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Friday Files: From Tallahassee pensions to Ethiopian health care

Compensation and BenefitsNational GovernmentRetirementGovernment

In today's edition of the Friday Files, we're looking at everything from pension reform in Tallahassee to health care in Ethiopia.

Let's start with the pensions and salaries, where Gov. Rick Scott wants to shake things up.

Some of that is sorely needed.

The DROP program, where top administrators suck up hundreds of thousands of dollars in so-called "retirement" money — without actually retiring — has turned into a national joke.

It also seems prudent to bring the state's retirement system into the 21st century in terms of both employee contributions and costs to taxpayers.

Still, some of this talk sounds more like civil-servant bashing than reform. And it's high time some of these worker-bashers got their facts straight.

Florida does not generally overpay its workers. In fact, the Legislature's own policy-analysis division determined just last year that the average state worker earns less than his counterpart in the private sector.

And the average salary? About $35,000. Hardly extravagant.

Not only that, Florida spends less on state workers — in terms of both payroll expenditures and employees per resident — than most every other state in the U.S., according to the Department of Management Services.

There are absolutely examples of waste and excess in government jobs. Heck, this very newspaper is often the one to expose such things!

But beware of the tyranny of the anecdote.

Because the majority of government workers are hard-working civil servants who aren't paid particularly well and haven't had a raise in three or more years.

So anyone who's trying to demonize them as the enemy not only lacks class — but also the facts.

Free speech, my …

Sentinel reporter Mark Matthews had a great piece in Thursday's paper about the business interests that financially supported Democrat Suzanne Kosmas — only to quickly cut checks to her successful GOP opponent, Sandy Adams, after Kosmas lost.

Among those backing whoever's in office at the time: the National Beer Wholesalers Association and Florida Power & Light Co.

That's certainly their right. Still, these kind of cover-all-bets donations blow a cannonball-sized hole in the lame attempts to portray corporate campaign donations as "freedom of speech."

Companies that give to both sides of a race aren't doing so because they care about any sort of lofty issues for society at large. They're trying to make down payments on politicians — investments that often pay off.

A finger-wagger's debt

That last item wasn't a knock at Adams. She was simply the newest benefactor of a warped system that benefits those on both sides of the aisle.

This item, however, is.

Did you see that Adams finished her campaign more than $100,000 in debt?

Now, campaign debt isn't terribly unusual. But in this particular case, Adams spent a large part of the campaign accusing Kosmas of reckless spending — specifically of ringing up debt.

In one ad after another, Adams slammed Kosmas for racking up debt that "our children will have to pay for."

And all the while, Adams was racking up debt herself?

Now to be fair, our children aren't paying off Adams' campaign debt.

Instead, as the paper noted, Adams is relying upon the special interests — staging "debt relief" parties where those who crave legislative favors can drop off checks.

Much, much better.

We're no Ethiopia!

And finally, if there were an award for coming up with bad examples, Florida State Sen. Joe Negron would win.

Apparently the Stuart Republican grew tired of hearing people complain about health-care woes in Florida during a budget meeting this week. So he admonished the fretters to "stop the self-flagellation" and suggested that Florida should actually earn kudos for not treating the poor like underdeveloped countries. "I don't think they have a KidCare program in Ethiopia or India," he said,

Really, Senator? That's where we are in this state? Reduced to boasting that we have better health care than Ethiopia?

What's next — touting that we're more industrialized than Haiti? More democratic than Cuba?

Hey, maybe there's a new state slogan in it for us: "Florida — several steps up from Zimbabwe."

Scott Maxwell can be reached at smaxwell@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-6141.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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