Florida's "broken 'Ponzi scheme of financing government'"
"After draining its savings this year, Florida faces doubly difficult choices next year because of a tax structure that depends on population growth."
The reason: Florida has a broken ''Ponzi scheme of financing government'' that relies on population growth to pay for government, said economist Sean Snaith. And with little or no population growth, the state's finances won't improve."Economic rebound won't be enough to save Florida's budget in 2010".
''Florida's tax structure is flawed fundamentally,'' said Snaith, director of the University of Central Florida's Institute of Economic Competitiveness, which issued a recent report on the state's troubled condition.
Snaith said that a rebound in the economy will not be enough to replace billions of dollars in federal stimulus money that will dry up in 2011. But state needs and wants will grow.
That leaves Florida lawmakers with two choices, he said: ``Cut spending and raise taxes.''
"Floridians can brace for another wave of recession pain in the $66.5 billion budget that was just passed by the Florida Legislature." "Critics warn budget may cause public backlash".
The Daytona Beach News Journal editorial Board: "There are better, fairer ways to balance the budget and meet more of the needs of this state."
In the short run, accepting more federal money would be a good place to start. Gov. Charlie Crist said last week that the state has until 2011 to claim $444 million in additional benefits for those who have lost their jobs. With a few tweaks to Florida's stingy unemployment compensation law, the Legislature could make more people eligible for benefits, and send that money to households where it is desperately needed."But deeper work is needed."
Lawmakers raised cigarette taxes $1 a pack, but the Senate also wanted to eliminate significant tax loopholes. The House countered with a sales-tax proposal that would actually cost more to enforce than it would have raised.Much more here: "A state budget few are happy with; here's how Florida could do better".
The Senate position provides a good place to start in the coming months. Senators wanted to join an interstate compact to collect sales tax on Internet sales -- which could funnel $2 billion or more into state coffers while giving a fair shake to bricks-and-mortar merchants who own stores in Florida. Several lawmakers also advocated closing dozens of sales-tax exemptions, including fishing-boat charters, skybox tickets and movie-studio equipment rental, and reforming the state's corporate income tax to capture profits currently channeled out of state.
The Palm Beach Post editorial board: "The Legislature has abandoned its no-new-taxes policy."
Calling most of the items it increased "fees" or "surcharges" instead of "taxes" fooled nobody. Ending slavish devotion to a no-tax slogan might pay off if legislators take up real reform. But that didn't happen in this session."Do tax makeover in 2010".
If legislators don't modernize Florida's tax system, when federal stimulus money declines in 2010-11 and then runs out the following budget year they'll be up the same creek without that stimulus paddle.
Believe it or not
Believe it or not, but "[o]ne of the tax plans that Florida voters will consider next year would give first-time home buyers a break on their tax bills." "Voters to have say on tax plan to help home buyers".
"Legislature ... incapable of governing Florida wisely"
Troxler: "How bad is the Florida Legislature these days?"
It's historically bad — the worst since the infamous "Pork Chop Gang" that was in charge of our state during the 1950s and 1960s.Troxler has several "suggestions on how to reform that system — not with a bunch of top-down laws and impractical new rules, but with fundamental, bottom-up changes geared toward electing a better Legislature in the first place." "At wit's — er, rainbow's — end".
The Legislature of recent years is simply incapable of governing Florida wisely. It lacks the intellectual horsepower, the will, even the desire. It's a machine for collecting laundered campaign money, paying back that money with favorably written laws, and getting itself re-elected.
Good grief! The joint lacks gravitas, ballast. It is a collection of superficial sloganeers. These days, a wacky idea pops up on a Tuesday and is a proposed amendment to the state Constitution on a Thursday, no questions asked.
"Giving the office of lieutenant governor a bad name"
The Miami Herald editorial board: "Jeff Kottkamp is giving the office of lieutenant governor a bad name, and his blundering ways are beginning to direct an embarrassing spotlight on the job itself. With so little good to his credit and so many missteps after only two years in the post, Mr. Kottkamp has only himself to blame. And some Floridians are beginning to ask if a lieutenant governor is necessary at all." "Does Florida need a lieutenant governor?".
"As the DNC chief taps into the energy of the Obama campaign at a gay center in Fort Lauderdale, some activists say they want the president to address more of their concerns." "Gay activists in Fort Lauderdale say Obama can do more".
"Florida has been living in a dream world"
Keep an eye on this.
The Tallahassee Democrat editorial board: "Florida has been living in a dream world, in which a little imagination and a lot of regulation bring underpriced property insurance to a state that juts out into the warm, hurricane-spawning waters of the Gulf and Atlantic."
About 1.2 million State Farm policyholders woke up from that dream in January, when the company said it was pulling out of Florida, after being denied a 47-percent rate increase."Insurance choice".
Gov. Charlie Crist — who presumably would like to make his run for the U.S. Senate as the man who lowered property taxes and insurance rates — said "good riddance" to State Farm. But that was little comfort to homeowners left shopping for new insurers and often finding rates higher than that 47 percent — if they could find insurance at all.
