Sunday, September 07, 2014

In Florida government is designed-to-fail: for voters, November is a time to cast aside that hopelessness … by gimleteye

Sometimes to see what is in front of your own nose you have to look up for a minute before retraining your focus down to the subjects at hand. In the Treasure Coast Palm, opinion writer Eve Samples reads the recent report by the National Academy of Sciences, "Progress Toward Restoring the Everglades" -- a frequent theme of our blog. "But how do you eradicate political foot-dragging and bureaucracy?" ("Lots of villains in this story, but these pose biggest threat to Indian River Lagoon", July 3, 2014)

Samples' audience is different than ours. She is writing for the attention of legions of coastal residents living near the polluted St. Lucie River; the meandering, gigantic outflow from Lake Okeechobee in the center of the state.

In South Florida, our audience for water pollution includes boaters and fishermen and users of Biscayne Bay and residents who treasure Everglades National Park and the Florida Keys. Where Samples casts her gaze, in Palm Beach and Martin County, residents and newspaper readers are afflicted by horrendous wasting of waterways and diminished real estate values where toxic algae blooms meet the shoreline. Here, we lament the same vanishing quality of life.

People are angry and frustrated. Samples writes, "There are plenty of villains in this story … but none are as menacing as these: political foot-dragging and bureaucracy." So how do you eradicate these villains, she asks?

First, voters in separate Florida counties ought to understand that our shared problems don't have geopolitical boundaries: they are state-wide issues. Florida voters need to pay attention to how their state legislators -- elected officials most people never connect to water quality -- deal with these issues.

What voters would discover is that the underlying villain in the story is "government-designed-to-fail". It's not that we don't have regulations against polluters; they are either un-enforced or written with such broad loopholes and fuzzy language that they can't be enforced.

Back in the old days, there was a sense of bipartisan cooperation that government ought to serve people and that protecting our quality of life and environment were essential aspects of the mission.

These days, the extremist right -- embodied by a GOP chased even further rightward by the Tea Party -- animates the vision that government itself is the problem. Instead of fixing government, they want to break it. And break it, they have.

It began innocuously enough, with the agreement of so many voters that government needed to be pinned back. In the words of Grover Norquist, reduced so that it could fit in the size of a bathtub and be drowned there.

But what voters didn't understand is that the underlying motivation of the right wing was to fix government so that it COULDN'T serve its missions: hollowing out budgets, cutting critical staff, and putting ideologues in charge as political appointees.

At the heart of the radical GOP agenda in Florida is a hopelessness.

This November, voters need to cast aside that hopelessness. What happens to government when it is designed to fail is that cronyism fills into the empty space. Insiders get to do what they want, based on quid pro quos extracted during the cycles of negative campaigning.

Remember how Jeb Bush stood before his inaugural audience in 2003, gesturing to the government buildings in Tallahassee and promised the answer to over-reaching government was to empty those buildings of workers? It didn't work out so well for Florida. Government wasn't stripped of workers so much as hobbled by relentless pressure from special interests who are out to take what they can for themselves and impose the costs on the rest of us.

If you break it, you own it -- so goes the saying. Voters in Florida now need to take ownership from the schemers and profiteers who rule Tallahassee. That's the answer to Eve Samples' question.

"Lots of villains in this story, but these pose biggest threat to Indian River Lagoon"
Eve Samples, Treasure Coast Palm, July 3, 2014

There are plenty of villains in this story.

Swamp-draining profiteers.

Burmese pythons and feral cats.

Now we have rising seas to worry about, too.

But none of those threats are as menacing as these:

Political foot-dragging and bureaucracy.

It's the tale of the Everglades and its connecting waterways, as told in a 240-page federal report released last week called "Progress Toward Restoring the Everglades." The report, published every two years, is mandated by the federal government in an attempt to keep Everglades restoration on track.

So far, the results have been underwhelming.

Fifteen years after Florida and the federal government signed off on a $13.5 billion suite of projects known as the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP, for short), these realities persist:

The former River of Grass still needs more cleansed freshwater from Lake Okeechobee.

A lot more.

And the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries still need less polluted freshwater from Lake O.

A lot less.

Redesigning the state's plumbing system to accomplish that requires large amounts of money and political vision — both scarce commodities in Tallahassee and Washington.

Meanwhile, the ecosystem that was imperiled more than a century ago when developers drained the Everglades now faces threats from invasive species (including Burmese pythons and, that's right, feral cats).

In the decades to come, climate change is expected to compound the Everglades' problems by straining water supply and enabling saltwater intrusion, according to the progress report, published by the National Research Council.

Lest we get too discouraged, there are some signs of hope.

The report points to the potential for relief from the Central Everglades Planning Project. Known as CEPP, it would move more water from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades without requiring the immediate purchase of more land. (The project would divert less than 15 percent of current releases to the St. Lucie Estuary.)

The report's authors temper that hope by reminding us of court-mandated water quality rules that could limit CEPP's potential.

They encourage the agencies working on CEPP — the South Florida Water Management District and Army Corps of Engineers — "to recognize the urgency" and find solutions to those constraints.

"Without such solutions, redistribution of existing water may not be feasible until 2035 or beyond," the report's authors write.

Money is another hurdle for CEPP. The agencies working on CEPP envision $100 million a year.

At that rate, construction wouldn't be done for four decades — "exceedingly long for a system already in significant decline," the report's authors state.

Exceedingly long.

It's the pace we've become accustomed to.

That doesn't make it any more acceptable.

With the arrival of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio on the Treasure Coast last month, every locally important political figure short of President Barack Obama has visited the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon.

They've seen the Gatorade bottles of tainted water and muck.

They've looked at the aerial pictures of our fouled-up river.

Gov. Rick Scott and the state Legislature recently signed off on more than $230 million worth of Everglades — and lagoon-related projects — but it's a small increment compared to what's needed to redirect flows from Lake Okeechobee.

That won't change until we eradicate the biggest threats to saving the Indian River Lagoon and Everglades.

But how do you eradicate political foot-dragging and bureaucracy?

Eve Samples is a columnist for Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers. This column reflects her opinion. Contact her at 772-221-4217 or


Ross said...

Same story of failure-by-design in education. Create failing public schools, starve them of resources, and fund private alternatives for cronies.

Anonymous said...

"But how do you eradicate political foot-dragging and bureaucracy?"
Eradicate term limits. With the current two-term limit, we only get one chance to hold someone accountable, and an elected is entirely unaccountable that final term, half the total.
Pythons, as an equal opportunity consumer, will help reduce feral cats.

Anonymous said...

Recall, though, that the term limit movement itself was in response to institutionalized corruption of legislatures, with special interests and the patronage system securing a lock hold on law making. I agree that term limits have proven their own devil in disguise. We need to refocus on campaign finance laws: we can't do worse with what we have now. Publicly finance campaigns and bar private contributions.