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Florida editorial roundup

December 10, 2013
Associated Press

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

Dec. 9

The News-Journal, Daytona Beach, on building permits in Volusia-Flagler point to growth:

Building permits for new homes in Flagler and Volusia counties are now at levels not seen since 2007, and that means the regional economy is crawling out of, and perhaps beyond, the crater left by the Great Recession.

And now the federal government reports national unemployment has dropped to its lowest point since the recession, at 7 percent.

It's good news from top to bottom.

As much as any state, Florida's prosperity has been fueled by growth, and the housing and commercial development that comes with it. But if there's a lesson Florida learned in the years leading up to the crash, it's that too much development too quickly can have dire consequences. In the early 2000s, home construction exploded and home values soared.

When the bubble burst, Florida suffered more than most states. Locally, Flagler County had one of the nation's lowest unemployment rates during the boom. Since the bust, the county has struggled with one of the state's highest unemployment rates.

This time around, steady growth seems like a much better road to travel. No one wants to see a return to the loose government and business practices that led to too many people buying too many homes they could not afford. That wasn't the market at work. That was a distortion of the market at work.

To grow into a full recovery, and to soak up any remaining glut of homes, the market needs time. And it appears — six years after the Great Recession was declared — that a steady trend out of the hole may be coming to an end. Real recovery may be just around the corner.

On the national level, unemployment fell to its lowest point since November 2008. But only 203,000 new jobs were created, according to the U.S. Labor Department.

That is a relatively low number of new jobs. For a larger national recovery, job creation is going to have to be much better.

Challenges regionally and nationally still loom. The number of unemployed is still too high, and too many foreclosed properties still sit empty.

But if government at all levels promotes vibrant private-sector job creation, the nation, Florida, and Volusia and Flagler counties will finally see continued steady economic growth that gives everyone the best chance for success.



Dec. 9

Miami Herald on Cuba's American hostage:

Alan Gross began his fifth year as a prisoner of Cuba's unjust "justice" system last week, a symbol of the continuing estrangement between that island nation and the United States, and, more important, the fundamentally unchanged nature of the governing regime.

Gross, for anyone who needs reminding, is a 64-year-old husband and father who was surprisingly detained in December of 2009 by Cuban authorities. He was summarily tried and sentenced to 15 years in prison for the "crime" of delivering a portable computer and a cellphone to Cuba's small and isolated Jewish community, an action not normally considered a crime except by a handful of repressive regimes around the world, including, of course, Cuba.

Since his arrest, Gross has lost more than 100 pounds. He suffers from degenerative arthritis and his health continues to deteriorate. Even worse is the emotional toll that four years of incarceration and separation have taken on him and his family. For these reasons — and because his severe punishment is in no way commensurate with his alleged transgression — he should be released immediately and unconditionally.

On the anniversary of his arrest, Gross' wife, Judy, made a dramatic plea for President Obama to "do whatever it takes to bring Alan home." The Obama administration, for its part, has said, without releasing details, that it is holding behind-the-scenes talks with the Cubans on the topic, even though officials have repeatedly called for his release without the need for negotiations.

Unfortunately, the Cuban government has other plans. Where the rest of the world sees a victim of an arbitrary and unfair government, Cuba's leaders see a human pawn that can be used to advance their own selfish political objectives.

The regime said last week that it was ready to hold talks over Gross' freedom, but that any such dialogue must include the situation of the four imprisoned spies who have been held in this country since 1998.

The Obama administration would be wrong to give in to this blackmail because the two cases are totally distinct. Alan Gross is a hostage; the Cubans committed espionage. The four Cuban spies (a fifth was released after completing his sentence and now lives in Cuba) were sentenced for spying not on Cuban exile organizations, but on U.S. military installations and for their part in the downing of airplanes belonging to Brothers to the Rescue in 1996.

Gross' wife has pleaded that he should not be left to die in prison. Releasing him would be the humanitarian thing to do, especially considering he committed no crime. It's up to the Cuban government to demonstrate that it's capable, just this once, of doing the right thing.



Dec. 8

The Tampa Tribune on state should adopt New York's online sales tax law:

The state of New York now has a battle-tested template for Florida legislators to follow if they want to boost the state's tax base by millions of dollars each year.

New York has a law on the books aimed at getting some Internet retailers to remit state sales taxes, no matter where the online company's headquarters are located. If an out-of-state retailer pays a go-between in New York to refer customers to that retailer's site, they are required to charge and remit state sales taxes to New York.

Online companies Amazon and challenged the law in court and lost. The U.S. Supreme Court declined last week to hear the case, essentially upholding the law.

Florida lawmakers should consider similar legislation during their session this spring. Although it won't affect every online company with Florida sales, it will put the state on the right path.

Florida, by some estimates, misses out on between $200 million and $800 million in online sales tax revenues a year.

Despite that substantial sum, Florida lawmakers have refused over the years to enact legislation that would position the state to collect the sales taxes. Opponents make the false claim that collecting online sales tax would amount to a tax increase on Floridians.

Amazon's decision this year to establish a physical presence in Florida by building warehouses in Ruskin and Lakeland gives the state the green light to collect sales taxes from Amazon purchases. But that won't even the playing field when brick-and-mortar stores compete with online retailers lacking a physical presence in the state.

Florida can introduce some fairness into its sales tax rules and broaden its revenue base by adopting a law similar to New York's.




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