Florida could repair its image and be on track for a better future if our policymakers set a goal of making our state and local governments the most open, ethical, responsive and accountable in America. Here are several solutions for Florida to achieve that goal.
Finish the job of meaningful ethics reform. The state Legislature passed two ethics reform laws earlier this year, but there is more work to be done to increase government transparency and accountability. Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford prioritized passage of several of the anti-corruption recommendations outlined in the nineteenth statewide grand jury report, but lawmakers still need to pass the rest. That means giving the Florida Commission on Ethics the authority to initiate investigations, tougher penalties for ethics violations, strengthening the independence of inspector generals, protecting whistle-blowers and a stronger ethics code.
Eliminate cronyism. The state ethics code should cover all employees and vendors performing a government function or service, including government-run groups such as Enterprise Florida. There should be criminal penalties for conflicts of interest, misuse of a public position and self-dealing.
All programs that function as systems of legalized corruption and cronyism should be overhauled or eliminated. State and local government policies should be free of favoritism and instead focused on creating vibrant communities where every employer matters and entrepreneurship thrives.
Fair access to public office. More Floridians should have a chance to serve in the state Legislature. The campaign finance system should be overhauled so that the pool of credible candidates includes more than just special-interest group insiders, political party favorites and incumbents. All candidates should have a fair opportunity to run for office, broadcast their message, enter debates and offer voters more choices. The compensation for the job of legislator needs to be closer to the salary of a member of Congress. Repeal term limits, restore the runoff election, eliminate single-member districts and close write-in loopholes.
Open budgets. Government budgets at the state and local levels should be statements of our priorities that are built with more public participation, access to data to track results and maximum benefits for all Floridians. A state budget tracking website that includes all records related to planning, budgeting, contracts and personnel should be launched immediately.
Open contracts. End bid tampering, bid rigging, bid splitting and no-bid contracts. Create a uniform, competitive procurement policy and an online platform for access to all records for every state and local government entity. Allow more citizen voices into the contracting process and never allow contracts to be approved without disclosure of the vendor name.
Open data. Unleash all of the non-confidential data funded by taxpayers to be used by consumers and for citizens to know whether government programs are working. Floridians should be able to easily measure the success of all government programs to get better results. We could use information already collected by our government if bulk data was made available for download and use. Mobile app developers and researchers would use this data to create jobs, tell us more about school choices for our children and our health care options.
Policymakers must enact these reforms now to end corruption, protect jobs and secure Florida’s future.
Dan Krassner is executive director of Integrity Florida, a nonpartisan research institute and government watchdog whose mission is to promote integrity in government and expose public corruption.