"Democratic lawmakers blasted Republican property-tax-cut plans Monday, as they sought to get a leg up on the issue expected to anchor Gov. Charlie Crist's first State of the State address today kicking off the 2007 legislative session." "Tax cuts at center of new session". See also "Democrats' property tax relief proposals reject sales tax boost" and "House Democrats offer broader tax relief" ("Emboldened by their virtual veto power, House Democrats have offered a property tax reform plan that would extend the tax breaks to those Floridians who do not own any property.")
Revenues On The Skids
"Florida's budget is in worse shape than predicted just a month ago."
When revenue estimators meet March 12, "we are expected to lose between $500 million and $800 million in recurring funds," Senate Fiscal Policy and Calendar Committee Chairman Lisa Carlton, R-Osprey, told Senate President Ken Pruitt and others Monday. ..."State revenue projection falls short". See also "More bad budget news".
If revenues continue to decline, lawmakers could be faced with a budget that puts crucial services and state agency funding in jeopardy.
No problem ... Just brush aside bad news and ...
Put on a Happy Face
"Exuding confidence and enthusiasm for his first legislative session as Florida's chief executive, Gov. Charlie Crist brushed aside news of a looming slump in state revenues Monday and predicted a productive, harmonious 'partnership' with lawmakers for the next 60 days." "Crist: Session heralds bright future for state".
"Crist will base his first State of the State speech, at 11 a.m. today, on the populist themes that have worked for him in the past." "Crist's populist push turns to taxes today". See also "Crist gives State of the State today", "Crist's State of the State will encourage cooperation" and "Crist may have surprises in 1st State of the State address".
The Tallahassee Democrat editors: "It is a very big day here in the capital city as the Florida Legislature begins its annual session, highlighted by Gov. Charlie Crist's State of the State address mid-morning." "Capital day".
One Big, Happy Family
"Crist held his first State-of-the-State dinner Monday night at the Governor's Mansion", which included special guests "lobbyist/fundraisers Ron Book, Brian Ballard and Rich Heffley, as well as NRA Florida lobbyist Marian Hammer." Perhaps the happiest guests were Charlie's newest, best friends, the
members of Florida's news media and the Capital Press Corps."Crist invites lobbyists and Dems to state dinner".
After the State of the State speech, "Day One of 60 to come begins as House and Senate convene with opening remarks by Senate President Ken Pruitt and House Speaker Marco Rubio."
The clock is ticking until midnight May 4, when regular session ends. The budget and property tax legislation will take the most negotiation and management. ..."Upcoming at the Capital". See also "Rubio and Pruitt Take Center Stage", "Legislature's high-profile issues", "Taxes focus as session opens", "Legislators' big challenge: taxes" ("trick will be fixing the system, without making it worse") and "Legislature 2007" ("Lawmakers must shelve partisanship, as they did in January.")
As early as this afternoon, the Senate could debate and give initial passage to its bill (SB 146) to put probationer's back behind bars if they violate the terms of their release. ... Final passage in the Senate as early as Wednesday, with the House likely to act in the first week of session to give Gov. Charlie Crist an early victory on a campaign promise. ...
The Senate could take up its bill to expand prosecutors and police powers to investigate and convict sexual predators who use the Internet (SB1004).
... House action on its bill could come later this week.
Now That Jebbie's Gone
After essentially giving Jebbie a free pass for eight years, we now read that things are "a far cry from the past eight years under Gov. Jeb Bush. The Republican majority ruled with a philosophical iron fist, and anyone who disagreed, Democrats and Republican moderates, were shunted aside."
Floridians have had enough of that nonsense. They want results."Seize the moment".
So it's refreshing to see the Legislature encouraging debate over stem-cell research, rather than squelching it. It would be best if that debate ended with a law that goes further than the current proposal and pays for embryonic stem-cell research.
It's good that the education debate has moved away from vouchers and on to improving the curriculum and finding better ways to hold schools accountable for their performance.
And instead of a contentious, take-it-or-leave-it approach to tax reform, there are now 20 proposals for lawmakers to consider. It's important that they proceed carefully and adopt a plan that irons out the inequities in the property tax without shifting the burden to those who can least afford to shoulder it.
