Monday, February 18, 2013

Public Servants Being Kicked to the Curb

The legislature, led by Will Weatherford, son-in-law of former House Speaker Allen Bense, is moving to end the existing opportunity for public employees to get a reasonable pension after decades of dedicated public service. 

They offer the argument that promising government workers a defined retirement creates a potentially unacceptable financial liability on the backs of Florida taxpayers.  “Potentially” is emphasized because this is a disingenuous argument based upon the premise that the Florida Retirement System cannot be self supporting, which is false. 

The proponents of this massive shift in public policy ask, why should government workers be assured a retirement income when retirement for the “rest” of the working world is subject to the economic winds of the time and there are no guarantees. 

Their answer is to have public employees deposit part of their earnings, combined with any contribution that might be provided from the public employer, in some kind of investment program that would rise or fall with Florida’s ever undulating economic tides.  Then, at the end of their working lives, this “investment” would theoretically earn enough income for them to live on when they are no longer able to earn it by being employed.  They say this gives public employees “complete control of their money” but they remain silent on how little return it will provide when needed, given the ability of a low-earning government worker to make complex investments in a very fickle and dangerous stock market with any degree of competence. 

This push is made worse because it is a fraud being perpetuated upon those unable to object.  Speaking up these days is like standing up in foxhole in the middle of a firefight.  The probability of survival is nil. 

Removing a public worker’s expectations for a reasonable retirement completely ignores the reasons these folks choose to work for the public in the first place.  Most choose to suffer the personal disrespect from elected officials, tea-baggers, and the right wing of this country’s Republican body-politic because they want to make the place a better world to live in, and they fully believe that what they do, even if only in a small way, will help achieve that. 

But more importantly, they do not work for the public because they have any remote expectation that they will be able to accumulate personal wealth.  They know they will not.  They will never, for example, have the opportunity to build a business and get rich selling widgets, designing bridges or buying and selling hospitals.  Whether they consciously acknowledge it or not, they give up these opportunities when they agree to work for the public.  

Most folks who go to work every day for government probably do know and understand this, but they believe that by doing their jobs, whether it’s providing a water supply, approving housing developments, protecting water quality or managing flood waters, they believe that what they do is important to the future of all our lives and our way of life. 

For this, they agree to be paid from the bottom of the income barrel and suffer sometimes years with no increase in income, even when the cost-of-living threatens to reduce the quality of their families’ living to that of the most impoverished.  In return for giving up the opportunity to ever be rich, they believe their ability to survive when they can no longer earn their way will be the guaranteed availability of a reasonable and dependable income to feed, house and clothe them when they can no longer do it for themselves and need it. 

Scott and the Weatherfordites will also have you believe that the Florida retirement system cannot be self-supporting.  This is nonsense.  Until recently, it has been one of the healthiest retirement programs in the nation because there has been enough money coming in to reasonably meet the cost of its anticipated retirement payouts in the future.  It’s only in recent years as the legislature kept upping the obligatory contributions of the employing agencies and reducing the amount the employee was expected to contribute that the program has become weakened. 

This situation can be fixed by going back to such times when the vesting period was longer, employees made a significant contribution, and the retirement age was older.  Yes, it will be resisted by the public worker but it will be immeasurably better than disingenuously trying to fool them into thinking they will be able to set aside enough of their constrained public incomes over their careers to keep them above the poverty level after retirement, which, again,  is nonsense. 

Finally, Scott and Weatherford, if they continue to disrespect the public worker by denying them a decent retirement and suddenly require all new public employees to go the 401k route, they will trigger the very mess they say they are trying to avoid. If they require all new employees to invest in the stock market through private investment programs instead of in the Florida Retirement System, they will be shutting down the life-blood of revenue the system needs to sustain itself and the remaining obligation to current retirees will, as they fear, fall indeed upon the backs of the taxpayers.  This wouldn’t happen until the system’s reserves are depleted but it will surely happen and it would be a stupidity of epochal proportion.  The burden without the contributions from the worker in terms of production and dollars would be tremendous.  It would be dead weight.

Simply put, if Will Weatherford and Rick Scott take away the defined benefit opportunity from public employees by trying to convince them they will be able to put enough money in a 401k investment program to assure they will have enough to live on after a lifetime of low wages, it will be a travesty.  The Florida Retirement System can be refortified and fixed without forcing an alternative that is disingenuous and misleading to the point of being fraudulent upon those who are defenseless and will suffer the most because of it.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Former Florida Governor Bob Graham: “We now face one of the greatest emergencies in Florida’s modern history.”

