Florida corporations break out the checkbooks
Aaron Deslatte: "Get ready for a Super Bowl-like showcase of corporate-sponsored political advertising in the fall elections."
We're talking about the war that Florida businesses and their lobbying arms are girding for against the Hometown Democracy constitutional amendment. It would ban local governments from making major changes in their development regulations without a public vote."Meanwhile, that corporate focus on Hometown Democracy could have ramifications for another fight that the Republican leadership of the Florida Legislature wants to wage."
FairDistrictsFlorida.org has raised and spent more than $3.1million from Democratic check-writers such as the Service Employee International Union, the state and national arm of the National Education Association, and a host of Florida trial bar firms. Democrats are hoping a "fairer" redistricting process would result in the election of ... more Democrats."Brace for an ad blitz over Florida growth amendment".
House Speaker-designate Dean Cannon, R- Winter Park, and Senate President-designate Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island — who will oversee the re-drawing of political maps as the Legislature's presiding officers — have been doing their utmost to throw a wrench in the movement.
Raw political courage
"Florida's lawmakers will gather at the budget-battered capital this year to confront a financial mess – but even so, they vow not to raise taxes."
Federal stimulus money runs out midway through the fiscal year, blowing a billion-dollar hole in the budget. Avoiding tax increases could mean cuts to state services, from courtrooms to state roads, and widespread layoffs. ..."Florida legislators face tough choices".
Even as the national economy is showing improvement, Florida is once again facing deep deficits and difficult choices. Yet again, the budget will dominate the agenda in Tallahassee this spring, which is Gov. Charlie Crist's last in the governor's mansion.
In an election year, Republican legislative leaders have ruled out any new taxes or fees. That's a major shift after two years in which they raised taxes and fees on everything from cigarettes to auto tags to speeding tickets. ...
The governor is expected to roll out his budget proposal Friday. The Legislature will then spend the two-month legislative session that begins March 2 haggling over spending details, with a final agreement likely to come in late April or early May.
No one is quite sure how deep Florida's budget hole will be. It could be as little as $1 billion or more than $3 billion, depending on whom you ask. ...
President Obama's $787 billion stimulus program included a bailout for state government, money that is fused into Florida's schools and health-care budgets. The money dries up in December.
Nonetheless, state legislators are relying on federal largesse again. Congress is considering extending stimulus benefits for Medicaid, the federal-state program that provides health coverage to the poor and disabled. The extension would save Florida legislators almost $1 billion, helping them avoid the deepest cuts.
Still, 2010 will be the year when Florida's budget hits rock bottom – and stays there. With unemployment reaching a 34-year high of 11.8 percent Friday, chief economist Amy Baker warned lawmakers it will be spring 2011 before normal growth rates in tax receipts of 3 to 5 percent return.
Another federal handout, please ...
The Saint Petersburg Times editorial board: "Florida already was a strong contender for the high-speed rail money that President Barack Obama could award as early as this week when he stops in the Tampa Bay area. The state has land set aside for the Tampa-Orlando link. There would be a future extension to Miami, and the ridership from the millions of visitors to South Florida and the state's theme parks makes high-speed service viable. But the recession's impact on Florida makes an even more compelling case to award the grants to the Sunshine State." "Rail grants are just the ticket for Florida".
RPOF has "a host of big problems"
Jane Healy: "With the ouster of Florida Republican Party chairman Jim Greer this month, state Republicans have found themselves with a host of big problems to overcome in this election year. But can they do it?"
Problem No. 1: The GOP is losing ground in key counties. ...See what she means here: "GOP has holes to fill after Greer debacle". Related: "Al Austin endorses Sharon Day for GOP Chair".
Problem No. 2: Money dried up.
Feds step in, yet again
"The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has approved the conservation of a 4,000-acre chunk of private land for Florida panther habitat." "Private land to be set aside for panthers".
The Orlando Sentinel editorial board: "Crises, like the one burning holes in government budgets throughout Florida, should compel officials to try out innovative strategies to overcome them. Responsible strategies."
Instead, they are promising the state billions of dollars annually if it opens its west coast to near-shore drilling, though rigs off Texas net just $45 million annually, and a major oil spill could cripple Florida's tourism industry.Those complaints about the Legislature are all well and good, but the government haters on the Sentinel's editorial board can't restrain themselves - they go further, and climb into bed with their favorite right winger, U.S. Rep. John Mica, who actually wants to pursue "the privatization" the state's toll roads.
They held an economic summit promoting lower taxes, though Florida already is one of the lowest taxed states in the nation.
They hawked a silly scheme to tax motorists by the mile, a plan that would strip away the economic incentive to buy environmentally friendly vehicles.
And many of these officials won't even consider merging some of their government operations, which could save taxpayers many millions.
