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Column

Bobbing right along from crisis to crisis

By HOWARD TROXLER
Published October 2, 2007


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As a child I was taught that Smart People were in charge of our government.

This is not as naive as it might seem today. We had escaped the Depression, saved the world and were heading for the moon.

But adulthood teaches that the government is not automatically wise, after all.

For some time now I have had the growing worry that the government of Florida, and in particular our state Legislature, lacks much institutional depth.

Our state careens from crisis to crisis. We apply quick fix after quick fix and hope that something sticks. Our policy consists of cute catch phrases - "drop like a rock," "biggest tax cut in history."

In January, our Legislature met to "fix" our state's insurance crisis, and ended up making things worse. It put the people of Florida on the hook for more risk without changing the problem.

Next, our Legislature proposed to "solve" property taxes. It passed a one-time cut and proposed a gimmicky, longer-term cut that has been thrown off the ballot. These ideas were passed within 72 hours of the time legislators first saw them.

The automobile insurance laws of Florida have been thrown into confusion with the expiration of no-fault insurance. Having had years to address it, the Legislature now will talk about making a fix after the fact.

The election "reform" passed last spring has wreaked havoc with the presidential primary, committed the state to another rushed switch of voting machines, and opened the door for further mischief.

On Wednesday, the Legislature will convene yet again for our latest state "crisis," this one a shortfall in the state budget. Here's betting the result does not put Florida on a stable long-term path.

Florida's eight-year term limits, which I supported, have produced a fast-track scramble to power. New legislators barely in their 20s line up money and votes years in advance.

Florida's two major political parties, Democrat and Republican, are money-laundering machines, great gaping maws for special-interest money to pour into legislative elections.

The Legislature is more of a closed shop than ever. To be blunt, most legislators are dummy cogs in the decision-making process. Decisions are made by a few insiders and announced to the rest, who ratify the deal.

Now, after all this complaining, do I have a solution?

Not a magic one, sorry. Our Legislature needs to develop institutional heft beyond the snap judgment of the moment. Florida needs more of a standing policy engine - whether it be a stronger legislative staff, an outfit with the gravitas of the federal Government Accounting Office, or from our universities.

But we also need a better crop of candidates and a better crop of voters. As long as running for the Legislature subjects you to ridiculous attacks, and as long as voters side with whichever candidate promises the best candy, then we will continue to stagger along.

And yet, an old faith from childhood tugs at me, and makes me believe that we can still do better.

* * *

Want to talk about it? Today's is live chat day on TroxBlog. From noon to 1 p.m. I'll be taking reader comments and questions. Just click on the "Blogs" link from www.tampabay.com.

[Last modified October 1, 2007, 21:29:10]


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