The St Pete Times editorial board shines a light on a
little-noticed vote in the Florida House on Thursday put lawmakers on record this year about the largest portion of each property owner's tax bill. At a time when they are demanding that cities and counties slash their own budgets for property tax relief, lawmakers sent a different message with this vote. Hey, suckers, they might as well have said, we're raising your property taxes again."Tax reform with big dose of duplicity".
The vote was prompted by Rep. Ron Saunders, D-Key West, primarily to make a political point. He succeeded. By 65-44, mostly along party lines, House members refused to roll back or even hold the line on the property taxes the state requires for schools.
"If you want to see one reason we have high property taxes," Saunders said in early debate, "look in the mirror."
This is not political sophistry. Do the math. Under both the House and Senate spending bills, the "required local effort" property taxes for schools next year would jump by 7.4 percent, or $545-million. By comparison, the Senate's new "Savings Now" tax reform would force cities and counties to reduce property taxes by $1-billion. In other words, for every $2 local governments cut property taxes, the state would raise them by $1. Some deal.
Many Republicans refuse to acknowledge this king-sized hypocrisy. Rep. Frank Attkisson, R-Kissimmee, even argued that voters are to blame because they demanded smaller class sizes. "This is what the citizens asked for," he told colleagues, "and this is how it has to be paid for."
U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida, the general chairman of the Republican Party, in this shallow piece of political tripe in the Orlando Sentinel blames the Dems for the Country's woes: claiming to "raise the tone of discourse in this country", he in the next breath asserts that "congressional leaders let the opportunity they had 100 days ago pass them by. They chose instead the path of more partisanship and more division, while the real issues that affect all of us continue to go unaddressed." "GOP's Martinez: Don't squander opportunity".
Senate Plan Better?
The Palm Beach Post editors: "The full Senate plan for tax reform looks a lot like the Senate Democrats' plan for tax reform. The resemblance is favorable. To get something before voters, the House plan will need a makeover." "Full Senate's tax plan still beats House GOP's". But see "Senate still vague on tax plan's savings".
Over in the House, "Rubio knows there's no way his plan -- headlined by a constitutional amendment that would, if voters ultimately approved, cut $15.8 billion a year in property taxes but raise $8.9 billion a year in sales taxes -- will get unanimous support when he brings it up on the House floor this week."
It won't even get 90 votes, which is what it would take to call a special election on the amendment this year."Rubio gives up on 'consensus' in pushing dramatic tax plan".
But he does know -- at least, he and his leadership team say they do -- that his plan can get 72 votes, which is all it takes to get the amendment on the 2008 ballot. That's because Rubio commands a 78-41 majority (one seat is vacant).
He also knows that Senate Republicans have enough votes to force a controversial constitutional amendment through their chamber, too.
So now, Rubio has taken to making the case that "consensus" is overrated when talking up his plan to taxpayers. Getting people to pressure Senate leadership into abandoning that goal may very well be the only hope Rubio's plan has.
Mitt the Man?
Adam Smith: "Polls show former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney way behind universally known frontrunners Rudy Giuliani and John McCain. Forget those surveys."
"He is the only candidate who can claim to be a true agent of change from either party," said Sally Bradshaw, Jeb Bush's top political adviser who is working with Romney. "Everybody would admit that it's a challenging atmosphere for Republicans this cycle. That's why Mitt Romney is the right choice.""Mitt Romney: a change agent who can get things done".
In America's biggest swing state, Florida, Romney has won over many of the country's most sophisticated and important fundraisers, from former Ambassador Mel Sembler of St. Petersburg to north-central Florida developer Gary Morse. People gush about a candidate who blends Jeb Bush's bold, policy savvy [sic] and Charlie Crist's personal warmth.
"When you sit down one on one with him you clearly absorb that optimism, that demeanor. You never see him stern, you never see him not smile," said Mark Guzzetta, a south Florida developer and veteran top GOP fundraiser helping Romney. "This guy has proven himself time and time again that he can look at a problem and bring the necessary elements together to solve the problem."
"Where has the money gone?"
"Across the state, Floridians have all but shouted: Give us property tax relief -- now."
