The St. Petersburg Times editorial board: "The Florida Legislature begins debate today on a grim 2008-09 budget that promises to be grossly inadequate in every respect."
As the House and Senate discuss their spending plans, there will be plenty of self-serving speeches about belt-tightening in a slumping economy. Big numbers will be tossed around like pocket change, and at times the budget jargon will be hard to decipher."Here are the real-world consequences:"
Your younger child's public school will have less to spend next year. Your older child will have a harder time getting into college, and if she gets in she likely will pay higher tuition and certainly sit in even larger classes. Your grandparent will find fewer staffers to help him in the nursing home. Your struggling, uninsured neighbor will have a harder time finding health care. Land that the state would have preserved will be developed, court cases will drag on longer and fewer child abuse investigators will mean more children will be at risk.How has it come to this?
Welcome to Florida, home of sun, sand, a delusional governor and a heartless Legislature.Stop the presses - the editors are kinda, sorta starting to look at why we are in this financial mess:
this governor and this Legislature are paying for the sins of their predecessors [can you spell J-E-B-!], who refused to broaden the state's tax base, backed big tax cuts and worried little as long as growth kept bringing in more cash."Legislature's only plan is more pain".
Here's the plan (or some of it) from the "values" crowd: "the House will begin debating Wednesday: eliminate 703 jobs in the Department of Children and Families, including 71 child abuse investigator jobs; end hospice care for 7,700 Medicaid patients; stop hospital care for 19,500 uninsured patients with catastrophic illnesses; close the state's only tuberculosis hospital; and reduce $7-million in funding to help foster children adjust to life on their own." "Fiscal discipline or irresponsibility?".
A gift horse for Mario
"As a first-time candidate for Congress, Miami Democrat Joe Garcia welcomes the support of one of his party's highest-ranking leaders."
But a hand from U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel of New York -- who has met repeatedly with Fidel Castro -- may rile voters in the heavily Cuban-American congressional district in western Miami-Dade, currently represented by Republican U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart."Congressman's entry in Dade campaign may backfire".
Rangel is billed as a ''special guest'' at a fundraiser April 21 in New York City for Garcia.
"Resolving Florida's presidential delegate dispute could help Democrats as they try to pick up more congressional seats in the state, the chairman of the party's congressional campaign committee said Tuesday." "Dems hope resolving Fla. delegate mess will help House races". See also "DNC Gets Advice On Florida Appeal" ("The same committee that stripped Florida of its presidential delegates may soon be asked to modify or undo that action.")
"The 4-3 vote saw one Republican and one Democrat on the all-male health regulation committee cross party lines on the issue that generated a fierce partisan tangle in the House last week when a companion bill cleared that chamber. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, voted yes, tipping the scale in favor of the bill. Dennis Jones, R-Seminole, voted no. Senate Majority Leader Daniel Webster of Winter Garden said it's about education." "Senate panel passes abortion measure".
The South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial board: "it gives red-meat conservatives something to crow about during an election year. This isn't about abortion. It's about blatant government interference, and grandstanding." "Legislators trying to appease religious right again". The bill may be dead in the Senate: "moderate Republicans contacted by the Times say they have reservations" "Florida abortion rule change advances by one vote". See also "Abortion Bill Gets Traction", "Abortion pre-scan advances" and "Ultrasound measure narrowly passes Senate panel".
You gotta problem with that?
"Lack of health insurance killed six working-age Floridians a day in 2006, according to a national health advocacy organization. ... Studies have shown that people without insurance delay seeking care when they are sick and avoid such preventive care as diagnostic screenings and checkups.
As a result, the uninsured are 25 percent more likely to die prematurely than those with insurance, Families USA said."
Florida has one of the highest rates of uninsured people in the United States.And then there's this misconception foisted upon us by the Chamber of Commerce types, to wit:
many wrongly believe uninsured people choose to be uninsured and don't work."2,400 Floridians die for want of insurance".
In fact, eight in ten uninsured people are from working families.
And the majority of uninsured people don't buy coverage because it costs too much or because insurers won't cover them due to pre-existing conditions.
If "eight in ten uninsured people are from working families", what does that tell you about the companies they are working for?
Florida: "a laboratory for studying the life cycle of the Gimmick"
The Palm Beach Post editorial Board: "Florida has made itself into a laboratory for studying the life cycle of the Gimmick. Many types have been introduced. One of the most pernicious has been the Education Gimmick, a favorite of former Gov. Jeb Bush. Within that group, the School Grade Gimmick has been particularly destructive." "Break the FCAT habit: Reform useless 'grades'".
The Orlando Sentinel editorial board: "Remember, charter schools are funded with tax dollars":
take a look at Summit Charter School in Maitland."Huge expenses at Summit show looseness at charter schools".
The school was mired in red ink last year and was close to not being able to pay its teachers or its bills. But the Maitland school's top four administrators were paid more than $520,000 on top of spending sprees including the purchase of a $47,000 truck and $15,000 for travel expenses such as meals, hotels and airlines, according to auditors for the Orange County school district. ...
The Florida Senate has passed a bill that would rein in charter-school excesses, but House members are pushing some bad ideas that could kill this reform effort.
Raw political courage
"A House panel signed off on new property tax cuts that could limit annual spikes in home valuations and allow partial payments of tax bills. The House Government Efficiency and Accountability Council approved two bills affecting the taxes Tuesday. But with less than a month left in the legislative session, both are far from becoming law, including a measure that fixes a tax-increasing quirk of Save Our Homes." "House panel gives nod to tax cuts".
"Following a key Senate committee vote Tuesday, the Legislature is poised to pass a law that would automatically compensate the wrongfully incarcerated, but only if prisoners have not committed a prior felony." "Adjustment was key". See also "Compensation bill moves forward in Senate".
"A bill spurred by the controversial Jim Smith land deal in Pinellas County sailed unanimously through a House panel Tuesday, but chances it will become law appear to be fleeting. The measure (HB 127) sponsored by Rep. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater, would require the Department of Revenue or another county's appraiser to set the value of the property owned by the elected property appraiser in each county. " "Oversight may not pass".
The Tallahassee Democrat editorial board: "Here in the capital of the Sunshine State, where dogwoods bloom and politicians fume, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that the space program is a pillar of Florida's economy." "Out of this world".
"On Tuesday, a Senate committee unanimously approved a bill (SB2350) that could reduce textbook costs for Florida's college and university students by, among other things, making schools confirm that required new editions have significantly different content from previous editions." "Senate panel OKs college textbook bill".
Heaven help us
"Florida teachers could mention religious theories about human origins, such as creationism and intelligent design, without fearing retribution under a measure that passed a key Senate committee Tuesday." "Panel OKs evolution alternatives". See also "Senate Judiciary Committee approves controversial academic freedom bill".
"Efforts are going nowhere"
"At state capitals across the country, frustrated lawmakers have filed hundreds of bills to crack down on illegal immigration just one year after the congressional stalemate."
The topic is ready-made for Republican lawmakers in an election year. And Tuesday, six bills were aired before a Florida House panel. ..."Immigration bills face long odds in state House". See also "Immigration bills get first hearing, but time running short" and "Crowd at immigration workshop urges lawmakers to act".
But the efforts are going nowhere — a reality that reflects the state's immigrant-dependent tourism and agricultural industries, and the political power of South Florida and its deep immigrant roots.
The Orlando Sentinel editorial board: "House Speaker Rubio is right to see immigration as federal issue". Noticeably absent from the Sentinel editorial is how to protect illegal workers who are being exploited on construction sites and in the fields because they can't say or do anything (except work for pennies) because of constant fear of deportation.
"Teachers reel over lapsing contracts".
Even Buddy Johnson can do it
"It was Hillsborough's first since making the switch from touch-screen ballot machines. Supervisor of Elections Buddy Johnson had the results in 21 minutes. Of course there were only seven precincts and about 1,600 votes, compared with the nearly 400 precincts that will be open for the fall elections." "Optical-scan voting goes smoothly in Plant City".
Mario "Greasing the skids"?
mhThe Miami Herald editorial board: "House Speaker Marco Rubio says that he wasn't 'greasing the skids' for a friend when he inserted language into a state budget plan that could have paved the way for his friend to bid on a lucrative project on Florida's Turnpike."
Mr. Rubio said that he was concerned that the turnpike project would be ''anti-competitive'' and therefore hurt smaller bidders. This is a legitimate, honorable concern. Yet the circuitous and clandestine route that Mr. Rubio used to assert that principle lends credence to concerns that his real objective was to help a personal friend, South Florida fuel distributor Max Alvarez."Turnpike bill needs a little sunshine".
