive situations for youth among untrained correction officers, plunging Polk into a lawsuit for its gross mismanagement. The best idea, said Davis, would be to repeal SB2112 and let DJJ return to doing what it knows how to do and is supposed to do.
Delphine Herbert who, active with other community organizations, is leader of Marions for Peace, another Awake Marion participant, insisted that the state needed leadership to address the culture of violence, particularly in the wake of the Newtown, CT school shootings. Citing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., she suggested that more guns did not equal more protection: “Where do we go from here? Chaos or community? … Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. “
It was over four hours of public comment, so there is another post or two to come. But the sound of progressive voices increased noticeably this year, signs of new community advocacy in Marion. Of course, getting the legislative delegation’s ears to listen is also a work in progress.
On Cyber Monday, the online retailers’ version of Black Friday, consumers were predicted to have spent $2 billion on that single day, having spent an estimated $1 billion online on Black Friday. If you live in Florida, you were able to make your purchases and generally evade paying any sales tax at the time of sale (unless the retailer is based in Florida).
While Florida has bled red ink from its state budget for years, slashing spending for everything from education to health care to environment, one of the major sources of state revenue – the sales tax – has failed to collect anything near the amount possible from online sales.
Few states have taken the steps needed to collect sales tax from online purchases.
A leading opponent of any online sales tax has been giant online retailer Amazon.com. Amazon has been playing ‘let’s make a deal’ with state legislatures for years, offering to build facilities, make capital investments, and bring new jobs in exchange for forgoing or delaying imposition of any online sales tax, like in Tennessee, for example. The delaying tactic is in the expectation that Congress will institute national guidelines for online sales taxation. Apparently Amazon and their online retailing cohorts like eBay and Overstock.com have not considered Congress’s grinding dysfunction to do anything about taxes, tax codes, or tax anything.
These tactics by Amazon are a marked change from its earlier bullying, like in Colorado in 2010 and Illinois in early 2011 where it fired its in-state associate retailers in retaliation for the states’ imposing the sales tax. The idea was to deny sales through any state-based associates; no in-state sales, no sales tax collection. When you’re Amazon, you don’t mind taking a loss to deliver a black eye to an opponent.
There has also been the tactic of rewarding those who give Amazon what it wants, like in Arizona, where new distribution centers are being sited as long as there is no hint of any online sales tax.
Here is how the map looked in late 2011 as Amazon did its wheeling and dealing, published by TheStreet.com.
Amazon has decided to face the music as its tax firewall crumbles, exposing it to myriad state and local sales taxation rates and destinations. Given Amazon’s ability to handle retail traffic, it doesn’t seem like processing sales tax collections should be such a struggle. It seems more likely that Amazon (a) doesn’t want the added cost of doing such tax processing, but moreover (b) doesn’t want to lose the pricing advantage it has always enjoyed over brick-and-mortar “Main Street” retailers who have always had to collect and remit sales taxes, and have always had those taxes built into their pricing which adds 6%-9% to the cost.
You can watch Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos swallow really hard and often, blink a lot, and tell a CNN/Money interviewer last month that Amazon has always supported a federal rule on state collection of online sales taxes and thinks it will happen soon.
So, I know you’re wondering where Florida fits into the picture, being a major retail state with significant budgetary needs. Haven’t heard anything? Well, you haven’t missed anything; there is no talk of going anywhere near collecting an online sales tax in the Sunshine State.
This is pretty remarkable since heavy hitting, right wing, pro-corporate lobbyists like Florida Chamber of Commerce, Associated Industries of Florida, and Florida Retail Federation actually support a Florida online sales tax, or at least they say they do. The Chamber estimates that Florida will fail to collect about $450 million in sales tax revenue this year.
Since these lobbying groups typically can buy their way to the souls of GOP legislators, what’s the hold up? Usually, it’s idiot ideology rearing its ugly head – yes, I mean you, Tea Partiers. While the Chamber and their corpo cronies point out that it would simply be the collection of an existing tax, not the imposition of a new tax, we still have had dim-witted responses like this one from former Senate President Mike Haridopolos in October, 2011:
“I think we made a pretty firm statement as far as sales taxes are concerned or tax increases, that there would not be an increase in taxes,” Haridopolos told reporters … “If there were any adjustments, we’d have to see an equal reduction somewhere else … The income revenue from increased taxes would not be passing the Senate, and it would not pass the House,” he added. “And if somehow it passed both chambers – which I consider the likelihood zero – the governor would surely veto it, if it was a revenue enhancement.”
