"As Florida's economy has cooled and housing costs and tax burdens have squeezed budgets, property taxes will take center stage during the 60-day session." "Lawmakers turn to tax issues".
Steve Bousquet: "Campaign promises can be costly. In a tight budget year, can politicians show us the money and where it will be spent? And as Florida keeps developing, can the wetlands be saved? The reality is sinking in that there's not enough money in the state budget for Gov. Charlie Crist to keep all of his campaign promises and cut taxes, too." "Budget: The state budget and tax cuts are where the campaign rhetoric will meet the road.".
More: "Floridians' frustration and anger fueling a firestorm as state legislators convene". See also "Budget squeezes legislative agenda", "Shifting the burden: Can they resolve Florida's property tax dilemma?", "Property-tax relief tops agenda in Tallahassee", "Lawmakers likely to address Save Our Homes portability", "Pressure is on for fast tax reforms" ("Politicians harped on hot-button issue; now, they feel the heat to find quick fix"), "Property, sales taxes expected to dominate upcoming session", "Lower taxes is lawmakers' top priority", "Crist's top priorities" and "Daunting session in store" ("Tight budget, soaring taxes await lawmakers").
Take a detailed look at the "Property tax proposals".
The Tallahassee Democrat editorial board: "If Florida Republicans intend to remain a national force in the 2008 elections, and help recover some of the dignity lost by the slap to President Bush over, primarily, his war policies, then they will be tempted to look at things through an ideological prism: How to keep moderate Florida Republicans from defecting." "Focus".
The Miami Herald editors observe that "in addition to property taxes and windstorm-insurance relief, a third priority for lawmakers -- in our opinion -- should be education, including funding for meeting class-size requirements. Below is our assessment of these issues: "Unfinished business".
The Palm Beach Post editors: "The Legislature opens its session Tuesday with millions of Floridians begging for the state to do anything on property taxes. As House Minority Leader Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, says, 'My worry is just that: We may do anything.'" "Make tax plan for 2007 better tax plan for 2008".
The Daytona Beach News-Journal editorial board review "the top issues before legislators as they begin their 2007 session". "Legislative agenda".
Meet the GOP's Hillsborough and Pasco County Leaders
"Republican shock-blonde Ann Coulter called John Edwards a 'faggot' in a speech to a conservative group Friday. Here's a sampling of comments from Republicans who were buttonholed at the Pinellas County Republican Party’s Lincoln Day fundraising dinner Saturday and asked their reaction:"
-- Hillsborough County GOP Chairman David Storck: "If the gal from the Dixie Chicks can call the president names, I guess Coulter has a right to say what she wants."Charlie conceded that "'It sounds outrageously inappropriate.'". Remember that "Coulter, from Palm Beach, got $20,000 to be keynote speaker at the Palm Beach County party’s Lincoln Day dinner last month." More here: "GOPers React To Coulter 'Faggot' Remark".
-- Pasco County Party Chairman Bill Bunting: "I have a lot of respect for her and I stand behind her. I wish she’d be the speaker at my dinner."
At the Trough
Grubbing for Dollars: "Barred from raising money during the 60-day session, lawmakers are racing to beat the opening gavel. And the session's start serves as a handy motivator for check-writing lobbyists, industries and others with a stake in the laws the Legislature will pass over the next two months."
House Republicans were set to kick off the homestretch blitz in style this weekend, with a Saturday evening boat cruise off the Panhandle coast hosted by Speaker Marco Rubio, R-West Miami, and the two legislators in line to succeed him, Republican Reps. Ray Sansom of Destin and Dean Cannon of Winter Park."Lawmakers scrambling to gather bucks before session".
Contributors were invited to take advantage of the Republican Party of Florida's block of rooms at the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort, a posh hotel overlooking the Gulf of Mexico and featuring 15 tennis courts, four golf courses and a full-service marina complete with charter sailing and fishing boats.
The frenzy kicks up a gear Monday, the eve of the session. At least a dozen lawmakers will be holding fundraisers in Tallahassee -- and presumably trying to not trip over each other while they do so.
Loopholes are "Way Out of Hand": Mary Ann Lindley, the Tallahassee Democrat editorial page editor: "Tomorrow night will be the annual reprise of one of the biggest see-and-be-seen events in town: the Associated Industries of Florida's reception for the Legislature."
It's a lavish event with movers and shakers by the hundreds coming to the AIF patio on Adams Street, a few doors down from the Governor's Mansion. For some 20 years, guests have been so enamored of this event, shrimp piled high, drinks flowing freely, that they truly don't always know enough to come in out of the rain. On occasion, even when it started sprinkling, the networking would continue until a small river was running underneath the arches of the women's high heels. ..."Have check, will talk".
