South Florida Sun Sentinel. February 25, 2022.
Editorial: Rick Scott’s un-American plan to ‘rescue America’
Rick Scott just opened his campaign against Ron DeSantis for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.
Of course, Florida’s junior senator wasn’t that explicit in his “11-Point Plan to Rescue America. What Americans Must Do to Save This Country.” Scott ostensibly issued his 31-page screed this week as chairman of the 2022 National Republican Senatorial Committee.
But even some GOP Senate candidates privately criticized the document — and Scott’s timing. “This plan,” Scott wrote, “is not for the faint of heart.”
It’s not for anyone who wants to win a Senate race this year, either.
Where to begin? The richest man in Congress demands that the roughly 50% of Americans who pay no income tax pony up, to get some “skin in the game.”
Mitt Romney tried that when he ran for president in 2012. He disparaged less affluent Americans as “victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them.” Romney, worth about $200 million at the time, advised them to “take personal responsibility.” How did that work out for him?
Or we could note how Scott believes that saving America requires enforced patriotism. Every child would have to say the Pledge of Allegiance. How very North Korea.
Then there’s the heaping helping of culture wars from Scott, who refers to the “woke left,” the “radical left,” the “militant left” and the “fanatical left.”
Left unchecked, Scott said, some of the things Democrats “plan to change or destroy are: American history, patriotism, border security, the nuclear family, gender, traditional morality, capitalism, fiscal responsibility, opportunity, rugged individualism, Judeo-Christian values, dissent, free speech, color blindness, law enforcement, religious liberty, parental involvement in public schools and private ownership of firearms.”
Finally, there’s the rank hypocrisy between Scott’s words and his actions. Some examples:
— Scott claims that Democrats have “given up on democracy.” This from the man who voted against certifying the Pennsylvania election results and thus became part of Donald Trump’s effort to subvert the Constitution by overturning Joe Biden’s legitimate victory.
— Scott criticizes “left-wing efforts to rig elections.” This from the man whose party in states such as Florida is changing election rules to hinder voters who generally lean Democratic. The GOP claims to be preventing widespread fraud that doesn’t exist.
— Scott wants to “build supply chains that rely on American workers.” He criticizes “communist China.” But last year, Scott voted against a bill that would create new domestic supply chains and boost scientific research to counter China.
— Scott writes, “Men are men, women are women, and unborn babies are babies. We believe in science.” For eight years as governor of a state dealing with sea level rise, Scott banned all executive agencies from using the terms “climate change” and “global warming.”
None of what Scott proposes will happen. None of it should happen.
Scott wants to cut the already depleted Internal Revenue Service budget by another 50%. He also wants to balance the budget. You can’t do that if the agency assigned to collect taxes can’t fulfill its mission, a mission that would be overwhelmed even before the cuts, what with all the people whose taxes Scott wants to raise.
Scott also wants to cut the government workforce by 25%. Naturally, he offers no specifics. He wants term limits for Congress and other federal employees. Great. Let’s run more competent civil servants out of government.
So why would Scott release this document now? We have a theory.
This weekend, the annual right-wing loonfest known as the Conservation Political Action Conference, or CPAC, is taking place in Orlando. Scott speaks Saturday, a few hours ahead of Trump.
DeSantis spoke Thursday. Republican presidential talk has focused on the governor and the former president. A poll this week finds them nearly tied in Florida.
For the moment, Scott is irrelevant — even in his home state. “Rescue America,” with its accompanying ad campaign, looks like Scott’s attempt to gain ground in the rivalry with DeSantis.
In fact, Scott and Florida’s other senator, Marco Rubio, who spoke Friday at CPAC, have made themselves irrelevant. They both opposed the China competitiveness bill that got 18 GOP votes. They opposed the infrastructure bill that will bring $13 billion to Florida.
And Scott and Rubio now oppose creation of a “no-fly list” for people who endanger airline flights. Their absurd defense is that, because many in-flight disputes stem from the federal mask mandate, it would equate anti-maskers with terrorists.
