Note: Florida's newspapers are in economic trouble, which is bad news for all of us. Please subscribe to your local Florida newspapers; also think about giving newspaper subscriptions as gifts, and buying one or more for delivery to your workplace. Here's how.
Joel Engelhardt: "While Floridians have been persuaded of the inevitability of Republican Party dominance, elsewhere the Obama mandate has swept the nation and Republicanism has died." "Tallahassee escape artists?".
Empty suit Charlie
Mike Thomas points out that the current "Legislature undid more of Charlie Crist's 2007 insurance reforms, which threatened to bankrupt the state when the next big hurricane hits."
Thomas continues, exploring Charlie's inability to get anything done:
When you throw in Charlie's other failed initiatives — dropping property taxes like a rock, creating affordable health insurance, implementing a California-style renewable-energy policy, increasing education funding and becoming vice president — he has accomplished ... practically nothing. But he has been darned likable doing it, which more than qualifies him for the U.S. Senate. But now comes the Club for Growth, a group of deep-pocketed, archconservative mullahs who purge the Republican Party of moderates like Charlie.Thomas concludes: "If Jeb Bush backs Rubio, I wouldn't be surprised if Charlie skedaddles back to the governor's race."
These guys make Jeb's NCNA (pronounced N-C-N-A) group look like a bunch of terrorist-coddling wimps. And they're getting darned mad about all this money the Democrats are making them spend.
Lest you doubt their power, they created Ric Keller from a single-cell organism and put him in Congress to defend Big Macs against trial lawyers. The Club seems to be aligning itself with Charlie's would-be foe in a Republican Senate primary: former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio, who thinks it's high time we broke out the waterboards again.
Steve Bousquet reports: "At a time when he faces an ethics complaint over state-paid travel, Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp had a state trooper drive him and his family to suburban Atlanta last weekend for a surprise birthday party for a Tallahassee lobbyist."
In a state-owned vehicle, Kottkamp and his wife joined lobbyist Steve Metz and family members at a Saturday night concert in Peachtree City, Ga., featuring soft-rock singer Kenny Loggins."Trooper drove Lt. Gov. Kottkamp to Atlanta concert for lobbyist's birthday".
Metz is registered to represent 34 clients before the executive branch, including the Florida Bar, Florida Chamber of Commerce, Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association and Walt Disney World as well as parimutuels, pharmaceutical firms and financial companies.
"With a $6 billion budget deficit, lawmakers had to cut back on programs that helped Alzheimer's patients and foster kids -- but they still managed to fund a few pet projects at universities and even nicotine patches for smokers trying to kick the habit."
So, when Lake Wales Sen. J.D. Alexander wanted more money for the University of South Florida in Lakeland and Miami Rep. David Rivera sought more for Florida International University, the Republicans traded offers and counter offers in public. ''We've done it all out in the open,'' said Alexander, who won $5 million more for USF while Rivera secured an additional $11 million for an FIU medical school."'Turkeys' gobble up some funds". Related: "Lawmakers set to OK 'responsible budget'".
Not every issue was agonized over. Alexander inserted $500,000 in the budget for Lake Wales charter schools with nary a peep. Nor was there any talk about the $250,000 Rivera inserted for the FIU Democracy Conference.
Senate President Jeff Atwater made sure the caretakers of a girl who had been horribly abused in state care received money. And House Speaker Larry Cretul helped maintain money for a University of Florida dental program that Miami Rep. Juan Zapata had once attempted to strike from the budget.
Democratic Sen. Nan Rich of Weston acknowledged that Republican legislative leaders were more open than ever. But she said there's not much to celebrate when they cut $1.6 million from a program helping kids age out of foster care. Legislators also trimmed a batch of programs helping seniors and Alzheimer's patients by $2.75 million.
Meantime, "Crist staged an upbeat briefing Wednesday to tout the multi-billion-dollar benefits that Florida schools, roads and jobless workers will reap from the federal-stimulus plan." "Crist hopeful about stimulus money".
Troxler is serious:
Let's look at some of the good things our legislators did this year."Florida Legislature gets a few things right".
"Oldie-goldie Republicans such as Jeb Bush ..."
Mike Thomas: "Oldie-goldie Republicans such as Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney and John McCain are going on tour to re-energize the party. This is like watching Pat Boone and the Captain & Tennille go on tour to re-energize pop."
At the tour's first stop in Virginia, Jeb performed a great solo on the need for Republicans to move beyond Reagan nostalgia and look ahead. I cheered and raised a burning Bic, but Rush Limbaugh went into an OxyContin flashback, declaring it all a plot to undermine his governor goddess."'New' GOP trotting out same old stuff".
"Federal stimulus money will jump-start stalled cleanup projects"
The Miami Herald editorial board: "By most measures, $20 billion is jaw-dropping sum, but it's a drop in the bucket in the big picture funding cost of the entire Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP). Nevertheless, the $279 million in federal funds earmarked largely for Glades restoration projects mark the single-largest amount that Congress and the White House have allocated since the joint federal-state project was approved in 2000. It's a start, finally." "Glades funds at last".
"[T]he $66.5 billion budget Florida lawmakers are set to approve Friday will mark another year of frozen wages for Okoh and tens of thousands of other state workers who battle swine flu, guard dangerous prisoners or provide a gamut of other government services." As of 2008,
The average state government worker's salary of $38,313 was almost 4 percent lower than the $39,762 average for all workers in Florida. Compared with the population it serves, Florida has the lowest state payroll in the country, the state [DMS] report shows."State workers could feel new wallop from wage freezes, cuts".
Firefighters (a/k/a "public employees") at work ...
"[T]he 30,000-acre blaze in the Big Cypress National Preserve has been reduced to 10 smokers - hot spots that are still smoldering and generating smoke." "Alligator Alley fire is 90 percent contained".
The Orlando Sentinel editorial board: "It's a critical time for the U.S. space program. The shuttle is scheduled to stop flying as soon as next year. NASA has started whacking jobs, and layoffs on Florida's Space Coast could reach 10,000. The United States is facing a gap of five years or more in sending astronauts into orbit, and problems plaguing NASA's next manned program mean a longer delay. Yet there's a maddening lack of urgency, and interest, among federal and state policy-makers." "Stop delaying on space".
Deal? No Deal?
Update: "Late-hour gambling talks to salvage a deal with the Seminole tribe derailed today, when the Senate backslid on its previous offer to partially limit card games at Seminole resorts. After meeting with Seminole representatives, the Senate retooled its offer to restore full card games blackjack and baccarat at all seven tribal facilities, including Hard Rock casinos in Hollywood and Tampa. The new Senate offer also would put the tribe's annual payment to the state at $150 million. Previous offers would have required the tribe to pay at least $200 million." "Legislative gambling talks hit snag".
"Florida's historic Hialeah Park racetrack would return. The Seminole Tribe's Hard Rock casinos would keep their slot machines and card games. South Florida's parimutuels would bear a lower tax burden. And tracks around the state could seek bingo-style slot machines in the future."
Those are the major provisions of a last-minute compromise reached in dramatic fashion late Wednesday by House and Senate leaders. If approved by the Seminole Tribe, the plan would bring the state a minimum of $150 million in annual revenue sharing from the Seminole Tribe, and allow the state to use another $150 million set aside by the tribe this year when its previous gambling agreement with the governor was voided by the court. ..."State reaches compromise on Seminole gambling revenues; tribe must vote". See also "Legislators agree on plan to expand Seminole casino gambling", "Deal keeps Seminole gambling pact alive" and "Deal reached on Seminole gambling".
It includes a plan to allow slot machines at Seminole casinos outside of Miami-Dade and Broward -- the tribe has seven reservations -- and the exclusive right to blackjack and baccarat at its Hard Rock casinos in Broward and Hillsborough counties.
The biggest winner may be Hialeah. Lawmakers agreed to allow the famous track to reopen with card rooms and quarter horse racing. After operating live racing and simulcast races for two years, it can offer Las Vegas-style slot machines.
The Saint Petersburg Times editorial board: "Joe Harris Sullivan has been a Florida prisoner for 20 of his 33 years. Just days shy of his 14th birthday, he was sentenced to life without parole for raping an elderly Escambia County woman. He expected to die behind bars, but this week the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would review his case and that of another Florida juvenile offender to consider whether sentencing a person under 18 to life without parole is cruel and unusual punishment — and unconstitutional." "Life for juveniles needs reviewing".
"The economy's recent nosedive could push Gov. Charlie Crist's monumental land deal with U.S. Sugar Corp. back at least six months." "Everglades land deal faces six-month delay".
Tampa Trib declares end of minority voting problems
The Tampa Tribune editorial board: "It's time to loosen the federal grip. The argument that rigid federal control is essential to protect the rights of minority voters is hollow. ... The high court should recognize it is time to stop penalizing counties for sins of the distant past." "Stop punishing county for sins of distant past".
