December 21, 2014

Hooked On Sugar

John F. Berry | 11/1/1995
Forgive Bradenton Congressman Dan Miller for thinking he could take on the U.S. sugar program. Forgive him for thinking his Republican brethren, who talk such a good game about cutting government pork, would pare this heavily larded program ("Sweet Talk," FT, October 1995).

At this writing, it appears the American sugar industry's sweet deal will remain pretty much intact until 2002. Credit the House Agriculture Committee and Sen. Bob Graham.

The new legislation would continue the government's practice of limiting imports while lending U.S. sugar processors 18 cents/lb. to produce the crop, despite evidence that sugar production costs are declining sharply.

This system keeps domestic wholesale prices at about 23 cents. By contrast, a representative of Dominican sugar interests tells Florida Trend's David Poppe that farmers there produce their crop for about 12 cents/lb. That will not change.

Graham and other politicians, who are hooked on Big Sugar's generous campaign contributions, are trying to justify their sell-out of American consumers by saying they are, in fact, introducing reforms. Some reforms!

Reaching for a positive spin, Graham staffers say their boss is actually reforming the sugar program. Under his bill, the tax farmers pay on government loan dollars would be increased from 1.1% to 2.2% ? a 100% rise, but still small change. Graham would also end the Department of Agriculture's practice of regulating how much sugar individual farmers can produce.

Graham even has a sop to angry environmentalists, who blame sugar farmers for reducing the historical flow of fresh water from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades by two-thirds. He would use $7 million of the tax fund to buy back sugar farms for Everglades restoration.

As Poppe reported last month, sugar farmers enjoy the rich government price supports without having to open their books to public scrutiny. There are no plans to change that unusual practice in the proposed "reform" legislation.

A Graham aide tells Poppe that the senator's support for sugar farmers is about decency.

"He's trying to do something that's fair and decent to the people who have been operating under the sugar program," says the aide.

Huh? Seems like they've been doing pretty decently without Graham's help, thank you. What about a little decency for the American consumer, Senator?

Gamesmanship Revisited
In May, I wrote a column ("Gamesmanship") criticizing cities for caving in to threats by professional team owners to move their franchises unless their omnivorous demands for receipts and new stadiums were met. Florida has its share of greedy owners ? for example, in Jacksonville, where the city mortgaged its future to satisfy owners of the NFL Jaguars and in South Florida, where Wayne Huizenga has six different communities bidding for his pro hockey team, the Panthers.

So it came as a pleasant surprise when Malcolm Glazer and his family, the new owners of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, actually offered to share the cost of a new stadium they see as necessary for the team's financial success. According to reports, the Glazers would pay half the cost of the stadium over 30 years. Fans would be expected to pony up deposits for the right to buy seats, which will be repaid over ten years.

That still leaves $3 million to $4 million a year to be raised by the Tampa Sports Authority. Considering that Hillsborough County voters in September trounced a one-cent sales tax increase to pay for schools and a jail, the last couple of million may be the hardest to come by.

Still, the Glazers' proposal may mark a turning point in the heretofore one-sided relationship between fans and owners. To be sure, the Glazers could move the Bucs if they don't get their way; supposedly there are cities willing to pay extortion for a team. Consider, for example, the Rams' move to St. Louis, the Raiders' to Oakland and the Bengals' threat to move to Los Angeles or Baltimore.

To be sure, the Glazers will profit grandly from their proposal. But in breaking with the take-it-or-leave-it attitude of most owners, they have exhibited an enlightened, longer-term view of the place of professional sports in the community.

Weather And Wages
If you think you're underpaid, go out and sit in the sun. It's the bonus of living in Florida.

At least that's the conclusion of Dr. Lawrence W. Kenny, chair of the Dept. of Economics at the University of Florida, and John F. Scoggins, a research assistant. They say one of the reasons wages are so low here is that people are willing to sacrifice pay to live in the sunny climes.

In a new edition of "The Economy of Florida," published this month by the university's Bureau of Economic and Business Research, the authors do some interesting statistical analysis to explain the state's poor pay levels. Average 1993 annual pay in the U.S. was about $26,362 and in Florida $23,571.

Of that 10.6% difference, the biggest contributor by far is weather, which the authors figure takes a 9.2% whack to the average Florida paycheck.

As the cliche says, we can't do much about the weather. But another contributor to low wages here can be changed. The authors figure that 0.7% or more of the difference in wages between here and the nation is education.

"Florida school children are leaving high school with fewer skills than U.S. children," they write. "The SAT scores and education enrollment ... suggest that the gap in skills between Florida and the rest of the nation is growing, not narrowing. If true, the wage gap will widen in the future."

Tags: Florida Small Business, Politics & Law, Business Florida

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