“Rescue America” is a frivolous document from a frivolous politician. Scott says of his GOP colleagues, “Americans deserve to know what we will do when we get the chance to govern.” Fellow Americans, you have been warned.
Tampa Bay Times. February 25, 2022.
Editorial: Florida must prevent Medicaid debacle
Ensure eligible families aren’t lost in rush to clean up the rolls
The state did a terrible job of getting unemployment aid and rental assistance to Floridians devastated by the pandemic, leaving thousands to suffer additional, needless hardship. Given that track record, which was as consistent as it was abysmal, there’s a chance another debacle’s in the making once Medicaid reviews its enrollment, which could happen this summer. The state needs to ensure that deserving Floridians don’t fall through the cracks.
Medicaid has become an essential safety net during COVID-19, with about half of all children in the United States now covered through their state’s public health insurance program for low-income and disabled Americans, including about 2.4 million kids in Florida. But as the Miami Herald reported Thursday, those gains in Medicaid coverage — fueled by income and job losses caused by the pandemic — are likely to plummet when the federal government declares an end to this public health emergency.
As soon as July, states will be required to restart annual renewals for Medicaid enrollees if they have not been able to verify eligibility — what researchers at Georgetown University say will be an enormous administrative undertaking that could lead to millions of children losing coverage for a period of time.
Prior to the pandemic, states regularly reviewed enrollees’ eligibility for Medicaid. But when states stopped purging the rolls during the pandemic, enrollment skyrocketed. In Florida alone, more than 1.3 million people have gained Medicaid coverage since March 2020, including about 400,000 children up to age 18. As of January, more than 5.1 million people were enrolled in Florida Medicaid, a record high. But Georgetown researchers estimate that up to 7 million children in the U.S. are at risk of losing coverage.
While the estimate does not include a state-by-state breakdown, the Georgetown study suggests that Florida could be “on the high end” of coverage losses. Researchers identify Florida as one of six states where kids are especially at risk because of policies that almost invite disruptions in coverage, such as not having a process for continually determining eligibility.
These are perils for disenrolled families and the economy alike. Experts warn that states need to plan now to keep eligible families from being purged from the rolls and losing their health insurance coverage. The mass review, known as “Medicaid unwinding,” could create a huge backlog as states and Medicaid managed care plans look to update information on covered patients.
There’s nothing wrong, of course, with ensuring that the Medicaid rolls include only those that are legitimately covered. But the process of confirming eligibility is a massive administrative task. Attention to detail is crucial. And mistakes and delays have a real human cost. On the latter note, Florida’s disastrous administration of jobless benefits during the pandemic, and its later, laggard effort to distribute rental assistance, hardly inspire confidence the state bureaucracy is up to this latest core governmental duty.
States need to get a jump by starting to confirm the eligibility of enrollees now, by putting call centers and other technology in place to deal with customer queries and complaints and by instituting plans for responding quickly to errant lapses in coverage. Medicaid recipients should not have to face the added stress of missed medical appointments or financial crises simply because of the state’s inaction, indifference or incompetence.
Miami Herald. February 26, 2022.
Editorial: Can my landlord raise my rent that much? Florida renters do — and don’t — have rights
Here’s the not-so-new news: Florida law leans heavily in favor of landlords and property rights. So there’s no cavalry coming to the rescue of tenants facing jaw-dropping rent increases in South Florida.
There’s very little that governments can do under state statute to protect renters from price gouging. But they can protect renters in other ways, such as through the ordinance that the Miami Beach City Commission unanimously approved this month requiring landlords give 60 days’ notice before raising rent by more than 5%. That rule could be extended to the rest of Miami-Dade County under legislation proposed by Commissioner Eileen Higgins.
Sixty days gives renters time to look for cheaper living options if they don’t plan to pay up. But a rent increase is a rent increase, and many tenants will not find greener pastures somewhere else.
