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373 posts from March 2009

March 31, 2009

Economists shrink $1 billion promise of Senate gambling bill

The legislature's economists threw cold water on the vaunted projections of the Senate's ambitious gambling bill bringing in more than $1 billion. The real number should be closer to $400 million, with the new money coming from giving the Seminole Tribe full casino gambling, the economists said. But the net effect of opening more games for parimutuels is an immediate decline in net revenue.

Here's a link to the report: http://edr.state.fl.us/conferences/revenueimpact/2009/pdf/impact0330.pdf

Here's a breakdown of their conclusions:

· Allowing slot machines operators to pay taxes on a monthly basis, rather than a weekly basis would reduce the revenue to the state by $12.2 million in the first year and and $19.9 million in the first full year. Taxable income would have to increase by 43 percent for this change to be neutral. “This could be due to an increase in the number of machines or an increase in the amount of income per machine, or a combination of both,” the report concludes.

· Reducing the annual license fee by $1 million results in a net loss of $6 million.

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Crist says cigarette tax should exclude cigars

Gov. Charlie Crist says he's still opposed to a cigarette tax increase, but he sounds increasingly resigned to one coming from the Legislature. As long as the deal excludes cigars.

"I'm not particularly fond of any taxes, user fees may be a different item, so we'll see how it progresses in the House and Senate," Crist told reporters. "They have a tough job, our members. We've already cut over $7 billion over the past two years ...  We know that we have to be in balance."

Is it easier to go along with the tax if new revenue is dedicated toward low-income or child health care? "Well, I'll leave that to the Legislature. They've got a tough job filling these holes as it is. So I don't want to be restrictive in how it might be utilized except for the betterment of the people of Florida."

Crist said definitely does not want to see cigars included, a provision of the Senate proposal. "Obviously that's an industry in Florida that has a great tradition, especially in the Tampa Bay area and probably some other parts of the state. I would like to see that removed, if possible."

See video below.

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Senate shuts down bill to kill the newspaper notice

A bill that would remove the requirement that local governments publish their official notices in printed newspapers was halted by the Senate Community Affairs Committee Tuesday, when chairman, Sen. Mike Bennett, said he was ordering a staff study over the summer instead.

The measure, SB 2292, being pushed by Sen. Ronda Storms, would have allowed local governments to replace the printed notice with an internet notice and a direct mailer to citizens who signed up to receive them. Storms said she had no idea how much the shift in practice would cost but noted that cities and counties "loved it.''

By contrast, killing the bill was the top priority of the Florida Press Assocation, and was opposed by AARP and Associated Industries of Florida.

Storms predicted that the death of printed newspapers in Florida was inevitable. "Members of the media may not want to acknowledge it but, in our lifetime, it's going to take care of itself,'' she said. "All we're doing is propping up the media. I think that print media is going to go away."

Bennett replied: "I look at the whole idea of a nonprinted media as terrifying. I realize the federal government can shut down a satellite and we lose all our unprinted media. Maybe you have more faith in government than I do."

Penny gas tax could kill clean energy bill

Much-anticipated legislation to encourage clean and renewable energy in Florida appears in danger of dying, but not because of concerns over the inclusion of nuclear energy. Instead, a penny gas tax threatens to squelch the "20 by 2020" proposal, one of Governor Charlie Crist's legislative priorities.

Bill sponsor Sen. Jim King, chair of the chamber's energy and utilities committee, said the penny tax on fuel is necessary to ensure the renewable and clean energy legislation is actually implemented. It would generate roughly $90 million a year, half to go into a trust fund for helping to develop renewable energies, and half to go into general revenue.

"Without that money, this bill won't go anywhere," he said. "It will just look good and sound good."

King, tasked by Senate President Jeff Atwater to get the energy legislation passed, has spent weeks trying to come up with a proposal that appeases groups ranging from environmentalists to big utilities to biomass producers like sugar companies. He told senators including Mike Haridopolos that he is willing to amend the bill to allow federal stimulus dollars to replace the gas tax -- but only if the stimulus dollars are determined to be eligible.

Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said he was going to vote for SB 1154 -- until he saw the tax tucked in. The Senate transportation committee chairman worries higher gas prices will further deplete the Department of Transportation's trust fund, which the agency relies on to fund road projects. A recent revenue estimate found the trust fund already will be depleted in years to come because cash-strapped Floridians are cutting back on driving amid rising gas costs.

"These are the implications you have when you start raising the gas tax," Fasano said. "If it was that easy, we would have raised the gas tax a long time ago."

The committee voted 6-3 for the bill, with Sens. Fasano, Dan Gelber (D) and Mike Haridopolos (R) opposed. But even some who voted in favor, including Sen. Steve Oelrich, voiced reservations indicating they might not vote yes unless the gas tax issue is resolved.

Meanwhile, King said the bill's fate might also be dim thanks to lack of enthusiasm from the House.

"I have no idea if this bill or anything like it has a life of one nanosecond in the House," he said.

Gambling interests send nearly $5 million to legislators

No legislator is immune when it comes to the influence of the gambling industry in Florida.

All 160 members of the Florida Legislature have either accepted a campaign check from the industry or benefited from its contributions to their parties. In the 2006-08 election cycle alone, horse and dog tracks, jai alai frontons and the Seminole Indian Tribe gave nearly $5 million to legislators and political parties -- more than double the $2.2 million gambling interests contributed to lawmakers in the previous election.

Some legislators have worked closely with the industry or have allies who do. And in every corner of the state, ailing parimutuels are promising something lawmakers are hungry for in this perilous economy: new jobs -- if legislators give them new games.

In the coming weeks, lawmakers will decide between two very different proposals to change the face of gambling at Florida's tracks, frontons and Indian casinos, a decision potentially worth millions of dollars. Full story here.

Here's a partial list of who's sending money to legislators:

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March 30, 2009

Partisan fight over raising standards

In a nearly three-hour meeting today of the House Full Appropriations Council on Education & Economic Development, nothing took up more time than amendments, questions and debate surrounding HB 1293 sponsored by Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami.

Still, the measure advanced on a 10-7 party line vote.

A reminder, this bill would raise the high school graduation standards in two steps. First, starting with the freshman class of 2014, students would be required to: take algebra I and geometry for two of the four required math courses; and take biology I as one of three required courses. Next, starting with the freshman class of 2016: take algebra I, geometry and algebra II for three of the four required math courses; and take biology I and chemistry for two of the three required courses.In addition, the legislation would increase the required graduation score on the 10th grade FCAT from a 2 to a 3.

It's this last provision that had everyone talking, principally Rep. Marty Kiar, D-Davie. He sponsored an amendment that would have removed that provision and eliminate the 10th grade FCAT as a requirement for graduation.

"I'm trying to do the right thing here," said Kiar, an outspoken critic of the statewide test who took many opportunities this afternoon to call it a "punitive" exam. "Let's stand up for our students. Let's ensure that when they go to school, they're going to actually learn."

Republican members were against taking away accountability.

"To just strip it away, without putting in some replacement is irresponsible," said Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel.

After much debate, Kiar withdrew his amendment saying he appreciated the discussion and would come back at the issue later in the process.

Then it was back to the bill, and there was still plenty of debate. Most everyone agreed that raising standards is a good thing. But Democrats were concerned about the bill possibly creating an unfunded mandate. Rep. Ron Saunders, D-Tavernier, said the bill had "good intent," but "bad timing." And many were still concerned about the increased FCAT requirement.

Rep. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, missed most of the meeting, but arrived in time to implore the panel with: "How can we be against increasing standards? Unfortunately, this has become a partisan issue.

Sen. Jim King wants to be university chancellor

State Sen. Jim King, R-Jacksonville, is going to apply to be chief executive of Florida's university system. If he gets the job, he would step down after 23 years in the Legislature and a special election would be held.

