"2.5 million Floridians on food stamps".
"Florida taxpayers could save hundreds of millions by severely cutting pension and insurance benefits for state employees, the head of the Legislature's fiscal watchdog agency told House and Senate members Monday." "Lawmakers look at savings possible by slashing state worker benefits".
"With lawmakers already frustrated over a lack of oversight, recent reports on the state's landmark $536 million Everglades agreement with U.S. Sugar Corp. may add momentum for a legislative response in an attempt to prevent a repeat of the controversial deal, a key House lawmaker said Monday."
Meanwhile, a scheduled meeting of the South Florida Water Management District's Board this week to extend the closing deadline for the contract that ends March 31 is also likely to provide a venue for renewed scrutiny of the May 2009 agreement for the district to purchase nearly 73,000 acres from the sugar company."Backers say the purchase is critical for Everglades restoration efforts. Critics, meanwhile, characterize it as a sweetheart deal for an otherwise financially strapped company and the law firm that represents it."
The deal originally called for the taxpayers in the water management taxing district's 16-county area across South Florida to spend $1.75 billion for 187,000 acres, about 300 square miles. Facing tough financial times, though, the agreement was renegotiated. If approved, the state will have the option to purchase an additional 107,000 acres."U.S. Sugar deal sparks call for oversight". Related: "Crist defends Glades deal".
Recent articles in The Miami Herald and a weekend piece by The New York Times have reignited debate over the already controversial transaction, potentially the most expensive land purchase in state history.
Much more in this updated dKos post: "Do we really need Charlie Crist after this news?".
Florida's fiscal outlook
"Many eyes in the Capitol will be focused Tuesday on an obscure team of economists who meet periodically to update Florida's fiscal outlook."
Known formally as the Revenue Estimating Conference, the forecasters will review an array of economic trends to fine-tune a consensus estimate of how much money the state can expect to take in this year from a multitude of tax sources."In Tallahassee today, state's economic forecast gets clearer". See also "Florida lawmakers today get a hard look at money available for state budget".
The bottom-line estimate is critical: The House and Senate use it to assemble the state budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
Crist gettin' nasty
Michael Bender: "Crist, in his appearance on Fox News last night, insinuated that the $135 Rubio spent at a salon might have been on a back wax. (The initial issue with the expenditure, of course, was that Rubio charged it to his Florida Republican Party credit card.) Crist said Rubio paid the party back 'after he got caught.'" "Crist on back waxing, Everglades restoration and Jeb Bush".
The Florida web takes a right(er) hand turn
"In Florida there are no rules governing who can get press credentials and start writing about state government and its major players in the Capitol. ... Florida the Capitol Police issue credentials after confirming the name of each employer and doing a criminal records check. There are no formal rules defining who can be a member of the press."
As a result, two years after traditional newspapers and television stations started laying off reporters and substantially cutting back on coverage of state news, a virtual herd of newspeople are going to work for Web-only publications. Some of the websites are clear about their ownership and purpose. Others are not."Some in press corps not revealing much about themselves".
A couple of the better-financed news Web operations have moved into the Florida Press Center, taking offices once occupied by newspapers that cut staff or eliminated capital bureaus. One of the new groups -- Sunshine State News -- has set up shop in a former Miami Herald suite with new furniture and a staff of about a half dozen reporters and editors who say they plan to emphasize business and politics on a free website.
The folks at Sunshine will not disclose the names of investors who are financing the operation. ...
Sunshine's corporate papers were initially filed by Justin Sayfie, a former communications director for Gov. Jeb Bush.
The Tampa Tribune editors: "If the groundwater around or beneath the homes of Florida lawmakers had been contaminated and they didn't find out about it until nearly two decades later, you can bet they'd quickly pass a law to make sure they'd never be kept in the dark about such things again."
The public deserves the same concern."The public's right to know". See generally The Sun-Sentinel editorial board's "Governor, lawmakers have an opportunity to bolster image as open-records proponents".
The state Department of Environmental Protection discovered a plume of paints and other toxic chemicals from a now-vacant defense plant had contaminated groundwater in an area of St. Petersburg in 1991. But 17 years went by before residents were informed.
Since the discovery, the plume, according to Sen. Charlie Justice's office, has "migrated 200 acres, affecting two apartment complexes, three neighborhoods, community parks, schools and the waters of Tampa Bay."
Such an inexcusable delay should never be tolerated again. When the environment is contaminated, affected residents need to be notified as quickly as possible. It is a matter of public health.
Yet, Justice, a St. Petersburg Democrat whose district includes part of Hillsborough County, and Rep. Rick Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg, have twice had to file bills that would mandate timely disclosure to residents of contamination of groundwater, surface water and soil.
The legislation failed to win passage last year, and this year appears to face tough sledding, too. Concerns have been voiced about compliance costs for companies and the additional expansion of government.