So what else is available, or in the pipeline, to help renters? The Herald Editorial Board compiled some important information renters should know.
State law preempts cities and towns from imposing caps on rent increases in most cases and Democratic bills in the Legislature to change that are doomed.
There’s an exception if a local government can declare a “housing emergency which is so grave as to constitute a serious menace to the general public.” If we’re not there yet in Miami-Dade, we’re very close. The city or county would then ask voters to approve control measures for one year, after which the same process would have to happen again for renewal, including voter approval.
In December, two dozen Democratic state lawmakers signed a letter asking Gov. Ron DeSantis to declare a state of emergency because of the “ongoing affordable housing crisis” and direct the state attorney general to “recognize any rental price increases of greater than 10% as price gouging.” DeSantis ignored the request. No surprise there.
Meanwhile, the St. Petersburg City Council in December voted to explore the idea to cap rent prices for one year. A similar move is unlikely to happen in Miami-Dade County or the city of Miami, given the conservative leaning of some commissioners and the backlash it would face from builders and landlords, who have also seen their costs go up thanks to inflation.
Rent control isn’t the only option local governments have. Other creative solutions include providing tax exemptions for landlords who don’t raise rent above a certain threshold, state Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, told the Editorial Board. It’s time for local governments to start thinking of them seriously.
A FIX THAT WON’T HELP
One of the Legislature’s solutions to the state’s housing-affordability crisis has been Senate Bill 884/House Bill 537, which would allow landlords to charge tenants a nonrefundable monthly fee instead of an upfront security deposit.
On the surface, this would offer relief for renters who cannot afford expensive moving costs. But here’s the catch: Landlords wouldn’t be required to return the fees at the end of the lease like they do with security deposits, nor would the payments apply toward damage beyond normal wear and tear. That means this purported fix might cause renters who don’t have another option more trouble and expenses. Of course, it’s being pushed by LeaseLock, a finance company that provides the fee option in 129 Florida communities.
The Legislature should offer more protections to renters, not make them more vulnerable to potentially predatory practices that opponents compare to payday loans that trap working-class people in an endless cycle of debt.
CAN I WITHHOLD MY RENT?
Many renters don’t know they can withhold rent payment if a landlord has failed or refused to provide important maintenance that renders “the leased premises wholly untenantable,” according to state law. The tenant must provide seven days’ written notice and give the landlord at least 20 days to make the repairs. The Florida Bar has a template of that notice on its website and instructions on how and when to withhold rent.
However, what’s in the law often differs from reality. The horror stories of insect infestations, toxic mold in apartment units and hostile landlords are common in Miami-Dade, as Zaina Alsous, of the Miami Workers Center, told the Herald Editorial Board. Her advice is for renters living in uninhabitable conditions to talk to their neighbors facing similar issues and organize — “There’s power in the union,” she said.
WHERE DO I GO FOR HELP?
The Miami Workers Center is one of the organizations that connect tenants at risk of eviction to legal and community defense. The Miami-Dade County Commission is in the process of creating an Office of Housing Advocacy, and commissioners Raquel Regalado and Jean Monestime are working on an ordinance called the Tenant’s Bill of Rights to delineate what that office will do.
A draft ordinance shows that the office would, among other things, create a Tenant Information Helpline and a web page with resources and downloadable forms — i.e. eviction and rent-withholding — approved by the Florida Bar and translated into Spanish and Creole.
TENANT’S BILL OF RIGHTS
Here are some of the things the bill would do:
▪ Landlords could not require prospective tenants to disclose a prior eviction until their application is approved. That information is public record, but Regalado said the rule would give applicants a face-to-face chance to get approved without a prior eviction weighing against them.
▪ If a rental unit is sold, the seller or buyer must give 60 days’ notice to renters with a month-to-month agreement if the sale will result in tenancies being terminated.
