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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

We are in trouble Florida

From the St. Petersburg Times

by Dan Dewitt

Maybe the $62 million for road improvements from the developers of the Quarry Preserve won't really cover the transportation costs of a new town 6 miles from Brooksville.

But it's better than nothing.

Same with the total of $35 million in road money pledged by the builders of Hickory Hill and Lake Hideaway, two more massive projects on the books in Hernando County. That is true, also, of the commitments from these and other developers to provide school and park sites, and to pitch in for fire and police protection.

Such contributions were all required by Florida's 1985 Growth Management Act, which the Legislature unceremoniously repealed last week.

Maybe the law never lived up to its promise or name; managing growth in Florida during good times is like trying to manage an avalanche. But it certainly cut new development's burden on the rest of us. If developers don't pay those millions for transportation, then we will — either that or live with the clogged roads.

I bring this up as a local example of how lawmakers who promised before this year's session to let us keep money in our pockets actually worked to take it out. Likewise, they talked about reducing the role of government but, to please the gun and anti-abortion lobbies, allowed regulation to butt into our conversations with doctors.

At this point, I'm sure you don't need a rehash of all these bills and all this hypocrisy. You just want to know how your local legislators did, and the short answer is that our state representatives were bad, and our senators were pretty good.

No, this isn't a partisan view; all four are Republicans.

Rep. Rob Schenck of Spring Hill and Rep. Jimmie T. Smith of Lecanto voted for eliminating growth management, at least on the state level — and shifting this responsibility to local ordinances and pliable local officials. Keep in mind how development money or the threat of it prompted the shameless flip-flops of former county Commissioners Chris Kingsley and Rose Rocco on big votes. Helpless is the only way to describe how they looked.

You could say Schenck and Smith just followed the orders of House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, as did just about every other Republican representative. But such orders will be even more difficult to resist, and the long-term pattern of increasing subservience of rank-and-file lawmakers will only harden, with the creation this session of so-called leadership funds. These are pots of special interest money the speaker and the Senate president can funnel into the campaigns of loyalists and withhold from mavericks. Legalized bribery, it's been called, and Smith and Schenck both voted for it.

To their credit, Sen. Mike Fasano of New Port Richey, who represents Hernando's west side, and Sen. Paula Dockery of Lakeland, whose district includes the east side, voted against the funds.

Another test of lawmakers' commitment to democracy was an elections law that seemed tailored to discourage Democrats from voting. Yes, there's a trend: Smith and Schenck voted "yes;" Fasano and Dockery "no."

Our representatives voted for a law that makes an ultrasound of the fetus a prerequisite to an abortion. So did Fasano, a self-described right-to-life advocate. Dockery is, too, but the intrusiveness of this bill was just too much. She voted against it.

Fasano, I regret to say, also supported the repeal of growth management, but both he and Dockery were strong supporters of an ethics law that at least would stop lawmakers from casting votes that directly benefit them or their families. Is that too much to ask? Apparently. It never even made it to the House floor.

Several bad ones, on the other hand, never made it to the Senate. Massive deregulation, increases in property insurance rates and an attack on the state's water quality — none of these measures came up for a vote in a the Senate, partly because Fasano and Dockery and a few other responsible Republicans let it be known that they wouldn't get enough votes.

Let's not forget Fasano's role in the bill to fight prescription drug abuse and that Schenck made a dubious name for himself by initially opposing one of its most important components — a database to monitor these drugs.

Dockery, for her part, was the only local lawmaker who voted against the repeal of the growth management law, a Florida institution right up there with open government.

Passing it took foresight, negotiation and compromise, which I thought about after the end of the session, when Senate President Mike Haridopolos congratulated his fellow lawmakers for their hard work. No, I thought, building good government is the hard part. Tearing it down is easy.

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