Former Florida Governor and U.S. Senator
Bob Graham
In a letter published this morning by the Florida Conservation Coalition, former Florida Governor and U. S. Senator, Bob Graham, expressed concern that, “Our prized and supposedly well-protected rivers and springs are ‘sick’ from pollution and in need of restoration and protection by our state agencies and a legislature that shares our citizens’ concerns and determination to correct the current abuses of negligence.”
He described the situation as, “… one of the greatest emergencies in Florida’s modern history.”
Referring to an earlier letter published by the Orlando Sentinel and Tampa Bay Times, Graham’s letter today is an urgent appeal for all concerned Floridians to contact their state legislators and urge them to restore and protect what's left of Florida's natural environment.
 “Our State legislators will more likely act to protect our environment if they know that concerned Floridians are paying attention to how they perform and will hold them accountable,” he said.
“The upcoming 2013 legislative session will be a critical juncture in the movement to protect and restore our natural resources” – Bob Graham
He asks for summaries of citizens’ visits with legislators along with their comments and concerns to be forwarded to the FCC.
Governor Graham’s letter is published here in full with the permission of the Florida Conservation Coalition followed by his letter of January 30, cosigned with Nathaniel Reed, FCC Vice Chair and former South Florida Water Management District Board member.  Reed is widely known for his concerns for natural Florida and served as Assistant National Secretary of Interior for Fish, Wildlife and National Parks under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.
Dear Florida Conservation Coalition Member,
“We now face one of the greatest emergencies in Florida’s modern history. Our prized and supposedly well-protected rivers and springs are "sick" from pollution and in need of restoration and protection by our state agencies and a Legislature that shares our citizens' concerns and determination to correct the current abuses of negligence.” These are the words of Nathaniel Reed and myself in a recent guest column in the Orlando Sentinel and in the Tampa Bay Times. As Florida Conservation Coalition (FCC) members, members of affiliate organizations, and concerned citizens of Florida we need your help to remind our representatives in Tallahassee that Florida’s water and natural resources sustain our economy and quality of life and define who we are as Floridians.
The upcoming 2013 legislative session will be a critical juncture in the movement to protect and restore our natural resources. Already, many bills that will define the future of Florida’s environment have been written. Our State legislators will more likely act to protect our environment if they know that concerned Floridians are paying attention to how they perform and will hold them accountable.
The FCC is comprised of over 50 environmental organizations and over 1,000 dedicated individuals. There is no membership fee to join and the FCC has never solicited a donation.
The FCC has asked little, but we are asking you now to contribute to our mutual mission by contacting your local legislators and sharing with them your passion and concern for protecting Florida’s environment. Attached for your information and use (and to leave with legislators, if you wish) are 8 key FCC principles for environmental stewardship. Please give us a summary of your visit with legislators and their comments and concerns.
The legislative session starts March 5, so now is the time to act.
If you have any questions or need any assistance, feel free to contact Ryan Smart, Director of Operations, at
Best regards,
Bob Graham
FCC Chairman

Here’s the letter by Governor Graham and Nathaniel Reed published in the Tampa Bay Times and Orlando Sentinel January 30th:
Bad policies pose historic threats to Fla. environment
By Bob Graham and Nathaniel Reed | Guest columnists
Nathaniel Reed
January 30, 2013
Recent investigative reporting by Kevin Spear in the Orlando Sentinel reveals the dramatic and widespread pollution and flow problems facing so many of Florida's rivers and springs. These reports were echoed by editorials across the state calling on Florida's governor, Department of Environmental Protection and Legislature to take action to protect and restore our impaired waterways.
Yet instead of resolving the serious problems that threaten our state's most precious natural resources, efforts in Tallahassee have focused on rolling back environmental safeguards and growth-management guidelines, cutting funding for conservation and regulation, reducing enforcement against polluters and liquidating public lands.
Severe budget cuts are seriously compromising the ability of Florida's DEP and water management districts to adequately protect our state's natural resources. Funding for many important conservation, restoration, monitoring, research, enforcement and education programs has been drastically reduced or eliminated.
Our state has also lost decades of valuable knowledge and expertise from significant layoffs, resulting in less capable agencies with insufficient resources and demoralized personnel. Although the DEP recently claimed "these reductions have done nothing to erode the agency's role in regulating industry and protecting the environment," it is not hard to find evidence to the contrary.
In 2012 the St. Johns River Water Management District cited "staffing capabilities" when asked why it reduced the number of monitoring stations in the St. Johns' lower basin by nearly two-thirds.
In addition, the recent decision by the Northwest Florida Water Management District to delay setting minimum flows and levels for Wakulla Springs for 11 years raises serious concerns about the ability of Florida's water-management districts to perform their critical missions at current funding and staffing levels. Reduced monitoring and legal protections endanger our environment and public health, while polluters profit.
Efforts are under way now by the DEP to streamline permitting requirements for large water users that will result in longer permits, less oversight and no additional requirements for conservation and efficiency. These changes benefit select industries at the expense of our water resources and the majority of Floridians.
On Gov. Rick Scott's watch, unwise policy decisions, draconian budget cuts and the excessive influence of special interests have put Florida on the brink of losing 40 years of progress on environmental protection, land conservation and growth management. This is bad water-management policy and even worse economic policy for our state.
We now face one of the greatest emergencies in Florida's modern history. Our prized and supposedly well-protected rivers and springs are "sick" from pollution and in need of restoration and protection by our state agencies and a Legislature that shares our citizens' concerns and determination to correct the current abuses of negligence.
The Wekiva River, north of Orlando, is designated as an Outstanding Florida Water and a national Wild and Scenic River, and is protected by two major pieces of state legislation. Tragically, the Wekiva remains sick in terms of both water quality and quantity. The three major springs in the Wekiva River have reported nitrate concentrations 480 percent higher than the maximum levels for healthy waters.
And while the largest of Wekiva's springs, Wekiwa and Rock, have reported flows below established minimum flows and levels for the past two years, the St. Johns district refuses to meet its statutory duty of restoring flows to these natural jewels.
As a result, the Florida Conservation Coalition and our partners are hosting "Speak Up Wekiva" at Wekiwa Springs State Park on Feb. 16. We are organizing this event to celebrate our outstanding water resources, educate and engage the public and policymakers about the challenges facing the river and the springs that feed it and advocate for the protection and restoration of all of Florida's impaired waterways.
It's time for Floridians to speak up for our environment and ensure its protection for generations to come.
Bob Graham, a former U.S. senator and Florida governor, chairs the Florida Conservation Coalition. Nathaniel Reed has served seven governors and two presidents, and is the coalition's vice chairman.



