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137 posts from December 2008

December 19, 2008

Crist "disappointed" with AG McCollum over gambling gambit

Gov. Charlie Crist said he's "disappointed... but respectfully" with Attorney General Bill McCollum's request that the U.S. Attorney to prosecute the Seminole Tribe of Florida for offering Las Vegas-style card games. More here on all that.

Crist wants legislators to approve his gambling agreement with the Seminoles, perhaps this special legislative session. But Senate President Jeff Atwater said it's not the right time.

Said Crist: "I respect that. I think he is amenable. I think that, if we have to wait until the regular session that's fine. But I'd like it sooner."

Crist's Xmas present: Two paid days off for state workers.

Gov. Charlie Crist just announced state workers would get two new paid days off, Jan. 2 and Dec. 26, meaning state government will be closed then as well.

“There is no higher call than service to our fellow man, and state employees each day selflessly serve the people of Florida.  From Pensacola to Tallahassee to Key West and all places in between, I commend these public servants for striving to ensure the safety and security of Floridians and provide quality customer service," Crist said in a written statement.

But with talk of possible furloughs and even layoffs as state lawmakers try to fill a $2.3 billion budget hole, Crist couldn't make any promises that everyone could keep his/her job.

How Frank Jimenez became a high court nominee

A Miami Cuban American who worked for both Jeb Bush and George W. Bush was nominated to fill a vacancy on the state Supreme Court, in response to the governor's insistence that the list of nominees be more diverse.

Frank Jimenez, currently general counsel for the Navy, was added to the list Wednesday after a contentious, late-night meeting of the Judicial Nominating Commission in which members questioned Gov. Charlie Crist's motives and the fairness of the process.

Jimenez, a graduate of the University of Miami and Yale Law School, worked for the former governor as a deputy chief of staff, deputy general counsel, and acting general counsel for nearly four years. He took a leave of absence from his duties to work for President Bush during the fight over Florida's election recount in 2000.

He also was chief of staff to Sen. Mel Martinez when Martinez was director of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. His brother, Marcos Jimenez, was U.S. Attorney in Miami from 2002 to 2005.

More here

Crist's (kind of) easy ways to balance the budget

Florida lawmakers can fill a $2.3 billion budget hole by slightly trimming government spending, nearly emptying savings accounts and approving a gambling agreement with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, according to a draft document approved by Gov. Charlie Crist.

Left off the list of options: tax and fee increases -- which could still crop up during the Jan. 5-16 special lawmaking session to balance the budget.

Crist also hopes lawmakers will consider an economic development plan that will help small businesses and also provide a glimmer of positive news as legislators cut the budget.

''It's nice to be able to provide hope,'' Crist said Thursday. ``These are tough times.''

Crist's tentative proposal is more road map than mandate for legislators.

Senate President Jeff Atwater on Thursday ruled out approving the Seminoles gambling agreement, but said he might consider plans to increase fees for government services and licenses.

More here

December 18, 2008

Atwater says yes to talking fees but no to gamble compact in spec session

Senate President Jeff Atwater said late Thursday that while he is not ruling out increasing fees on some government services -- such as courts -- during the special session, he is not prepared to take up the gambling compact with the Seminole Tribe.

"It is more complex that the timing of the special session allows," Atwater told the Miami Herald. "The problem is, any decision we may may have consequences to the existing industries."

After we said that Atwater was also open to a discussion of the cigarette tax during special session, his aide called back to clarify -- he misspoke, said Jaryn Emhof. He is prepared to take up cigarette taxes during the regular session, not special session.

Atwater and the governor spoke by phone about Crist's economic development proposals for special session, he said, but he would have to "evaluate the trade off'' required to pay for them.

"I would applaud him on that but my concern is those would be precious dollars that you might well be needing to keep something else going," Atwater said. "I don't know where that source of cash is coming from."

The North Palm Beach Republican said that when he and House Speaker Ray Sansom release the special session agenda in the next few days, he would like it to include the option of increasing some fees.

"We're now spending dollars we do not have," he said. "I believe there will be an open debate on some revenue'' during the special session.

Atwater said that he is also open to reviewing all tax exemptions, as long as removing them "would not be harmful to job creation", but he prefers to wait for that debate until the regular session in March.

President Bush: The Florida recount created an "ugly mood"

Making the rounds in a series of exit interviews, President Bush today told C-Span he believes his transition 8 years ago was affected by the protracted Florida recount fight.

Asked whether the recount had put him at a disadvantage in taking over the White House, Bush said he believed the 35-day tussle "set kind of an ugly mood amongst some in the electorate. In other words, the election was -- in their minds, was in doubt. That made it harder ...to unify the country after the election."

But Bush said he's looking forward to watching Barack Obama take office: "I anticipate with great interest watching an historic moment, the swearing in of the 44th president, who happens to be an African American male," he said. "And that is a big deal for America. And I will have a front row seat."

Chiles family gets 'dream team' legal help in fight with Gov. Crist and state leaders

The Chiles family has attracted a powerful "dream team" of lawyers in its fight to protect tobacco settlement funds from Gov. Charlie Crist and other money-starved state leaders.

