"Florida's budget chasm opened to historic depths Wednesday as economists downgraded anticipated tax collections $2.5 billion over two years."
The state's cash-flow problems will yield fewer dollars for public schools, universities, and the state's poorest and sickest residents even as spending demands grow, in part because of the sluggish economy."Florida's budgetary woes reach a new low".
"Florida is behaving as though we were in a national recession," said Amy Baker, coordinator for the Legislature's Office of Economic and Demographic Research.
"Florida's economy, which forced a $1 billion cut in the state budget just weeks ago, is sputtering so badly economists gave lawmakers more grim news Wednesday: Prepare to lose another $2.5 billion over the next 18 months."
For Gov. Charlie Crist and the Republican-controlled Legislature, the forecast promises a financial and political headache as they figure out painful new spending cuts in a crucial election year."Budget gap widening". See also "Florida’s tax collections down again" and "Second $1.1 billion revenue shortfall forecast for Florida".
"Winging it, cheerleading and leaving the last guy happy"
Even a broken clock is right twice a day - Mike Thomas writes today that "for someone who has thrived on good luck, can Charlie Crist survive long without it?"
Crist could spend the next three years slashing budgets in a state teetering on recession. ...Thomas continues: "combine the above statements with Crist's claims about taxes dropping like a rock, and those big cuts he said were forthcoming in insurance premiums. Either he thinks we can't handle the truth, or more disturbingly, he is disconnected from the truth.
A media-commissioned poll shows only 34 percent of voters think the state is headed in the right direction, while 44 percent say it is headed the other way.
Voters give Tallahassee lawmakers harsh marks for their tax-cutting proposals and were very sour about insurance rates.
But despite all that, Charlie gets a pass so far, with 57 percent of voters expressing support. That sounds good. But if you're keeping track, it indicates a downward spiral from positive numbers that once registered above 70 percent.
The Crist style seems based on winging it, cheerleading and leaving the last guy happy.Read the whole thing here:"Cheery Charlie: Better turn off lampshade talk". Charlie may be jumping on that VP train faster than we expected.
It works for a while, but invariably people want results. So far, on the matters that most concern them, they haven't seen any.
And the longer they don't, the more Crist's credibility and poll ratings will drop.
That's our Charlie: all things to all people
"The Tampa Bay Rays secured a powerful ally Wednesday in their quest to put an iconic stadium on St. Petersburg's waterfront: Gov. Charlie Crist. But they also found new adversaries in the Legislature." "Proposal has foes, friend in Tally".
"Calling it a 'very historic day for Florida,' Gov. Charlie Crist agreed Wednesday to let the Seminole Tribe of Florida operate casino card games now banned in the state and slot machines at seven sites, including the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa." "Tribe strikes deal to expand gambling". See also "Crist OKs gaming deal with Seminoles", "Crist, tribe sign deal to expand Indian gambling, state gets cash" and "Gov. Crist bets deal will mean $100M a year for state, but lawmakers could sue". More: "Q&A: State currently limits cards, Vegas-style slots" and "State to get $325 million in first 3 years of deal" ("Here are key details of the 42-page pact between the Seminole Tribe and Gov. Charlie Crist to operate Las Vegas-style slot machines, blackjack, baccarat and other card games in return for sharing revenue with the state.")
And in case you've forgotten, the Tampa Trib editors remind us this morning that Charlie is simply fabulous: "Crist Deals State Strong Hand In Taxing And Limiting Casinos". But the Sun-Sentinel has this: "Florida lacked leverage for better Seminole gambling deal". We're confused.
"The sub-prime loan industry collapse"
"The sub-prime loan industry collapse that is roiling Wall Street has caused a $2.2 billion spiral in at least one state investment pool, managers told Gov. Charlie Crist and the Cabinet on" "Sub-prime loan collapse hurts state investment". See also "State's portfolio touched by market worries over lending industry".
"A fine idea at the time ..."
"Orlando utility shelves coal-gasification plant".
Will Florida schools continue "continue backsliding"?
"Lawyers argued Wednesday over who should have authority to set tuition and fees at Florida's 11 public universities in a lawsuit that the system's leader said could determine whether the schools will continue backsliding." "Former senator, governor want college board to set tuition rates". See also "Lawsuit over tuition gets under way".
"Florida State University and the University of Florida are teaming up on a $10-million plan to better recruit and prepare math and science teachers for Florida's public schools -areas where there have been critical shortages for years." "FSU and UF match wits on science shortfall".
"A state elections board on Wednesday found enough evidence to continue an investigation into whether Martin County Commissioner Susan Valliere and her husband violated campaign laws last year, according to the activist who accused her." "Both sides claim win in election rules spat".
On a separate note: "Heard rebuts group's charges" ("Martin County Commissioner Sarah Heard on Wednesday fired back at a new watchdog group led by a former commission candidate that has accused her of breaking campaign finance rules.")
The Palm Beach Post editors: "The property-tax amendment on the Jan. 29 ballot would not pass today, according to polling that was released this week by The Post and a media consortium. Defeat of the amendment would be good for Florida, because it would increase the chances for real tax reform. There are many reasons to dislike the amendment. Chief among them is that the proposal would help most those taxpayers who need help the least, and would cost Florida's public school system about $3 billion over five years. The amendment is flawed because it was the product of a rushed political compromise dictated to the state House by the state Senate and Gov. Crist." "If tax-poll numbers hold, Florida stands to benefit".
