The Palm Beach Post from West Palm Beach, Florida on December 1, 1997 · Page 14
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December 1, 1997

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The Palm Beach Post from West Palm Beach, Florida · Page 14

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West Palm Beach, Florida
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Monday, December 1, 1997
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14A THE PALM BEACH POST MONDAY, DECEMBER 1, 1997 The Palm Beach Post TOM GlUFFRIDA, Publisher EDWARD SEARS, Editor LON DANIELSON, General Manager TOM O'HARA. Managing Editor RANDY SCHULTZ. Editor of the Editorial Page JAN TUCKWOOD, Associate Editor TOM HIGHFIELD, T Circulation LARRY SIEDUK. VP& Treasurer GALE HOWDEN, Director, Community Relations BOB BALFE, Director, Production LINDA MURPHY, Director, Human Resources KEN WALTERS, Director, Marketing and Research Jspream house Students First! petition will help schools . . . PROZAC It ) CEllULITE Jj J , XtT The group still wants growth limits, but compromises boost chances for raising school construction money. 1ktMA&&L BARBIE The NEXT GENERATION Tax me, but leave my money alone Paira ceacn county scnools need growth protection. To help, voters should sign the petition being circulated by Students First! The group needs to collect 42,000 signatures by next summer to put school concurrency on the ballot in November 1998. Under an effectively written concurrency law, residential development in a given area would be allowed only if there will be classroom space for the students who will live in the new houses. Students First! is made up of educators, parents and elected officials. The group is collecting signatures because the county commission and city councils, caving in to developers, have refused to let voters decide the issue of concurrency. School concurrency has been debated for at least three years, usually connected to a proposal to raise the sales tax to provide money for building schools. Some politicians who favor both concurrency and the increased sales tax felt Students First! was pushing extreme growth limits. County commission Chairman Burt Aaronson, as well as school board Chairman Paulette Burdick and her board, should be glad to see that the Students First! petition represents a compromise that could help pass a sales tax increase next November. All of the "extreme" proposals such as an immediate adoption of growth limits are gone. The Students First! petition does two things: ' ; 1) It changes the county charter the county's constitution to allow the commission to adopt a concurrency law. Without that change, no concurrency law can be adopted. ' 2) It requires the county to adopt a 11 VWMW.J The secret of the cholesterol in the Tax Code a fat sample of which Rep Foley just couldn't resist using as a prop! when he announced his plan is that most of the code's pages on the personal income tax are devoted to answering thai question. ', The compensation for some jobs hi eludes a house, automobile expenses tips, expense accounts, clothing allows ances and frequent-flier miles. How much, if any, of that is income?; What is alimony, child support or hitting the trifecta at the dog track? , Is what a potter takes home from an amateur craft show income? If so, can shd deduct the cost of clay? What's a rent when it's collected? ? If it's income, is all of it income, in eluding the cost of keeping up the prop erty? Rates cover few pages in the Tax Code. Flattening rates won't shrink the code. ! It's fascinating that when Bob Dole and Newt Gingrich appointed a commisr sion to think about flat taxes, the commission (headed by Mr. Kemp) produced a 105-page report without defining in come. The commission said income" doesn't include capital gains or inherit-; ances, but it never said what income does include. Rep. Mark Foley has a flat-tax plan. That does not mean our problems are over. Rep. Foley knows it. Steve Forbes has a plan and more money than his magazine can count. Jack Kemp has a plan, and he played football. Rep. Dick Armey, R-Texas, has a plan, and he's the majority leader, for the luwa Newt. Rep. Foley is only the Republican from West Palm Beach at a crowded drawing board. But he also knows that the man with a plan, or a congress-woman with one, will get to be one of the dealers if the flat-tax game moves from think tanks to Congress. The move could happen as soon as Tom Blackburn January. Congress talking doesn't mean Congress acts, though. Allow a year of talk to prepare for the 1998 election, in which Mr. Foley will run as the man with a plan in the can. Allow a year for hand-fighting over amendments, alternatives and the Senate's quirks. That gets us. to 2000, which is a presidential election year. So then the flat-tax sails in a bipartisan vessel with both sides aboard, or it is sunk by partisan torpedoes with each side blaming the other. That, contrary to what you may have heard in civics class, is how a law is made. Meanwhile, we will have time to figure out if a flat tax really would solve our problems. The simplicity of the idea every- ; . . if reforms stick Until you know that, it's "14, 17, 28 i hike" (as Mr. Kemp might say), but you I can't understand the eame Dlan behind The tax rate doesn't matter so much. What matters is how much of my compensation is counted as income. body