Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:
Miami Herald on Congress being asleep at the wheel:
The train derailment in Philadelphia that killed eight and left scores injured is a nearly perfect metaphor for the state of the nation's decrepit infrastructure: An accident waiting to happen while the responsible parties — the nation's lawmakers — are asleep at the wheel.
Congress has consistently shortchanged Amtrak, and this tragedy is unlikely to shake Capitol Hill out of its torpor. House Republicans cut more than $1 billion from President Obama's $2.45-billion Amtrak funding request the day after the derailment, which would leave it $251 million below current spending levels.
But Congress hasn't just neglected the nation's passenger railroad — it has ignored the entire transportation system and the nation's roadways, too. The Highway Trust Fund, the main source of funding for the highway system, has been shrinking for more than 20 years and is nearly insolvent.
The fund no longer can provide the resources needed to meet the needs of drivers who use America's roads and bridges, but Congress stubbornly refuses to focus on finding a meaningful, long-term solution. The fund faces two impending deadlines: Its authority will expire at the end of this month and, even if that can be extended, it will go broke by August unless lawmakers come up with a fresh source of funds.
So here is Congress' immediate (and utterly inadequate) solution: Sometime this week, perhaps as early as Tuesday, the House is expected to vote on a two-month (!) extension of the nearly depleted fund to avoid the crisis. In other words, they're going to kick the can down the road, but not very far. After that, lawmakers promise, they'll come up with something better.
Don't count on that. Over the past seven years, Congress has spent about $50 billion in temporary funding just to maintain the current level of spending, without fixing the real problem: the inadequacy of the Highway Trust Fund. It's funded by gas taxes paid by drivers, and it has been stuck at 18.4 cents per gallon since 1993. Since then, its real value has declined by 36 percent, according to The Tax Foundation.
The temporary patches make it next to impossible for state and local governments to plan long-term construction projects. Plus, the funding is insufficient to meet current and future needs. The result is that the United States ranks about 28th in the world in infrastructure. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said earlier this month that, "We ought to be embarrassed as a country" about the state of the nation's infrastructure. He's right.
The shame of it is that there are perfectly sound solutions available. One is to index the tax to inflation because the current system does not respond to price changes. Another is the Obama administration's plan to tax overseas corporate profits at a 14-percent rate to generate revenue.
Not surprisingly, Republicans have balked at a funding plan that includes taxes. But there are yet more plans. One, from a GOP senator, calls for a national infrastructure bank with federal guarantees for loans to states.
We think inflation indexing is the best alternative. If Republicans can get over ideological objections to raising taxes, we can fill in the potholes, repair the crumbling bridges and get the roads we need.
Meanwhile, it's past time for Congress to also acknowledge that Amtrak is an integral part of the nation's transportation system and fund it accordingly. Lawmakers need to go the last mile to ensure that riders are safe and that the funding needs of America's passenger railroads are met.
Tampa (Florida) Tribune on the crusading Helen Gordon Davis:
Male-dominated Florida government was not ready for Helen Gordon Davis when she became the first Hillsborough woman elected to the Legislature in 1974.
Many lawmakers were condescending if not contemptuous of the former homemaker, actress, model and community activist, who was easy to underestimate.
But opponents did so at their peril. Her male colleagues soon learned the gracious, stylish Davis, who died Monday of heart failure at age 88, was not intimidated or deterred by their sexist antics. Soon they were the ones who were changing their behavior. They quickly learned Davis was a fearless crusader for the underdog.
She had dealt with much worse than chauvinistic lawmakers. As an 8-year-old, she lost her father to tuberculosis and she ended up being hospitalized by the disease for nearly two years. Later she would be among the first white females in Florida to become a member of the NAACP and helped desegregate the lunch counter of the Tampa Woolworth's store in the 1960s — when civil rights activists were frequently attacked.
In Tallahassee, where she served in the House and the Senate, she fought for rights of women and minorities, worked to improve public schools and sought to protect consumers, including fighting an archaic lien law that allowed a Tampa couple to lose their $30,000 home because of an unpaid $256 plumbing bill.
When the Legislature refused to study why women and minority state employees were paid less for the same job than white men, Davis raised private donations to pay for the report. Reforms soon followed.
Although a social liberal, she was a fiscal watchdog and was particularly upset by non-elected boards levying taxes.
Though she took guff from no one, she mostly handled opposition with disarming wit. She once told us how a lawmaker ridiculed her attempts to win funding for a community radio station with an eclectic play list. He dismissed it as a gay station. Davis sharply deflated the boorish critic, saying he must be confused because it played reggae music. The station got the funding.
That was Helen Gordon Davis, charming, fearless and relentless. She is best known for being a champion of women, but she made Florida a better place for all citizens.
News-Journal, Daytona Beach, Florida, on Gov. Scott's off-key pitch to hospitals:
Gov. Rick Scott must lack both a sense of irony and self-awareness. That would explain his attempt to patch a hole in health care funding by requesting that hospitals do something he would never have agreed to do in his former life as a hospital executive.
Florida is set to lose $1.3 billion in federal funds for its Low Income Pool, which is used to reimburse hospitals for providing charity health care to the uninsured. The state Senate has proposed to fix the problem by accepting federal money to expand Medicaid to 800,000 low-income Floridians. Scott and his fellow Republicans in the House, though, have rejected that plan, largely because they view it as a capitulation to Obamacare. But until recently, they haven't floated an alternative, preferring instead to sue the Obama administration for withholding the LIP funds while trying to convince Floridians to blame Washington for any disruption caused by the cutoff of money.
Now, though, the governor is turning to the hospitals themselves for a "solution" to the problem that he and the House share responsibility in perpetuating.
Last week he appointed a nine-member Commission on Healthcare and Hospital Funding that is tasked with giving hospitals a full body-cavity search of their financial information and operations. Clearly, the intent is to intimidate the many hospitals that support the Senate plan to expand Medicaid.
So, too, is Scott's proposal that hospitals making "record-high profits" share their largess with their less-fortunate counterparts as a way to help make up for the lost federal funding. He has likened the idea to how Major League Baseball shares its revenues, so that small-market teams can compete with large-market ones.
The Florida Hospital Association, though, compared the scheme to a tax. State Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, who served as Senate president in 2013-14, was even more direct. Last week he told a Pensacola radio station that the governor's profit-sharing plan was "socialism" (hat tip to saintpetersblog.com).
Again, the governor is attempting to publicly shame hospitals by making it appear they are hoarding money that could be better used for the common good.
It's doubtful that the Rick Scott who in the 1990s served as CEO of Columbia/HCA, the nation's largest health care provider, would have embraced Gov. Scott's proposal or rhetoric. Under Scott, the company made billions of dollars in profits (and also paid a record fine for Medicare fraud committed on his watch). He left Columbia/HCA with a $9.88 million settlement, along with 10 million shares of stock worth over $350 million.
As governor, Scott has been all about capitalism as the way to create jobs and boost the Florida economy — and rightly so. He even previously (if tepidly) supported Medicaid expansion. Yet, now that the state is in a jam because of an intra-party ideological feud to which he's an irritant, Scott starts singing a different tune — profits are too high and must be shared.
Not surprisingly, the hospitals hear nothing but sour notes. In a letter sent to the governor Monday, 22 hospital executives who sit on the FHA Board of Trustees rejected Scott's suggestion to share the wealth and reiterated their support for the Senate plan.
The governor's tactics are doing anything but bringing the state closer to a solution. We've previously called on him to demonstrate statesmanship by brokering a compromise between the House and Senate. But maybe Florida would benefit if Scott just sat on the sidelines and observed the primary rule of health care: First, do no harm.