The Venice effect
"The picket lines and angry crowds at City Hall over the past year were replaced by the standing ovations Wednesday as three new City Council members were sworn into office."
Continuing a historic groundswell of support that swept the three slow-growth candidates into office by a landslide, nearly 150 people packed the council chambers for an inauguration that surprised some city leaders. ..."In Venice, time for new trio to get busy".
"This was such a surprising and exciting election," said Joan Turner, a recent retiree from New Jersey and a registered Republican who voted for the three Democrats. "We wanted to be here after working so hard pounding the streets for them."
The new council members worked as a team to unseat three well-connected incumbents, attracting a broad group of volunteers angered by recent development proposals.
That silly eighth amendment thing
Doesn't this sound nice: "Crist and the chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court called for a major overhaul of the state's mental health system on Wednesday to better address the needs of the severely mentally ill." "Psychiatric overhaul urged". See also "A call to treat mentally ill, not jail them".
Meanwhile, back in the real world: "Jeremiah Thomas was known as a 'frequent flier' among prison guards for the way the schizophrenic killer bounced back and forth between two lockups.
In one prison, he got medical care for his hallucinations, self-mutilation and other bizarre behavior."For years, lawyers for Thomas and other mentally ill inmates have sued in federal court to end what they say is an unconstitutionally cruel and unusual practice of using 'chemical agents' on Florida State Prison inmates whom the Florida Department of Corrections itself acknowledges are mentally ill."
In the other, he was repeatedly gassed with pepper spray, tear gas or Mace for acting like a mentally ill person, yelling or refusing to comply with orders.
Still, the case has cast an unwelcome spotlight on DOC for two major reasons:"Use of chemicals in Florida prison questioned".
• It recalls the ''culture of brutality'' that McDonough began stamping out last year after headlines over guards stealing, distributing steroids and beating inmates -- or pounding each other in frequent beer-soaked, steroid-fueled brawls connected to prison-league softball rivalries.
• It could potentially expose the need for far more mental health-treatment beds in the Florida State Prison in Starke as well as the entire prison system, which has as many as 16,000 potentially mentally ill inmates out of a population of 95,000.
The state is starting to acknowledge some of the problems via a new Medicaid program designed to divert more mentally ill prisoners to treatment facilities. But Thomas' lawyers say more needs to be done.
Background: "System fails mentally ill inmates, families", "Jailing the ill", "Judge using law to steer mentally ill to treatment" and "Special 'psych' jails planned".
And fixing this mess can't be done on the cheap: "Panel: State needs to spend on mentally ill". Indeed, "Experts: $20M to fix mental-health system".
The Tallahassee Democrat editorial board: "Break the cycle: Incarcerating mentally ill is futile".
Worshiping at the feet of multinationals
The brain trust at the Orlando Sentinel see things only in black and white: "Only South Florida Democrats Alcee Hastings and Robert Wexler voted against their state's and nation's economic interests." See what they are talking about here: "A way to boost economy".
Reagan appointee steps in
"U.S. District Court Judge [and Reagan appointee] Anne Conway issued an order Wednesday delaying his execution for the "relatively short time" it will take for the U.S. Supreme Court to consider questions about lethal injection -- an issue not likely to be resolved until next summer." The knuckle draggers are furious: "Not backing down, Florida officials quickly filed an appeal in hopes of carrying out the execution on schedule tonight at Florida State Prison in Starke." "Court halts execution of convicted child-killer Mark Schwab".
The Palm Beach Post editors miss the boat: "Florida has its own Larry Craig, a hypocritical politician guilty of a morals charge who wants to remain in office as much as his colleagues want him to quit. ... House rules allow the ultimate punishment for Rep. Allen, and it should come soon." "Not a man of the House". Do they really think anyone convicted of the lowest level misdemeanor ought to be expelled? Do they call for the expulsion of serial drunk drivers? The Orlando Sentinel has a more balanced take on this issue: "Be consistent", and of course so do we: "You go, Bob!"
Sink continues to raise her profile
"State Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink announced Wednesday new financial initiatives that she says will help Florida financially prepare for the threat of climate change." "Democrat: Sink proposes climate initiatives".
"The results are all wrong"
Bill Cotterell: "Sometimes, the government does the right thing and the results are all wrong."
That's what happened last month when Circuit Judge Mark Hill in Tavares refused to quash a quirk in Florida election law that keeps tens of thousands of people from having any voice in our primaries. The Legislature could change it, but it won't, because both parties like cheating. Or, more precisely, they like having someone cheat for them.Much more here: "Major parties are fine with primary loophole".
The Florida Constitution was amended in 1998 to allow "open" primaries. That means, if only Democrats or only Republicans seek an office, everybody gets to vote in the primary for that office. That's because whoever wins the nomination will be the officeholder.
Ah, but there's a catch. After 64 percent of the people passed the constitutional amendment, the Division of Elections ruled that write-in candidates are real contenders - even when they're not. The division reasoned that any nonparty opposition is enough to close an otherwise open primary.