Sunday, February 3, 2013

Rick Scott: Oblivious of the Obvious

Rick Scott made millions for his company buying and selling hospitals using profits generated by defrauding the American public of Medicare money intended to help the sickest and poorest of this country’s elderly.  Eventually, with the feds sniffing around, Scott was forced out so the company could claim a new leaf had been turned.  Even so, he was paid hundreds of millions in dollars and stocks and looked back only long enough to deny all allegations that he knew anything illegal was going on. 
It could be argued that the hundreds of millions he was paid were the same dollars ripped illegally from the Medicare system.  Ultimately, the Federal justice system fined the company over a billion dollars for the company’s billing practices of charging for medical procedures never provided or over-billing for those that were, all of which occurred under Scott’s command and control before he left the company.  The fine was one of the largest such punitive judgments ever levied.
Then, Scott, with the massive pay-off in his pocket, decided to run for Governor of the State of Florida and even though he was virtually unknown at the time and totally devoid of suitable experience, successfully bought enough tea bagger votes to actually win the race. For all practical purposes, he spent over $70 million of that money to “buy” the seat.
If you’re like me, it makes one’s stomach churn to realize what happened.  Here’s a guy whose company ripped off billions of taxpayer dollars, got paid hundreds of millions of those same dollars even though it happened under his leadership and left denying he knew anything about it.  Then, armed with a wagon load of indignant denial and arrogance, he used the money to buy the governorship of Florida.  Nausea is the term that comes to mind for the way it makes one feel.
Unbelievably, Scott is back buying votes in order to get him where he wants to be using money that isn’t his.  Only this time, vying for a second term, he’s using state coffers to buy the votes of those constituencies he stupidly angered over the last two years.  He has started with the teachers and the environmentalists.
Media accounts have him declaring there is now such a surplus in state revenues that he can give all K-12 teachers a $2500 raise and more for other education purposes.  For the environmentalists, who have skewered him relentlessly for his regressive and destructive environmental policies, he is offering to return some of the conservation land acquisition money he stripped from the budgets of the past two years and to begin “restoring” the state’s freshwater springs.
Both the teachers and environmentalists are savvy to what is happening.  With his facing election for a second term, the CEO-centric governor is again simply trying to buy votes.  Sadly, they can only acknowledge this turn-about by smiling and saying thanks knowing full well it is nothing more than pandering at its worst, totally inadequate, clearly self-serving, and worse, bald faced cynicism.  Instead they should be working furiously to get him un-elected for all he has done despite the certainty of retribution should he nevertheless win.  It is the ugly side of politics. 
He deserves no thanks for anything.  His newfound largesse is no indication he has suffered some revelation and now miraculously realizes that the qualities of the state’s educational and natural systems truly are important to its future.  No, this is nothing more than the same arrogant Rick Scott continuing to do what he does best, using the money of others to achieve his personal goals, full speed, oblivious of the obvious.
It will take years to re-establish the state’s capacity to properly protect what’s left of its natural systems and to re-institute the laws that require developers to expand their focus beyond the bottom line to broader matters of public concern.  Technical competence of and confidence in the state’s regulatory agencies has been seriously decimated.  Getting back thin and meaningless morsels of what was taken has nothing to do with a newly enlightened governor or a brighter future for Florida.  It’s all about Rick Scott and his supporters who find his incompetence useful.