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156 posts from December 2007

December 20, 2007

Castor not much of a Sooners fan

From CQ Today, "Imagine the distinction: The only member of Congress to vote against a resolution commemorating Oklahoma's 110th anniversary of statehood."

That would be Tampa Democrat Rep. Kathy Castor, who says it was an accident "that she simply slipped her voting card into the wrong slot.."

Her chief of staff says she's got nothing against the Sooner state.

Except, quipped Clay Phillips, "I think Oklahoma beat FSU in a big game one time. But she doesn't harbor any bad feelings."

Castor earned a law degree from Florida State University in 1991.

McCollum sues feds over gambling compact

Attorney General Bill McCollum on Thursday filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Interior demanding that they withhold a decision on approving Gov. Charlie Crist's compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida until the state Supreme Court rules on whether the compact is valid without legislative approval.

The Florida Supreme Court has set oral arguments on Jan. 30 to hear arguments in the lawsuit filed by House Speaker Marco Rubio that challenged Crist's authority to unilaterally approve the compact with the tribe. Read McCollum's lawsuit here.

Rubio: Budget shortfall can be taken care of in early March

House Speaker Marco Rubio has said that lawmakers cannot afford to wait too much longer before dealing with Florida's budget shortfall, but in a clarification of remarks made on Wednesday, he says it should be done by the first week of March, not March 1.

That means legislators would be asked to approve at least $1 billion worth of budget cuts during the first week of the regular 2008 session - which starts March 4 - and would not require an actual special session in order to finalize the cuts. Gov. Charlie Crist said Wednesday that he did not think legislators needed to hold a special session in order to balance the budget.

But if legislators plan to slash spending during the first week of March it will require that they hold committee meetings in February to decide which agencies and programs will need to be cut.

EPA rejects Arnold; that means sorry Charlie

The federal EPA on Wednesday announced it was denying the waiver for California under the Clean Air Act and therefore rejecting its attempt to impose tougher emissions standards on cars and trucks to halt the rise of greenhouse gas emissions in that state. Gov. Charlie Crist modeled his July executive order after California and was hoping to seek a similar waiver and joined 16 states with similar programs to impose tougher vehicle emissions standards.

The news is likely to mean two things: 1) this becomes a heftier campaign issue in the presidential race, potentially further splintering an already splintered Republican Party on this issue and, 2) enviros go to court.

Here's the statement from Mark Ferrulo, Environment Florida's executive director:

"This decision severely hamstrings the ability of states to take action in the face of inaction and foot dragging by the federal government on the most serious environmental, economic and quality of life issue facing our generation. Transportation is Florida’s second largest source of global warming pollution and the fastest growing.

"Sixteen states, including Florida, have adopted, or are in the process of adopting California’s motor vehicle emissions standards.  The EPA’s denial of California’s waiver request effectively removes one of Florida’s most powerful global warming pollution reduction tools from our toolbox and at least for now, negates one of Gov. Crist’s most important executive orders."

Huckaboom hits Giuliani country

Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee is running just seven points behind longtime frontrunner Rudy Giuliani in Florida, according to the latest Quinnipiac University poll.

So much for the idea that a candidate can't compete in the fourth largest state without a big name and deep pockets. The former governor of Arkansas has no ties to Florida and only a loose network of volunteers.

Giuliani gets 28 percent of the vote, followed by Huckabee with 21 percent. Mitt Romney is right behind him with 20 percent. John McCain has 13 percent, while Fred Thompson has 8 percent.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton continues to dominate, with a 2-1 lead over Barack Obama. The only surprise is John Edwards, who has pulled into a statistical tie with Obama. Clinton has 43 percent of the vote, compared to Obama with 21 percent and Edwards with 19 percent.

"Iowa and New Hampshire may be close races, but at this point Florida is a runaway for Sen. Hillary Clinton, while Mayor Giuliani will have to pick up the pace to hold onto his shrinking lead,'' said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. "Huckabee has emerged as a factor in the GOP field no matter how you count it, largely on strong support from white, evangelical Christians.''

Quinnipiac University surveyed 397 Florida likely Democratic primary voters and 397 likely Republican primary voters from Dec. 12-18. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.9 percent.

