Today's Florida political news and punditry.
Mel Gets Confused
It is no secret that Mel ain't the sharpest knife in the drawer. "A flip-flop by Sen. Mel Martinez in his vote last week to relax a quarter-century-old ban on new offshore drilling has left some environmentalists puzzled."
Martinez initially voted for the amendment to the Senate energy bill by fellow GOP Sen. John Warner of Virginia to allow natural gas exploration 50 miles off the Virginia coast. Then he switched his vote. ..."Senator Flips Drilling Vote".
Allowing one state's governor and legislature to ignore the longstanding federal bans on drilling in the outer continental shelf would have set precedent to allow all coastal states to do so, critics of Warner's amendment say.
"Our folks saw passage of this as leading to a domino effect," said Karen Murphy, an expert on offshore drilling with the Sierra Club.
Martinez's initial support of Warner's amendment reflected his belief that states should have "the right to choose their destiny with respect to resource development as long as it doesn't impact Florida," explained the senator's spokesman, Ken Lundberg,
That argument in essence is the same states-rights claim that has been raised by the oil industry in recent years. ...
Murphy, the Sierra Club expert on offshore drilling, watched the vote and recalls that when Martinez initially voted for the drilling, she wondered, "What is he doing?"
Dems in "Limbo"
"Whether Florida's Democratic votes in the Jan. 29 primary will count remained in limbo Thursday after a closed-door meeting in Washington between members of Congress and Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean." "Status of primary votes undecided". See also "Democratic Reps Meet With Dean On Primary, Keep Lips Zipped", "Florida Dems hope to save primary, delegates from DNC chopping block" and "Dems, Dean Discuss Primary" ("Florida Democratic Congress members met with DNC Chairman Howard Dean about the dilemma over the state's presidential primary - but if they made any progress, no one was saying.")
Life's A Beach
Charlie Crist signed into law the first piece of the largest tax cut in Florida history Thursday with a trip around the state that brought him to the homes of three recent home buyers -- the one group that will reap the most savings if voters support phase two of the tax-cut plan."Crist signs 1st phase of tax cut plan". See also "Crist signs first part of historic property tax-cut legislation", "Property-tax cut becomes law", "Crist trumpets state's 'largest tax cut' while plugging vote for more savings", "Florida governor signs property-tax relief bill", "Crist signs Part 1 of tax-reform bill, OKs vote date" and "Crist signs tax bill; questions start flying".
''This is the people's tax cut,'' Crist said, predicting that all homeowners will see ''an immediate and substantial decrease'' in their taxes and a deeper savings if voters approve a constitutional amendment to create a super-sized homestead exemption in January.
At the home of Michael Mathura and Sarojini Mohan in the Southwest Miami-Dade County subdivision of Valencia Acres, the governor was flanked by Republican House Speaker Marco Rubio and House Democratic Leader Dan Gelber and noted the bipartisan support for phase one of the tax-cut plan.
What's all the fuss about? After all, it is unclear as to
how much of those savings will ultimately wind up in the pockets of taxpayers remains unclear."Tax cut now law, but will it deliver?".
The piece of the two-part plan that's effective immediately -- valued at $15.6 billion over five years -- includes provisions that allow cities and counties to sidestep both the immediate spending cuts ordered in the bill and a cap on future property-tax collections. Critics predict many local governments may accept the first-year cuts but vote to ignore future caps.
They say your city or county also may start demanding higher fees for programs such as parks, sports leagues and, where allowed, fire services, to make up lost revenue.
And the package's second part -- a January ballot measure creating a super-sized homestead exemption that could generate at least $8 billion in savings -- is considered a long shot. Not only does it need 60 percent voter approval, but also local governments and unions are certain to offer fierce opposition. So far, no groups are lining up to campaign for the measure.
And then there are the legal issues, particularly with respect to the first "part" pf the plan: "Download a legal analysis of the bill's constitutionality (PDF)" (via The St Pete Times).
Another Fine Jebacy
The Tampa Trib editorial board: "The latest report comparing high school graduation rates from around the country shows Florida still near the bottom - and there's probably more bad news on the way."
Education Week reports Florida's 2004 graduation rate at a dismal 60.5 percent. It's even worse for Hispanic students at 59 percent and black students at 46.7 percent."A Summer Of Discontent For High Schools".
The national high school graduation rate is 69.9 percent. Florida's ranking puts it at 45th of the 50 states - a disgrace for the fourth largest state. ...
Florida has been hiding its true high school failures for years by counting students who earn GEDs the same as those who finish four years of school and pass the FCAT. Education Week's analysis of Florida's graduation rate puts it more than 10 points below what the state reported for that year because it didn't count students who earned GEDs.
Most employers don't consider a GED the same as a high school diploma, and neither should the state.
