A desperate "repackaged" Rudy
"Eighteen days before voting starts in one of modern history's most tumultuous Republican presidential primaries, former prosecutor Rudy Giuliani began his closing argument Saturday in the state he's banking on to seal his nomination." "Rudy's rallying cry: Florida or bust".
You might call it desperation:
Giuliani, once the hands-down GOP presidential front-runner in Florida, delivered a repackaged campaign speech that evoked his post-Sept. 11 accomplishments in an attempt to rekindle voters' affection for the former New York City mayor."Giuliani tries to regain momentum".
Although Giuliani's campaign staff touted the debut of his "Tested. Ready. Now" speech as a new message, it included much of the same talk heard previously on the political trail. But it had a few new elements, anchored by an optimistic tone, even as at least one recent poll showed Giuliani's popularity waning in the Sunshine State.
"With his status as GOP presidential front-runner in question, Rudy Giuliani made a speech here Saturday intended to mark a turning point in his campaign, but which relied heavily on past themes - his role after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, cleaning up New York City, and an aggressive stance on terrorism and homeland security." "Giuliani Outlines His Vision At Intended Turning Point". See also "Weak in early-voting states, Giuliani focuses on Florida", "Giuliani retools stump speech; says nation needs bold leadership" and "Giuliani seeks spark in Florida".
Yet "another indicator of the state's slumping economy"
"Florida's public school enrollment dropped by nearly 8,000 students compared with last year, another indicator of the state's slumping economy." "Florida school attendance drops for 2nd straight year".
"Troubled securities lurk in the state's own funds"
"As Florida tries to restore calm to its investments for local governments, the same troubled securities lurk in the state's own funds, particularly those used to pay hurricane claims. A review of public records shows both Citizens Property Insurance and the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund have another $1.5 billion in troubled mortgage-backed investments managed for them by the state, under names like Countrywide and Citigroup." "State has its own securities headache".
It was all about vouchers? Who knew?
"Students take the FCAT, but the test - as Florida has come to use it - isn't really about students. The state uses it to assign school grades, which are a Jeb Bush brainstorm originally intended as a means to provide vouchers to private schools. " "Post-Jeb FCAT reform".
That's our Mel
The Orlando Sentinel editorial board issues rare criticism of their beloved Mel, writing that "in passing its farm bill, the Senate rejected the most promising alternative, from Republican Richard Lugar. It would have replaced subsidies with insurance for farmers who truly need help. Florida's senators split on the proposal: Democrat Bill Nelson voted for reform, and Republican Mel Martinez voted for the status quo." "Our position: U.S. senators, including Martinez, should have OK'd improved farm bill".
Meanwhile, "With GOP burden lifted, Martinez focuses on Senate".
"80 percent increase in deaths from child abuse"
"Officials are attributing an 80 percent increase in deaths from child abuse and neglect in Florida last year mainly to changes in reporting criteria including the addition of drowning victims." "More child deaths being attributed to abuse, neglect in Florida".
The Palm Beach Post editors: "It took uncommon courage for public officials and community do-gooders to come together in Jupiter and create a day labor center for immigrants. Apparently, it will take even more courage to keep the center going, because some cowards want to close it down."
El Sol, Jupiter's Neighborhood Resource Center opened 15 months ago in response to complaints about immigrants soliciting day jobs on busy Jupiter streets. Against all odds, the center has succeeded. Workers and employers have a place to meet, and the center has provided English classes and services to hundreds of immigrants - most of them illegal. Jupiter residents have seen their gutsy, creative government deal with a problem that Washington created and still won't face."Immigrant labor center earns praise, not protest".
Given that success, it probably was inevitable that El Sol would find itself in the cross hairs of the xenophobic demagogues who can't get enough of Tom Tancredo and CNN's Lou Dobbs. Last Saturday, about 20 protesters picketed El Sol and harassed people who were trying to use it. Police arrested a man who came to hire workers; he got into a shoving match with a protester from Pompano Beach who was filming him with a video camera.
"Fun with numbers"
"The savings from the property tax amendment headed to voters on Jan. 29 is $9.3 billion over five years. That's the latest number from frazzled state economists. But the fun with numbers is just beginning." "Fuzzy math".
"The new Man To Call is Bob Milligan, the retired three-star Marine general who served as state controller from 1995 until 2003, then came back to public service this year under Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink as Florida's insurance consumer advocate. That job will have to wait. Last week, Ms. Sink, Gov. Crist and Attorney General Bill McCollum chose Gen. Milligan to be interim director of the Local Government Investment Pool." "General's new assignment".
