Every weekend, we take a look at the news stories shaping the conversations in Florida’s business, policy and political worlds. Here’s this weekend’s Capitolist wrap-up, which we call “The Wrap.”
Florida State University Speaker-Noles
FSU President John Thrasher is retiring after leading the school through one of the most trying periods in its history, which means the ‘Noles will need someone to fill his shoes. And who better to do that, the thinking goes, than someone who filled his shoes after he left a previous job?
Prior to becoming FSU president in November of 2014, Thrasher served both as a Florida state senator and, prior to that, a state representative, ultimately becoming the 90th Speaker of the Florida House in 1998 through 2000.
Enter Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, who, like Thrasher, also served as Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives. Both men also have a law degrees. Beyond that, there’s not much else on their respective resumes they have in common, but that hasn’t stopped the rumor mill from churning out Corcoran’s name as a potential successor to Thrasher at FSU.
The rumors haven’t come out of left field, either. Aside from their mutual experiences marshalling the necessary political power to become House Speakers (no small feat), and Corcoran’s most recent stint running Florida’s education system, the two men have met privately in recent weeks.
While some doubters say FSU would never appoint Corcoran because he lacks the necessary experience, that’s the same thing they said about him prior to becoming the state’s education commissioner.
Others express skepticism that Florida State’s Board of Trustees would appoint a second former House Speaker to lead the school, but more astute observers point out that Corcoran would actually be the third Speaker to fill the role after Thrasher and former Florida House Speaker T.K. Wetherell, who, like Thrasher, is an alumnus of the school.
Unlike Thrasher and Wetherell, Corcoran did not earn his degrees from FSU.
ARP Funding: Cities getting massive cash, but who’s watching?
Last year, when Congress authorized billions of dollars in COVID relief funds for local governments, the Trump Administration set rules that the cash must be targeted at efforts to push the dollars to the front lines of the pandemic, both medically and economically. Local and state officials were prohibited from using the cash to “backfill” budget holes, the reason being that Trump didn’t want to bail out irresponsible politicians who habitually spend beyond their means.
So last year, cities across the country used the cash infusion to rapidly scale up COVID-19 testing and hospital capacity, treatment options, first responder training, and additional help for overburdened hospitals. On the economic side, cities targeted the money at mitigating the wave of unemployment through targeted payments to qualified families and help for businesses that were most impacted by the lockdowns.
This year, Congress passed the American Rescue Plan, with billions of dollars in cash about to flow to cities and counties alike, but the rules are yet to be set. The Biden Administration is still in the process of rulemaking that will govern how the money can be spent.
For local governments, the massive windfall headed their way looks great on paper, but they also bring challenges that require leadership and vision. Local officials must avoid squandering the opportunity before them. Budget surpluses have a way of vanishing when they’re managed by government officials who don’t have to be accountable for getting results. Watchful eyes and accountability will be critical to avoid waste, fraud and abuse. Sadly, it won’t be long before examples will surface.
But it won’t be enough for business leaders and stakeholders in each community to be watchful. They must go beyond that to be assertive with ideas to ensure that opportunities aren’t missed. Even though the cash will be split into two tranches about a year apart, the amounts are still so large that it’ll be the most cash on hand that many cities have ever seen.
Who’s watching? Who’s paying attention? Which business groups are working collaboratively with local officials to develop economic investments that will pay dividends down the road?
The Solution to Pollution is… Cynicism?
You have to hand it to environmental writer Craig Pittman, he’s like a real-life Ron Burgundy, the kind of journalist who’s won many fine awards and classy plaques for his cynical writing and slapstick humor, and he’ll probably win another one for his latest screed. In it, he takes the Manatee County Commission to task for daring to take a stand on a solution to the Piney Point toxic waste problem.
Pittman’s hilarious jokes about getting “super powers” from toxic waste really roasted those commissioners and their plan, let me tell you. I mean, sure, Pittman had no actual solution of his own to offer, but that’s not his job, no sir. His job is to peck away at his keyboard and crank out sarcasm the way Donald Trump used to crank out Tweets. Both have the same effect: getting the people all riled up about stuff. In this case, Pittman hoped his column would mobilize opposition against the plan to put the Piney Point wastewater nearly two-thirds of a mile under the surface of the earth in a deep-well injection site that would be carefully vetted by geologists and environmental experts to ensure the waste doesn’t seep out where it shouldn’t.
There are no guarantees that the plan will work, that’s true. But there are also no better ideas on what to do about the Piney Point problem.
Jokes are easy. But a solution? From Pittman? Nah. That’s not his specialty. He’s just here to tell you that whatever is decided about how to solve the Piney Point problem, he doesn’t like it one bit, and neither should you. And he’s here to tell you in a way that’ll make you chuckle as you dial up the Manatee County Commission and tell them not to solve the Piney Point problem because the solution might not work.
And while they cast about looking for a new solution, the Piney Point reservoir could start leaking again, spilling millions of gallons of toxic waste into Tampa Bay, but, hey, at least everyone’s sides will be aching from reading the latest Pittman column.