Talk -- even happy, refreshingly nonpartisan talk -- is easy. Now it's time for Mr. Crist, Mr. Rubio and Mr. Pruitt to show real leadership and get things done.
Q asks: "Is There Going To Be A Property Tax Revolt?".
In the meantime, Susan Latvala, a Pinellas County commissioner and president of the Florida Association of Counties, argues that
State leaders are initiating hasty proposals that would take one crisis -- the pain that some people are facing from our broken property tax structure -- and replace it with another, by choking off funding for crucial county programs and services on which local residents depend daily."Fix system without hurting counties".
"Thousands of Florida residents complained of nuisance alligators last year, and that's one reason the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is considering eliminating some of the rules that have protected the species for a generation." "Alligators may lose their protected status in Florida as residents' complaints mount".
Words Mean Things
Take a look at this abjectly partisan Sun-Sentinel headline:
"Democrats plan to fight tax cuts"Credit to the Orlando Sentinel for headlining precisely the same story with this:
"Tax cuts at center of new session"The Sarasota Herald-Tribune put the Dem position this way:
"House Democrats offer broader tax relief"Words mean things.
Update: The Sun-Sentinel has changed the headline to read: "Democrats plan to fight Republican tax-cut plans in Legislature".
"Vote Today If You Live In Tampa And Care About The City's Future". See also yesterday's "Mayor's Post, 6 Council Seats Up For Grabs Tuesday".
GOPers in a Quandry
"A controversial measure pitting the National Rifle Association against Florida's business lobby was resurrected Monday, just 24 hours before the opening of the Legislature's 2007 session. The NRA-backed bill (HB 1417) would make it illegal for businesses to prevent their employees from keeping guns locked in their cars when they park at work. A similar measure divided the Republican-controlled Legislature a year ago, drawing headlines across Florida." "Revived gun bill pits NRA against some businesses". See also "NRA vs. Big Business -- Round II".
"The Legislature has been stingy with foster parents in the past. Though lawmakers approved a $2 per day increase last year in the board rate for foster children, the state still lags far behind others in its support for families. But lawmakers calling for increased security measures should recognize the additional burden that would be imposed on foster families -- and that the state might attract more potential foster parents if rates were more in line with what other states paid." "Protecting kids".
We Have Met The Enemy ...
"The biggest buyer of lobbying influence is ... us. Local government, from city councils to school boards and county commissions, shelled out more than any other special interest to influence Florida government last year, according to new reports collected by the Legislature." "Guess who's hiring all those lobbyists ...".
The "efforts to launch two tracks from DeLand to Orlando and beyond are coming closer to reality. On Friday, an agreement was reached at the federal level to add DeLand to long-term plans, according to Volusia County Chairman Frank Bruno. The same day, U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Winter Park -- a longtime advocate of commuter rail -- announced that the federal government has pledged $250 million for the project, roughly half of the cost for the 60-plus-mile rail service." "On board".
"Bush vetoed the extension of Florida’s No-Fault insurance law last year because he wanted more protections built in against fraud and abuse. New Gov. Charlie Crist on Monday morning said he, too, wants to guard against abuse in the law, which is set to expire Oct. 1, but that he’d be inclined to sign that passed last year. The No-Fault law requires that Florida drivers carry at least $10,000 in personal injury protection. The coverage reduces the need for litigation over who was at fault in an accident." "Crist Could Sign No-Fault Law Bush Rejected".
"House Republicans Monday officially voted in Rep. Ray Sansom as their next designated speaker." "Sansom voted in as next House speaker". See also "Speaker-Designate Sansom", "Rep. Sansom to lead House Republicans in 2 years".
"Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney continues to make a big push for Republican help in Sarasota, being far more aggressive than other top candidates expected to challenge for the GOP nomination next year." "Romney puts emphasis on Sarasota".
The St Pete Times editors contend that "there should be more to this debate than just issuing demands for lower taxes. The discussion needs to include changing the way property is assessed for tax purposes, fairly spreading the tax burden and using more state revenue for public education to lower local property taxes." "Time to make tax system fair".
