"Lawmakers in both chambers now anticipate cutting recurring costs by roughly $1 billion. That likely means cutting into health, education and public safety and other vital services, which could trigger layoffs and jeopardize the welfare of some of Florida's neediest residents." The Tampa Trib's Catherine Dolinski tells us what else is on the menu:
The RPOFers can's bring themselves to deal with tuff things like ...
•"Streamlining And Flexibility" [sic] Of Education Programs And Funding.
•Sweeping Trust Funds And Other Reserves.
•Cigarette Tax Hike. Democrats were calling for a $1-per-pack tax increase on cigarettes, which could raise $700 million. GOP leaders explicitly axed this idea, noting that they won't consider raising "sin taxes" on other tobacco products or alcoholic drinks, either. Crist opposes increasing any tax ... .
•Seminoles Gambling Compact. Gov. Charlie Crist had proposed using $135 million of the state's share from expanded gaming by the Seminole Indian Tribe. The Seminoles continue to offer expanded games - and pay the state a share of the proceeds - per the terms of a compact that the state Supreme Court voided last summer. Crist had hoped that he and lawmakers might approve a new deal between the state and the tribe as early as this month. But lawmakers, who are less bullish on the compact, say it's too soon to tackle the issue. Crist expects it to be taken up during the regularly scheduled legislative session in March.
•Low-Interest Loans For Small Businesses.
Details and much more here:"Budget Options On Legislative Menu". The The Orlando Sentinel editorial board: "Tallahassee loves its cigarettes more than citizens' health".
•Borrowing Instead Of Buying. Crist also wants to borrow $300 million for prison construction instead of paying cash. Lawmakers' itinerary for the special session does not rule this out, though it does not explicitly name it as an option.
"State law enforcement should investigate Sansom's actions"
The Miami Herald editors: "The ethical and legal clouds hanging over Speaker of the House Ray Sansom, R-Destin, loom larger as next week's special session of the Legislature approaches. Since we last touched on the speaker's tangled relationship with a community college in his district, a series of disclosures has raised new questions about the propriety of his actions. Now, the speaker has been obliged to hire an attorney to defend himself."
And then there's the thin red - er pink? - line: "As bothersome as are these actions, so, too, is the silence of Republicans in the Legislature. Are they embarrassed? Afraid to speak out? Or do they think Mr. Sansom's actions are justified -- a form of RHIP (rank has its privileges)?" "Florida House speaker leads by bad example".
Welcome to Florida
"One of the passengers said the confusion started at Reagan National Airport just outside Washington, D.C., when he talked about the safest place to sit on an airplane. Orlando, Fla.-based AirTran said in a statement that it refunded the passengers' air fare and planned to reimburse them for replacement tickets they bought on US Airways." "9 Muslims removed from flight get AirTran apology".
"Mosque leaders say three dozen bullets were sprayed across the outside of the Islamic School of Miami sometime between Wednesday night and Thursday. Windows were shattered and bullet holes plastered portions of the building, including its dome." "Police investigate shooting on exterior of mosque".
"The sacrifice of public service could be especially tough on at least 54 Florida lawmakers during this week's special budget-cutting session." "Special session swamps 'Gator Caucus' during BCS championship".
Labarga steps over Frankie's body
"Crist appointed Jorge Labarga to the Florida Supreme Court today, passing over disputed finalist [and right-wing Jebbite] Frank Jimenez." "Crist names Supreme Court judge".
The Palm Beach judge represents the second Cuban American to serve on the high court."
Crist, who twice bypassed Labarga as a finalist for the state's highest court, appointed the 56-year-old Palm Beach County circuit judge. Less than two weeks ago, Crist appointed Labarga to a vacancy on the Fourth District Court of Appeal.And then there's this:
Labarga was one of a handful of Florida judges who handled various legal challenges during the 2000 presidential recount. His decisions include a ruling that it was up to the Palm Beach County canvassing board to decide what constituted a vote under the old punch-card system, and his dismissal of a Democratic lawsuit that sought a ''re-vote'' to determine who won the presidency.
"Cuban American named Florida Supreme Court justice". See also "Wellington judge appointed to Fla. Supreme Court", "Crist Selects New Jurist" and "Governor names Labarga to Florida Supreme Court".
In 2007, Labarga made remarks from the bench that raised questions about his judicial temperament.
