Thursday, May 14, 2015

WE love Fort Pierce

      As a former reporter who used to cover politics on the Treasure Coast, I try to keep up on what is happening in both the city of Fort Pierce and St. Lucie County. But somehow I overlooked Fort Pierce’s recent moves to annex major commercial corridors into the city.
      That is, until last week when Sunrise Ford received a letter saying the city plans to annex all the property along U.S. 1 between Midway and Ulrich roads. I headed right to City Hall and from the documents I received about the proposal, it was easy to figure out why Fort Piece wants to add those 112 acres. The taxable value of those parcels totals almost $34 million. The city will get an extra $223,371 next year in tax revenue if the annexation is approved. With the recent construction and improvements along the corridor, that figure is bound to go up significantly in subsequent years.
    Sunrise Ford went before the Fort Pierce Planning board Tuesday to voice our concern about the annexation.  We wanted to make sure it complied with state law and the city’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan.  We were particularly interested in determining whether or not we would be receiving a better level of services from the city for the hundreds of thousands of dollars we will have to pay in city taxes over the next decade.
      We were stunned when the board‘s chairman and assistant city attorney questioned Sunrise Ford’s allegiance to  Fort Pierce and its residents. Instead of addressing the services the city could provide to our dealership, as well as the other businesses along the corridor, those two city officials took umbrage that Sunrise Ford did not embrace the proposed annexation . They insinuated Sunrise Ford did not care about the city or its residents, which was just plain insulting.  
      Ever since Sunrise Ford was incorporated in downtown Fort Pierce in 1932, it has been one of Fort Pierce’s biggest boosters. Over the years it has sponsored  baseball teams, fishing and golf tournaments and many other city related events. Sunrise Ford was a major donor for the renovation of the Sunrise Theater, is an annual sponsor of the A.E. Backus Museum, consistently supports Main Street and was a main sponsor of  the Downtown Business Association’s monthly exhibits on Second Street.
     Sunrise Ford donated more than $100,000 to Learn To Read, a Fort Pierce based adult literacy program that has helped thousands of Fort Pierce residents. The dealership has generously subsidized the purchase of vehicles for the Restoration House, Mustard Seed and many other Fort Pierce churches and charities. We are business owners who actually live in the city.
      As a business, we have to weigh the economic benefits of paying substantially more in taxes for what appears to be no additional meaningful services. We did sign a contract with the city more than 10 years ago agreeing to annex should our property become contiguous with the city limits. But the city’s annexation strategy appears to be nothing more than a way to generate money for a financially strapped City Hall.
     The Planning Board recommended by a vote of 7-3 that the annexation be approved by the City Commission when it meets on June 1. We don’t know what the final outcome will be, but want to assure our fellow Fort Pierce residents that despite those remarks made at the Planning Board meeting, we will continue to support the city’s worthwhile endeavors.
      We would also suggest that the city look at other ways to put its house in financial order. During the boom years awhile back, the city had an opportunity to save some money for leaner times. Instead it went further into debt, buying property that it now finds difficult to unload.
    So now the city is banking on the businesses along South U.S.1 which provide hundreds of jobs for its residents, to help bail it out of the mess it is in. And then we had to listen to city officials criticize Sunrise Ford for questioning its motives? It’s enough to make me want to go back to reporting about the shenanigans in local government.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

What has Tallahassee been doing?

