"Welcome to the Half-ass State"
The Palm Beach Post's Randy Schultz lays it on the line:
Take down those signs at the state line. Change them from "Welcome to the Sunshine State" to "Welcome to the Half-ass State." Florida has been heading that way for 30 years. After last week's approval of Amendment 1, we're there."It's tricky to discuss government spending and taxation in Florida; the state plays games that Vegas hasn't even heard of. But let's start with a quiz:"
- Guess which state ranks 47th in the number of employees per 10,000 residents? "You know the answer. Yet over the past year, Gov. Crist and legislative leaders made lots of Floridians believe that they are paying way too much in property taxes. How can we be paying too much, though, if the state is spending so little?" "Bottomed out, and that isn't the half of it".
- Guess which state ranks last in per capita spending on higher education?
- Guess which state's universities have the highest ratio of students per teacher?
- Guess which state ranks 48th in per-pupil spending on public schools?
- Guess which state ranks 38th in spending per recipient of Medicaid, the federal-state health program for the poor?
Charlie "talking out of both sides of his mouth?"
"On Tuesday, Florida voters passed a property-tax cut with Gov. Charlie Crist as chief cheerleader. On Thursday, the governor proposed a $70 billion budget that calls for additional property-tax money for schools."
Is the governor talking out of both sides of his mouth?"Crist predicted that the amendment -- which increases the homestead exemption on residential property and lets homeowners keep their tax savings when they move -- would 'reignite' Florida's housing market."
Yes and no.
The governor doesn't write the actual budget, he just proposes it. So his proposal is based on data from November forecasts that predicted a $2.5 billion budget shortfall and relied on optimistic assumptions about the passage of Amendment 1. Legislators say those assumptions may be out of date.
So his proposed budget assumes that, without increasing taxes, there will be an increase in property-tax collections of $338 million to pay for schools anyway, and his budget proposal replaces the $138 million in school funds that schools will lose because of the amendment.
"The governor's projections are based on predictions that commercial and industrial property will continue to increase in value and that new development, while slower, is still accommodating 800 newcomers each day."
He is counting on a 3.2 percent overall increase in the tax roll next year."Lawmakers: Crist's numbers might not add up".
State economists are wary of that optimism now, however.
''Property-tax revenue has become less certain than in the past,'' said David Denslow, a University of Florida economics professor. Any attempt at forecasting, he warns, is likely to "miss the target.''
If legislators were to adopt the governor's spending plan, it would raise the local government share of the education budget to a record 46.9 percent. If property values decline and revenues fall, school districts would have to raise tax rates to balance their budgets. That could cut into the $876 million in tax savings voters were expecting in 2009 because of Amendment 1.
Perhaps Charlie's vaunted clout is more hyperbole than reality: "a lot of legislators didn't read the stories about Crist's newly enhanced clout. Two days later, when the governor released his recommendations for next year's spending, he drew sharp criticism. Few lawmakers share his willingness to build a $70 billion budget on expanded gambling, reserves and a hunch that the economy will rebound." "Crist's goals, styles differ from House budget chair".
Could it be that, "for Crist, national politics also may be in play"?: "The governor plans to campaign for McCain across the country heading into this week's Super Tuesday presidential primary contests. And he also seems to think that slashing state programs and services won't help Republicans win Florida in November."
Charlie not "perceived as presidential"?
"Vice President Crist? His pals are touting his prospects, and after his big assist to McCain it's hardly out of the question. Former Republican Gov. Bob Martinez, in a Political Connections interview ... said Crist is likely to be on a short list of running mate prospects. But at 71, McCain must choose someone perceived as presidential." "For now, we can still call him governor".
Hill's "Panhandle problem"
Hillary "Clinton is ominously weak in the Panhandle, a region where Democrats need to hold their ground if they want to win the state. All of the 19 counties Clinton lost in Florida were in North Florida. John Edwards won 11 rural North Florida counties, while Barack Obama won eight counties, including Escambia and the liberal university counties of Alachua and Leon."
50 percent of [all] Florida voters have a favorable view of the New York senator, and 48 percent have an unfavorable view. Obama is viewed favorably by 59 percent and unfavorably by just 32 percent."In victory, Clinton has a Panhandle problem".
On the other hand, we can point to some troubling signs for Obama in Florida, too. Exit polls showed Clinton more than doubled Obama's meager 28 percent share of Hispanic votes in the Democratic primary, for instance, and his 26 percent share of the Jewish vote. Obama did receive nearly three out of four African-American votes.
"More data from that internal Democratic poll of Florida voters: Crist was viewed favorably by 69 percent and unfavorably by just 14 percent." "Democratic poll confirms Crist's popularity".
"Florida's Republican Party chairman took a swipe at Democrats on Saturday during his party's annual meeting, saying they should apologize for disenfranchising voters during the state's primary election." "GOP state chair criticizes Democrats for Florida boycott".
"Human Rights Watch on Thursday said Venezuela does not belong to a group of nations like Pakistan and Russia that use the veneer of democracy to mask autocratic rule -- directly contradicting U.S. government assertions. The New York-based group's position also runs contrary to allegations by many opponents of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez that he is undermining democracy at home and around Latin America." "Rights group: Venezuela is basically democratic".
Some call it short-sightedness
The Miami Herald editorial board: "Some relief is better than no relief at all. That was the resounding message from Florida voters last week when they said Yes by an overwhelming 2-1 vote to amend the state Constitution for modest property-tax relief. Voters know that the amendment won't fix the unfairness of Florida's property taxes. They know that Amendment 1 will worsen the system's inequities. They know, too, that the amendment faces legal challenges and, ultimately, may be tossed out as unconstitutional. No matter. They still said Yes, and meant it." "Referendum message: Voters want tax relief".
