"It's only the halfway point of a legislative session dominated by a $6.1 billion budget shortfall and a crippling recession, and already the casualties are mounting." "2009 session comes to head".
Bill Cotterell: "In the next four weeks, all the big tax and budget decisions will be made. They'll probably finish on time, something the Republicans have been good at, and the finished product will probably leave more people unhappy than satisfied." "Now for the fun part".
The Orlando Sentinel editorial board: "So many issues, so little time".
"Florida Republican Party circles are hearing increasing talk of conservative dissatisfaction with Gov. Charlie Crist and a possible primary challenge if he runs for the U.S. Senate next year. ... Some conservatives, never happy with Crist's emphasis on racial diversity, environmental regulation and populist willingness to take on big business, are now saying it openly." "Crist Facing Conservative Uprising".
"A plan asking voters to loosen class-size standards faces a critical vote in the House today." "Florida's class-size standards face critical vote today".
"Florida's corporate tax policies, most of which were written in the 1970s, reward businesses for moving their investments and housing their headquarters outside Florida."
"Corporate giants would lose big tax breaks under a Senate proposal to close loopholes and update Florida's corporate income tax code." Under a Florida Senate tax proposal, companies like
Toys R Us could be forced to stop shielding its Florida income from taxes. American Airlines could pay taxes based on the number of flights that land in Florida. And Bank of America's international banking division could lose a big tax break.
"Florida Senate proposes closing corporate tax loopholes". Related: yesterday's, "Florida lawmakers feel pain over no-tax-hike pledge".
Those are just some of the effects of a sweeping Senate plan to close loopholes and update Florida's corporate income tax code to bring in more money to fill the state's $3 billion budget hole.
The measure won unanimous approval last week in the Senate Finance and Tax Committee and is on the fast track to the Senate's budget committee. Legislative analysts will calculate Monday how much money it could generate but to the bill's chief sponsor, Sen. Thad Altman, that's not the point.
The The Tallahassee Democrat's update via Twitter.
- "A Florida Senate committee is [today] taking another look at a proposal to cut down on the state's property insurance risk by reducing its catastrophic insurance exposure." "Fla. Senate debates wind insurance measure".
The "'underemployment' rate"
"As Florida stumbles toward a double-digit jobless rate, an equally grim but less familiar measure of the labor market cracked 10 percent long ago and shows little sign of slowing."
The so-called "underemployment" rate in Florida averaged almost 12 percent in 2008 and, given national trends, most likely exceeds 15 percent now. Looking forward, the underemployment rate could top out at 18 percent or 20 percent before the economy turns around.
"Jobless rate doesn't tell the whole story of recession".
That would translate into more than 1.6 millions Floridians who would be unemployed, forced into a part-time job, working in a job below their skill level or so discouraged they had quit looking altogether.
"It's more expensive and way more time consuming, but U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek plans to qualify for the U.S. Senate race by petition. Meek began the effort over the weekend, traveling the I-4 corridor from Orlando to Tampa to rally volunteers." "Meek begins petition drive in Fla. Senate race".
Running Florida Like A Business
"Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp says he used a state plane to travel for official business, but records show he may have used the plane for personal trips."
Kottkamp reimbursed the state more than $10,000 for flights his wife and son took aboard state planes after The Sun Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale investigated their travel. But records show he claimed he used the plane to fly to St. Augustine in 2007 for a federal Small Business Administration event even though officials at the governor's office and the federal agency said they didn't know of any event then.
"Fla.'s Lt. Gov. May Have Used State Plane For Personal Trips".
Governor's office officials said the day before the trip, Kottkamp's scheduler distributed an internal e-mail listing his agenda for that weekend as all clear, marked as "personal days" in neighboring Ponte Vedra.
SBA officials said they had no events during Kottkamp's visit.
"Connie Mack IV, R-Fort Myers, won't try to follow in his father's footsteps — at least not yet. In a letter to Gov. Charlie Crist, Mack said he will not run for the Senate in 2010. Instead, he'll seek re-election to the U.S. House and support Crist if he decides to run for Senate. Or anything." "Rep. Connie Mack backs Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, whatever he runs for".
Florida, Ecuador and the Death Penalty
"Ecuador's government is asking for the return of a man on Florida's death row. ... Ecuador has no death penalty and will not extradite fugitives who face the punishment in other countries." "Ecuador seeks return of man facing dealth penalty".
"Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., said there's nothing to the pervasive Tallahassee rumors that he is being tapped to serve as chancellor of the state's university system or president of Florida State University." "Debunking Tallahassee rumors".
The St. Petersburg Times editorial board: "Words come to mind to describe this maneuver, such as calculated, cunning, even unscrupulous. But definitely not judicial." "It's legal, but it fails smell test".
Sumthin's Rotten in
"Chipola faculty representatives say there's "an ol' boy network" that pays handsome salaries to an influential current state legislator and another former lawmaker who serve as roving ambassadors for the college president."
State Rep. Marti Coley, R-Marianna, and former legislator Rob Trammell, who 20 years ago represented the same House district, are high-level aides to Chipola President Gene Prough. They help him do what every college president spends a lot of time on — raising money — and Prough said he's pleased with their performance.