"The nation's largest voting-machine company probably won't be called a monopoly for much longer in Florida and other states. Under a proposed settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice and nine states that include Florida, Election Systems & Software will divest itself of its hardware, software and other assets it acquired after the $5 million purchase of Premier Election Solutions, a division of Diebold Inc. The state and federal governments released the draft settlement agreement Monday -- on the same day that the Justice Department and a group of attorneys general from states including Florida filed a civil anti-trust suit in Washington federal court." "Lawsuits pull the plug on voting-machine monopoly".
"2010 Legislature summary".
"The sponsor calls it a 'hammer.' The head of Florida's statewide teachers union says it's more like a 'nuclear weapon.'"
It's a provision in a wide-ranging teacher quality bill penalizing school districts that fail to adopt merit pay plans by cutting part of their state funding and forcing them to make up for it by increasing local property taxes."Various merit pay plans have been attempted in Florida over the past three decades, without much success."
The bill (SB 6) sponsored by Sen. John Thrasher, R-Jacksonville, also would reduce teacher job protection and make it easier for school officials to fire teachers. The legislation has drawn union opposition.
Thrasher, who also chairs the Florida Republican Party, said Monday his bill needs the penalty provision as an incentive for districts to adopt performance pay plans.
Only eight of Florida's 67 school districts participate in the current Merit Awards Program. Just five local teachers union leaders support Florida's application for about $1 billion in federal Race to the Top stimulus funding. The application features a pay plan similar to the one in Thrasher's bill.Much more here: "Union: Bill uses merit pay as weapon".
The penalty provision would cut state funding in an amount equal to 5 percent of what a district spends on salaries for teachers, principals and other school-based administrators. Districts also would have to raise property taxes an equal amount.
That would be a clear violation of the Florida Constitution, which gives school boards the authority to run local schools and determine taxing rates and a provision that guarantees employees the right to collectively bargain, said Ron Meyer, a lawyer for the teachers union. Meyer said several other parts of Thrasher's bill have similar constitutional problems.
"Though the number of coyote sightings is growing, especially in rural areas, efforts to trap and control the predatory animals remain sporadic and low-tech." "Florida tries to fend off wily coyotes".
" Florida community colleges face crunch, can't meet student demand".
"Partisanship at its most self-defeating, train-wrecking worst"
The Miami Herald editorial board: "At last week's Broward legislative delegation meeting, the majority Democratic members seemed to take umbrage that the sole Republican among them, state Rep. Ellen Bogdanoff, is taking the lead on getting an anti-corruption Broward bill passed in the Legislature. This is partisanship at its most self-defeating, train-wrecking worst." "Skip the partisan sniping".
"As her husband's billion-dollar fraud scheme was imploding last Halloween, Kim Rothstein went shopping for more shoes at Nordstrom. She liked expensive shoes. And Louis Vuitton handbags. Gucci accessories. Evening dresses by Zola Keller. Shirts, sweaters and jeans from Cache Luxe. She could burn through thousands of dollars on a shopping outing, or drop nearly $5,000 buying from a chic Los Angeles boutique online." "Kim Rothstein shopped so much that it's now all a blur".
"Open government advocates and a state senator who's had her own problems obtaining public records are backing a sweeping bill making it easier for people to get government records." "Getting public records could be easier under bill developed by Crist panel".
"Several more small startup property insurers in Florida are headed for insolvency, leaving tens of thousands of homeowners looking for a new company as hurricane season approaches June 1." "More new Florida property insurers in trouble".
"Six Orange County cities will go to the polls on March 9, 2010, to elect representatives and decide charter amendments. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m." "Orange elections: Voters to go to polls in 6 cities". See also "Polls open without problems and with few voters in Broward, Palm Beach counties".
Limit term limits
The Daytona Beach News Journal editorial board points out that "six states have repealed their legislative term limits. Battles or debates are ongoing in nine others to change or repeal term-limit laws, including in Florida, for good reason: Term limits work better in theory than in fact. They diminish voters' say. They reduce elected representatives' influence and accountability when those representatives are in their last term. Term-limited representatives who spend half their time learning the system and the other half racing the clock for influence end up yielding power to lobbyists, who know they'll outlast every term-limited representative. Democracy isn't improved. It's damaged."
The proposal to change Florida's term-limit system would mostly add to the harm."Term-limit overreach".
State Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, is proposing a constitutional amendment that would increase state senators' terms from four years to six years and increase state representative's terms from two years to four years. Senators could then serve two terms for a total of 12 years, increasing their total potential service by four years. House members could serve three consecutive terms, also increasing their potential service to 12 years. (Bennett's proposal is formulated in Senate Bill 598 and House Bill 495.) ...
Extending terms to six years in the Senate and four years in the House diminishes accountability and places bigger distances between the elected and their constituents. ...
Bennett also proposes to impose term limits on county elected officials, including constitutional officers such as sheriffs, tax assessors, clerks of courts and county commissioners. Years of service in those offices would also be limited to 12. That's an overreach. If county voters choose to impose term limits on their own county representatives, that should be up to them.
The best term limits remain in every voter's hands, and they're exercised at the ballot box.