"As Florida's economy has cooled and housing costs and tax burdens have squeezed budgets, property taxes will take center stage during the 60-day session." "Lawmakers turn to tax issues".
Steve Bousquet: "Campaign promises can be costly. In a tight budget year, can politicians show us the money and where it will be spent? And as Florida keeps developing, can the wetlands be saved? The reality is sinking in that there's not enough money in the state budget for Gov. Charlie Crist to keep all of his campaign promises and cut taxes, too." "Budget: The state budget and tax cuts are where the campaign rhetoric will meet the road.".
More: "Floridians' frustration and anger fueling a firestorm as state legislators convene". See also "Budget squeezes legislative agenda", "Shifting the burden: Can they resolve Florida's property tax dilemma?", "Property-tax relief tops agenda in Tallahassee", "Lawmakers likely to address Save Our Homes portability", "Pressure is on for fast tax reforms" ("Politicians harped on hot-button issue; now, they feel the heat to find quick fix"), "Property, sales taxes expected to dominate upcoming session", "Lower taxes is lawmakers' top priority", "Crist's top priorities" and "Daunting session in store" ("Tight budget, soaring taxes await lawmakers").
Take a detailed look at the "Property tax proposals".
The Tallahassee Democrat editorial board: "If Florida Republicans intend to remain a national force in the 2008 elections, and help recover some of the dignity lost by the slap to President Bush over, primarily, his war policies, then they will be tempted to look at things through an ideological prism: How to keep moderate Florida Republicans from defecting." "Focus".
The Miami Herald editors observe that "in addition to property taxes and windstorm-insurance relief, a third priority for lawmakers -- in our opinion -- should be education, including funding for meeting class-size requirements. Below is our assessment of these issues: "Unfinished business".
The Palm Beach Post editors: "The Legislature opens its session Tuesday with millions of Floridians begging for the state to do anything on property taxes. As House Minority Leader Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, says, 'My worry is just that: We may do anything.'" "Make tax plan for 2007 better tax plan for 2008".
The Daytona Beach News-Journal editorial board review "the top issues before legislators as they begin their 2007 session". "Legislative agenda".
Meet the GOP's Hillsborough and Pasco County Leaders
"Republican shock-blonde Ann Coulter called John Edwards a 'faggot' in a speech to a conservative group Friday. Here's a sampling of comments from Republicans who were buttonholed at the Pinellas County Republican Party’s Lincoln Day fundraising dinner Saturday and asked their reaction:"
-- Hillsborough County GOP Chairman David Storck: "If the gal from the Dixie Chicks can call the president names, I guess Coulter has a right to say what she wants."Charlie conceded that "'It sounds outrageously inappropriate.'". Remember that "Coulter, from Palm Beach, got $20,000 to be keynote speaker at the Palm Beach County party’s Lincoln Day dinner last month." More here: "GOPers React To Coulter 'Faggot' Remark".
-- Pasco County Party Chairman Bill Bunting: "I have a lot of respect for her and I stand behind her. I wish she’d be the speaker at my dinner."
At the Trough
Grubbing for Dollars: "Barred from raising money during the 60-day session, lawmakers are racing to beat the opening gavel. And the session's start serves as a handy motivator for check-writing lobbyists, industries and others with a stake in the laws the Legislature will pass over the next two months."
House Republicans were set to kick off the homestretch blitz in style this weekend, with a Saturday evening boat cruise off the Panhandle coast hosted by Speaker Marco Rubio, R-West Miami, and the two legislators in line to succeed him, Republican Reps. Ray Sansom of Destin and Dean Cannon of Winter Park."Lawmakers scrambling to gather bucks before session".
Contributors were invited to take advantage of the Republican Party of Florida's block of rooms at the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort, a posh hotel overlooking the Gulf of Mexico and featuring 15 tennis courts, four golf courses and a full-service marina complete with charter sailing and fishing boats.
The frenzy kicks up a gear Monday, the eve of the session. At least a dozen lawmakers will be holding fundraisers in Tallahassee -- and presumably trying to not trip over each other while they do so.
Loopholes are "Way Out of Hand": Mary Ann Lindley, the Tallahassee Democrat editorial page editor: "Tomorrow night will be the annual reprise of one of the biggest see-and-be-seen events in town: the Associated Industries of Florida's reception for the Legislature."
It's a lavish event with movers and shakers by the hundreds coming to the AIF patio on Adams Street, a few doors down from the Governor's Mansion. For some 20 years, guests have been so enamored of this event, shrimp piled high, drinks flowing freely, that they truly don't always know enough to come in out of the rain. On occasion, even when it started sprinkling, the networking would continue until a small river was running underneath the arches of the women's high heels. ..."Have check, will talk".
Yet, the thing for the ordinary citizen to remember, and to protest, is that last year's stringent new ethics-and-gift bans don't really stymie exclusive access to lawmakers. They restrict it only if your resources are limited - not if you have the money to pay your way around the rules. And with recent reports of the $200 million at least that big-business lobbyists earned last year, that's not a problem.
Such loopholes in our election laws ought not be allowed to stand. They have gotten way out of hand.
"Crackpot Theory", "Florida-style"
Randy Schultz notes that "Florida in 2007 is starting to sound like Washington in 1981."
That year, Ronald Reagan took office, embracing the philosophy known as "supply-side economics." At the risk of oversimplifying - who wouldn't want to oversimplify economics? - the theory is that if you cut taxes to an ideal point, tax revenue will go way up because people will have more money to invest, and the economy will grow.Here's the kicker:
Two weeks ago, Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio, R-West Miami, released his plan for property tax relief. In Phase 1, the Legislature would reduce property tax collections to all local governments, except school districts, to 2000-01 levels - a drop of nearly $6 billion. Budget cuts, Rep. Rubio claims, would result in a 20 percent tax savings statewide. In Phase 2, voters would abolish the property tax for homesteads, and the Legislature would raise the sales tax from 6 cents to 8 1/2 cents, making up the added $8 billion from ending the property tax.
The House supplied 14 pages of backup material from the econometrics consulting firm of Arduin, Laffer & Moore. The Arduin is Donna Arduin, former budget director for Gov. Bush, who not long ago backed the idea of abolishing all property taxes in Florida, including those for businesses and second homes. The Laffer is Arthur Laffer. He was an economic adviser to President Reagan. His unofficial title: The Father of Supply-Side Economics."Tax plan lets haves have more".
Obviously, Dr. Laffer and the other Reaganites were going after the income tax. Florida doesn't have an income tax, so it's harder to compare the changes that Rep. Rubio, Ms. Arduin and others want to make in Florida. Asked whether this would be supply-side, Florida-style, Ms. Arduin said, "Call it what you will."
As we wrote yesterday, in "The Real Culprit", the Laffer curve is referred to in this New York Review of Books piece by Jason Epstein as "the crackpot theory that led Ronald Reagan to believe that huge tax cuts in federal taxes would lead to federal surpluses, when the actual outcome proved to be a cumulative deficit of $3.5 trillion." Now, the "crackpot theory" is back, as Schultz puts it, "Florida-style".
"Key players in this session". More:
Pruitt: "State Sen. Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, is a survivor who has learned some political lessons the hard way and now values bipartisan cooperation over conflict." "Pruitt's aim: an emphasis on consensus". See also "Ken Pruitt".
Geller: "Can state Sen. Steve Geller, D-Hallandale Beach, put aside his self-promotion and self- interest in gambling and insurance so he can help other Democrats?" "Knowledgeable, voluble Democrat is sure to be heard".
Rubio: "When Marco Rubio first entered the Florida Legislature, he was a 28-year-old attorney just four years out of law school. His sole possession was a Toyota Camry, he didn't own his own home and he was paying off student loans."
