April 16, 2005

Florida Canker-Voucher Mess

For once, all Wal-Mart bloggers agree!

It was at best mighty stupid of the Florida government to offer Wal-Mart vouchers as "payment" to citrus tree owners after it forcibly cut down their healthy trees outside of the 125ft radius of contamination. At worst, it was corrupt and mostly unnecessary.

Here is an excellent written timeline of the development of this "program" to eradicate canker (again), and the development of compensation schemes.

Now I understand the need to contain a wildly destructive plant disease, and I believe that just compensation can come via cash or suitable in-kind replacement, but giving a $100 "Florida Shade" voucher (paid for with Federal tax dollars) good for purchasing certain non-citrus tree items from Wal-Mart garden centers smacks of corruption and favortism.

I also understand the need for proper accounting and limiting fraud, but limiting purchases to select Wal-Mart items is just foolish--unless these items are sold at Wal-Mart's cost, which frankly, I doubt. It cannot be written into the law that these vouchers must be spent at Wal-Mart, but one assumes that is the way the law is written (just like big-box zoning laws that don't specifically mention WM, but are targeted at it).

Nobody has explained why "Wal-Mart-only" vouchers were offered in the first place. Why didn't Home Depot or KMart put up a fight to get these dollars? Initially, more stores were eligible, but neither KMart or Home Depot could guarantee that the vouchers would be used only for plants! In other words, a seemingly sensible restriction has been used to favor a single business -- imagine that!

Some people are content to blame Republicans for this mess, but I would blame it on the outright ineptness of both the permanent non-appointed members of Agriculture bureaucracy itself AND the appointees of both parties.

There is no solid evidence of political chicanery, even with the high levels of donations by Wal-Mart stockholders. However, $52 million in WM vouchers has already been doled out, which is not chump change.

But since contractors are getting ~$70 a pop to cut the trees down, I'd suggest this welfare program is targeted to smaller fry as well as the big boys.

The anti-canker cutting program started in 1995, when Democrat Lawton Chiles was governor. It's bad enough that a Democrat starting taking private property away without any thought of compensation, but then the legislature enacts a program to compensate pitifully in-kind. The "Florida Shade" Wal-Mart voucher program was enacted in August of 1998, although details weren't sorted out until a year later, under Republican control. Mr. Bush was elected in November of 1998, so he is partly to blame for the compensation mess.

But exactly how is Mr. Bush totally to blame for this?

Mr. Bush should not be the prime target in this scandal; the entire political establishment of Florida should be given a thorough drubbing by the newspapers and the electorate.

Via The Box Tank and JR

Posted by Kevin on April, 16 2005 at 02:21 PM