Budget: "deep cuts to state services and employees"
"The Florida House and Senate will vote on their budgets Thursday, after two marathon days of discussions about the deep cuts coming to state services and employees." "Legislature’s top agenda item: the budget".
"The Florida Senate prepared a $69.8 billion budget for the 2011-2012 fiscal year for a floor vote Wednesday, coming in $3.3 billion ahead of the House budget, but including cuts to education, health care and state worker pensions."
The Senate budget is $700 million less than the current budget, but $4 billion over the budget recommended by Gov. Rick Scott. It incorporates several of Scott’s suggestions for consolidating state agencies, but senators also added amendments Wednesday that change Scott’s preferences for agencies under his own office. ..."Senate’s $69.8 Billion Budget Ready for Floor Vote". See also "Florida. lawmakers voting on austere budget bills" and House Tackles Budget, Pension Reform, Trust Funds"".
Florida's Medicaid program, which is funded at $20 billion this year, taking up nearly 30 percent of the state budget, is in line for an overhaul in separate legislation tracking through the Senate. It also received $1 billion in cuts Wednesday.
The majority of the cuts came in the form of slashing the Medically Needy program, which provides medical services for those who would not otherwise qualify for Medicaid, but whose medical condition causes financial strain. Patients in the program who currently receive benefits like eyeglasses and hearing aids would only receive funds for simple physician care.
Today in Tally
"Today in Tallahassee: House, Senate votes on budgets".
Cannon reworks court packing scheme
"House Speaker Dean Cannon overhauled his proposal for court reform amid criticism from judges, lawyers and other lawmakers." "Cannon waters down proposal to reform court".
RPOFers raiding Pensions
Update: "The Florida Senate is poised to pass a pension plan today that would set escalating rates for public employees as they earn more and postpone the demise of the Deferred Retirement Option Plan." "Fla. Senate to vote today on pensions".
"Bowing to the demands of both Democratic and Republican senators, the Florida Senate did another turnabout on its plan to overhaul the state pension plan."
The Senate on Wednesday voted to do away with a proposal in SB 2100 that would have required 655,000 teachers, state workers and firefighters to contribute 3 percent of their salary to the state pension plan."Senate does another turnabout on pension reform proposal".
Senators instead opted for a proposal offered by Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, to stagger the contribution amount based on how much an employee earns annually. Employees would pay 2 percent on their first $25,000 worth of salary, 4 percent on anything earned between $25,001 and $50,000 and 6 percent on any salary above $50,000.
The average state worker earns roughly $38,000 and under the new Senate plan they would pay $1,020 a year for their pension.
Senators didn't stop there. They removed a provision that would have extended the retirement age from 55 to 62 for firefighters, police officers and others in the special risk class. They also agreed to delay for five years the closing of the alternative retirement program known as the Deferred Retirement Option Program. Additionally, the new pension plan would only require high-paying state workers and elected officials who are hired or elected past July 1 to enroll in a 401 (k) styled private pension plan. New hires would have to work for 10 years before they would be vested in the state pension plan.
"After hours of behind-the-scenes negotiations, Senate leaders are close to a pension deal to require state and local government workers in the Florida Retirement System to face a salary cut to put money into their retirement. The estimated $1 billion in savings to the state will be plowed back into the state general revenue account. ... The Senate version of the bill has changed twice already as legislators and Gov. Rick Scott look to the pot of money spent by the state for worker benefits as an enticing place to close the $3.8 billion budget gap." "Senate nears a pension deal". Related: "Senate removes triple dipper language that boosts some lawmakers' pensions".
"PIP Fraud a Threat to Florida Consumers".
"Inching toward agreement on a Medicaid overhaul, a Senate committee Wednesday eliminated a proposal that would have required HMOs to spend 90 percent of the money they receive on patient care. Instead, the Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee approved a profit-sharing plan backed by the managed-care industry." "Senate Moves Closer to House on Medicaid HMO Profits".
Yet more from the "values" crowd
"Historic Wakulla Springs State Park lodge could close under budget proposals".
It’s not easy being David Rivera
"It’s not easy policing the image of a member of Congress — especially when your boss is Rep. David Rivera, the Florida Republican freshman beset by so many public controversies that Majority Leader Eric Cantor declined to meet with him when he visited Miami last month."
So, on March 16 at 6:40 p.m., a Wikipedia editor with the handle “Lmveiga” decided to do some maintenance to Rivera’s Wikipedia page. First, Lmveiga removed a précis of the congressman’s legislative career, replacing it with a six-point list of “Rivera’s Legislative Accomplishments,” taken directly from his campaign website.Oh yeah,
Then, Lmveiga removed the entire “controversies” section.
The deleted text included accusations that a David M. Rivera was named as the defendant in a domestic abuse case in 1994 (both the congressman and the victim have said he was not the defendant named.) The entry also included an allegation that Rivera was involved in a 2002 traffic accident with a truck that was moments from delivering fliers detailing the domestic abuse case. (Rivera said he was meeting the truck to pick up his own fliers.) The section also said Rivera amended his state financial disclosure forms after one of his primary listed sources of income, USAID, said it had no record of working with him. (Rivera said he had worked for subcontractors to whom he had promised anonymity.) And it said state law enforcement agencies were investigating $500,000 in payments to Rivera’s mother for work with a dog track for which Rivera, then a state lawmaker, had lobbied.
Wikipedia editors quickly restored the controversies section. And “Lmveiga” again deleted it.
Lmveiga is the twitter handle of Rivera’s press secretary, Leslie Veiga."Rivera vs. Wikipedia".
Obama's Q poll numbers
"President Barack Obama has some work to do with Florida voters if he hopes to win the state's 29 electoral votes next year, a Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday shows."
Slightly more than half of registered voters said they disapprove of the job Obama is doing and that he doesn't deserve a second term, according to a random telephone survey of 1,499 registered voters March 29 to April 4."Obama has work to do to win Florida again in 2012". See also "Poll: Florida voters disapprove of Obama's performance but lean toward Nelson".
While 52 percent of Florida voters disapprove of Obama's job performance, 44 percent approve, the poll found. Only 42 percent favor a second Obama term, compared to 51 percent who do not.
The poll, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points, also shows any unnamed Republican challenger would be in a dead heat with the president.
But there was a bit of a silver lining for Obama, pollster Peter Brown noted.
"Despite questions about his policies, the president is personally popular with Floridians," Brown said, noting that 70 percent responded they like Obama personally, a figure that included 30 percent who disagree with Obama's policies. Obama carried Florida in 2008 by nearly 250,000 votes over Republican John McCain.
Florida a "sponge" state
"Florida ranks in the middle of the pack when it comes to how much money it gets back from the federal government, a new analysis done by the Daily Beast shows. The analysis shows that between 2007 and 2009 Floridians paid $126.99 billion in federal taxes but during the same time period the state got back $157.24 billion." "Analysis contends Florida gets more federal tax dollars back than it sends to DC"
Funny how Red states tend to be subsidized by blue states: "out of the 10 states that have benefited most from federal money since 2007, seven sent their electoral votes to John McCain in 2008."
RJ Eskow puts it this way:
Southern states have been benefiting from Northern taxes for years. If they start another War Between the States, the Federal gravy train might suddenly stop at the Mason-Dixon line."Do Southern Senators Really Want to Start a New War Between the States?" (links omitted). More about Florida's unusual take on federal welfare here.
Studies by the nonpartisan Tax Foundation have consistently shown that these Senators' states receive far more from the Federal government than they pay back in taxes. That's an irony that could lead to some Blue State bitterness: They love to preach about fiscal responsibility and lower taxes, but they keep dipping their beak into the Federal trough.
I believe the applicable Southern phrase is "a handful of gimme and a mouthful of much obliged."
Legislators resist pension changes, to THEIR pensions
Gary Fineout writes that "lawmakers clashed over a proposal by Sen. Don Gaetz to force all elected officials -- including legislators and judges -- to pay 7 percent a year for their pension costs."
Gaetz argued that if legislators were going to mandate changes they should pay more than rank-and-file employees.That should be an interesting debate to watch.
"This Senate will lead from the front, we will lead by example," Gaetz said.
