"City and county government officials are accusing Gov. Charlie Crist of deliberately putting out false information in an effort to win property-tax cuts."
They're reacting to Crist's assertion that local governments are fighting property-tax cuts even as they sit atop $9 billion in reserves. Local officials say the governor's "reserves" are grossly inflated, lumping general-fund reserves from unspent property taxes with other pools of money, including debt reserves and money for construction projects."Fuzzy math in new tax plan?".
If you can stomach the it, you may want to take a look at the Florida Chamber of Commerce's legislator rankings here (warning, this is a .pdf document). See also "Chamber Report Cards Are In" and "Keeping Score".
All in the Family
were among 96 U.S. House members found to have financial connections with relatives, according to a private group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. The group reviewed expenditure records of the House leadership, along with those of the chairmen and ranking members of every House committee and subcommittee."Lawmakers pay campaign cash to kin, watchdog says".
In its 151-page report [summarized here], the group found members had used campaign money to pay relatives or their relatives' employers an estimated $5.8 million since 2001.
"It's the opportunity of a lifetime for an ambitious lawyer: A chance to be one of the country's 93 U.S. attorneys and the top federal law enforcement official in Central Florida. Yet the search for the new U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Florida needed a month's extension to draw more than one contender, and the field looks to be smaller than other times the job has been open." "Small field applies to be U.S. attorney". See also "Dozen or more vie to be Middle District's prosecutor" ("Lawyers also worry about the ramifications of the controversies in Washington regarding the dismissal of U.S. attorneys in other parts of the country.")
Hastings Primary Challenge
"Belle Glade City Commissioner Ray Torres Sanchez says he'll challenge eight-term U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Miramar, in next year's Democratic primary."
''I think it's basically time for a change . . . There's a lot of cities in the district that need help,'' Sanchez said Monday. He said he'll lay out more specifics when he makes a formal announcement in a few weeks."Hastings gets Democratic challenger". See also "Challengers hope to end Hastings' longtime reign".
Sanchez, 50, runs a funeral home and was first elected to the Belle Glade commission in 2005.
Republican Marion Thorpe, who announced a candidacy for Hastings' seat in 2004 but ended up not running, is another potential candidate.
"The new Tampa Bay regional transportation authority suffered a major setback Thursday when Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed $1-million in startup money." "Veto cuts transit money".
Source Code Secret
"Court denies her effort to get access to the source code for voting machines that her attorneys deem critical to her legal challenge of Republican Vern Buchanan's victory in the 13th Congressional District election." "Jennings loses court appeal".
The Miami Herald editors:
State lawmakers ended their nine-day special session in a speedy three days last week -- and the results were mostly good. Lawmakers passed three bills that deliver property-tax relief, limit future growth of property taxes and, if voters agree, could over time replace the unfair Save Our Homes amendment."Promising start on property-tax reform".
The bills that passed aren't perfect, and residents should push lawmakers to make necessary adjustments as flaws become apparent. For example, the bill allowing voters to decide on a constitutional amendment for super exemptions is tied to school funding. Bad idea. Lawmakers say that they will protect school funding -- but that promise could sour, especially considering state lawmakers' terrible history of shifting school funding responsibilities.
Nevertheless, the overall reforms that the bills attempt to make are needed.
"Crist to Sign Steroid-Testing Bill".
Change of Heart
Mike Thomas: "Last week, state legislators tried to clandestinely abolish Save Our Homes under the guise of cutting property taxes. They got caught and were appropriately boiled in oil. And so they amended their amendment. So I'll amend last week's column skewering them. Their new plan makes more sense than, well, doing nothing." "The secret's out: Latest tax idea beats last one".
"Schwarzenegger and Crist join forces in fight against global warming".
"Tax-Funded Summit on Disabilities and 'Inclusion' Excludes Dissenters"
"A taxpayer-funded, invitation-only conference on caring for people with developmental disabilities opened amid controversy Monday at an elegant Orlando hotel. ... The summit comes at a time when families of the developmentally disabled are reeling from steep state cuts in services, implemented by the Legislature to close an agency budget deficit." "Either agree or stay home".
"For a second straight year, local HIV budget planners said they are struggling to stretch declining grants from the federal Ryan White Program" "Federal budget cuts mean S. Florida HIV/AIDS patients to lose services".
"City and county leaders, responding to the state Legislature's property tax cuts, foresee far less revenue available for things like parks, fire stations, libraries and bus service. And that's just the initial property tax rollback. If voters approve a referendum in January creating a new 'super homestead exemption,' then stay tuned for another round of deeper cuts next year." "Tax cuts to hurt all over".
Mitt "Romney was in this Florida Panhandle city [Panama City] to attend a reception that drew about 250 people to the home of former Florida House Speaker Allan Bense. Romney said he was unsure whether Florida's decision to move its primary up to Jan. 29 to make it one of the nation's earliest would help or hurt him. 'I must admit I like the idea of being able to have some primaries on a serial basis, meaning one after another as opposed to all on the same day,' he said." "Romney accepts Brownback apology over religious e-mail". See also "Romney names county chiefs" and "GOP presidential hopeful Romney drums up support in North Florida".
