Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Ups (mostly) and Downs in Florida These Days

While yesterday’s rain has doused some of the haze hovering over the Sunshine State for the past few days, other issues loom large on the horizon. One pertains to the seemingly inexorable rise in the price of gasoline (or commonly called petrol in Malaysia).

I remember when I first arrived here three years ago, the cost of gasoline (regular) was about $1.70 a gallon. Now is close to $3.00, and summer, traditionally a period for a spike in the price of gasoline, is just around the corner.

Inevitably, people start talking about price gouging, perpetrated by individual operators, and racketeering and profiteering, by oil companies whose profits continue to soar beyond comprehension.

Without state intervention, it’s a far-fetched proposition that a business operator will rein in on his/her take when profit maximization is the sine qua non in a marketplace that preaches laissez-faire. That leaves the consumers themselves to adjust, to accommodate, and to innovate. Time-tested strategies include opting for fuel efficient cars, car pooling, human-powered locomotion (bicycles, roller-skates, and the number 11 bus ride), public transport, planning trips, and avoiding traffic jams. Then there are the options for tele-working, home office, Internet shopping, even at-home entertainment.

Another item in the rising basket is property tax, which has put a damper on home ownership, especially in high-valued areas, at the same time becoming a strain on existing home owners. The matter has seen some debate in the State Legislature but so far nothing is certain though some kind of percentage reduction in the rates has been bandied about. As usual, there are entrenched constituents (city and county governments?) who clamor that the revenue is needed for boosting the various services that they provide.

Yet another item under examination is the university tuition fees. At just over $3,000/= a pop (meaning an academic year), Florida ranks among the lowest, if not the lowest, in terms of tuition costs borne by Florida residents. The mantra from the university administrations is that places a premium on attracting top-notched faculties, hampering their ascension to the rank of elite universities.

On the other hand, the State Governor is known for his reluctance to accede to the demands of the state universities in this regard, citing affordable college education as the over-riding concern.

A compromise has come to the fore, in the form of a tier system with some better equipped universities (such as UF and FSU) be given the nod to charge higher tuitions. This differentiated system has received supports from some of the student leaders, rationalizing it as a means to reduce class size and provide better access to academic advising.

About the only thing that is bucking the rising trend is house prices. The housing market is undergoing a lean period, to say the least. And the doldrums may yet persist for a while. Yet mortgage loans are now harder to get, no thanks to the sub-prime loans transacted during the good old days of yore when borrowers with poor and even no credits were treated as valued customers. Now the adjustable rates have ballooned sky-high, forcing borrowers to default on their repayment and the lenders to go under.

In a way, we bought our new (but pre-owned) home at an opportune time when house prices were at an ebb and yet the mortgage market has not yet tightened as yet. Talk about good timing.

P.S. Did you notice something new on the side bar to the right?

No comments: