Another RPOFer jammed
"Another state lawmaker fights to win tax money for a new campus for his hometown university -- and works for a construction company that is bidding on the project."
State Rep. Seth McKeel fought to get $15 million in tax dollars for a new University of South Florida campus in Lakeland and, despite a severe budget shortfall, is determined to get $10 million more this year."Rep. Seth McKeel denies conflict over campus funding".
''I believe the Polytechnic vision is exactly what is needed in Polk County to help raise the standard of living and ensure the economic diversity of our region,'' McKeel said.
But Polk County isn't the only potential beneficiary.
McKeel, a Lakeland Republican, works for the construction company bidding on the project, formally called USF Polytechnic, and two other family members have a stake in the new school. His sister works for the university, cultivating private donations for the new campus. McKeel's cousin is working with the school on behalf of an architectural firm picked for the design.
The situation presents a fresh example of the political and personal cross-currents running through the state college system and the conflicts, real or perceived, that sometimes confront lawmakers with special concerns.
"McKeel fought to get $15 million in tax dollars for a new USF campus in Lakeland and is determined to get $10 million more this year. But McKeel works for the construction company bidding on the project, and two family members have ties to the new school." "Legislator has stake in new campus".
Circular firing squad
"In a rare rebuke of Florida's senior senator by a fellow Democrat, the president of the Cuban-American Bar Association is criticizing Sen. Bill Nelson for reappointing a top Republican fundraiser to a powerful panel that screens potential federal judges."
Roland Sanchez-Medina said he and other Cuban-American Democrats who tried to contact Nelson's office about the appointments were ignored. "Fellow Democrat says Sen. Bill Nelson misfired on judicial panel nominees".
He said these Cuban-Americans had long resisted community pressure to become Republicans and backed Democrat Barack Obama in the 2008 election.
''I was hopeful that some day, those of us who persevered would be rewarded on some level . . . and after this past election, I finally believed that day would come; that we would have a clear and unambiguous voice in the political process,'' he wrote in the March 4 letter sent to Nelson. ...
Since the Democratic Party controls the White House, Nelson made the bulk of the most recent appointments. He did choose three Cuban-Americans attorneys for the panel. Two are Democrats -- Steve Zack and Georgina Angones.
The other, Manny Kadre, served as Florida's finance chairman for Republican presidential nominee John McCain. Kadre has donated tens of thousands of dollars to a number of Republican politicians, but he has also written several checks to Nelson.
Stop the Stealth
"The Florida Legislature is so proud of its transparency that its Web site is called Online Sunshine (leg.state.fl.us). But look closer. It's not as sunny as it looks. When it comes to citizen participation -- your awareness of what lawmakers are up to -- the Legislature's workings can be a dark place." "End shell-bill stealth".
"With the prison population rising and state coffers shrinking, Sen. Victor Crist is proposing a new cost-saver: shipping off Florida prisoners to other states."
Sen. Crist is proposing to stem the rise of the prison population by exporting as many as 2,000 inmates without personal ties to Florida to prisons in other states."State Senator's Idea: Ship Inmates To Other States".
"Either they're illegal aliens, or they're individuals from other states that have committed a serious crime in Florida that ended up getting incarcerated here, but they have no family or relatives here to come to see them in the state of Florida," he said. ...
Rep. Nick Thompson, vice-chairman of the House Criminal & Civil Justice Appropriations Committee, said the proposal was news to him.
"It's certainly worth looking into," said Thompson, R-Fort Myers. "I'd want to know if this is being done in other states."
Rep. Kevin Ambler, R-Lutz, who sits with Thompson on a House criminal justice policy panel, wanted more detail as well, but described Crist's idea as "intriguing,"
"Florida's unemployment rate jumped a full point in January, to 8.6 percent. But the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area is doing better than other parts of the state." "Jobless rate spikes across Florida".
Some of the headlines: "DBNJ: Area unemployment rates at, near records", "PNJ: Unemployment numbers grim in Pensacola area", "Sentinel: Job outlook worsens for Metro Orlando, Florida, ...", "SW Fla. jobless numbers bad, and experts say they'll get worse" and "Job losses surge, and area feels it".
"The stimulus package means 'historic' funding for community colleges, which will hasten the U.S. recovery, the new education secretary told Miami Dade College." "Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Jill Biden visit Miami Dade College".
"This one certain class that drives a Mercedes"
Steve Bousquet tells a tale of two warnings. On one hand, the usual Chamber of Commerce/AIF shilldom:
Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, the council chairman, said the review of [sales tax] exemptions will continue next week, but she sounded wary of any repeals.And on the other hand:
"You want to be sure you're not poking an industry in the eye to make a political statement," she said.
Recalling a recent town hall meeting in her district, Bogdanoff said, "The citizens of this state for the most part are not interested in higher taxes."
A 35-year-old mother who drove from St. Augustine, she sells real estate and volunteers at her kids' schools. Given a whole three minutes to testify, she spoke about the lights being shut off in school hallways to save money, suspension of middle school sports and a lack of money for the school band."Which warning gets Florida tax panel's attention?".
"Obviously, people have a lot of money to be spending money on these things," she said of charter boat rentals and other beneficiaries of tax exemptions.
Hemmen pleaded with legislators to think beyond the people in the room who benefit financially from tax exemptions.
"Is it really, truly going to help the people of Florida — the people as a whole, not this one certain class that drives a Mercedes, but the people as a whole," Hemmen said. "Are these exemptions truly going to help them?"
As her question lingered in midair, the chairman adjourned the meeting.
Stop the madness
The Orlando Sentinel editorial board:"Sen. Stephen Wise, a Jacksonville Republican who heads an education appropriations committee, introduced a five-year-long 'school choice pilot project' for Orange County."
It would have allowed parents in that county to send their children, homeless or otherwise, to any public, charter, private or virtual school of their choice."We think: Unfunded mandates contribute to local budget problems".
And here's the kicker: The school district would have had to provide transportation to public schools. So if a student in Apopka chose to attend Winter Park High School, the school system would have to make sure the student got there. The bill made no provision for helping Orange County with the costs of this logistical nightmare.
This bone-headed pilot project had lots of other problems, and fortunately, the bill was withdrawn on Thursday.
"Florida may learn more about billions for schools Monday". See also "Education secretary hints Florida could get waiver it wants on stimulus money".
We'll see how long this conversation lasts
"Two days after Gov. Charlie Crist said there was no need to raise taxes to cover an anticipated $2 billion spending gap, he said he may be willing to do just that so the state can use federal stimulus money for unemployment payments." "Crist says tax hikes for businesses possible".
The St. Petersburg Times editorial board: "Prepaid and the Board of Governors have reached a reasonable compromise. In essence, the agreement means that Prepaid will base its payout to a university on today's costs inflated at 6 percent to 6.5 percent interest a year until that child starts college. This solution gives universities a guaranteed rise in income from each Prepaid contract and still caps the Prepaid fund's rate of payout. And those parents are not affected." "A solution for Florida Prepaid".
That and the fact she's dumb as a sack of hammers
"USF study: Focus on Sarah Palin's looks altered perception of competence".
"State Farm Florida on Friday appealed stipulations that Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty has put on its plan to withdraw from the state's property insurance market because of the high risk of hurricanes." "State Farm appealing Fla. withdrawal order".