A little history . . .
Randy Schultz: "In 1982, Mr. Reagan signed a bill that allowed savings and loans to get into the same high-flying ventures as banks. No longer did these "thrifts" face such outdated rules as having enough assets on hand to balance the risk from loans."
Here, though, was the big part: The public paid for it. The legislation, named for a Democratic House member and a Republican senator and passing with big bipartisan support, raised the limit on federally guaranteed savings-and-loan deposits from $40,000 to $100,000. Mr. Reagan said the country "hit the jackpot.""The sacred free market isn't free".
Very soon, Mr. Reagan was right - for a few people. Owners of savings and loans that began as strip mall-sized operations began doing big real-estate deals and paying depositors unheard-of returns. A few killjoys wondered whether the numbers added up. They didn't.
In state after state, con men bilked depositors who handed over their money believing that good times couldn't end. The agency that bailed out depositors was broke by the middle of the decade. In 1989, after hardly mentioning the crisis during his campaign, President George Herbert Walker Bush signed a savings-and-loan bailout - remember all those guaranteed deposits? - for $183 billion, plus interest that could triple the cost.
One year later, the U.S. went into the recession that cost Mr. Bush his reelection. For Florida, it was the last real-estate recession until this one, which is more like a depression.
Can you imagine John Kerry having done this:
On Cuba, Huckabee did a complete U-turn from his position in 2002, when he urged President Bush to lift the embargo. Bolstering the rap that he's a know-nothing on foreign policy, he said Monday: ``I really wasn't that aware of a lot of the issues that exist between Cuba and the United States. Being in Arkansas, it's not something that there's a close proximity on. . . I would call it the simple reality that I'm running for president of the United States, not for re-election as governor of Arkansas.''"Huckabee's stunning turnarounds".
"With more property-tax changes possible next month, many Central Florida cities are trying to find new ways to drum up revenue, and new fire taxes seem to fit the bill. But one local property appraiser questions whether the fees are legal and is asking the state to weigh in. Such fees would be based on something other than property values and would be exempt from recent caps imposed by the state Legislature." "Florida cities study fees to replenish property-tax losses".
"Mary Bono, who was married to late singer-turned-politician Sonny Bono and replaced him in Congress after his death, has married U.S. Rep. Connie Mack." "Reps. Connie Mack and Mary Bono marry in private ceremony".
Who does it help?
"With a same-sex marriage ban all but certain to share ballot space with presidential candidates in Florida next year, Democrats and Republicans are trying to sort out which side the measure helps. Conventional wisdom says Republicans. But some election analysts say the issue may not be the magnet it once was for social conservatives." "Same-sex marriage and property taxes headed for the ballot".
Florida's wingnuts find their candidate
A new Rasmussen poll has Huckabee ahead in Florida. Is this the man Florida wingnuts can coalesce behind? Yes, he is.
"Huckabee, who attributes his rise in the polls to divine intervention, cloaks his conservative social values in a soft blanket of reassuring rhetoric that hides the rough edges. He strongly opposes the constitutional right to an abortion and as governor refused to approve a Medicaid payment for an abortion for a 15-year-old whose stepfather had been charged with incest - even though the payment was required by federal law. He is not just a vocal opponent of gay marriage; he has opposed gays in the military and called homosexuality "an aberrant, unnatural and sinful lifestyle.' The narrow-mindedness extends beyond abortion and gay rights. As an unsuccessful U.S. Senate candidate in 1992, Huckabee advocated isolating AIDS patients from the general public and has not retracted that statement. In that same campaign, he opposed using women in combat or giving workers unpaid time off for the birth of a child or health issues - a year before Congress passed the Family and Medical Leave Act. He still supports teaching creationism in the public schools. ... For months, Huckabee was the nice guy to the side of the Republican stage who lost more than 100 pounds, played bass guitar and relied on his preaching skills to tell a good story. Now he has moved to the front in Iowa and opened campaign offices in Florida. Serious candidates for president require closer scrutiny, and Huckabee's record in Arkansas, an overt mix of religion in government policy and a fuzzy vision for the country's role in the world raise serious questions about his fitness for the White House." "The real Mike Huckabee".
"Battle lines" forming on tax reform
"The battle lines have been drawn once again on the future of Florida's sales tax system, and they look very familiar."