As the Florida Legislative session winds down and it appears there will be no vote on the U.S. Sugar land deal, one wonders what our legislative delegation was doing in Tallahassee the past two months. 
        The hope was that State Sen. Joe Negron could use his political clout to get the money to buy 46,000 acres of U.S. Sugar land  that would be used to divert polluted Lake Okeechobee  water south  instead of dumping it into the Indian River.
        Not only has Negron disappointed environmentalists statewide, and many of his own constituents, but during this session he also raised the ire of community college administrators.  The Stuart Republican sponsored a bill that would put a cap on their four-year bachelor programs.
        The Senate bill would limit the number of students enrolled in those programs to five percent of the community college’s total enrollment.    At Indian River State College that means half of those attending classes for a bachelor’s degree would have to be cut.
        The proposed bill took most community colleges administrator by surprise, including IRSC President Edwin Massey.
         “He (Massey) thought Joe Negron was his friend,” a community leader told me.   “He’s not happy at all about it at all.”   
     To add insult to injury, the initial proposal would have also forced IRSC and other community colleges with bachelor programs to be go back to being called community colleges, not state colleges.
       And what was the reason for this?
       Negron told the media that the bill was meant to limit the overlapping of the same programs in both four year universities and community colleges.
    Community colleges cried foul---saying that the four-year degrees reflected the needs of their regions.   At IRSC, there are nearly 4,000 students enrolled in Bachelor degree programs,  close to 10 percent of IRSC’s total student population.  Community college administrators said that more than half of those enrolled in their four-year programs statewide work at full time jobs.   
       Furthermore the state university’s enrollments increased 54 percent since community colleges began offering the four-year degrees, according to a statement from IRSC.  The community college degrees “serve an entirely different market of students who previously were not able to pursue a Bachelor’s degree,” the statement says.
        Along the Treasure Coast, that means students who couldn't afford to go away to college, could still get a Bachelor’s degree while living at home.  Older students working full time also were able to take advantage of the four year programs since IRSC was close to their jobs.
       A compromise on Negron’s bill was hammered out last week.  Just changing the signs, logos and documents of the 16 state colleges back to community colleges would have cost millions of dollars.  So thankfully, that part of the bill was dropped.
       The caps on enrollment were also tweaked.   Instead of the five percent  cap, community colleges which now have more than 10 percent of its student body enrolled in  bachelor’s programs can increase that enrollment by another five percent over three years.   Those colleges with under five percent can increase that enrollment by 7 percent over three years.
       So that watered down version of Negron’s bill probably meant were dozens of meetings, hundreds of phone calls and a lot of wrangling over a bill that many said was unnecessary.
        In the meantime, the one bill that Negron’s constituents wanted most has languished in the Senate and House. The high profile bill was pushed by both environmentalists statewide and Treasure Coast businesses that saw tourism dollars and real estate values decline because of the polluted river. There were rallies, editorials and letter writing campaigns.   For goodness sake, Jimmy Buffett even sang about it on the capitol steps. 
           But short of an 11th hour miracle, there will be no money to buy the land at a reasonable price that was negotiated seven years ago.  The deal goes off the table October 1 and U.S. Sugar will be able to jack the price as high as it wants.
            With the amount of money U.S. Sugar spent on legislators’ campaigns in recent years, I am not surprised to see the company got what it wanted.  This legislative session did give us one small consolation prize---at least IRSC’s baccalaureate programs will not be cut in half.   And Ed Massey won’t be forced to change out all of the signs on those college buildings.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Save Our Lagoon!

           I recently noticed the Fort Pierce News Tribune added a new meter to its editorial page. The Tribune, as well as other Treasure Coast Scripps newspapers, is counting down the days that the State Legislature has to purchase 46,800 acres of U.S. Sugar property at a price that was set in 2008. This is not the first time the News Tribune displayed a meter at the top of that page. For more than a year, it had the Pruitt meter, which counted down the number of days St. Lucie Property Appraiser Ken Pruitt refused to discuss whether he would  keep his lucrative lobbying business or give it up and be a full time county property appraiser.
          The new meter has a much shorter deadline. The state Legislature must decide this session whether to purchase the U.S. Sugar land that would be part of a plan to divert polluted Lake Okeechobee water from flowing into the Indian River Lagoon. After that, the agreed upon price for the land, negotiated by former Gov. Charlie Crist, is off the table.
           A yes vote from the legislature should be a no-brainer. Thanks to Amendment 1, which was  overwhelmingly  approved by voters in November, the state has more than enough money to buy the land for $346.3 million.  And one would think that our local state representatives and State Sen. Joe Negron would be leading the charge to get the deal done.   Not so.   Except for State Rep. Larry Lee, who is the lone Democrat  to represent us on the Treasure Coast, none have really pushed their  colleagues in Tallahassee to approve the purchase.
      Negron deferred talking up the plan until he saw the results of a University of Florida study about the proposal. The study was completed  this month, and to the surprise of no one, the report said buying the land is a viable way to help resolve the pollution problem. After all, the UF report comes after decades of studies and discussions involving the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the South Florida Water Management District, the Sierra Club, Everglades Foundation and anyone else who has a stake in the Indian River. More than a year ago, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson was railing about the pollution on the Senate floor, holding up a jar of the dingy brackish water he scooped up from the Indian River.
       So now we taxpayers are finally seeing a plan that could help save our lagoon and what do we hear from our local politicians?  Not a whole lot.
         After the UF report was released Negron told the News Tribune he is “seriously considering” the state purchase of U.S. Sugar property. And, he said he will use his “legislative energies” to get the deal done. Not quite the enthusiasm one would expect from a state senator who should know that saving the Indian River lagoon is probably his constituents’ number one priority. And he should have known that this will be an uphill battle that must be won by May 1. With a Republican controlled Legislature, many of whom have accepted tens of thousands of sugar money for their campaigns, there will be a lot of push back approving a deal that U.S. Sugar no longer wants.
        Indeed, House Speaker Steve  Crisafulli  (R-Merritt Island) opposes the deal because he said the state doesn't need any more land. The fact that he received  thousands in campaign donations from Big Sugar probably won’t help him change his mind any time soon.
        Gayle Harrell told Scripps newspapers she would support the purchase only if the land is deemed “appropriate.”  And Rep. Mary Lynn Magar, (R-Tequesta) said she is “looking into it.”   So much for the rallies, the fundraising, the editorials, extensive publicity and years of meetings to find ways to save the  lagoon.  Unless we see some major arm twisting and wheeling and dealing from our representatives,  U.S. Sugar will be able to back out of the deal that would have saved taxpayers millions.
        Our best hope is that Negron will use his clout---after all, he is a strong contender to be Senate President in 2016—to get his fellow Republicans in the Senate and House to vote for the purchase.  Although he negotiated millions for the lagoon in the past, his constituents will remember what happens this legislative session for a long time.  Gayle Harrell should also be wary.   The long-time representative has already drawn opposition for the 2016 race for District 83.Her Democratic opponent is Crystal M. Lucas, a biology teacher at Indian River Community College.  Lucas’s passion---the environment and saving the Indian River lagoon.
        The Tribune’s Pruitt meter didn't have much impact.   Pruitt still is our property appraiser and a lobbyist---ironically one of his clients is Big Sugar. Hopefully, the Tribune’s countdown on the purchase of U.S.  Sugar land will raise enough awareness to get the deal done.  But I am not counting on it.