"Progress Energy gets a bye, customers get the bill"
The Daytona Beach News Journal editorial Board:
In Florida last week, Progress Energy announced that the $17 billion nuclear power plant it plans to build in Levy County will be delayed at least 20 months, and won't produce electricity until at least March 2018. But not only does Progress Energy want to keep billing its existing customers for the plant's costs. The company wants to increase that charge from $5 per month to $8 per month by January."Nuclear fleecing".
"How stimulating it will actually be is unclear"
"Florida's 11 public universities will receive $160 million in federal stimulus money, but how stimulating it will actually be is unclear. School leaders, facing the toughest financial troubles they've ever seen, say they are hesitant to use the limited-time offer for anything recurring, such as jobs, raises, or propping up flagging programs. " "Are Florida's universities spending $160 million in stimulus money wisely?".
"A prescription for a disaster for Florida patients and taxpayers"
Dartland is executive director of the Consumer Federation of the Southeast, in the The Daytona Beach News Journal this morning - "The Florida Legislature passed May 1 the biggest threat to consumers this year: a bill that serves no purpose but to drive up health care costs for patients, employers and taxpayers. It is a bill Gov. Crist should veto immediately as soon as it hits his desk."
The legislation, (SB 1122/HB 855), would punish patients, state workers and taxpayers with higher health care costs by destroying the Preferred Provider Network (PPO) that has helped to restrain rising health care costs for decades. Florida PIRG, the Consumer Federation of the Southeast and the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans all have issued warnings that the bill is a prescription for a disaster for Florida patients and taxpayers."Bill to 'balance' doctor charges awful for patients".
The Palm Beach Post editorial board: "Kurt Browning may be one less double-dipping state employee in Florida, thanks to a bill that would end the most egregious abuses of the state retirement system." "Endgame to a state scam".
Alex Leary gets a tip ...
Alex Leary gets a tip from somebody (wonder who?): "Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink put her fiscal watchdog image on display Monday in the state's largest TV market."
''Floridians expect us to spend their money wisely and efficiently as possible, and I will continue to lead by example in these tough economic times,'' she said in a news release for the visit to a call center in Largo that had been consolidated with others to save an estimaged $2.2 million annually."Touting state's frugality cost taxpayers $2,400".
But delivering the message was not cheap. The taxpayer tab for flying Sink and three staffers on a state plane: $2,400.
The trip, billed by her office as a ribbon cutting, is no different than similar ones that Gov. Charlie Crist or other top elected officials make regularly.
... Speaking of trips
"Crist is coming to town May 19 for a luncheon co-hosted by The Chamber, Daytona Beach/Halifax Area and the Tiger Bay Club of Volusia County. The event will be at the Ocean Center, 101 N. Atlantic Ave., Daytona Beach. The public is invited." "Crist set for Daytona visit".
Florida's "tide of Medicare fraud"
"Miami's R. Alexander Acosta told a U.S. Senate panel that fixes need to be made at the top to stem the tide of Medicare fraud." "Improve Medicare oversight, U.S. attorney from Miami tells Senate".
"Only days removed from a stinging defeat in the Florida Legislature, prominent backers of the proposed Central Florida SunRail say they're exploring ways to keep the commuter rail system alive." "Commuter rail backers look for options".
The Palm Beach Post editorial board: "Is it a church-state violation for an elected official to be holier-than-thou? With Lake Worth Commissioner Cara Jennings, it should be." "Jennings failed her own test".
"More political than practical"
The Miami Herald editorial board: "The Florida Bright Futures Scholarship Program is an example of a good program created for political reasons -- but never adjusted to the facts of the real world. Now, the bruising economy is forcing state lawmakers to face a harsh reality: Bright Futures is unsustainable as currently conceived. Their solution? Trim the program around the edges and pray for a miracle. This approach -- also more political than practical -- won't work, either." "Bright Futures at a crossroads".
"Kottkamp, who heads the board of Brevard-based Space Florida, said Wednesday to 'stay tuned' for potential changes to be made at the maligned economic development agency tasked with transitioning the state's economy into the post-space shuttle world." "Kottkamp: 'Stay tuned' on Space Florida front".
Something's got to give
"The kind of sprawling suburban-style growth that consumed thousands of acres of formerly rural land in the Tampa Bay area in recent years has turned large tracts of intact habitat into island-like pockets of habitat. Those pockets are often too isolated or too small to support large populations of birds, making breeding difficult." "Migratory birds on the move".
"Starting June 30, Florida police will be allowed to stop and cite motorists for not wearing their seat belts." "Seat belt law just got tougher". See also "Gov. Charlie Crist signs tougher seat belt law".
"Crist is scheduled to sign a bill requiring police departments to adopt policies to protect confidential informants." "Gov. to sign bill named after murdered informant".