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Caldwell not fit to fill Wilkinson’s shoes

By Staff | Mar 4, 2020

To the editor:

I was saddened to learn that Lee County Property Appraiser Ken Wilkinson was retiring but, really sickened upon reading that Matt Caldwell announced that he was running to replace Wilkinson. While Wilkinson served with distinction representing the public interest, Caldwell performed as a lap dog for special interest during his eight years as State Representative.

In the early 1990s, Wilkinson played a key role on the State Taxation and Budget Reform Commission. He authored the Save Our Homes Constitutional Amendment approved by the voters that guaranteed the assessed value of homestead properties could not increase annually by more than 3 percent. The measure helped to protect average home owners from being forced out of their homes due to escalating property values from explosive growth.

Contrary to Wilkinson’s work to amend our State Constitution to protect the public taxpayers, Caldwell’s tenure in the State Legislature was fraught with undermining the public taxpayers.

In fact, during the 2013 legislative session, Rep. Caldwell sponsored HB 7065 to amend the 1994 Everglades Forever Act under the guise of increasing the sugar industry’s funding commitment to Everglades restoration when in fact his proposed amendment was a smoke screen to ensure that the sugar industry was able to limit their long-term obligation to fund Everglades restoration.

HB 7065 provided for the extension of the so-called privilege tax of $25 per acre that the sugar industry pays to continue their discharge of pollution runoff to the Everglades, as well as the Caloosahatchee and coastal estuaries and amounts to approximately $11 million per year. A truly insignificant sum in contrast to the billions required by the public taxpayers to restore the Florida Everglades. Furthermore, Caldwell’s amended language displaced the “1996 Polluters Pay” Constitutional Amendment that required those primarily responsible for the pollution in the Everglades Agricultural and Protection Areas to have to clean up their pollution.

Prior to the year 2000, the y2k scare, caused by defective digital coding in computer programs resulted in $100 billion spent by U.S. business and government agencies. Lee County was anticipating having to spend approximately $13 million on an outside computer consulting firm to correct its computer system until Wilkinson and his staff stepped forward and corrected the flaws in house.

In contrast to Wilkinson’s responsible stewardship of taxpayer funds, Caldwell hid behind a veil of Republican conservatism while rising to power in the Florida Legislature with lavish support from notable industries, including petroleum, pharmaceutical, gaming, tobacco, and Big Sugar. Caldwell worked tirelessly to shift the cost of restoring our rivers and coastal estuaries from those responsible for polluting our waterways to the public taxpayers. Caldwell achieved favored status with Big Sugar by sponsoring legislation that led up to the 2018 water crises debacle.

In the 2015 Legislative session, Caldwell, in violation of the public trust, supported re-directing Amendment 1 funds, intended to protect the public’s water resources and restore the Everglades, to balance the state budget.

In the 2016 State legislative session, Caldwell sponsored a “Water Policy Bill” that undermined water resource protection from Apalachicola Bay to the Florida Keys. The bill greatly impedes efforts to cost effectively prevent water pollution at its source. The bill eliminated the regulatory permitting process that included performance standards for potential pollutant loading of lakes, rivers, streams and coastal estuaries. It eliminated a January 2015 deadline, which the state didn’t meet, for compliance with nutrient levels without creating a new deadline, thereby delaying cleanup of Lake Okeechobee.

Lee County deserves a candidate for Property Appraiser with integrity and commitment to the public interest, not a candidate that has an unholy alliance with special interests.

Ray Judah

Fort Myers