Yet, the thing for the ordinary citizen to remember, and to protest, is that last year's stringent new ethics-and-gift bans don't really stymie exclusive access to lawmakers. They restrict it only if your resources are limited - not if you have the money to pay your way around the rules. And with recent reports of the $200 million at least that big-business lobbyists earned last year, that's not a problem.
Such loopholes in our election laws ought not be allowed to stand. They have gotten way out of hand.
"Crackpot Theory", "Florida-style"
Randy Schultz notes that "Florida in 2007 is starting to sound like Washington in 1981."
That year, Ronald Reagan took office, embracing the philosophy known as "supply-side economics." At the risk of oversimplifying - who wouldn't want to oversimplify economics? - the theory is that if you cut taxes to an ideal point, tax revenue will go way up because people will have more money to invest, and the economy will grow.Here's the kicker:
Two weeks ago, Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio, R-West Miami, released his plan for property tax relief. In Phase 1, the Legislature would reduce property tax collections to all local governments, except school districts, to 2000-01 levels - a drop of nearly $6 billion. Budget cuts, Rep. Rubio claims, would result in a 20 percent tax savings statewide. In Phase 2, voters would abolish the property tax for homesteads, and the Legislature would raise the sales tax from 6 cents to 8 1/2 cents, making up the added $8 billion from ending the property tax.
The House supplied 14 pages of backup material from the econometrics consulting firm of Arduin, Laffer & Moore. The Arduin is Donna Arduin, former budget director for Gov. Bush, who not long ago backed the idea of abolishing all property taxes in Florida, including those for businesses and second homes. The Laffer is Arthur Laffer. He was an economic adviser to President Reagan. His unofficial title: The Father of Supply-Side Economics."Tax plan lets haves have more".
Obviously, Dr. Laffer and the other Reaganites were going after the income tax. Florida doesn't have an income tax, so it's harder to compare the changes that Rep. Rubio, Ms. Arduin and others want to make in Florida. Asked whether this would be supply-side, Florida-style, Ms. Arduin said, "Call it what you will."
As we wrote yesterday, in "The Real Culprit", the Laffer curve is referred to in this New York Review of Books piece by Jason Epstein as "the crackpot theory that led Ronald Reagan to believe that huge tax cuts in federal taxes would lead to federal surpluses, when the actual outcome proved to be a cumulative deficit of $3.5 trillion." Now, the "crackpot theory" is back, as Schultz puts it, "Florida-style".
"Key players in this session". More:
Pruitt: "State Sen. Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, is a survivor who has learned some political lessons the hard way and now values bipartisan cooperation over conflict." "Pruitt's aim: an emphasis on consensus". See also "Ken Pruitt".
Geller: "Can state Sen. Steve Geller, D-Hallandale Beach, put aside his self-promotion and self- interest in gambling and insurance so he can help other Democrats?" "Knowledgeable, voluble Democrat is sure to be heard".
Rubio: "When Marco Rubio first entered the Florida Legislature, he was a 28-year-old attorney just four years out of law school. His sole possession was a Toyota Camry, he didn't own his own home and he was paying off student loans."
That was only seven years ago."Rubio's goal: Change political culture". See also "Marco Rubio" and this interesting St Pete Times piece, "A speaker of intrigue and ambition" ("Rubio's youth belies his plans for Florida. And beyond.")
Now the West Miami Republican owns three houses, has a $300,000-a-year job at a law firm and has become the first Cuban-American to become speaker of the Florida House.
His evolution doesn't stop there. The telegenic and rapid-talking lawmaker has gone from being a fervent defender of the GOP agenda to speaking in bold, sweeping strokes about a need to change the ''culture'' and ''dialogue'' in Tallahassee.
Gelber: "Gelber, the House Democratic leader, is pushing against another seemingly unstoppable force -- the GOP-controlled House."
While the Miami Beach native is friends with House Speaker Marco Rubio, Gelber is also responsible for leading the fight against the Republicans for the next two years."He's the loyal opposition -- who can work with GOP". See also "Dan Gelber".
The tall, lanky 46-year-old attorney and former federal prosecutor has already done something that hasn't been done in more than two decades: win back House seats. In the 2006 election, Democrats took six seats once held by Republicans. But the margin still remains lopsided: Out of 120 House seats, Democrats hold 41.
That hasn't stopped the competitive spirit of the wise-cracking and energetic Gelber, who was on the crew team at Tufts University and still plays basketball often.
Weeki Wachee Springs
"The newly spruced up theme park remains embroiled in a distasteful dispute over its lease with a state agency that Weeki Wachee Springs' owners say could spell the end for one of the remaining tourist gems of old Florida, celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. But the agency, the Southwest Florida Water Management District, which owns the spring and surrounding land and leases it to the attraction, says Weeki Wachee Springs owners are the ones being obstinate and denies that it wants the place shut down. Lawsuits have flown back and forth. Mediation hasn't worked, so now it's left to a judge to sort out at a trial scheduled for August." "Weeki Wachee Springs, home of the live mermaids, still struggling".
