Time to Slice and Dice
"Florida lawmakers began slicing $1-billion out of the state budget Wednesday as they groped for elusive common ground on the much tougher and unfinished work of cutting property taxes." "Budget at hand, but minds on taxes Legislators' focus: money"
But while healthcare and education top the hit list, the GOP-controlled Legislature has decided other parts of the state's $71 billion budget are off-limits: Money for roads and traffic engineering consultants. Cash rebates to lure filmmakers to Florida. Grants for sporting events."Parts of budget are untouchable". See also "Budget work to cover shortfalls begins", "Lawmakers start trimming budget", "Special session to cover budget, insurance", "As budget cuts begin, taxes, no-fault loom" and "Legislators Zero In On State Budget, PIP".
And then there are the dozens of special accounts flush with cash that legislators have refused to tap to help balance the budget. For example, there's more than $1 million from lobbyist registration fees that is sitting unused.
Some of the accounts that lawmakers won't touch are guarded by some of the state's most powerful special-interest groups, including road builders, home builders and real estate agents. ''We should be cutting 4 percent across the board,'' said Sen. Michael Bennett, a Bradenton Republican. ``That looks fair. But when you don't, you're bringing politics into it.
``You look like you are protecting sacred cows, and there shouldn't be sacred cows right now.''
As lawmakers opened up their 10-day special session Wednesday, it was apparent there is wide agreement between the House and Senate on what should get cut and what shouldn't.
The Tampa Trib editorial board: "Likely budget cuts will come from schools, unfilled highway patrol jobs and hospital and nursing home reimbursement rates, Alzheimer's research funding and more". Too bad the Legislature doesn't have the courage to consider tax increases, like, say, the intangibles tax: "One choice lawmakers won't have is to raise taxes. Senate President Ken Pruitt, House Speaker Marco Rubio and Gov. Charlie Crist understand that voters already pressed by property taxes and property insurance premiums are not willing to accept the additional financial burden." "Back To Tallahassee".
Pamela Hasterok: "Let the slashing begin".
"Even as the Legislature opened a special session to cut $1 billion in spending, [House Speaker Marco Rubio] was already eyeing a second attempt at historic property tax cuts." "Session could take a detour". "Lawmakers christened their budget-cutting special session Wednesday with all hands focused on a topic not on the agenda – property taxes." "Tax talks proceed slowly". Courtesy of the Buzz: "here are some the proposals in play:"
* Clarify the Jan. 29 "super" homestead exemption proposal, which a judge has ruled misleading. Easy to do, perhaps, but the votes may not exist to put it back on the ballot."Sizing up the property tax menu". See also this House "Property Tax Reform Plan Summaries" (.pdf). More: "Session opens with jab on tax cuts" and "Legislators may draw up new plan for property tax relief".
* Save Our Homes "portability." Preferred by Gov. Charlie Crist, with strong support in the Senate. But constitutional issues could pose problems.
* Double the $25,000 homestead exemption. Again, preferred by Crist. As a standalone issue, however, it represents mild savings for the average homeowner.
* Modify the statutory rollback and cap. Could be easier than a statewide ballot, as Democratic votes would not be needed. But last session's battle between the Senate and House over how far to go portends a tough road. Another possibility: Making it tougher for local government to break the cap, which many cities and counties already have done.
* Highest and best. Revise an appraisal process that looks at commercial property's greatest value, not only what it is currently used for.
"Senate Democrats don't want to cut the state budget without looking at tax breaks they call unfair, but the Republican legislative leaders Wednesday reiterated that raising new money won't be part of the equation - except for a tuition increase." "Senate Dems: No support for budget cuts without tax break talks".
Bushco in Action
The Palm Beach Post editors: "In 2002, when his brother was running for a second term as Florida's governor, President Bush held a ceremony in the Oval Office to pledge his commitment to the Everglades. With no Bush needing to worry about an election, the president is trying to make the case that he can break that pledge." "BUSH'S MISGUIDED VETOES: Help the Everglades".
The Miami Herald editors:"Privatize toll roads? Try another route"
It doesn't take a genius to figure out that turning over Alligator Alley and several other state toll roads to a private vendor is a bad idea -- a really bad idea, in fact. No private vendor would pay Florida $500 million in up-front cash without the certainty of guaranteed profits -- likely in the double digits, mind you -- for the 50-year life of Florida's generous offer to lease toll roads."Privatize toll roads? Try another route". The Palm Beach Post editors chime in: "Keep the roads public".
There is no mystery, either, where revenues and profits would come from. Take a look in the mirror; then be prepared to empty your pockets for the foreseeable future to pay ever-increasing tolls.