        What I do hope is that if this deal fails, voters along the Treasure Coast will know who to hold accountable and do something about it.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Boom on US 1

           While there has been much talk about the taxpayer subsidized Digital Domain building and Torrey Pines Research Center,  little has been said about the building boom along dealer row in St. Lucie County, which is expected to add jobs and significantly increase the property tax base----all without one cent of taxpayer money.
            Garber Buick GMC of Fort Pierce, which purchased the dealership  from the Dean family at 5255 South U.S.1, invested $5 million to bulldoze the existing buildings and to construct a new 25,000 square foot dealership along with a 3,000 square foot used car building.   Mike Weinert, general manager and managing partner of the dealership, said when the project is completed this summer, he expects to hire at least 10 more employees, expanding the staff to 40 plus workers.
         In addition, he hired a local contractor to build the facility and his goal is to use vendors from St. Lucie County.
              “We try to keep it local,” he said.
              The Garber Automotive Group, based in Michigan, did extensive research  before purchasing the property and decided it was worth the investment.
                  “There is a lot of growth on the Treasure Coast,”Weinert said.
             The Coggin group came to the same conclusion when it decided to build the new Acura store at 4400 South U.S.1.  The 30,000 square foot state- of –the-art facility, which opened last month, has a skylight that illuminates the entire showroom and uses i Pads and other high tech gadgets for selling and servicing vehicles.
A spokesman said the Coggin Group, owned by Asbury Holdings made a “substantial investment”  to build the Acura store, which will add about 20 employees, bringing the total employment count to 50.
                The location of the property was one of the main reasons the new facility was built.
 “It’s centrally located between Vero and Stuart,” he said.  “It’s a great opportunity.”
         Dyer Chevrolet, which recently took over Bill Shultz Chevrolet at 4200 South U.S.1, is also under construction,  investing $2. 5 million gutting and renovating that store.    “It was long overdue,” said Tatiana Dyer,who along with her husband, Will, also operates dealerships in Vero Beach.
              Besides the new fa├žade, they have installed new service department  lifts and other equipment, put on a new roof and added about 20 new employees.  The renovations should be completed in two months .
Sunrise Ford is opening its Truck World,  which will only sell used pickup trucks,  on its property at 5359 South U.S.1.    We plan on having the biggest inventory on the Treasure Coast.    At least five new employees will be on the Truck World payroll.   Like the other dealers, we felt it was the right time to expand our operation.
              The building boom along U.S.1, along with the additional jobs,  certainly should please county officials—especially since the county is collecting significant impact fees and higher property taxes from the dealerships.   That is in stark contrast to the debacles in Port St. Lucie, where taxpayers paid about $100 million to Torrey Pines Research Center which was supposed to generate 189 jobs.  It now hires about 100 people and was forced to take out a mortgage on its city-paid building because it does not have enough money for its operating expenses.
                  Port St. Lucie gave $40 million to Digital Domain for its building  and the company received another $30 million in state and city incentives.  As most now know, that apparently wasn't enough. The company went bust.Number of employees at present.Zero.
                 Sunrise Ford has about 80 employees and this year paid $89,638 in county property taxes.  It’s annual payroll is $4 million.Multiply those numbers by the 12 dealerships in the county and you get a good idea of what  they contribute to St. Lucie County.   There were some vacant dealerships during  the recession, but most of us just tightened our belts and held on as best we could until the economy rebounded.   We continued to pay our taxes, kept as many people on our payroll as possible, and still managed to give to local charities and community organizations.
 Unlike Torrey Pines, we could not go to the city and ask for a special deal that would allow us to mortgage a building we didn't pay for in the first place.   We also were not given $50 million of taxpayer incentives to help pay for our operating expenses during those tough times.