pays the same percentage of his or her income tells you everything but what you need to know. Adding, as Rep. Foley does, that the percentage would be between 17 and 20 percent still doesn't tell you much. You could be better off at 50 percent, depending on other factors, as we shall see. Most taxpayers those whose income is nearly all wages or salary and puts them in the 28 percent bracket currently fork over 12 to 14 percent of their total earnings to Uncle Sam. That's because exemptions and deductions let them pay tax on considerably less than their gross income. A flat tax that substitutes a 20 percent rate for that 12 to 14 percent won't win friends for Rep. Foley. But, of course, his doesn't Rep. Foley would keep deductions for mortgages and charity. More important, like all flat taxes, his has a personal exemption. Majority Leader Armey, in one version of his ever-changing plan, made the exemption so big that half of us would owe nothing leaving the other half to pay all the taxes. In the first half, a 50 percent flat tax would be no bother. But all that still isn't as important as the answer to this question: What is income? 1 J ft ' - -I V' Fertility industry comes concurrency law by Jan. 1, 2000. People who sign the petition need to be warned. It will not raise money to build schools. It will not reduce class size. It will not guarantee that the county commission will adopt an effective concurrency law. But the petition is the first necessary step toward ensuring that development will not be allowed to overwhelm new schools. Used properly by the school board and county commission, the petition and members of Students First! could help pass the half-cent tax. That money would be used to build classrooms, which are a prerequisite to lowering class size (fewer students per class equals the need for more classrooms). What about the fear the county commission would pass a weak, meaningless concurrency law? Always possible. But if enough residents sign the petition and vote for the charter changes, that show of political power will increase the clout of Students First! and others who want the rate of classroom construction to match the rate of residential growth. The petition is available through many PTAs or by calling Students First! Chairman Scott Blake at (561) 694-9938. Requests also can be faxed to (561) 6914448 or mailed to Students First!, P.O. Box 14623, North Palm Beach, FL 33408. To pass a sales-tax increase, the district can't have any new scandals like the one involving Joy Miltenberger. conduct charge was for having a secretary forge a memo saying the school district required the fees. Yet in a similar case of double-dipping in 1995, school officials opted not to prosecute former Lake Shore Middle School Principal Richard Ramsey. He's on unpaid leave, though the state attorney's office said it had evidence of three felonies. Mrs. Miltenberger is on probation. Taxpayers, who for the benefit of the children want to give school officials the benefit of the doubt and money in a school construction referendum, need fewer inconsistencies and more safeguards. That means no quiet return of the former principal, for example, and relying on more than a computer to prevent any other repeat performances. efficiency If the nursing home patients were moved to Palm Beach Regional's 10th Avenue North location, the usable parts of the county home could be renovated for county health department offices. Health officials now operate out of an old building on Evernia Street in West Palm Beach that costs the county $200,000 a year. Moving the health department would provide decent offices and allow the county to sell the Evernia property, near the planned CityPlace development. The new 100,000-square-foot clinic would be built on county land on the east side of Australian south of the present county home. It would house general services now provided at the health department's rented West Palm Beach clinic and some now provided at its Riviera Beach clinic. It would include a laboratory and an urgent care center. The legislature has already provided $1.4 million in planning money. District officials have reached tentative agreement with ColumbiaHCA Healthcare Corp., which owns Palm Beach Regional, to buy it for $4.8 million. If the other dominoes in this scenario topple properly and the legislature plays its $10 million role, Palm Beach County could end up with much better health facilities at very reasonable cost. e damage to Palm Beach Coun ty's referendum prospects from the Joy Miltenberger episode Won't be undone by the former school Cafeteria chiefs guilty plea to official misconduct. The fallout will dissipate "When such problems stop happening. For her Energy Express Cafe approach to public-school lunches blending visual excitement and health-consciousness Mrs. Miltenberger had earned national recogni-ti6n. The cafeteria system she ran for 15 years came under investigation in -January, however, after The Post began reporting that $900,000 more than the school board approved had been spent on two contracts. District officials say an electronic purchasing system now prevents such occurrences, because a computer flags spending that would exceed that authorized by the school board. Mrs. Miltenberger was not charged in the overspending, however. Investigators learned she had illegally pocketed $2,626.72 in speaking