''When you pick a fight with a judge, ultimately, you are going to lose,'' he said. ``Not today, but five years from now, 10 years from now, six years from now. That judge is going to remember you always, always.''
To his credit, Charlie really kicked the Jebbites in the teeth on this one. The St. Petersburg Times editorial board: "Crist was under considerable public and private pressure to appoint Jimenez. A group of lawyers, including a number of influential lobbyists and Bush supporters, defended the flawed JNC process. Cantero, a Bush appointee, attempted to turn the debate into one about ethnicity in a column in the St. Petersburg Times by questioning why this editorial page once raised issues about his background and now about Jimenez's record. In fact, the Times' has consistently been a strong advocate for diversity in the judiciary in general and on the Supreme Court in particular. The issue here has been the politicizing of the nominating process to favor one well-connected finalist under the guise of broader diversity." "Right pick for court".
Why do RPOFers hate higher education?
The Tallahassee Democrat editorial board: "But if the Florida Legislature doesn't begin investing in, rather than deleting, the assets of our higher education systems, it risks losing this incoming revenue and all of its potential. Florida is already allowing our universities to be outbid and outdone by other states. We're losing valuable researchers and academic stars who take their grant money with them and, often, impressive students and graduate students, too. Reputations of departments decline with this exodus, and it takes years to rebuild an academic reputation." "Losing university grants is a double loss".
The Palm Beach Post editorial board: "Crist is recommending a 2.1''percent cut to the university system, or $51 million. That's smaller than the $97''million, which represents the 4 percent holdback announced in June, that could be implemented. But we believe it should be zero percent. Faculty and staff at Florida's 11 public universities, who teach and serve 300,000 students, have not had raises in two years. Several have left the state for jobs willing to pay more. Among them are research professors who take not only their expertise and experience, but their federal and private grant money with them." "Cut Florida's universities, and the whole state bleeds".
Back at the ranch: "The new year could bring some new cuts for the state universities as the financial crisis cuts endowments and dampens prospects for raising money -- even as state support dwindles." "University endowments down".
"Volusia County may be far from the oil fields of Texas, but that's not stopping one local family from searching for black gold deep underground. ... In Florida, the Fords -- who have mined and drilled from Mexico to Kentucky -- are not alone. While offshore drilling grabs headlines, some prospectors have been quietly looking to expand Florida's existing onshore oil industry." "Drill, Volusia, drill? Family revives its quest for oil".
A local thing
The Miami Herald editors: "It is unhappily ironic that the people who have the biggest effect on property owners often are elected by the fewest number of votes. Traditionally, municipal-election turnouts seldom top 15 percent of eligible voters, and more often hover around 10 percent. Yet mayors and city commissioners have a lot of power over the daily lives of constituents. They decide property-tax rates, spending priorities and planning and zoning choices that, literally, can affect your backyard.".
"A high-ranking Martin County official will be suspended for three days without pay for not disclosing that she was having an affair with U.S. Rep. Tim Mahoney, county officials said Friday." "Martin official to be suspended over affair with Mahoney".
The Tampa Trib editors: "Unfortunately, the Legislature has made things worse." "State Needs Better System To Fund Needs Of Disabled".
"The organizers of two unofficial Florida inaugural parties in the nation's capital that will feature appearances by top state politicians are relying on big donations from corporations and lobbyists to help put on their events."
However, some government-watchdog groups question the use of corporate and lobbyist money to help pay for such inaugural bashes.
And the RPOFers are up to their necks in it:
"This is really little more than an extension of the lobbying activities on Capitol Hill and at state capitols," said Craig Holman of Public Citizen. "It's another chance for special interests to curry favor and rub shoulders with federal and state officials."
For instance, Blue Cross Blue Shield is donating $50,000 to an unofficial Jan. 19 "Sunshine and Stars 2009 Florida Inauguration Ball" at the prestigious Corcoran Gallery of Art, a sold-out, black-tie event that organizers hope will feature an appearance by Republican Gov. Charlie Crist.
Other corporate donors to the same event, according to a list voluntarily provided by organizers, include: CSX, Florida Power & Light, Progress Energy Inc., the Seminole Tribe of Florida, Medco, Southern Company, the United Space Alliance and the Florida Association of Realtors.
In all, as many as 600 elected officials, lobbyists and others are expected to schmooze and celebrate at this unofficial gathering. Tickets ranged from $250 to $500, based on a desire to attend the entire reception, dinner, dance and dessert, or just the dance and dessert.