That was only seven years ago."Rubio's goal: Change political culture". See also "Marco Rubio" and this interesting St Pete Times piece, "A speaker of intrigue and ambition" ("Rubio's youth belies his plans for Florida. And beyond.")
Now the West Miami Republican owns three houses, has a $300,000-a-year job at a law firm and has become the first Cuban-American to become speaker of the Florida House.
His evolution doesn't stop there. The telegenic and rapid-talking lawmaker has gone from being a fervent defender of the GOP agenda to speaking in bold, sweeping strokes about a need to change the ''culture'' and ''dialogue'' in Tallahassee.
Gelber: "Gelber, the House Democratic leader, is pushing against another seemingly unstoppable force -- the GOP-controlled House."
While the Miami Beach native is friends with House Speaker Marco Rubio, Gelber is also responsible for leading the fight against the Republicans for the next two years."He's the loyal opposition -- who can work with GOP". See also "Dan Gelber".
The tall, lanky 46-year-old attorney and former federal prosecutor has already done something that hasn't been done in more than two decades: win back House seats. In the 2006 election, Democrats took six seats once held by Republicans. But the margin still remains lopsided: Out of 120 House seats, Democrats hold 41.
That hasn't stopped the competitive spirit of the wise-cracking and energetic Gelber, who was on the crew team at Tufts University and still plays basketball often.
Weeki Wachee Springs
"The newly spruced up theme park remains embroiled in a distasteful dispute over its lease with a state agency that Weeki Wachee Springs' owners say could spell the end for one of the remaining tourist gems of old Florida, celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. But the agency, the Southwest Florida Water Management District, which owns the spring and surrounding land and leases it to the attraction, says Weeki Wachee Springs owners are the ones being obstinate and denies that it wants the place shut down. Lawsuits have flown back and forth. Mediation hasn't worked, so now it's left to a judge to sort out at a trial scheduled for August." "Weeki Wachee Springs, home of the live mermaids, still struggling".
"Just one day before the 2007 session begins, House Republicans will meet Monday to designate the man who will serve as House speaker for the session that begins two years from now. Rep. Ray Sansom, R-Destin, informally locked up the job two years ago, beating out Reps. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and Carl Domino, R-Jupiter, in the shadowy, behind-the-scenes campaign to build support within the Republican caucus." "Making it official" (scroll down).
"Fla. lawmakers rev up push for NASCAR license plates".
The Sun-Sentinel editors on the death penalty: "Worry about proper procedure, not possible pain." "Death Penalty". The St Pete Times is a little less cold: "Lethal injections are horribly flawed".
"Governing the fourth-largest state in the nation and its 18 million residents is not all that tricky to Gov. Charlie Crist." "Crist doesn't sweat details".
Costly Political Stunt
"Crist wants the Anti-Murder Act to be the first thing passed during the legislative session that begins Tuesday. Despite the multimillion-dollar price tag, even bigger than originally estimated, Republican and Democratic leaders have indicated they'll oblige by the end of this week. But even those who support the legislation's sentiment worry about the potential financial burden on Florida's prison system and on local courts and jails, which already strain under the weight of earlier corrections policies and laws such as "Zero Tolerance" and "10-20-Life."" "Crist's hard line on crime pricey".
"A cry of foul erupted across the state last year when it was discovered that courts in a number of counties were keeping cases off the public docket, essentially erasing their very existence. Even worse, it appeared that Broward County was keeping cases off the docket to protect prominent and influential people from public embarrassment. In places like Pinellas and Pasco, where dozens of cases were also hidden from public view, the motives seemed more benign and were primarily due to mistakes and misunderstandings. Nonetheless, the problems pointed up the need for a statewide policy. And on Monday, the Florida Supreme Court will hear arguments on a new set of proposed rules on public access to court documents, a plan offered by a committee of the Florida Bar." "Put court openness atop docket".
Modelling Rate Increases
"Will Florida insurance companies be allowed to determine your rates with help from a computer model that tries to predict the future? The question matters because insurers could use the new model to justify large rate increases despite recent legislative reforms." "Insurance model review is tricky".
"The small Florida town of Largo has been thrust into the national spotlight after its top official revealed that he is preparing for a sex-change." "Town rocked by sex-change case". See also yesterday's "Survey: Largo unfair to Stanton" and "Poll: Ousting Stanton was wrong".
Phillip Gailey asks: "Where have all the true believers gone?"
That is the lament among Republican conservatives these days. They are unhappy with the party's top-tier presidential candidates. ...And then there's Charlie:
One of the few names that makes conservative hearts throb is Jeb Bush, but they know any presidential ambitions he may harbor will have to wait. He is a political casualty of his big brother's misadventure in Iraq, a mistake that became a quagmire that became a major foreign policy disaster. The unpopular war has closed the door on a presidential bid by Jeb Bush, perhaps forever.
There is some talk of McCain tapping the former Florida governor as his vice-presidential running mate as a sop to the party's right wing, but I think it would cost McCain more votes than it would bring to the ticket. Let's face it - the last thing most voters will want to see on the 2008 ballot is the name Bush."Crist lights the way for GOP".
Republicans should consider that their party's future may depend less on Jeb Bush than on Charlie Crist, who succeeded Bush as governor in January and is off to one of the most impressive starts I can remember in more than 40 years of covering state and national politics.
Tillie Fowler Lawsuit
"The family of a former U.S. representative [Tillie Fowler] who died after suffering a brain hemorrhage has sued the cardiologist who was treating her, claiming he did not follow a treatment plan. ... She retired after four terms, sticking with a terms limits pledge she made when first elected. When she retired, Fowler was vice chairwoman of the House Republican Conference and fifth in the GOP hierarchy." "Family of former U.S representative sues her cardiologist".
How About "Honeymoon in Palatka"?
The Orlando Sentinel editorial board argues that "Florida should be supporting its minority citizens, not mouthing lyrics that include 'longing for de old plantation.'" "Not the same old song".
Mark Lane notes that
There really isn't a well-known candidate out there. While Florida is good at inspiring poets, novelists and artists on vacation, we're weak in the songwriting department, "Margaritaville" excepted.E-mail Mark Lane with your ideas: mailto:email@example.com. "State song problems resurface".
And then you have resentment from North Florida traditionalists who for the past century had been pretty good at passing off North Florida's identity as the same as the state's as a whole. Which, it isn't. Even in 1935 when the Legislature voted to make this the state song.
So what to do?
We kinda like Muddy Waters' "Deep Down in Florida" (lyrics here (note that "uberry" should be "Newberry")).
By the way, did you know that "Gainesville and its environs have inspired plenty of songs, however, from ska tunes to spoofs."
On Petty's "A Mind with a Heart of Its Own" from the album "Full Moon Fever," he sings, "I been to Brooker and I been to Micanopy." On the title track to country strummer John Anderson's 1992 album "Seminole Wind," the breeze in question blows "From the Okeechobee/All the way up to Micanopy."It could be a close race between "Deep Down in Florida" and "Honeymoon in Palatka".
If we're willing to stretch the geographical bounds of this concept a bit, we can include "Honeymoon in Palatka" by folk singer Mark Smith, which garnered plenty of attention when it came out in 1999. Smith's song makes the unlikely claim "Honeymoon in Palatka/Don't want no Waikiki/The Holiday Inn at the foot of the bridge is good enough for me." As it turns out, Palatka was good enough for President Grover Cleveland, who honeymooned there with his 21-year-old wife, Frances, in 1886.
"Don't bank on Florida moving its '08 presidential primary very early just yet. The Buzz is that Altamonte Springs Republican Lee Constantine, chairman of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee, wants to schedule the primary for mid February, when the presidential nominations are likely to be already set. The current proposal in the Legislature, aimed at increasing Florida's influence in the nominating process, calls for rescheduling Florida's traditional March primary to Feb. 5 or one week after New Hampshire's tentatively scheduled Jan. 22 primary, whichever is sooner." "Feb. 5 presidential primary not a slam dunk".