            You would think Port St. Lucie city and St. Lucie county officials would learn a lesson or two from the Torrey Pines and Digital Domain experiences.  But I am not so sure.   Last month the county offered $312,640 in property tax breaks to lure a bakery distributor to St. Lucie County.  The county also promised to waive $49,333 in impact fees and give the company a $51,750 “job growth” grant.  Number of jobs expected from those handouts—30.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Upcoming Florida Elections

I know most of us are looking forward to November 4th so we can return to a life without the nasty television ads, mailboxes full of campaign literature and the frequent robo calls.  But there was one national political story that caught my attention this week because it indirectly referred to a member of a well known St. Lucie County family.
A story in last week’s New York Times Magazine centered on the money behind Florida’s gubernatorial race.  One of Charlie Crist’s biggest supporters is Tom Steyer, who according to the article, has earmarked $50 million of his own money for candidates with strong environmental records.  The American for Prosperity, a group sponsored by the Koch brothers, is helping out the Scott Campaign.
The lengthy article details the environmental differences between the two candidates and pointed out that when Rick Scott took office he removed the head of Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection, who was a trained scientist with “decades of experience in environmental policies.”  That scientist is Mimi Abood Drew, who was raised in St. Lucie County, graduated from Dan McCarty High School in 1968, received a Master’s Degree from the University of Florida in Environmental Engineering, began her environmental engineering career at the Department of Environmental Regulation (now the Department of Environmental Protection) in 1978 and quickly moved up the ranks serving under both Democrat and Republican governor.  (Full disclosure I was her roommate at UF).
In 1991, she was named the University of Florida’s “Alumni of the Decade” for the 1970’s and cited her environmental expertise and accomplishments.  She brought the department into the computer age and deftly helped manage a staff that needed to balance Florida’s growing population with the environmental ramifications of that explosive development.
Although she lives in Tallahassee, she frequently returned home both on business and to visit family.  Her sister, Carol Hilson, is also known for her public work works, serving as a St. Lucie County School Board member.  Her mother, Anne Abood, was co-founder of the Treasure Coast Opera Society and led the non-profit for years.   Growing up in Fort Pierce in the 1950’s and 1960’s, Drew has a special appreciation for the Indian River and area beaches.  At the DEP, that carried to her concerns over to the Indian River Lagoon and the deterioration of the Everglades.
When Rick Scott won the election four years ago, Drew retired and formed her own company (Drew & Associates, LLC).  The DEP saw other changes, according to press reports, 58 employees, many of them scientists Drew had worked with for decades, were laid off.
Less than a year after his election, Governor Scott boasted at a Conservative Political Action Conference that he had laid off 15,000 public workers, saying “government does not create jobs.”
Governor Scott did realize that he did need one of those employees back on the state payroll.  He asked Drew to return as a consultant, working as the state’s chief negotiator on the BP oil spill settlement.  She was still at the DEP when the spill occurred and one to the leaders in assessing the damage and mitigation needed.  It certainly made sense that she could help figure out how much the stated deserved and how the money should be spent.  So for the past three years she has worked with the other Gulf States, the U.S. Department of Justice and BP, figuring out how the billions of dollars were to be distributed and analyzing comprehensive plans for restoration projects.  Again Drew is using the lessons she had learned at the DEP---juggling the needs of the environment with the demands of politicians, trying her best to get what is due to the Florida counties affected by spill and then making sure that the settlement money is spent properly.
As she has her entire career, Drew quietly does her job and does it well, whether it is testifying before a U.S. Senate Committee in Washington or meeting with her counterparts in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas to hammer out the specifics of restoration projects.  She is reluctant to talk politics and says she just wants to do what’s right for the environment, no matter who is in office.
After reading the New York Times article, I called Drew and asked her who she thought was going to win the governor’s race, and I asked her what she was going to do when her consultant’s job was over.
I wasn’t surprised with her reply.  The woman who has worked with and won the respect of governors who included Bob Graham, Lawton Chiles, Bob Martinez and Jeb Bush, was not going to predict the winner of this race.  And she certainly wasn’t going to speculate on whether she would be offered her old job back.
“I just don’t know,”  was her answer to both questions.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Poindexter Williams