More about the Huckaboom in Florida here.

December 19, 2007

As crisis began on Wall Street, the SBA was buying

The State Board of Administration was buying some of the investments that eventually triggered a run on a local government pool as recently as August. By that time, signs of serious problems with the sophisticated investments -- known as asset-backed commercial paper -- were already surfacing on Wall Street.

The dates when the soured investments were purchased and how they were rated by credit agencies at the time was disclosed late Wednesday by the State Board of Administration. All of the investments purchased by the State Board of Administration that later defaulted or were downgraded had held solid financial ratings at the time they were purchased, according to the state agency's report released Wednesday.

However, the timing of some of the purchases in August -- when the commercial paper market was already starting to show signs of turmoil -- is likely to intensify scrutiny of how well the state agency managed the Local Government Investment Pool, which is used by local governments as a money-market fund to park their extra cash.

''We did not buy bad paper. All of that downgrading occurred after the paper was purchased and so there may be judgments involved in the different stages to look at,'' said Attorney General Bill McCollum, who is one of the three trustees who oversees the State Board of Administration and hires the executive director. More here.

Rubio and Crist differ over need to hold special session to slash budget

With Florida's finances still in tatters, there are growing rumblings that state lawmakers may have to hold a another special session before March to keep the state's budget together. State economists in November delivered a bleak picture: This year's budget is $1 billion more than what the state expects to collect in taxes, and there's a potential $1.5 billion shortfall for the 2008-09 budget year.

While there are enough in reserves to cover the expected shortfall, House Speaker Marco Rubio said Wednesday that lawmakers may not be able to wait until March to do something to bring the state budget back into balance.

"I don't think we can go past Mar. 1 and not do something significant,'' said Rubio, who spent the day urging people to sign petitions for a property tax amendment he wants to get on the ballot. "I know we are dealing with an unprecedented downturn in state revenues. The economists have been consistently underestimating the depths we are in.''

But Gov. Charlie Crist was less certain about the need to hold another special session.

"I don't think that's necessary. I'll be open minded about it. We've had enough special sessions,'' said Crist, who added he will take into account the bleak revenue forecasts when he presents his budget on Feb. 4. "I think we will have it well in hand."

Adios Tom?

GOP prez hopeful Tom Tancredo's campaign has scheduled a "major announcement" for tomorrow and the speculation is that he's abandoning his longshot presidential bid - perhaps throwing his support behind another contender and running for the US Senate instead.

Tancredo, a Colorado congressman who angered Gov. Jeb Bush - and the entire city of Miami - last year when he likened Miami to a Third World country - has failed to gin up much of a following, though he has taken credit for pushing his signature issue, immigration, to the top of the issue heap.

Tancredo was a no-show at the recent Univision debate in Miami and accused his rivals of "pandering" to Hispanics, noting they talk a lot "more harshly" on illegal immigration when addressing groups that aren't Hispanic.

Gay marriage foes tell Crist they "don't need" his help

Florida Baptist Witness has issued another stinging jab at Gov. Charlie Crist, this time taking him to task for not getting behind a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage. Despite signing the amendment, Crist told the St. Petersburg Times that it's not a top priority for him like cutting property taxes and that he is a "live and let live kind of a guy."

Florida Baptist Witness Executive Editor James A. Smith Sr. recalls how he point blank asked Crist about the amendment last year and that Crist pointed out that he signed the petition to place the amendment on the ballot.

Smith then says that Crist's statements "should not be all that surprising. It's part of a pattern in which Crist talked just conservatively enough during the campaign to get elected while governing during his first year in office as the moderate he actually is. Many Republican voters in the primary—and others in the general election—who bought Crist’s conservative claims are learning on issue after issue, Crist cannot be depended upon to defend certain pro-family concerns."

Smith ends his column by stating "The good news is that we don’t need Gov. Crist’s help to pass the marriage amendment."

Crist welcomes new citizens in Miami Beach

At a time when Republican presidential candidates are trying to out-tough each other on immigration, the top GOP official in Florida plans to attend the naturalization ceremony this morning at the Miami Beach Convention Center.

Gov. Charlie Crist is scheduled to be there at 9 a.m. So is the Miami-Dade Democratic Party, which will be registering these new citizens to vote.