- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

March 7

Pensacola (Fla.) News Journal on state of the Sunshine State:

We heard from Gov. Rick Scott last week. And we heard from former Gov. Charlie Crist in response. The state of the state speeches are little more than shallow political ritual. Signaling the beginning of another legislative session, they come and go like starting bells to a school day. And unlike the lofty addresses of history’s greatest leaders, we will little note nor long remember what was said last week in Tallahassee.

So today, in pursuit of the true state of the state, we shun the futile search for substance in modern politicians. We look instead to the recently published study from the LeRoy Collins Institute at Florida State University, “Tougher Choices: Shaping Florida’s Future.” Authored by economists from The Bureau of Economic and Business Research at the University of Florida, the report is a deep read. It’s thoughtful. It’s data-based. And the UF-FSU alliance that gave birth to the report is a stronger symbol of cooperation and unity than anything coming out of the legislature. So from Jimbo Fisher to Billy Donovan, Floridians of all allegiances should take heed.

The report is a sequel to a 2005 study from the Collins Institute titled “Tough Choices” that determined our state was overly reliant on the housing market while ignoring investment our public schools, higher education and statewide infrastructure. Sadly, the update finds that the decade-old warnings fell on deaf ears, and the state has degraded due to that inaction. Hence this report’s title: “Tougher Choices.”

The past still haunts us. The 2005 report - despite warning about the housing market - did not foresee how bad it would get. Now, we have a state tax base that’s stretched thin, leaving little room to pay for the improvements that we need in education, infrastructure and our environment.

The study says raising the state sales tax by a penny or two would not create an unreasonable burden or economic inefficiency. It also proposes the tax on Internet purchases and application of the sales tax to gas purchases as potential avenues for broadening the entire sales tax base.

Of course, that would require a populace and politicians bold enough to approach the idea of raising taxes of any kind. Again, “Tough Choices.”

Overall, the report is not rosy, but it is realistic. Maybe the most foreboding warning it presents is the condition of our public schools.

Florida’s K-12 per-student spending and teacher salaries are lagging not only behind the United States, but perhaps more troublingly, behind the South. It finds that Florida’s class-size amendment has not produced the intended results. More teachers were hired at the expense of teacher salaries, which thereby reduced teacher quality - a cycle that the report claims is worsening …

So where do we get more money to fix our schools that are falling behind?

Essentially, the study proposes removing some of the restraints of The Florida Education Finance Program that is intended to equalize educational resources across all 67 Florida districts. The report says:

“Allowing districts that choose to do so to charge additional (unequalized) discretionary millage sufficient to bring per student spending in their districts up to the national average would help .. This would allow districts that want to fund education to do so without having to convince the rest of the state that the investment is worthwhile.”

It’s a compelling idea worth serious discussion that falls on the side of local control and community accountability …

Story Continues →