To the editor:
Following the 2013 Florida Legislative Session, I wrote a commentary concerning the passage of HB 7065 and SB 768 which amended the 1994 Everglades Forever Act.
Representative Matt Caldwell sponsored HB 7065 under the guise of increasing the sugar industries funding commitment to Everglades restoration when in fact his proposed amendment was a smoke screen to ensure that the sugar industry was able to limit their long term obligation to fund Everglades restoration.
The 1994 Everglades Forever Act, which was ostensibly written to restore the Florida Everglades, capped the sugar industry's clean-up costs at $320 million and obligated the public taxpayers for the remainder of the multi billion dollar restoration project. The so-called privilege tax of $25 per acre that the sugar industry pays to continue their discharge of pollution runoff to the Everglades, as well as the Caloosahatchee and coastal estuaries amounts to approximately $11 million per year. A truly insignificant sum in contrast to the billions required by the public taxpayers to restore the Florida Everglades.
The $25 per acre privilege tax was scheduled to be reduced to $10 per acre in 2017 but the Caldwell amendment extended the $25 per acre to 2026. To the casual observer it would appear that the legislative action would ensure that the sugar industry continued to help fund Everglades restoration. In actuality, the legislation provided the sugar industry the comfort level or certainty that their long term funding commitment towards Everglades restoration would be significantly limited in scope.
Instead of defending the sugar industry and suggesting that the public taxpayers contribute an even greater amount to Everglades restoration, Representative Caldwell should have supported an amendment to the Everglades Forever Act that increased the $25 dollar privilege tax. This would have ensured that the sugar industry paid its fair share towards Everglades restoration as opposed to the sugar industry continuing to receive special treatment as the Florida Legislature's favorite welfare recipient and shift the tax burden onto the backs of the public tax payers.
A review of the public records and recent media reports indicate that Representative Caldwell's reward for representing Big Sugar include generous campaign donations and a trip to U.S Sugar's hunting lodge on the King Ranch Game Preserve in Texas.
Representative Caldwell's behavior is symptomatic of many politicians in office today that have abandoned their community and ethical standards in favor of special interest groups that have corrupted government with their insidious influence on elected officials. The 2010 Citizens United decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that allows unrestricted and unlimited campaign funding to Political Action Committees (PAC) that in turn deceive the public with campaign propaganda, is only serving to further undermine our democracy.
What used to be government of the people, by the people and for the people has severely eroded to a system that is governed by self serving interests with immense wealth to ensure their hand picked politicians control the political process to the detriment of the public.
An open and effective representative form of government can only prevail if people act responsibly and exercise their right to vote and demand accountability and honesty from their elected officials. Unfortunately, people have become disenfranchised with the political process due to sleazy negative campaigns perpetuated by PACs. Lower voter turnout has transformed the political arena into a coronation event for special interests foot solders.
Representation of the public interest and restoration and protection of our precious natural resources including the Everglades, Caloosahatchee and coastal estuaries will only happen with an informed and engaged public that values and understands their responsibility as a registered voter. Silence is consent.
former Lee County commissioner