"Florida is a mega-Wisconsin"
"We are all Wisconsinites! It's coup-time across America — and especially in Florida. November 2010 wasn't just any election. In addition to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Republican governors with all-Republican state legislatures now have unprecedented power radically to alter the nation. They have met and plotted; they speak and act from the same script. This is not conspiracy theory; it is documentable collusion."
Florida is a mega-Wisconsin: We're such a big electoral prize that Rick Scott and the almost-all Republican Legislature have launched a four-pronged strategy to make sure they live up to their commitment to the coup — with a vengeance. ...Much more: "GOP coup: Party planning union-busting all over".
Prong 1: Union-busting. Three bills are making their way through the Florida Legislature aimed at seriously undercutting financial support for Democrats by gutting the state's public unions — like prohibiting them from using payroll deductions to collect dues and restricting collective bargaining.
"Thunderous impacts on the Sunshine State"
This just in, from the right wing Orlando Sentinel editorial board: "To see what the Legislature ends up doing to Rick Scott's slash and burn budget proposal, you'll have to tune in toward the end of its 60-day session. But just two weeks in, lawmakers already have sent to the governor a bill changing how the state evaluates and pays its teachers. And lawmakers are speeding or crafting other bits of business that, should they become law, will have thunderous impacts on the Sunshine State." "Legislative session: Good, bad, in between".
Obama Goes After Scott
"Obama Goes After Florida Governor For Rejecting High-Speed Rail Funds".
"The Legislature's comprehensive oil spill recovery proposal shot out of the Senate on Wednesday with unanimous approval for $10 million in economic aid, relaxed standards for business-friendly incentive programs and a promise to focus on the eight hardest-hit counties on the Gulf Coast." "Oil spill recovery proposal wins Senate approval".
"Playing 52-card pickup with the judicial branch"
Howard Troxler asks "Why do we need three branches of government, anyway? What an old-fashioned idea, that they should serve as a check and balance on each other!"
Nope. If you get elected governor of Florida, or if you have the most votes in the Legislature, you should be able to do whatever you want. To the victor, you know. "Legislature seeks to saw off the judicial branch". Related: "Florida courts face a new day".
And so not surprisingly, for its next trick, the Legislature this year intends to play 52-card pickup with the judicial branch of Florida's government....
Two state Supreme Courts, newly packed with the governor's buddies. A totally political nominating system with no check on the governor's choices. Appeals judges subject to being removed on the spot if the Legislature doesn't like a ruling. The Legislature controlling the rules of evidence, of procedure, and operation of the judicial branch.
It is revolution. It is constitutional usurpation. It is practically a whole new form of government.
But I'll tell you what it ain't. It ain't "conservative."
Republican pension mendacity
Mary Ellen Klas writes that "time after time the audience erupted in applause Thursday as a dozen speakers pleaded with a House committee to reject a pension-reform bill opponents believe punishes all 655,000 employees in the Florida Retirement System for the excesses of a few."
More than half of workers in the Florida Retirement System earn less than $40,000. The average annual benefit for retirees is $17,465. At least 297 executive branch workers earn salaries low enough to qualify them for Medicaid."Scott’s selective use of the state data [on his web site] unleashed an angry rebuke from workers and unions."
“It seems to me that public-sector employees are now the easy target to close the budget deficit,’’ said Jean Pilgrim, a school district auditor from Escambia County who took a week’s vacation with her husband to come to Tallahassee to protest the pension changes.
She cited Congressional Quarterly, which ranked Florida 45th in the nation for total teacher salary and benefits, and warned that the “additional 5 percent tax” would force thousands of school employees across the state to choose between paying groceries or making church offerings.
Absent from the web site is data that puts the list of high earners into context. For example, the Florida Department of Management Services calculates that the average FRS employee earns a salary of $34,651, retires with 21 years of service, and collects an average annual benefit of $11.642, or $970 a month. Of the 304,337 beneficiaries in the state retirement system, fewer than two in 1,000 – .17 percent – draw more than $100,000 a year.Follow this alleged logic:
“We need to get things more in line with what the private sector is doing and taxpayers can’t afford the rich benefits that state employees have,’’ said Rep. Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach."Pension battle overlooks the deeper numbers". Related: "State workers, teachers to pay 5 percent to pension fund under House proposal".
Templin of the AFL-CIO countered, saying state workers are already at a disadvantage when pay and benefits are combined. “The average public sector worker makes $2,000 less than the public sector counterparts,” he said, and for teachers and other employees with a college degree, the salary gap “balloons to $22,000.’’
The sponsor of the House bill, Rep. Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne, said there’s no turning back from requiring employees to pay a portion of their salary into their retirement.
“We are elected by the people and people want public pensions to mirror the private sector,’’ he said. “The argument that you took this job because of the great pension does not work today..’’
Rick Watson of the Florida Education Association disagreed. He told the House committee that the average annual retirement benefit for a teacher who has worked 30 years is $22,419, and the average ending salary is $46,708 – just slightly higher than the $45.631 median salary in Florida.
