George Gibbs Center for Economic Prosperity

Sou⁠t⁠h Flor⁠i⁠da Sun Sen⁠t⁠⁠i⁠nel Ed⁠i⁠⁠t⁠or⁠i⁠al: Issues ⁠t⁠o wa⁠t⁠ch ⁠i⁠n year ahead

By: The James Madison Institute / 2014

South Florida Sun Sentinel
“Issues to watch in year ahead”
December 31, 2014

As we turn the calendar on 2014 today, we offer you our quick take on issues to watch in 2015.So without further ado…Presidential politics: The midterm election is barely over. The new Congress is about to be seated. And already, here it comes: jockeying for the 2016 presidential election. Florida, always a swing state, will take center stage again as two native sons — former Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio — test the waters for the GOP nomination. In the end, we suspect Rubio will wind up sitting this one out, given the money and support already lining up behind Bush. Prepare yourselves for the real possibility of a Bush v. Clinton match-up.Water: Essential for human life and our state’s growth, water will be a defining issue of the 2015 legislative session. Look for regional tensions over funding as Central Florida lawmakers, who possess oversized control in Tallahassee, seek a greater share of funds for water projects north of the Everglades.Health care for the poor: With pressure mounting from hospital and business leaders, the Legislature may finally find a way to secure some of that $51 billion in Obamacare money meant to expand health care coverage to Florida’s poor. Senate President Andy Gardiner says he is open to considering a private-option plan that doesn’t expand Medicaid, a bugaboo for Republican leaders who believe the state and nation cannot afford it. House Speaker Steve Crisafulli is more guarded, but hasn’t ruled out a business coalition’s proposal to draw federal funds into a private insurance program that would cover about 800,000 people. And remember, Gov. Rick Scott endorsed the concept of expansion in 2013. Floridians are paying to cover poor people in other states. It’s time some of that money — and care — came home.Flooding: While Washington continues to debate whether humans contribute to climate change, regional leaders are focusing less on what’s causing sea-level rise and more on what to do about the growing problem of flooding. Building codes, increasing the height of roadbeds and addressing salt-water intrusion in the region’s drinking water wells are all real-life challenges that require pragmatic solutions — soon.High-stakes testing: Given the backlash in 2014, the state should give public schools a reprieve from the overuse of high-stakes testing this year. Members of the tea party are calling for change. So are teachers, principals, school board members and families. Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie notes the district has more than 1,500 required assessment tests and “all the focus is on assessment, rather than how we’re going to change.” Scott has called for a long-overdue review of these tests. Given the challenges his administration has faced in creating a new standardized test to replace the FCAT this year, he should call a timeout on its consequences and spend 2015 getting assessments done right.Cuba: Few foresaw President Obama’s go-it-alone approach to normalize U.S. relations with the island nation. His directive drew mixed reaction in Florida, from hostility in parts of Little Havana to anticipation from Florida business owners. While Rubio promises to block the naming of an ambassador and any funding for an embassy in Havana, all eyes remain fixed on the Cuban government for signs of political and economic change. On just one measure, can you imagine the difference unfettered Internet access would make in one of the world’s most unplugged nations?Gambling: Scott last spring proposed a new gambling compact with the Seminole tribe, but ran into legislative roadblocks and out of time. With the five-year compact set to expire Aug. 1, the path looks no easier this legislative session. The new president of the Florida Senate, Andy Gardiner, is a staunch opponent of gambling who would scrap the Florida Lottery if he could. He recently told the News Service of Florida that he doesn’t care if the state loses the $116 million per year it receives for giving the Seminoles exclusive rights to certain table games. Given the competing interests in the negotiations, it’s a good bet the future of table games will be decided in court.Jobs up, living costs, too: The national economy is on the mend, unemployment is down and more people are leaving jobs for better ones. Still, too many of us haven’t seen signs of a recovery. Nearly half of South Floridians are one financial emergency away from poverty, according to census data. The numbers point to a real need for Florida to focus on growing jobs that pay a living wage.Charter schools: Broward and Palm Beach counties, along with school districts across the state, are increasingly standing up to fly-by-night charter school operators who have no business getting public tax dollars to open schools today that close tomorrow. But given the political clout of charter schools, it’s going to take the muscle of industry leaders to improve the authorization process for new schools. Will the industry step up and help police itself?Medical marijuana: The argument against the November ballot initiative that would have authorized the use of medical marijuana in Florida was that the measure was too broad and didn’t belong in the state constitution. Given that 58 percent of voters supported its passage, lawmakers should heed the public will and get it right legislatively. Action is unlikely, though, which means Floridians will likely face another ballot drive in the presidential election year. For close to a year after its passage, the state still can’t create the regulatory mechanism to allow the sale of a non-euphoric brand of marijuana, called Charlotte’s Web, that has been shown to provide relief for children who suffer from seizure disorders.Pension reform: 2015 could be the year Florida finally gets serious about needed pension reform at the municipal government level, thanks to Crisafulli. Last year, Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, crafted a similar measure after municipalities and their fire and police unions agreed that change was overdue. Unfortunately, the bill didn’t pass the House. According to the James Madison Institute, almost half of Florida’s cities have pension funds that are not actuarially sound.These issues and much more — including transportation funding, sports facilities and municipal elections — await us in 2015. But let’s leave those for another day.Today, let’s settle in for a fun weekend of football and family time.And with that, we wish you all a Happy New Year!