After freezing the Dems out for the better part of a decade, the GOPers now blame the Dems for their own incompetence: "Republican House Speaker Marco Rubio accused minority Democrats of obstructionist tactics and hypocrisy as the Legislature opened its special session on property tax relief Tuesday."
Rubio, R-West Miami, called a news conference to rip Democrats who have criticized part of a two-prong tax-cutting plan the speaker and Senate President Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, had agreed upon after behind-the-scenes discussion. Gelber held his own news conference moments later to reply."House leaders exchange barbs over property tax". See also "Legislature is 'Devolving Into a High-School Cafeteria'" ('House Democrats waited about 15 minutes before firing back at House Speaker Marco Rubio's charge that it's time to stop wrestling around on property taxes and finally pass something, with House Minority Leader Dan Gelber saying the Legislature is "rapidly devolving into a high-school cafeteria'"), "GOP, Democrats Spar Over Cuts In Property Tax" and "A Defiant Rubio Says the Time of Prop Tax Debate is Over". How dare the Dems have the audacity not to sit idly by as Rubio announces that its his way or the highway.
"This is not a multiple choice exam," Rubio said. "This is not a choice between this plan and some better plan. This is a choice between this plan and our current system."
Gelber and other Democrats have complained a proposed state constitutional amendment that would mainly cut taxes on primary homes, known as homesteads, includes revenue cuts of up to $2 billion a year for public schools. Rubio said it would be only $1.5 billion the first year.
Democrats also say they don't trust the Legislature to replace those dollars without some sort of "hold harmless" guarantee. They have predicted voters would reject the amendment for that reason and a fear of losing existing homestead tax breaks that it would replace.
"The truth is that there are those who do not want us to pass significant tax relief," Rubio said. "They know that politically they cannot come out against it ... So what they do instead is they create confusion and they misstate the facts."
"Floridians aren't likely to get to vote on new homestead exemptions until November 2008 - if they get to vote at all." Here's the issue: "With Democrats solidly opposed to the Republican property tax plan and even some in the GOP openly concerned, there were not enough supporters at the special session of the Legislature on Tuesday to pass the plan and send it before voters on Jan. 29, the day of the Florida presidential primary. Unless some lawmakers warm to the plan quickly, the measure probably would end up on the November 2008 general election ballot."
House and Senate leaders were undeterred by skepticism in their ranks and are pushing for a final vote on the two-part tax package as early as Friday."Criticism grows; tax plan teeters".
There are two plans in play, a rollback of tax revenues along with a cap on local property tax bases, and then a new homestead exemption program designed to phase out Save Our Homes.
Only the homestead exemption faces an uncertain future because it requires amending the state Constitution, and that requires a vote by Floridians.
Putting the matter before voters on Jan. 29, a special election, would need to be approved by a three-fourths majority in both chambers. The problem is in the Senate, where Democrats have criticized the way the plan would cut property taxes to education by $7.1-billion over five years.
Meanwhile, "Florida lawmakers are discovering they may not be able to cut property taxes sharply while maintaining vital services." "Tax-cut letdown: Numbers may not add up". More: "As property tax session opens, proposed cuts raise concern for school funding". See also "School cuts a sticking point of tax-reform plan", "Dems chide school-tax limit" and "Lawmakers' vows chill schools" ("Palm Beach County schools could lose $553 million over the next five years if legislators support the Florida Legislature's current plan to roll back property taxes.")
As for Good Time Charlie? Well, "Crist Optimistic About Property Tax Deal". And, "Crist not worried about education cuts".
Will Dem Primary Voters "Mean Anything"?
"Florida Democrats voting in the Jan. 29 presidential primary may not see their vote mean anything. ... Despite Dean's comments, Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Karen Thurman said Tuesday, 'I have a lot of respect for Governor Dean, and I respect rules and procedures. But I also have to be very respectful to the Florida Democrats who are the voters here.'" "Democrats' Vote Won't Count, Dean Says". See also "Florida primary will not count, Dean warns" and "Howard Dean: Florida Democratic Votes on Jan. 29 'essentially won’t count'".
"If and when the Florida Legislature asks voters to create a much bigger homestead exemption, the overhaul of the property tax system faces a major hurdle - one that was initiated by the Legislature itself."
Lawmakers recommended two years ago that it should be more difficult to amend the Constitution by requiring a supermajority of 60 percent for all future amendments, and voters approved it."An obstacle of legislators' own making".
In Florida, a simple majority is no longer enough.
On the flip side, it's now easier to defeat a ballot initiative, by a minority of 40 percent plus one.