Frank Fabrizio, a captain with the Orange County Sheriff’s office, urged legislators to be careful with their reforms and to consider two deputies in his department who died in the last month because of their public service – one after contracting a viral infection from mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on an infant ...
The Palm Beach Post editorial board: "On teacher tenure, new standard will be student 'growth,' with 'growth' still to be defined".
While we were sleeping ...
"Two people were killed and a third wounded early Sunday after police responded to reports of shots fired". "2 die, 1 wounded in West Palm shooting".
"Florida lawmakers are considering a massive overhaul of the federal/state program that provides health care to low-income and disabled persons that would shuttle a majority of the state's 2.9 million Medicaid clients to HMO-style plans. But there are key differences between a House plan, approved this week, and a proposal pending in the Senate. Among them: who would be put into managed care, how to hold providers accountable and when the plans would take effect." "House and Senate Medicaid reform plans differ".
Waitin' on the jobs
"While Gov. Rick Scott and lawmakers work on proposals to streamline and improve state efforts to attract jobs, other bills focus on giving local government greater flexibility as well." "Bills would give local governments greater flexibility".
"The NRA has wandered off the gun range"
Scott Maxwell: "It's a bad time to be a sensible gun owner in Florida. Because the NRA has wandered off the gun range."
So extreme and dangerous are the National Rifle Association's latest positions that it's picking fights with everyone from pediatricians to sheriffs."First pediatricians — now NRA aims at sheriffs".
That's right, sheriffs. The sworn men and women of law enforcement — those who literally live and die by their firearms — are among the NRA's latest targets.
"A teacher morale buster"
The Sarasota-Herald Tribune editorial board: "Florida Education Commissioner Eric Smith opined last week that Senate Bill 736 elevates 'the teaching profession to the esteemed level it deserves.'"
We don't buy that argument."Teachers deserve better. Related: "Deep Education Cuts Spark Widespread Scott Criticism".
The measure would basically end job security for incoming teachers and weld their pay schedule to student learning metrics that are notoriously hard to define.
We're all for accountability, but this measure is a teacher morale buster. The last thing teaching — a difficult job that is not a high-paying one — needs is further disincentives.
Education majors who read this bill may decide to give up on the classroom and seek other careers.
If so, we wouldn't blame them.
Rubio lies down with dogs
"Marco Rubio gave his first post-election national media interviews to reliable safe audiences: two conservative radio talk-show hosts. The debut got the radio set buzzing, with host Mark Levin asking Rubio if he’s considered running for president. And then there’s Rush Limbaugh. ... presidential prognosticator Larry Sabato was including Rubio as No. 10 in a second tier of potential presidential challengers." "Rubio Steps into National Spotlight".
"Moneyless merit pay"
Fred Grimm 'splains it all: "It’s a novel concept: moneyless merit pay."
The momentous education bill passed this week by the Legislature strips tenure protection from Florida public-school teachers. In return, if their students score well on standardized tests, if they wow their principals, teachers will be lavished with merit raises.Much more here: "Teacher merit pay is an illusionF".
Except the legislators didn’t bother with the nettlesome matter of funding their great reform.
No money to pay for the tests. ...
All newly hired teachers, beginning in July, can be signed only to one-year contracts. If their students ace their standardized tests, and the teachers receive favorable evaluations from their principals, they’ll be eligible for those illusionary merit raises. If they don’t do well on either count, of course, they’ll be zapped.
Current teachers, now muddling along with $5,000 a year less pay than the national average, will face a Hobson’s Choice in 2014. They can retain their tenure protection, but doing so means no raises. (Most districts haven’t given teachers a raise in two or three years as it is.)
Or they can forgo tenure, suck up to their principals and hope their students grasp just how much rides on the outcome of those despised tests, which will be expanded from core subjects to all curriculum.
Florida's economy not bouncing back as quickly as expected
"Florida's economy isn't bouncing back from recession as quickly as previously expected and events in Japan and the Middle East are having some effect."
The earthquake in Japan has disrupted the supply of automobiles and parts to the United States and tourism from that country is down."State economists reviewing Fla. revenue forecast".
Another negative factor is rising fuel prices due to political turmoil in oil-producing countries of the Middle East and north Africa.
The economists know corporate tax revenues have come in below estimate but aren't yet sure why because data to help explain the trend won't be available for another couple months.
"What we tried to do was hedge our bets," Baker said, so the corporate tax forecast is on the conservative side.
The estimate also does not include potential revenue losses due to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico for which the state would seek reimbursement from BP, the well's owner.
"Florida No. 1 in the nation"
"Here's another distinction Florida can do without — No. 1 in the nation for fraudulent tax returns filed from prison." "Florida No.1 for fraudulent tax returns filed from prison".