Here's an idea: amend the Florida constitution to permit massive property tax cuts and at the same time reduce education funding in a state that is at the bottom of the barrel in per capita spending.
Here's another idea: the MSM should give credit for the current state of affairs to the fellow who "proclaimed himself the 'education governor'", and whose eight (8) years of so-called "reforms" created what even the Trib editors recognize to be a "disgrace."
Don't count on the latter happening anytime soon.
There are too many editorial boards sunning themselves in the reflected glory of Jebbie's brilliant education "reforms"; for instance, The Orlando Sentinel editorial board today: "Has [acting state Education Commissioner Jeanine] Blomberg, who has spent 30 years in the Department of Education, not noticed what has happened in the past five years? Florida students -- both minorities and non-minorities -- are achieving more than ever." "Earth to Jeanine Blomberg". It is difficult to accept claims of "achievement" at face value when, as reported yesterday, "Florida school administrators now question the validity of all previous years' FCAT scores and wonder whether other mistakes were never reported, according to a new poll. 45 percent said they were somewhat suspicious of previous scores under Gov. Jeb Bush. Another 44 percent said they questioned the scores 'a lot.'" "Florida school administrators question FCAT scores' validity".
Earth to The Orlando Sentinel editorial board.
Out Here In The Fields
"Karla Rodriguez Chavez, a Mexican national, is among dozens of farmworkers in the tomato fields of Bristol - and one of thousands of workers nationwide - who hope a bill in Congress will allow them to stay in the U.S. permanently. As the mother of two packed her truck Wednesday with buckets of tomatoes the field hands carried over to her, tossing out the ones too bruised to make the cut, she gave an impassioned plea for reform." "Local farmworkers plead for reform".
"Crist right on energy, way off on growth"
"Crist took a stand Wednesday when he vetoed a sweeping energy bill, saying it didn't go far enough in building a statewide framework for conservation. ... But Crist's actions on two other bills suggest the governor isn't taking conservation as seriously as he should. ... The bills Crist signed into law Tuesday are likely to make the state's growth-management problems worse. One strips crucial provisions from a 2005 law intended to control growth by ensuring that needed infrastructure -- such as water-treatment capacity and schools -- is in place before development is allowed. ... The other measure Crist approved will allow the construction of privately financed toll roads, potentially opening thousands of acres of wilderness to sprawl, and putting even more cars on Florida roads." "Mixed messages. See also "Energizing" ("Floridians like the talk, Governor. But what's the plan?")
"Tax Cuts Will Hurt"
"Miami-Dade County can't achieve the state-mandated budget cuts next year simply by 'cutting the fat' -- and the county fire district will take a substantial hit, a memo penned by County Manager George Burgess said Thursday." "Dade manager says tax cuts will hurt". See also "PB County weighs the good, bad and ugly of tax cuts" and "Predicted tax shortfall may close some early-voting sites".
The Wisdom of Tom Feeney
Feeney is foaming at the mouth again:
Despite the fact that three votes to limit debate on the disastrous Kennedy amnesty proposal in the Senate have failed, like a bad penny, it has turned up again."Feeney: Wake up, Senate: No immigration-amnesty sellout".
Feeney's diatribe fails to mention either Dubya or RNC Chair Martinez, but manages to identify one individual three (3) times in the short piece:
- "the disastrous Kennedy amnesty proposal".
- "The Kennedy proposal".
- "Sen. Edward Kennedy's amnesty proposal".
Rumor has it that Feeney's first draft included references to the Bay of Pigs and Chappaquiddick.
Raw Political Courage
"Crist to Sign Bill to Help Kids of POWs/MIAs". See also "Crist honors veterans".
"There's a lot more to instant bingo than helping aging military veterans fill empty halls." "Instant-bingo bill awaiting Crist's OK".
In Praise of Charlie
Two, three weeks easily have gone by since I've last written a column praising Gov. Charlie Crist."Open records and 3-dots". More: "Government" ("Crist is on a roll, at least when it comes to open government.")
One needs to watch this sort of thing lest it become habitual.
I'm so wary, that I'm reaching into my desk drawer and taking out the jar of asterisks I reserve for three-dot columns. Editors only allow me so many. You have no idea how much they cost.
This Should Be Fun
"Lawmakers propose bill to ease trade, travel restrictions on Cuba". Meanwhile, "Giuliani flails Castro in S. Florida".
Polk County P****** Match
"Tribune Polk County reporter Billy Townsend is checking into questions about strife between Polk County Republican state Sens. J.D. Alexander and Paula Dockery over the race for the post of Senate president in 2010. The upshot: Alexander is backing out of the race, but instead of backing fellow Polk countian Dockery, he’s supporting Sen. Mike Haridopolos of Indialantic." "Alexander Out Of Senate Prez Race, But Won’t Back Dockery — Accusations Fly".
