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134 posts from March 2007

March 29, 2007

Crist high-fives teacher union president

It was a scene unthinkable during the last eight years--the governor of Florida giving a high-five to the head of Florida's teacher union. But it happened this afternoon shortly before Gov. Charlie Crist signed a bill that overhauled the maligned performance pay plan that lawmakers passed last year. Florida Education Association President Andy Ford then went before the microphones and thanked the Legislature and Crist for giving those in the profession a "voice" when it comes to deciding who should receive merit bonuses.

Lawmakers in 2006, at the urging of the administration of former Gov. Jeb Bush, passed a performance pay plan that offered $147.5 million to school districts for bonuses, but it tied the bonus to how students fared on standardized tests, including the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. It also limited the bonus to no more than 25 percent of the teachers working in a school district. The new law gives more discretion to prinicpals to decide who should be eligible for bonuses and does not cap how many school employees are eligible. Bush had an antagonistic relationship with the teacher's union, which spent millions trying to help Bill McBride, who lost to Bush in the 2002 governor's race.

Jeb named by Romney as possible running mate

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was called "quite a guy" by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney during a presidential campaign stop in South Carolina on Wednesday who went on to say that he would consider Bush as a possible running mate. Bush, who has ruled out running for the presidency in 2008, steadfastly refused to rule out a run for vice president when asked by reporters. More about Romney's remarks here.

Fighting the great pretenders

A bill to protect bands from imposters is moving swiftly through the Florida legislature as lawmakers try to prove that, sometimes, immitation isn't the sincerest form of flattery.

The proposal, nicknamed the "Doo-wop" bill by House sponsor Rep. Mike Davis, would make it a misdemeanor for imposter bands to advertise or perform in the state. It also would allow courts to impose a $5,000 civil penalty for each violation.

The bill received unanimous approval this morning from the House Economic Expansion & Infrastructure Council. And has been moving forward in the Senate as well.

Sen. Burt Saunders, a Naples Republican, is sponsoring the Senate version of the bill.

Fake '50s bands have been especially popular in Florida. In December, Miami club Pawn Shop advertised a New Year's Eve performance by a fake Frankie Goes to Hollywood. But the imposter band did not end up performing.

As Davis, R-Naples, points out, while the "Doo-Wop" bill has led to a few lighthearted committee comments, fake bands create serious consequences when the real deals lose money to imposters.

"This bill simply imposes severe penalties for people who are out there basically stealing someone's identify," he said.

Prop tax poll says voters want cuts, not taxes

Florida legislators haven't taken the proposal to replace local property taxes with sales tax to the ballot yet but a new poll says an overwhelming majority think its "bad idea."

A poll released today by the research arm of Quinnipiac Univerisity in Connecticut found that voters found that voters prefer deep cuts in government to relieve their tax burden to a major structural change in the state's tax system.

  House Republicans have advanced a controversial plan to pay for massive property tax cuts by swapping property taxes with sales taxes, and have also suggested scaling local government spending to 2001 levels -- resulting in billions of cuts to city and county budgets.

   Voters like the budget cut idea 69-23 percent and opposed 48-44 percent eliminating the property tax on primary homes and replacing it with a 2.5 cent increase in the sales tax.

   The divide was also narrow on the question of whether voters were willing to accept lower government services in exchange for those cuts. There, 49-40 percent of homeowners were willing to accept cuts. Renters said they did not support cuts in services by 44-40 percent.

For example, voters support by a 69-23 percent the notion of scaling back local government taxes to 2001 levels -- a multi-billion dollar hit to city and county budgets.

   But the split was much narrower on the question of whether voters were willing to accept lower government services in exchange for those cuts: 49-40 percent of homeowners were willing to accept cuts but renters said they did not support cuts in services by 44-40 percent.

   Also popular: a constitutional amendment that would allow homeowners to take their "Save Our Homes'' cap on tax assessments with them when they move; voters support such a "portability'' concept by 62-28 percent.

   Less popular: a plan to repeal the "Save Our Homes'' cap which gives long-time homeowners a 3 percent cap on the increase of their annual tax assessment. Voter supported that idea 46-44 percent, but it is was within the 3 point margin of error.

   The poll, conducted March 21-27 of 1,061 Florida voters, had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. Read it here: Download 032907_fla_gov_bp.doc

March 28, 2007

Hispanic caucus makes PSC pitch for Arisso

The Florida Hispanic Legislative Caucus met with Gov. Charlie Crist on Wednesday and let him know who they want him to appoint to the Public Service Commission: former Miamian Manuel Arisso, who previously worked for former PSC Commissioners Isilio Arriaga and Braulio Baez.

Arisso is one the list of six names given to the governor for two open spots, created when Crist rescinded the nominations of former Gov. Jeb Bush. Bush had reappointed Arriago and former state Rep. Ken Littlefield but Crist had he wanted more "consumer friendly" advocates.

In a letter to Crist ,the chairman of the 14-member caucus, Miami Rep. Juan Zapata, urged the governor to appoint Arisso because he "is the only candidate with deep ties to South Florida." And, after all, South Florida has a sizeable pool of ratepayers, he said.

Zapata's second point: he's Hispanic and "will serve well the Hispanic population statewide helping to bridge any cultural and language barriers that may still exist.''