State legislators responded by taking aim at the fatted coffers of local governments from Tampa to Tallahassee. They and Gov. Charlie Crist accuse governments of using record property tax gains for a spending binge, rather than returning the spoils to hard-working families. They are vowing to tighten the spigot."The money vat: Where it all goes".
With an overhaul of the property tax structure looming, the St. Petersburg Times examined just how five local governments - Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, and the cities of Clearwater, St. Petersburg and Tampa - have spent the public's money.
"Where has the money gone? To hire more police and firefighters. To boost salary and benefits for government employees. To shore up rainy-day funds. To staff parks and other amenities built with sales tax money." "Your local tax dollars at work".
"A South Miami-Dade neighborhood provides a window into the wide disparities in property taxes assessed on similar homes." "Think your property taxes are too high? Your next-door neighbor could be paying four times more -- or half as much".
More: "Legislators besieged with residents' pleas for property-tax relief".
Gingrich Disses Florida
"Amid Florida's insurance crisis, the newest issue for presidential candidates to pander on in the Sunshine State is the creation of a national catastrophic fund for disasters. Unlike the current president, Republicans Rudy Giuliani and John McCain both say they support such a fund, and Mitt Romney at least promises to look at it. But former U.S. House speaker and potential presidential candidate Newt Gingrich apparently missed the Florida talking points memo. " "Gingrich comes out against national disaster insurance".
"Bush, a former real estate developer who missed many of the boom years while in public office, has quickly rebounded from eight years of a civil servant's salary."
He jumped on the public speaking circuit, earning about $50,000 per appearance through a speakers' bureau that represents luminaries such as former Secretary of State Colin Powell and humorist Dave Barry. He joined what could be the first of several corporate boards, Tenet Healthcare, which will pay him $65,000 a year, plus bonuses for attending meetings and travel expenses."Former Gov. Jeb Bush shifts careers".
His real estate broker's license has been updated with his new address. Asked about persistent rumors that he will pursue a job in investment banking, he said, "I'll let you know when it happens.''
Out in the Fields
"Florida farmworkers won another round last week in their five-year fight for fairness when McDonald's Corp. agreed to pay a penny more per pound for its salad tomatoes to help increase pickers' wages." "Pickers get this break".
"Web spurs revolution in race for president".
"Goodman: It's time to retire the old state song to dignified oblivion".
"Crist told The Post that naming a Lake Okeechobee manager, who would oversee cleanup and other lake issues from the governor's office, is 'a very good idea.' He's right, so he should do it." "Name a Lake O leader".
"Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite is unimpressed with the way President Bush is standing by embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in the controversy surrounding fired U.S. attorneys. 'I see this as another, Good job, Brownie,' said the Brooksville Republican, referring to former Federal Emergency Management Agency director Michael Brown, in a taped interview for an upcoming Political Connections on Bay News 9." "Heckuva job, Albertie".
"Two more Democrats want to represent a Broward County state House district that could send Florida's first openly gay legislator to Tallahassee. Wilton Manors Mayor Scott Newton and former Deerfield Beach Commissioner Gwyn Clarke-Reed both hope to win the Democratic nomination to represent state House District 92. The district includes parts of Deerfield Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Oakland Park, Pompano Beach and Wilton Manors. No Republican candidates have yet emerged." "Two more Democrats join state House District 92 race".
The Tampa Trib editors:
Florida passed an historic milestone about a week ago when South Florida water managers permanently put the Everglades off limits to new suburbs that will need fresh water. It was a moment long in coming, a moment worthy of celebration."Just When Florida Gets It Right, A Backward Step On Water".
At the same time in Tallahassee, lawmakers began gutting a resource to help Florida grow smartly, a fund to help cities and counties develop alternative water sources and keep their economies growing. It was a discouraging moment, one that makes you wonder if our beautiful state will ever get its priorities straight.
"Here's another difference between former Gov. Jeb Bush and Crist: Crist embraces national media attention." "Crist's PR".
"When Gov. Charlie Crist promised to work with Democrats to solve Florida's challenges, rather than fight with them to score political points, there was reason to be skeptical." "A refreshing change".
"Can anyone solve the property-tax puzzle? Anyone ?".