"The Department of Veterans Affairs is about to give private HMOs and other health networks access to a multibillion-dollar market for veterans' care that the companies hope, and veterans fear, could open a new era of outsourcing. ... 'The VA is being heralded as the very best care in this country,' said Jim Dudley, director of medical services at Paralyzed Veterans of America, 'and we're saying, why would you want to contract that out?'" "Veterans up in arms over VA's contracting".
"U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said Monday he will launch a congressional probe today into the nation's backlog of 2 million passport applications and demand that the State Department disclose a plan to ensure the problem does not happen again." "Nelson orders passport probe".
"9 firefighters die as blaze engulfs South Carolina warehouse". With this (yet another) reminder of the risks firefighters take every single day, it is sadly ironic that in the last week alone we have seen garbage like this in the Florida MSM:
- "The most generous pensions are going to first-responders, mostly paramedics, police and firefighters." "Lavish Pensions Decreed By State Add Galling Irony To Tax Breaks".
- "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". (Note: is one to suppose that the St Pete Times editorial board thinks public employers should also be "shedding pension plans" for firefighters?)
- "Wondering where all those skyrocketing property taxes have gone? One major drain: the tony retirement pensions of the state's police and firefighters." "Pensions take toll on tax coffers".
"Palm Beach County taxpayers would have to shell out an unexpected $5.9 million to cover the upfront costs of switching from touch-screen voting machines to paper ballots next year under a plan outlined Monday by Elections Supervisor Arthur Anderson." "Paper trail packs a high price, warns Palm Beach County elections chief".
"If consistency is the hallmark of any valid grading system, Florida's FCAT-based school rankings flunk, and so do federal scores assigned under No Child Left Behind."
The 2007 state school grades, which will be calculated and released soon, are a case in point. There will be no way accurately to compare a school's 2007 grade with its 2006 grade. The reasons for the inconsistency provide insight into how fragile the grading scheme is."'07 school grades flawed; grading is more flawed".
First, the 2006 FCAT was flawed. ...
The confusion then extends nationwide. A recent study by the Center for Education Policy concluded that scores on state tests had increased since No Child Left Behind went into effect five years ago. But the study specifically declined to conclude that scores increased because of the federal law.
One problem was that since each state gets to set its own tests and standards, there is no way to get a valid, nationwide picture of progress under No Child Left Behind. None of that, of course, stopped U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings from claiming that the whole mess validated the federal law, which is up for renewal.
Confusion results when tests that are supposed to grade individuals are used instead to grade entire schools. Florida, at least, is reviewing how the state awards school grades. An even better question is whether the state should award school grades at all.
"Recuperating Fidel Castro vowed the United States "will never have Cuba," saying in an essay published Monday that nearly a year after emergency surgery left him 'between life and death' the island's communist system is strong and will stay that way." "Castro: U.S. 'will never have Cuba,' island ready for invasion".
"The Legislature didn't want to spend $37 million to protect the state from a human plague that might come [bird flu vaccine]. Perhaps the Legislature will want to spend $37 million, or whatever it takes, to protect the state from the worst of an agricultural plague that has arrived. Two weeks ago, The Post's Susan Salibsury laid out the latest threat to the Florida citrus industry. Unfortunately, this one also is the most dangerous. It is called citrus greening, not to be confused with citrus canker. While canker blemishes fruit and cuts tree yields, greening is deadly. According to a French professor of microbiology, greening 'is like fire.' It can clean out a grove." "State looks too 'green'".
Fun With Limbaugh
Joel Engelhardt: "Not every Floridian, though, has an accountant. And not every Floridian knows how to create complicated spreadsheets ... to determine which property-tax scenario would be better for their pocketbook."
Unless you're Rush Limbaugh."Check the spread, Floridians".
It's easy to pick on Mr. Limbaugh for his belligerence and his hypocrisy; he ranted on the air about tough penalties for drug addicts, then entered rehab for painkiller addiction and pleaded guilty to a felony. But he's a big supporter of public education. Without so much as an "ouch," as far as I know, Mr. Limbaugh gave $118,000 to the Palm Beach County School District last year, through his property-tax bill.
Mr. Limbaugh is one of those fortunate people who can afford to pay $430,000 a year in property taxes. His Palm Beach compound has a market value of $35 million. However, he's not taxed on that amount. Thanks to Save Our Homes, he's taxed on a value of $23 million. If the amendment passes, Mr. Limbaugh would be foolish - or more beneficent than he seems on the radio - to give up his Save Our Homes cap. He would suffer if he moved into a similarly priced compound, because the Save Our Homes protection would be gone.
Under the "super" exemption, Mr. Limbaugh would get a $195,000 exemption that's not so super on $35 million worth of property. In 10 years, assuming a 6 percent annual rise in values, Mr. Limbaugh's property would be worth $63 million, but under Save Our Homes he'd be taxed at $31 million. That's the difference between a $1.2 million tax bill and a $600,000 tax bill.
Raw Political Courage
"Charlie Crist, the governor known for his sunny disposition, touts government in the sunshine today." "Crist lauds open government today".