Steve Bousquet: "Crist has added suspense to his own future by refusing to rule out a bid for the state's open U.S. Senate seat next year rather than seek reelection as governor. He has said he will make up his mind after the legislative session. That's Crist's way of putting politics aside, but it also guarantees that his own ambitions will be a parlor game in the state Capitol for the next two months." "Gov. Charlie Crist is cagey about ... U.S. Senate race".
Florida "in crisis"
The St. Petersburg Times editorial board: "Florida is at a crossroads. Growth has stalled, and 300,000 homes sit vacant. A record number of homeowners face foreclosure. One in 13 Floridians is out of work, and one in 10 is receiving food stamps. The state is staring at a $6 billion budget shortfall. Universities have frozen enrollments, teachers are facing pay cuts and public defenders are closing offices some days to save money." "In crisis, a time for Florida to act".
The Daytona Beach News Journal editorial board: "Florida's budget has a $5 billion hole in it. That's the reality lawmakers will face when they return to Tallahassee on Tuesday to start the annual legislative session. After $7 billion in cuts in the past two years, and with an economic climate pushing many families to the edge, there's little room left for ideology or partisanship. If lawmakers don't focus on Floridians' real priorities, they will fail in their primary duty." "Budget boundaries".
The Tallahassee Democrat editorial board: "When Florida's Legislature convenes on Tuesday, may each and every member rise to the occasion, mustering as much independent understanding as possible of the dismal problems that he or she has been elected to chip away at during the session."
This will mean breaking free of rigid political ideology and a very seductive campaign mentality and replacing them with the impulse to govern for the good of the whole."Get smart quick".
The challenges of billion-dollar budget deficits and general economic and educational decline are enormous at the moment — and of great consequence for Florida's future.
Fourth-largest in the nation, our state is now regrettably identified as one of the places where the national financial crisis began, circa 2005. That's when flipping houses and condos — and the fraud that often went with this new middle-class, get-rich-quick hobby — soared to stunning heights before it came in for a brutal crash landing.
Our lawmakers are now faced with the most dismal budget crisis ever.
"The Senate's tax-reform-minded president and the stimulus-boosting governor seem destined for a clash. ... Florida is bleeding money. Washington steps in with a $12.2 billion stimulus package. Problem solved, right? Not in the Florida Senate. As soon as the promise of federal money became a reality, Senate President Jeff Atwater began worrying that lawmakers might take the easy way out of Florida's financial crisis." "Florida senators: Stimulus doesn't fix budget".
See also "Budget shadow looms over Florida Capitol as session convenes".
"Florida lawmakers will start their annual legislative session Tuesday facing a multibillion-dollar budget shortfall and numerous other major issues, ranging from property insurance to a Central Florida commuter-rail system. Here are some of the key topics of the session:"
BUDGET: With tax collections dwindling because of the troubled economy, lawmakers say they face a shortfall of as much as $6 billion for the fiscal year that starts July 1. That could lead to deep cuts in funding for education and other programs -- and has spurred talk of raising cigarette taxes or trying to close sales-tax exemptions. ...Much more here: "Top legislative issues".
COMMUTER RAIL: Central Florida leaders have made a top priority of getting legislative approval for a 61-mile rail project that would link Volusia and three other counties. Supporters say SunRail would ease traffic congestion and create jobs. ...
EDUCATION: Public schools, community colleges and universities will watch budget deliberations closely as they hope to avoid a repeat of the types of cuts they sustained during the past year. Worried about costs, lawmakers also are expected to debate changing a 2002 constitutional amendment that requires smaller school class sizes. In higher education, Crist and some top lawmakers are backing a plan that could lead to university tuition increases of as much as 15 percent a year. ...
ENERGY AND CLIMATE CHANGE: Crist's proposals to combat global warming could face a major test during the session. ...
INSURANCE: Lawmakers will renew a debate about whether to raise rates for customers of the state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp. ...
TAXES: The massive budget problems could lead lawmakers to look for new sources of tax dollars.
