"The Florida House and Senate are advancing starkly different strategies to patch a $2.5-billion shortfall in tax revenue for next year."
The House wants to minimize cuts to schools and health programs by shifting $700-million from transportation, an unpopular idea in the Senate."Florida House, Senate have conflicting budget strategies".
Senators propose relying on more revenue from gambling, including the state lottery, and increasing an array of fees, a strategy unwelcome in the antitax, antigambling House.
The fiscal maneuvering of the two Republican-led chambers will dominate the next five weeks in the Capitol as Florida faces its biggest budget crunch in two decades.
"Steep tuition hikes for college students, a one-year delay in the opening of the Florida International University medical school, thousands of prison jobs eliminated. Those are just some of the ways in which the state Legislature may balance the budget in the coming year and fill a $3 billion gap caused by sagging tax collections. Still to come in the next few days: Detailed plans that spell out how to slash more than $1 billion alone from the healthcare programs that help out the poor and elderly." "Lawmakers confront task of deeper cuts".
"For the first time in almost four decades, Florida public schools would absorb a year-to-year reduction in state dollars under grim budget proposals released Tuesday." "Florida Legislature suggests cutting state spending for public schools".
"Students in Florida colleges and universities could face a 6 percent tuition increase as lawmakers say they plan the increase to help offset state budget cuts." "State mulls raising tuition".
How long is "forever"?
"House and Senate committees this week are considering draft bills to extend the Florida Forever land-buying program without committing the state to spending money that it may not have in the future." "Bill would extend Florida Forever".
Wake me when it's over
"Some Florida Democratic activists are floating a new compromise that, when the delegates are added up, becomes a real problem for Sen. Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. The plan would allow at least half of the state's 211 delegates to be counted — but also would shrink Clinton's presumed delegate lead in Florida from 38 to six." "Democratic activists try new approach to solve Florida's delegate mess between Clinton, Obama". See also "Clinton's solutions for Florida, Michigan delegates fall short" and "".
RPOFer wins HD 55
"Lawyer Darryl Rouson won a three-way race for state House District 55 in Tuesday's Democratic primary to replace former Rep. Frank Peterman Jr., according to unofficial returns. Rouson, 52, the former president of the St. Petersburg branch of the NAACP, received 44.1 percent of the vote compared to 30.4 percent for educator and activist Charles McKenzie Jr. and 25.4 percent for retiring St. Petersburg City Councilman Earnest Williams. The special primary election attracted 5,470 voters, about 12 percent of registered Democrats in the four-county district. Rouson's win likely decides the race because he now faces a write-in candidate". "Rouson Wins House Primary". See also "Rouson wins in special primary".
For a little background on the flip-flopping Rouson, see "Florida Black Republicans".
"The proposal would require voter approval of any tax or fee increases and limit revenue to existing levels with allowances for inflation, population and school enrollment growth, plus 1 percent." "Panel considers cap on state, local taxes and other revenue". More on the "concept known nationwide as 'the taxpayers' bill of rights'" here: "Tax panel to vote on spending limits".
The St. Petersburg Times editorial board: "With one vote today, the Florida Taxation and Budget Reform Commission can undermine its previous good work and strangle the state's future. The commission is scheduled to decide the fate of a proposed constitutional amendment that masquerades as a taxpayer's bill of rights but is backed by antitax extremists whose goal is to starve government. It is not worthy of the voters' consideration, and it would be irresponsible for the commission to place it on the ballot." "Tax plan is bankrupt".
"Anti-government groups like the idea of basing tax collections across Florida on a single formula, to strip power from tax-raising politicians. But this Taxpayer Bill of Rights (known as TABOR) would cause long-lasting harm in Florida, as it did in Colorado. Yet TABOR won't die." "One-size-fits-all tax plan would be bad fit for state".
"A senseless giveaway and an abdication of responsibility"
The Miami Herald editorial board: "With Florida facing a serious revenue shortfall, state transportation leaders are dusting off plans for leasing Alligator Alley to a private company -- and giving the firm the power to set tolls. This is a move born of desperation. No doubt it seems an easy way for state lawmakers to create a politically painless new revenue stream. But the plan essentially amounts to a tax by other means, with tolls substituting for a tax increase." "A tax increase by another name".
"But there's a downside"
"Legislation to maintain below-market rates of state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp. and lessen the amount all Florida policyholders would pay in assessments after a big hurricane won approval from Senate lawmakers Tuesday. The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee approved a bill, backed by Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, to reduce the state's Hurricane Catastrophe Fund by $3 billion, which would shed some of the risk the state took on last year to lower premiums. A House committee approved a similar measure last month. But there's a downside: Homeowner rates statewide might go up about 3 percent if the "cat fund," which provides low-cost reinsurance to private insurers, is reduced." "Citizens' Rates Likely Static".
Florida's newest growth industry
"Welcome to the Foreclosure Bus Tour, a six-hour expedition to show Orlando-area homes and educate potential buyers on the vagaries of snatching foreclosures in a state where the housing market has struggled over the past two years. Real estate agents have also organized tours in California, where the idea seems to have originated, and cities such as Phoenix, Detroit, Kansas City and Jacksonville." "Bus tours focus on foreclosed properties in Florida, California".
The Tampa Tribune editorial board: "The new proposal to eliminate the state-required portion of property taxes for schools is one of many changes being considered by the Tax and Budget Reform Commission."
The deliberative panel has voted initial approval because it understands the school-tax change would make property taxes much lower, and thus fairer, for everyone."Finally, Tax Reform Surfaces Worth Voting For In November".
In recent years, the state has slyly shifted its share of taxes for schools onto local property-tax bills. The change is largely invisible and muddies the traditional distinction between state and local taxes. The state is supposed to tax sales while the counties and cities tax property.
When the state taxes property, local officials wrongly get the blame.
Called the "required local effort," this tax makes up about 25 percent of a typical property-tax bill, yet few taxpayers know who sets the rate or what it funds.
The leading advocate for removing this deceptive tax is former state Senate President John McKay of Bradenton, who wants it replaced with a 1-cent increase in the sales tax.
Big of 'em
"The Florida Legislature formally apologized Wednesday for its long support of slavery in a resolution calling for reconciliation." "Legislature makes formal apology for slavery". See also "Florida lawmakers apologize for state's history of slavery".
Who are these idiots?
The Miami Herald editorial board: "Florida's Taxation and Budget Reform Commission shouldn't fix what isn't broken. "
There is no need to repeal a constitutional amendment that bans state ''aid'' to church institutions. Equally important, the amendment should not be replaced by another that would open the door to public funding of religious activity, including activities that discriminate against people because of their faith. ..."Needless amendment in search of a problem". See also "Florida voters will decide if state money can be spent on religious groups".
Getting rid of the amendment that bans ''aid'' to religious groups could allow the state to fund religious education. The substitute amendment under consideration would be worse. It states: ''Individuals or entities may not be barred from participating in public programs because of religion.'' This sounds innocuous enough. In effect, however, the language could allow the state to pay for religious programs that exclude people based on their race, religion or sexual orientation.
Wanna know the brain trust comprising the Florida's Taxation and Budget Reform Commission? Go here.
The Orlando Sentinel editorial board: "Our position: Attorney General McCollum needs a strong public advocate for open records".
What a deal!
"Instead of $491-million announced in August 2006, the state estimates it will spend about $650-million. The state said it had grossly underestimated, at $59-million, the cost of constructing five overpasses as part of the deal. Instead, the state will need to spend $203-million." "Rail line costs jump by $150M".
Ignorance of the law ... is an excuse?
The Tampa Tribune editorial board: "State law prohibits people from contributing more than $500 to a political candidate's campaign or making donations in another person's name."
But if people don't know the letter of the law, it's the view of Hillsborough County State Attorney Mark Ober that they shouldn't be prosecuted for breaking it."Ober Sweeps Election Abuse Under Rug".
And so Ober has decided not to file charges against Jason Kuhn, an auto dealer who asked employees to donate to a Tampa city council candidate, then reimbursed some of them.
The dealership and its employees contributed about $18,000 to Julie Brown, who last year ran unsuccessfully against incumbent John Dingfelder. The councilman was part of a council majority that rejected Kuhn's request to replace a Kennedy Boulevard shopping center with a used-car lot.
Ober says that Kuhn was inexperienced in politics and didn't know the law. To prosecute someone, he says the accused must "knowingly and willfully violate the law."
Now wait a minute. Kuhn and his comptroller knew enough about the law to encourage contributions below the $500 cap. Just how ignorant were they?
"Democrat Samm Simpson tells us that her grass roots supporters have gathered more than 5,000 signatures to put her over the top for qualifying for the Congressional District 10 race. Max Linn has also announced he's running for the Democratic nomination to challenge CW Bill Young." "Petitions qualify Samm Simpson qualifies for District 10 race".
"The same day that a global credit rating agency predicted the Florida homeowners insurance market could collapse if a major hurricane strikes, state Rep. Don Brown continued his crusade to sound alarms over how last year's insurance reforms — which created that market — put the entire state's economy in peril." "Florida insurers' side gets support of agency, lawmaker".
Your tax dollars at work
"A Miami man wanted to lead his guerrillas on a mission to overthrow the U.S. government in an alliance with al-Qaida, starting with the destruction of Chicago's Sears Tower and five FBI offices, federal prosecutors said Wednesday in closing arguments of the group's second trial."
"It's really not a complicated case," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Gregorie. "These are terrorists inside the United States. They are going to try to take over the United States.""Closings begin in retrial of 6 accused in Sears Tower plot".
But Ana M. Jhones, attorney for "Liberty City Seven" alleged ringleader Narseal Batiste, accused the Bush administration and FBI of looking to "set people up" on overblown charges in their zeal to make a high-profile terrorism case. She said Batiste faked interest in terrorism to con $50,000 out of a government informant posing as an al-Qaida operative.
Can't we all just get along ...
"Citing deep rifts within the group’s Florida Chapter, the Sierra Club’s national board of directors has suspended the state chapter’s executive committee. The action resulted from requests of club members in Florida to investigate internal disputes and comes after 'much dissatisfaction, anger and frustration at the chapter level,' the national group said in a statement." "Sierra Club committee suspended".
"Two major pieces of Florida insurance legislation — one that would reduce the state's risk in the event of a catastrophic hurricane, another that would both tighten restrictions on insurance companies and freeze Citizens Property Insurance rates until 2010 — breezed through the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee on Tuesday." "Florida legislators try to tackle homeowners insurance issues".
"More than 300 protesters, most making a 10-hour bus ride from South Florida, staged a rally with House Speaker Marco Rubio, and even moved into the House chamber as his guests, to demand additional tax and spending cuts." "Florida tax protesters tramp into Crist's office".
The Daytona Beach News-Journal editorial board: "State Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach, on Monday correctly asked Florida State University to suspend her pay for directing a reading outreach center in Daytona Beach that she helped create as a legislator. That is commendable but it would have been better for her -- even though she is qualified for the job -- to have recognized and averted the conflict of interest instead of accepting the $120,000-a-year post in September." "Lynn's gesture helps; now the bigger issue". See also The Tallahassee Democrat editorial board: "Appearances matter" and The Orlando Sentinel editorial board: "It's good that state Sen. Evelyn Lynn's sweetheart deal was exposed".
While Florida's economy tanks, the Legislature ...
"Online dating services would have to disclose whether they conduct criminal background checks on members under a bill again introduced in the Legislature." "State panel OK's Internet dating-service bill".
NRA shoots down business objections
"Over strong objections from business lobbyists, a Senate committee voted Tuesday to let employees keep guns locked in their cars while at work." "Senate committee OKs guns-at-work bill". See also "Florida House agrees to let some gun owners bring weapons to work".
Givin' luv a bad name
The Palm Beach Post editorial Board:
The sweetheart deal that the Florida Department of Transportation negotiated behind the scenes last year and signed with CSX Corp. would give even the term "corporate welfare" a bad name."The sweetheart deal that the Florida Department of Transportation negotiated behind the scenes last year and signed with CSX Corp. would give even the term "corporate welfare" a bad name.".
The South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial board: "The American Civil Liberties Union's class-action lawsuit accusing the Palm Beach County School District of depriving students of their constitutional right to a quality education throws a welcome and needed spotlight on what many legitimately call a crisis."
If the suit can somehow manage to wring the kind of solution that's long eluded all too many schools in America, namely a model formula for pumping up graduation rates in an era when education is sorely under-funded, then it will be worth the costs. ..."ACLU lawsuit on graduation rates may be hitting the wrong target".
A better, more effective target could be the state Department of Education or another state agency. After all, it is the state constitution that guarantees a high-quality education. And it is the Department of Education that determines the calculation formula the ACLU finds objectionable — so objectionable that seeking a more "accurate" formula is a core point of the lawsuit.
"Florida's 22-year tradition of public campaign financing, one of the oldest in the nation, edged closer to extinction Tuesday when a powerful House panel agreed to ask voters to kill it." "House to ask voters to kill public campaign finance".