Kingsley Guy: Legislative theater should produce some drama

The Legislature is in session, which should make for some good political theater. Here are some thoughts on a few of the issues.

Pension reform. Legislators should stiffen their spines, buck the public-employee unions, and eliminate Florida's defined-benefit pension plan for all new workers. It should be replaced with a defined-contribution 401(k)-style pension plan.

Such a measure passed the House of Representatives last year with the strong support of Speaker Will Weatherford, but it died in the Senate. This year's version, unfortunately, includes sweeteners to the unions, including an exemption for law-enforcement and other "first-responders."

Defined-benefit pension plans helped to undermine the financial foundation of American automobile companies and other corporate giants. Self-preservation forced most corporations to switch to 401(k)-style plans decades ago. Boeing machinists, among the last holdouts, even agreed in early January to a defined-contribution plan.

The vastly underfunded defined-benefit plan for state workers in Illinois could drive the Land of Lincoln to financial ruin. California and other states also face bleak financial futures because of their outrageous pension liabilities. The stock market gains of the past few years have helped mask the financial problems, but the laws of both physics and economics state that what goes up must come down. With the next recession and/or stock market decline, the pension problems will be worse than ever.

Florida has done a better job than most states in keeping its pension system solvent, but it still requires the infusion of $500 million a year to meet the unfunded liability, and there's no guarantee sound fiscal management will continue in the future.

State workers deserve to be compensated on a par with workers at quality private corporations, but they don't deserve more, and it's time to end the double-standard.

Red light cameras. The cameras may be the most hated traffic control measure since the federally-mandated 55-mph maximum speed in effect 1974 and 1995. Do red light cameras make roads safer or more dangerous? The data are mixed. A recent study conducted by the state showed that the cameras in Florida may have increased the number of accidents at the intersections that have them, but reduced fatalities.

One thing is certain, however. The cameras increased state and local revenue to the tune of $119 million last year, as well as the profits of those who sell and service the cameras. Is Big Brother watching you? Absolutely. Legislative sentiment ranges from maintaining the status quo to banning the cameras, as seven states have done.

The fine for going through an intersection a fraction of a second late is $158, which is a pittance for a person driving a Tesla or a BMW 750i sedan, but it could be half a week's pay for the driver of a 1992 Honda Civic. In effect, red light camera fines are a form of regressive taxation that allow lawmakers to raise taxes without having to admit they are raising taxes. It doesn't take a $158 fine to serve as a deterrent to red light running. If legislators want to keep the cameras, they should cut the fine in half and quit gouging Floridians least able to pay.

Gambling. Unless a lawmaker is actively campaigning for the elimination of the Florida Lottery, he or she has no business spouting indignation over the spread of gambling in the Sunshine State. Measures before the Legislature include allowing two Las Vegas-style mega-casinos in Florida to attract the really high rollers who now head to Vegas, Monte Carlo or Macau. Another measure would require a statewide vote for any future expansion of gambling in Florida.

Here's a better approach: Repudiate the financial pact that gives the Seminole Tribe privileged status in what games can be played at casinos. Lift all restrictions for every casino on the types of betting that are permitted. It makes no sense to allow poker, slots or baccarat, but not roulette. End all thought of requiring statewide referendums to expand gambling. Broward County shouldn't have to depend on the whims of voters in Orlando, under pressure from Disney, in determining the future of gambling within its borders.

Instead, give every county the local option on whether and how to expand gambling, then get out of the way and allow market forces to sort things out.

Watch Kingsley Guy, whose column appears every other Friday, on Barry Epstein Live, http://www.wrpbitv.com., 10 a.m. Fridays, or archived on the site.

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