"Florida's new age of harmonic convergence"?
"Politics wouldn't be politics without some amusing, sometimes prickly comments between and among the powers that be. Their banter helps us know that a two-party system and three branches of government are still in place for counterbalance - even in Florida's new age of harmonic convergence."
In the Senate, Minority Leader Steve Geller said that, even as he disagrees with Crist on what he called the governor's retreat before the battle has begun on embryonic stem-cell research, he's optimistic. The Hallandale Beach Democrat already has met with Crist more in a month "than I did with Jeb in eight years," he said, so he's holding out hope for a meeting of the minds."There's a new dynamic in the capital".
"When the dust settles, you have a totally new dynamic here," agreed Gelber. "(Jeb) was an ideologue . . . right-leaning and with a strong libertarian streak. We now have a governor who is a populist, which means the Democrats are going to have to pick our battles.
Is this "Journalism"?
This AP story is simply pathetic; is this really "news"?: "Gov. Charlie Crist handled the first natural disaster since taking office quickly and compassionately, and his concern and leadership in the wake of a deadly tornado earned him respect from other officials Saturday." The first "official" out of the box to praise Charlie in this purported "news" story is, of all people, Jebbie:
"I don't know every detail but best I can tell he responded quickly, mobilized support, got on the ground fast, showed compassion and concern," Bush said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. "I think he is leading well."Next up, one of Charlie's employees:
Those on the ground with Crist shared the praise. Maj. Gen. Douglas Burnett, the adjutant general of the Florida Guard, said he had designated places Friday for Crist to land on a Blackhawk helicopter tour of the damage, but when Crist saw devastated neighborhoods, he asked to break away from the schedule and meet with people affected by the storm.The next official out of the box is Florida's own
"He goes to the people," Burnett said. "It was pretty interesting to see him land, go into the community, go door-to-door."
Crist came across a woman in Lady Lake who didn't have milk for her baby, and he personally went to a convenience store, bought milk and sandwiches and returned, Burnett said.
"That's engaged leadership," Burnett said, before making a comparison to working with Bush. "He did a great job, too. He took us to a good level. I think Gov. Crist will take us to the next level. All of Florida is very proud of their governor today."
Sen. Mel Martinez, a fellow Republican who has toured with Bush after hurricanes, liked what he saw in Crist.Last, but not least, Bill Nelson apparently was questioned about whether Charlie was as fabulous as everyone claimed; Nelson - who is explicitly identified as a Democrat (we must be "balanced") - "praised" Charlie for letting him go along on the helicopter ride,
saying Crist went out of his way to make sure he and Martinez could tour the area with Federal Emergency Management Agency Director David Paulison."Crist praised for quick, compassionate response to tornado".
"We just really appreciate this inclusive, very proactive approach that Gov. Crist is taking," Nelson said.
Special Election Scramble
"Rep. John Quinones' decision to resign last week has set off a frenzy from Kissimmee to Tallahassee as strategists in both political parties scramble for a sudden election in one of the most competitive state House districts in Florida. Quinones, a Republican, represented the district for the past four years."
But the area, which stretches from Kissimmee to Azalea Park and where voters of Hispanic descent outnumber any other demographic, is awfully friendly territory for Democrats."Not surprisingly, Democratic candidates are lining up for a crack at it, now that Quinones has decided to run for a new seat on the Osceola County Commission instead."
Jim Davis, last year's Democratic nominee for governor, won 53 percent of the vote in the district, compared to just 45 percent statewide. John Kerry, the party's 2004 presidential nominee, won 55 percent of the district's vote but just 47 percent in Florida.
Party strategists are talking up Darren Soto, a 28-year-old commercial and civil-rights lawyer who last year lost a challenge to veteran Rep. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, in a neighboring district. But also running is Bill McManus, who served eight years in the Legislature in Massachusetts and who likewise ran in a nearby state House district last fall, losing to freshman Rep. Stephen Precourt, R-Orlando."Republicans will likely counter in the April 24 general election with a familiar face: former state Rep. Tony Suarez, who launched his campaign Friday."
Suarez was actually a Democrat during his brief, late-'90s tour of duty in the Florida House, though he later switched to Republican. He also lost a 2002 state Senate race to Democratic Sen. Gary Siplin of Orlando."Sudden exit of Quinones sets off mad scramble in race".
Orange County Republican Party Chairman Lew Oliver, who personally endorsed Suarez even before Quinones officially stepped down, acknowledged that the seat is "really tough for a Republican." ...
But Oliver pointed out that Suarez, a lawyer who also hosts a radio show, should be much better known than the prospective Democratic nominees -- which could prove a critical advantage in a such a hurry-up campaign.
