Charlie's first proposed budget did not do well: "Lawmakers added a 5-percent tuition increase for universities and community colleges, which Crist didn't want. Legislators didn't increase the $147.5 million performance-merit-pay plan for teachers, which Crist wanted to double. Crist's request for a $100 million increase in the 'Florida Forever' land-purchasing program was also discarded." "Lawmakers divvy up new budget". There's much more:
lawmakers rejected [even more] of Gov. Charlie Crist's budget priorities, such as $37-million for a stockpile of antiviral drugs to fight avian flu, $28-million to replace touch screen voting machines with units that provide a paper trail and $20-million for stem cell research."$72B budget would cut aid" ("A House-Senate compromise curtails services to disabled.") See also "River cleanup finds funding in tight budget" and "Crist, workers, teachers shorted in $72B budget".
The Senate held firm that the voting equipment can be paid for with federal money, an issue to be considered today by the U.S. Elections Assistance Commission.
Crist asked for $75-million in tax incentives for movie and TV production in Florida. Lawmakers settled on $25-million.
Crist asked for 3 percent across-the-board raises for state employees. The Legislature will instead give workers one-time bonuses of $1, 000.
This editorial today is a bit late: "State Has Duty To Fund Flu Program".
"In a year when lawmakers have warned there isn't enough money to go around, the GOP-controlled Legislature has quietly agreed to help out Florida's managed-care companies."
The increase for HMOs is included in a bill lawmakers must pass at the same time they pass the state's $71.9 billion budget. In the same bill, legislative leaders also agreed to repeal a state law that mandates how much HMOs and other groups must spend treating mental health patients also covered by Medicaid."HMO pay raise slipped into bill".
This proposed change in state law comes less than three weeks after Amerigroup, a Virginia-based HMO, agreed to pay $5.3 million to the state after the Agency for Health Care Administration alleged the company was not spending at least 80 percent on direct care for mental health patients.
The Palm Beach Post notes that "Budget negotiators often don't distribute the budget until the last Tuesday before the scheduled end of the session, but its release on Monday this year means the final vote on the budget can come Thursday, a day before the 60-day regular session is to end."
"Legislature: Day 33 at a glance". See also "Legislative roundup" and "Tallahassee Ticker".
Imminent Deal and No Special Session on Property Taxes?
"There are good reasons why a special session on property taxes looks unlikely with five days left on the legislative ticker." The Democrat's Aaron Deslatte tells us what they are in "Special Session appears far off". Charlie speaks: "Lawmakers must reduce property tax".
Meanwhile, "Stuart discusses service cuts ahead of possible tax reform" ("City homeowners soon might get a break on their tax bills, but they also might see their garbage service scaled back to one day a week. Or notice the local park doesn't get mowed so often. Or that lines in city offices are longer, because fewer people work there.") See also "Tax plan could cost 116 jobs in Delray" and "Martin sheriff warns of layoffs as tax cuts loom".
More generally, the St Pete Times editors write that "as we head into the final, frantic week of Florida's annual legislative session, state leaders are once again turning up the misleading rhetoric against local governments in their zeal to pass property tax reform. If they're successful, the results in your community will be dramatic." "Threat of local cuts isn't a bluff".
"The Florida House of Representatives, which has consistently killed efforts to expand gambling in the state, suddenly resurrected a committee Monday for just one vote: to allow slot machines at 10 racetracks and jai-alai frontons, including four in Miami-Dade County. The stated rationale for the change of mind: Tax revenue from gambling would help cut property taxes." "Slots, stadium in tax-bill mix". See also "House ties gambling proposal to tax cuts", "House panel approves bill on video lottery terminals", "Video lottery offered as tax relief", "Tax relief? Try gambling", "Legislators propose expanded gambling to help pay for property tax relief" and "These facilities could get slots".
"The Florida Senate unanimously approved a bill Monday that creates a NASCAR license plate as well as several other specialty tags." "NASCAR plate nears finish line in capital". See also "NASCAR auto tag wins Senate OK".
"An environmentalist with a decade of experience in the trenches of Everglades restoration battles [Shannon Estenoz, 39, a Plantation resident and regional director for the National Parks Conservation Association] has been named to the board of the South Florida Water Management District by Gov. Charlie Crist." "Crist taps activist for board".
