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134 posts from March 2007

March 27, 2007

High Hopes for Hillary

Hillary Clinton's fundraiser in Miami Saturday will be the most successful ever by a Democratic candidate in Florida, predicts longtime money man Chris Korge.

The junior senator from New York - escorted by none other than her husband, Bill Clinton, the former president of the United States - are slated to attend back-to-back receptions at the homes of Korge and his next-door neighhoor, record producer and rapper Timbaland.

Korge says the event will top the roughly $500,000 collected for U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson at a Biltmore Hotel dinner headlined by Bill Clinton in June.

"We've broken the record. We've got it in the bank,'' Korge said. "Our goal was $650,000 and I don't want to say yet what I think we're going to do.''

Donors can give a maximum of $4,600 each to beef up Clinton's grand total for the first three months of the year, but half of that amount must be socked away for the general election.

The 2008 election could be the first in which none of the major presidential candidates take advantage of the post-Watergate public financing system because it would curtail their spending.

Runoff election quickly snuffed

The runoff election won't be coming back anytime soon. Sen. Lee Constantine, an Altamonte Springs Republican and chairman of the Senate Ethics and Elections committee, agreed Tuesday to kill the idea of bringing back the runnoff. Constantine had called for the re-establishment of the runoff in a comprehensive bill dealing with elections, but it was clear that several senators who serve on his committee had problems with the concept.

Constantine, however, said he hasn't given up on the idea of holding a runoff, or second primary, if candidates fail to win a majority in the first primary election. Florida held runoff elections for decades but jettisoned them in the wake of the chaotic 2000 presidential election. Constantine said the current system allows fringe candidates that appeal to the far right or far left to win primary elections.

"We should go back to the future,'' said Constantine.

Crist opts for new FAMU trustee

After a barrage of e-mails asking for a purge of the Florida A&M University governing board, Gov. Charlie Crist has appointed Daryl Parks, a Tallahassee lawyer, passing up current trustee and Jeb Bush appointee Jesse Tyson, who was up for re-appointment.

At the request of the the FAMU National Alumni Association, FAMU alumni pelted lawmakers with e-mails requesting them to deny Tyson re-appointment after he voted against FAMU's incoming president, James Ammons.

Interim President Castell Bryant had defended Tyson and the other targeted trustees, saying dissent is important in governing the school, which is the only historically black public university in Florida and awards more black students with baccalaureate degrees than any other in the nation.

Some alumni and black lawmakers feel the trustees have allowed persistent financial problems to continue. They've also criticized Jeb Bush's appointees as knowing more about corporate governance than education. Last week, legislators heard an audit that showed $39 million was unaccounted for, faculty hadn't been paid on time and millions of dollars of property was missing.

Jesse Tyson was one of the 283 pending appointments Crist pulled back in January.

Club for Growth draws presidential hopefuls

A slew of Republican presidential contenders are scheduled to attend the Club for Growth's four-day conference in Palm Beach beginning Thursday: former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.

"Arizona Sen. John McCain was invited to attend, but declined,"  sniffs the conservative organization on its website.

McCain's campaign says he's leaving for the "theater of war'' Friday and isn't releasing his schedule for security reasons.

The Arizona senator missed another major gathering of conservatives, the Conservative Political Action Conference, in Washington earlier this month.

Oelrich defends trespass bill

The National Rifle Association says that a law proposed by Sen. Steve Oelrich, R-Gainesville, to give business owners the right to kick people off their property as they see fit is really aimed at gun owners.

"Some people see it as a petition law. Others see it as gun control," said Marion Hammer, a spokeswoman for the association. "This is clearly targeted at guns."

Oelrich, whose bill was postponed today when the Commerce meeting ran out time, said it isn't a conspiracy - and the bill's only purpose is to protect business owners and consumers from people passing out fliers, surveys and the like. He said he would offer amendments, if necessary.

Chips are down on slots tax rate change

A proposal to give Broward's parimutuels a tax break on their new Vegas-style slots is temporarily off the table, after a state Senate committee meeting this morning.

Sen. Steve Geller, D-Cooper City, withdrew his proposal to give the four Broward parimutuels a 5-percent tax credit for capital improvements for the time being. This leaves the current 50 percent slots tax rate unchanged in both the Senate and House proposals to loosen slots regulations.

Both still add more machines, include the option to extend operating hours and allow ATMs in the facilities as long as they remain off the casino floor.

Geller told the Senate Regulated Industries Committee that he decided to withdraw the propsed tax credit after learning it did not have the support of Sen. Dennis Jones, the committee's chairman.

Other senators, including Jones, have said they think it's too soon to support a tax change and want to wait at least a year before either lowering the 50 percent tax rate or offering a tax credit. The two Hallandale Beach racetracks that currently offer the new Vegas-style slots just opened at the end of last year.

Jones added after the meeting that he's hesitant to support Geller's proposed tax credit in a tight budget year, after a staff analysis showing that it would cost the state $60.78 million at the end of four years.

During a Senate tour earlier this month, parimutuel executives tried to persuade lawmakers that they needed a tax change to help them compete with the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, which does not pay taxes to the state.

Prop tax: Mayors say don't rush, how about freeze?