"Challenges that can't be glossed over by overheated growth"
the Saint Petersburg Times editors: "Despite its considerable challenges, the Sunshine State remains a beacon for many seeking a new life and new opportunities."
Behind the numbers is a more sobering assessment from the Brookings Institute's Metro Monitor analysis: Florida, with its 11.9 unemployment rate, still has five of the 20 worst performing metropolitan regions in the country: Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, Cape Coral, Miami, North Port and Palm Bay. Of the 100 metro areas studied by Brookings, the Tampa metro area ranks 86th in employment, 90th in unemployment, 83rd in gross metropolitan product and 85th in foreclosed real estate owned by lenders. So there are challenges here that can no longer be glossed over by overheated growth."Florida is still growing, but with pains".
"Already funded far below the national average"
The Miami Herald editors: "The new head of the Department of Children & Families is right: His agency and its partners were complicit in the tragic death of 10-year-Nubia Barahona. Secretary David Wilkins has pinned the blame not just on mistakes made by select employees, but on a systematic failure of Florida’s child welfare system."
Florida’s child-welfare system already is funded far below the national average and has child victimization rates far above national averages."Investment in child welfare system crucial".
"Potential powder keg with lawmakers"
Aaron Deslatte writes that "Scott's office is keeping $235 million in SunRail contracts on hold until this summer — a move that allows him to hold the train over [House Speaker Dean] Cannon until well after the session, and even a potential special budget-writing session if the governor vetoes lawmakers' budget."
"If anyone expects SunRail to serve as 'leverage' with the House, he or she will be sorely disappointed," Cannon said in a statement after Scott's announcement he was stalling the project. "While I support the project, I will not abandon responsible, conservative public policy for any infrastructure project.""Scott's SunRail freeze could set off legislators".
Scott said the delay would give him more time to listen to people's concerns over the project.
But it has the potential to be a powder keg with lawmakers already sore that Scott scuttled a $2.7 billion high-speed-rail line that would have drawn $2.4 billion in federal money.
When two lawmakers sued Scott, the Florida Supreme Court declined to order him to spend federal money that hadn't been appropriated. But the justices signaled during oral arguments that they might look differently on a case where the governor was refusing to spend already-appropriated state dollars.
In Alice in Wonderland fashion, that means a deal that will cost Florida taxpayers more than high-speed rail is more defensible for precisely that reason.
"If a budget is adopted and passed, he has a constitutional responsibility to faithfully follow that," said Senate Budget Chairman J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales.
"At some point in time, [a freeze] becomes an embargo and not a reasonable look at what's happening."
GOP lawmakers have stressed they didn't want to pick fights with a new governor from their own party who is still settling in. But if Scott does decide to deep-six SunRail, look for another court fight — and some bigger guns.
The Tampa Tribune editors: "Called "Smart Cap," the proposed constitutional amendment, when fully phased in, would allow government's taxes and fees to grow no faster than population plus inflation. Without super-majority approval, revenue per person would remain flat, even if the economy begins to boom. The cap is a bad idea. It is proposed because of politics, not fiscal necessity." "Tax cap: austerity evermore".
Florida "drying out interconnected lakes and springs"
"Central Florida finds itself again in murky and contentious waters. Earlier this month, government regulators roiled the region's utilities by warning that, despite the declines in water consumption, the continued pumping of hundreds of millions of gallons a day from the underground Floridan Aquifer is damaging the environment by draining or drying out interconnected lakes and springs." "Florida water worries clash with cost concerns".
"A 17 percent voter turnout does not a mandate make, but the 88-22 percent landslide vote last Tuesday to 'kick the rascals out' of Miami-Dade County Hall was indeed the tsunami of discontent that recall architect Norman Braman predicted a month ago." "With recall done, time to fix charter".
"A somewhat surprising turn of events"
The Daytona Beach News Journal editorial board: "While the budget ax is swinging in Tallahassee, addiction services could escape the worst of the cuts. That's a somewhat surprising -- and encouraging -- turn of events." "Scott recognizes value of addiction services".
"Ann Louise Bardach, a reporter for the Daily Beast and a Cuba expert for CBS news, was a contract writer with the New York Times in 1998 when she interviewed Luis Posada Carriles in Aruba, where he was hiding. Based on that interview, she co-wrote a series of articles for the Times saying Posada masterminded bombings between April and September 1997 in hotels and a tourist restaurant in Havana and a resort in Varadero beach that killed an Italian tourist and wounded about a dozen other people."
During a heated cross-examination of Bardach, defense attorney Arturo Hernandez insisted, "In your interviews with Mr. Posada, he never explicitly admitted to the bombing campaign.""Posada is not on trial for the bombings - only for lying about them to immigration officials, prompting charges that he interfered with a U.S. anti-terrorism investigation that explored whether Cuban-American exile leaders helped finance the attacks." "Jury hears tapes from interview with ex-operative".
"Yes he did!" Bardach exclaimed. "In a hundred ways he admits to the bombing campaign. He was proud of this."