"Florida counties pulverized by tornadoes declared disaster areas".
Who knew? Apparently, how a given class performs on the FCAT somehow defines which teachers are the "best":
For the first time, millions of Florida parents might know this summer which teachers are the best and which aren't, at least according to the state's test-heavy formula."The coming revelation is a little-discussed but potentially huge spinoff of the state's new plan to reward teacher bonuses based on student performance."
Much of the bonus information will be public record. And given how sweeping and controversial the pay plan is, media outlets across the state are likely to publish lists of teachers who get the bonuses - and maybe even rankings of teachers who don't."How good is teacher? Bonus plan may tell".
Supporters say publicity will put a much-needed spotlight on teacher quality, in the same way that school grades focused attention on school quality. They also see a new tool for parental empowerment that could be used to force schools to improve the way they hire and fire teachers.
Our Dirty, Rising Seas
"People in low-lying coastal zones, like much of the state of Florida, might want to take a better look at the ocean waters that a new global warming report predicts will steadily creep ashore. The seas aren't just rising because of human influence on climate, as a United Nations panel reported last week. They are in terrible condition, too." "Oceans' future linked to warming debate Advocates hope to capitalize on climate-change talks". See also "90 percent certain" "Floridians should pay special attention to the warnings in the international report on climate change released Friday in Paris.".
"The start of the Legislature's 2007 regular session is only about a month away, which means lawmakers are scrambling to squeeze out campaign contributions before the opening gavel." "Lawmakers dash for cash".
The Miami Herald editorial board this morning:
Optical-scan machines have problems, too. With these machines, voters are expected to darken an oval or complete an arrow to indicate their preference. But some voters mark the oval with an X, draw a circle around it or make some other mark that fails to register as a vote. Error margins for optical scanners range from 1 percent to more than 6 percent. But with optical scanners, unlike with touch-screen machines, accurate recounts can be made and voters' intent discerned by reviewing the ballots and looking at the marks that were made. Moreover, the error rate for optical scanners drops when recounts are made with equipment that identifies voting errors."Florida still searching for an election fix".
Note: of course, back in 2000 when the SCOTUS stepped in, Florida never did get to finish one of those "accurate recounts" to determine "intent discerned by reviewing the ballots" in connection with the "1 percent to more than 6 percent" ballot error rate in optical-scan counties.
Late to the Game
"Instead of being the butt of jokes when it comes to Election Day fiascoes, Florida is now on the verge of being a national leader, thanks to Gov. Charlie Crist's vow to ban the use of touch-screen voting machines." "Restore trust".
Charlie Crist and his cheerleaders in the media are a bit late to the game on touch-screen voting. I believe there is a fellow named Sancho who has been all over this issue, as well as another dude named Wexler. Give credit where credit is due.
More on the issue: "During the chad-hanging agony of Florida's 2000 presidential election, it would have been hard to imagine a politician appearing before a crowd and promising more manual recounts - and getting applause. But after six years and a contentious experiment with paperless electronic voting in much of the state, Democratic U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler last week made hand recounts sound as appealing as low-cost prescription drugs when he spoke to a senior-dominated audience west of Delray Beach." "Quest for voting certainty leads back to paper".
"The outcome is sure to be ugly"
The Tampa Trib editors: "Florida's property tax laws need reconstructive surgery. But with the governor and lawmakers wielding axes instead of scalpels, the outcome is sure to be ugly."
Crist is proposing arbitrary property-tax cuts that have nothing to do with inflation or needs. He wants to allow counties to double the homestead exemption, allow homeowners to transfer tax caps from one property to the next, and expand the Save Our Homes taxable-value cap to include businesses and rental property."Smart Limit On County Spending Responsible Way To Rein In Taxes".
Crist does not suggest a cap on local government spending, and perhaps that is best left to individual cities and counties to decide for themselves. But no question, local government revenues have skyrocketed because of rising property values. Hillsborough's property tax revenues increased 16 percent this year, even after commissioners rolled back millage. And in the city of Tampa, revenue from property taxes go up more than 20 percent in the 2007 budget.
Crist hears taxpayers' frustration at such increases, but his proposals would take an unpredictable bite out of state and local revenue. And they would hit with uneven impact.
Under the governor's plan, local officials would be pressured to raise the homestead exemption to $50,000. The move would take thousands of homes off the tax rolls, even in urban counties like Hillsborough, and shift burdens to other taxpayers. Hillsborough has nearly 260,000 homesteads. To give each another $25,000 exemption would take more than $6 billion in value off the rolls.