"Just one day before the 2007 session begins, House Republicans will meet Monday to designate the man who will serve as House speaker for the session that begins two years from now. Rep. Ray Sansom, R-Destin, informally locked up the job two years ago, beating out Reps. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and Carl Domino, R-Jupiter, in the shadowy, behind-the-scenes campaign to build support within the Republican caucus." "Making it official" (scroll down).
"Fla. lawmakers rev up push for NASCAR license plates".
The Sun-Sentinel editors on the death penalty: "Worry about proper procedure, not possible pain." "Death Penalty". The St Pete Times is a little less cold: "Lethal injections are horribly flawed".
"Governing the fourth-largest state in the nation and its 18 million residents is not all that tricky to Gov. Charlie Crist." "Crist doesn't sweat details".
Costly Political Stunt
"Crist wants the Anti-Murder Act to be the first thing passed during the legislative session that begins Tuesday. Despite the multimillion-dollar price tag, even bigger than originally estimated, Republican and Democratic leaders have indicated they'll oblige by the end of this week. But even those who support the legislation's sentiment worry about the potential financial burden on Florida's prison system and on local courts and jails, which already strain under the weight of earlier corrections policies and laws such as "Zero Tolerance" and "10-20-Life."" "Crist's hard line on crime pricey".
"A cry of foul erupted across the state last year when it was discovered that courts in a number of counties were keeping cases off the public docket, essentially erasing their very existence. Even worse, it appeared that Broward County was keeping cases off the docket to protect prominent and influential people from public embarrassment. In places like Pinellas and Pasco, where dozens of cases were also hidden from public view, the motives seemed more benign and were primarily due to mistakes and misunderstandings. Nonetheless, the problems pointed up the need for a statewide policy. And on Monday, the Florida Supreme Court will hear arguments on a new set of proposed rules on public access to court documents, a plan offered by a committee of the Florida Bar." "Put court openness atop docket".
Modelling Rate Increases
"Will Florida insurance companies be allowed to determine your rates with help from a computer model that tries to predict the future? The question matters because insurers could use the new model to justify large rate increases despite recent legislative reforms." "Insurance model review is tricky".
"The small Florida town of Largo has been thrust into the national spotlight after its top official revealed that he is preparing for a sex-change." "Town rocked by sex-change case". See also yesterday's "Survey: Largo unfair to Stanton" and "Poll: Ousting Stanton was wrong".
Phillip Gailey asks: "Where have all the true believers gone?"
That is the lament among Republican conservatives these days. They are unhappy with the party's top-tier presidential candidates. ...And then there's Charlie:
One of the few names that makes conservative hearts throb is Jeb Bush, but they know any presidential ambitions he may harbor will have to wait. He is a political casualty of his big brother's misadventure in Iraq, a mistake that became a quagmire that became a major foreign policy disaster. The unpopular war has closed the door on a presidential bid by Jeb Bush, perhaps forever.
There is some talk of McCain tapping the former Florida governor as his vice-presidential running mate as a sop to the party's right wing, but I think it would cost McCain more votes than it would bring to the ticket. Let's face it - the last thing most voters will want to see on the 2008 ballot is the name Bush."Crist lights the way for GOP".
Republicans should consider that their party's future may depend less on Jeb Bush than on Charlie Crist, who succeeded Bush as governor in January and is off to one of the most impressive starts I can remember in more than 40 years of covering state and national politics.
Tillie Fowler Lawsuit
"The family of a former U.S. representative [Tillie Fowler] who died after suffering a brain hemorrhage has sued the cardiologist who was treating her, claiming he did not follow a treatment plan. ... She retired after four terms, sticking with a terms limits pledge she made when first elected. When she retired, Fowler was vice chairwoman of the House Republican Conference and fifth in the GOP hierarchy." "Family of former U.S representative sues her cardiologist".
How About "Honeymoon in Palatka"?
The Orlando Sentinel editorial board argues that "Florida should be supporting its minority citizens, not mouthing lyrics that include 'longing for de old plantation.'" "Not the same old song".
Mark Lane notes that
There really isn't a well-known candidate out there. While Florida is good at inspiring poets, novelists and artists on vacation, we're weak in the songwriting department, "Margaritaville" excepted.E-mail Mark Lane with your ideas: mailto:email@example.com. "State song problems resurface".
And then you have resentment from North Florida traditionalists who for the past century had been pretty good at passing off North Florida's identity as the same as the state's as a whole. Which, it isn't. Even in 1935 when the Legislature voted to make this the state song.
So what to do?
We kinda like Muddy Waters' "Deep Down in Florida" (lyrics here (note that "uberry" should be "Newberry")).