"The interim president of Florida A&M University assured state legislators Monday the payroll problems that sparked walkouts by some campus employees are being fixed." "Bryant to panel: Pay woes 'age-old'". See also "FAMU payroll still in disarray".
"January's special session on insurance delivered some welcome relief from soaring premiums. Now lawmakers turn to longer-term fixes: helping homeowners pay for storm-proofing homes and better equipping the state-run Citizens Property Insurance to handle its increasing load of policies." "Lawmakers seek long-term insurance fixes". See also "Numbers to be real test of insurance legislation" ("Property insurance was 'the' issue for the special session of the Legislature in January, and it remains 'an' issue during the regular session that begins today.") But see "Property insurance crisis will take back seat to taxes during legislative session".
Meanwhile, the Washington Post argues that "Florida's bet against Mother Nature puts its environment and economy at risk." "Flirting With Disaster" (via The Buzz). See also "Washington Post blasts Florida insurance plan".
Obama in Tally
"Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama is coming to Tallahassee on Friday, March 30 for a fundraiser and public speech at the capitol." "Obama coming to Tallahassee".
"Florida's condemned inmates are almost as likely to die in prison as they are to be executed, according to a newspaper's review of state prison records. Thirty-four inmates have been executed since 1993 and 29 have died in prison, mostly from natural causes, according to the St. Petersburg Times' review of Department of Corrections statistics. Prison officials were unable to provide detailed statistics before 1993." "For many, prison is a death sentence".
Secret Docket Argument
"The Florida Supreme Court heard a wide range of objections Monday to proposed rule changes designed to stop the improper sealing of court records and dockets. The proposal was in response to last year's discovery that hundreds of civil and criminal cases involving television personalities, judges, police, elected officials and other prominent people had been sealed as part of secret dockets in some courts, mainly in South Florida." "Court hears objections on closed files". See also "State high court hears debate over open records".
The Miami Herald editors argue that "when people attend a public event, whether it is a concert, basketball game, art fair or boat show, they have a right to expect not to have to negotiate a gantlet of beggars." "Reviving urban core".
Charlie and the Ponzi Schemer
"Music promoter Lou Pearlman needed help to keep his huge financial Ponzi scheme going."
Tampa lawyer Jim Lowy said he got it from then-Florida Attorney General - and now Governor - Charlie Crist as well as major financial institutions.Charlie's response?
Crist delayed or interfered with investigations against Pearlman and his companies, Lowy said in a lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Tampa. The complaint alleged that $10,500 contributed by Pearlman and his companies to Crist's campaign for governor may have been diverted from scammed investors. And while Crist was attorney general, he enjoyed the use of Pearlman's skyboxes and private jet, according to the complaint, reimbursing the impresario for trips at far less than the actual cost.
Crist declined to comment, saying he had not been briefed on the details of the complaint."Lawsuit faults Crist in giant Ponzi scheme".
"The attorney general's office was investigating the funds when Crist was elected to the job in 2003. His office closed its case in January 2004 without taking action after Pearlman wrote that his investment program did not solicit outside investors, the lawsuit says." "Business Fraud Suit Says Crist Was Lax".
"A plan to build a series of massive expressways across rural Florida is getting a cool reception from Gov. Charlie Crist, who said Monday the state instead needs to expand existing roads." "Crist signals break with past on roads".
"The 300-member Professional Wrecker Operators of Florida, for one, is backing a bill that would increase state regulation of the industry by requiring criminal background checks of tow truck operators and driver training. They say the bill would improve their image and address age-old consumer gripes. But opponents -- which include the road service giant AAA -- claim the bill's consumer focus is meant to disguise a ploy by large, established towing firms to push mom-and-pop operators out of the business." "Legislature considers regulating towing".
"Former Florida Comptroller Bob Milligan today started work as consumers' new insurance advocate, declaring his intent to immediately get down to business. 'I'm not here to be window dressing,' said Milligan, who came out of retirement at the request of Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink." "New insurance advocate: I'm not window dressing".