"Faculty complaint exposes unrest at Chipola College".
The job description for Trammell's $57,787-a-year post sounds like lobbying, and he is a registered lobbyist for four commercial clients — but not the college, since colleges aren't supposed to hire outside lobbyists.
Coley, who got a pay bump from $45,000 to $60,000 last July as Prough's special assistant for business and community affairs, does not have lobbying in her job description but — as vice-chair of the House education policy council and education-economic development committee — she is uniquely situated to advocate for the college.
"I would look out for Chipola whether I was an employee or not," she said Friday. "Chipola has such a far-reaching economic impact not only on Jackson County but all the surrounding counties. It would be irresponsible of me not to advocate for them."
Coley is the widow of Rep. David Coley, who died shortly after his 2004 election to the House. She won a special election for the seat in early 2005 and, since she won't be term-limited until 2014, has a leadership future in the House GOP inner circle.
See You In Havana
Mauricio Claver-Carone, a director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC in Washington, D.C., is unhappy: "Bail out Cuba? No way!".
"Tallahassee isn't a lost cause yet"
The Tampa Trib editors: "It's understandable if Floridians have lost all faith in their state Legislature."
The endless stream of lousy bills this session would strain anyone's confidence in this branch of government.
See what they mean here: "Four Reasons To Retain Faith in Legislature".
Among other foolish efforts, some lawmakers are working feverishly to undo meaningful growth controls on both the state and local levels, including Hillsborough County's highly effective wetlands protection program.
But if you look hard enough, you also can find some measures that provide reason to believe Tallahassee isn't a lost cause yet.
"An irresponsible game of semantics"
The St. Petersburg Times editorial board: "Republican lawmakers in Tallahassee are playing an irresponsible game of semantics."
To avoid being seen as raising taxes to cope with the state's $3 billion shortfall, they are planning to hike fees for even essential public services. But a dollar is a dollar whether raised by taxing dry cleaning, which lawmakers won't do, or by hiking drivers' license fees, which they're considering. Lawmakers should be ashamed. They're playing word games and in some cases embracing regressive taxation rather than tackling desperately needed tax reform that might solve some of the state's tax inequities and long-term funding needs."Reform, not games".
Let Them Eat Cake
The Orlando Sentinel editorial board apparently "thinks" unemployment benefits are perfectly fine the way they are: "When Congress passed its $787 billion economic-stimulus package in February, lawmakers included almost $2.6 billion for Florida to expand benefits for unemployed workers. Yet Republican leaders in the state House don't want to take all of the money."
Have they lost their minds? Not quite.
"Leave money on the table".
House GOP leaders are happy for Florida to accept nearly $2.2 billion from Washington to cover the temporary cost of boosting weekly jobless benefits by $25 and adding as many as 20 weeks to the normal 26 weeks workers can collect them.
But they're justifiably balking at taking another $443 million — about two months worth of payments from Florida's unemployment-compensation trust fund — in return for permanently changing the way the state calculates benefits and permanently expanding eligibility.
Charlie Seeks Federal Assistance
Once again, Florida asks the rest of the nation to subsidize us: "Gov. Charlie Crist says he'll seek federal aid to test China drywall safety".
"Unemployment is soaring. Yet advocates and Congressional leaders want a guest worker program that would legalize tens of thousands of undocumented agriculture workers."
Proponents say they want a legal work force to pick the nation's tomatoes, peppers and lettuce. Opponents call it amnesty for illegal workers at a time Americans are losing their jobs.
"Guest worker program for agriculture sought" ("Experts estimate up to 80 percent of Florida's 150,000 agricultural workers are undocumented immigrants.")
"If you can't use legal workers and pay American wages and provide American working conditions, then you shouldn't be in America," said Roy Beck, executive director of NumbersUSA, a Washington, D.C.-based group that advocates for reduced immigration. "America shouldn't have peasant jobs."
"Florida residents with debilitating illnesses may have the option of treating their pain and symptoms with marijuana if Florida becomes the next state to allow its use for medicinal purposes. A petition is circulating now for signatures to potentially place a constitutional amendment on the November 2010 ballot posing the issue of allowing the seriously ill to use marijuana for medical treatment." "Political action committee pushes for medical marijuana use in Florida".
In The Mail
"Top Florida teachers who have been waiting months for promised bonuses wonder whether the state is going to stiff them, although officials who have been putting them off say the check will be in the mail soon." "State to teachers: Bonus check's in the mail".
"Many residents in Okaloosa and Walton counties may be surly over their taxes, but they'll be partying April 15. As part of a movement among tax-code malcontents, TEA - Taxed Enough Already - parties are being organized across the country, including the Emerald Coast." "Parties planned for April 15 to protest taxes and government spending".
"The saying goes that when America catches a cold, the black community catches pneumonia. And when the economy goes into a recession, in minority neighborhoods it feels like a depression." "Downturn saps prosperity of Orlando-area blacks".
No Sympathy Here
"Madoff's home in Florida lost almost $2M in value".