Don't Forget the Disclaimer
"When it comes to political sentiment, it's OK to wear it on your sleeve. But to be safe, you probably shouldn't put it on a sign without a disclaimer."
Some aspects of state elections law are clearer than others when it comes to sending a political message."Is it free speech, or paid politics? ".
One part soon will be tested in an appeals court when a judge decides whether political consultant Doug Guetzloe should have put a disclaimer on an attack flier he sent to Winter Park voters last year.
While he waits for the 5th District Court of Appeal in Daytona Beach to rule on the law's constitutionality, another election is in full swing. Questions are already being raised about potentially similar situations.
A fine line separates constitutionally protected free speech from what runs afoul of Florida's election laws.
"Florida royalty "
"Blue Head Ranch is flat, parched grassland split in two by a stretch of blacktop called U.S. 70."
But this dusty outpost could become one of Central Florida's hottest real estate commodities if a mammoth toll road wins approval by the state. Nearly all of Blue Head Ranch lies within a large swath where a $7-billion expressway could go."Who's driving this road effort?". See also "JD Alexander Parkway".
The 62,000-acre ranch belongs to a company headed by J.D. Alexander, a powerful state senator with Florida royalty in his blood.
Alexander has been instrumental in pushing for the road by helping to form a lobbying group stocked with some of the most storied real estate dynasties in Florida. They, too, own thousands of acres along the toll road route.
The road campaign comes at a time when Alexander's businesses, and those of some of his relatives, are shifting from farming and ranching to land development. Their plans could be aided by a fast expressway through half a dozen rural Florida counties.
Scott Maxwell on electing school board superintendents: "Electing leader might get schools on track".
"A push to change voting machines yet again hopes to restore electoral confidence." "Even with optical scan, will seeing be believing?".
Fort Lauderdale Wingnut Conference
Beth Reinhard yesterday:
At the 2006 ''Reclaiming America for Christ'' conference in Fort Lauderdale, U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris got a standing ovation, Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee was a star attraction, and Republicans controlled the U.S. Congress.And this is mighty Christian ain't it:
Twelve months and one election later, Harris is a colossally failed U.S. Senate candidate, Huckabee is an afterthought as a presidential candidate, and a liberal Democrat from San Francisco named Nancy Pelosi is speaker of the House. Adding insult to injury, Al Gore's movie on climate change just won an Academy Award.
It ain't easy being a Christian conservative in 2007.
"that Obama is an abomination," declared Doris Gostling, 74."Christian right not inspired by candidates".
"Counterargument in two words: Charlie Crist"
Adam Smith writes: "Rudy Giuliani has received remarkably little respect from the political intelligentsia."
The counterargument in two words: Charlie Crist."If Giuliani can get through primaries, he stacks up well".
In the state that's probably the best microcosm of America, Crist didn't just win last year's gubernatorial primary running as a moderate on social issues. He pulverized by 31 percentage points Tom Gallagher, who had loads of GOP establishment support and basically pinned his campaign on religious conservatives.
Florida "state officials remain focused on cranking out development permits. Regulators have 90 days to approve a permit or it's automatically issued. A year later, an inspector is supposed to check compliance. But state employees told investigators two years ago they're so busy rubber-stamping new wetland permits that they hadn't done any inspections in years. Developers know that when it comes to wetlands they can get away with murder, they said." "Wetlands: With pollution problems aplenty, state tries to find way out of muck.".
Dem Health Insurance Initiative
"Intense voter and legislator interest in cutting property taxes shouldn't keep the state from making headway this year at reducing the number of uninsured children in Florida, Democratic legislators said Friday."
House Democrats, who hold a third of the seats in the 120-member chamber and whose support will be key to the passage of any major tax initiative, are hoping to pass major health care reform legislation during the legislative session that starts Tuesday. They are sponsoring a bill that would ask voters in 2008 to insert a guarantee in the state constitution that all Florida children would have access to health insurance by July 2010."Democrats aim to insure more children".
The legislators said they intend to promote the issue at churches, synagogues and newspaper editorial boards throughout the state during the upcoming 60-day session.
The Real Culprit
It is interesting to read the (well deserved) criticism Rubio is receiving for not appreciating the regressive nature of his proposed tax restructuring; Steve Bousquet today: "One of the many criticisms of the Rubio plan is that the sales tax in Florida is already too regressive.". "Maybe Rubio needs economics class".
The real culprit here is one Donna Arduin, who is apparently leading Rubio by the nose on this. Last year, as the St Pete times editorial board observed,
Donna Arduin, a [Property Tax Reform Committee] committee member who was the former budget director for Gov. Jeb Bush, acts as though fairness is a quaint concept. "The property tax system we have now isn't exactly the opiate," she told members, according to published reports. "Let's not just use the old adage 'regressive' and dismiss it.""Political stunts aren't tax reform". Bousquet has previously noted Arduin's, shall we say ... difficulties with even fellow GOoPers: "Republican Sen. Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, called the scene at the hearing on Feb. 6 'surreal,' as if Arduin and lawmakers were in different states." "Red ink blues".
With such flippant discourse, the committee last month agreed to keep the issue alive and undermined their credibility as a competent, realistic panel.
Who is Donna Arduin? She is a principal in Arduin, Laffer & Moore Econometrics ("ALME"). See also "Former aide to governors forming consulting firm". Yes, that "Laffer": namesake of the Laffer Curve, referred to in this New York Review of Books piece by Jason Epstein as "the crackpot theory that led Ronald Reagan to believe that huge tax cuts in federal taxes would lead to federal surpluses, when the actual outcome proved to be a cumulative deficit of $3.5 trillion.") It seems her company is also in the business of attacking Democratic initiatives. See, e.g., "Michigan: Evaluating the Granholm Tax Plan".
Perhaps most importantly, Arduin is a cheerleader for the wingnut Fair Tax proposal to change "United States tax laws to replace the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and all federal income taxes (including AMT), payroll taxes (including Social Security and Medicare taxes), corporate taxes, capital gains taxes, gift taxes, and estate taxes with a national retail sales tax, to be levied once at the point of purchase on all new goods and services." See ALME's "A Macroeconomic Analysis of the Fair Tax Proposal (.pdf)". Donna apparently thinks sales taxes are good and all other taxes are bad.
Not long ago, Rubio actually "hired Gov. Jeb Bush’s former budget director, Donna Arduin, as a $10,000-a-month consultant." "House leader handing out six-figure jobs". Is this really the kind of advisor our boy wonder speaker of the House needs?
Get Ready for the Session
The Tampa Trib editors: "The Legislature convenes Tuesday in Tallahassee where an open-minded governor and revolutionary ideas about taxes herald a session of bold - perhaps reckless - change."
Personable leaders have created fertile ground for ideas to sprout, ideas that in recent years would never have seen daylight. The companionable attitude has raised expectations of a session capable of historic changes."State Lawmakers Raise Audacious Expectations".
The choices may be tougher than expected if revenue estimates continue to reflect a slowing state economy. But at this point, the mood is upbeat. No longer is Jeb Bush enforcing his agenda. New Gov. Charlie Crist is brimming with fresh proposals, but remains open to other ideas and they are arriving faster than they can be analysed. The political wind these days feels more like a whirlwind.
Whose ideas will land on top is, as the session begins, anyone's guess. Much is at stake, especially in insurance, education, and health care, but the top priority is taxes.
The MSM can't help themselves; the Trib editorial includes this passage: "Crist's education plan builds on Bush's success in school accountability and achievement, but wisely aims to take some of the vitriol out of the debate over public schools." To which we ask: precisely what "success in school accountability and achievement" are you talking about? Don't readers deserve more than unsubstantiated, RPOF talking point retreads?