fees, paid to the private consulting firm she and her husband had established with the familiar name Energy Express Cafe Inc. The official mis- A clinic on , tate and local health officials have I devised a plan to improve servic-' es in Palm Beach County while saving taxpayers money. It's smart planning, not magic. But key to making it work is $10 million from the legislature. Florida Department of Health Secretary Dr. James Howell says a new $10 million clinic will be the top Palm Beach County health issue before legislators. Sen. William "Doc" Myers, R-Hobe Sound, Senate Presi-dentToni Jennings' top health adviser, supports it. Frugal House folks should love the role it plays in the larger plan. ; ' That plan, a positive twist on the domino theory, begins with the Palm Beach County Health Care District's heed for larger offices. , Last summer district officials looked at buildings and realized that Palm Beach Regional Hospital in Lake Worth, vacant since 1995, might serve several purposes. The hospital not only could house the district offices but also its drug warehouse, saving $350,000 a year in rent. It could also house the 210-bed county home and general care facility, which the district manages. The home, at 45th Street and Australian Avenue in West Palm Beach, needs extensive repairs estimated at up to $11 million. the flat tax. : Tom Blackburn is an editorial writer for The Palm Beach Post. under fire I II 1 1 111 II II III um chloride. He told one couple, "We don't see anything obviously wrong with any of them, so we're just debating which one is easiest to get to." It's possible that as technology and technique improve, many of the morally troubling aspects of the fertility business will disappear. But the rapid growth of the business is itself troubling. Correcting fertility problems involves enormous costs that someone will have to pay, possibly the government, more likely health plans already under heavy financial constraints and ever more likely to skimp on basic services. Those of us who are parents . can sympathize with the often desperate attempt to bear a child. But as social policy, the commitment of heavy resources here is questionable. It makes much more sense to stress adoption and to discourage behavior likely to produce infertility (very delayed child-bearing, many sexual partners). Two muted cheers for the fertility industry. B John Leo is a contributing editor to. U.S. News & World Report. JF-.'U-- .... -i THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Bobbi McCaughey is seen in her hospital bed at the Iowa Methodist Hospital Center in Des Moines, Iowa, prior to giving birth to her septuplets. The fertility' business is a $4 billion industry that is by and large for-profit and unregulated that will inevitably feel pressure to skip all the fuss about ethics and just give the customer what she wants. Everyone is happy for the Mc-Caugheys, but the jubilation about the birth of the septuplets is not exactly unrestrained. This was not a desperate and childless older couple. The McCaugh-eys were still in their 20s, and 16 months after the first child turned again to the aggressive drug treatment that resulted in the six extra births. John Leo Their doctor, Katherine Hauser, certainly can be second-guessed for overseeing a pregnancy begun when Bobbi McCaughey's ovaries contained at least seven mature eggs. The drug Metrodin stimulates egg production, but those eggs can be counted through ultrasound, and doctors usually advise a couple to abstain from sex until the next cycle if the egg count is high. Instead of explaining what she did and why, Ms. Hauser opted for an irrelevant argument based on rights, testily asking reporters, "Should we as a society dictate to individuals the size of their families or their choices of reproductive care?" No, but doctors ought to be able to count to seven, and when counseling a couple, they have a moral obligation to explain the predicament and awful options that confront a woman who is carrying seven fetuses. Of course, it's possible that the McCaugheys fully understood the situation but decided not to wait for another cycle and another expensive treatment. Nobody knows the conversations Ms. Hauser had with the McCaugheys, but it's safe to say that many couples who put themselves into the hands of a fertility specialist don't know what they are getting into. The fact that the fertility business is a rapidly expanding $4 biluon industry plays a role, too. The industry is by and large for-profit and unregulated. Competitiveness and all the talk about "market forces" meeting "consumer demand" set the stage for overly aggressive treatment and quick results that can be advertised and used against competitors. Some sales pitches come with money-back guarantees. Aggressive treatment depends on abortion to get rid of the extra fetuses. Almost inevitably, this encourages ever more casualness about treating human life this way. A Wall Street Journal story cites a 54-year-old woman, pregnant with twins, who decided to eliminate one though "fetal reduction" because she didn't want to be paying two college tuitions at age 75. The Journal also reported on Dr. Mark Evans, "a pioneer in fatal reduction," who checks to see if any candidates for "reduction" show deformities before inserting his needle of potassi

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