In true anti-government mindlessness, Haridopolos would have required reduced government spending to offset the addition of new tax revenue. It makes absolutely no sense, except as ideological flatulence. Gov. Scott follows similar logic, unsurprisingly given his historic proclivity for Tea.
This needs to be remembered when the next budget proposal gets kicked around in Tallahassee this spring. These clowns cry about the state’s lack of funds and insist that the skinny people tighten their belts further while the fat cats let their belts out with tax breaks and privileged treatment. These same GOP clowns won’t lift a finger to act intelligently and take the steps needed to begin collecting the cyber sales tax.
That $450 million would surely help, but first Florida needs worthy leaders.
Florida’s 2012 ballot was dominated by the overwhelming length and breadth of 11 constitutional amendments, achieving the passage of only 3 small impact, specialized tax relief measures. Trapped in the carnage of steep amendment losses seems to have been the local measure authorizing the sale of bonds to support the Marion Hospital District, enabling retention of high quality, cost effective Munroe Regional Health Systems which operates Munroe Regional Medical Center for the Marion Hospital District.
[Click here for the full results of Marion County’s voting in the general election.]
Was the rejection of this key local proposal a failure of the well-funded campaign in support of the bond measure? Was it voters rejecting the notion of a $5 per month additional property tax? Was it a result of a radio campaign in the last month by secretive Florida pro-corporate lobby Associated Industries of Florida (AIF)? How about none of these? Then what did it?
The hospital bond measure was declined by 43-57% of Marion voters, a solid margin of defeat.
Mail drops to voters in support of the hospital measure were frequent and high quality. But did they stand out from the rest of the campaign literature that inundated mail boxes? Perhaps not.
The radio campaign waged by AIF’s arm, a group oddly named Save Our Constitution, Inc., surely got many voters’ attention, but was it enough to achieve this kind of defeat? This also seems unlikely.
Was it reflective of voters not being persuaded that a new tax was necessary? And wouldn’t such an attitude gain a mirror in, say, presidential election voting outcomes, with Republican voters opposing and Democratic voters favoring the measure?
A look at two precincts with diametrically opposite presidential election voting outcomes should make the case. Precinct 0005 (First Christian Church, E. Fort King St., Ocala) and precinct 3700 (Church at the Springs, Baseline Rd., Ocala) fit the bill with 0005 voting 2-1 in favor of Romney, and 3700 voting 2-1 in favor of Obama. Here is a chart that includes the respective “yes” and “no” votes on the hospital bond proposal (and revised further to see how votes on Amendment 1 – the health care mandate – fit into the pattern, or not):
Perhaps we can get some insight by considering the few measures that did pass.
Amendment 1 on the health care reform mandate passed in Marion 53-47%, but didn’t come close to meeting the statewide threshold of 60% now required for adoption (and failed statewide). This anti-health care reform proposal was likely well understood by voters, and apparently health care reform is not as unpopular as the media often leads us to believe.
[Click here for an article about the amendments’ performance statewide and a summary chart of voting outcomes.]
Amendments 2, 9, and 11 all passed by wide margins, locally and statewide, and they all share something in common. They were all relatively brief in text, clear in their intent to provide property tax relief, and targeted to specific populations with whom most anyone would be sympathetic; combat injury disabled veterans (2), surviving spouses of military veterans or first responders killed in the line of duty (9), and low income senior citizens (11).
All the rest of the amendments were less distinct, often with dense, obtuse language, hewing to an ideological position, or political minutiae, or obscure purpose and benefit. They failed, and most of them failed miserably.
The hospital bond measure came at the very end of the painfully long ballot – click here to see the sample ballot again. Its result mirrored those constitutional amendments that lost.
The best answer for the outcome on the hospital is the voters’ disdain for the amendments cluttering the 2012 General Election Ballot. Voters said “no” unless there was a clearly articulated purpose and a personally meaningful population. The hospital bond proposal simply got lumped in with the rest of the mess.
Marion voters even said “no” to Amendment 6 – 49-51% – the umpteenth time conservative Christian Florida voters were baited with an anti-choice proposal. Even on this topic, voters have had enough, and seem tired of being manipulated. The same can be said of Amendment 1, another narrow vote.
Unless it made clear sense, voters simply said “no” in resounding fashion in this election. Sadly and unfairly, the hospital bond measure got caught in the downdraft of negative voter sentiment toward the constitutional amendments. How very unfortunate for our community.