But Gaetz was peppered with questions on how his proposal would impact those who had been enrolled in the Florida Retirement System for many years, and what would happen if someone was not fully vested. Sen. Mike Fasano tried to emphasize that no one ran for public office for the salary, but some senators suggested it was too high since legislators make just under $30,000 [as do many state employees who work a full year]. Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, said he didn't mind paying more as a legislator but he questioned a 7 percent contribution rate for other elected officials such as judges and state attorneys.
Gaetz ultimately withdrew his amendment, but promised to bring it back on Thursday and apply it just to legislators.
Republican political science professor fails
"Rep. John Tobia, a second-term Melbourne Republican, violated the state Constitution by filing incomplete financial disclosure forms over a three-year period of 2007-2009. The Commission on Ethics announced the finding Wednesday against Tobia, 33, a political science professor, who submitted amended fhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.giforms in September and agreed to a settlement in the case." "Tobia's disclosures called incomplete".
"Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton and chairman of the Senate Committee on Community Affairs, said last week that the 'enviromental community has really gone along with us.' Environmentalists say they support some changes to streamline growth management but that the House and Senate bills go too far." "Environmental groups say Bennett is wrong about their support for his bills".
"Will Judge For Food"
The Palm Beach Post editors: "Scott acted recklessly by waiting to deal with the problem until chief judges were planning how to operate on an emergency basis if the money didn't arrive."
It has been embarrassing to see the third branch of government have to hold a "Will Judge For Food" sign to get attention."Don't make judicial branch beg for money: Scott was reckless in waiting so long to act.".
Trump yet to speak to the Posey issue
he's looked into it and believes "there is a big possibility" Obama may have violated the Constitution."Trump hammers away at Obama's citizenship issue". Trump has yet to address the Posey issue, and the demands that the Florida Congressman take a DNA test to determine whether he is part alligator.
The little uterus that could
"Democratic state Rep. Scott Randolph couldn't have realized when he uttered the seemingly benign word while making a point on the House floor two weeks ago that he was giving his party new life." "Dems' rally 'round the 'Uterus'". The sensitive Mr. Cannon backtracks: "Dean Cannon: I didn't try to ban use of word 'uterus'".
Background: "The Manchurian Uterus" and "Hey Cannon! Your epidermis is showing!"
Yacht brokers in a tizzy
"Sink bill to deregulate yacht brokerage industry".
"We have met the enemy and he is us"
Fred Grimm writes that we "Gotta have us some enemies. Enemies being ‘bout as necessary to politicking as money."
Judging from the targets of legislation percolating through the Florida Legislature, we’ve got ourselves a passel. Enemies lurk everywhere. And, oh my, retribution looks like a fast train coming (but not of the bullet kind)."To Legislature, the enemy is us".
Public school teachers, known saboteurs of our American way of life, were at the top of the hit list. Lawmakers this session worked quickly, yanking away tenure and tying pay raises to a new array of test scores, though without bothering to fund those mythical raises. ...
It must be a struggle for dutiful legislators just keeping track of who to punish: teachers, judges, foster children, environmentalists, state workers, prison guards, probation officers, the mentally disabled, school kids, immigrants, college students, school board members, nosy doctors, the poor (especially if they’re sick), state regulators.
So many adversaries. It’s as if the wild and vengeful 2011 Legislature has adopted the old Pogo observation as the state motto: "We have met the enemy and he is us."
Slowing down privatization
"On the Senate floor Wednesday, Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, scored a partial victory on the issue of expanding privatization of the state prison system. By a voice vote, senators voted to eliminate language that would privatize probation services in an 18-county region of South Florida, from the Keys to Bradenton." "Fasano closer on jail privatization".
"Judicial Workload Incentive Plan"
Steve Otto's "favorite idea of the week comes from Republican Senator J.D. Alexander of Lake Wales"
who also happens to be the budget chairman."A loaded question".
His plan would be to give trial judges bonus money, adding up to as much as $12,000 a judge for speeding up the process and moving trials along a little faster. He calls it the "Judicial Workload Incentive Plan.''
Maybe you understand it. I always figured judges, like most everyone else, worked about as hard as they could to get a job done. Trial judges in Florida earn around $145,000, which ought to be incentive enough. Of course at the same time as Alexander is trying to push this thing through, prosecutors and public defenders are facing budget cuts of around six percent, which is only going to slow the process down even more.