No surprise mayors from across the state don't like the property tax proposals making their way through the Florida House. They complained  at a press conference today that the "one-size-fits-all" approach being used by House leaders won't work. They don't have any better ideas, however, except to say: slow down.

One idea says Sweetwater Mayor Manny Marono: "freeze property taxes and then come up with a comprehensive plan.'' He echoed the concern of many members in the League of Mayors who believes the House is rushing to a resolution without a true understanding of the impact. "As a taxpayer, I would have been relieved,'' he said. "Stop the bleeding and then try to work on the best solution."

House leaders, however, are rejecting any suggestion to hold off on massive reform this year, which also appears to be an approach being considered by Senate leaders.

"We have to do responsible prop tax reform, not some commisison,'' said Rep. Ray Sansom, the Destin Republican who is handling the issue in the House. His reference to "some commission" is the Tax and Budget Reform Commission, the constitutionally required panel which is authorized to review the state's tax system and recommend changes every 20 years.

House Republican rails against class size amendment

Rep. David Simmons, a Maitland Republican and chairman of the Committee on 21st Century Competitiveness, grew agitated Tuesday morning after South Florida PTA members and members of the Florida Education Association and then Democrats on his committee voiced their opposition to a proposal to send the class size amendment back to voters.

Under Simmons proposal, class size reduction efforts would be frozen at districtwide averages, although no class could be five students over the caps included in the current amendment. A separate bill would take any savings realized from this change and apply it to salary increases for all school employees.

Simmons called the current amendment "inane'' and launched a tirade against it. "It is an insane expenditure of funds and everybody knows it,'' said Simmons. "You might as well walk over to a toilet and take the money and flush it down."

Earlier in the meeting Simmons grilled Cheri Ball, the legislative chair for the Miami Palmetto Senior High PTSA, who said she saw the Simmons proposal as a retreat from what voters wanted. No less than three times, Simmons pressed Ball to recommend a "solution" to the inflexibility of the current amendment.

McCain on Iraq, Iran, 06 and 08 elections, etc.

Some Q-and-A with John McCain, who fundraised at the state capital and chatted with Gov. Charlie Crist today:

How will the 06 Democratic gains affect your campaign?

McCain: “Doesn’t change my strategy or my chances, but it emphasizes the need to go back to the principles of the Republican Party. We lost the 2006 elections because of spending. We let spending get out of control. We presided over the largest increase in the size of government since the Great Society, and we paid a very heavy price for it. And there was corruption. And we’ve got to clean it up.”

It wasn’t the war?

“The war was not the biggest issue, as a matter of fact. Otherwise, Joe Lieberman could never have been elected.”

On the early primary:

“It increases dramatically the importance of money…. I think we can win under any scenario….”

Should Florida be punished for moving the vote up?

“I wouldn’t do it myself. I don’t believe in penalizing states…. We do need to have all the states sit down and probably have a more rational process. All I’m doing is playing the hand we’re dealt.”

On fundraising:

“I have to do better in every quarter of fundraising. I have to improve my charisma, my talent and my otherwise rhetorical skills.” He said he’d like to raise “$300 million… A billion is about a good target. (laughs)”

On the vote on the Democrats’ Iraq plans:

“If we send a signal that we’re pulling out then we send the enemy the message: Hold on, we’re leaving. It should be called the Definite Date for Surrender Act… We lose in Iraq, then we have a lot more problems than my presidential ambitions…. I do see some signs of success.”

On Iran:

“The weaker we are the stronger they are. The question is U.S. casualties. We’ve remained in Korea for 50 years. Nobody minds. The point is: Our strategy is to fight with, alongside the Iraqi military and then have them take on more and more of the responsibilities. Well, the straight talk: They’re not ready to do that. And the police are still corrupt. We’ve got work to do.”

Should the U.S. bomb Iran? “After you’ve exhausted every option. And there are many options… The president of the United States has said very clearly we will not allow Israel to be destroyed by Iran. And the president’s right.”

On oil, disasters and climate change: “some kind of federal-state relationship”

McCain says oil drilling is a state’s-rights issue, some type of national catastrophic fund is needed and “climate change is real.”

Dean's UF fee clears House committee

A House committee approved a program that would charge University of Florida freshmen an extra $500 a semester Tuesday morning with major changes that put the Florida Prepaid Board chairman's at ease.

UF wanted neither Florida Bright Futures Scholarships nor Florida Prepaid to cover the fee, which the school says it will use to hire professors and advisers to further its goal of becoming a top-10 public research university. But Prepaid chairman Ted Hoepner said he felt obligated to deal with the fee because of its likeness to tuition. The Postsecondary Education Committee amended the bill, sponsored by Charles Dean, R-Inverness, as Prepaid asked - relieving policyholders and the board from having to pay an academic enhancement fee.

State University System Chancellor Mark Rosenberg supported the amended bill, suggesting the Board of Governors has reached a compromise with Florida Prepaid on the issue, Hoepner said.

"This is an implementing concept for idea  No.  15," having a top-10 university in Florida, said committee chairman David Mealor, R-Lake Mary, referring to Marco Rubio's book of 100 Innovative Ideas for Florida's Future. "This is a first step. I think it's a necessary step."

The bill passed with no debate. The only no vote came from Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange.