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134 posts from March 2007

March 27, 2007

McCain cuts Tally visit short

Republican presidential candidate John McCain was scheduled to address House Republicans at 10:30 a.m. today, but legislative leaders said he has to scoot back to Washington for debate on the war in Iraq.

As a key money-raising deadline looms at the end of the month, the Arizona senator is still planning to attend a fundraiser this morning at Paradigm.

McCain was scheduled to be the first presidential contender to address House Republicans, who passed a bill last week moving up Florida's presidential primary so it will have a bigger say in picking the nominees.


Runoff election could return

The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee is taking up a lengthy elections bill on Tuesday that would among many other things reinstate the second primary election, or runoff election. Lawmakers killed the runoff election following the chaotic 2000 presidential election, but the change was initially only temporary. It was current Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp who actually sponsored the bill in 2005 that made the end of the runoff election permanent.

The bill moves the first primary election to 10 weeks before the general election to ensure that the primary does not occur the Tuesday after Labor Day. But if no candidate receives a majority during the primary, the runoff election will be held five weeks before the general election.

March 26, 2007

Council chairman revives vaccine bill

Last week it looked like Rep. Ed Homan's bill mandating that girls get vaccinated for human papillomavirus had gotten bogged down in its first stop, the House K-12 committee. The bill, which require all sixth-grade girls to be vaccinated against a sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer was postponed before a vote was taken. But guess what? It's on the agenda for the Tuesday meeting of the Schools and Learning Council.

That's because Rep. Joe Pickens, the Palatka Republican and council chairman, decided to place it on the agenda for his council meeting, saying that the K-12 committee led by Rep. Anitere Flores was too busy with other pieces of legislation. Yet it's another reminder under the new rules and structure in the House that the power is concentrated primarily in the hands of the speaker and his council chairman. The council always has the power to hear a bill, regardless of what happened in committee.

March 25, 2007

Wexler calls Obama a friend of Israel

Before presidential candidate Barack Obama addressed hundreds of people in West Palm Beach on Sunday, U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler vouched for his Florida bona fides.

"He's for a paper trail here in Florida and he understands our problems with hurricanes,'' said the Boca Raton Democrat. "I would not be involved with a presidential candidate unless he or she was a true friend of the state of Israel. Sen Obama understands Israel's right of self-defense."

Spying on protestors to the 2004 GOP convention

The New York Times reports today that teams of New York City police officers traveled to a number of states - including Florida - to monitor people who planned to protest at the 2004 Republican National Convention. Undercover cops from the "RNC Intelligence Squad" went to meetings of political groups in Miami and other cities, and then filed reports with the police department's "intelligence division."

Read the full story here.

March 24, 2007

Miami-Dade mayor should heed Woody Allen

Only eight percent of black voters backed Miami-Dade Carlos Alvarez's call for strong mayor powers. His recent dismissal of a high-ranking black official could cost him even more support in the black community.

Read Beth Reinhard's column here.

Crist's paper trail push gets lukewarm reaction

Gov. Charlie Crist went to Washington on Friday to tell Congress how he's pushing to make sure all voting in Florida has a paper trail. But Crist, who initially asked for $32.5 million to buy optical scan machines for 15 counties that now use touchscreen machines, has yet to get much traction on on the issue in the Legislature. Neither the House or Senate have set aside any money for voting machines, nor has a bill been yet heard this session. More here.

Crist said Friday he has scaled back his spending request to under $30 million. But the House wants to see if federal money, instead of state dollars, could be used, while the Senate will soon roll out a "substantially cheaper" proposal according to Sen. Lee Constantine, the Altamonte Springs Republican in charge of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee.

March 23, 2007

Council approves tax swap, tax hike along party vote

In the mixed up of world of Florida politics, the Republican-controlled House Policy and Budget Council voted 19-12 along party lines for a property tax relief plan that paves the way for a potential $9.2 billion increase in state and local sales taxes and hurts businesses at the expense of homeowners, while Democrats opposed the bill for those same reasons. Only Rep. Don Brown, a Republican from Defuniak Springs, voted with Democrats.

The proposed constitutional amendment which raises the state sales tax from 6-cents to 7 cents and gives voters the option of voting in 1.5 cents more in a countywide referendum. Before the vote, several Democrats on the panel argued against the plan to swap property taxes for sales taxes that will result in a net drop in taxes of at least $6.7 billion and a commensurate cut in county and city budgets.

"I'm not going to vote for a bill that increases the sales tax by $9.2 billion and doesn't give broad-based tax relief,'' said Rep. Ron Saunders, a Key West Democrat.

Rep. Jack Seiler, D-Wilton Manors, complained that the plan gives 1.5 percent of the wealthiest homestead property owners 13 percent of the relief, while commecial property owners, renters and owners of second homes get squeezed.

Republicans argued that the tax system is not about fairness and the plan provides the necessary relief needed to reinvigorate the economy and give homeowners help. Rep. Dean Cannon, R-Orlando, called it the "biggest tax relief package in the history of our state" that will result in 15 percent savings to owners of second homes and businesses while owners of primary homes could see their property taxes eliminated.

Said Rep. Kevin Ambler, R-Lutz: "Right now, this is a work in progress and what taxpayers want is a decisive action to give them relief now.''

House releases prop tax impact

The House Policy and Budget Committee released the projected impact of the cuts to county and city governments under its new, revamped tax plan. The plan now requires that counties ask voters to replace homestead property taxes with up to 1.5 cents in new local option sales taxes. The plan also calls for the Republican-controlled House to vote for a one-cent increase in the sales tax today to pay for eliminating one-third of the tax bill on primary homes. 

The impact to Miami-Dade County: $407 million in tax cuts to homeowners, commercial and non-homestead property owners paid for by reducing county budgets. If voters agree to replace property taxes with a 1.5 cent increase in sales taxes, owners of homestead property would see another $230 million tax cut and county budgets would decline that much again.

The impact to Broward: $101 million in tax cuts to homeowners, commercial and non-hometead property owners paid for by reducing county budgets. If voters agree to replace property taxes with the 1.5 cent tax hike, homestead property owners would see another $379 million tax cut and the county would have that much more to cut its budget.

The cities in Miami-Dade and Broward would see addition budget impacts but the tax cuts would remain the same for their constituents.   

The committee is in the middle of debating the issue as county officials continue to make no headway in persuading the House Republican leadership from softening its approach. By contrast, the idea has hit a brick wall of opposition in the Senate. House Democrats reminded their colleagues that no one is willing to vote for a tax increase today that may go nowhere.

Baxley in Senate race despite fundraising ban

Rep. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican, has jumped into the race for the state Senate now held by Sen. Nancy Argenziano. She is among those who could be picked by Gov. Charlie Crist for a seat on the Public Service Commission within the next few weeks. Earlier this month Richard Corcoran, the chief of staff for House Speaker Marco Rubio, resigned his post to run for the seat, which covers a sprawling 13-county region.

But Baxley's decision to open a campaign account is more about sending a message than actually gearing up for the campaign. That's because as long as he remains in the Florida House Baxley is bound by a fundraising ban while Corcoran is free to raise money. Baxley could give up his House seat and start raising money, but a member of his fledgling campaign team said that Baxley has no intention of resigning.