                  During these dog days of summer, I find myself flipping through the TV stations, listening to the squabbling among the talking heads about what to do in Iraq and alternatively reliving my teenage years with CNN’s series on the Sixties.
            Vietnam has been featured prominently in both venues.   Will we repeat the mistakes we made in Vietnam by putting in more troops in Iraq?  CNN’s portrayal of the Vietnam War also brought back personal memories that put Fort Pierce in the national news in a very bad way.   While in high school in the late 60s I worked part-time for Hillcrest Memorial Gardens on North U.S.1 between Vero and Fort Pierce.   My job was to call residents to let them know that any serviceman killed during the Vietnam War would receive a free burial plot at Hillcrest.  
 During the evening hours my friend, Pam Rose, who worked with me, and I would receive a list of people to call.   Then before leaving the small office at the cemetery, the manager would give us another directive. “Remember, if a black person picks up the phone, just hang up,” he said.  The free plot offer wasfor whites only.
          Even though I held that job 45 years ago, I was still astounded at the blatant discrimination against blacks.   And I certainly did not keep quiet about it.   Pam and I would make those calls, but also took a few “breaks” to call our friends.  We didn’t know it, but all of our calls were being recorded.  The rants about the anti-black policy to my friends got me fired.   The termination did not bother me in the least.
      And I felt vindicated a year later, when Hillcrest and that policy made national news when the cemetery owners refused to bury a 20- year- old GI named Poindexter Williams.   Williams was serving with the 1st Air Calvary Division in Vietnam in 1970  when he was killed in a mortar barrage.   He was also black.  The rest of the country watched as the legal wrangling about a soldier’s burial in Fort Pierce cemetery made the nightly news.
             I can’t recall exactly what the final outcome was, but Poindexter Williams had a huge funeral in Fort Pierce’s National Guard Armory that was well televised.   And 20 years later, when I first visited the Vietnam War Memorial, I quickly found his name and traced it on paper as a keepsake.
                So much has changed since Poindexter Williams’s mother challenged a small town cemetery in the early 1970s.   Lincoln Park and Dan McCarty high schools were combined to conform with a federal court anti-segregation order.   The “White” and “Colored” signs over water fountains in downtown stores were eventually removed.   Hillcrest was sold to a very reputable funeral home business.
                 But some things never seem to change.   Again the United States is embroiled in another controversy over its role in what is becoming a civil war in a country on the other side of the world.  President Lyndon Johnson worried about the integrity of his advisors who were selling him on Vietnam.
We now know the premises of going to war with Iraq were wrong.  There were no weapons of mass destruction, nor was there any Iraqi involvement in 9/11.
                Johnson realized he could not untangle the quagmire of Vietnam and decided to just get out. He retired to his Texas ranch rather than run for a second term.   As we debate whether the 4,000 plus U.S. and allied soldiers will have died in vain if we pull out of Iraq now, I think about Poindexter Williams and wonder how his family felt when we left Vietnam three years after his death. I hope they are consoled knowing that Poindexter Williams’ death did lead to meaningful changes in his hometown.   It  helped expose a nasty, racist policy during an unpopular war.   And, at the time, it forced the people of Fort Pierce to ask—is this the way we treat a soldier who has given his life for his county?   Indeed, no matter how Vietnam ended, Poindexter Williams’ death was not in vain.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Our local Boy Scout's and an update on previous issues.

