Charlie's house of cards
"With Florida mired in its worst revenue slump in decades, Gov. Charlie Crist unveiled a $70 billion state budget Thursday that relies heavily on reserves and gambling money to pay for services next year." "The $70B budget gamble".
"Bracing for continued weakening in Florida's economy, Gov. Charlie Crist proposed a $70 billion state budget Thursday that would boost spending on programs to stimulate business and count on reserves and gambling money to get through the tough times."
The proposal to the Legislature for the next budget year, which begins July 1, is $869 million below current spending even after the Legislature slashed it by $1.1 billion in October due to declining tax revenues."Crist sends budget proposal to Legislature". More: "Crist builds budget on gambling funds", "Crist's budget taps into reserves", "Gov. Crist proposes $70 billion budget, with $300 million in cuts", "Governor rolls out $70 billion budget", "Crist Reveals Budget Plan" and "Crist's $70 billion budget dips into reserves".
What Crist calls "The People's Budget," includes spending cuts for most state agencies, but it would allocate more money for children's health insurance, energy diversity programs and 1,331 new full-time state jobs - most of them to staff new prisons. [a/k/a "The (Incarcerated) People's Budget"].
To balance the budget, Crist wants to tap $1.1 billion from the state's reserves, including unspent money from trust funds normally earmarked for specified purposes, and he has proposed increasing fines on overweight trucks to bring in an estimated $34 million.
It is a sad day when the following is considered "good news" for employees: "The governor proposed performance-based pay raises averaging 2 percent for state workers, giving each agency discretion to reward high achievers next Jan. 1. And his budget director said there would be no layoffs or increases in employee-borne insurance benefits for the fiscal year starting July 1." "Crist lays out pay-raise plan for state workers".
"A national elections laughingstock"
The Palm beach Post editors: "Palm Beach County retained its status as a national elections laughingstock with another glitch-stalled release Tuesday of accurate voting results."
Supervisor of Elections Arthur Anderson, missing his own irony, boasted: "This office performed in our standard fashion.""Urgent to Tallahassee: SOE: Save Our Election". By contrast, "Broward elections go well".
Congressional fights heating up
"Central Florida will have some of the nation's most competitive congressional races this fall, and at least one of the challengers has begun an aggressive fundraising drive, according to Federal Election Commission reports due Thursday."
Democratic former state Rep. Suzanne Kosmas of New Smyrna Beach raised $363,000 -- twice as much as Rep. Tom Feeney of Oviedo, the three-term Republican she'd like to unseat. And that's one of what could be three hot races in Central Florida."Race for Central Florida congressional seats gets crowded, heated". Down South, "U.S. Rep. Lincoln Díaz-Balart has banked $900,000 for his first serious reelection challenge, according to campaign finance reports filed ahead of a midnight Thursday deadline."
Candidates from both parties are lining up to run against five-term Rep. Ric Keller, R-Orlando. And Indialantic Republican Rep. Dave Weldon's decision last week not to run again for his Space Coast seat has set off a scramble of potential candidates.
"The I-4 corridor is going to be seeing plenty of action," said David Wasserman, who studies House races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. Fundraising will be especially key this year, he said. "The question is whether candidates with relatively little name recognition can break through the cacophony of the presidential race."
The figure includes $206,153 raised in the last three months of 2007, and fundraiser Carlos Curbelo said the campaign is satisfied with its pace."Other Florida members of Congress in seats targeted by the national parties, including Democrat Tim Mahoney of Palm Beach Gardens and Republican Vern Buchanan of Sarasota, raised nearly twice as much money as Díaz-Balart in the final fundraising quarter of 2007." "Díaz-Balart banks $900,000 in campaign funds". More: "Buchanan outraises Jennings more than 2 to 1".
''We'll raise whatever money is necessary to make sure our message gets out,'' Curbelo said.
The Miami Republican faces a spirited challenge from former Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez, a Democrat who entered the race last week and has not yet filed any fundraising reports.
Martinez's campaign sent out a fundraising e-mail appeal this week and on Thursday mocked Díaz-Balart's figure as anemic.
"Looking for uninsured people"? It won't take a Sherlock Holmes
"Health or social workers would visit some of the state's poorest neighborhoods looking for uninsured people to help them get medical attention or get enrolled in government health care programs under a plan proposed Thursday by Gov. Charlie Crist." "Crist proposes outreach health program for poor uninsured".
This "eternal optimism and populist bent" stuff is getting tiresome: "Crist rolled out a $70 billion budget recommendation today that reflects his eternal optimism and populist bent as much as it does his penchant for risk." "Crist unveils new $70B state budget". The "Governor Sunshine" stuff is likewise getting boring, especially since:
In the face of a serious economic downturn tied to Florida's slumping housing market, he has a big mountain to climb to make good on several promises:"He already faces a $2 billion state budget shortfall and forecasts of a continued real-estate slump well into the year, making it no small task to fulfill his promise to replace a projected loss of $138 million in education dollars as a result of the tax cut."
# That education would be held harmless if Amendment 1 passed.
# That its approval would not significantly affect the quality of services funded by local property taxes.
# That passage would be only the beginning of more tax relief.
"An appeals court again rejected the state's attempt to immediately stop Allstate insurance companies from writing new policies in Florida, providing a timeline for regulators to submit paperwork supporting their decision to suspend the insurance giant's licenses." "Court: Allstate can still write policies in Florida, for now". See also "Court upholds Allstate ruling", "Florida probes Countrywide's mortgage handling" and "Fla. latest state to put Countrywide's lending under microscope".
"Pathology of misery"
"Florida's foster care system often resembles a tax-financed carousel that perpetuates the pathology of misery it is supposed to break." "Fix foster care system".
Out here in the fields
"Burger King said net income for the quarter rose to $49 million, or 36 cents per share, from $38 million, or 28 cents per share in a year earlier." Meanwhile, "Burger King has faced pressure from a coalition of farm workers, which asked the chain and its suppliers to increase wages for tomato pickers by a penny per pound. Burger King and the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange have refused the deal, which McDonald's and Yum Brands Inc. have accepted." "Burger King 2nd-quarter profit rises 29 percent on Whopper sales".
The word "pigs" comes to mind.
Will we see "fundamental, even revolutionary reductions"?
Troxler: "The people of Florida spoke clearly Tuesday when they passed Amendment 1 to cut property taxes, especially on their homes."
"How are local governments supposed to deal with all these cuts, past and future?"
The chance for a tax cut - any cut - outweighed the claims that it was too much or too little, or that voters should have held out for a better deal.
The question now is what happens next. Will Florida's political leaders think this is enough? Or will they follow through with more?
There are two possibilities. "The last word on tax fixes?".
The first is for the state to raise taxes elsewhere, such as by closing loopholes in Florida's sales tax, and "swapping" that money for property taxes.
The second is to make fundamental, even revolutionary reductions to the scope of local government in Florida, far beyond the nips, tucks, parade cancellations and layoffs that have sufficed so far.
"Crist joined two legendary figures in Florida politics Thursday to announce a new initiative to encourage civics education." "Crist, Graham team up to prevent 'civics illiterates'".
"For many Florida parents, staying home with their children constitutes a luxury they can't afford. But many low-income working families find child care barely affordable, as well. So parents find their own solutions. Across the state, tens of thousands of parents leave their children in licensed, registered, inspected day care centers. But tens of thousands more opt for church-run centers, which have their own oversight mechanisms but aren't inspected by the state -- or family child-care homes, many of which aren't licensed or inspected by anyone." "Standards for safety".