The change - believed to be unique among the 50 states - was pushed by business interests who argued it was too easy for interest groups to change the Constitution. Florida voters approved the higher threshold in November with 57 percent of the vote.
"Crist and the Cabinet on Tuesday voted to lease state submerged lands to a St. Petersburg developer for private boat slips, despite claims by Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink that the deal was a ripoff." "Cabinet okays Coquina slips".
There They Go Again
The St. Petersburg Times can't help itself - like all businesses, The Times resents that some employees (typically low paid public employees with the audacity to be represented by unions) have managed to maintain defined benefit retirement plans while big business has managed to gut employee retirements via implementation of defined contribution plans; in an editorial that reads like Chamber of Commerce talking points, we get this tripe today from The Times' editorial board:
Whether local governments can afford these lucrative retirement plans for deputies and police and firefighters at a time when private companies are shedding pension plans is a reasonable public policy question."High cost of pensions straps cities".
Perhaps the fact that "private companies are shedding pension plans" is not a good thing - perhaps the conduct of "private companies" (particularly as CEO pay escalates) ought not be the standard by which the propriety of cop and firefighter benefits are measured.
"Florida's university leaders released a series of charts Tuesday highlighting the state's low tuition and large class sizes in preparation for a meeting this week to decide how they'll handle the governor's veto of a 5 percent tuition increase." "Universities may get tough after tuition veto".
"Faced with losing money the first year of operating as a state preserve, the developers of Babcock Ranch are seeking state permission to resume hunting and farming ahead of schedule." "Developers seek early open for preserve".
Jebbie's Education Legacy
"South Florida school districts have some of the lowest graduation rates in the country, according to a new study by Education Week. The study -- one of the few that compares districts' graduation rates nationally -- showed that in the 2003-04 school year, fewer than 60 percent of students in Broward, and fewer than 50 percent in Miami-Dade, earned high school diplomas." "Study: Grad rate is lower in Broward and Dade".
And then there's this: "Florida universities grow in number of students, but not in faculty, data shows".
Hill's "Senior Adviser"
"Not many political endorsements matter greatly, but Hillary Clinton is poised to pick up one Florida supporter that probably does: Democratic Rep. Kendrick Meek of Miami. The 40-year-old rising Democratic star is expected to announce his support for the New York senator on the popular Tom Joyner radio show today. Meek, who was Florida chairman of the John Kerry campaign in 2004 and led a successful 2002 campaign to mandate smaller class sizes in Florida, will be a 'senior adviser' to the campaign." "Miami's Rep. Meek to work on Clinton campaign".
"Once they reform property taxes, state lawmakers think their work's done. But they're wrong. Leaving Tallahassee without extending the state's no-fault insurance law, which requires drivers to carry $10,000 in auto coverage that pays medical expenses and lost wages, would cripple hospital emergency rooms. They'd lose millions they now get through no-fault. And about 40 percent of crash victims carrying no other medical insurance wouldn't be covered." "The Legislature at fault".
"Legislative leaders said Tuesday that they can't walk (property taxes) and chew gum (KidCare and no-fault) at the same time."
Even Gov. Crist, who created a Children's Cabinet in Tallahassee, opposes multitasking over the next week and a half. ''(Legislators) are focused on property taxes," the governor said, "and I think appropriately so. It's very, very important that we stay focused on this historic tax cut.''"The incomplete session".
No-fault expires in October, unless the Legislature acts. Ending the program would leave many drivers without insurance, and no option but the emergency room, at great potential cost to hospitals. By not enrolling the maximum in KidCare, Florida misses out on millions in federal money for children. Given the stumbling start on property taxes, the Legislature should be eager to add KidCare and no-fault. No more economists or accountants are needed, and Florida might get something out of this session.
"Wind power in Florida? No breeze.".
"Florida Sen. Mel Martinez, who has suggested the GOP risks alienating Hispanics if it fails to pass an immigration bill, had little to say Tuesday about the decision by all the Republican presidential contenders to turn down an offer to speak before the nation's largest gathering of Hispanic elected officials. 'I can't comment on that, other than I'm sure they have tough schedules," Martinez said, adding, "But I'll be there.'" "Martinez: 'I'll be there'".
"oday, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission considers a statewide management plan for endangered manatees, the last step before the agency decides whether to change the manatee's status to "threatened." The plan has become no better with time."
The second draft of the management plan does little to address the problems apparent in the first draft, which decided that a 30''percent decline in the manatee population over three generations would constitute "success." While the latest plan stresses that a drop in the manatee population would be unacceptable, it lacks specifics on what should be done to protect manatees. And changing their status would offer less protection."End threat to manatees".