Resume Breathing: Politicians Have Left Tallahassee
Around the State
Florida is, once again, safe. The Florida Legislature has adjourned.
2014 was a relatively mild session, fortunately.
It is always useful to have low expectations about a legislative session. After all, there are a limited number of problems that politicians can fix.
This is especially true when they are up for re-election every two years. Another reason why sessions every other year, in non-election years, could be beneficial.
Politicians had an easy time this year. The state was flush with cash, as a direct result of the government following a path of fiscal responsibility for the past four years.
Each of those years has seen revenue increases, as opposed to a decline for each of the previous four years.
To the extent that the state government can overcome fiscal irresponsibility at the federal level, Florida's economy is booming.
This year legislators were able to provide an additional billion dollars to the public schools, put away $3 billion into reserves and still provide a half-billion dollars in tax relief to Florida residents.
There is the usual number of “turkeys” to be expected – projects known as “pork barrel” in other states. As yet Florida TaxWatch has not done its annual census of the flock, but with an election looming we could expect the toll to be larger than last year. Let's hope the governor will exercise his veto power.
Also, the spending that was authorized did not, and could not, come close to satisfying the desires of the liberal element, which can detect “needs” that elude any person with even a modicum of fiscal responsibility.
Nevertheless, the Legislature did several things to improve access to education, including lowering the cost of the prepaid tuition program and increasing school choice opportunities.
It also enacted a “Florida GI Bill” to help veterans, who are being treated shabbily by the federal government.
A bipartisan group of legislators working with prosecutors, law enforcement, victims and medical professionals put together four bills designed to better protect children from sexual predators.
There was also legislation – on a bipartisan basis – to reform Florida’s child welfare system.
As always, the environment received considerable attention, with legislation to protect Lake Okeechobee and the Indian River Lagoon.
Those in the media who assess the value of a legislative session by the amount of money spent or the number of bills passed may not have seen such actions as worthy of much note, but to those concerned with actually improving those things government can improve, they were significant.
Good intentions won't ensure great results, of course. There may be unintended consequences of various legislative acts, requiring corrective action later. But overall the 2014 Legislature acquitted itself well and apparently did little damage.
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 speech writer for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.