"Providers have to meet standards or risk losing state funds." "Pre-K schools must make grade".
"Cuban-Americans "are going to have a lot to say" about who wins the 2008 presidential election, Republican Rudy Giuliani said Thursday during a campaign stop in this heavily populated Cuban-American city." "Giuliani says Cubans key in 2008 presidential election".
An Anderson Thing
"Several county commissioners slammed Elections Supervisor Arthur Anderson on Thursday, saying he has damaged his credibility by slashing cost estimates for switching to paper ballots a day after presenting much higher figures to them. Anderson now says it will cost the county $3.7 million to switch from touch-screen machines to an optical scan system. On Tuesday, he'd put the figure at $5.9 million -- a number that outraged county commissioners deemed so high that they threatened to defy state law and refuse to make the changes." "Palm Beach County elections chief blasted for overestimating ballot costs".
"Richard Paey wants out of prison. He's serving 25 years for illegally obtaining the medication he said he needs for chronic pain. He turned down a lighter sentence because he doesn't think he did anything wrong. His plight, his stand on principle, has earned him sympathy from across the nation. But not much help. Not until recently." "Clemency hopes pinned on Crist".
- "Daniel Ruth "While Gov. Jeb Bush will be vacating his public housing in just a few days, Richard Paey will still remain a 'guest' of the state for the next 23 years, a victim of an egregious miscarriage of justice that would embarrass even the most inept banana republic. Of course, that could change. Leadership might be afoot!" "Mercy Plea Travels A Painful Road". ("'Egregious Miscarriage of Justice'")
- The St Pete Times editorial board put it this way: "When the governor's daughter, Noelle Bush, was found guilty of prescription tampering, she received a referral to a drug treatment program. That kind of proportionate sentencing and balance between a defendant's guilt and punishment also should apply here." "A drug sentence without justice".
"This case is an embarrassment to Florida. See this CBS story "CBS News - Zero-Tolerance Causes A Lot Of Pain" as well as the 60 minute transcript: "Prisoner Of Pain, How One Man's Quest For Pain Relief Landed Him in Jail". "From the Values Crowd"
"Gov. Crist says Florida property insurance climate is more competitive.".
"Smash-Mouth Partisan Politics"
"Less than an hour after Crist appeared alongside Democratic Rep. Curtis Richardson at the signing of the special-session bills to cut taxes, and Crist publicly thanked Democrats for pulling together with Republicans last week to provide tax relief for voters, the carping press releases from the parties’ legislative leaders began flying." Some excerpts include the mighty House Majority Leader Adam Hasner uttering these words of wisdom:
"It was amazing to see Democrats standing side by side with Governor Charlie Crist today as the Governor signed into law two Republican-sponsored pieces of legislation which will lead to this state’s largest tax cut. It was amazing because these same Democrats fought Republicans every step of the way as we delivered property tax relief for Floridians ... While Democrats threatened Florida voters with scare-tactics and sided with local governments to oppose property tax relief, Republicans once again led the way to provide historic tax relief to Florida’s property owners. Despite claims to the contrary, Democrats did everything in their power to derail property tax reform, reduce the amount of tax savings for Floridians, and prohibit Floridians from voting for historic property tax reforms.”House Minority Leader Dan Gelber - after noting that the Dems had problems with the amendment portion of tax "reform" because it did not protect school funding for a system "that currently ranks 49th in per capita education spending" - responded to Hasner follows:
Adam, you really do a disserv[ice] to your party and to Floridians with your constant political sniping. Instead of advancing an agenda of a party, let us work together to advance the people’s agenda. I urge you to put an end to your smash-mouth partisan politics and take the Governor’s cue and seek a higher ground where the interests of Floridians is more important than the interest of a political party or the ambitions of any individual. I hope you agree that this is the way to build a better and a stronger Florida. "Press Release Wars – with 'Warm Regards'". Some GOPers (read virtually all House GOPers) really miss the "Jeb!" - days of extreme partisanship; they really need to get over it.
This is the path to the high road. You are always welcome to join me here.
"Just six months after brother Jeb stepped down as a popular Florida governor, Bush draws positive approval ratings from only 31 percent of state voters, with 62 percent disapproving his performance and 7 percent undecided, according to a new Strategic Vision poll of roughly 700 Floridians."
Among possible White House successors, Florida Republicans lean toward Rudy Giuliani (30 percent), former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson (24 percent), Arizona Sen. John McCain (11 percent), and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (8 percent) landed in the first tier."W. Scraping Barnacles in Florida Popularity".
Democrats give New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton the clear lead, with 37 percent favoring. Illinois Sen. Barack Obama is the favorite of 21 percent, with former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards at 20 percent.