Sorry to say, Gov. Charlie Crist and state lawmakers are considering exactly this -- leasing toll roads to help cover a $1 billion shortfall in Florida's $71 billion budget. No doubt, this is a sign of how eager Gov. Crist and state lawmakers are to find an easy fix -- something less drastic than, say, restructuring our inefficient tax system or eliminating needless tax exemptions -- for Florida's budget crisis.
"Several major state environmental land purchases, including the massive Babcock Ranch tract in Lee and Charlotte counties in southwest Florida, were based on questionable appraisals that may have improperly inflated values, a state audit said Tuesday." "State may have paid too much in land deals due to faulty appraisals".
"When the time comes to divvy up the power after the 2010 census, Florida is expected to gain three additional seats in Congress -- one of which would be attributed to its growing number of illegal immigrants."
Florida's population is expected to surpass that of New York in the next national count, which would make the Sunshine State the third most populous after California and Texas, according to an analysis of census statistics and population data issued by a Connecticut demographer."'It's great news for Florida in terms of getting more power,' said study author Orlando Rodriguez, a demographer with the Connecticut State Data Center at the University of Connecticut. 'But it's not the undocumented immigrants who will benefit. It's the dominant party that gets the benefit of the extra seats.'"
Having more seats in Congress -- 28 instead of 25 -- would also give Florida more Electoral College votes, forcing presidential campaigns to lavish more attention on the state.
That shift, analysts say, is expected to help Republicans in Florida, who control the state Legislature, which redraws district lines when seats are added. The same is true in the border states of Arizona and Texas."Immigrants may boost Florida's clout".
"We will have a larger congressional delegation giving us a stronger voice in Congress as our population continues to grow," said Erin VanSickle, spokeswoman for the Republican Party of Florida.
"Leon County Demoratic Chairman Rick Minor is worried Democrats remain so peeved with the DNC over its early primary sanctions that they won't cough up green for Howard Dean when he's in town Oct 9." "Leon Democrats: Don't diss Dean!".
"Barack Obama pulled his Florida political director out of the state. Hillary Clinton nixed her brother's appearance at the Weston Democratic Club. John Edwards rebuffed a Fort Lauderdale banquet honoring gay Democratic activists. When the Florida Democratic Party holds its state convention in three weeks, all of the major Democratic candidates for president will take a pass." "No-show Democrats stick to their pledge".
Charlie (not Howard) "Dean gets a warm welcome to Senate".
"Florida drivers could sue each other for the medical costs of a car accident until Feb. 15 under an amendment Republican leaders will unveil today." "House panel OKs no-fault alternative". See also "No PIP until at least Feb. 15", "PIP's return not if, but when", "PIP Transition Proves Awkward" and "No-fault fix clears first obstacle in House". The Sun-Sentinel editors: "It's not the most satisfying reform, but PIP auto insurance is too important to let die".
The Orlando Sentinel editors slam the Legislature's delay in re-establishing no-fault: "Hmm. Couldn't be that [Sen. J.D. Alexander of Winter Haven], is in the lap of State Farm, whose Florida administrative headquarters operate in his district, could it? Or that State Farm would love to replace PIP with a system mandating bodily-injury protection, and that it would reap record profits from the more expensive bodily-injury protection? And it couldn't be that lawyers, who'd get to gallop to Florida's courtrooms to do battle over bodily-injury claims, would benefit. Could it?" "A bad turn for Florida".
Primary Lawsuit to be Filed Today
"Democratic Florida Sen. Bill Nelson and Rep. Alcee Hastings of Miramar have scheduled a news conference at the U.S. Capitol for 10:30 a.m. Thursday to discuss their promised lawsuit against the Democratic National Committee’s decision to sanction Florida on its 2008 presidential primary. The lawsuit is expected to be filed [Thursday]." "Nelson’s Primary Lawsuit Going In Hopper [Today]".
Update: "AP NewsBreak: Nelson/Hastings suing DNC over presidential primary".
Ain't Goona Happen
"By the end of this week, the Florida Legislature will be well on its way to chopping $750 million out of the state's budget, cutting spending for schools, health care for the poor, prisons and other services. But Wednesday, a Senate subcommittee took a first step to cut something that primarily benefits the governor, other top officials and themselves: their access to the state's airplane fleet." "Possible sale of state planes could clip bigwigs' wings".
The News-Journal editorial board: "Even with a lawsuit pending over the breadth of its powers, the Board of Governors of the State University System is moving confidently ahead: Last week, it increased tuition for the state's 11 universities by 5 percent -- defying the Legislature's stance that it, not the board, has authority to set tuition." "Universities' tuition hike essential". More from the St Pete Times' editors: "University board: We'll make our stand".