▪ Require landlords to provide tenants a notice of their rights no later than 10 days after a lease is signed or renewed.
▪ Require landlords to notify renters within 14 days of receiving notice that a residential building may be unsafe.
The Tenant’s Bill of Rights is “a first step,” Regalado told the Editorial Board. It won’t solve the No. 1 issue facing tenants: soaring rent costs. And there are other issues that need to be addressed, such as the fact that only 10% of renters have legal representation when they face an eviction, according to the Workers Center.
But in a state where renters are often left to their own devices, they will take any help they can get.
Orlando Sentinel. February 25, 2022.
Editorial: Stop the greedy corporate tax giveaways in Tallahassee
People in Florida struggle daily under the crushing burdens of paying for housing, electricity, insurance and other basic necessities of life.
They won’t get much help from the Florida Legislature in the next couple of weeks, before the session ends March 11. But state lawmakers are falling all over each other to lavish tax giveaways on such corporate giants as Avis, Florida Power & Light, Lockheed Martin, NASCAR and many others — and all at your expense.
There’s so much wrong with this, it’s hard to know where to begin. Billions of dollars that Florida should be spending on affordable housing, medical care, mental health and public education are all headed instead to fatten the bottom lines of Fortune 500 companies.
It’s corporate welfare. It’s picking winners and losers. It’s pay-to-play politics that rewards well-connected, big-money political donors.
Giving so much tax relief to a select few makes Florida’s antiquated tax system even more regressive. It punishes low-income families the most because they spend a larger percentage of their meager incomes on products that are subject to sales tax, like fast food or gasoline.
For decades, the Florida tax code has been riddled with narrowly tailored exemptions from the 6% statewide sales tax, and many of them are decades old, which means they were carved into the code by Democratic governors and legislators.
Among the decades-old exemptions are luxury skyboxes at professional sports stadiums; newspaper, radio and TV advertising; charter fishing boat trips; bottled water; and dry cleaning. In 1987, the Legislature enacted a broad-based tax on most professional services, but buckled to intense political pressure the following year.
That colossal act of cowardice has had lasting and devastating consequences. Ever since, the Florida Legislature has been afraid to seriously tackle the issue of tax reform. The only legislative leader who seriously tried was Senate President John McKay of Bradenton, who was soon overwhelmed by corporate opposition, including a barrage of negative television ads, and political resistance from his fellow Republicans.
An attempt to eliminate a years-old exemption for ostrich feed couldn’t even get a hearing. Yes, ostrich feed.
An omnibus tax relief package in the House (HB 7071) is shot through with special interest favors for billionaires. For example, there’s a new tax break for tickets to World Cup soccer matches in Florida and Formula One Grand Prix races — a lucrative tax favor to Miami Dolphins Owner Stephen Ross, who also owns Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens.
The state already exempts tickets to the NCAA basketball tournament held in Florida, as well as Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game and the NFL’s Super Bowl. Florida has to compete with other states for those immensely popular, money-making events, but the Grand Prix races will be held for at least 10 years whether Ross gets his tax break or not. This is just one more greedy raid on the public treasury.
It is no coincidence that those provisions are tucked deep inside a much broader tax relief bill. They are there because the bill’s other parts, such as the popular annual sales tax holidays for back-to-school items and hurricane preparedness supplies, already enjoy broad bipartisan support.
Florida investigative reporter Jason Garcia, who tracks state tax policy on his Seeking Rents website, has unearthed another mammoth tax giveaway to Avis, the rental car giant that just had one of the most profitable years ever.
Garcia reported that the Florida Senate has drafted a corporate tax break as an amendment to a forthcoming tax bill that would save one or two rental car companies $5 million each, as corporations try to gain more tax favors from the historically large tax break approved by a then-Republican Congress and President Trump in 2017.
“The companies wouldn’t even have to do anything to qualify for the break,” Garcia reports. “It is the functional equivalent of simply handing them $5 million in cash.”
Among the proposed new tax handouts awaiting final votes in the session’s final two weeks are SB 1090, a giveaway to some of the state’s most profitable corporations; SB 952, a tax break for defense giants such as Northrop Grumman and software companies such as Microsoft; and HB 1163, a permanent tax exemption for green hydrogen, sought by FPL’s parent company, NextEra Energy.
According to a House analysis, the obvious beneficiary of a green hydrogen tax exemption is NextEra Energy, which “plans to propose a 20-megawatt electrolyzer that will produce 100% green hydrogen from solar power.
“The green hydrogen produced by the electrolyzer would replace a portion of the natural gas consumed by the utility’s existing Okeechobee plant,” the analysis says. “The electricity to power the electrolyzer would come from solar power.”
You’ll notice the Legislature always has time to open the public purse to FPL. But when it comes to real taxpayers, it’s a different story.
Florida Times-Union. February 27, 2022.
Editorial: One man’s passion for bridging the gap in aviation honors legacy of Tuskegee Airmen
After working as a one-man show trying to expose minority kids to careers in aviation, Dwayne Quick says one memory from an event he put on last year made it all worthwhile.
A 16-year-old boy told him, “I’ve never seen a black pilot before.”
That teenager was one of 30 kids who spent much of the day flying in planes flown by black pilots who came to Jacksonville after Quick either reached out to them personally or to organizations. Quick had participated in similar educational events throughout the country and wanted to play a role in inspiring children here.
Quick, who lives in Jacksonville, knows that he’s different. In the last five years, he’s flown to 63 countries while working for a charter airline with trips that include humanitarian missions like evacuating people from Afghanistan, as well as flying military, sports figures, and others all over the world. At 35, this American Airlines pilot is grateful that his mentor was a Tuskegee Airman, among the first African-American military aviators in the U.S. armed forces during World War II.
Both of Quick’s parents were in the Air Force. His father was an aircraft mechanic. Quick got his first airplane ride at age eight. He was fortunate to take flying lessons at age 14. At 17, he got a pilot’s license — before he even got a driver’s license. Later he too joined the Air Force.
And as much as he appreciates aviation pioneers like the Tuskegee Airmen, who paved the way for him, unfortunately, things haven’t changed much. Right now only three percent of pilots are Black and one percent are women, according to the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals.
According to 2020 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 94% of the country’s 155,000 aircraft pilots and flight engineers identified as white. And just over 10% combined of pilots and engineers listed as Black, Latinx (5%), or Asian (2.2%).
In 2020, Quick started the 332nd Heritage Foundation Inc. nonprofit. Then last year he went all over Jacksonville visiting schools and organizations to try to find kids who might be interested in participating in a new event. The first year, because of COVID-19, only 30 kids participated. This year, 93 children attended the Feb. 19 event at Cecil Airport.
During Black History Month, when people and organizations are recognizing important contributions and achievements of African Americans throughout our nation’s history — including celebrating the roots of Jacksonville’s Black history — it’s important to recognize people like Quick. He’s using historical change-makers like the Tuskegee Airmen as a way to offer hope for the next generation.
He says it’s all about exposure because you don’t know what you don’t know. The “Climb” event attracted children of various ethnic groups last year, but Quick is especially passionate about exposing minority and underprivileged children.
“Inclusion of one does not mean exclusion for another,” he said. “But what we’re trying to do is to even the playing field, so that when people say hiring comes from an equal pool, it is an equal pool,” Quick said.
The Jacksonville Aviation Authority is among his supporters.
“Climb 22 is a wonderful event, spearheaded by Dwayne Quick and in partnership with the Jacksonville Aviation Authority, designed to educate underprivileged youth about the aviation industry,” said Michael Stewart, a spokesman. “While at Climb, attendees will have an opportunity to speak with aviation professionals, understand potential career paths in the industry and ride in an aircraft. While the event may only last one day, we hope the impact will last a lifetime.”