On one side is John McKay, a Bradenton real estate broker and former Senate president who has argued for years that Florida's sales tax base is much too narrow for such a big state."McKay wants to expand the sales tax base by closing exemptions and taxing some services, using the new money to eliminate local property taxes that pay for schools, reducing property owners' tax bills by 40 percent or more."
On the other side are many of the same business interests who have fought McKay in the past, mobilizing once more to stop him and his allies in their tracks. They say taxing services or closing exemptions would shift a bigger chunk of the sales tax burden to businesses, put Florida at a competitive disadvantage with neighboring states and create a bureaucratic nightmare."Sales taxes stir a fight".
The battleground for these clashing forces is the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, a panel of 25 prominent citizens formed every two decades to comprehensively study the state's tax system. McKay, a Republican who served as Senate president from 2000 to 2002, is one of its members.
McCain turns over a rock ... and Al Hoffman slithers out
"If southeast Florida developer Al Hoffman, one of the most elite and courted Republican fundraisers in America, only bet on winners, John McCain would seem an unlikely horse to back in the presidential race. But perhaps rumors of Sen. McCain's demise have been exaggerated, because Hoffman has cut short his ambassadorship to Portugal so that he can help out McCain's presidential campaign. It's a huge coup for McCain." "Top moneyman goes to work for McCain".
"Speak up, Charlie"
The Tampa Trib editors:
Crist, the self-proclaimed "people's governor," says he believes in open government."Gov. Crist Shouldn't Let CSX Railroad Open Government".
Yet he's not talking about a $491 million deal the state secretly struck with CSX Transportation that will benefit the railroad and the Orlando area but could adversely affect much of Polk County and communities from Plant City to Alachua.
The deal was negotiated in secret, without the knowledge of many state and local lawmakers. People whisper it's a done deal, but it will come up for final review during next year's legislative session.
So Crist still has time to prove his open-government bonafides. It's scandalous that people who deserve a say in the matter were not given the opportunity. Yet so far, Crist has ignored a large bloc of Central Florida voters and lawmakers who feel railroaded.
Does this deal represent good government? Speak up, Charlie.
Jebbites ain't on board
"The same conservatives who relished their role during Bush's era have been silent or even hostile toward the property tax cuts pushed by Gov. Charlie Crist this year, potentially the biggest in state history."
Their support grows more critical as a Jan. 29 referendum on a property tax cut nears. To pass, the tax cuts must win 60 percent of the vote.
That plan would allow residents to keep accrued Save Our Homes tax savings if they move and get a near doubling of the $25,000 homestead exemption. Businesses would get a $25,000 exemption on property such as office equipment as well as a promise of a 10 percent limit on future annual assessment increases that would also apply to part-time residents.
The hostility from some Republican leaders to the tax proposal comes at a time when Crist is actively campaigning for its passage and when Floridians, in a recent poll, rated property taxes as their No. 1 concern.
Indeed, Florida residents said that rising property taxes have been a greater onus than hurricane insurance, $3-plus a gallon gasoline or even their credit card debt.
If approved, the proposal would cut taxes $9 billion over five years and would follow another tax cut already in place that forced local governments to cut $2 billion in property taxes just this year.
Yet instead of embracing the cut, as they did under former Gov. Bush, conservative Republicans have become unlikely allies with groups such as the Florida Education Association against the plan.
House Speaker Marco Rubio, R-West Miami, bitterly said the Jan. 29 referendum will do little to help taxpayers. Heralded by Bush as his ideological successor, Rubio has heartily endorsed a number of other plans, including the Cut Property Taxes Now constitutional amendment that would cap all property taxes at 1.35 percent of assessed value.
That group's Web site mocks Gov. Crist's vow that taxes would "drop like a rock," calling the claim "empty promises."
Similarly, the most recent quarterly journal of the James Madison Institute, Tallahassee's pre-eminent conservative think tank, features a cover photo of a large rock ready to crush a Florida home with a fake For Sale sign that reads, "Re/Tax."
Rep. Frank Attkisson, R-Kissimmee, is among the most conservative House members. He said that the cuts during Bush's tenure reflected a philosophical victory lap for conservatives eager to shrink government.
"Conservatives could sink tax cut".
"A new lawsuit challenges existing and proposed state property tax laws, alleging they discriminate against recent homeowners. The case concerns top policymakers because it seeks to unravel a popular tax cap enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of Floridians. Attorneys from Alabama and Florida have been trying for months to eliminate the Save Our Homes tax cap that only permanent Florida residents enjoy. They have been blocked in lower courts, but are back at it again." "New lawsuit alleges Florida's property tax laws hurt recent buyers".