King says several people approached him a couple of weekends ago and asked if he would be interested in the chancellor job that has been open since Mark Rosenberg stepped down in February.

"I said, well, normally I’d say no because I had my retirement all taken care of, but the economy is saying that I’ll probably have to do something and that was something that I think I could do," said King, 69, and the former Senate president. "Now, whether or not I’m even on the short list, I don’t know. But the answer to the question is, 'Would you be interested to pursue it?' Yes, I would."

King planned to call search committee head Carolyn Roberts today, but ran out of time as he and his staff were preparing a bill presentation for Tuesday. He says he'll call her soon.

Coming to a House bill near you: "gliding" Citizens rate hike

The bill is still being drafted by House leaders, but word is the House's insurance policy committee as soon as Friday will vote on a proposal to gradually raise Citizens Insurance rates (likely 10 percent a year statewide average, and no more than 20 percent a year for individual policy holders. Lawmakers are calling it a "glide path," even though airplanes and such typically glide down.

The legislation is likely to be tacked on as an amendment to an existing bill by Rep. Bryan Nelson, R-Apopka. House Speaker Pro Tempore Ron Reagan said it will likely include a provision to gradually reduce the state's CAT fund exposure by cutting down over about six years the so-called TICL layer (which is state-sponsored cheap reinsurance for residential property). The TICL layer, established in January 2007, has increased the CAT fund coverage capacity - and with it, the financial liability for insurance customers should a big storm hit the Sunshine State.

"The exposure right now is too great, and the (Citizens) rates are too low," said Rep. Reagan, R-Sarasota. "I think this will be a bipartisan effort."

House leaders are working with the Senate, where the companion legislation would come out of Sen. Garret Richter's banking and insurance committee. Meanwhile, a House panel Friday moved legislation forward that would open the door for State Farm and other large insurance companies to charge higher rates.

Company advocates say it is a matter of consumer choice -- allowing homeowners to decide if they want to pay more for coverage if they feel it's worth the cost. They also say Citizens' rates are in some areas more expensive than private insurers anyway, and would continue to be even if State Farm or others raised rates.

Attempt to collect $30.76 million from BSO stalls in House

A Broward family’s efforts to collect $30.76 million from the Broward Sheriff’s Office after a car crash in 1998 left one teen paralyzed stalled on Monday when lawmakers tabled the bill in its first committee stop.

In 2005, a Broward jury awarded the settlement to Eric Brody, now 29. More than a decade ago, Brody, then a high school senior, was turning left into his Sunrise subdivision when a BSO cruiser stuck the car, leaving Brody severely brain-damaged and bound to a wheelchair.

Rep. Rachel Burgin, R-Brandon, and Sen. Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, are sponsoring the legislation that Brody needs passed to collect from BSO.

But after nearly an hour of debate – and two meeting extensions -- the House Civil Justice & Courts Policy Committee ended its last scheduled meeting of the legislative session without taking a vote. The committee would need special permission from House leadership to set another meeting and revisit the bill.

The bill has yet to receive a hearing in the Senate.

Continue reading "Attempt to collect $30.76 million from BSO stalls in House" »

Sink leveraging GOP attacks for money

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink has been beating the bushes for money -- even though she has no re-election opponent in sight -- maybe just in case there's an open governor's seat in 2010.

Her latest appeal comes from Bob Graham, the former U.S. senator and governor. "It might feel like the next election is months and months away. But they're already coming after Alex,'' he says. "Just last week, the Republican Party of Florida spewed out three press releases in just three days -- each a bogus and desperate attack on Alex Sink.''

An e-mail last week sounded a similar theme: "They're already coming after me."

Indeed. The RPOF took Sink to task for criticizing Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum's no-bid contract with his former campaign consultant and for suggesting the state should consider investing in "toxic assets" being unloaded by banks nationwide.