Democratic omens, worker-bashing and much more

Today we're talking about baggy pants, secret e-mails, teacher pay and politicians who are trying to rob Florida's retirees.

But first, a quick observation that should worry Florida Democrats — those who believe in omens, anyway.

Take a moment to envision what the top of your ticket is going to look like this fall and then ask yourself how much confidence you'll inspire with a ballot topped by the names "Meek" and "Sink."

Retiree-raiding

Worker-bashing is all the rage in Tallahassee.

Lawmakers, you see, are desperate to balance the budget — and yet unwilling to close tax loopholes for their special-interest buddies.

So they have set up the boogeyman of the allegedly high-paid government worker — emergency workers, teachers and parks employees who supposedly live taxpayer-financed lives of luxury.

Never mind that the average state worker makes about $35,000 a year.

In their latest attack, legislators have set their sights on a health-care subsidy for retired workers.

And how extravagant is this perk? A whopping $5-a-month subsidy for every year of work that maxes out at $150 per month for someone who has worked a full 30 years. Hardly a windfall.

But politicians in this state would much rather tick off working-class employees than their upper-income campaign donors. So they have decided to portray state workers as overpaid, over-benefitted leeches.

Only they're not. So says the Legislature itself.

The state's very own Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability recently released a report that said Florida trails the nation when it comes to worker compensation and that most workers make less, including benefits, than those with comparable jobs in the private sector.

So, while it may be easy to beat on the working-class Joes who serve and protect, it doesn't seem terribly accurate.

There may be payroll changes worth making — starting with an end to the double-dipping program that allows top-level folks to essentially earn two salaries for working one job.

But the solution isn't to take money away from people who worked hard to earn the benefits they were promised.

Quick Take 2: So State Sen. Gary Siplin is back with his droopy-drawers bill. During the past five years, the Orlando Democrat has repeatedly tried to pass this law to get kids to pull their pants up — we really need a statewide law for this? — with his legislative peers shooting him down each time. If he fails again, Siplin will look a lot like a one-trick pony who can't even pull off his one trick.

Get blogged down

The Taking Names blog has been busy this week.

•We looked at Alan Grayson's most recent confrontation. (Admittedly, there could now be one even more recent, since that last sentence was typed several hours ago.) My basic contention: Conservatives underestimate Grayson's appeal … almost as much as Grayson overestimates it.

•We looked at some of the questionable finance deals struck by the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority … and have a little fun busting an X-way employee trying to defend the deal via a fake e-mail address.

•And we have temporary U.S. Sen. George LeMieux firmly declaring that he's not thinking about challenging Bill Nelson in 2012 … but that he may start thinking about it next year.

You can read more about all of those items at OrlandoSentinel.com/takingnames.

Quick Take, the finale: Charlie Crist did the right thing Thursday vetoing the simple-minded, test-oriented version of merit pay. (He obviously listened to me … and, OK, maybe 50,000 teachers.) Now, ideally, politicians and teachers would come together and try to work out a compromise for true, meaningful merit-pay reform. It's still needed. Not that Charlie cares about all that, of course. What he cares about is an entire state full of grateful teachers … most of whom have summer off … when his Senate campaign's in full swing.

Scott Maxwell, whose pants were securely hitched around his waist when writing this column, can be reached at smaxwell@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-6141.

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