The Miami Herald editorial board: "As the session opens this week in Tallahassee, it’s becoming ever more evident that state legislators have little enthusiasm for one of Gov. Rick Scott’s top goals: enacting new tax cuts for business or any other group. That’s because of the elephant crowded into the lawmakers’ two chambers — the $3.6 billion deficit."
Mr. Scott wants to cut 8,700 state workers and trim $703 million from education — both proposals overreach and rightly have gotten little support from lawmakers."Wield budget ax like a scalpel".
The Orlando Sentinel editorial board: "Legislative session: Long-odds legislation".
More: "With session looming, Scott looks to reshape state", "On tap for 2011 session: Budget cuts, Medicaid and pension changes", "GOP legislators dig in for deep cuts", "Florida Legislature: Budget brawl set to get under way Tuesday" and "Session will focus on budget cuts, tenure, merit pay".
"Scott Maxwell and Mike Thomas: We agree on one thing: Legislative session is going to get ugly".
Meet Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, national embarassment
"Responding to news that state Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, has filed what one right-wing organization is dubbing an 'anti-Shariah' law, Nezar Hamze, executive director of the South Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, tells The Florida Independent that Hays’ bill could impact believers in all faiths and that its filing shows Hays is 'disconnected' from his constituents and Florida’s 'real problems.'" "‘Anti-Shariah’ law shows Sen. Hays ‘disconnected’ from ‘real problems’". See also "Right-wing organizations tout ‘anti-Shariah’ law filed in Tallahassee".
Right wing pension lies
"From state legislatures to Congress to tea party rallies, a vocal backlash is rising against what are perceived as too-generous retirement benefits for state and local government workers. However, that widespread perception doesn’t match reality."
A close look at state and local pension plans across the nation, and a comparison of them to those in the private sector, reveals a more complicated story. However, the short answer is that there’s simply no evidence that state pensions are the current burden to public finances that their critics claim."Actually, employee pensions aren’t bankrupting states".
Pension contributions from state and local employers aren’t blowing up budgets. They amount to just 2.9 percent of state spending, on average, according to the National Association of State Retirement Administrators. The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College puts the figure a bit higher at 3.8 percent.
Though there’s no direct comparison, state and local pension contributions approximate the burden shouldered by private companies. The nonpartisan Employee Benefit Research Institute estimates that retirement funding for private employers amounts to about 3.5 percent of employee compensation.
Nor are state and local government pension funds broke. They’re underfunded, in large measure because — like the investments held in 401(k) plans by American private-sector employees — they sunk along with the entire stock market during the Great Recession of 2007-2009. And like 401(k) plans, the investments made by public-sector pension plans are increasingly on firmer footing as the rising tide on Wall Street lifts all boats.
The partisan Collins "report" on pensions is beginning to be exposed for the garbage it is. See "Collins Institute's Partisan Pension Report". Related: "Shills masquerading as newspaper editors".
Meanwhile, the Tribune Company keeps parroting League of Cities propaganda: "City pensions: Nice checks for retirees, big worries for local elected officials".
More: "Times: Major pension reform battle looms in Legislature".
While the rest of us were sleeping ...
"A Daytona Beach firefighter is recovering from injuries after the first level of a burning home collapsed and dropped him into the basement. The firefighter was searching for victims in Friday night's house fire when the floor gave way." "Fla. firefighter injured after floor collapses".
Farmworkers Publix rally
"More than 1,500 farmworkers and their advocates rallied for better pay at Publix stores Saturday, calling for the supermarket chain to pay workers a penny more per pound for tomatoes. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers group wrapped up a five-city national tour Saturday. Supporters from church groups also joined coalition members for the Tampa events. Around 30,000 workers harvest Florida's $619 million tomato crop." "Farmworkers target Tampa Publix stores in protests".
"Florida legislators flock to Twitter".
"Florida is ground zero for the revolution"
Stephen Goldstein: "America is in the final stages of becoming a corporate socialist state — and Florida is ground zero for the revolution. It is a calculated strategy to gut government (ideally down to nothing) and redistribute your tax dollars into the hands of private enterprise. We are long overdue for major doses of truth to counter the commonly accepted lies behind such social engineering."
Government should create a positive climate for business. But its primary duty is to protect the public interest, not to hand over the workings and revenues of government to for-profit corporations. Gov. Rick Scott and his tea-party/Republican cohorts need to be made to understand such nuances. Corporate socialism is still socialism! And the revolution ain't foiled 'til the bald guy blinks!"GOP economic lies: Government is NOT the enemy".
