- The Palm Beach Post Editorial Board
If talking is the measure of tackling a major issue, 2017 was a year of progress in Palm Beach County.
For example, the economic perils of a lack of workforce housing — helped by ever-tightening supply and Millennials’ complaints of sky-high rents — is no longer a tabled discussion. And overdose deaths, thanks in part to The Palm Beach Post’s own coverage, have moved from unheard cries in the street to serious dialogue in the halls of political power.
But as the old saw goes, “talk is cheap.” For these issues and others, 2018 must resolve to be a year of action — and a year to invoke another old saw, “put your money where your mouth is.”
The Post Editorial Board sees several big issues begging for attention in Palm Beach County. There are others, to be sure; and we welcome readers’ suggestions. But these resolutions, at least, are a must in the coming year:
Everglades reservoir. Resolve to come to an agreement on how to move forward with a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee.
An $800 million bond was approved last session for the project, which seeks to help move water south and reduce polluted discharges from the lake into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries.
A voter-approved 2014 constitutional amendment means the money is there, even with new cost estimates as high as $1.95 billion. All that’s left is for Glades-area residents and allied businesses, and environmental groups to get beyond their decades-long distrust of one another — or continue suffering toxic algae blooms.
Workforce housing. Resolve to work together on providing affordable workforce housing for the county’s burgeoning white-collar labor force.
The signs of a crisis are crystal clear from Boca Raton to West Palm Beach to Jupiter. The county’s median single-family home price of $335,000 remains out of reach for too many, and the median monthly rent in the county — now above $1,900 — is a strain.
When the county brought local business leaders, housing advocates and government officials together in June to talk about the crisis, it was welcome recognition of the problem. But little has been done since.
John F. “Jack” Weir, president of Eastwind Development in Palm Beach Gardens, acknowledged in a July op-ed that a “workforce housing” problem exists but is too often seen as a “bridesmaid” issue, “ultimately secondary in the minds of policymakers to other priorities. Until this attitude changes, we won’t make a dent in the problem.”
Opioid epidemic. Resolve to commit real dollars to fighting the scourge of drug addiction and overdose deaths.
President Donald Trump, in October, declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency — stopping short of declaring it a national emergency, and committing no new federal dollars. In his 2018-2019 budget, Gov. Rick Scott wants to spend $53 million — more than half from federal funds.
That’s woefully short of what’s needed. As a result, Palm Beach County, which led the state in opioid overdose deaths as of 2015, struggles to find money to combat the epidemic and related issues, such as bad sober home operators.
The county’s state attorney, Dave Aronberg said it best: “We can’t do it alone.”
Local infrastructure. Resolve to get started on the long-overdue rebuild and repair of infrastructure promised by the penny sales tax.
County voters decided more than a year ago to tax themselves to the tune of $2 billion-plus over the next 10 years to pay for upgrades to schools, roads, bridges and county-owned buildings. The increase went into effect in January. County officials said it was desperately needed after years of putting off repairs.
We agreed. And now it’s time to start seeing results.
Felon voter rights. Resolve to restore voting rights to more than 1.5 million Florida felons through a 2018 constitutional amendment. Florida remains one of only four states with a lifetime ban on voting for those returning to society from prison. The ban is not only draconian, but steeped in racism.
The political committee Floridians for a Fair Democracy is spearheading a petition drive and the decennial Florida Constitution Revision Commission is considering a separate proposal. If approved next year, either proposed amendment would automatically restore voting rights for all nonviolent felons who have served their sentences, completed parole or probation and paid restitution. Those convicted of violent crimes, such as murder, wouldn’t qualify.
Let this be the year we shed this remnant of Jim Crow and grant full citizenship to 1.5 million whose debt to society has been paid.