"This might go down as the longest honeymoon. Two months into the job, Mayor Glenn Ritchey continues to garner compliments and praise after answering a call to complete the term of Mayor Yvonne Scarlett-Golden, who died of cancer in December." "Many singing praises of Daytona mayor".
Charlie's Costly Political Stunt
"As legislators prepare an 'anti-murder act' that would put more probation violators behind bars, fiscal watchdogs say Florida's existing "zero tolerance" policy is clogging courts, costing millions of dollars and harming offenders who are trying to go straight." "'Anti-murder' act could be costly".
Tallahassee, We Have a Problem
"Food lines are growing as census data show that more Floridians are falling into extreme poverty." "Extreme poverty on rise in the state".
"South Florida never will find solutions to its crime problem until public officials admit there is one."
Denial and politically motivated distortion only make it more difficult for governments to make the streets safer and reduce the teen violence that has grown exponentially in recent years. West Palm Beach and Riviera Beach are two of the worst cities for violent crime in Palm Beach County, yet people running the cities dismiss residents' complaints and insist nothing out of the ordinary is going on."City officials indulge in criminal distortion".
Privatizing a Public Resource
"The recent attempt to build a water bottling plant in Wakulla County is not an isolated incident, and a bit of context will help us understand this effort to privatize a public resource." "Our water shouldn't be in private hands".
"Federal, state and local authorities are preparing to dispatch boats, planes and hundreds of emergency personnel in a two-day drill aimed at preventing a mass migration to Florida." "Joint drill set to prepare for exodus from Caribbean".
"The homeless crisis in St. Petersburg has come full circle, literally. What started as an unlawful tent city on private property near downtown that was shut down and dispersed to nearby public rights of way, will return to the original spot, where the city will allow 75 tents to be erected for 90 days." "It's time to move past tent cities".
Citizens Committee Shoots a Blank
"After significant prodding, [Broward County] commissioners agreed -- reluctantly -- to form a citizen's budget advisory committee to comb through the budget and make detailed suggestions on where to lay the axe."
Well, this week, after much anticipation, the committee came up with its first recommendation. What were the pearls of wisdom it dispensed after its first round of studies?That the commission ... drum roll, please ... cut spending. For the detail-starved, there was one bit of specifics, that commissioners specifically limit spending to this year's $4.3 billion plan."Taxes".
If they had any great ideas on how to pay for increased medical expenses, standard employee raises, cost of living jumps or the other typical annual increases without growing the bottom line, panel members were silent, and consequently, remiss in the duties they agreed to take on.
Hitting the Books
"Crist on Friday ordered the head of the state prison system to conduct a study of how lethal injection is carried out by the federal prison system and in 37 other states." "Florida to study other systems".
"Before the Florida Legislature has even acted on Gov. Charlie Crist's request to spend $32.5 million to replace touchscreen machines with ones that use optical scan ones, the Department of State continues to move ahead with creating a paper trail." "Department moving on paper trails".
"Florida’s pension fund could have to sell holdings in some companies that do business in Sudan under a bill designed to add pressure on the African nation’s government to end an ongoing genocide." "Lawmaker: Florida money shouldn’t support Sudan government". See also "Bill Would Cut Off Money Headed For Sudan Government".
"Rich Venezuelans, alarmed by Chavez's socialism, head to Florida". Do our immigration laws permit folks who leave off "unearned" income to waltz in?
"Site to list teachers' disciplinary action".
Wexler and Obama
"Sen. Barack Obama, whose image as a novice at foreign affairs has been criticized as a handicap, is seeking to repair his reputation as an advocate of Israel, and is fortifying that effort with an alliance with one of Florida’s foremost Israel backers, Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Boca Raton." "With Wexler By His Side, Obama Touts Israel Support, Iraqi Disengagement".
"The battle over immigration reform and a new status for illegal immigrants that split the GOP last year isn’t going away. ... It will also put Florida Sen. Mel Martinez, who’s also national Republican Party chairman and a focal point of the immigration debate, in the spotlight."
Martinez told the Tribune recently that he believes there’s a window of time, from now until late summer, when it will be possible to negotiate an immigration bill that will pass the Senate, before election-year politicking makes it impossible. He said he thought chances are 70 percent or better a bill will be passed."Immigration Split Continuing".
Martinez advocates such requirements as paying some back taxes or fines, good behavior and proficiency in English and citizenship, as the price for legal status or citizenship.
Opponents contend that is, in effect, amnesty. Martinez denies that, but also said he no longer believes it’s possible to satisfy those critics.
Time for a Change
"Many political observers were surprised when, during his gubernatorial campaign, Crist acknowledged that the law needs to change. His change of heart, however, isn't shared by Attorney General Bill McCollum, who flat-out opposes automatic restoration of civil rights. The other two Cabinet members -- Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and Agriculture Commissioner Charlie Bronson -- say they're comfortable with automatic restoration for nonviolent felonies, including drug crimes. Crist postponed a discussion of the issue in the Cabinet this week, giving Sink, Bronson and the governor's office a chance to work on language that would be amenable to all three of them. The governor and Cabinet sit as Florida's Clemency Board, and together, Crist, Sink and Bronson could overrule any dissenting vote from McCollum." "When debt's paid".
"Most people blame the decline in Florida tourism last year on a fear of hurricanes, rising gas prices, insurance-spiked hotel rates and the security obstacles facing international visitors since Sept. 11, 2001. But talk to a tourist who spent their precious beach vacation in the middle of a fish kill and you'll hear another factor that's driving away repeat visitors: red tide, the toxic algae bloom that kills fish, turtles, even manatees." "Solve Riddle Of Red Tide Or Tourism Will Drop Even More".
"U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor is raising the prospect of physician shortages to the attention of Congress." "To Add Doctors, Lift Cap On Training Slots".
"City voters will do more than choose two commissioners Tuesday -- they'll also decide whether the city should change its charter to give commissioners longer terms and redefine the responsibilities of the city manager and mayor." "Bunnell voters to decide term limit changes".
Unions to Meet Garcia
"South Florida union leaders are invited to meet with the newly elected chairman of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party, Joe Garcia, at 12:30 p.m. Thursday." "Come meet Joe Garcia".
Early Primary Faltering?
"Don't bank on Florida moving its '08 presidential primary very early just yet."
The Buzz is that Altamonte Springs Republican Lee Constantine, chairman of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee, wants to schedule the primary for mid-February, when the presidential nominations are likely to be already set. The current proposal in the legislature calls for rescheduling Florida’s traditional March primary to Feb. 5 or one week after New Hampshire’s tentatively scheduled Jan. 22 primary, whichever is sooner."Cracks in the early primary push".
William March on the early primary thing: "Tribune: Early Decisions, Fewer Choices".
"Cocoa lobbyist Guy Spearman is another heavyweight in Tallahassee who commands top-dollar." "Lobbyist paid for his clout, expertise".
"We're a little late noting this little squabble, but check out the Politico's recent piece on state Democratic party spokesman Mark Bubriski taking shots at the Sayfie Review's political leanings." "Bubriski v. Sayfie".
And some GOoPers are jumping on Sayfie as well: one Florida daily clipping service is being dissed by network TV analysts and national newspaper journalists for selectively choosing political news that benefits predominantly one side of the political aisle - and in some cases, the proprieter's preferred candidate for office. Fair and balanced? Hmmmm..." "New political mag".
Crist Fumbles Restoration
"Crist postponed a decision on the automatic restoration of civil rights for felons."
Chairing his first meeting of the state clemency board on Thursday, Gov. Charlie Crist denied the restoration of voting rights for dozens of felons, approved the rights for several others and postponed a vote on a plan to automatically restore the rights for many more in the future.What kind of leadership is this? Charlie acts like he didn't know that McCollum toes the standard RPOF line on restoration?
