"The conventional wisdom on this week's showdown over statewide tax relief goes like this:"
The unified Senate, with its targeted cuts and its unanimous vote, has the edge over the party-split House and its meat-cleaver proposal."Tax relief plans far apart". See also "Will tax cuts hit home?".
Don't be so sure.
The final act of the tax cut debate that opens this week between the chambers is something of a rarity in Tallahassee: It's a play that seems to have no script. The Senate plan is so different from the House version it's hard to see how they arrive at a single proposal to send Gov. Charlie Crist.
But maybe that's not true, either.
In the meantime, "Crist tells residents: 'Stay in Florida because help is on the way'".
"Development Tool of Choice"
"Created by the Legislature in the 1970s to kick-start economically depressed neighborhoods, tax increment districts like St. Petersburg's are morphing into the economic development tool of choice among Florida's municipalities." "Tax holes gape in cities".
Dissing State Worker Retirees
"Sen. Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee, and Rep. Bob Allen, R-Merritt Island, offered bills to hike the [state subsidies of health insurance for retired state workers] by $1 in each of the next two years. Neither bill has moved since opening day of the session. The state pays $5 a month for each year's service, up to 30 years, for retiree health coverage. Allen and Lawson sought to raise the $150 cap to $210 in two steps. Barring a miracle, it won't happen." "Health subsidy looks doomed".
Behind the Scenes
"With the budget and property tax measures now in the hands of House and Senate negotiators, much of the work this week will take place behind the scenes as leaders try to reach compromise on the pair of heady issues over the next several days." "Lawmakers wrapping up committee work before real work begins".
Sitting on $2 billion
The Palm Beach Post editors ask: "Which is worse?"
Tallahassee's refusal to collect lawfully owed taxes on remote sales - Internet, telephone and mail orders. Or legislators calling such collection a "tax increase." How about the state leaving an estimated $2 billion in uncollected sales taxes on the table - that's billion with a "B" - at a time when the Legislature is supposed to be trying to cut property taxes."Here's an easy $2 billion".
In fact, "The structural integrity of Florida's sales and use tax system cannot be sustained when the fastest-growing component remains largely uncollected." That's a bit of understatement by Dominic Calabro, director of Florida TaxWatch, whose study underscores the fiscal slackness in Tallahassee. "If Florida can collect taxes that are lawfully owed, it can help eliminate inequities that hurt Florida taxpayers, business and local governments, as well as distort economic activity."
Most Floridians are unaware, as TaxWatch notes, that remote sales transactions are taxable by law here and in 45 other states. Vendors without a physical presence in the state are not required to collect and remit the taxes. That means that the Department of Revenue collects only what Floridians volunteer.
"Cable companies are using the television airwaves to lobby against a bill that would make it easy for phone companies to compete in the cable market." "Cable debate down to wire".
"Legislators put final touches on the education budget but remained far apart on avoiding cuts to programs for developmentally disabled people." "Education budget is close to completion". See also "House, Senate near budget accord".
More: "Large raises doubtful for Broward teachers as state cuts back". See also "Property-tax revenue may boost funding for state's public schools".
Romney in Sarasota
"The battle for the GOP presidential nomination rolls through Sarasota County for the first time tonight when former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney comes to town." "Romney to stump tonight in Sarasota".
The Orlando Sentinel editors remind us that "Fund-raising for the 2008 presidential race has hit unprecedented levels, but the cost of congressional campaigns also has been rising in Florida and across the country. As long as the trend continues, candidates will put more time into courting wealthy contributors and less time into connecting with voters." "Reduce influence".
"A few years ago, state Sen. Daniel Webster's political career looked all but over."
But now, as the Legislature races toward a frenetic finish of its regular session, Webster is back playing a pivotal role in just about every measure still in play."Debate puts Webster at center of action".
"Aw, The Poor Insurance Industry"
"Aw, the poor insurance industry. Despite the nation's property-and-casualty companies registering record profits of $63.7 billion in 2006, Florida insurers say times remain tough." "Enough with double-talk". See also "Record Profits Amid Insurance Crisis".
"Unnecessary and Shameful"
The Tampa Tribune editorial board: "The families who care for their disabled loved ones at home deserve Florida's support and praise, not threats of less state assistance. Big cuts are proposed because the Agency for Persons with Disabilities has overspent its budget by more than 11 percent, or about $150 million. The deficit can and should be covered from state reserves. To punish the most vulnerable among us would be unnecessary and shameful." "Don't Punish Disabled, Families For State's Financial Mistakes".
"State lawmakers should kill a transportation bill in the Florida Senate that would ease the way for major, unneeded new toll roads through Central Florida."