By the way, did you know that "Gainesville and its environs have inspired plenty of songs, however, from ska tunes to spoofs."
On Petty's "A Mind with a Heart of Its Own" from the album "Full Moon Fever," he sings, "I been to Brooker and I been to Micanopy." On the title track to country strummer John Anderson's 1992 album "Seminole Wind," the breeze in question blows "From the Okeechobee/All the way up to Micanopy."It could be a close race between "Deep Down in Florida" and "Honeymoon in Palatka".
If we're willing to stretch the geographical bounds of this concept a bit, we can include "Honeymoon in Palatka" by folk singer Mark Smith, which garnered plenty of attention when it came out in 1999. Smith's song makes the unlikely claim "Honeymoon in Palatka/Don't want no Waikiki/The Holiday Inn at the foot of the bridge is good enough for me." As it turns out, Palatka was good enough for President Grover Cleveland, who honeymooned there with his 21-year-old wife, Frances, in 1886.
"Don't bank on Florida moving its '08 presidential primary very early just yet. The Buzz is that Altamonte Springs Republican Lee Constantine, chairman of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee, wants to schedule the primary for mid February, when the presidential nominations are likely to be already set. The current proposal in the Legislature, aimed at increasing Florida's influence in the nominating process, calls for rescheduling Florida's traditional March primary to Feb. 5 or one week after New Hampshire's tentatively scheduled Jan. 22 primary, whichever is sooner." "Feb. 5 presidential primary not a slam dunk".
Don't Forget the Disclaimer
"When it comes to political sentiment, it's OK to wear it on your sleeve. But to be safe, you probably shouldn't put it on a sign without a disclaimer."
Some aspects of state elections law are clearer than others when it comes to sending a political message."Is it free speech, or paid politics? ".
One part soon will be tested in an appeals court when a judge decides whether political consultant Doug Guetzloe should have put a disclaimer on an attack flier he sent to Winter Park voters last year.
While he waits for the 5th District Court of Appeal in Daytona Beach to rule on the law's constitutionality, another election is in full swing. Questions are already being raised about potentially similar situations.
A fine line separates constitutionally protected free speech from what runs afoul of Florida's election laws.
"Florida royalty "
"Blue Head Ranch is flat, parched grassland split in two by a stretch of blacktop called U.S. 70."
But this dusty outpost could become one of Central Florida's hottest real estate commodities if a mammoth toll road wins approval by the state. Nearly all of Blue Head Ranch lies within a large swath where a $7-billion expressway could go."Who's driving this road effort?". See also "JD Alexander Parkway".
The 62,000-acre ranch belongs to a company headed by J.D. Alexander, a powerful state senator with Florida royalty in his blood.
Alexander has been instrumental in pushing for the road by helping to form a lobbying group stocked with some of the most storied real estate dynasties in Florida. They, too, own thousands of acres along the toll road route.
The road campaign comes at a time when Alexander's businesses, and those of some of his relatives, are shifting from farming and ranching to land development. Their plans could be aided by a fast expressway through half a dozen rural Florida counties.
Scott Maxwell on electing school board superintendents: "Electing leader might get schools on track".
"A push to change voting machines yet again hopes to restore electoral confidence." "Even with optical scan, will seeing be believing?".
Fort Lauderdale Wingnut Conference
Beth Reinhard yesterday:
At the 2006 ''Reclaiming America for Christ'' conference in Fort Lauderdale, U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris got a standing ovation, Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee was a star attraction, and Republicans controlled the U.S. Congress.And this is mighty Christian ain't it:
Twelve months and one election later, Harris is a colossally failed U.S. Senate candidate, Huckabee is an afterthought as a presidential candidate, and a liberal Democrat from San Francisco named Nancy Pelosi is speaker of the House. Adding insult to injury, Al Gore's movie on climate change just won an Academy Award.
It ain't easy being a Christian conservative in 2007.
"that Obama is an abomination," declared Doris Gostling, 74."Christian right not inspired by candidates".
"Counterargument in two words: Charlie Crist"
Adam Smith writes: "Rudy Giuliani has received remarkably little respect from the political intelligentsia."
The counterargument in two words: Charlie Crist."If Giuliani can get through primaries, he stacks up well".
In the state that's probably the best microcosm of America, Crist didn't just win last year's gubernatorial primary running as a moderate on social issues. He pulverized by 31 percentage points Tom Gallagher, who had loads of GOP establishment support and basically pinned his campaign on religious conservatives.
Florida "state officials remain focused on cranking out development permits. Regulators have 90 days to approve a permit or it's automatically issued. A year later, an inspector is supposed to check compliance. But state employees told investigators two years ago they're so busy rubber-stamping new wetland permits that they hadn't done any inspections in years. Developers know that when it comes to wetlands they can get away with murder, they said." "Wetlands: With pollution problems aplenty, state tries to find way out of muck.".