But the governor needs a consensus on the four-member clemency board and he was unable to forge the compromise he had sought without isolating a fellow Republican, Attorney General Bill McCollum, as the lone ''no'' vote.So Charlie is giving McCollum, a knuckle dragger from the get go, the ultimate authority? Apparently so:
''Obviously, I favor the restoration of civil rights and I am optimistic we will be able to get to that point, but I want to build a consensus before we go there,'' he said after the four-hour meeting."Crist delays vote on restoring rights to felons automatically". See also "Drive for Automatic Restoration of Rights Stalls", "Crist postpones clemency vote on felons rights", "Restoring rights quickly is revisited", "Drunken driver denied clemency" and "Crist delays decision on felons' civil rights" ("Despite an intense, behind-the-scenes lobbying effort, Gov. Charlie Crist on Thursday postponed an anticipated vote on a plan to automatically restore the civil rights of most convicted felons who have completed their sentences.")
Crist hoped to find agreement among McCollum, Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson and Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink to approve the automatic restoration of felons' civil rights for the majority of crimes.
And what is this supposed to mean: "Crist said he would continue to press for automatic restoration for some, but only when he felt he had the 'appropriate majority' of votes." "Crist delays taking up felons' rights". "Appropriate majority"?
"Florida news media have well-placed allies in this year's effort to scrap the state's 'false light' doctrine for suing publishers or broadcasters over accurate, but irritating, statements in news reports. Proponents see it as a protection for unfettered news reporting. But a lawyer who teaches communications at Florida State University warns that taking away the option to sue for 'embarrassment, humiliation and ridicule' will diminish the common-law right to be left alone." "Effort to scrap 'false light' law has powerful allies at Capitol".
If you are unaware of the Orlando Sentinel's poltroonery on this subject, please take a look at "Oh ... The Hypocrisy".
"Insurance Law's Savings Pegged In Double Digits". See also "Florida homeowners to see reduction in insurance cost", "Insurance rates will begin dropping soon" and "State: New law should give insurance savings up to 50 percent".
"Less of A Democracy"
Mark Lane takes a look at the S. V. Date book on Jebbie: "Jeb book ties past to future" (if Jebbie were president, "we would be less of a democracy at the end of his term.")
"Florida's executioners need better training, and the mix of chemicals now used in lethal injections should be re-evaluated, a commission charged with reviewing a botched December execution said in a report released Thursday." "Report: State's killings flawed". See also "Review of executions on Crist's desk" and "Crist gets lethal injection report, takes no immediate action".
The St Pete Times editorial board:
If Gov. Charlie Crist is puzzled about why teachers from his home county overwhelmingly rejected bonus pay, he need only look at the seven local formulas that state education bureaucrats rejected. Performance pay, as it is being hastily mandated throughout Florida, has become a game of political gotcha. And teachers want no part."The teachers are not the only ones showing their disgust, either."
In Pinellas, teachers rejected the bonus plan by a staggering vote of 4,266 to 191. In Broward, the margin was 97 percent against; in St. Lucie, 96 percent; in Hendry, 95 percent; in Duval, 75 percent.
At least eight elected School Boards have put their own counties at financial risk by refusing to send a bonus plan to the state Department of Education. In Pinellas, the effort was led by a board member, Jane Gallucci, who is currently president of the National School Boards Association. As Gallucci put it: "If you let the bully bully you, you get bullied again.""Grades are in: Bonus plan is farcical mess". See also "Legislature should speed pay plan's demise". But see "FCAT-based teacher bonuses reluctantly approved in Martin".
The bully is Tallahassee, and newly elected state Sen. Don Gaetz, a former Okaloosa school superintendent, knows the score. Of the Special Teachers Are Rewarded mandate, he says: "It wasn't debated. It wasn't subjected to a committee process, to testimony, to review, to analysis. ... The STAR system was poorly designed and ... is inherently flawed."
And this piece by a high school history teacher, in "creativity-crushing FCAT style" no less, is worth a read: "Describe a dim STAR in five 'graphs".
The Tampa Trib editors: "Today it makes sense to repeal no-fault car insurance because ambulance-chasing lawyers and unscrupulous doctors are scamming the system in new ways, forcing Floridians to pay the nation's sixth highest auto insurance rates." "Florida Should Let The Sun Set On No-Fault Auto Insurance".
Wexler Hearts Obama
"U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler is backing Barack Obama for president, bringing the Illinois senator a potentially strong base of support in Democrat-rich South Florida." "Wexler backing Obama". See also "Obama Is Going to Have A Very Busy Sunday In Florida".
What About Employers?
"Board of Governors considers mandatory health insurance for college students." "Universities".
what America's governors obviously understand on a federal-state level, Florida's elected state leaders conveniently forget when it comes to state-local relations. Cities, counties and school districts throughout the Sunshine State have complained for years that the Legislature, with the complicity of the governor, whoever it happens to be, passes down to them sometimes very big bills to pay for laws that it requires."Unfunded, unfair".
An Orlando Thing
George Diaz laments: "Orlando's identity has taken enough hits already, with the proverbial cheap shots because of our ties to Mickey, Minnie, the Grinch, Shamu and the rest of the cuddly creatures who drive our tourism industry." "Art purchases fly best when doors are open".
"The leader of a probusiness group Thursday attacked legislation he said would undo a law passed last year to prevent defendants in lawsuits from having to pay for damages caused by other parties."
Judges and juries, under the new law, no longer can order defendants with "deep pockets" to pay most or all of a verdict when other defendants are unable to pay their shares regardless of how much each had been at fault."Business group fights suit bill".
This year's legislation (HB 733 and SB 1558) also would bar the practice, supported by business interests, of considering the faulted parties not included in a lawsuit when deciding how to divide responsibility for paying damage
"The gambling interests that want voters to approve Las Vegas-style slot machines in Miami-Dade County began quietly searching for a new campaign team this week that could include Miami state Rep. David Rivera, a top lieutenant to the anti-gambling leader of the Florida House of Representatives." "Dade slots fight may resume".
"Not so fast"
"House Republican leaders promise that by abolishing property taxes for all full-time residents and rolling back rates for everyone else, they will save property owners thousands of dollars a year and also stimulate the economy."
Not so fast, economists say."Sales tax plan shifts the burden". See also "Tax reform would force budget cuts" ("County officials on Thursday shared some dire predictions as they discussed what could happen if state legislators overhaul Florida's tax system, possibly raising the sales tax while, for homesteaded residents, eliminating the property tax altogether.")
The massive property tax reform plan being trumpeted by House leaders heading into Tuesday's start of the legislative session is drawing two big red flags from economic experts.
First, many experts say the plan, which eliminates property taxes for full-time Floridians in exchange for a voter-approved 42 percent hike in sales tax, would benefit wealthy property owners and shift more of the tax burden to the poor and middle class.
Second, by relying on unstable sales tax income more than ever before, state and local governments would be forced to slash budgets every time Floridians change their spending habits.
Overall, the plan is fraught with risk, economists say.
The Buzz: "National Journal's new Congressional vote ratings peg"
Robert Wexler as the most liberal member of Florida's U.S. House delegation (No duh), and Ric Keller as the most conservative (some duh). ..."Liberal Robert, conservative Ric".
In the Senate, Mel Martinez was more conservative than 79.3 percent of members, and Bill Nelson was more conservative than 66.2.
Draining the Guard
"Florida Guard officials said the shortages, while significant, pose no critical threat to their ability to respond to a domestic disaster such as a hurricane - yet." "Equipment ruined or still needed".
"Duval County Supervisor of Elections Jerry Holland asked for an investigation into his office this week after a security video surfaced this week showing a woman voting twice within 45 minutes during early voting in August. State Attorney Harry Shorstein said he hoped to have an announcement in the case today." "Elections chiefs: 1 ballot per voter".
The Other Clinton
"For a two-term president married to a U.S. senator running for the White House, Bill Clinton delivered a speech at the University of Miami Thursday with barely a trace of politics." "Serve the public, Clinton tells young". See also "Former President Clinton addresses UM students".
"Conservative anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist isn’t the forgiving type. In talking to him last week about Rep. Vern Buchanan’s early votes in Congress, Norquist refused to give Buchanan much cover for voting to repeal some gas and oil subsidies." "Norquist isn’t happy with Buchanan".
Mahoney Votes Right
"Hazing ramped up this week for a clique of moderate freshman Democrats who won in traditional Republican strongholds last November, making them targets for interest groups ready to twist arms for votes."
Business groups paid special attention to a trio of moderate Democrats -- Reps. Heath Shuler of North Carolina, Tim Mahoney of Florida and Nancy Boyda of Kansas -- in a campaign against a pro-union bill that pitted business interests against organized labor."Moderates feel heat from business, GOP".
The bill passed 241-185 Thursday, mostly on party lines and with support from all three. The lobbying underscored that circumstances of their 2006 victories will resonate until the 2008 elections.
"After a scandal-filled year in Palm Beach County politics, the head of the nonpartisan Voters Coalition felt compelled to remind a banquet room full of elected officials, judges and campaign operatives Thursday night that not all politicians are crooked." "Most pols honest, vote group says".
Bill Berlow: "Truth is, the wonks have been saying for years that Florida and other states were like a fast-moving train that was bound to wreck without major tax reform."
In 2005, University of Florida economist David Denslow sounded almost prescient in "Tough Choices: Shaping Florida's Future," a report by the LeRoy Collins Institute at FSU on Florida's most pressing public policy challenges."But Denslow was hardly a lone ranger."
The first chapter - written by Denslow and titled "Florida's State and Local Revenues" - identifies the statewide housing boom as both blessing and curse.
The increase in property values means that city and county coffers are more full, which gives rise to the allegation that local governments are irresponsibly drunk with newfound riches.
As Denslow noted, however, building booms end. The most recent boom is now showing clear signs of doing that, and policymakers are left to deal with the consequences.
"There is the danger the housing boom will lull policy makers into complacency, since the gains come early and the pain later," he wrote. "The immediate benefits are the rising revenue and increasing employment. The costs are the gradually declining levels of public services as government operations are stretched thin and infrastructure is increasingly crowded."
Last year, a report by the National League of Cities concluded that the entire system of public finance throughout the country is badly flawed and "woefully out of date" because of the shift from goods to services and the rise of the knowledge-based economy.Remember,
The League's goal was to spur discussion in state legislatures, county courthouses and city halls around America. Great goal, but as the events of past weeks have already shown, the political process moves much faster, and usually less thoughtfully, than policy experts would like. And Florida's legislative session hasn't even begun yet.
it's all about the 2008 presidential race and how Florida figures in so prominently. Both Republicans and Democrats want to be perceived as the people's party, and if that means cutting taxes at the expense of local services, that darn-tootin' will be the price we pay."Tax reform: It's about politics, not policy".
The Employee Free Choice Act
A huge vote today in the U.S. House of Representatives on H.R. 800, a bill "to amend the National Labor Relations Act to establish an efficient system to enable employees to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to provide for mandatory injunctions for unfair labor practices during organizing efforts, and for other purposes." Florida co-sponsors include:
Rep Brown, CorrineWhere are Allen Boyd and Tim Mahoney?
Rep Castor, Kathy
Rep Hastings, Alcee L.
Rep Klein, Ron
Rep Meek, Kendrick B.
Rep Wasserman Schultz, Debbie
Rep Wexler, Robert
"When the Florida Board of Executive Clemency meets today for the first time since Gov. Charlie Crist took office, a majority of members will be on record supporting automatic restoration of voting rights for most felons who have been released from prison."
But as of Wednesday evening, Crist said he was still not sure he had the votes to overhaul the Jim Crow-era rules, found in only two other states, that disenfranchise felons who have served their time."Crist changed his previous position last year, and now favors giving felons an automatic right to vote, serve on a jury and obtain certain occupational licenses after they complete their sentence." For some reason, Dem Alex Sink is not on board with full restoration:
''I don't know if we have the votes yet, but I'm going to keep trying,'' the governor said as he was returning to Tallahassee from Jacksonville late Wednesday.
He said a suggestion from Attorney General Bill McCollum to expedite the review process to relieve the backlog of felons seeking a hearing from the state clemency board doesn't go far enough.
He can't make good on his campaign promise, however, without the majority of the four-member clemency board, which includes McCollum, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson. McCollum opposes the overhaul, while Sink and Bronson have said they would support automatic civil rights for certain nonviolent offenders."Crist pushes for felons' rights". The AG wants to drag his feet: "Pick up pace on clemency hearings, McCollum says". See also "Whittling Away at Clemency Backlog".
The Palm Beach Post editorial board urges Charlie to do it by executive fiat "If it takes an executive order to correct this 140-year-old wrong, the governor should use the power of his office and do it."
About one-third of the disenfranchised ex-felons are African-American, which is consistent with the oppressive law's history. Florida passed it after the Civil War to prevent former slaves from voting. Besides Florida, only Kentucky and Virginia do not restore rights automatically. The clemency process is time-consuming and expensive. Applicants must appear before the governor and Cabinet for approval. With thousands of cases backlogged in the system, it can take two years just to get a response."Give Florida's ex-felons a reason to stay straight".
"Florida Hometown Democracy"
"Florida Hometown Democracy", the "backers of a statewide proposal [via a constitutional amendment] to give voters ultimate authority over new subdivisions, shopping centers and other future growth received a $35,000 contribution and vows of vigorous support from one of Florida's largest environmental groups Wednesday." "Sierra Club backs push to let voters rule growth". See also "Sierra Club promoting growth-control ballot" ("If the amendment reaches the ballot, it could touch off a massive political fight about growth in the state -- and about who should make development decisions.")
"A few Florida lawmakers are preparing for the Legislature's coming property tax debate by turning to lobbyists to write checks."
At least three lawmakers working on property tax issues have filed paperwork to create funds that can raise unlimited money to support candidates, buy ads, and pay for food and travel."Rush is on to raise cash for tax effort".
Senate Finance and Tax Chairman Mike Haridopolos, R-Indialantic, has formed the Committee for Florida's Fiscal Future and plans to raise cash from lobbyists to pay for travel over the summer and fall to campaign for whatever tax fix lawmakers put on the fall ballot.
Sen. Jeff Atwater, a North Palm Beach Republican slated to become the next Senate president, has set up another committee called Preserve the American Dream.
Back at the ranch: "Tax overhaul talk has local governments looking for cuts" In the meantime, the Senate slogs away with its public hearings: "Residents air tax concerns to lawmakers at meeting".
At least one legislative delegation isn't particularly thrilled with the House plan; Jeremey Wallace: "State Rep. Ron Reagan, R-Bradenton, is so far the most enthusiastic about the idea. Reagan called the plan 'bold and innovative.' He also tried to allay concerns that local government would be left short in paying for local services. He said the boost in sales tax would be more than enough to replace homestead taxes." "Delegation treads carefully on tax debate".
The Last Insurance Crisis
"While most Floridians are fretting over the latest insurance crisis - property coverage - it's clear that the last insurance crisis - medical malpractice - never was resolved. ... Both Gov. Charlie Crist and Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink say they are concerned that medical malpractice rates haven't dropped and they've asked the Office of Insurance Regulation Commissioner Kevin McCarty to recommend the next course of action." "Last insurance 'fix' hasn't slashed rates".
"Despite special session, some Florida insurance issues unresolved".
Taxpayer Funded Lethal Injections
"The commission examining last year's botched lethal injection execution wants Gov. Charlie Crist to consider reviewing the mix of chemicals used to kill condemned criminals, according to a draft report of the commission's findings." "Crist to get report on executions". See also "Report to suggest exploring different execution options".