Backed by real-estate speculators, Senate Bill 2804 would drop financial safeguards and authorize an unconsionable $9 billion - doubling the amount the state Turnpike Enterprise can borrow - to build major new expressways, known together as the Heartland Turnpike. The Heartland Coast-to-Coast route would extend 150 miles from Interstate 95 at Port St. Lucie west to Interstate 75 near Port Manatee. The north-south highway would follow a 110-mile path from State Road 80 east of Fort Myers to Interstate 4 near Kissimmee."Block a reckless subsidy for real-estate speculators".
"The road bill that goes before a Senate panel Tuesday is the wrong direction for a state already struggling with sprawl. The bill, SB 2804, would double the amount Florida's Turnpike could borrow to build toll roads." "Senate road bill goes in wrong direction".
"It seems like a replay of last year when state lawmakers, facing an overriding demand to fix property insurance in the waning days of the session, gave short shrift to reforming no-fault auto insurance." "Legislature 2007".
"If switching from touch screen voting to paper ballots in every Florida county is such a good idea, then the Legislature should be more than happy to pay for the conversion. Yet lawmakers want to force another radical change in state voting systems on the cheap." "Election fix on the cheap".
"Progress may be slow for Democrat Christine Jennings, who is seeking to overturn the disputed 13th Congressional District race, but pressure is nonetheless mounting in Washington for changing voting machines nationwide before the 2008 elections. For the third time in three months, Congress held a hearing to weigh banning paperless touch-screen voting machines." "Pressure mounting".
For the technically inclined among you, this lengthy dKos post the other day ought to be of interest: "Inside The iVotronic Voting Machine".
The Miami Herald editors argue that "anyone who doesn't think the water crisis is real is badly mistaken -- and the consequences for our region could be dire" "South Florida water shortage is real".
"Despite a three-year ban on using state planes to commute, some Florida lawmakers and governors continue to climb on board for weekend trips home."
Because home for Florida's top officials again is far from Tallahassee, those trips have cost taxpayers more than $400,000 since January 2006 - making up more than a third of the tab for Florida's three state planes."'For official use only'".
"Legislation that would give university students a say on creating a new technology fee is a good idea." "Give Students Say In Tech Upgrades".
Getting Late In The Game
"On a seven-year losing skid but starting with their best prospects ever for a second $60 million subsidy for a new baseball stadium, the Florida Marlins are yet again down to the late innings in the spring legislative session with the outcome in jeopardy." "Marlins' pitch for stadium cash apt to fall short".
"Manatee deaths linked to red tide residue".
Warford A Good Choice?
The Palm Beach Post editorial board: "Jim Warford had 'no comment' two years ago when he abruptly quit or was forced out as chancellor of Florida's public schools. Since then, though, his comments to various newspapers, including The Post, have been atypical for a former Jeb Bush appointee."
Mr. Warford said former Gov. Bush's A-Plus Plus plan requiring eighth-graders to pick a major was "rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic" and would do little to solve the problems that keep so many high-schoolers from graduating."A leader for education".
He has criticized the state's "relentless focus on the FCAT" and said it is "intellectually indefensible" to take children out of public schools and put them into charter schools that have little oversight.
He lamented that Gov. Bush focused on the "low-hanging fruit" of improving standardized scores in elementary grades while skating over harder-to-fix problems in high schools.
Overall, Mr. Warford described Gov. Bush's view of education this way: "If your only tool is a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail, and that's been their approach."
Those comments and others indicate that Gov. Crist is right to be considering Mr. Warford for the top job of education commissioner.
Tom Blackburn: "Serial killers in the boardroom". Blackburn's sentiments would seem to apply with equal force to the circumstatnces in which State employees find themselves. See "Daytona plant explosion not lighting fires in Tallahassee".
"Wrong and Stupid"
"When children do something wrong and stupid then have to cope with the consequences, they unholster the standard disclaimer: 'I didn’t mean to do it.' It’s in the nature of children, of course, sometimes to do wrong and stupid things. When politicians do something wrong and stupid then have to cope with the consequences, they unholster a standard disclaimer of their own: 'It was meant as a joke.' State Rep. Don Brown, R-DeFuniak Springs, used words to that effect to explain why he sent a racist cartoon, through his government e-mail account, to fellow legislators." "Bashing 'illegals'".
"State officials are worried that two years of local crackdowns to register sex offenders and ban them from living in certain areas are proving so counterproductive that it's getting tougher to find the convicted rapists and pedophiles in the first place." "Sex-offender laws reevaluated".