You see, the editors think it would be swell if government employees (you know, those greedy workers who ask for pensions, health insurance and all that commie stuff), were replaced by God (and boss) fearing private sector employees. In that connection, the editor's snidely remark in their editorial that
Privatization's opponents don't voice, however, what might really trouble them: the knowledge that a well-run private operation could cost some government workers their jobs (while saving taxpayers money)."A new way forward".
What the editors apparently don't know is that the operation of Florida's toll roads was privatized more than a decade ago. Consider this perspective - from a lowly toll worker - a voice never heard on the pages of Florida's newspaper companies:
The state outsourced all of us in 1996 to a company named Barton Security. Later, they were bought out by Allied Security and called Allied/Barton. The only thing that changed was that the benefits that employees received got less and we had to contribute more."Employment at Florida's Toll Roads".
In 2007 that contract was up for re-bid and the successful bidder this time was a company named Faneuil Group. ...
The one thing that happened immediately was hiring of a total new management team (who seem to manage mostly autocratically) because the treatment of collectors and supervisors got worse again. The benefits also got much worse. The health insurance plan (which is very important to employees today) is entirely laughable. It covers approximately 2 days in the hospital annually or $10,000.00 total annually.
The State of Florida, then, has already "sav[ed] taxpayer money" by contracting out the toll collection public employee work force (and replaced them with low paid, low benefit workers)*. And now the Sentinel editors want to sell off public resources by "leasing" the road infrastructure itself to private operators? How much will be enough for these government haters?
By the way, hasn't this "idea" already been tried (unsuccessfully) before? See this May, 2009 article: "State lease plan for Alligator Alley hits bump".
- - - - - - - - - -
*These contract employees are of course too afraid to unionize; and who can blame them, when they hear what happens to Florida employees that try to unionize, like their fellow workers down the road at the (former) Grosvenor Hotel, who had the temerity to try and negotiate a union contract: "44 longtime employees whom [the] Florida resort illegally fired" had to wait 12 years for their backpay, and even then they were "denied full back pay". See Harold Myerson's Washington Post column, "National Labor Ruination Board".
This will come as no surprise: the The Orlando Sentinel editorial board is opposed to the Employee Free Choice Act.
"Foreclosed homes leave remaining owners to pick up the tab".
Florida workers take heart!
"Legoland Florida will thrive".
The Saint Petersburg Times editors: "Some of the state's leading business organizations are stepping up their efforts to persuade the Legislature to raise the standards for public education. That is commendable. But for all the commonsense recommendations in the Council of 100's new report ... there is a major omission typical of the business lobby's approach in Tallahassee. While they talk a good game about investing in education, they fail to offer up any sources of funding."
Only federal stimulus dollars have kept thousands of teachers in the classroom, and the federal money will disappear soon. A day of reckoning is coming, and Florida business has a responsibility to help find ways to pay for the educational excellence they are embracing. Yet the Florida Chamber of Commerce has regularly stood in the way of overhauling the state's outdated tax structure, which is the key to paying for better schools and spawning that new economy. It has not embraced taxing Internet sales in a meaningful way or extending the sales tax to services. The report recommends a one-time infusion of $1.75 billion for higher education over the next five years, but it does not suggest where the money would come from."On school reform, just talk won't do".
The Sun-Sentinel editorial board: "The Public Service Commission seems to have gotten it just about right in its decision on FPL's rate increase. The utility sought a huge $1.27 billion rate increase. The PSC approved a small fraction of that amount, $75.5 million worth."
FPL, predictably, was unhappy with the PSC's ruling. "This [decision] was based on politics, not economics," said Lew Hay, the company's chairman."FPL should back PSC reforms if it thinks its decisions are politicized".
Sour grapes? Maybe.
But Floridians should give Hay the benefit of the doubt. They should encourage Hay, if he believes the PSC really is politicized, to back reforms to make the regulatory body more of an administrative law panel.
Doing so would create a much higher threshold for ethical and professional standards, giving Floridians, including FPL and the other regulated companies, a greater level of comfort about the quality of the decisions rendered.
"As goes Massachusetts, so goes Florida?"
Myriam Marquez hugs her man this morning: "Former House Speaker Marco Rubio is salivating at Scott Brown's U.S. Senate victory in Massachusetts, as he should."
Rubio is young and attractive and a powerful speaker, even if you disagree with him as he stumps to be the next GOP senator from Florida. Rubio hasn't posed in the buff for Cosmopolitan, which didn't seem to hurt Brown the hottie."Florida Senate race comes down to independents".
Florida Democrats say there's no comparison because, unlike Massachusetts, Florida's majority in the Legislature, the governor and most of the Cabinet are Republican. Surely, they say, voters will blame the GOP for Florida's unemployment, foreclosures and struggling schools and health services. They point to gains made in Democratic voter registration, too.
Pobrecitos, they're just not getting it.
Good luck with that
"Crist, Florida try to reverse spring training exodus".
