The first person to say it is unclear— most seem to attribute the phrase to Hall of Fame baseball manager Casey Stengel— but 2016 seemed to prove the old quote: "Never make predictions, especially about the future."
The journalist has an additional warning from the late, great Peter Jennings: "I don't think a reporter should give advice or make predictions."
But what would the end of one year be without a bit of forecasting about what will happen in the next? And while the Florida political world can always be counted on to produce an offbeat story or two, we can expect a few things to dominate the conversation in 2017. The unexpected will truly have to wait for another day.
THE ELECTION IS OVER. LONG LIVE THE ELECTION:
Now that the 2016 presidential election is done, there's only one thing for politicians to do— gear up for the 2018 midterm elections. And the best way to do that might be to pack away a few accomplishments and talking points in 2017. Republican Gov. Rick Scott is angling for the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Bill Nelson, potentially setting up a battle between two of the state's perennially underestimated politicians. Meanwhile, there's no shortage of would-be candidates possibly lining up to fight for Scott's current job— Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, outgoing Democratic Congresswoman Gwen Graham and Democratic trial lawyer and mega-donor John Morgan are just some of the marquee names who could jump into the contest. For those not interested in the governor's mansion or the Senate, three Cabinet posts will be up for grabs in 2018— Putnam, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Attorney General Pam Bondi are barred by term limits from running for re-election, and Bondi might be headed to Washington, D.C. early in 2017. A few candidates likely will make announcements before the middle of the year, but signs of who is serious about taking the plunge will be clear long before then.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:
Trying to predict anything that the nation's mercurial new chief executive will do is dangerous. But the part-time Floridian Donald Trump and his fellow Republicans have already floated some ideas that could affect the Sunshine State. Bondi is seen as a likely candidate for a position in the Trump administration, given her outspoken support for Trump during the campaign and her apparent interest in a Beltway job. On the policy front, some in the GOP hope Trump seizes the opportunity to reshape the relationship between Washington and the states. Turning the joint state-federal Medicaid program into a block grant, for example, would allow Florida lawmakers a much freer hand in deciding how the program works. Changes in trade policy could have repercussions for the state's ports. Stronger enforcement of immigration laws could also have unpredictable effects in a state where even the Republican Party is sometimes divided on how to treat undocumented immigrants.
One the key battles already shaping up for the 2017 legislative session focuses on whether the state should continue to spend tens of millions of dollars to attract tourism and business investment to Florida. Corcoran is an outspoken opponent of the spending. "When you're taking money out of the masses' pockets and then giving it literally— to the Democrats' argument— to the top 1 percent, to the detriment of everybody else, that is de facto socialism," Corcoran said in October during a panel discussion hosted by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a non-profit conservative think tank. Scott is just as determined to provide incentives to attract businesses, in this case $85 million worth. And Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, also supports some level of spending. "I don't know the magic number, and ... obviously we have to look at the budget and see what we've got, but I support the concept of funding some incentives to go find jobs," he said. A recent blow-up over a state tourism-promotion contract with Miami rapper Pitbull hasn't helped matters.
CORCORAN AND NEGRON TAKE COMMAND:
Every other year, when a new House speaker and a new Senate president take office, Capitol denizens debate whether and how the leaders will get along. The attention is particularly keen after Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, formally moved into their new roles following the November elections. Corcoran is almost universally viewed as a smart, hard-driving conservative who is willing to grind things to a halt if necessary to avoid compromising on certain issues. At least in public, Negron is more laid back and tends to the wonkish side on policy fights. They also have different priorities. The Senate president has floated an additional $1 billion in higher-education spending and new investment in the Everglades. Corcoran appears to be more interested in changing how Tallahassee works, implementing new lobbyist disclosure and budgeting rules. How those goals might come together— or collide— will determine how smoothly the 2017 session will go.
PINCHING PENNIES, A BILLION AT A TIME:
Cramping everyone's room to maneuver are economists' projections of how much money the state will bring in next year. The economy is still growing at a modest clip, but potential new income is being gobbled up by tax cuts and growing demand for services like education and Medicaid. It's incredibly hard to lock down exactly how much extra money the state will have to spend because there are several different ways of looking at it, but what's clear is that lawmakers won't have much room for budget add-ons. That will be particularly true if lawmakers want to once again hold local education property taxes steady regardless of rising home values, something that could consume $400 million in state money. Negron has acknowledged that some of his spending priorities will have to come from cutting other areas of the budget, but that could cause its own headaches in the form of advocates who support the programs on the chopping block.
The annual food fight that is a gambling bill is likely to return to the Legislature, this time as Scott and lawmakers make another attempt at hammering out a revised gaming agreement with the Seminole Tribe. A federal judge's ruling last month that the state had violated the tribe's exclusive rights to offer some games added impetus to the negotiations. But any package of gambling bills is likely to attract issues that make it incredibly difficult to get a deal done.
YOU FIX IT:
In addition to whatever they might want to do, lawmakers will also have to deal with a to-do list from the state Supreme Court and voters. The court, for example, struck down a new death-penalty law because it did not require unanimous jury recommendations to impose death sentences. The court also found unconstitutional parts of the workers' compensation insurance system. Meanwhile, voters approved allowing full-strength medical marijuana to be used in the treatment of numerous conditions. But the regulatory structure, and who could make a lot of money off the amendment, has to be approved by the Legislature. Lawmakers during the past few years have passed measures to allow limited uses of medical cannabis, but even that has resulted in a legal and regulatory morass still being sorted out.
EDITING THE CONSTITUTION:
After the 2017 session, a 37-member Constitution Revision Commission is expected to start working on a series of recommended changes to the Florida Constitution. The once-every-20-years process will be steered by people appointed by Scott, Corcoran, Negron and Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga, along with Bondi (or whoever is attorney general by then). It could mark Republicans' best chance to try to roll back provisions of the Constitution that they've found nettlesome in recent years. Court rulings on vouchers to pay for private school tuition could be targeted. So could judges themselves; Corcoran has floated the idea of a term limit for new judicial appointments. And lawmakers are likely to be interested in finding some way to avoid another long legal battle under the anti-gerrymandering Fair Districts amendments that voters approved in 2010. Possible solutions include an independent redistricting commission (which could draw bipartisan support) or finding some ways to weaken the amendments (not so much). The one catch is that any changes to the Constitution would still have to win the approval of 60 percent of Florida voters, and that has proven to be a difficult hurdle in recent years.
KEEPING AN EYE ON ZIKA:
Was the recent all-clear on local transmissions of Zika an indication that the virus' invasion of the state has stopped? Or was it just a function of cooler weather chasing away or killing the mosquitoes that carry the virus? Once things start to warm up again, the state will have a better idea of whether Zika was a one-year problem or a recurring nightmare. It's not just a public health concern; early indications are that the disease crimped Florida's tourism numbers a bit, which means a sustained presence could hurt tax revenues and employment. Another outbreak would also force the state and federal governments to come up with a plan, perhaps a more permanent one, to deal with the virus.