The Palm Beach Post editors like the appointment, but assert that
Crist has more work to do. Ms. Estenoz fills the Broward County spot. He still must fill the Palm Beach County board slot held by Chairman Kevin McCarty, who is married to Palm Beach County Commissioner Mary McCarty. If the governor is serious about Everglades restoration and Florida's environment, Mr. McCarty also must go."Water district makeover requires one more step".
Appointed by Gov. Bush in 2003, Mr. McCarty voted the day he was sworn in to weaken a super-strict pollution limit for the Everglades. Later, he approved a permit for the Harmony Ranch subdivision in Martin County on land earmarked for Indian River Lagoon restoration. That decision enabled the Army Corps of Engineers to approve the permits, and land that easily could have been saved was lost.
Also, Mr. McCarty failed to disclose his role in a deal that may allow landowners west of Boca Raton to become part of Broward County, to avoid stricter development rules. Mr. McCarty submitted to the board a resolution backing the secession, without disclosing that the text of the resolution came from a lawyer for the landowners. And he, along with three other board members who weren't reappointed, approved a permit to allow an unneeded Palm Beach County golf course to suck more than 200 million gallons of water from the Everglades each year.
Phone Companies (And Consumers?) Win Cable Battle
"For cable TV watchers resigned to long waits for service, rising bills and few, if any, choices, things are about to change."
State lawmakers Monday threw out the rules that have governed entry into Florida's cable television market for the past 50 years, paving the way for local phone companies to go head to head with the likes of Comcast and Time Warner."Phone firms can offer competition to cable TV". See also "As cable TV bill heads to Crist, debate goes on" and "House sends cable bill to Crist".
The phone companies pledge prices will be lower -- an average of 17 percent lower -- and consumers will have more control in the marketplace. How soon will consumers see these benefits? AT&T spokesman Don Sadler said South Florida residents could buy cable service from AT&T at least within the next two years, if not sooner.
"Crist meets with HHS head on campus safety, creates task force". See also "Crist creates Va. Tech task force", "Crist signs order to study campus safety", "Crist creates task force to boost campus security" and "Crist creates school-safety task force".
Anderson and Crotzer
"House money managers approved a $5 million state settlement in the Martin Lee Anderson case Monday but cut attorney fees by nearly half and linked payment to passage of a $1.25 million claim for a man [Alan Crotzer] who spent 24 years in prison for crimes he didn't commit. ... The House last week passed a bill to pay Crotzer, but it appears stalled in the Senate." "House links Anderson payment to other claim". More on Crotzer: "Two wrongs" ("justice delayed is justice denied, and Mr. Crotzer has waited long enough").
"Magic Tax Break Gets Final House Approval".
"Property insurers had a good year in 2006 -- a very good year. But as insurance companies brought in billions of dollars in profits, Florida homeowners and businesses saw their rates soar and, in many cases, lost coverage."
Now, as state lawmakers enter the final days of the annual legislative session, they are ready to debate a controversial bill that includes targeting insurer profits."Lawmakers zero in on insurer's profits".
The bill, pushed by Gov. Charlie Crist, would prevent national insurers from setting up new subsidiaries to sell property insurance only in Florida.
Subsidiaries already in Florida, such as offshoots of State Farm and Allstate, would have to include information about their parent companies' profits if they seek rate increases.
"Feeney: Let me clarify facts about trip".
"Good schools for the money"
"Talk about aiming low. Lawmakers are about to end another legislative session, leaving Florida's universities with the dubious reputation as "good schools for the money." Meanwhile, other states are aiming to create great universities -- schools that meet the standards of quality that attract top faculty and top students." "Lack of ambition".
"Flashlights, gasoline cans, weather radios and plastic tarps are among the storm preparedness items that will be available tax-free as hurricane season begins." "Crist signs bill giving hurricane prep tax break". See also "Storm sales-tax holiday renewed".
"The House of Representatives unanimously approved a bill that allows private property owners to prohibit signature gathering on their land. The Senate passed the bill last week so it now heads to Gov. Charlie Crist for approval." "Petition Restrictions Head to Crist".