Update: On Feb. 24, 17 days after making my first call, I contacted the governor's office a third time to ask if his financial holdings were in a blind trust and, if so, who was managing it. I was told someone would get back to me, but no one has.
Here's an idea: reform Florida's tax structure
The Tampa Tribune editorial board: "Some 3 million Floridians, the majority children, depend on Medicaid, but the cost is spiraling northward of $20 billion annually — that's 30 percent of the state budget. The state doesn't have the money to keep going at this rate without sacrificing other key programs. During the legislative session that convenes Tuesday, Medicaid reform may be lawmakers' most important task. Legislators can't abandon the poor, but they must make difficult decisions about which medical services the state can afford." "Medicaid reform a priority".
Kochs fueling Florida's union bashing
"To christen the Tuesday start of the 60-day lawmaking session, tea party groups will be hosting rallies in Tallahassee, with transportation help from the David Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity. They'll duel with public employee and teacher unions that are fighting proposals to cut Florida's budget and make pension benefits less lucrative." "On Wisconsin! Can Gov. Scott use unions for political gain?".
Behind closed doors
Adam C. Smith: "The influential conservative group Club for Growth held a presidential cattle call of sorts this weekend outside Palm Beach, featuring potential presidential candidates: Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Alas, the club wouldn't allow reporters in, because each of these men has a record ripe for sharp questions from CFGers who prefer purity when it comes to fiscal conservatism." "Club for Growth's presidential cattle call is held behind closed doors".
Why did they get those PhDs Again?
"The average salary for a Florida teacher last year was under $47,000, compared with a national average of about $55,000, according to a recently released report from the National Education Association. The report ranked Florida's teacher salaries at 37th in the country in 2009-10 and estimated the state's rankings would fall to 47th this year." "Greedy Educators?"
Scott may next outlaw the written word
"Scott, who has already said that he doesn’t read newspapers on a regular basis, has decided to forgo the use of electronic correspondence as part of his daily routine. This is a change from the campaign trail, where Scott could be found scanning and responding to e-mails on his iPad between campaign stops. But Scott’s decision to forgo e-mails means that news organizations can’t make public records requests that could reveal some of the logic of Scott’s decision-making process." "Trying to look behind the curtain of the Scott administration".
The Tampa Tribune editors: "A mighty political effort over many months, not to mention years of planning, was required to get the federal money flowing. In one day the governor arbitrarily shut down the whole process." "The heavy cost of doing nothing".
"Preparing to shore up the finances of the Republican National Committee for an election cycle expected to include more than $2 billion in presidential campaign spending, recently elected chairman Reince Priebus will be in St. Petersburg Wednesday morning." "GOP chief is coming".
All the world's a golf course
"A newly-filed measure would require the state to build at least five golf courses across Florida." "Florida may team up with Jack Nicklaus to build golf courses on state park lands".
A run on bulldozers and front end loaders
"Is there no such thing as a good regulation? Or is it that there are just too many of them? Folks in Tallahassee these days have been saying yes to both questions. " "Sticking to the rules: Is there too much state red tape?". See also "In environmental regulation, Florida wants to be left alone".
"Insurers and other businesses are riding a wave of deregulation fever and capitalist ideology espoused by Gov. Rick Scott and embraced by a Republican Legislature determined to live up to its conservative roots." "Lawmakers to tackle insurance reform".
Heaven help us
This person claims to have a college degree.
Haridopolos not up for National Book Award
"Democrats in Florida haven't had much reason to smile in recent months, so they can thank Mike Haridopolos, the Florida Senate president and U.S. Senate candidate, for providing considerable yuks last week. Eight years ago, Brevard Community College paid Haridopolos, a teacher and hometown state senator, $152,000 to write a textbook about Florida politics and the Legislature. The college printed just one copy of the book, but last week it was made available online, Florida Democratic Party communications director Eric Jotkoff gleefully tweeted assorted excerpts and pearls of wisdom from Haridopolos' taxpayer-funded book". "Haridopolos book becomes Twitter fodder".
The Sun Sentinel editorial board: "Everglades cuts are coming but they can't be disproportionate".
Teabaggers wet themselves
"Bachmann, who says she hasn't decided whether she'll run for president, hit some of the compulsory notes for a Republican White House aspirant in remarks to a South Florida Tea Party crowd of more than 200."
She criticized judicial activism, called for abolition of the U.S. Department of Education and urged tougher U.S. responses to illegal immigration and Islamist terrorism. And the U.S. House Tea Party Caucus leader said Republicans must win the presidency and both chambers of Congress next year if they are to roll back the Democrat-authored [sic*] health care law, which she called "the crown jewel of socialism.""Bachmann plays presidential 'parlor game,' preaches message with Jupiter tea party visit". Related: "Michele Bachmann Describes Obama's 'Gangster Government'".
