Florida influencers shine light on priority issues

By Devoun Cetoute

University of Florida / WUFT.org

Red tide attacks the Gulf Coast. The state ranks 49th in health care. Mass shootings and gun violence are becoming increasingly frequent.

Florida has a mountain of issues, with few solutions in sight.

On the final day of the Florida Priorities Summit, influencers from across the state proposed solutions to those issues after brainstorming for two and a half hours in search of common ground.

On behalf of the transportation and infrastructure panel, Chris Caines was the first to present findings and solutions.

Caines, executive director of the Miami Urban Future Initiative, said Florida’s transportation issue stems from riders and the quality of services.

“You have underinvestment and substandard service in a lot of places, and then you have people that aren’t so enthusiastic about it,” he said.

The transportation and infrastructure panel suggested the way to fix this requires two steps:  make the service better and educate people, Caines said.

“We need to find ways to boost public enthusiasm and get people excited about public transportation,” he said. “In order to expect people to use public transportation, we need to find ways to make those services robust and as fully functional as the over-subsidized car industry.”

Next up was Cindy Arenberg Seltzer, who told the crowd what the education panel believed needed to be done.

She said the they believed the key to improve education is money.

“Taxpayers have said we are willing to pay more to give us a world-class education,” said Seltzer, president and CEO of Children’s Services Council of Broward County.

The education panel was most concerned that new sales tax money approved by voters for education will be diverted from teacher salaries and programs. They fear that as with money from the lottery, it will replace general revenue instead.

If used the way voters intended, “we can focus not only on the basics of education, but also enhance social and emotional learning, mental health services and critical thinking,” Seltzer said.

Although Florida is the third largest state and has the fourth largest economy, Victoria Kasdan said it’s 49th when it comes to access, affordability and disparities in healthcare.

“We are all consumers of health care so there is no reason we all shouldn’t be concerned about high cost and affordability,” said Kasdan, executive director of We Care Manatee.

Expanding Medicaid was the solution Kasdan presented from the health care panel. She says there are only 14 states left who haven’t done it and that it would cover an additional 300,000 people, leaving the eligibility requirements the same.

The health care panel also recommended repurposing low income pool (LIP) funds that currently fill in the gap for uncompensated care.

“We thought there could be additional accountability for organizations that receive LIP funds,” she said. “They don’t have to do reports. There is no independent auditor who certifies that the funding was spent the way they say it would be sent.”

With mass shootings becoming common place and rising gun violence being a persistent issue, Rhea Law presented the gun safety panel’s recommendations.

That panel recommended doing away with loopholes in background checks and clarifying the Stand Your Ground law.

The gun panel also recommended  creation of a new database that includes information about domestic abuse, substance abuse and mental health collected from the FBI and other state organizations.

“The FBI and FDLA database and whatever is being used by the Department of Agriculture should be the same,” she said. “People fall through the cracks because you have different data and don’t have a way of actually telling if there is a problem or not.”

Law went on to say that citizens need to educate themselves on the facts, so solutions can be found.

The environmental panel cited climate change, sea level rise, water quality and quantity challenges and preserving the Everglades as key issues, said Julie Wraithmell, executive director of Audubon Florida.

“The environment is Florida’s economy and if we don’t protect it our future well-being is in jeopardy,” said Wraithmell, executive director of Audubon Florida.

She said the best way to fix these issues is to push to create new scientific industries and jobs to solve Florida’s challenges and for elected officials to base their decisions on science and to stick with them.

When it comes to water conservation, Wraithmell said local governments can play an important role.

“Encouraging and incentivizing the use of water conservation appliances and other elements is really a great opportunity for local governments to move the needle,” she said.

The solutions proposed at the summit will be shared with Florida lawmakers as a potential roadmap to addressing the challenges facing the state.

Better public transportation is a mind game AND a money game, Florida Influencers say

By Devoun Cetoute

University of Florida / WUFT.org

Underpaid bus drivers, cutbacks on services and decaying bus stops are some of the issues the Gainesville Regional Transit System has faced in the past year.

In a survey of 50 influential Floridans for a project on setting the agenda for Florida’s future, 40 said increasing resources for buses and local mass transit  should have been a top priority for candidates in the recent election, according to the Miami Herald.

On Tuesday, many of those influencers met in Miami to discuss solutions to five issues deemed most pressing by the public: healthcare, transportation and infrastructure, education, the environment and gun safety.

The influencers broke off in discussion groups to tackle these topics during the first day of the Florida Priorities Summit hosted by the Miami Herald, el Nuevo Herald and the Bradenton Herald.

Five were given the task to find a solution to the rising concerns about transportation and infrastructure.

Michael Finney, president and CEO of the Miami-Dade Beacon Council, said the way to combat this issue is to change people’s habits and not depend on new technologies. He went on to say that depending on public transportation is more convenient, saves time and leads to a healthier life style.

“We need to get people excited for public transportation,” he said.

Margaret Lezcano, managing director of UBS, and Chris Caines, executive director of the Miami Urban Future Initiative, said that some ways to pull people into public transport would be to upgrade and buy buses, expand routes and improve bus stops.

However, Finney said that course of action would only address the symptoms and not the larger problem.

Caines believes that Floridians lack the desire to use public transportation, and it’s out of history and habit.

“Florida is a sunbelt state,” he said. “A lot of communities grew up around the car. When you start from a place of sprawling suburbs and car ridership and then after the fact build in mass transportation it is challenging.”

The panel decided that there were questions that needed to be answered that would lead to solutions.

Some of them being: How will we create inter-mobile apps that display information from different types of transportation; How will we embrace smart city infrastructure; How can we redirect toll road revenue for transit?

During the final day of the summit, the panel will share proposed solutions to the challenge.

While the panels talks and decisions fit a large county with bustling metropolitan areas, Caines gave some insight on what a small county like Alachua and a mid-size city like Gainesville is facing and what can be done.

Listen to the discussion here: