"The budget axe starts swinging this week when lawmakers return to Tallahassee for committee meetings, ones that will set the stage for a Sept. 18 gloom-and-doom special session." "Budget cut meetings to begin this week".
"Florida school officials, social-service groups and prosecutors will be among those looking to dodge the budget ax when lawmakers return to the Capitol this week to work on slashing as much as $1.1 billion from a slumping state budget." "State budget slicing begins".
However, Naked Politics reports: "Senate budget chief: Education will not be spared": "Saying that she doesn't want to 'obliterate' other parts of the state budget, Sen. Lisa Carlton, the chairman of the Fiscal Policy and Calendar Committee, plans to suggest to Senate President Ken Pruitt to cut the state budget approximately four percent across all areas of the budget, including education, during the upcoming special session.".
"Facing a bad economy that will require lawmakers to cut $1 billion or more from the state budget in a special session next month, Gov. Charlie Crist and the Legislature are looking for significant ways to reduce spending. James McDonough has a plan to do just that. But the political consequences may be more than Crist and the Legislature are prepared to deal with. McDonough, who heads Florida's Department of Corrections, wants to reduce hard time for thousands of the state's inmates." "Budget may cut prisoners' hard time".
"Florida's university chancellor said the state's 11-university system has slipped into the nation's bottom third as budget reductions loom." "Will budget cuts flunk the state universities?".
"A man in a purple moon suit"
"When an inmate receives a lethal injection in Florida, a man in a purple moon suit leans over to listen for a heartbeat and feel for a pulse as witnesses watch and wait. After a few seconds he nods, triggering an announcement that the execution has been completed. The man is a doctor and the attire shields his identity — not just from the prisoner's family and friends, but from the American Medical Association. Its code of ethics bars members from participating in executions, as do those of the American Nurses Association, the American Society of Anesthesiologists and the Florida Medical Association." "More medical help sought at Fla. executions to ensure 'dignified and humane deaths'".
"Once again, Florida's two U.S. senators are working to keep Congress from opening Florida's coastline to offshore oil drilling. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, said he thought the idea had been 'put to bed' last year when Congress passed a measure blocking drilling within 240 miles of Tampa Bay. Not so." "Offshore drilling threat re-emerges".
"Several local Democratic elected officials are already lining up behind Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. But freshman Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Mahoney isn’t making any endorsements." "No presidential bandwagon for Mahoney". See also "Mahoney won't back candidate until he's wowed".
"Southern governors met on Sunday at a renovated casino hotel in a city nearly devastated two years earlier. On the agenda: their states' continued struggles to find, keep and encourage insurers that will sell affordable homeowner policies." "South's governors echo Florida insurance woes".
Those Greedy Rank-And-File Public Employees
"State employees in Florida have received their now-infamous $1,000 so-called bonus instead of any raise in their base pay this year, nor have past years been anything for them to cheer about."
Yet here in the capital city, local government's top officials are thriving, with county pay raises for its top 10 highest paid employees jumping from 32 percent to as much as 82 percent in the last five years and city pay hikes for its most highly paid players jumping from 11 percent to nearly 35 percent in that same time frame."Nice fat raises".
This, even as rank and file county and city employees can anticipate a 2.7 percent increase for the upcoming fiscal year, starting Oct. 1.
"Divvy up Florida's electoral votes?" More: "A simple reform: Count all votes".
Little Leagues Beware
"The question of whether Florida parents can sign away their children's rights to sue sports, amusement and water parks may soon become an issue for the Florida Supreme Court, state lawmakers or both." "Florida high court may take up children's rights to sue".
"Leaders from around the state met in Largo Sunday to discuss long-term goals for Florida's future." "Leaders discuss Florida's goals".
"Political or public-relations mileage"?
