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Nancy Smith

Florida's Deadbeat Dad

August 28, 2013 - 6:00pm

He's the head of the family -- the one who promises the moon and you want to believe, God knows you love him. So when he turns up empty-handed again, you give him another chance. And another.

That's Florida's deadbeat dad. That's the federal government.

It all came home to me Wednesday when Gov. Rick Scott pledged $90 million for a 100 percent, wholly federal responsibility in Everglades restoration, thebridging of Tamiami Trail.

Frankly, he shouldn't be offering a red cent for that.

This massive restoration of one of the world's treasured ecosystems is a marriage. It's a partnership of trust. The state takes care of water quality, the feds water quantity. That's the deal.

The Tamiami bridge should not -- not -- be on any of the state's to-do lists.

But when you're in a marriage with a deadbeat dad, when you can't depend on getting any support, when Congress and the president tell you the Everglades' ship is coming in but you've heard it one too many times -- you do what you can. That's why Rick Scott is jumping in. Floridians victimized by Lake Okeechobee discharges and river pollution are outraged. They need to see action. The Everglades needs to see action.

Mind you, moving this Tamiami flow-blocking dam will take three years and require matching funds from the U.S. Department of the Interior. So Scott and the rest of the kids will be waiting for Christmas. Maybe Dad will be back on his feet and bring presents and love them then.

President Barack Obama has, after all, proposed $30 million this year for the Tamiami bridge. Proposed. In Washington "proposed" is miles away from authorized. The budgetallocation is locked up with hundreds of others, in a congressional netherland.

By June 2008, the federal government -- goodtime Charlie, our deadbeat Dad -- had spentonly $400 million of the $7.8 billion legislated when the Comprehensive EvergladesRestoration Plan (CERP) was passed into law in 2000.

Compare that to the $2 billion the state of Florida spent on Everglades projects in the same time period.

By 2010 the state had spent six times more money under the 2000 deal than the federal government, according to an accounting by the Everglades Coalition, an organization of more than 50 member groups pushing for Everglades restoration.

So, forgive me if I sometimes get a little impatient with the likes of U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, whose fly-by visits in times of water crises are filled with a deadbeat dad's big empty promises.

For me, disappointment in Nelson's visit to the Indian River Lagoon on Aug. 15 was compounded by his trickery. All he did was dust off the same speech he made in January 2006: What I saw was a river that had no life. There were no mullet jumping. There were no seagulls. There were no pelicans diving. There was no osprey. ..." Virtually the same words both times. Did anybody else notice?

In 2006, he returned to Washington as quickly as he'd come, while Florida waited in vain for a promised$1.2 billion for the Indian River Lagoon project on the east coast and $350 million for the Picayune Strand project near Naples.

It was good to see so many Florida leaders recognize the governor for his $90 million bridge pledge. Scott is the other parent in the deadbeat-dad relationship -- not perfect, not always stepping up with his best foot forward, but there. Available and accountable.

Should the state be paying for a federal responsibility? I feel a little resentful. But I believe the governor was doing what he could under the circumstances, pretty much abandoned in a time of crisis.

Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at 282-282-2423.

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