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*The alleged journalistic has forgotten that it is the "Democratic" party. See the New Yorker's "The 'Ic' Factor".
The Saint Petersburg Times editorial board buys into tenure busting: "Tempest over teachers".
Vern issues a press release!
"Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, today announced a piece of legislation 'to crack down' on Florida’s pill mills. If enacted, the law will 'double the penalties and triple the fines for drug violators' and use assets seized to fund prescription drug databases in states like Florida. According to a press release, it will also 'reclassify one of the most abused and deadly narcotics to make it more difficult to obtain.'" "Buchanan introduces bill ‘to crack down’ on pill mills".
Gotta problem' wit dat?
"Naples lawmaker’s proposal would speed up, simplify foreclosures".
"Parties get behind mayoral candidates in nonpartisan Tampa runoff elections". See also "Tom Scott endorses Bob Buckhorn for Tampa mayor".
"Murman switches tracks on rail".
When did lil' Connie become a "Maverick"?
Someone at the The Miami Herald is buying into the Connie Mack story: "Maverick Connie Mack keeps GOP Senate field waiting on 2012 run".
Castor to South Asia
"After an 'intensive, three-day review of military operations in Afghanistan,' Congresswoman Kathy Castor (D-Tampa) said she is confident that U.S. forces can begin to leave in July, as has been anticipated by the Obama administration and Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan." "Castor visits Afghanistan for update on military role".
The best they can do?
"State Rep. Dean Cannon quickly climbed to a Republican leadership role in the House. Now he must manage a Republican-led, veto-proof Legislature." "Cannon reaches top of Republican leadership".
"Mike Haridopolos is walking a political tightrope in his role as Senate president in Tallahassee and as a 2012 U.S. Senate candidate." "Senate president walks political tightrope".
Shut up, do nothing, be safe
"In an ominous sign for Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez and Commissioner Natacha Seijas, a new poll finds widespread voter unhappiness as the recall election quickly approaches." "Alvarez, Seijas appear headed for ouster".
That knuckle-dragging, foam at the mouth, long strings of green drool kind of hate
The News-Journal is kind enough to actually quote real, live union representatives in an editorial today: "Laura Cloer has been lobbying for more education funding since her 21-year-old daughter was in kindergarten. Every year as the Legislature disappointed her, she would say it can't get any worse."
Stacy Stepanovich knows the feeling. As the president of the Volusia/Flagler AFL-CIO looks ahead to Tuesday's start of the annual 60-day legislative session, she can't help but feel it will bring bad news for the 26,000 workers her union represents in the two-county area. ...For the sake of "balance", the editors found it necessary to turn to one of the biggest hypocrites in recent Florida political history, a fellow named Freddie Costello. Representative Costello's wisdom can be read here. The bottom line is that Costello simply hates - and we mean the knuckle-dragging, foam at the mouth, long strings of green drool kind of hate - the fact that public employees have the temerity to vote and, worse still, form associations to support political candidates.
In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott has called for employees to contribute 5 percent of their salary to the Florida retirement system as a way to shore up the budget and pension plan. Other lawmakers -- including Sen. John Thrasher, who represents parts of Volusia and Flagler counties -- have proposed measures that would restrict union activities. ...
For the workers on the wrong end of those cuts, it does no good to remind lawmakers of the tax breaks that were passed when times were flush -- and sometimes even when they weren't. Calls for tax reform that might increase revenues fall on deaf ears in the Republican-controlled Legislature, where leaders say they risk prolonging the recession if they raise taxes on businesses or individuals.
The debate leaves the teachers, firefighters, government office workers and others who make up the bulk of public employees suspicious of lawmakers' motives.
"It's larger than balancing the budget," Stepanovich said. "If it were about balancing the budget, we could look at our antiquated tax structure. We could look at things that actually would balance the budget."
The editors channel Costello for the absurd proposition that Florida's public employees - whose "contracts" as we know are unilaterally determined by public employers - are somehow more powerful than private sector employees because of, you know ... that democracy thing: that outrageous process where cops and firefighters (and God forbid teachers) have the audacity to support political candidates who think crazy things like disability pensions are OK*.
The editors put it this way:
While collective bargaining rights for public employees are protected in Florida's constitution (unlike Wisconsin), there are significant differences between public and private union bargaining that have led lawmakers to look closely at the process."Will Florida lawmakers target unions?". You read that right - Costello (who understandably might be mistaken for Bud's partner) - actually believes that Florida's public employee unions are somehow more powerful than unionized employees in the private sector; you know, the folks that brought you the week end via the right to strike.