"In December, when Congress moved the line on offshore drilling closer to Florida's shores, it was touted as a major victory for Florida's tourism-based economy because the measure preserved a significant no-drilling zone along Florida's coastline."
But the area opened to oil and gas drilling was just a fraction of the publicly-owned waters the industry hoped to gain access to in the eastern Gulf of Mexico."Tribune: Offshore drilling: just over the horizon".
Mark Ferrulo, head of Environment Florida, feared that Congress' decision to lift the 25-year ban on drilling in waters west of Florida would trigger more attempts to move the line on drilling even closer to Florida's coast .
His fear was realized last month, when lawmakers filed legislation that would allow exploration and production as close as 45 miles from Florida's beaches.
Raw Political Courage
"One legislative proposal would reduce Florida's rapidly rising property taxes by increasing the state sales tax. Another would raise property taxes for homeowners to lower the bills for other taxpayers."
But one potential new revenue source, common in most states, remains unthinkable and unmentionable in Florida: a personal income tax."State income tax unthinkable, unmentionable in Florida".
"It's a terrible way to tax," said House Policy and Budget Committee Chairman Ray Sansom "We would never consider something like that. That would be the last thing. It's sort of over our dead bodies."
"The easy out in addressing juvenile justice is to simply declare that "the system is broken," and then charge juveniles as adults. But that's not a long-term answer." "Out of whack".
"Crist pushes insurance bills".
"Casualty of Bulldozers"
Mike Thomas: "Clarity of lakes a sad casualty of bulldozers ".
No Manatee Zone
"Six years ago a panel of scientists labored to come up with a list of criteria for determining whether manatees had rebounded and were no longer endangered. But federal wildlife officials loosened the criteria in the name of flexibility. Manatees haven't even met the flexible criteria, much less the more stringent ones. Yet last week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recommended manatees be downgraded from endangered to threatened." "Manatees' status detached from goals of recovery plan". See also "For manatees' sake, don't relax vigilance".
- "Sen. Daniel Webster, himself a former House speaker and a Republican leader in the state, complained this week that the Republican Party should not be promoting a website led by a group that is criticizing the newly released Senate plan on property taxes." "Webster doesn't want GOP siding with group promoting Rubio plan".
- Robo calls: "Politicians, please lose our number".
- "The Florida Senate approved a proposed constitutional amendment Friday that would ask voters whether they wanted to make the state's commissioner of education an elected position." "Senate OKs amendment on elected education chief".
- "The House speaker uses anti-tax rallies while a Senate panel hones its plan." "House, Senate chiefs gear up for tax fight".
- "In an unexpected bipartisan move, the Senate voted 27-8 Friday to put before voters a proposed constitutional amendment reinstating the education commissioner as an elected Cabinet position." "Voters might again choose education chief".
- "After months of bipartisan goodwill, Republican Party discord is developing over an issue affecting nearly every Floridian: tax cuts" "Tax debate ignites feud within GOP".
- "Ex-Largo manager: I won't sue".
- "State House members pushing to cap property tax increases at a national rate of inflation often failed to do the same when serving as city, county or school board officials, records show." "Lawmakers preach property tax limits in change from past".
- Whatever: "Clad in green, Crist creates a dashing figure". See also "The Mansion gets an energy report".
- "President Should Stay Out Of Fight To Create Federal Disaster Fund".
- "The emotional debate over embryonic stem-cell research is headed to the House floor, after a bill that allows state money to be spent on certain types of stem-cell research cleared its final House committee Friday." "Stem-cell bill heads to House floor".
- "Legislators to host hearings town hall style"> "Property tax plans coming to residents".
- "More students who are the first in their families to attend college could receive state-funded scholarships if lawmakers approve an expansion of a first-generation program." "First-generation college students may get more aid".
- Jac Versteeg on proposed FCAT changes: "Raise bar? First, help kids clear it".
- The Palm Beach Post has a very detailed analysis of the Senate Republican property tax proposal: "Proposed constitutional changes". See also "Senate hones tax overhaul".
- "UF fee likely dead in Senate panel".
- Daniel Ruth: "The Science Of Protecting Wetlands".
- "Florida senators began to wade through their property tax plan Friday, acknowledging a lot of work remains." "Tax reform still a distant goal".