$200-a-ticket optional black-tie "Friends of Florida" reception is being billed as a way "to honor the Florida congressional delegation."
"Companies Having Ball With Florida".
It is a latest rendition of an inaugural event originally begun by congressional spouses. Under a bill passed in 2007, federal lawmakers are prevented from attending parties at national conventions in their honor, but that law does not include inaugural-related events.
Topping the list of corporation donations to the reception so far is $25,000 from Lockheed Martin Corp., according to event organizers.
Others contributors include Boeing Co.; Oracle Corp.; Barbara Schmidt; 21st Century Oncology; AT&T; the Gulf Power Foundation; and MWW Group.
Rest of the nation figuring out Florida
"Remarkably, the state that for years boasted of gaining 1,000 new residents a day had a lower growth rate last year than the national average of 0.9 percent. ... The state expects growth to slow even more this year, before slowly rebounding in 2010 and 2011. Florida has long depended on growth as the engine of its economy. The fact that fewer people moving here has paralyzed the construction industry and retailing." "State's growth nearly nil".
"W Still The President"
"Orange County's hotel-tax collections plunged more than 13 percent in November as a widening global recession choked off travel to Orlando. The $12.1 million generated by the county's tax on hotel rooms was nearly $2 million less than it produced in November 2006. It was the sixth straight month that tax collections have contracted and the deepest drop since the slump began." "Sentinel: Orlando area's tax revenue shrinks as tourists stay away".
The Palm Beach Post editorial board: "The Obama administration should seek human rights and economic reforms in exchange for easing the embargo. But the negotiations have to be practical; the Bush administration wanted immediate, near-total reforms." "50 years of failure in Cuba".
"Clewiston trapped by sour economy".
Heaven help us
"On a recent Sunday, more than 7,500 people turned out for services at Northland, A Church Distributed, the Longwood megachurch. An additional 750 showed up at remote locations in West Orange County, Oviedo and Mount Dora." "Church webcasts bring services to Seminole Jail inmates".
A nation of shopkeepers?
"Signs grew Friday that the economy could turn even weaker in 2009, as an index of December manufacturing activity sank to its lowest point in 28 years. Every corner of the sector was down, from bakeries to cigarette-makers to aluminum smelters." "Manufacturing numbers plunge".
SAs with nuthin' better to do?
Bill Maxwell: "On Dec. 16 and 17, I had the honor and the pleasure of sitting in a Marion County courthouse to see the judicial system work the way it is supposed to work. Three men – a judge, a defense attorney and a prosecutor – performed their jobs honorably to redress a gross injustice that never should have occurred. The occasion was the motion hearing for a new trial for 21-year-old William Thornton IV of Oxford."
In December 2004, Thornton, then a 17-year-old student at Lecanto High School, was driving home at night when he skidded through a stop sign and collided with a Chevy Blazer carrying Brandon Mushlit and his girlfriend, Sara Jo Williams. They did not wear seat belts and were ejected from the SUV. They died on the spot. Thornton was driving without a license. He was injured and was airlifted to a hospital. After being released from the hospital, Thornton went home and tried to resume as normal a life as possible.
"A great day for the judicial system".
The state and law enforcement took five months to build a case against the teenager and arrest him on two counts of vehicular homicide. Although he had no criminal record, Thornton was tried as an adult and sentenced to the maximum of 30 years in state prison.
Stinkin' state mandates
More States Mandate Fire-Safe Cigarettes">Tampa Trib on those evil "mandates": "More States Mandate Fire-Safe Cigarettes" ("In 2010, Florida will join those states mandating stores only sell cigarettes that are slow-burning.")
"Puerto Rico's new governor was sworn in Friday, inheriting an island government battling a recession, a soaring murder rate and a deficit of more than $1 billion." "Governor inherits problems".
"A final meeting of a task force Tuesday in Tampa will discuss several major changes for customers of Citizens Property Insurance Corp., Florida's largest property insurer." "Citizens Insurance Advisory Panel's Final Meeting Looms".
"As beach communities gear up for the March 10 elections, the driving concern will be how to balance city budgets without sacrificing core services amid declining property values and tax income." "Some beach cities prepare for March elections; some don't need to".
And Fidel didn't bite them?
"A Florida couple who says they wound up in a Cuban jail after their boat was badly damaged in a storm is back home." "Fla. couple back home after unexpected Cuba trip".