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  • Nothing too audacious
  • Updating Florida's tax structure
  • Ybor better off without project
  • Courage in tax reform
  • Clear-thinking people may disagree
  • Please protect the elderly
  • Hospital group endorses McKay's tax reform


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    Letters to the Editors

    Please protect the elderly

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published January 20, 2002

    As a very sick individual living in a nursing home on Medicaid, I'm frightened by the recent state budget cuts in health care.

    I understand the realities facing lawmakers about the prospect of balancing the budget, and I realize sacrifices must be made. It is a blessing to live in a country with a government that truly cares for its citizenry, and I do not wish to criticize our legislators for their tough choices. However, making further cuts in health care programs such as Project AIDS Care and the Medically Needy Program for the poor and disabled is not only frightening, but just plain wrong.

    Please do not make further cuts in health care.
    -- T.R. Peterman, New Port Richey

    Don't neglect the state's neediest

    Thanks to recent legislative budget cuts, some of our state's neediest citizens -- the poor, the elderly, the disabled -- are having to do without basic vision and dental care. Our schoolchildren have been placed in the absurd position of having to hold bake sales in order to pay for basic supplies -- pencils, paper, chalk, etc. Our public schools are overcrowded, understaffed and ill-equipped.

    The practice of giving certain businesses a tax-free ride at the expense of our state's neediest citizens is, in my opinion, nothing short of immoral. The 2001 Special Legislative Session should have taught us the consequences of maintaining the status quo; when certain sectors of our state are exempted from paying taxes, cuts in services must frequently be made to make up the difference.

    Haven't our state's neediest and most vulnerable citizens suffered enough?
    -- Elizabeth Hoff, St. Petersburg

    Let us vote on reform plan

    I took Economics 101 some 40 years ago but still remember when studying taxation that the author of the text stated, "The most regressive form of tax is a sales tax. It places a disproportionate burden on households with the smallest earning power." I have never heard an economist challenge this fundamental premise but over time, we have been made to witness the state Legislature, assisted by the county and local municipalities, double the sales tax, to support their growing financial appetites.

    The term "tax reform" is often used by candidates for public office but always becomes an unspeakable phrase once they are sworn in. Could it be that state Senate President John McKay, like many of us, watched countless television showings of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol over the holidays, dreaming he would someday have to atone for his legislative wrongdoing, and like Scrooge woke up promising to make amends to the lowly Florida taxpayer. Whatever his reasons, his actions are to be commended.

    McKay has proposed a plan to eliminate the multitude of tax loopholes that special interest groups have pressured legislators to add to the law. This has exempted banks, big business, lawyers and an army of professions, including advertising firms, from paying any sales tax and saving them an amount much greater than that which you and I pay the state each year. It's not surprising that the same people responsible for getting these exemptions over the years have formed political action committees and plan to spend a fortune in an effort to convince Florida residents that McKay has lost his mind and we shouldn't be concerned about changing the tax base.

    Another adage I learned many years ago, says, "You can calculate the full measure of a person by examining the nature and record of those who are most outspoken in their criticism of him or her." McKay's plan would save every Florida family $133 per year on average. His critics are planning to spend millions to insure that this never happens.

    It is time for the people of Florida to be treated to a banquet of sales tax truths and not forced to swallow an expensively prepared meal of advertising baloney. McKay's plan should be put on the ballot for all Floridians to vote on in the November elections.
    -- Ron Bennett, Belleair

    End homestead exemption

    Could our lawmakers reduce or eliminate the homestead exemption? It's ludicrous, that in 2002, a tax break meant to attract people to the state is still in effect. Could this be a solution to slowing growth and finding more money for education?
    -- Robert Gagne, Spring Hill

    Don't listen to letter writers

    To the Florida Legislature:

    I want to commend you on the work you have done, and make a few suggestions about what you should consider when your annual session begins.

    First, resist the temptation to further delay the reduction of the intangibles tax break. Contrary to what the leftist elite want you to believe, this is not a tax on the "wealthy." The people hurt most by this tax are those on fixed incomes who must pay taxes every year on their life savings.

    Do not be swayed by the so-called sales tax reform. Even if the initial tax rate goes down as exemptions are eliminated, there are those who will raise the rate again in a few years. After all, "we paid 6 percent before, why not 6 percent now" is a refrain you will hear two or three years down the road.

    Just as national defense should be the paramount priority of the federal government, education should be the overriding concern of the state government. And so far, you have done well, by increasing the number of dollars used for funding as well as increase the percentage spent from previous years.

    Find new and more inventive ways to improve our schools. Just throwing money at them alone will solve nothing. Find ways to fund vouchers, increase magnet schools, increase standards, stop social promotion, and above all, recruit teachers who will actually teach our children, rather than indoctrinate them in socialist dogma.