"Former Rep. Dennis Baxley has kicked off his bid to replace Nancy Argenziano in the Senate by hiring Tom Gallagher's old campaign manager.
Brett Doster, who now runs a political firm called Front Line Strategies, is the man behind the Floridians for Property Tax Reform campaign that staged a rally in Tally a couple weeks ago. He's also worked for President Bush's re-elect in 2004 and for Jeb Bush before that. Now he's also pushing Baxley, a staunch religious conservative from Ocala running for the sprawling Senate District 3 seat that stretches from Crystal River to Leon County." "Baxley and Doster together again".
"A new lease on life"
"The Black Business Loan Program will get a new lease on life after state lawmakers approved a plan to restructure the roles of those involved in administering the program." "Lawmakers reform Black Business Loan Program".
"An interactive Republican presidential debate to be broadcast from Tampa this summer is a big step closer to reality now that the first major candidate has committed to attend. The debate would be broadcast on conservative talk radio stations nationally and on a related Web site." "Tampa GOP Debate Closer to Happening".
"The party of fiscal conservatism"?
The Tampa Trib editors:
Lawmakers appear ready to strip fiscal accountability from the state turnpike system, creating all sorts of new costs for taxpayers, undermining growth controls and threatening the financial standing of the Florida Turnpike Enterprise, which now has the nation's best bond rating."Lawmakers Ready To Pave Over Turnpike Fiscal Accountability".
The Legislature should abandon the scheme, which seems focused on promoting the development of rural lands.
State rules prevent a toll road from being built unless studies show it can repay half its bond debt within 12 years and all of its debt within 22 years. But legislation advancing in both houses would change the 22-year deadline to 30 years and eliminate the 12-year restriction altogether. ...
Essentially, the proposal would give land speculators and developers the run of the Florida Turnpike Enterprise.
Unless it is dramatically revised, Gov. Crist should have his veto pen ready for this trust-me financing plan.
Honestly, sometimes it's hard to believe that Tallahassee is run by the party of fiscal conservatism.
Miami-Dade Expressway Authority
"The Miami-Dade Expressway Authority may be safe another year now that state Rep. Juan Zapata's bid to limit the scope and power of the toll-raising authority failed to pass the Senate Monday." "Toll-setting roadway authority survives -- for now".
"A proposal that would allow private companies to build roads and charge tolls to pay for them gained momentum Monday after being tacked on to the Senate's transportation bill." "Private road-building bills gain traction".
"Not this year"
"The Florida Legislature has declined to loosen additional dollars that originally were intended to help low-income people obtain housing - money that increasingly is relied on by working people who simply can't keep up with skyrocketing home prices." "State Urged To Ease Cap On Housing Fund".
"The bill giving Gov. Charlie Crist his wish to replace touch-screen voting machines with paper ballots also would give him tighter control of his own Republican Party."
Crist's choice for state party chairman, Jim Greer, barely won his election for that post, 102-89. Typically, a new governor is allowed to pick the leader of his own party, but Greer was challenged by outgoing Chairwoman Carole Jean Jordan, who had been picked by former Gov. Jeb Bush."Vote bill would give governor GOP sway".
Some of Bush's allies supported Jordan, who also had the support of many of the more conservative state committee members from smaller, rural counties. The close vote was seen as evidence that Crist was having trouble holding the loyalty of his party's conservative "base."
Crist, though, would have an easier time consolidating his control if a clause inserted last week into the 77-page elections bill by Senate sponsor Lee Constantine, R-Altamonte Springs, makes it through the House.
Constantine's amendment, offered at the request of the state party, he said, would add to a party executive committee: "10 Florida registered voters who are members of the party as appointed by the Governor if the Governor is a member of the party."
Those "Less-Exclusive Schools"
"Three top Florida universities could reap $3.6 million in new student fees next year under legislation being considered in Tallahassee, but FAU officials and others from less-exclusive schools are complaining that lawmakers won't let them do the same." "Fee plan splits universities".
Big of 'Em
"Immigration status check for arrested kids may end".