Steve Yerrid, Fred Levin and other lawyers who helped the state secure a multi-billion dollar tobacco settlement have agreed to back the family in an attempt to prevent the Lawton Chiles Endowment health care fund from being used to shore up an anemic state budget.

"From a legal perspective, it doesn't get any stronger than that group," Lawton "Bud" Chiles III said this afternoon. He said the team has not yet analyzed a legal strategy.

The Chiles family was supposed to meet at 1:30 p.m. today with House leaders, including Speaker Ray Sansom. But the meeting was canceled. "I have no idea why," Bud Chiles said. Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, issued a statement suggesting the meeting was premature. "Once we are closer to making final budget decisions on the 2008-09 fiscal year spending reductions, the meeting will be more productive," he said.

But the cancellation also comes as Sansom is under growing pressure to address questions about his new job at Northwest Florida State College.

McCollum asks U. S. attorney to prosecute Seminoles for card games

The state's top lawyer and a local parimutuel both took action Thursday to attempt to stanch the spread of the Seminole Tribe's Las Vegas-style card games, such as blackjack, which the Supreme Court nullified months ago.

The actions come after the tribe expanded its games into Tampa and Immokalee. Blackjack and other house-backed card games first opened at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino near Hollywood earlier this year.

In November, the tribe added 104 blackjack and other card tables to the Hard Rock near Tampa. This month, it added 12 tables to the casino in Immokalee for the same purpose.

On Wednesday, Attorney General Bill McCollum sent a letter to A. Brian Albritton, the U.S. attorney based in Tampa, urging him to "initiate a criminal prosecution to put an end to the calculated illegal expansion of class III gaming by the Tribe.''

Meanwhile, attorneys representing Gulfstream Park Racing & Casino in Hallandale Beach filed a motion to the state Supreme Court Thursday asking the court to enforce its ruling in July and, more importantly, finalize its July order. Until the order is finalized, they and others can't ask a federal court to enforce it by ordering the tribe to stop playing the card games.

Who knows why McCollum has waited until now, when the compact was first invalidated by the court in July, to ask the U.S. attorney? He asked the federal government to step in and stop the tribe from offering the games in July but the National Indian Gaming Commission has not acted.

NIGC acting general counsel Penny Coleman told McCollum in an Oct. 3 letter that the commission was "still studying the Florida Supreme Court decision and the matter remains under consideration." She noted that the court "did not order any party to take specific action and did not specifically declare the previously executed Tribal-State Compact invalid."

In his Thursday letter to Albritton, McCollum said that because the Florida court ruled that the compact signed by Gov. Charlie Crist violated state law, there is no legal compact in place allowing for the tribe to offer black jack and baccarat, which are not currently allowed in Florida.   

"I am deeply concered that the Tribe continued to defiantly ignore the decision of the Florida Supreme Court,'' McCollum wrote.

In November 2007, Gov. Charlie Crist entered into a 25-year agreement with the tribe that allowed them to offer Class III slot machines and gave them the exclusive right to black jack and other banked card games in Florida in exchange for at least $100 million in revenues to the state each year.

Because has ruled that the Florida Legislature must effectively ratify the compact for it to take force since card games are not already allowed in law, lawmakers are prepared to take up the issue in a regular session in March.

On Thursday, Crist said he would prefer lawmakers to take up the issue during its special session in January.

“The Seminole compact is a way to generate some adiditonal resources, not insignificant resources,” Crist said. "So I am encouraging that. Whether it’s, you know, during January or March, I think the sooner the better if possible.”

Ray Sansom the silent Speaker

House Speaker Ray Sansom treated two reporters like vampires Thursday during a House holiday lunch. The Destin Republican made a mock sign of the cross with his fingers and smiled as reporters tried to get him to answer basic questions about his involvement with developer Jay Odom and his new job at Northwest Florida State College.

Sansom, wearing a name tag that read Mr. S with a Santa Claus hat, refused to comment while waiting in the buffet line on the 4th floor of the Capitol. "Can't you see I'm busy," he said. Sansom has been too busy for the past week to answer questions. We asked anyway. Spokeswoman Jill Chamberlin advised Sansom to say nothing, as to not give an "exclusive."

Q: It appeared you worked to skirt Florida's open meeting law.
A: Sansom smiled.
Q: Why won't you comment on whether you flew on the private jet of Jay Odom.
A: Sansom smiled.
Q: It appears you were involved in the airport issue to benefit Jay Odom.
A: Sansom did not turn around.

At that point, Chamberlin accused a reporter of being "a wise guy."

-- Marc Caputo and Alex Leary

Crist says surprises coming on court pick

Gov. Charlie Crist's responded to questions on Thursday about the interesting Supreme Court JNC meeting last night. "I look forward to all the names. And I'm grateful that they're willing to send more names, helping us with the important subject of diversity." When told that people are saying, "the fix is in" for the new finalist, attorney Frank Jimenez. Crist answered: "They're going to be surprised."
--Marc Caputo, Herald Times bureau