Marco "not for the faint of heart"
Kathleen Parker: "It may not qualify as a trend yet, but it is impossible to avert one's gaze from the puddles of blood surfacing in certain politicians' photo albums."
It started with you-know-who from Alaska, who won carnivore hearts when it became known that she could field dress a moose [or so she claims]. ..."Rubio's 'dead hog'".
Then came Christmas greetings from Republican Marco Rubio, former speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, who is in a primary battle against Gov. Charlie Crist for the U.S. Senate. We all have our version of the holiday dinner, but Rubio took us behind the scenes, tweeting photos of the 2009 Rubio family Christmas Eve pig.
Although it wasn't clear whether Rubio had killed the animal or wielded the butcher knife himself, one photo shows a dead hog on a table as a man slices into its haunch. "Warning, picture not for the faint of heart,'' Rubio graciously tweeted. Indeed.
"Time to call a halt to the war on drugs"
Right winger Kingsley Guy argues that a "sensible idea coming out of California is — hold onto your hats — legalizing and taxing marijuana."
I already can hear the reaction from self-anointed Florida "conservatives." It goes something like this:"War on drugs: Time for Florida to legalize and tax marijuana".
"Are you nuts? We'd be turning the state over to drug-crazed, hippie, liberal, Godless reprobates. Anyone advocating such a course of action would be doing the work of the devil."
To which, I would counter: "Those who have argued for an end to the un-winnable drug war include the late William F. Buckley, the intellectual godfather of the modern conservative movement; the late Milton Friedman, the free-market economist whose economic thinking laid the foundation of the modern conservative movement; and George P. Shultz, Ronald Reagan's venerable secretary of State." ...
Florida isn't California, and marijuana legalization and taxation will be more difficult to sell here. But it's time to start pushing hard for it. The cause could get a lift from the "tea party" movement. Tea-party libertarians need to convince the so-called "conservatives" waving placards next to them (many of whom never heard of Buckley, Friedman or Shultz) that it's time to call a halt to the war on drugs.
"A more immediate problem"
"Put aside the furor about national health care reform. Florida leaders have a more immediate problem. With jobs disappearing and incomes sinking, Floridians are increasingly turning to the government-run Medicaid program for health care -- driving up costs and playing a major role in a potential $3 billion state budget shortfall next year." "Medicaid draining state's wallet".
Rothstein, Crist and Jebbie
"Hundreds packed an auction to buy alleged Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein's personal items and pick through the pieces of the life of one of South Florida's biggest con men."
Broward Democratic Party chairman Mitch Ceasar purchased a post-campaign thank-you letter that Republican Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti wrote to Rothstein."In Fort Lauderdale, Scott Rothstein's items go to the highest bidder".
Sergio Pino, a Miami builder who raised money for Crist in the past, grinned and posed with his purchases: framed photos of Rothstein with Crist and with former Gov. Jeb Bush.
"Two historic pictures: one with the best governor we ever had: Jeb. One with the worst governor we ever had: Charlie Crist,'' said Pino, who has grown disenchanted with the sitting governor, now running for the U.S. Senate.
Pino was once Crist's campaign finance chairman but stepped down in 2006 amid a probe related to Pino's fundraising activities. He was never charged.
"Rothstein's stain also seeped into politics."
Rothstein and those in his inner circle at the law firm, including former name partners Stuart Rosenfeldt and Russell Adler, donated $2.2 million to Crist, Republican presidential nominee John McCain, the state GOP, the Florida Democratic Party and state chief financial officer Alex Sink, among others."Disgust among voters about politicians' ties to people such as Rothstein could create a mood that makes incumbents ripe for upsets if they face credible challengers, he said."
The Democratic Party, along with Crist and Sink, have returned the tainted donations. The GOP returned $145,000 donated by Rothstein himself -- but not the $483,000 contributed by the firm and other lawyers.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions were also showered on political groups backing Broward sheriff's candidates Al Lamberti and Scott Israel in 2008.
The possible upshot: Candidates and elected officials "are going to be far more cautious about doing research about who they are getting money from in the future,'' said Jim Kane, a Broward-based pollster.
Perhaps no one will be more vulnerable than Crist, who received about $86,000 from Rothstein and others in his law firm for a U.S. Senate bid. Crist, whose popularity has plummeted with the dismal economy, has drawn a feisty GOP primary challenge from former state House Speaker Marco Rubio."City, nonprofits, politics hit by legacy of destruction".
Several photos of Rothstein embracing Crist -- especially one where both are blowing out the candles on Crist's birthday cake in 2008 -- have been reprinted in the media and could wind up in campaign ads.
The Sun-Sentinel editorial board: "Sheriff adds to awkwardness of aide's Rothstein connection, gift-reporting lapse". Michael Mayo: "Rothstein auction fetches $182,310 for Ponzi victims, creditors".
Words mean things
"Republicans head to Waikiki to work on strategy".