   For years I quietly shied away from donating to the Boy Scouts of America. Locally, the Boy Scouts consistently received a far greater share of money from larger umbrella charity groups than the Girl Scouts received. On a national level, I strongly disagree with the Boy Scouts' stand to prohibit gays from joining troops or serving as adult leaders.
   But when Mike Wetzel suggested that Sunrise Ford pay for tickets so that the members of Boy Scout Troop 772 attend a Dolphins game last season, I didn't object. Scott Van Duzer's latest project---to establish a troop for at risk adolescent boys attending Dan McCarty Middle School---is one I strongly endorse. Scouting has always had a large appeal to middle class families who can afford the uniforms, volunteer for activities and guide the youngsters through the merit badge and Eagle Scout programs. It's not easy for the struggling poor or the disenfranchised to come up with the time or money --- or even motivation ---to encourage their sons to join the Boy Scouts
   Van Duzer's Scout Troop 772 initially attracted 51 students who wanted to sign up. The troop has more than 20 members whose expenses are funded by donations. Community leaders volunteer to serve as scout leaders. For many scouts in troop 77, their scout leader likely is the most influential male model in their lives. The hope is that scouting will encourage these 12 and 13 year olds to continue their education and instill the self esteem and good sense so they will avoid gangs, drive by shootings, and other crimes that have become way too prevalent in our area.
Troop 772 has drawn many supporters and donors, but still has some bumps to overcome. Already some of the scouts have been disciplined and even been suspended for violating school rules or scouts' policies. But I am hopeful that this program will be one that sticks.
   Two other developments have also helped me overcome my reluctance to donate to the Boy Scouts. Three months ago, the Boy Scouts of America allowed gay boys to join the scouts. And Van Duzer has shown that he is an equal opportunity philanthropist. He is now establishing a scouting troop for disadvantaged girls.

A couple updates:
   The last blog I wrote detailed the arduous and emotionally draining time I had as a plaintiff in a medical malpractice case against the local doctors who failed to diagnose the breast cancer that eventually spread to my lymph nodes and ended up as stage 3 cancer.
   One of the disadvantages in filing such a suit is the state imposed a limit on what can be collected in such uneconomic damages. In many cases, a single plaintiff could not collect more than $500,000 in such damages, no matter how severe the pain, anguish, and devastating effects that were caused by the malpractice.
   Last week the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the cap on malpractice cases were unconstitutional. the 2003 law, pushed by former Gov. Jeb Bush, was supposed to prevent a "malpractice crisis" which would drive doctors out of Florida. But a majority of the Supreme Court judges rules there was "no rational basis" to substantiate such a crisis and, in fact, the number of physicians in Florida was increasing not decreasing during the "alleged crisis."
   Many plaintiffs who have files suits in recent years have delayed going to trial or settling cases waiting for the Supreme Court ruling. I chose to go ahead and settle, figuring that dragging it out would cause more stress. My attorney told me that there was an average of 80 malpractice cases filed in the state of Florida each year. There are now approximately 700 pending cases in the system. A 2007 study by FSU estimated there are 34,000 physicians practicing in Florida
   By my count, that means that .02 doctors in the state are being sued for malpractice. Like the Florida Supreme Court said-not exactly a crisis.

Last year, I wrote that Sen. Joe Negron was pushing to reduce the fees to register vehicles. He proposed to offset the state losses by closing a tax loophole enjoyed by insurance companies in Florida who received a tax credit equal to 15 percent of their payroll expenses. To no one's surprise, the insurance industries lobbied hard against Negron's bill and it failed.
  This year, with the state expecting $1.2 billion surplus, Negron once again submitted a bill that would cut the cost of re-registering a vehicle by $25. The average cost is now about $70. This time the cut was not tied to the insurance industry and it easily passed the Senate this week and is expected to be approved by the House and enacted into law. Rental companies and businesses with large fleets will see the largest windfalls from this bill, but Negron also hopes it will help all Florida Families.
   As a car dealer, I was a big proponent of Negron's bill last year and still think its a good idea. But it will not affect the much heftier increase the state imposed a few years ago---increasing the registration of new vehicles from $200 to $450. And this bill will cost the state 309 million in lost revenue next year and $400 million in subsequent years. Gov. Rick Scott, buoyed by the budget surplus and worried about an upcoming election, is proposing $500 million in tax cuts and reduction in fees.
   One state legislator figured that would amount to $25 for each Florida resident. "Enough to buy a cheap $25 shirt made in China," he said. This may have been the one opportunity when two Republicans ---Negron and Scott---could have been true heroes to all Florida environmentalists and most Treasure Coast Taxpayers who have been fighting for the salvation of the Indian River Lagoon.
   Could that surplus have been put to better use by completing the reservoirs and buying Big Sugar's land? That would be a substantial start to the big fix. Just something for Negron and Scott to think about. A huge down payment towards restoring the Everglades seems like a much better legacy than a cheap Chinese-made shirt.