Enter the Consumer Choice Bill (aka the Save State Farm Bill).
The bill, passed by the House and Senate (HB 1171 and SB 2036) and on its way to Gov. Crist's desk, would deregulate rates for the state's largest insurers and let them charge what the market will bear. The bill recognizes that the free market can be a wonderful thing and that sometimes people will pay more for service and security and to maintain a long-term business relationship.
Early speculation is that Gov. Crist will veto the bill. And Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty — who Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, said helped him craft details of the bill before making a late and surprising switch to oppose it — said the Consumer Choice Bill "will very likely yield substantial and unpredictable rate increases."
Veto growth bill
The Tampa Tribune editorial board: "Crist should veto the bill before it has a chance to put the bite on taxpayers. Under the change, it appears that developers could pass the buck for most if not all transportation and school improvements." "New growth bill needs fast burial".
"Just after dawn, two barges collided with a freighter. The rare collision of three ships resulted in about 32,000 gallons of mixed fuel and 330,000 gallons of fuel oil spilling into the Bay." "1993 oil spill led to revitalization along bay".
"Lawmakers overcame gambling resistance and passed a historic plan to allow the Seminoles to continue offering casino games." "State lawmakers OK new deal on gambling".
Draggin' them knuckles
"At a well-received Suncoast Tiger Bay appearance last week,"
Republican Attorney General Bill McCollum dismissed the idea of the Justice Department going after former Bush administration officials who developed controversial [sic] interrogation techniques such as waterboarding."McCollum defends interrogation techniques".
"I don't think the techniques that they're describing … were torture," said gubernatorial contender McCollum, adding, "You don't prosecute people for giving their best legal opinion."
Let's hope those words come back to haunt McCollum.
The Charlie effect
"Florida's dreary, $66.5 billion spending plan, passed over the objections of many hard-line Republicans and the faux protestations of Democrats, is set to start the dominoes falling toward a wide-open 2010 election season."
Gov. Charlie Crist — no doubt tired of all the negativity in Tallahassee these days — plans later this week to announce which office he will seek in 2010, and all signs point toward the U.S. Senate."Because Democratic state Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink would almost certainly also run for governor, the free-for-all Republican primary could lead to wide-open races for all four of Florida's Cabinet seats and the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez of Orlando."
Four big-name candidates have met with Florida Republican Party officials and prime donors to gauge the level of interest in seeking the governor's office: Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp, Attorney General Bill McCollum, U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan of Sarasota and Agriculture Commissioner Charlie Bronson.
Among the legislators likely to jump into the fray: state Senate President Jeff Atwater for CFO; Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres, among many looking at the attorney general's office; Sen. Carey Baker, R-Eustis, is already running against Republican U.S. Rep. Adam Putnam of Bartow for agriculture commissioner, and the list goes on."What will Crist do? Dominoes set to fall". See also "Crist keeps quiet".
"Rubio allies, eager to attract national money to his campaign, are telling everyone who will listen that Florida's GOP primary is now the Pennsylvania primary that never materialized. Time to teach squishy moderate Republicans a lesson!" But Adam Smith thinks the "Crist-Specter comparison doesn't hold up well", and gives us "five reasons why Charlie Crist is no Arlen Specter:"
1. Polls showed Specter trailing Toomey by at least 15 points, and only one in three Republicans approving of his performance. Crist, by comparison, is the overwhelming favorite in Florida, where the latest Quinnipiac poll showed 68 percent approving of the governor's performance.We look forward to seeing how much blood there is on the floor in the upcoming Rubio-Crist fight, particularly if Jebbie steps into the fray in support of Mr. Rubio.
2. Crist is among the most personable and charming politicians on the planet. Specter, not so much.
3. Specter was an accomplished lawyer and prosecutor, and even some critics acknowledge his deep intellect. Crist? Like we said, a really, really likable guy.
4. Republicans in Pennsylvania — which President Barack Obama won by 11 points — are far more vulnerable than Republicans in Florida, which Obama won by less than 3 points.
5. Crist crushed the last guy who tried to out-conservative him — Tom Gallagher — while Specter barely survived his last primary challenge.
"'Florida was once a national model and now it's been viewed as one of the most complicated programs in the country,' said Linda Merrell of Ormond Beach, co-coordinator of the Florida Child Healthcare Coalition, made up organizations that pushed for changes."
The new legislation will allow a parent's income to be verified electronically and will reduce waiting periods for parents to re-enroll from 60 days to 30 days if they were canceled because of late or missed payments. Parents also won't have to wait six months to apply if they canceled their employer or private insurance. Instead, they will wait two months and there are some exceptions to eliminate the wait period for extenuating circumstances, such as the employer canceling the coverage for children or the coverage does not cover the child's health needs."But even so, "
"I feel very excited to finally be able to say this bill passed," said its sponsor Sen. Nan Rich, D-Weston. "This makes a lot of very good changes."
advocates say more is needed. Rich sought other changes, but couldn't get them approved. She said her main priority next year will be getting KidCare subsidized coverage for state employees, some of whom can't afford the state employee insurance for their children. About four years ago, the state cut employees from KidCare to save money."State revamps kids' insurance".