The St Pete Times chimes in: "For the first time in 20 years, the stars are aligned in Tallahassee for a serious debate about Florida's inequitable tax structure. ... Before this debate enters the realm of fiscal apocalypse, lawmakers would do well to separate the real from the imagined or perceived."
REALITY NO. 1: The Save Our Homes exemption limits annual increases in taxable value on homesteaded property to 3 percent or the inflation rate, whichever is lower. It is creating enormous inequities in taxes between homesteads that are similar in value. The break artificially limits the property value for homeowners who stay put, because the taxable value rises to the full value when homesteads are sold. In the past 12 years, as prices soared with a hot real estate market, Save Our Homes limited the annual increase in tax value to an average of just 2.4 percent."On taxes, heed these facts". See also "Property taxes create a 'perfect storm'".
REALITY NO. 2: Save Our Homes has shifted the overall property tax burden from more expensive homes to more modest ones and from homesteads to businesses and apartments. Some small businesses have faced additional pressure from an appraisal approach called "highest and best use," which sometimes taxes a mom-and-pop motel as though it were a high-rise condo.
REALITY NO. 3: When it comes to rising property taxes, lawmakers bring dirty hands. The state has been quietly shifting more of the burden of school funding from the state's general revenue to local property taxes. In the past five years, the amount of required school property taxes has increased 68 percent. Last year alone, lawmakers required that school property taxes rise by 17 percent, or $1.1-billion.
REALITY NO. 4: Property tax collections have indeed exceeded the rate of inflation and population growth in recent years, but they remain below the national average in the latest surveys. Also, Florida, one of only seven states with no income tax, is still a low-tax state. It ranks 44th in state and local taxes as a percentage of income, and its "business tax climate" was rated this year as the fifth most favorable in America.
The Confederate Flag Thing
This passage by Michael Mayo ought to raise some hackles: "Sorry, but if wearing a rebel flag is the best Southerners can do to celebrate their heritage, maybe it's time someone comes up with a less divisive symbol. After all, you can find plenty of proud German-Americans who don't run around wearing swastikas." "Southern discomfort: It's time for a new symbol of `pride'".
Charlie's "Insan[e]" Plan
"The debate about whether we are cooking up bigger hurricanes with global warming just got a little less debatable. It is 'more likely than not,' the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said last week." That
points out the insanity of Charlie Crist's taxpayer bailout of the coastal-insurance market. Insurance rates on the coast need to go up, and he is cutting them. And now he wants to cut property taxes for those who own investment or second-home condos on the beach."Such measures are intended to prop up an overbuilt and inflated coastal real-estate market."
Crist is from St. Petersburg, where condo sales are foundering badly, particularly on Clearwater Beach."As Earth warms, coastal housing sales must cool".
Senate President Ken Pruitt is from Port St. Lucie, where the median sales price for a home in December was $240,000. In December 2005, it was $263,300.
House Speaker Marco Rubio is from Miami-Dade, which may be the most saturated and precarious condo market in the nation.
They are using taxpayers to prop up their hometown real-estate values.
And the result is that this will only encourage more dense development as local governments look to cash in on the property taxes.
Our coastal growth machine is about to collide with storms, the likes of which we may never have seen.
"Pay to Play"
"A state grand jury declared developers and businesses “perceive that West Palm Beach is in fact a 'pay to play' city” in its long-awaited report on how business in done in West Palm Beach." "WPB Perceived As “Pay To Play City” Says Grand Jury". Howard Goodman: "W. Palm campaign donations not illegal, just troubling".
Stupid Is ...
Stupid is as stupid does: "As if Gov. Charlie Crist hasn't had enough ammunition against the insurance industry. Crist said last week that his parents had been dropped by Tower Hill Insurance Group. Dr. Charles J. and Nancy Crist, in their 70s, live on Snell Isle in St. Petersburg." "Cancellation unlikely to soften governor's stance on insurance".
"Crist's efforts to help the mentally ill packing Florida jails address the wrong end of the problem, says Mary Ruiz, CEO of Manatee Glens, the county's psychiatric hospital."
Less than one-third of a $79 million increase earmarked in the governor's budget proposal would go toward community programs that would keep the mentally ill out of jail, Ruiz said."Critics: Crist's mental health budget plan falls short".
"It's backwards," Ruiz said. "Gov. Crist's budget addresses the crisis, but not the cause - the fact that Florida is 48th out of 50 states in per capita investment for mental health services."
Reap What 'Ye Sow
Scott Maxwell: "Teachers in Florida have been forced to teach for tests. They live and die by FCATs."
