Now that we all know we'll be enjoying our ride to hell in a modified handbasket - rather than taking a fast train to Tampa, Gov. Scott - we can put the bad stuff behind us, right? From here on, life is going to be one big Charlie Sheen popsicle on our slow slide into obsolescence, a numb-faced yawn, just regular old life happening. Don't bet Florida Senate Pres. Mike Haridopolos' dirty blond hair on it!
Haridopolos and his cohorts in the Senate have been racing through committee after committee in Tallahassee, hoping to ram through a relatively complex, extremely controversial piece of legislation known as the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR). If all goes well, this little political euphemism will make its way to the Senate floor within the first two weeks of session, and it could wind up on next year's November ballot as a constitutional amendment initiative just in time for you to shoot yourself in the face with a teabag full of buckshot.
TABOR is nothing new. Similar attempts at capping state revenues via cold-hearted political-science algorithms have been popping up in Florida since 2008, only to be summarily discarded. What is new is the fact that there are absolutely no limits this year to how far Republicans will go to grandstand their message of cuts-cuts-cuts in the name of fiscal courage. TABOR is their new red badge.
But TABOR is also a proven failure, a fact pointed out last week by both the League of Women Voters and the non-partisan Washington, D.C., research and policy group Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The only state to pass a similar measure, Colorado, has been living it down since 1992; it repealed the population-plus-inflation-equals-zero-sum nightmare by 2005. Twenty other states have defeated similar measures.
So why's it so bad? If the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report is to be believed (hint: it is), the proposed state amendment effectively "suppresses public services over time and hinders the state's ability to provide its citizens with the quality of life they need and demand, even in prosperous times." By diminishing "population" and "inflation" down to constants - which they really can't be in a state that's probably going to see an 88 percent increase in poor old people during the next 20 years - TABOR devalues diversity and compassion. In Colorado, the measure resulted in the state dropping from 35th to 49th in K-12 education spending and 23rd to 48th in prenatal care. Florida, the report points out, is already at 49th in K-12 spending as a percentage of personal income. We can't go much lower!
The projected cuts to education, prisons, elderly care and public health services under the TABOR scheme are just one side of the equation. On the other side are decreased municipal-bond ratings that would indirectly affect the state's ability to improve its infrastructure. Florida could be weighed down with an additional $1.75 million in debt service for every $1 billion it sells in bonds, according to the CBPP report. That sound you're hearing is doom, even if it looks like the Republicans' faces are mouthing "fiscal responsibility."
But it's not all bad news on the constitutional amendment front! Remember how we were wringing our hands about the threat of ditto-heads coming to steal away the reproductive rights of Florida women? (See "Planned personhood," Jan. 27). Well, Personhood Florida leader Bryan Longworth and his tea-bagger drawl of "you're not alone" surfaced again early last week on floridaindependent.com, darn-tootin' his fists at the conservative base that has not embraced the radical idea that a semen-smudged uterus deserves more rights than a full-grown woman. He's claiming that those who refuse to join the personhood movement are just doing so because they "have to come to grips with the fact that they participated in taking their own child's life." That's right, he's accusing Republicans of having abortions. Holy crap.
The best part of the story, however, comes in Longworth's revelation that the whole Roe v. Wade anniversary upsurge in January only garnered his group about 1,000 signatures, meaning there is absolutely no chance that personhood will make it onto Florida's ballot in 2012. This is what qualifies as good news.
Is Florida the next Wisconsin? The Florida Chamber of Commerce certainly thinks so: "Unfortunately, Florida is next on the union bosses' hit list," said Mark Wilson, the chamber's president, in a radio advertisement that aired on March 3. "They're bussing protestors to Central Florida, right now, to harass your courageous representatives."
The ad was aired a few hours before teachers arrived at the offices of Reps. Chris Dorworth, R-Lake Mary, Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, and Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, to protest proposed education cuts and teacher pay reform by the Florida Legislature. Curiously, the ad neglected to mention that the protest was organized not by out-of-state union bosses, but by Seminole UniServ, the umbrella union for the four bargaining units representing all Seminole County Public Schools employees. "Absolutely no one was bussed in at all," the union's executive director, Tony Gentile, told Happytown™. "I would say 98 percent of the people, or maybe even more, were from Seminole County."
Where did the chamber get the idea that the leftist versions of the Koch Brothers were marshalling their union troops in Central Florida? "I'm not going to divulge how we receive our information," says the chamber's spokeswoman, Edie Ousley. She did divulge, however, that there is "a war room up and running," and that the chamber is "completely and totally prepared to invest in the battle should the unions decide to crescendo their activities." Hooray for new verbs!
Considering the Mar. 8 "Awake the State" protests slated for more than 20 Florida cities, Stephanie Porta, director of the liberal group Organize Now, takes a guess at what the chamber is really after: "I think they're trying to just get ahead of the curve and define what they see is about to happen," she says. "To make sure that you know that these [protestors] are evil people."
Speaking of "evil," Lawrence Walters, the Altamonte Springs attorney perhaps best known as the chief legal adversary of Polk County God-Sheriff Grady Judd, has thrown his hat into the ring in yet another First Amendment battle.
On Mar. 2 Walters and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a petition in the state's Fifth District Court of Appeal on behalf of the Fully Informed Jury Association, a group that encourages jurors to intentionally vote for acquittal if they disagree with the law itself, regardless of whether the defendant violated the law or not. Prior to Jan. 31, FIJA member Mark Schmidter had been regularly posting himself outside of the Orange County courthouse downtown, handing out pamphlets with this message on the cover: "What rights do you have as a juror that THE JUDGE WON'T TELL YOU?"
But on that last day in January, Ninth Judicial Circuit Court judge Belvin Perry Jr. banned the practice of passing out pamphlets to jurors, arguing in an administrative order that "restriction upon expressive conduct and the dissemination of leaflets and other materials containing written information tending to influence summoned jurors as they enter the courthouse is necessary to serve the State's compelling interest in protecting the integrity of the jury system."
Naturally, the ACLU and Walters think otherwise. "[T]he ban violates the United States and Florida constitutions by censoring political speech and expressive conduct based solely on its content, with no compelling state interest, and imposes a prior restraint on that protected speech," they stated in a press release.
Since Perry's decision, Schmidter and FIJA organizer James Cox have moved to assemble a strange collection of bedfellows to support their cause, ranging from the East Orlando Tea Party to the UCF chapter of NORML. The common heartstring that FIJA has plucked in its presentations to the aforementioned groups is the travesty of "victimless crimes" - whether it be for possession of a dime bag or an unlicensed Glock - that could, and should, be protested by an intentionally hung jury.
And we thought we'd never get to use the term "intentionally hung" again.