For example, public employees -- through the voting booth [gasp!] -- can have a powerful say in who winds up at the negotiating table with them. Also, while private workers have to temper their demands against threats that a company could go bankrupt, there are fewer constraints against public unions.
"For years public employees had a lower salary so they were able to negotiate for enhanced benefits," Costello said. "Over the last 20 years, through collective bargaining with well-meaning local elected officials, their salaries grew. Now, not only are they making more, but they continue to have superior benefits. Now the pendulum has to swing back to bring them back in line with the private sector.
We've previously explained the abject falsity of teabaggerish claims that Florida's miserly public employee bargaining laws work to coerce public employers to dole out wages, benefits and brown paper bags filled with cash to all-powerful unionized teachers, firefighters, cops and other public employees.
Although the right of Florida's public employees to unionize and bargain is a fundamental constitutional right, these rights been reduced by the Florida Legislature to merely permitting employees to form an association and obligating the employer to "bargain" with the association; and, in the event the parties can't reach agreement in "bargaining", the public employer essentially has the unilateral ability to do whatever it wants."Media poodles raise their paws in opposition to Florida union busting".
Florida's public employers are not required to agree to anything (except non-substantive provisions relating to arbitration and voluntary dues deduction), and just about everything else is subject to the unilateral determination by the public employer. The only "pressure" a Florida public employee union [**] can bring to bear is precisely the same power as that as any other group of individuals - at the ballot box.
Section 447.403, Florida Statutes provides as follows regarding the resolution of public employee-employer bargaining impasses: "(1) If, after a reasonable period of negotiation concerning the terms and conditions of employment to be incorporated in a collective bargaining agreement, a dispute exists between a public employer and a bargaining agent, an impasse shall be deemed to have occurred", and if the non-binding arbitration process fails to result in a contract, the statute provides in subsections (4)(c) and (d) that "[t]he legislative body [the city or county commission or Florida legislature, depending on who the public employer is] shall forthwith conduct a public hearing at which the parties shall be required to explain their positions with respect to the rejected recommendations of the special magistrate ... Thereafter, the legislative body shall take such action as it deems to be in the public interest, including the interest of the public employees involved, to resolve all disputed impasse issues". Game over - the final decision on contract terms is made by the employer.
The only exception in the statute to the public employer's absolute unilateral power to decide contract terms, including wages, hours and benefits (including pensions) is that "the legislative body’s action shall not take effect with respect to those disputed impasse issues which establish the language of contractual provisions which could have no effect in the absence of a ratified agreement, including, but not limited to, preambles, recognition clauses, and duration clauses." (Section 447.403(4)(e), Florida Statutes[***]). Oh yeah, and then there's the part when employees already can quit the union and stop paying dues whenever they want. (Section 447.301 and 447.303, Florida Statutes).
And this is the oppressive "public employee bargaining" process that somehow coerces elected officials into handing out unseemly wages, benefits and pensions?
As for political activity, public employees associating with each other (an activity already constitutionally protected (to wit: the freedom of association)) and chipping in to support political candidates is no different than the influence effected by realtors, the chambers of commerce, and the many other associations that interface with state and local government, including the nascent orgy of teabaggerists.
The difference, of course, is that public employee union members, like their private sector brethren, generally support causes aligned with the interests of working people.
And that's the real problem Costello, Thrasher, Scott and the rest of the teabaggers have with public employee unions, isn't it? Unions usually generally support causes and candidates aligned with the interests of working people, and we can't have that.
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* Ironically, we read this morning that, just a hop, skip and a jump from Costello's beach house, "A Daytona Beach firefighter is recovering from injuries after the first level of a burning home collapsed and dropped him into the basement. The firefighter was searching for victims in Friday night's house fire when the floor gave way."
** Because Florida employees are not required to join a union or pay dues, or indeed any fee at all to a union for its services (although they are free to enjoy the wages and benefits negotiated by their fellow employees who do contribute to being unionized), a public employee union in Florida is simply a voluntary association of employees: that is to say they employees voluntarily vote to unionize in a secret ballot election, voluntarily choose to join the union, and voluntarily choose to pay dues. Non-members are of course entitled to vote by secret ballot on whether to ratify their contracts, and even whether they want to maintain unionized status.
*** Stated differently, the only statutory limits on Florida public employers unilateral authority to decide everything, any way they want is that public employers can't decide certain non-substantive, technical things that are unique to ratified contracts, like "preambles, recognition clauses, and duration clauses".