The Tampa Trib editors: "Florida has turned its back on major problems for years, which has helped make this year's budget crisis harder to manage."
Wise voices have long urged a more responsible, broad-based approach to governing and have for just as long been ignored. The latest to be brushed aside was a report by the LeRoy Collins Institute titled "Tough Choices.""Face Realities Of Troubled State".
In many areas the Legislature opted for the easy choices and slapped a quick Band Aid on every problem. This year much more is required. The theme of the legislative session which begins March 3 must be "face it."
Lawmakers must face it that the tax structure demands more reform than a few new cuts for favored groups while slyly shifting the burden to newcomers and businesses.*
The Daytona Beach News Journal editors: "The focus will be on the budget. But lawmakers shouldn't be distracted from other pressing needs of the state or use Florida's financial crisis as political cover for bad policy dressed up as ideology. Here are some of the other issues that deserve attention during the 60-day session". "More on session agenda than money".
See also "Your lawmakers and their priorities" and "Crist's checklist is bigger than ever".
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*Note to The Tampa Trib editors: please don't worry too much about the Legislature "slyly shifting the burden to ... businesses".
When dollars collide ...
"Nearly two dozen parimutuel operators around the state want a piece of the contentious gambling pie dominated the Seminole Tribe. " "High-stakes gambling battle: tribe vs. parimutuels".
"Maybe a lot more dire"
"Hammered by state budget cuts, Florida school districts have spent the past year trimming programs, eliminating jobs and even closing schools. But the situation is about to get more dire." "Fla. schools money woes may get worse".
"With no trace of irony"
"Speaking of last year, Crist stood before the Legislature to deliver his 2008 State of the State address a year ago and said "
with no trace of irony that by "fueling an economy that ranks ahead of most nations of the world, we set a model at which others can marvel.''"Gov. Charlie Crist is cagey about taxes".
A year later, Florida is a national model of ''despair and foreclosures,'' as it was portrayed recently on the front page of The New York Times. The state is suffering historic job losses and is saddled with some of the highest rates of unemployment and foreclosures in the country.
"Is Florida's population about to be undercounted again?"
"With concerns being raised about whether the federal agency responsible for the upcoming national population count will be ready to go next year, questions remain about Florida's count in the U.S. Census in 2000. Several studies conflict on how the Census Bureau fared in counting noses in the Sunshine State that year." "Officials Counting On Making Most Of Census".
E-mail voting in Florida?
"Florida could someday extend the right to vote via e-mail to Floridians on the road or U.S. military men and women stationed overseas." "Nelson backs letting military vote by e-mail".
"As mass layoffs claim Floridians' jobs and health care, state lawmakers aren't planning to cut their free health insurance premiums or the salaries of more than 1,100 state workers who earn more than $100,000 a year."
But Marc Caputo and Breanne Gilpatrick can't leave it at that ... oh no ... they instead insert their noses into the Chamber of Commerce derriere with garbage like this:
Crist's budget doesn't increase state worker salaries. But he doesn't cut wages either, unlike many private employers facing the economic downturn.And this:
Barney Bishop, president of the Associated of Industries of Florida business lobby, said it's time for lawmakers to consider running government more like a business. And businesses right now are cutting wages, staffers and contributions to health plans."Top officials to feel no pain".
The job scared Caputo and Gilpatrick are apparently unaware that "Florida ranks last in per-capita cost of state payroll, at $36 per citizen, and last in its ratio of full-time state employees to population — 118 employees per 10,000 residents" "Speaking of state employees" (scroll down)
"Among other things, the amendments would require that voting districts be compact, contiguous, respect city and county boundaries whenever possible, and not favor incumbents or political parties. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, the state's top Republican, said he would reserve judgment on the Fair Districts proposal until he learned more about it." "Push is on to halt gerrymandering in Florida".
Send in the cement trucks
Jane Healy: "Central Florida politicians wearing blinders".
Charlie: "I hear nothing, I see nothing, I know nothing!"
"Crist said Thursday that he ... did not remember meeting the Jordanian now facing felony charges over the money he raised for the Republican."