The Tampa Tribune editorial board: "now's not the time simply to sit back and wait for the savings to appear on your next tax bill. Voters have a duty to weigh in on what should be cut from county and municipal budgets, and elected officials charged with implementing the reductions have a duty to ask them. The reality could be ugly: reduced government services, new and higher user fees, increased permitting charges and loss of jobs" "Local Voters Spoke Loudly - And Shouldn't Keep Quiet Now".
Knuckle-draggers in the doldrums
"For nearly a decade under former Gov. Jeb Bush, social conservatives dominated Florida's Republican Party. No more."
Florida, during the reign of Bush, gained national attention for refusing to allow the husband of Terri Schiavo to end her life; for creating the first "Choose Life" license plate; and for approving school vouchers, transferring public funds to private schools."Mac Stevenson, a Republican consultant in Florida, said the Christian Coalition lacks the mobilizing energy it had a few years ago."
For its part, the social conservative wing of the Republican Party shows no signs of going silently into the night. [Dennis Baxley, a former state representative who on Friday started work as executive director of the Christian Coalition of Florida] blamed a lack of organization and an influx of new residents, who are less conservative, for the diminishing influence."Centrists in state's GOP take the wheel".
The Christian conservatives and like-minded groups are working to rebuild a power structure and to get candidates elected to top offices. ...
But he acknowledges that, at present, neither has the statewide command that Bush obviously brought.
"The base is still out there," Baxley said. "As Dick Cheney would say, 'Help is on the way.'"
Then again, there remain reliable means to get out the base: "Supporters and opponents of a constitutional gay-marriage ban stepped up their campaigns Saturday in an emotional battle that both sides agree will likely boost the eventual Republican presidential nominee's chances in Florida." "Debate heats up before vote on gay-marriage ban".
John Kennedy and Aaron Deslatte ask "who won the values [sic] vote?"
Results from last week's Republican primary show how splintered the GOP base is in Florida. John McCain was the overall winner, with 36 percent of the 1.9 million Republicans who voted. But among the 61 percent of voters who called themselves conservative, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney finished first, with 37 percent, to McCain's 29 percent."The conclusion: McCain will have trouble energizing social conservatives, but his ability to draw independents makes him trouble for Democrats."
There also was a religious divide, perhaps spawned by Romney's Mormon faith (which many traditional evangelicals never warmed to) or his relatively recent conversion on issues such as abortion. Voters who said they attended church more than once a week (17 percent of the total turnout) gravitated toward former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Baptist preacher from Hope, Ark., while those who attended only once a month favored Romney.
Those who attended less than once a month went for McCain.
"Everybody was just divided," said John Stemberger, the Orlando lawyer and former GOP political director who is one of Florida's more outspoken "values [sic] voters."
"A deep well of misinformation, misunderstanding and misinterpretation"
The Tallahassee Democrat editorial page editor, Mary Ann Lindley: "I have always assumed a certain amount of civic hipness in our readers here in the capital. ... you have the ability to supply your own wit and cynicism when the sound bites get ridiculously superficial and the rhetoric gets too deep. But even here, you can find a deep well of misinformation, misunderstanding and misinterpretation about public policies. I give you the inscrutable Amendment 1, the consequences of which remain anybody's guess. Including mine, I'll give you that." "We must stop being civic spectators".
"Higher education on the cheap"
The Tampa Tribune editorial board: "Florida has a reputation for providing higher education on the cheap."
Florida and its university system face a fork in the road."For evidence, look at last year's yo-yo financing":"Universities At A Crossroads In Deciding Quality Vs. Quantity".
We can continue down a path guided by the moment's most powerful politicians, some of whom, unfortunately, want simply to build something named for themselves at their alma mater or their hometown university.
Or we can build a shared sense of direction that encourages efficiency and personal responsibility, looks out for the disadvantaged and puts Florida's universities on a path toward better serving their communities and students, at all levels.
Such a course requires a reliable funding source that is purpose driven, not politically driven.
The Palm Beach Post editorial board: "The national average is 25 students per faculty member; Florida's is 31. As Florida's universities have relied more on adjunct professors and graduate students, the estimated 2,000-person faculty shortage has affected more than the quality of instruction. Add an extra semester or two in school, due to the lack of class offerings, and the state's low tuition no longer is so cheap." "Starving the universities, shortchanging the state".
"Democrat Hillary Clinton raised the most presidential money in Florida in 2007, while recent Republican dropout Rudy Giuliani was the favorite candidate of Palm Beach County contributors, according to newly released Federal Election Commission data. Floridians contributed $26.1 million to presidential candidates through Dec. 31, with $13.6 million going to Republicans and $12.5 million to Democrats." "Clinton top fund-raiser in Florida".
"Last week brought a bit of good news for the Everglades."
Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior Todd Willens announced that he is resigning. This is the same Todd Willens who last summer, by changing one word, removed the Everglades from the United Nations' World Heritage List of endangered environmental treasures. He did so against the recommendation of the National Park Services and U.N. scientists. The impression was that the Everglades had been restored, which isn't true. One reason is that the Bush administration hasn't followed up its restoration pledge with money."A welcome departure".
Shocking? Not when you consider that Mr. Willens worked previously on the staff of former California Congressman Richard Pombo, who tried to gut the federal Endangered Species Act and open up more of the Gulf of Mexico to oil drilling.