Photo by DAVID ALBERS
Two of the significant news stories that have come out of Tallahassee since the Florida Legislature opened its 2012 session this month deserve some comment.
And, it just so happens, both have deep Naples connections. That's a bit rare when it comes to stories emanating from a state capital that is a 433-mile drive to the northwest.
The first involves Gov. Rick Scott, who, of course, is a Naples resident. He is seeking legislative support for his proposed budget, which includes a significant increase — as in $1 billion significant — for education, specifically for grades K-12 in the public schools.
"I have heard loud and clear that Floridians want their money spent on education and jobs, without additional burdens on families and businesses, and this budget accomplishes that," Scott said back in December when he unveiled his spending plan.
The state's education budget this past year was $16.5 billion after a $1.35 billion cut from the 2010 budget. Scott proposed reversing the recession-fired trend of education cuts by taking money from health and human services.
Standing firmly in the way is state Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples, the chairman of the Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee.
He says Scott's proposed $2 billion cut in Medicaid reimbursements is unacceptable, because the cuts would have a devastating effect on Florida hospitals.
Hudson agrees with Scott that the Medicaid reimbursement system is "broken," but believes a cut at this time is wrongheaded. He said the system needs to be fixed first.
Scott, who is following through with his pledge to run state government as if it was a business, sees it differently.
He told Daily News reporter Ben Wolford that Medicaid needs to be revamped now, pointing out that the cost to the state has nearly doubled since 2002.
"I've got to be more persuasive," Scott told our reporter in response to a question about Hudson's opposition.
This cut in Medicaid to increase school spending is an important, often complex story that will play out in Tallahassee this session.
What's refreshing is the level of discourse, unencumbered to date by partisan politics, the kind that seems to plague Washington in unprecedented ways.
Both Scott and Hudson, neighbors of sorts and members of the same political party, have a big difference of opinion, yet they are keeping their arguments to the issue at hand in hopes of reaching an agreement. We don't see a logjam, meaning there will be some sort of compromise.
We're not chalking this refreshing level of discourse up to the fact that Scott and Hudson are both Republicans. We're still believers in the two-party system.
Perhaps our memory has been clouded by time, but it seems Washington used to work that way regardless of political party affiliation. The executive and legislative branches have always had different thoughts about spending, but often managed an agreement based on the realities involved.
Then again, perhaps that's just a bit of misplaced wistfulness.
The second story out of Tallahassee with a strong local connection was the unveiling of a public records website that makes it easy for citizens to review public employee wages and other government spending in Florida.
FloridaOpenGov.org is a massive database that allows easy sorting and number crunching. You can find per-capita spending information by city and county. You can find vendor lists to check state spending.
It's all free and courtesy of Naples-based think tank called the Foundation for Government Accountability.
Wolford, our reporter in Tallahassee, reported the think tank has spent $15,000 to collect the public records and put them in a searchable database for all to use. These records and millions more are the public's business and open for inspection under Florida law, but this makes them easy to access and review.
The Foundation for Government Accountability is headed by Tarren Bragdon of Naples. The group has been described as conservative as well as "right wing."
This has led to questions from media around the state about his group's motives for posting the salaries of state employees and other information. Some questions come from those who are ardent supporters of Florida's Sunshine Laws.
Our view is that any group that has made it easier to access and review public records deserves applause, plus encouragement to further build the database.
Lewis is editor of the Daily News; email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.