No one should be naive here. Secretly inserting language into bills at the last minute is common practice. When an insertion -- called a proviso -- is innocuous, no one objects. If the proviso serves a common, worthwhile purpose, lawmakers get a wink and an approving nod for being clever. The tactic should be universally rebuked, though, when it serves a narrow, selfish interest.
Thinking inside the box
"Lottery income, which usually accounts for about 5 percent of the state's education budget, won't be as much as lawmakers had expected this year when they first crafted the school spending plan." "Shrinking Lottery Spending May Hurt Schools' Budget".
"Some records in the Department of Children and Families may become more open to affected children and the public under a bill moving through the House and Senate." "Bill would open some DCF records".
Med school catch
"Upset about the University of Miami's decision to buy its own hospital, House Speaker Marco Rubio and other Miami-Dade Republicans are threatening to withhold state money that now goes to UM's medical school." "Strings may be attached to UM med-school money".
"Both state insurance regulators and Allstate claimed a share of victory with a court order Tuesday in their ongoing political and legal battle." "Court urges Allstate to act quickly".
"Little more than a year after Miami-Dade voters gave their mayor broad new power, a county commissioner last week suggested the changes be undone." "Commissioner wants to reduce Dade mayor's powers".
5 gears in reverse
"With growth continuing to race across Florida, environmental groups began pitching a plan in 2006: The state should dramatically expand its efforts to buy and protect sensitive land. But two years later, Florida lawmakers could be headed in the opposite direction." "Tight budget may stall land preservation funding".
"The bill under consideration states that businesses cannot prohibit employees or customers from keeping legally owned guns locked inside their cars if, like Gray, they have permits to carry concealed weapons. An identical bill already passed the House two weeks ago." "Senate to vote on allowing employees to have guns at work".
"At the same time they are trying to reduce Floridians' risk in future hurricanes, state lawmakers also want to take $250 million out of reserves held by Citizens Property Insurance to pay private carriers willing to take policies from the state-run insurer." "Lawmakers want to take $250M from Citizens' insurance reserves".
"Insurance benefits for mental illnesses"
"A plan to raise insurance benefits for mental illnesses to match those for physical ailments was dramatically scaled back Tuesday in hopes of saving some aspect of the legislative proposal." "Bill coverage trimmed".
"For the first time in decades, the Legislature proposes spending less next year to educate each public school student. The House would spend $86 less per student, the Senate about $116. The Legislature easily could find about $260 million to reduce the hit, but has refused." "Break the FCAT habit: Cut bogus bonus money".
Bloody Bill in action
"Bill Nelson, Florida's Democratic U.S. senator, wondered whether the U.S. troop surge in Iraq has really helped bring that country closer together." Meanwhile, the Cellophane Man cleans Bushco's pool, claiming it is "'undeniable that dramatic and significant progress has been made, particularly as it relates to al-Qaida.'". "Florida Senators' Questions Highlight Instability Of Iraq".
Two (I know, obvious) things points for Mel: (1) al-Qaida is in Pakistan-Afganistan, and (2) if there has been "dramatic and significant progress" in the surge, why aren't our troops on the way home?
The South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial board: "As the Florida Legislature slashes billions of dollars from necessary programs just to make ends meet, state lawmakers should take the time and rethink efforts to preserve land for conservation." "Land purchase program needs tweaking".
The Palm Beach Post editorial Board: "With the two new members Gov. Crist appointed Monday, the South Florida Water Management District Governing Board moves free of ex-Gov. Jeb Bush's influence. To set policy for the most important public agency in South Florida, the governor chose Walt Disney World Parks and Resorts executive Robert G. 'Jerry' Montgomery and Paul Huck Jr., a Coral Gables lawyer. Mr. Huck worked on water management cases as Gov. Crist's general counsel and earlier, when the governor served as attorney general and Mr. Huck was on his staff." "On water, Crist delivers". More: "Attorney, Disney executive appointed to board".
"It's dueling melodies in the state Capitol as lawmakers can't find harmony on one official state song." "Discord persists amid fiddling with state song".
Heaven forbid!?!: an "anti-insurance law firm"
"The Florida Senate's no-bid $80,000 contract for legal advice on property insurance went to a law firm that employs an attorney with ties to a well-known anti-insurance law firm." "Advice from a biased source?".