"Rep. Anthony Traviesa's original bill was dishonest enough. It would require judges to appoint guardians for girls who don't want to notify their parents before an abortion and would impose onerous delaying steps before a judge could grant a waiver to parental notification rules. The amendment the House passed 71-42 Friday goes even further, requiring a 24-hour wait and an ultrasound before an abortion." Here's the question:
Would lawmakers also require pregnant girls seeking abortions to see pictures of public housing, poorly educated workers at low-paying jobs, drug dealers, juvenile detention centers and jail cells? That's where children of teenagers who give birth to babies they aren't prepared for are more likely to end up. Is the state also going to pay for prenatal care, or continue siphoning that money for ineffective abstinence-only education?"Abortion scare tactic".
Legislative analyses say the fiscal impact of the House legislation to the state is "indeterminate." But teen pregnancy's cost to society includes high dropout rates, gang violence and Medicaid costs. More immediately, who would pay for the ultrasounds? Who would pay for the guardians ad litem? The state already underfinances the guardian program for children in foster care.
"Florida lawmakers approved a bill that would end a tug of war between the state's doctors and pharmacists and give pharmacists the right to give out flu shots. Florida would join 44 other states that allow pharmacists to give the injections." "Stores can give flu shots".
Robo-Calls on Hold?
"Senate and House committees have approved robo-call legislation, but King said there might not be enough time to pass the final hurdles by Friday's scheduled adjournment." "State legislation would let you block those pesky political phone calls".
"Calling it a mandate Floridians couldn't afford, the Florida Senate ripped apart a bill Monday that would have required certain homeowners to buy hurricane shutters." "Senate strips hurricane shutter bill of heft". See also "Shutter requirement for coastal permits is shot down in Senate Bill would place a burden".
Toll a Tax
"Motorists could call it a toll, for traveling on what would be 'managed lanes' on Interstate 95 between Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Or drivers can call it a $125 million test project in which those who pay will get to maintain the speed limit, supposedly, past others stuck in I-95 gridlock. Just don't call it a tax. ... The lawmakers' fear, of course, is understandable. Because when they run for reelection, some opponent might say they voted for ... a tax." "Think of toll as a tax".
"South Florida supporters of an overhaul of immigration laws that could lead to legal status for millions of undocumented families will attend marches and rallies today to urge Congress to act." "Immigrants, supporters set to rally for reform around S. Florida".
"Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne released a five-year offshore drilling plan on Monday that would set in motion oil and gas leasing off Florida that Congress approved in December." "Sun: Drilling plan includes area off Florida".
"'World-class standards' bill got unanimous nod in House, but Senate skeptical." "Senator derides schools 'world-class' overhaul".
"A senator wanted his dog's ashes to be buried with him, so he acted" "A love that rewrites the law".
Not Exactly a Man of the People
"President Bush heads to Tampa today, which usually means traffic snarls of presidential proportions. But this time he plans to fly in and out of MacDill Air Force Base and not venture into civilian territory." "Dateline Florida".
Jebbie's "Bad Idea"
"By an 84-34 vote, the House of Representatives Monday approved a bill that increases the voucher amounts middle and high school students can receive under the Corporate Income Tax Credit program, a 5-year-old program that provides private school scholarships for low-income students." "House okays hike in vouchers for private schools".
"Jeb Bush is long gone from the state capital, but efforts to save the former governor's unconstitutional voucher program are quietly continuing in the last days of the legislative session. The public attention that helped defeat an identical effort last year has evaporated, and that's too bad. This remains a terrible idea even if nobody notices until lawmakers already have approved it."
The Florida Supreme Court could not have been clearer last year when it found that it is unconstitutional to use public money to pay for tuition vouchers at private schools for students at failing public schools. ..."Bush's bad idea lives on in capital".
Yet legislators are back at it, trying to create a loophole where there isn't one. The House is poised to take a final vote on HB 7211, which would create a new trust fund that would take in money from corporate income taxes and declare that the fund could be used for "any purpose other than education." That way, the money would never really go into the state treasury and so it wouldn't be general revenue that should go to public education. Another bill would create a new corporate scholarship program for students at failing schools, which would be paid for with money in the bogus trust fund.
It's a neat trick. For some reason, it doesn't create nearly the heartburn among lawmakers that a high-profile effort to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot generated last year. Maybe that's because their constituents don't realize what they're planning on doing with their public money to make an end run around the Supreme Court and the state Constitution. This was a bad idea last year, and it is still a bad idea this year.