For Constance Jones, 56, of Holly Hill, a secretary for the state Department of Children & Families, those changes may be too late for her daughter -- who turns 18 next March -- but she hopes it can help other people "so they don't have to go through what I went through."
Jones, a single mother who makes about $23,000 a year, can't afford the state employee insurance coverage. She owes more than $10,000 now in medical expenses for her two children, including a son who is 18. She takes her children to a no-cost clinic for low-income working people and the emergency room.
The Orlando Sentinel editorial board: "Two possibilities remain for supporters of a commuter train for Central Florida: Accept its derailment in the state Senate and move along, albeit slowly, on Metro Orlando's congested roads. Or work to get it back on track — an option even some of its longtime backers call crazy." "A last chance for rail".
See also: "Jane Healy: 3 ways logic lost out in SunRail fiasco".
Related: The Saint Petersburg Times editorial board: "Tampa Bay leaders and the state should help Central Florida try to revive SunRail. That will require reworking financing and liability to more fairly spread the risks. Commuter rail should come to metro Orlando — and to Tampa Bay — but the costs need to make sense and the model needs to work for other communities." "Commuter rail model needs fixing".
Thomas on Crist
Mike Thomas: "With State Farm pulling out of the state, many of its Central Florida customers are finding they face higher premiums and less coverage with smaller companies. I am one of them. I have learned that longtime State Farm customers who live in the interior often enjoy pretty reasonable rates. Charlie Crist wasn't thinking about us when, in his populist bluster, he proclaimed Florida better off without State Farm." "I'll make my own home-insurance choice".
The "academe's fattest poll tax"
Pierre Tristam: "Brooke Wolfe is an Atlantic High School honor student with an excellent 3.63 grade-point average. She applied to Florida Atlantic University -- not exactly the Harvard of the Gold Coast -- and four other schools. She was turned down by all five, forcing her into the third-rate anteroom of community-college education. What should never have happened to Wolfe is happening to thousands of students across the state. They have the grades, the will, the ability to make it in any state school. What they lack is a state university system enabled to give them the chance. It's not for lack of space or capability, but of lawmakers literate in what's best for Florida."
The expectations are unfair. The opportunities are a disgrace for being diminished by choice, not by necessity. Legislators are slaves to a zero-sum ideology that equates investment in education exclusively as more taxes, as if the cheapened opportunities and collective stupor of less investment in education isn't the biggest collective tax of all. Then they pretend that opportunity is at an all-time high because higher ed doesn't stop at UF and Florida State. The University of Central Florida is being touted as the next-best thing to the flagships. That's just it: next-best thing. Thousands of students who can't afford better schools already see UF and Florida State as settling for the next-best thing. (Keep in mind that at 31-to-1, Florida's universities have the worst faculty-to-student ratio in the country.) Now they're being forced to set their sights even lower."Perfect grades or else; late bloomers need not apply".
It's a class system. The academic aristocracy at Florida State and the University of Florida; the high-achievers in the state's nine other universities (if they're lucky, as Brooke found out); and everyone else -- the majority -- in what passes for college credit at the community level. It's not just Florida, of course. Quality university education is becoming a privilege across the country, betraying the democratic mission of America's great post-World War II higher-ed boom. And that's without mentioning cost as academe's fattest poll tax. Florida isn't just fast-tracking the shift. It's excelling at it.
Them Libruls are at it again
The Saint Petersburg Times editorial board is outraged that a police officer can't be pistol whipped into a confession:
Law enforcement officers in Florida who are the subject of an internal investigation already enjoy some of the most liberal [sic] rights in the country. Before an officer may even be questioned, he or she is told the nature of the investigation, given the names of all complainants and provided with all witness statements. Imagine the average citizen having the same opportunity to line up his story or alibi. But SB 624, by Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, goes another step by providing the officer with "all" evidence, including incident reports, GPS locator information and audio or video compiled by investigators."A 'bad law that helps bad cops'".
The editors are confusing an internal investigation relating to employment with a criminal investigation. No matter ... no need for any deep thought here - the The Saint Petersburg Times' editors, good little Chamber of Commerce/League of City shills that they are, automatically oppose anything that might actually benefit an employee.
"How South Florida fared"
"A week behind schedule, the Legislature has wrapped up a brutal lawmaking session. One word dominated the proceedings: budget." " in Tallahassee".
"'Inner voice' led Port St. Lucie's Ken Pruitt to retire".
Delightful Okaloosa County
"Crist has officially appointed a replacement for a Panhandle sheriff facing corruption charges. Crist appointed Ed Spooner interim sheriff of Okaloosa County on Friday. Spooner has already been heading the sheriff's office since February, when Charles Morris was suspended." "Crist names replacement for Okaloosa sheriff".