"Florida's suddenly teeming with government officials wanting to be the state's next green giant", but the Orlando Sentinel editorial board notes that
exactly how government leaders move forward will tell their constituents all they need to know about whether they're genuinely committed to tackling global warming, or just want to gain some political or public-relations mileage by riding the wave to go green that's been sweeping the country."Don't be eco-fuzzy".
We won't guess how individual members of the League [of Mayors] will proceed, though its resolution that "encourages Florida cities to strive to meet" green goals sounds a bit like "Let's win one for the team! -- without getting the players to sign a playbook showing them how.
When Castro Dies
George Diaz: when Castro dies
Cuban-American exiles will want to dictate the future of the island. Those who stayed behind will want no part of that agenda. The United States may also try to reach out to help chart a post-Castro renaissance, but only if concessions are made from the new regime in regards to human rights and other freedoms. Raul Castro, Fidel's brother and the de facto leader of Cuba, doesn't seem to be in the mood to make any conciliatory gestures at this time."Exchanging a cruel leader for another one". The Palm Beach Post editorial board argues that Obama "correctly sees the isolation of the Cuban people as detrimental to advancing democracy on the island - "a humanitarian and strategic" mistake that has enabled Fidel Castro to keep his grip on power."
It will be a bit of a political chess game to see who blinks first. Presidential candidate Barack Obama called for a softening of the hard-line position against Cuba in an op-ed piece in The Miami Herald. That pretty much threw away 27 electoral votes should he emerge as the Democratic nominee.
But at least Obama has the conviction to move the conversation in a different direction "to advance peaceful political and economic reform on the island." It is a significant philosophical shift, away from a 45-year-old embargo that has failed to weaken Castro's grip on the island.
A softer touch may be a more pragmatic road to travel, but you'll never get past the roadblock of hard-line Cubanos sipping their cafe con leche in Little Havana. They take meticulous notes on such matters, and anything short of Death to Castro makes you a liberal swine.
Usually, expressions of common sense don't merit praise for courage. But politicians from both parties have been so intimidated by the Cuban exile community's hard-liners - and so willing to pander to them - that reasonable policy has become a refreshing departure. No other Democrat in the field has broken with the Bush administration's position, nor is one likely to. Front-runner Hillary Clinton issued a statement in response to Sen. Obama that reiterated her commitment to the status quo."Obama breaks Cuba line".
"Let's get right down to it: Title insurance in Florida is a rip off. It costs too much for what the consumer gets, accounting for an average 14 percent of the consumer's closing costs in property transactions. Yet insurers face little risk considering only 3 cents of the premium dollar is ever paid out for losses. Consumers would get a better deal at the craps table. State regulators are reviewing the title insurance industry, as required by law, and have had to subpoena companies to get them to fully cooperate. Despite the secrecy, regulators have managed to uncover some startling details. The most obvious problem is that the business isn't really competitive, with just five companies writing 90 percent of policies sold in the state. Consequently, industry profits were up 386 percent from 1995 to 2004." "Put an end to title insurance rip off".
Reaping the Whirlwind
"Sen. Mel Martinez has seen his public-approval ratings droop back home in Florida. And President Bush, already mired in an unpopular war, faces open rebellion within his party over his attempts to turn undocumented immigrants into a legal work force. Their cause — a comprehensive overhaul of immigration laws — has sparked a political backlash that has divided the party, forced Congress to shelve the bill and jeopardized Republican attempts in Florida and elsewhere to reach out to Hispanic voters." "Sun-Sentinel: Immigration overhaul weighs heavily on Republicans".
The Miami Herald's "Political Beat": "new gift laws forbid the governor from accepting gifts of any value from anyone who lobbies his office, including other government agencies", even a $14.99 education-themed tie. See also "Governor doesn't accept his gift tie".
Booming Crashing Economy
"Boom of condo crash loudest in Miami".
"Reaching for the gambling Kool-Aid"
Randy Schultz yesterday: "Uh-oh. One little financial thirst, and Gov. Crist already is reaching for the gambling Kool-Aid."