"Harry Sargeant, a Palm Beach County businessman, was a fund-raiser for all four politicians and spent the past two years as finance chairman of the Republican Party of Florida before resigning this summer. Sargeant could not be reached for comment on Thursday or Friday."
"The amount of questionable campaign contributions Gov. Charlie Crist collected in 2006 could quadruple the $5,000 that was flagged this week in a federal indictment, campaign finance records show." "Sum of questionable contributions to Crist in '06 may rise, records show".
From the Zell Corporation
The geniuses on the South Florida Sun Sentinel editorial board pass on Chamber of Commerce talking points this morning: "You can see why Big Labor is salivating at the prospects for passing the "Employee Free Choice Act," a bill that could do away with a hallmark of American democracy, secret ballot elections to certify unions. " "It's no secret: Democracy thrives with secret ballot elections".
"Many in the House want to keep insurance giant State Farm in Florida, but just how to do that has lawmakers at odds." "State Farm's exit has lawmakers antsy". See also "Sun-Sentinel: Crist under fire over insurance".
"Courts can't take another significant hit"
The St. Petersburg Times editorial board: "As the Florida Legislature looks to balance next year's budget, state courts can't take another significant hit. In fact, the time has come for lawmakers to protect the courts with a dedicated funding source." "Ensure justice for all".
"Jeff Atwater's timing probably couldn't be worse. As Senate president, he's the second-most powerful man in Tallahassee, just behind Gov. Charlie Crist." "Anemic state economy will shape Atwater's term as Senate president".
"Doing nothing is not an option"
The St. Petersburg Times editorial board:
Warren Buffett won't touch Florida, even for another $224 million. State Farm is leaving, and there is no guarantee Washington will come to the rescue. That leaves Gov. Charlie Crist and the Florida Legislature in a familiar predicament: searching for answers to the property insurance crisis and hoping the state's recent luck holds through another hurricane season. What is clear is that doing nothing is not an option."Rolling dice is no insurance plan".
SunRail vs. TriRail
The Palm Beach Post editorial board: "For SunRail, a proposed Orlando-area train service, the Legislature is prepared to commit to a $1.2 billion deal. For Tri-Rail, the existing South Florida commuter service, the Legislature can't come up with $50 million a year." "No windfall for Orlando without help for Tri-Rail".
"A few miles from the southeast Florida coast, at a depth of crushing pressure and frigid temperatures, lies an eerie world of snowy coral, undiscovered forms of life and rock towers thrusting through ink-dark water." "Florida's coral reefs: A plan to protect them".
"Cap and trade"
Mike Thomas: " Obama's carbon cap-and-trade plan bad for U.S., worse for Florida".
"Democrats are hopeful that Polk County elections supervisor Lori Edwards, a well-regarded former legislator, may run for the U.S. House seat to be vacated by Adam Putnam. Meanwhile, former state Rep. Dennis Ross of Lakeland, one of the few Republicans to challenge Gov. Crist's approach to the property insurance crisis, formally jumped into that race last week, touting an endorsement from Jeb Bush." "Battle to replace Putnam under way".
"The solvency of the state's storm damage insurance fund is a key issue for lawmakers. With rates likely to rise, the question has become by how much. " "Gradual rate hikes sought amid concerns for Citizens".
Haitian immigrant protest
"Hundreds of Haitians and supporters gathered to protest current U.S. immigration law and urge President Barack Obama and his administration to grant temporary protection status to the more than 30,000 illegal Haitian immigrants living in the United States." "Hundreds of Haitians protest immigration law".
Florida wingnuts go off deep end
"We've heard a lot of people praising Gov. Charlie Crist for putting aside partisanship and embracing President Obama's economic stimulus package. But wondering what kind of feedback our governor is receiving, we requested copies of the stimulus-related letters and e-mails the governor received over the two-week period after he announced he would join Obama in touting the package in Fort Myers. It ain't pretty." "Crist-Obama lovefest not for all".
George Diaz: "DCF's red tape trips up even the best-prepared".