The editorial today, June 7, 2017, in the Gainesville Sun reveals once again that our lack of honest leadership in Tallahassee leaves the voters’ will and the environment in the increasingly deepening muck on our river bottoms.
We should remind those who want Visit Florida so badly that allowing our springs and rivers to destruct will certainly keep a large tourist segment away. Just last week a national convention of cave divers converged on Lake City. This type of boost to local businesses will end when the rivers cease to flow.
Impaired water quality is already causing this to happen at Crystal River. Divers pointed out at the recent MFLs fiasco by SWFWMD that the surrounding dive shops, from Tampa and environs, have ceased making the dive certification trip to Crystal River because of poor visibility. This was a decades-old custom now gone by the wayside because of poor water management.
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-
Secret deal only slight improvement
Last month, Gov. Rick Scott joined the chorus of criticism over legislative leaders meeting in secret to craft a budget deal that shortchanged public schools and land conservation.
This month, Scott announced a budget deal crafted in secret with those same leaders that funds his priorities but still leaves support for education and the environment lacking.
Scott and those officials, House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron, have flouted the state’s requirements for open government by arranging the deal behind closed doors. The secretive process led to lousy policy making once again.
The deal they reached, which the Legislature will consider in a special session starting today, makes a needed increase to education funding. The budget had just a tiny increase in per-student funding that actually amounted to a cut for some districts, including Alachua County Public Schools.
The new agreement is expected to add $215 million in public education funding, which would mean a $100 per student increase.
But Scott is also expected to sign a sweeping education bill, HB 7069, that would pose long-term financial problems for traditional public schools by shifting money for facilities and programs for at-risk students to charter schools.
The deal failed to address a lack of funding for land conservation, despite nearly 75 percent of voters in 2014 approving a state constitutional amendment requiring spending on such programs. The budget
included zero funding for the Florida Forever and Florida Communities Trust programs to purchase environmentally sensitive lands and parks.
Scott put his priorities ahead of the demands of voters, instead seeking new money for tourism and economic development programs. The deal would raise funding for Visit Florida to $76 million from $25 million, while also creating an $85 million slush fund for economic development that the governor would control with few strings attached.
The plan comes after Corcoran criticized Enterprise Florida for a lack of transparency and accountability in providing economic incentives. To pay for the fund and other spending increases, Scott vetoed a record $410 million in projects across the state.
Local projects that got the axe include $500,000 for a rail trail between High Springs and Newberry, which would give exactly the kind of economic and tourism boost to those communities that the governor claims to support. A number of University of Florida projects also were vetoed, although the budget provides about $52 million in new funding for UF.
Scott should have rejected the entire budget rather than perpetuated the secretive deal-making done by Corcoran and Negron. All state lawmakers and the public should be able to debate and provide input on the spending of huge amounts of taxpayer dollars, rather than having a deal rammed down their throats that still causes long-term harm to education and the environment.
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