Twenty-one years ago, Florida voters approved a state lottery, supposedly to "enhance" education without raising taxes. It was a false promise then, and it remains a false promise.Schultz argues that,
In 1986, education made up almost 62 percent of the state budget's general fund. The lottery began operating in 1988. Since then, the percentage of general revenue for education has declined steadily, to 52.4 percent. As added money came in from the lottery, the Legislature decreased the share from taxes. School districts didn't use lottery money for "enhancement"; they had to use it for everyday bills.
In 1997, during a statewide classroom shortage, the Legislature allowed the use of lottery money for construction and created Bright Futures scholarships, also financed by the lottery. With only above-average grades and minimal test scores, high school seniors can get 75 percent of their tuition paid at state universities. Higher-scoring students get 100 percent.
By law, 50 percent of annual lottery sales goes to payouts, 38 percent goes to education and the rest goes to run the Lottery Department. The Department of Education decides where that 38 percent will go. In 1998, less than 10 percent of lottery money went to Bright Futures. This year, it's 25 percent, or almost $370 million. Public schools receive less lottery money than they did before Bright Futures. And schools get nothing from Bright Futures.
If gambling were the answer, Florida wouldn't rank somewhere between 45th and 48th in per-pupil school spending. If gambling were the answer, universities wouldn't be freezing enrollment, and community colleges wouldn't be turning themselves into four-year diploma mills."Crist plays the same old bad hand".
Yet Gov. Crist apparently clings to the fiction that more casinos will fix things. He's wrong from a financial standpoint and a moral standpoint.
Mark Lane is "Finding fault with no-fault".
"Elian repeat unlikely"?
"Cuban father wants daughter, 4, returned from adoptive parents in Miami" See also "Elian case looms over custody battle" and "Custody battle over Cuban girl heats up but Elian repeat unlikely".
Some of the salient political news and punditry from yesterday:
- "Republicans have dominated Florida's delegation to Congress in recent years largely because the GOP has guarded a near-stranglehold on seven of eight U.S. House seats in Central Florida.
But after sweeping to power in 2006, Democratic leaders in Congress waant to expand their majority in 2008 by targeting tougher races nationwide -- including three Republican incumbents in the Orlando area."
To do that, groups such as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for months have combed Central Florida looking for recruits and fundraisers. They've had some success, including finding an insider in the space industry to run in Brevard County. But actually winning these elections is another matter. Veteran lawmakers hold all three seats. Rep. Dave Weldon of Indialantic first was elected in 1994. Rep. Ric Keller of Orlando and Rep. Tom Feeney of Oviedo won their seats in 2000 and 2002 respectively. Their Democratic challengers have limited, if any, political credentials. The difference in experience gives the incumbents a historic advantage in exposure and fundraising. With more than a year before the 2008 general election, here's a breakdown of the emerging campaigns in each race."Democrats Target GOP Trio".
- Robyn Blumner finally gets around to the caging thing: "The Republican Party learned well at the knee of Southern Democrats how to keep African-Americans from the polls." "A cagey way to keep voters from being counted".
- "Top Democrats voted Saturday to strip Florida of its 210 delegates to next summer's presidential-nominating convention unless the state's Jan. 29 primary is delayed by at least a week." "Dems: Strip Florida of convention delegates".
- "Property-tax battle far from over".
- "'It didn't cost taxpayers a dime,' said [Deltona City Commissioner]Santiago, adding he spent much of the evening learning about bonds from the finance experts of D.A. Davidson & Co., which sponsored the meal at Morton's Steakhouse. ... 'Bottom line is these people are partners of ours, and I'm going to work with them while I'm in office,' said Santiago, who is not running for re-election and will step down in November." "Commissioner defends free steak dinner".
- "Giuliani vows to lower taxes, maintain Bush's cuts, eliminate inheritance taxes" and a chicken in every pot.