It looks like you're using an Ad Blocker.
Please white-list or disable AboveTopSecret.com in your ad-blocking tool.
Some features of ATS will be disabled while you continue to use an ad-blocker.
For the first time since World War II, Florida is losing population. University of Florida demographers recently reported that the number of residents dropped by more than 58,000 last year.
Florida has always had a tenuous relationship with reality. In the 1880s, we convinced the ailing and infirm that Florida was good for their health, despite the mosquitoes and the suffocating heat. In the 1920s, we sold swampland to Yankees, promising that with just a little draining and a little fill dirt, it could be paradise. We call ourselves the "Sunshine State," never mind that it rains an awful lot.
The rest of America sold corn, cotton, iron or coal. Florida sold itself. When you retired you were going to where there was no snow to shovel, where you could pick oranges off trees growing in your backyard, and flowers bloomed in winter. Taxes were low; living was high. Florida was Eden on the cheap.
It was bound to catch up with us. Gary Mormino, a distinguished historian of Florida, says our whole economy is more or less a big Ponzi scheme. The state funds its roads and schools by bringing in new investors — that is, new residents — to pay sales taxes and property taxes. When nobody can afford a condo in Boca, when tourists stop coming even for a week at Disney World, the Ponzi scheme collapses.
Swindled and beaten bloodier than most states by the economic crisis, Florida is lying awake at night like a terrified cardiac patient, praying the angina will pass. The confidence games here were ruinous. The housing fraud was industrial-scale. The economic shortsightedness bordered on lunacy.
Gary Mormino, a professor at the University of South Florida, has compared the economy here to a giant Ponzi scheme, the confidence game in which investors are paid with the money of new investors.
The Ponzi State. The phrase is catching on and it's making Mormino famous.
He says Florida's economic setup has always depended on ever more people, often retirees on fixed incomes, arriving from out of state with money to spend.
Since 1970, the state has grown by an average of 350,000 new residents a year — or a thousand a day.
To accommodate them, politicians in Tallahassee basically let developers build whatever they wanted just about anywhere they wanted. Usually, that has meant apartment towers and minimally inspected cinder-block homes on concrete slabs.
The construction barely paused and neither did the waves of tourists — as many as 80 million vacationers a year, all ready to pay hotel taxes and rental taxes and restaurant taxes and sales taxes.
Now, everything's flat. In fact, more residents might be leaving than arriving. And the tourists are staying away.
For Mormino, Florida is just a palm tree fantasy with a tax structure "that was insane." And now, he says, "we're paralyzed."
Unemployment is nightmarish and rising. Tax-hating Floridians, turning to their government for help, are finding a stunted, business-driven entity with nothing to offer.
"When people began looking behind the palm trees and into the account books," says Mormino, all they discovered was "massive fraud and lack of oversight."
Arthur G. Nadel faces 15 federal counts in an alleged scheme that cost investors nearly $400 million. Beau Diamond has been hit with wire fraud and money laundering charges, accused of preying on Sarasota's New Age community. John and Marian Morgan have traded their bayfront mansion for Sri Lankan jail cells while awaiting indictment over an alleged get-rich-quick prime bank scheme.
In their bids to get electric rates increased next year, two of the state's top electric companies said Monday that it's not in the public's interest for them to disclose how much they pay their top executives, according to documents filed with state utility regulators. Florida Power & Light and Progress Energy argue that disclosing how much they pay their executives in salaries, stock and bonuses is not necessary for the Public Service Commission to determine whether to allow it to raise rates by as much as 31 percent starting next year. But PSC staff argues otherwise, noting that the salary data is essential to the regulators' ability to ``evaluate the appropriateness of the employee compensation to be included in the rate base.''