Republican Clay Ford "supports forcing cuts in local property taxes and capping how much they can grow in the future -- key components of Republican House Speaker Marco Rubio's property-tax plan." And get this: "'Ford supporters already are beginning the campaign to get him elected House speaker.'" "Former Arkansas Lawmaker Joins the Florida House".
"A draft bill to give Florida's prosecutors and judges the authority to falsify court records for undercover law enforcement purposes is dead, according to the senator who agreed to sponsor it." "Senator says secret dockets bill on hold".
"The City Commission of this small Tampa Bay community voted late Tuesday to begin the process of firing the city's top official -- less than a week after he announced plans to pursue a sex-change operation." "Manager's sex-change plan leads to dismissal". See also "Activists: Fired city manager could be transsexual champion".
The St Pete Times editors: "Largo officials bow to mob, prejudice". See also this dKos diary: "TAKE ACTION: City Manager of Largo, FL fired because he's transgendered".
"U.S. Chamber gives Florida 'D' in education".
"Forget illegal contributions, dirty tactics and sign theft."
Apparently what riles the Florida Elections Commission is punctuation. Just ask state Rep. Rick Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg, who was fined $500 last week for adding an extra period to the required disclaimer "Political Advertisement. Paid for and approved by Rick Kriseman," on campaign materials this fall, making it two sentences."Punctuation police snare candidate".
"Former state GOP chairman Al Cardenas has been named to Mitt Romney’s Latin American Policy Advisory Group." "Cardenas Advising Romney on Latin America".
"Let's pick new song for state, Crist says".
Mike Thomas on Gardasil: "To vaccinate -- or not? It's for family to decide".
"Dollars, not early primaries, are defining voters' choices for president." "Curb the enthusiasm".
"Two days after Gov. Charlie Crist came to Washington to push for a national catastrophic fund to bail out hurricane ravaged states, the [Dem Sen. Chris Dodd] chair of the Senate committee that oversees insurance announced hearings Wednesday to discuss the issue." This could explain why Dodd scheduled a hearing: "Dodd is running for president, and Florida is probably going to move up its presidential primary, making the state more important to presidential candidates.". "“A Positive Sign” On Cat Fund".
"Since entombment permits were first issued in 1991, the state has sanctioned the killing of about 74,000 tortoises -- by crushing or suffocation and starvation, since the tortoises can survive for months in their covered-over burrows. Equally bad, hundreds of other species, like the indigo snake (also threatened) and burrowing owls, that use the tortoise burrows as surrogate homes are left without habitat. Tortoise destruction also affects plant life since the tortoises distribute seeds as they lumber across the land. There's no reason for the state commission to delay an end to 'entombment.'" "Tortoise tombs".
"Davie candidate admits operating Internet pornography site".
"Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp focuses on urban renewal today when he attends a conference in Central Florida." "Urban renewal on Kottkamp's schedule today".
A, B, C ...
The Orlando Sentinel editors whine: "There are things to like in Mayor Buddy Dyer's latest agenda to fight crime. But there is one thing it still needs: a way to measure whether it will make all neighborhoods safer." "Leave no one behind".
How about ranking neighborhoods A through F; that ought to make the FCAT happy Sentinel editors happy.
Jac Wilder VerSteeg: "The American Civil Liberties Union says it will sue the Palm Beach County School District over the district's low graduation rate. OK, that's one of the culprits. Now, we just need someone to sue the bad parents, lazy students and FCAT-obsessed state." "A lawsuit over dropout rates?"
State of State
"Crist wants to start a new tradition Monday. On the eve of his first State of State address, he will host a State of the State dinner. It will include 100 or so of his closest friends and supporters, and he's invited one member of each news organization." "Crist to host State of State dinner".
Dodson Column a Predictable, Political Bore
Timothy Dodson: "Gore movie a predictable, political bore".
The Broward County School Board "chose to miss the state's deadline for submitting a payment plan for teacher bonuses. It's betting the Legislature will revise the program, known as Special Teachers Are Rewarded, or STAR, when the legislative session begins next week. The gamble could cost the school district $75 million in state funding. Worse, the state could impose a merit pay plan anyway, and then the district would have to come up with the money to fund it on its own." "School Board".
Broward isn't alone: "Gov. Charlie Crist seemed baffled Wednesday that the Pinellas School Board rejected $6.1-million in state money for teacher bonuses. The board on Tuesday said 'no thanks' to the program to award 5 percent bonuses to the top 25 percent of teachers. Pasco officials rejected it Wednesday.".
Words Mean Things
"Call them undocumented immigrants, says Florida Sen. Frederica Wilson, who has introduced a bill to prohibit the official use of the term 'illegal alien.' She makes a valid point." "Phrase 'Illegal Alien' Faces Exile". See also "Legislator wants ban on 'alien'".
"Even stronger building codes, insurance-premium discounts to match and smaller state mitigation grants are among recommendations emerging from a state committee reporting on Florida's hurricane-proofing efforts." "Committee looks to hurricane-proof Florida".
"Since Rep. Vern Buchanan's arrival on Capitol Hill, the Longboat Key Republican has prompted head-scratching among supporters with a moderate voting record that Democrats say comes straight from their playbook. ... One of only 19 Republicans to side with Democrats on five of their first six House bills, Buchanan voted to raise the minimum wage, cut industry subsidies, let the federal government negotiate drug prices and slash loan interest rates for students." "Buchanan does not toe the GOP line".
Charlie the Renter
"The governor, who rents a high-rise condominium in downtown St. Petersburg's Bayfront Tower, got socked with a 25 percent rent increase after his landlord lost the protection of the Save Our Homes tax cap." "Governor feels hit of tax inequity". See also "Governor pays price for landlord's tax trouble".
HD 3 Results
"Unofficial results from Tuesday's special election show Ford garnered 56 percent of the vote to Campbell's 44 percent." "Ford wins District 3 House seat". See also "Republican Ford wins House District 3 seat".
The official "unofficial" results are at this site. Here are the "Reporting Status" and "Voter Turnout" stats. As to the latter, turnout was pathetic, with only 16% turning out in Escambia County while the turnout was higher in the far less populous portion of Santa Rosa County covered by the District.
The New York Post: "Florida's governor is being slapped today [Tuesday] with a scathing lawsuit that charges that he turned a blind eye to a massive Ponzi scheme run by boy-band impresario Lou Pearlman, who is accused of swindling New Yorkers to the tune of $56 million, The Post has learned."
Crist allegedly got illegal campaign donations from Pearlman totaling nearly $11,000 even as he was supposed to be investigating the Queens native as Florida's attorney general, according to the lawyer filing the suit."Fla. Governor Faces the Music" (via Naked Politics). See also "See you in court, Gov. Crist".
Crist also allegedly accepted rides on Pearlman's private jet without adequately reimbursing him, and benefited from fund-raisers held at Pearlman's Orlando-area home without properly covering the costs, said lawyer James Lowy.
Crist, who took office this year, did not return the tainted donations even after Pearlman's sleazy actions began making headlines in recent weeks, and after long knowing that there were serious concerns about his investment scheme, Lowy said.
A Crist spokeswoman had no immediate comment.
House Plan Slammed
The St Pete Times editors: "The line between bold and reckless has been erased in the Florida House."
A Republican plan to cap government revenues, abolish property taxes for homesteads and enact the nation's highest sales tax is so irresponsible and poorly designed it would be laughed off if it wasn't backed by House Speaker Marco Rubio and his leadership team. They have created a risky scheme that would make a broken tax system more unfair, undermine the state's tenuous financial stability and erode our quality of life."First, legislation that would roll back property tax rates six years to reduce bills by 20 percent is more unreasonable than it sounds even though it factors in population growth and inflation."
The House Republican plan then calls for a special election this year for voters to consider a constitutional amendment that would permanently strangle state and local governments with revenue caps tied to population growth and inflation. This is a sentence to permanent mediocrity at the very time state and local governments should be investing more in public schools, higher education, affordable housing, transportation and health care. With medical costs rising and more uninsured Floridians than ever, what kind of a state responds with arbitrary spending limits on Medicaid?"The most politically enticing element of the plan calls for voters to consider eliminating property taxes on all homesteaded property, which would trigger an increase in the sales tax by 2.5 cents."
That is just as ludicrous as proposals by fiscal conservatives to replace the federal income tax with a national sales tax. It also reflects a lack of understanding about state tax policy and history.Much more here: "GOP's tax scheme is reckless, unfair". See also "Gelber questions Rubio's "trickle down economics".
In the meantime, Charlie has his finger in the wind: "Crist said Tuesday he's not committed to any property tax reform ideas, and even refused to defend his own proposals." "Crist wide open on property tax fix".
"More than $2 million in emergency aid money will be available to 17 small communities affected by tornadoes earlier this month, Gov. Charlie Crist's administration announced Tuesday." "State aid for towns hit by twisters".
The Palm Beach Post editors: "The message was the same: Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers are in deep trouble, and Florida must provide more money for cleanup and restoration. But the contrast between Gov. Bush's visit to the lake toward the end of his second term and Gov. Crist's river tour in Stuart last week, barely two months after he took office, is striking." "Crist sets a new course on big lake and rivers".
The Next Time Someone ...
tells you the St Pete Times is "liberal", recall this piece of garbage which reads like a National Right To Work Committee press release: "Don't let unions coerce".
It is acceptable for "liberal" newspaper editors to bleat on about the environment and religious fundies, but when it comes to uppity unions, the editors are happy to satisfy their corporate masters.
In The Dark
"What is it about leaving the public in the dark that thrills lawmakers like Larry Cretul? The Gainesville Republican has it in his head that the public oughtn't be sticking its nose into the business of who runs its hospitals. His House bill, gaining traction through early committee reviews, would create an exemption for any record revealing the name of a potential top corporate officer being wooed by a public hospital search committee. The public would find out only after the committee turned its recommendation over to the governing board." "Hiring in the dark".
"Highest and Best Use"
"Florida determines the taxes owed on property based on true market value, a fair practice that has some unfair consequences for small businesses."
A family-owned waterfront motel, for example, is taxed on what it could become under existing zoning and market conditions, typically a high-rise condo or luxury hotel. As a result, mom-and-pop operations are being taxed out of existence even though that's not what the community wants."State Needs Property Tax Rule That Preserves Local Heritage".
If cherished parts of commercial Florida are to survive, the rules must change. Otherwise, the future is bleak for small, affordable motels, auto repair shops in upscale neighborhoods, and even small sandwich shops and pizza joints with choice locations.
Under state law, appraisers are required to consider a property's "highest and best use," not simply how the present owner happens to be using the property.
"Gov. Charlie Crist's high-profile pitch for a national catastrophe fund in Washington on Monday stood as much chance of succeeding as Ryan Gosling's quest for a best-actor Oscar the day before. Too many states like Montana and Michigan just won't be bothered to create and then pay into a pool designed to relieve states like Florida following hurricane-scale disasters." "Blowing in the wind". See also "Insurance" ("Florida must brace itself and go it alone again.")
Seriously, why should a state like Michigan give a damn about Florida's problems in light of Florida's history of fiscal irresponsibility. Michigan and other Northern states have raised (via among other things a state income tax) and expended necessary resources to shore up their infrastructures against winter storms while Florida (and other Southern states) have lured industries from the North with promises of low taxes (and right-to-work laws) and taken the politically expedient path when it comes to raising state revenues.
"Everything was going fine until President Bush dropped the ball." "Bush honors Miami’s championship basketball team".
Check Your Signature
Remember when Sen. Alex Villalobos' absentee ballot vote wasn't counted in his bitter reelection fight? The Tampa Trib editors emphasize today that,
if you vote by absentee ballot - an increasingly popular way to vote - be sure the signature on file at the supervisor's office matches your signature today."Check Signature Before Voting Absentee".
"Martinez on War Politics".
Home Prices Fall For Sixth Straight Month
"Sales of existing homes rose in January by the largest amount in two years, raising hopes that the worst of the severe slump in housing may be coming to an end. Median home prices, however, fell for a sixth straight month." "Existing home sales rise in January".
Charlie Strides Upon The National Stage
You decide: "The Wolf And Charlie Transcript".
"It's appalling that state wildlife officials have allowed developers and road builders to bury thousands of live gopher tortoises - more than 4,500 in Pasco County over the last 15 years - instead of mandating relocation to safer ground."
Coupled with the pace of development in Florida, it's not surprising the turtle's population is declining so rapidly that its existence is now threatened."Don't Bury The Gopher Tortoise".
Fortunately, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has changed its way of thinking.
As The Legislature Sleeps
"At some point politicians who spar over the causes of global warming have to at least agree that whether humans are the cause of warming or not, it's happening, and it's affecting low-lying places like Florida."
The tourism, real estate and insurance industries all have a big hold on the state's economy. All three face potential shocks in coming years from intensified storm seasons, rising sea levels, lengthened hot seasons and, as always when nature rains altered states, the unforeseen. Yet Florida lawmakers have been largely unconcerned.Fortunately,
on April 3 and again in June, September and November, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, a Democrat, and Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Charles Bronson, a Republican, will hold Cabinet workshops on how the state's economy may be affected by warming trends, what to do about them, and how to position industry to address potential changes."Report card".
Also of interest on this issue is this dKos diary: "On The Costs Of Climate Change, Or, Florida Bets The State".
"Florida's famous state song about the Suwannee River, considered by many to be racially insensitive, is entering troubled waters yet again." "Famous or infamous?".
"Largo city manager fired"
"City commissioners ended one of the most tumultuous weeks in Largo history Tuesday night by firing City Manager Steve Stanton as a result of his disclosure that he will have a sex-change operation." "Largo city manager fired". See also this dKos post: "City Manager Fired for Being Transgendered".
"What voters need to know is that touch-screen voting is not going away, even with the governor's proposal to replace most machines with fill-in-the-bubble optical-scan ballots. That's because the governor's plan allows touch screens for early voting and for the disabled, as long as the machines produce a voter-verified paper trail."
Problem is, the printers that accompany touch-screen machines are far from perfect. They can jam and break down. If no one notices, voting can continue, creating an imperfect record. So the state must think about how to resolve a conflict between the electronic tally and its supposedly identical print offspring. It would stand to reason, since printers represent the governor's solution, that the printer be the final standard. But that wouldn't work if the paper trail were not complete because of printer breakdowns."Ease touch-screen doubt".
Secretary of State Kurt Browning admits that the standard is not yet clear. Worse, he said, would be to allow touch-screen voting to continue on a grand scale but require that printers be attached to every machine. At least with early voting, held at a limited number of locations, workers can be assigned to watch the printers and to redirect voters in the case of a breakdown.
The governor is taking this imperfect step, however, because of mistrust over touch-screen voting fueled by the 18,000 blank votes in the 13th District U.S. House race that was decided by 369 votes, with Republican Vern Buchanan defeating Democrat Christine Jennings. What happened there was not the fault of the machines, two state studies show. But under Gov. Bush, the state handed one of those studies, including scrutiny of the computer's brain - the source code - to a Florida State University professor with a record of involvement with the Republican Party. If there's no problem, there's no reason why the same access couldn't be given to experts selected by Ms. Jennings.
"Three private-sector executives were named by Gov. Charlie Crist and CFO Alex Sink to the new seven-member panel charged with reviewing the big outsourcing ventures championed by former Gov. Jeb Bush." "Three more will review Jeb outsourcing deals".