And if the FCAT isn't asking students about the arts, then the arts may no longer be a top priority."Maybe we should test in art, too".
And they should be. ..
The concern is that arts education is losing out in a state that underfunds education in general. And that should be a concern for all, considering that studies show that students involved in the arts have higher self-esteem, are more involved in their communities and often do better on everything from SAT scores to critical analysis.
Sounds Like a Plan
"The School Board is sending the Palm Beach County legislative delegation to Tallahassee with a 'to do' list for the session that begins March 6. The guiding message of the list: Make changes to help students stay interested in learning and keep them in school."
As a means to that end, the list includes raising teacher salaries; considering changes in the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test to give teachers more leeway to teach and less pressure to concentrate on school grades; and increasing funding for career education."Palm Beach County School Board issues 'to do' list to legislative delegation".
Charlie Gets a Pass
Stop the presses, Charlie is getting a pass on his stem cell flip-flop, and his "attempting to sidestep the debate altogether. Limiting use of state money to adult stem cells from places like umbilical cord blood and amniotic fluid, along with embryonic lines produced before 2001, appeases religious groups and a skeptical Florida Legislature alike." We see headlines like this: "Scientists welcome state stem-cell funding", where complaints about the flip-flop attributed primarily to "Democrats":
Democrats and embryonic research supporters said the governor was reneging on a campaign pledge to support embryonic research.Id.You'd ever know that from the headline.
''Most scientists believe embryonic has the potential almost to be able to cure the multitude of diseases and illnesses that exist,'' said Palm Beach County Commissioner Burt Aaronson, who leads a group called Floridians for Stem Cell Research and Cures trying to put embryonic research funding in the state Constitution.
''We're talking about the possibility of the greatest amount of cures. This now forbids embryonic stem cell research funding.''
"Taking a cue from the Cuban-American exile community, Venezuelans in South Florida are turning to radio to slam their homeland's controversial leader and unify their community." "Venezuelans in South Florida turning to radio to blast Chavez".
Red State Blues
Simply embarrassing: "Florida's Advanced Placement high school graduates know less about civics and American history than their counterparts in every other comparable state."
Former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham and former U.S. Rep. Lou Frey:
75 percent of public-school students reach the fourth grade without being able to identify the Constitution as the document that sets basic federal government rules."Enlist new generation of Florida citizens".
Ninety-one percent of students reach the 12th grade without being able to explain two ways that citizen participation in the political process benefits democracy.
More than 40 percent of the entire population cannot identify the three branches of government.
Less than 20 percent of voters bothered to turn out in a recent primary election to choose nominees for governor and the U.S. Senate.
The state ranks 39th in average voter turnout and 49th in volunteering.
Sadly, these numbers are not a figment of the imagination but a reality of nightmarish proportions here in Florida. They suggest two disturbing trends: that many Floridians are not motivated to participate in our state's civic life, and that even if they had the necessary desire, many Floridians would not know where or how to begin.
And education is only part of it: "The dark side of the Sunshine State is that it is a state of dropouts. Too many people come here to idle away their remaining years gated from the world. Too many more are born here never to take interest in improving on their birthright. And few of those who are schooled here gain even a functional knowledge of their government, political history or the mechanics of citizenship. For Florida's sake, it's time we change that at the most fundamental levels." "Democracy in jeopardy?"
Jason Caros, president of the Florida Association of Social Studies Supervisors: "Policymakers fail test on civics".
"Crist's new job may be the most important in state government, but it's a long way from the most lucrative - by almost a couple million dollars." "FSU Coach Is Chief Earner Among State Employees".
"At Lake Eola park, there is much beauty to behold: robust palms, beds of cheery begonias, a cascading lake fountain, clusters of friendly egrets and swans, an amphitheater named in honor of Walt Disney. Then there are the signs."
DO NOT LIE OR OTHERWISE BE IN A HORIZONTAL POSITION ON A PARK BENCH ... DO NOT SLEEP OR REMAIN IN ANY BUSHES, SHRUBS OR FOLIAGE ... per city code sec. 18A.09 (a) and (o)."In Orlando, law forbids feeding homeless and a debate is sparked".
Visit the park’s restrooms, and you’ll find this sign on the wall above the hand dryers:
BATHING AND/OR SHAVING IN RESTROOM IS PROHIBITED ... per city code 18A.09 (p) ... LAUNDERING CLOTHES IN LAKE EOLA PARK IS NOT PERMITTED.
More Than This
Randy Schultz: "After decades of selling sunshine and cheap living, Florida has to update the sales pitch." "Can Florida be more than sunshine?".