Would you want to be charged with a crime in Florida and find yourself facing a judge who stands to make a few extra thousand dollars by getting your shot at justice made by someone who doesn't have time to read all that paperwork about your case? Good luck.
White collar crooks look to catch a break from RPOFers
"Florida's decades-old, tough-on-crime laws may have helped cut the crime rate, but legislators now say such policies put too great a burden on taxpayers and are too harsh, especially for drug addicts."
The backswing of the public safety pendulum in the Capitol mirrors a conservative national reassessment of sentencing policies known as Right on Crime, led by former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist."Legislature wants to ease mandatory sentences".
In Florida, Republican legislators want to eliminate minimum mandatory sentences for nonviolent offenders — mostly for drug abuse. Among their arguments is the epidemic of prescription drug abuse at storefront clinics known as "pill mills."
"We have an awful lot of people out there who are simply drug addicts who need assistance. We need to figure that out," said Republican Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff of Fort Lauderdale. "I'm just trying to make sure that drug addicts get help, and drug traffickers go to jail."
But Gov. Rick Scott opposes any changes in sentencing laws that would keep some people out of prison.
"I don't want to change any of the sentencing guidelines," Scott said. "I think where we are is fine, and it's what's fair if someone commits a crime."
Run on bulldozers
"Among other things, the critics say, the measures speeding through the House and Senate (HB 7129 and SB 1122) would radically shrink the Department of Community Affairs in size and authority, make it more difficult to challenge development plans, and allow local government to let developers off the hook when it comes to helping to foot the bill for adequate roads, schools and parks." "Critics say lawmakers had bulldozing day".
The unregulated flock to "gusher of raw sewage"
"Gusher of raw sewage explodes onto streets".
More from the "values" crowd
"People who care for the developmentally disabled say their clients and family members risk losing critical services in the biggest budget cuts they've faced in two decades. ... The money is for home and community services for people with autism, Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy and other disabilities, to keep them out of institutions." "Cuts concern advocates for developmentally disabled".
Foreclosure court lawsuit
"The American Civil Liberties Union is filing court papers Thursday asking a state appellate court to review the procedures used in foreclosure courts covering southwest Florida." "ACLU challenges Fla. foreclosure courts". Meanwhile, "In era of foreclosure sales, sellers still slashing prices" and "Foreclosures drive the market".
Wingnuts go after LeMieux
Sorry, George, but this is your Republican Party: "Hasner slams LeMieux, calls him untrustworthy and a 'Charlie Crist Republican'".
Dennis Ross, R-Fla., embarrasses himself
"At a congressional hearing last month, Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla., said the average federal worker earns $101,628 in total compensation - including wages and benefits- compared with $60,000 for the average private employee. He was citing data from the federal Office of Personnel Management."
"Our taxpayers can no longer be asked to foot the bill for these federal employees while watching their own salaries remain flat and their benefits erode," said Ross, chairman of the House Oversight subcommittee on the federal work force."Are federal workers overpaid?".
But federal employee advocates claim a straight-up comparison of average total compensation is misleading. A disproportionate number of federal employees are professionals, such as managers, lawyers, engineers and scientists. Over the years, the federal government has steadily outsourced lower-paying jobs to the private sector so that blue-collar workers cooking meals or working in mailrooms now make up just 10 percent of federal employees.
That argument is backed up by a 2002 study of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. It found that federal salaries for most professional and administrative jobs lagged well behind compensation offered in the private sector.
"As DNC chairwoman, she will be expected to fight not only against Obama's Republican opponents, but against GOP congressional candidates."
This could cause her some conflict. In 2008, she did not campaign against Republican U.S. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami because of her friendship with them."South Florida Dems -- and some in GOP -- applaud choice of Wasserman Schultz to lead DNC".
"Influential developer and lobbyist" gives up post
"Influential Miami developer and lobbyist Rodney Barreto is stepping down as chairman of a small but powerful commission that oversees fish and wildlife statewide." "Barreto to step down from state post".
"The Washington-based Cuba Study group and several nonprofits on Thursday will lay out proposal including websites to match independent Cuban businesses with donors, and programs to allow people in the U.S. to take out loans on behalf of relatives on the island." "Experts seek to help Cuban entrepreneurs".