Zapata then gave Crist one more pitch: "He's consumer friendly." Crist smiled and thanked them for the recommendation.

Agree to disagree

One day after Senate Democrats unveiled their plan for property relief, the proposal took a little friendly fire at the Senate’s weekly Democratic Caucus meeting.

One Democratic senator questioned whether the average homeowner would understand how they would benefit from the plan. Another suggested the proposal focused too much on taxes and too little on cutting local government spending.

But the main target: a proposal to increase the Save Our Homes cap to allow homeowners to take some of their existing tax savings with them when they move to a new home.

The current Save Our Homes amendment caps the increased in property assessments at 3 percent a year. The Senate Democrat plan would increase that cap to 6 percent.

Sen. Steve Geller, Senate Minority Leader, explained the increase is necessary to make the "portability" of tax savings immune from constitutional challenge.

Senate Republicans, including Sen. Mike Haridopolos, of Melbourne, already have questioned the Democratic proposal. They say they are opposed to the short-term tax increase that would result from increasing the Save Our Homes cap. And today a couple Senate democrats joined the chorus.

Sen. Dave Aronberg, of Greenacres, called the tax increase "a political risk," adding that it's "going to be difficult to sell."

And Geller spent much of the one-hour meeting trying to explain why the increase was necessary.

"Check into it yourself," Geller told Aronberg. "But do me the favor of checking into it instead of just questioning it.

Geller added that the plan is "a work in progress."

But with homeowners around the state trapped in their homes, Sen. Tony Hill, of Jacksonville, was willing to fight for a portable Homestead exemption, even if it meant rallying public support in a referendum petition drive.

"If you take portability off, I'm going to be out there collecting signatures," Hill said.

Crist meets with Hispanic caucus

State Rep. Juan Zapata, a West Kendall Republican and chairman of the Hispanic caucus, said Wednesday the group has a larger role to play now that there's a new governor - one who doesn't speak Spanish and doesn't have strong ties to the Hispanic community.

"We can be Gov. Charlie Crist's Hispanic network," Zapata said.

Crist, who met Wednesday with the caucus - all members of The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials - even asked for their help.

When members asked him to appoint more Hispanics to the bench, Crist said he needed them to help finding qualified applicants.

"It's a desire of mine to have a diverse bench - one that has African Americans and Hispanics," he said, adding that he needs slots to open first.

Crist also shared a couple light-hearted moments with caucus members.

When House Speaker Marco Rubio walked in, Crist welcomed him in Spanish, and Rubio quipped: "I knew you were bilingual."

Pressure mounts on Senate to back primary change

Republican Party of Florida chairman Jim Greer has made it known to Senate and House leaders as well as Gov. Charlie Crist that he backs a House proposal to move up Florida's presidential primary date. The House last week passed the bill that moves Florida's presidential primary to Feb. 5, or a week after the New Hampshire primary, whichever comes early.

Greer said he decided that the earlier date was worth the possible loss of Florida's delegates to the Republican convention. Under current party rules the state will forfeit delegates to the 2008 national convention if it goes ahead with the earlier primary date.

"I think it will allow the eyes of the nation to be on Florida and the outstanding leadership of Charlie Crist,'' said Greer, who won his job as RPOF chairman thanks to Crist.

Bill: 24-hour wait on abortions

A Florida Legislature council took up Tuesday one of the most divisive issues in America: abortion.

In a partisan vote, a House Healthcare Council voted to approve a proposed law that would require all women who seek an abortion to wait 24 hours after visiting a clinic before opting for the procedure. The bill also addresses concerns and makes changes to a parental-notification law passed in 2005.

Pro-choice advocates and some Democrats saw the wait time as a slap in the face to women.

But bill sponsor state Rep. Trey Traviesa, a Tampa Republican, said it would give women the chance to step back and reflect on a "momentous" decision - before it's too late.

If the bill makes it to Gov. Charlie Crist's desk, it could force the centrist governor to clarify his often-muddy position on abortion - which social conservatives made a big fuss about on the campaign trail.

As a senator, Crist voted with Democrats to kill a 24-hour wait time bill. But he would hard-pressed to shoot down a parental-notification law.

To read more click here.

Bush speech sparks "uproar"

President Bush's plan to speak to graduates at Miami Dade College next month has seeingly met with little opposition. Not so at Saint Vincent College, a Benedictine liberal arts school in Iraq war critic Rep. John Murtha's Pennsylvania congressional district.

According to today's Washington Post, Murtha, the school's commencement speaker in 1983, is the second cousin of former Saint Vincent president John F. Murtha, who ran the school from 1985 to 1995. Its current president is Jim Towey, a former Florida social services director who ran President Bush's office of faith-based initiatives.

Towey, who said in a press release that the invitation to Bush was not an "endorsement of his policies or politics," is meeting with the senior class tonight, the Post reports, "and there will be an 'open mike' town hall meeting on April 17 for all 1,600 students to opine."

The faculty, however, has voted 41to 30 to uphold the invitation.

Towey, who worked in former Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles's administration, noted that other invitees to the school, "in addition to Murtha, have included former House speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill and William F. Buckley Jr."