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The Florida Legislature: The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

June 23, 2015 - 6:00pm

Another session of the Florida Legislature is history. After decades of watching them roll by, you begin to wonder if anything ever changes.

Since it has been a long time since I sat through sessions on a daily basis, I called upon an old-timer who knows the ropes better than I ever did.

Jon Shebel and I attended the same high school in the '50s. After graduation he went into the Marines and fought in Vietnam. I didn't see him again until the early 1970s when he was the chief lobbyist for Associated Industries of Florida, replacing the venerable Jack Lee, and I was a reporter for the Jacksonville Journal, covering the Legislature.

He agrees there are major differences in the Legislature. 

Democrats were in control then. But then, as now, it was more about liberals and conservatives than party.

Also, the era of long-term service is over. Term limits changed everything.

“The worst thing that has happened is term limits,” Shebel said.

He notes that there really were not many legislators who had multiple terms but the ones who did last were valuable. The institutional knowledge and know-how that people like Verle Pope and Dempsey Barron provided is lost today, which gives the legislative staff way too much influence.

But spending remains the main issue.

Liberals have the ability to find an infinite number of “needs” to spend Other People's Money (OPM).

It was ever thus.

In 1975, there were 8 million people and politicians spent $9 billion.

In 2015, we have 20 million people and the politicians will spend $59 billion of OPM -– 2.5 times as many people, seven times as much spending.

That figure would be higher this year except that the governor and Legislature decided to let residents keep $430 million of their own money, which was terribly annoying to liberals.

One constant is the same spending fights over the environment and education.

Over the past 40 years, spending of OPM on public schools has soared. Yet, despite liberal claims that this would produce better outcomes, it was not until reforms unrelated to spending began some 15 years ago that outcomes began to improve.

Legislators also have become more discriminatory about the environment. A land-buying frenzy that began in the early days of the environmental movement is turning to more thoughtful use of available funds to produce real results.

Shebel said that in the past few years “legislators are going, 'Wait a minute, do we really want to own every piece of land in Florida and take it off local tax rolls?' ”

It is not only the government ownership of land that is a problem but the restrictions placed on private property by government, Shebel said.

Legislators also have gotten smarter about grabbing money thrown at them by the federal government.

They nixed an expansion of Medicaid, opting instead to provide more money to Florida hospitals for treatment of the indigent.

The veteran lobbyist, who left AIF in 2006 and ran its insurance company until it was sold in 2010, says good things get done eventually, through perseverance. For example, legislators have taken the sales tax off machinery, which AIF was seeking 40 years ago.

Yet, Shebel says. “I'm struck, even by watching from a distance, how much it is the same.”

 

Lloyd Brown was in the newspaper business nearly 50 years, beginning as a copy boy and retiring as editorial page editor of the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville. After retirement he served as a policy analyst for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. 

Comments

IT'S TIME.......NOW!! It's tough to tell who's more whiny and persistent: children on a road trip asking "are we there yet?" or politicians asking citizens "have you changed your mind yet?" about term limits. Every piece of data shows that, not only have people not changed their minds, but greater numbers are embracing term limits now than ever before. As legislators comically claim Americans love career politicians, citizens in three states are disputing that narrative by launching grassroots campaigns for term limits. Mississippi is the first battleground, where former U.S. Senate candidate Chris McDaniel's PAC has started gathering signatures to put a measure on the 2016 ballot that would limit lawmakers and statewide officeholders to eight consecutive years in office. McDaniel says his goal "is increase participation and make elective office more accessible to people who want to serve." Various studies show that's exactly what term limits do. Residents of Utah are also fighting back against the establishment by starting Utah Term Limits NOW, a ballot drive to term limit the state's five highest-ranking executive offices, including the Governor and Attorney General. State Auditor John Dougall, who would be personally affected by the limits, thinks the idea is a good one. Term limits bring "new change, new insight, a new perspective to what is going on," he told press. Arkansas citizens had their term limits ripped away by a legislative scam last year, but they're back to counterpunch against careerism and cronyism with a fresh initiative. Restore Term Limits, launched by USTL Director Tim Jacob and Arkansas activist Bob Porto, would bring back the state's original six and eight-year term limits, along with a 10-year overall cap on service in the legislature. The measure also bars legislators from tinkering with their own term limits in the future - a very smart move. If politicians and their special interest kingmakers believe the American people have stopped demanding term limits, they must not be paying attention to us. But as you know, that wouldn't be a new development. If you'd like to send a message to politicians today, contribute to U.S. Term Limits by clicking the big red button below. Every dollar we receive goes directly into citizen-led efforts to hold elected officials accountable.

Dean Franklin, You have, long ago and many times over, already identified your self as a "nabob of negativism" in regards to All issues; to compound your 'crimes', you're constantly insulting (i.e.:"republicants"), pro-ultraLiberal, intolerant, and most likely ignorant. I used to suspect that you were politically "connected" in some fashion, but i doubt that now because I've come to believe that your demonstrated particular 'level of smart' definitely precludes that assumption ...

Lmbo! At it again carpetbagger I see. At least I have the courage to use my name, while you still hide who you are. I already figured you for a paid political wing-nut, and your comments always prove it. You'll never know just how connected I am, but yea, I have lot of friends on both sides of the political game. Truth to tell, I find you good for an laugh now and then. Mostly your type irritate me. A carpetbagger attempting to push your right-wing nut ideas on Floridians, which you are not. Folks like you want to reform Florida to some stupid idea of ultra-conservative stupidity. I am a native, this state is my home and you have no right to dictate anything to anybody. Oh, BTW, my level of "smartl puts you in the moron class.

Lloyd, you really are a wing-nut job. Despite republicants being in total power, despite that the budget was written by republicants, on republicant priorities and passed by a republicant super-majority you manage to blame liberals. LMBO! No doubt you are patting yourself on the back for such a great job of writing too. Thanx for the laugh....

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