    And last, but certainly not least, please ignore the herd of ill-informed letter writers being led around on a leash by the St. Petersburg Times.
    -- David Manning, Dunedin

    Focus on better school funding

    Thanks to the Times for its continuing series, For a Better Florida. I, too, am very concerned about the future of Florida, particularly as it concerns the education of our young people. Both my daughters graduated from Hillsborough County schools several years ago. I tutor an hour a week in an elementary school, and I think it borders on the criminal to have 34 youngsters in a fourth- or fifth-grade classroom (or increasingly a "portable").

    Anyone who thinks that schoolchildren can learn and progress sufficiently in order to pass the array of tests we now so blithely dictate, while surrounded by more than 30 other kids, is severely out of touch with the realities of today's classroom.

    I'm not sure we have the will or resources to fund our schools in the manner of a Wisconsin or a Michigan, but we certainly should be able to do as well as North Carolina. I'm concerned and ashamed about the state funding for public education in Florida today.
    -- Pat Bingham, Tampa

    Too many education deceptions

    Re: Education doublespeak, Jan. 6.

    Thank God for the St. Petersburg Times and Jon East. Finally someone has the courage and insight to expose the deceptions regarding Florida's public schools.

    As a counselor in an "A-rated" public high school and as a parent with three sons in Florida's public schools, I am deeply disturbed with the direction our schools are heading. I hope and pray others will add their voices in exposing the duplicity that is shamelessly occurring in Tallahassee.
    -- Lon Sweat, counselor, SAIL High School, Tallahassee

    Status quo is not acceptable

    Florida's tax system is unfair in that it relies primarily on sales taxes and lottery revenues, which whack roughly half of its residents far harder in terms of percentage of gross income than it does the other half. Recent tax cuts have mostly benefited the wealthier half, making the tax system even more unfair. Perhaps more important, the current tax system, which dates back to 1949, is incapable of generating the consistent revenues required to keep this large and diverse state on an even keel.

    The Legislature has two options: One is to pass the buck to local governments, whether they can afford it or not. The other is to give Sen. John McKay's tax reform -- broadening the sales tax base and cutting the tax rate by one-third -- a try. I, for one, will vote against any politician who chooses to maintain the status quo, as will, I believe, millions of others.
    -- Dave Jonsson, Seminole

    Hoping for better lawmakers

    My desire is that our state representatives would mature to the level of professionalism where they would become dedicated to the best interests of all Florida residents, beyond their home districts and beyond their personal self-serving ways, which bring them excessive financial gain via the lobbyists and their business friends.
    -- Lowell Myers, Clearwater

    Let's have quality education

    It is time for the citizens of this state to demand quality education rather then the tricked-up schemes offered by right-wing leaders such as Gov. Jeb Bush.

    His father called Ronald Reagan's economic policies "voodoo economics." Bush's claim that education funding has not been cut is voodoo education policy. I have read all about how our universities and public schools are being forced to make drastic cuts that are badly hurting the quality of instruction.
    -- Hank Foldberg, Brandon

    Schools come before greyhounds

    While tax reform is on the minds of our state legislators and Floridians in general, I believe that the 2002 legislative session should include a careful review of some of the tax breaks that have been granted to various special interests in recent years. This should include a logical, objective review of the numerous and extremely generous tax breaks and other bailouts that have been bestowed on Florida's dying greyhound racing industry.

    In the past decade, the Legislature has enacted legislation that provided increased opportunities for full-card simulcasting and intertrack wagering; provided numerous tax credits and exemptions; established minimum purse requirements to benefit greyhound and horse breeders; authorized the removal of the admission tax on free passes and complimentary cards; and authorized card rooms at parimutuel facilities. Most recently, a $21-million tax break for the state's dog and horse racing industries was granted in the final minutes of the 2000 legislative session. It should come as no surprise to anyone that Florida's dog racing industry and its well-paid lobbyists have already made the protection of the numerous tax breaks from recent years their No. 1 priority for the upcoming legislative session.

    I know that I am not alone in my belief that in the greater scheme of things, the survival of Florida's greyhound racing industry is of little consequence. The fact is, a relatively small number of people in Florida rely on dog racing for income or entertainment. The Legislature would do well to concern itself more with our public schools, the homeless and our juvenile justice system than with the fate of the state's dog racing industry.
    -- Janet Skinner, Palm Harbor

    Look at capital punishment, tax reform

    There are two important fiscal issues: First, the budget could be nearly balanced by doing away with the death penalty. According to the Palm Beach Post, enforcing the death penalty costs Florida $51-million a year above and beyond what it would cost to punish all first-degree murderers with life in prison without parole. And according to a poll in the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, a growing number of Floridians prefer the alternative of life without parole instead of the death penalty.

    Second, legislators should support Sen. John McKay's proposal to make our tax burden more equitable. It's outrageous that so much of the cost of supporting our state is borne by those who have the least, who always pay a higher proportion of their income in taxes when revenue is raised by sales tax. Especially in these times of stress, how can anyone with a more-than-comfortable income justify selfishly seeking to pay lower shares of our state's costs?
    -- Eileen O'Sullivan, St. Petersburg

    An agenda for lawmakers

    This year, state lawmakers should be considering:

    The thousands of homeless.

    Restoring funds for prescriptions for the mentally ill.

    Discipline policies for schools to restore order so teachers can teach and students can learn.

    Raising taxes, if necessary.
    -- Barbara Ely, St. Petersburg

    Open the way for more xeriscaping

    Hurray for state Rep. Sara Romeo! Last year she introduced a bill that prohibited deed restrictions, both new and existing ones, from disallowing xeriscape landscapes anywhere in this water-starved state.

    Instead, a flawed version of the bill passed. This statute states that only newly written covenants cannot exclude xeriscapes after October 2001. This version is too little, too late because there are still tens of thousands of homeowners who will be required to waste water or else suffer the fines, liens or foreclosing process used by deed restricting boards to force homeowner compliance.

    I design landscapes for a living, and it makes me frustrated and sad to see so many Architectural Review Committees excessively invested in water-hog landscapes. Most deed restrictions fail because of their requirement for specific quantities of drought-intolerant grass, namely St. Augustine.

    We should voice our support for Sara Romeo's next try in the coming legislative session. If the original version passes this time, Florida's green industry, designers and architects can make plans for landscapes that will survive off of rainfall (drought or deluge). What a concept.
    -- Brian Marc Schatz, Tampa

    Preserve the Florida Folk Festival

    Twelve years ago, our family discovered what we consider to be one of the real treasures of Florida: the Florida Folk Festival, which is held annually at the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park in White Springs every Memorial Day weekend. Since that first experience, we haven't missed a minute of this festival. We are there when it begins on Friday morning and stay until it finishes late Sunday night.

    This year is to be the 50th anniversary of the Florida Folk Festival. We were both astounded and saddened, just before Christmas, to hear that the festival may be discontinued because of budget cuts. If that were to happen, it would be a loss beyond measure.

    Florida has become home for people from all over the nation and the world. Many ethnic communities have settled here, bringing their traditions with them, making this state rich with a great diversity of cultures. For years, artists representing many of these various communities have been sought out and invited to share their cultures with others at the festival through singing, dancing, artistry, and storytelling.

    For many years, there has been a steadily growing group of singers and songwriters in the folk community who have been committed to capturing the deep and wide spirit of this state in their songs. Though the festival has grown to a much greater size in 50 years, with innumerable styles of music, crafts and food, this folk community has remained at its core, with their love of Florida and of music.

    The Florida Folk Festival is an event that seeks to preserve the heart of Florida, as experienced and expressed by a great diversity of people. If it were to come to an end, that heart would beat much more faintly.

    Please do whatever you can to save this festival from extinction.
    -- Heather Malinowski, Tarpon Springs

    Save our schools from disaster

    Your article, Education Doublespeak, brings to light the impending disaster of severe education budget cuts, and citizens' lack of concern.

    Your article made my jaw drop and brought tears to my eyes. Polk County, adjusting to lack of educational funding, has just cut 160 educational jobs and all middle school sports. All middle school sports!

    I grieve for Polk County. Fear overcomes grief as I read Hillsborough county has had to eliminate summer school, and Pinellas has dug into its emergency reserves.

    Think of the equation here folks: More kids, less money and fewer educators, more students squeezed into portables and cut off from sports. Sounds like a slippery slope to disaster to me.

    It's all so confusing, this educational doublespeak, even to the involved parent. I don't know the exact legislative or budgeting answer. But this disaster hurts my heart.

    My job as a parent is to demand that my children's educational needs are met and vote for lawmakers who are qualified to come up with solutions and make education a priority.

    My job as a neighbor is to stand and protect my community's children and their well-being and education.

    My job as a citizen is to protect this state's future and raise my voice and speak to educational injustice.

    I bet if lawmakers shut down high school or college sports and cut 160 sports jobs we'd all be screaming. Why aren't we raising our voices for these middle school children? In fact, all the children are being effected by lack of educational funding. Why aren't we backing our educators as they beg for help?

    High-ranking educators across the state are screaming words such as "a very heavy hit," and "you are going to see very real pain." Are we listening?

    Education is an essential part of our children's development and well-being. It is the foundation of our future. We can't continue to accept this unacceptable situation.

    Tax reform is needed and quickly. We need to join states such as North Carolina, which made education a top priority and raised taxes needed. We need to vote out lawmakers who are not listening to our needs and vote in more capable ones who can turn this disaster around.

    How do we do it? Raise your voice, ask questions, vote! Scream, yell, cry, inform yourselves, stay involved with those who are shaping our children, remove from office those who don't cry out with us, and put into power the voice of all children.
    -- Michelle Simoneau, St. Petersburg

    Casinos would bring in funds

    After Sept. 11, many Florida activities closed down for a day or two in honor of the victims, with one notable exception -- the lottery. Obviously, the lottery is the most important and profitable asset of Tallahassee.

    Money appears to be the solution for most of Florida's current problems. Accordingly, on-shore casinos would solve many of Tallahassee's fiscal problems. Las Vegas is a perfect example of a place where casinos managed by corporations substantially contribute to the overall economy of Nevada. Moreover, many Floridians would remain home instead of traveling to other states to gamble.

    We were told by lawmakers that the lottery would enhance education, so we voted for it. Tell me, Tallahassee, where has all the money gone? Certainly not for education but for partisan political projects. For once, I would like a candidate for governor to give his or her position on the Florida Lottery.
    -- Caesar J. Civitella, St. Petersburg

    Teacher pay law needs fixing

    I would like to see the Florida Legislature change the education law that went into effect July 1, which caused me to be unemployable.

    I relocated to Florida in mid-September. I am a retired Connecticut school teacher and originally had planned to substitute teach in Florida. Then I decided I wanted to teach full-time here, as I prefer having my own class. I applied to both Pinellas and Pasco counties.

    All the interviews went very well. I thought I was going to be hired as a prekindergarten teacher. I was all set to go for a visit and ask for the job, but when I called, I was told the school was going to readvertise the position.

    I couldn't figure out why. I am a terrific teacher with a fantastic resume. Well, I began to investigate. I found out that the Legislature passed a law effective last July 1, saying that any teacher hired in Florida has to be given credit for all his/her past experiences. This new law means that the school would have to pay me for my 31 years of experience and my three degrees. Consequently, I am overqualified and no one can afford me. I wouldn't even hire myself under those circumstances, so I do understand. However, I am so discouraged.

    I know I could go to work in the private sector, which I plan to do, hopefully, in the interim. However, my heart has always been in the public sector. I am a product of public education.

    Can you remedy this situation so there is some middle road between my being hired at my full experience level and my substituting in the public sector? It has been explained to me that this law was originally passed to attract good teachers to Florida. However, now it has backfired. I am a fine teacher, but another teacher with less experience was hired in my place because of this law.
    -- Linda Frederick-Malanson, Tarpon Springs

    Cap jackpots for extra money

    It appears to me that with all the hype of funding education and wondering where to obtain the funds, there is a simple solution. It's not too simple, I hope. I suggest that a cap be put on the top prize in the lotto -- perhaps $10-million. The extra money, recently more than $60-million, can be put into a fund to supplement school budgets. I also suggest we have very honest persons overseeing this possible solution.
    -- Ed Conroy, South Pasadena

    Prevention is best solution

    Re: Protecting the vulnerable, Jan. 13.

    I want to express my sincere thanks to Deborah Hardin Wagner for her unflinching reporting of the likely affects of further budget cuts on programs serving Florida's at-risk children and medically fragile populations. When it comes to serving children at risk, prevention is the best and most cost-effective solution, and the prospect of putting fewer dollars toward prevention is heartbreaking.

    We at Eckerd Youth Alternatives know that prevention works. A team of Harvard researchers recently concluded a year-long study of our "Hi-Five" Early Intervention and Prevention Program currently offered to 3,700 third-, fourth- and fifth-graders throughout Florida. Among the findings: Nearly half of all targeted youth showed a measurable decrease in disruptive behavior, and with fewer disruptions classrooms became more focused on academics. We understand the critical needs of troubled youth. From third-graders whose behavior or life situations suggest they may be at risk for future delinquency, to troubled teens charged with felony offenses, we believe that each child has the opportunity to succeed. For more than 30 years, our organization has been dedicated to providing Florida's youth that opportunity. It costs a few dollars per day per child for preventive services, and hundreds of dollars a day per teen to provide the intensive care they need when they come to us through the juvenile justice system. But it has become even clearer to us that the most effective way for Florida to care for youth in trouble is to meet vulnerable youth's needs before they get in trouble.
    -- Karen V. Waddell, president/CEO, Eckerd Youth Alternatives, Clearwater

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