"Every once in a while, it's worth making the effort to chat with the person next to you on a plane. That's what a Broward County woman did a few months ago with state Sen. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton. The woman, whom Deutch did not name, told him how state assistance for her severely disabled daughter was being halved, leaving her and her husband with about six hours a day of help." "Airplane chat gets push for disabled off ground".
"A Senate committee amended a health care budget bill to allow families caring for the severely disabled to be able to get more than the capped amount of personal care approved by lawmakers this spring. Democratic Sen. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton was the force behind the amendment, which would help 1,000 families who would otherwise have to place their loved ones into institutions." "Hope on the horizon for families of disabled?".
Airport from Nowhere
Florida's version of the bridge to nowhere: "Only 13 commercial flights leave the Panama City-Bay County International Airport every day."
That's expected to change now that nearly $200 million in state and federal funding is being used to build a new airport that could become a destination for major airlines and a selling point for future development on thousands of surrounding acres owned by the politically connected St. Joe Co.Follow the money:
Once a titan in the paper mill industry, Jacksonville-based St. Joe now creates housing developments and stands to benefit greatly from the increased value of the land once the new airport is built.
That has outraged some longtime residents and environmentalists who have fought the plan at every step.
"The state of Florida is having to cut budgets and yet they're giving millions of dollars on this airport that nobody wants or needs," said Jimmy Long, a longtime Bay County resident who for decades has hunted near the proposed airport site.
Opponents of the project think St. Joe's political muscle greased the way for the state and federal grants. Rummell [St. Joe's chairman and chief executive officer] has made significant contributions to the campaigns of President Bush and his brother, former Gov. Jeb Bush. Rummell was named a "Pioneer" for bundling contributions of $100,000 or more for the president."$120 Million For Airport: Necessity Or Waste?".
Dubya's veto "of a bill to renew and expand a children’s health care program could lead to pressure on Tampa’s freshman Democratic Rep. Kathy Castor to switch her vote yet again on the measure."
Castor initially voted for the House version of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) bill, but then voted against the final version negotiated with the Senate. She said the final version wouldn’t serve as many children as the version she favored, and relied too heavily on cigar taxes—she had been stung by criticism over the taxes, a problem in her district."Bush SCHIP Veto Could Put Pressure On Castor". More: "Bush vetoes plan providing health coverage to 200,000 Fla. children".
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gave Castor and seven other Democrats a pass to vote “no” as the bill passed 265 to 159, but now Pelosi is not ruling out an override attempt. She’s likely to need those eight votes, plus some Republican switchers, to get the needed two-thirds vote—290 of the 435 House members. ...
Castor had no immediate comment on her plans, and House Democratic leaders have decided to put off an override vote until October 17.
"Sen. Mandy Dawson, one of the Florida Legislature's most absence-prone members, was back at her desk Wednesday, on the mend from what she said was the latest in a long string of health troubles." "Ailing Sen. Dawson returns to work in Tallahassee".
Blast from the past
The man, after all, is Marvin Couch."'We all sin': Ex-legislator rebuilds his life". And by the way, he was a Republican
And 11 years ago, Couch was at the top his game.
He was a second-term legislator and gaining prominence as a member of the "God Squad" in Tallahassee -- a group of family-values lawmakers determined to bring morality back to government.
But then, on a February night back in 1996, Couch was caught with a prostitute in his car. He'd picked her up down on the Orange Blossom Trail and was looking for oral sex [and in the GOP tradition he tried to negotiate the price].
Suddenly, he didn't seem so godly. Or statesmanlike.
You know there's a problem ...
when an editorial board cites anything from the wingnut Heritage Foundation: "Children's Health Insurance Bill Justified President's Veto".
Striding the World's Stage
The lightweight Orlando Sentinel editors stride the world's stage:
If [Venezuela's] Mr. Chavez was guilty only of nepotism and bad math skills, we could laugh this off. But his quirky power plays run deep, from nationalizing telecommunications companies to his plan to do away with presidential term limits to shutting down independent media."More over-the-top".
Thank goodness we do not have nepotism, we have an "independent press" (that operates independently of corporate ownership), and that we privatize (rather than socialize) everything that moves.
While Iraq Burns ...
"The leader of a group accused of plotting terrorist attacks in the U.S. said on an FBI videotape played at trial Wednesday [in Miami] that he sought to raise an 'Islamic army' to fight a guerrilla war."
Narseal Batiste was also recorded saying he needed boots, black uniforms and machine guns for his soldiers. ..."Terrorism defendant talks of 'Islamic army' on FBI tape".
The so-called "Liberty City Seven" are accused of plotting to destroy the 110-story Sears Tower in Chicago and bomb FBI offices in five cities to ignite a war aimed at overthrowing the U.S. government.
Mohammed did eventually provide the group with boots ...