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165 posts from July 2007

July 30, 2007

Jeb's economist warns of troubles with prop tax reform

Tony Villamil, the economic advisor to former President George H.W. Bush and his son, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, takes a fascinating jab today at the legislature's proposed property tax reform plan in an opinion piece written for Florida TaxWatch in which he warns of serious unintended consequences.

Villamil, a conservative economist based in Miami, warns that the cuts in "quality of life'' programs will bring a "high degree of uncertainty" to Florida's public revenues. He adds that the complexities "violate a principle of best practices of public finance, which is simplicity and transparency in the levy of taxes.''

He also criticizes the "cookie cutter approach'' to determining the cap on local tax revenues, which he warns will escalate the reliance on groups coming to Tallahassee to resolve their troubles, rather than turning to local governments which are closest to them. He notes that the one-size-fits all approach will especially hurt Miami-Dade, which has traditionally undercounted its resident population.

Villamil also blasts the plan for being unfair to purchasers of second homes and renters, because it gives the super-sized exemptions only to owners of primary homes -- a feature already in play, by the way, with the existing Save Our Homes structure.

The most surprising criticism of all, however, is that Villamil picks up the same theme originally proposed by Hank Fishkind in an economic analysis done for the Florida Association of Counties when the debate over property tax first started in February: that prices paid by local governments to produce goods and services is higher than accounted for by the rise in personal income. By tying the cap on revenues to the increase in personal income, the result, Villamil says, is that real cuts to local government will be much deeper than what occurs just with the drop in property tax collections. 

Changes in Crist press office

Gov. Charlie Crist today announced that Anthony De Luise will become the new press secretary, taking the job vacated by Erin Isaac, who is now communications director. Crist also promoted Lisa Meyer to deputy communications director.

De Luise, who once served as deputy press secretary for Gov. Jeb Bush, had been working as director of public information for the Florida Public Service Commission and had been press secretary for the Department of Environmental Protection. Meyer, who spent 17 years as a high school English teacher prior to going to work for the state, most recently served as Crist's chief speechwriter.

Gay marriage ban organizers within "striking distance"

Backers of a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage say they are "within striking distance" of gathering the more than 611,000 petition signatures needed to get their amendment on the 2008 ballot. John Stemberger of Florida4Marriage.Org said today in an e-mail to supporters that they have received "thousands upon thousands" of petitions this summer. (Full text in comments below)

The deadline to turn in petitions is next year. But Stemberger says they are mounting one last push to get in enough signatures by this September.

Of course, any amendment on the 2008 ballot must now pass by a 60 percent threshold. Voters last year made it harder to amend the constitution.

Crist welcomed in Democratic stronghold

More than 800 people packed the clubhouse at the Kings Point retirement community in Tamarac -- a  bastion of Democratic party politics  -- to see Republican Gov. Charlie Crist this afternoon.

"It was unbelievable,'' Tamarac Vice Mayor Marc Sultanoff said of the standing-room only crowd. "There were standing ovations three or four times. He knew he was in the middle of a strong Democratic place, and he still felt at home."

Sultanoff, who leads the King Point Democratic Club, said Crist talked about his trip to Israel with U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler, oil drilling off Florida's coast, hurricane insurance and property taxes. Many of Broward's elected Democrats, including Clerk of Courts Howard Forman, Sheriff Ken Jenne, State Attorney Mike Satz, and state Sen. Jeremy Ring, came to bask in the glow of Crist's 70-plus approval rating.

By adopting part of the Democratic agenda and reaching out to party leaders, Crist is making it tough for Democrats to run a challenger against him in 2010. Lately, he's been getting more flak from one of the leaders of his own party, House Speaker Marco Rubio.

Obama coming to Miami

Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama, who recently made headlines when he said he would be willing to meet with inflammatory Latin American leaders such as Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez, is coming to the proverbial lion's den -- Hispanic-rich Miami -- on Aug. 25.

The local Democratic Party is hosting the $30-per-person event at the Miami-Dade County Auditorium from 3 to 5 p.m. For tickets, go to www.miamidadedemocrats.com or call 305-477-4994. Proceeds will go to the local party.

"We're very excited that a national leader like Sen. Obama is coming to speak to the Miami-Dade Democratic Party,'' said chairman Joe Garcia.

Obama said he would be willing to meet with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea during last week's YouTube-CNN debate, sparking a week of backbiting with rival Hillary Clinton. The Herald's stories are here and here.

Just when you thought the debate was waning, the Clinton campaign pointed to Obama's interview with a Herald columnist as evidence that he was talking out of both sides of his mouth. Obama's campaign said his position was clear: he's willing to meet with hostile leaders if the conversations will promote national interests.

Both sides got some mileage out of the debate. Clinton solidified her position as someone who knows the world stage, while Obama reinforced his image as a catalyst for change.

Court orders hearing in Noel claims dispute

This report just in from Miami Herald reporter Roberto Santiago:

Broward County Circuit Court Judge Larry Moe will preside over a hearing set for Aug. 9 at 10 am in the dispute between the state and attorneys for Minouche Noel, the former Fort Lauderdale resident
maimed in a botched surgery in 1989. Noel won $8.5 million in state compensation for
her injury but her lawyers are now sparring with the state over how much money should go to them.

Legislators say the Fort Lauderdale law firm of Sheldon Schlesinger tried to get more than its fair share in the case. Florida's Chief Financial Officer, Alex Sink, said she would take "swift
legal action'' to block the payment and filed a complaint in Leon and Broward County. House Speaker Marco Rubio and Senate President Ken Pruitt also want to stop the payment.

House Republicans rake it in at GOP bash

The three-day fundraising bash held this past weekend in Coral Gables and Miami Beach was apparently enormously successful. The fundraiser put on by House Republicans and organized with the help of three Miami-Dade Republicans _ Reps. David Rivera, Carlos Lopez-Cantera and Anitere Flores _ reportedly raised $1.4 million for the House Republicans.

That's not quite the $1.6 million the Republican Party of Florida raised earlier this month at an event that featured Gov. Charlie Crist and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger but it's a striking amount for a legislative fundraiser held during an off-election year. The event, which was held at the Biltmore Hotel and featured dinner at the Versace Mansion in Miami Beach, asked top donors to contribute either $50,000 or $100,000 to the party.

When asked about the money raised, Rivera said the money is needed to conduct expensive campaigns.

"When the media stops charging for political advertisments, we can stop fundraising,'' he said.

Gonzales addresses black law enforcement officers

Alberto Gonzales, the embattled U.S. attorney general, visited Fort Lauderdale this morning to talk to the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives about federal efforts to fight violent crime.

"We're proud of the partnership with state and local law enforcement," Gonzales told the crowd of more than 300 in his short speech. "But I realize that effort alone is no comfort to communities still tormented by violent crime."

Gonzales did not comment on the recent controversy over his congressional testimony last week nor did he take questions from the press.

Last Thursday, four U.S. senators called for a independent special prosecutor to look into perjury charges against Gonazles. Senators want the special counsel to look at possible contradictions in Gonzales' testimony about last year's firings of nine U.S. attorneys and about controversy surrounding the governments warrantless wiretapping program.

July 28, 2007

Scientists find problems with electronic voting machines

The state of California reported Friday that scientists had been able to hack into three voting systems used in California, including ones manufactured by Diebold Elections Systems and Sequoia Voting Systems. The study raised security concerns about both optical scan and touchscreen machines, although the criticism was much blunt about the security problems with the touchscreens. 31 counties in Florida use the Diebold touchscreen listed in the report, although some counties use it just for diabled voters. Four counties _ including Hillsborough, Pinellas and Palm Beach _ use the Sequoia machines.

According to the N.Y. Times, the reports "came to light on a day when House leaders announced in Washington they had reached an agreement on measures to revamp voting systems and increase their security."

Florida this past session passed a law that ordered all counties to abandon touchscreen voting machines and replace them with optical scan machines that scan a paper ballot. The optical scan machines must be in place by next summer.

Rudy, Mitt snub Florida's YouTube debate

The Republican Party of Florida scored when it landed not one, but two presidential primary debates in the state.

Candidates agreed to participate in a traditional forum on Oct. 21 in Orlando broadcast by FOX News. But Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney say they aren't coming to a Sept. 17 debate in St. Petersburg in which ordinary voters can submit questions via YouTube videos.

Are they scared of the melting snowman that featured prominently in the Democratic YouTube debate? Read Beth Reinhard's column here.