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The year we had to pay up

Early edition

By HOWARD TROXLER
Published December 27, 2006


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Was this the year that living in Florida became Not Worth It?

The question is not meant to be unpatriotic. No one’s denying the sunshine or the beaches or the great things about our state.

But looking back at 2006, it seems clear that the “top news story’’ in Florida actually was a combination of trends that put the squeeze, but good, on homeowners and taxpayers.

No hurricane hit us, yet insurance companies kept canceling policies and raising rates. By year’s end a third of Florida homes were stuck in the state’s pool of last resort. One in three!

At the same time, we were getting whacked with higher taxes because of higher property values. It was even worse for businesses and property owners not covered by the “Save Our Homes’’ cap.

By late summer, citizens were rising up in spontaneous protests around the state. “The average local redneck can’t live here any more,’’ complained taxpayer Ben Moxley to the Crystal River City Council in September. Sometimes these protests resulted in a slight lowering of the tax rate, but not always.

Lucky for us all, the Legislature is going to meet in January to fix that insurance thing. (Insert long pause for sarcastic effect here.)

Vote-stealing fairies

Oh, well. Otherwise, 2006 wasn’t that bad a year, was it? As we said, no Katrinas. No big roads or bridges falling down in these parts. No nasty sex scandals involving Florida’s members of Congress ...

Whoops, sorry. Two out of three ain’t bad.

In 2006, we chose a new governor to lead Florida into the post-Jeb years, a popular populist from St. Pete named Charlie Crist. He promised to continue the Bush legacy, but showed hints of being more moderate on social issues.

Yet overall, the political season was discouraging. It seemed that even running for dog catcher involved accusing the other candidate of being Pro-Child Molester.

Oh, and 18,000 people in Sarasota County simultaneously decided not to vote in a hotly contested election. Either that, or the blame lies with their fingers, the ballot design, the machines themselves or the Vote-Stealing Fairies.

The Buck Naked Expressway?

In the Tampa Bay area, Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio kept lugging those Greek vases around downtown, before finally settling on a new site for the art museum, back where it started on the river. St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker, popular and riding high, fended off rumors he was going to Tallahassee.

And the colorful Ronda Storms was promoted by Hillsborough voters from the County Commission to the state Senate.

The most juicy story in Hillsborough County, believe it or not, involved a once-obscure appointed expressway authority. No sooner did that board propose carving up Tampa Bay with a new, development-friendly highway, than the agency  imploded with a scandal involving, let’s see ... allegations of self-dealings, secrecy, conflicts of interest and, hmm, what are we leaving out?

Oh, right. Gay porn. The executive director who quit after it was revealed he owned a gay-porn movie company. That’s much more salacious than the runner-up, the Hillsborough School Board’s scandal, which merely involves inside deal-making for real estate. Who cares when you’ve got gay porn?

In Pinellas County, angry citizens got the County Commission to back off plans to commercialize Fort De Soto Park, and dogged the county over its uses for the Brooker Creek Nature Preserve. And in the Pinellas city of St. Pete Beach, voters narrowly decided to “fire” their City Hall and take over future major growth decisions by direct democracy.

U spelt it rite

Let’s see. What are we leaving out?

how are you weathering the hurricane ... are you safe ... send me an email pic of you as well....
— Rep. Mark Foley’s e-mail to a former page, 2005

Oh, right. Let us unanimously agree that a member of Congress soliciting pages is disgusting if not criminal.

Beyond that, the Foley scandal consisted mostly of finger-pointing and hot air, with a year-end report of the “mistakes were made’’ variety that seems likely to result in ... nothing.

The panel recommended tighter oversight of the page program. No kidding.

With the exception of the tragic boot camp beating death of Martin Lee Anderson, which resulted in criminal charges, Florida’s scandals were of the middling variety. The state prison chief went down in a kickback scandal involving ... concessions.

Oh, and do you remember how the state vigorously denied that its FCAT graders were unqualified and fought to keep the information a secret? When the truth came out, it turned out that some of the $10-an-hour graders lacked the degrees and qualifications the contract required. Of course, the grading company rushed to give back the $80-million contract. (Insert another sarcastic pause here.)

Sometimes, mercifully, the news was just odd. St. Petersburg unknowingly allowed a porno film to be filmed on the HMS Bounty at the Pier.

Some names of 2006

Stacey Kelley and her “Support Our Troops’’ sign in Westchase ... the prison-free end of the Debra LaFave case ... Jeb-defying Judge Crockett Farnell ... Alan Crotzer of St. Petersburg, innocent and free after 24 years in prison ... missing Temple Terrace social worker Sandra Prince ... the tragedy of the Manzano family, which lost four victims to a driver charged with DUI-manslaughter ...  robbery victim turned acquitted-vigilante Lawrence Storer ... dog-custody fighters Pam Bondi and the Coutures ... chimpanzee Herman and Sumatran tiger Enshalla, dead in separate incidents at Lowry Park Zoo.

[Last modified December 27, 2006, 20:14:27]


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