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373 posts from March 2009

March 30, 2009

Latin Builders Association pushes down payment plan in Tallahassee

The Latin Builders Association this afternoon urged House Speaker Larry Cretul to get behind a plan providing new homebuyers $8,000 in federal stimulus money for a down payment.

"This just seems to be a win-win on many levels," said Anthony Seijas, a member of the association's executive board, who said it could help alleviate a major hurdle for people trying to buy homes as well as boost the real estate market. Board member Bernie Navarro predicted it would "get people off the sidelines."

Cretul listened with interest and took notes, though it remains to be seen how much traction the idea will get this late in the session. "We'll noodle that one," Cretul said. For more on the idea, see this story.

Crist now embracing gambling's promise of $1 billion

What does he know that we don't know? Gov. Charlie Crist said that after speaking with House Speaker Larry Cretul and Senate President Jeff Atwater today he's ready to count on as much as $1 billion in expanded gambling.

"I am more optimistic about getting a budget today,'' he said. "I had good conversations with the speaker and the president today. I am more encouraged we might get gaming and some significant additional revenue out of the [Sen. Dennis] Jones bill, maybe as much as $700 to $1 billion. There are glimmers of hope.''

-- Lucy Morgan

Hurry up! Only 17 months till Election Day

Tomorrow is the last day for U.S. Senate candidates to boost their first-quarter totals, so the appeals are coming fast and furious. In a state as big and expensive as Florida, candidates are under pressure to prove their fundraising prowess right off the bat.

"Deadline -- TOMORROW'' says the e-mail from Democrat Dan Gelber, who has been trying to tamp down expectations by constantly emphasizing how little fundraising time he has outside of the legislative session in Tallahassee. 

Republican Marco Rubio, who won't commit to running for Senate so he can keep his options open for governor, is urging prospective donors to "beat the buzzer on this first big test on the strength of our effort.''

"Time is running out!'' cries Democrat Kendrick Meek., who is likely to have the best haul thanks to two fundraising appearances by former President Bill Clinton

Better hurry up -- the primary election isn't until Aug. 24, 2010.

Crist says remove stubbon JNC members

Gov. Charlie Crist said Monday he would like to remove the members of a Judicial Nominating Commission that has refused to submit diverse nominees for an appellate court vacancy.

”It’s disappointing to me,’’ Crist said after a retiring judge at the Fifth District Court of Appeal asked the Florida Supreme Court to force the governor to accept one of six nominees submitted by the court’s nominating commission last year.

Judge Robert J. Pleus Jr. has continued to serve at the Fifth District Court of Appeal while waiting for Crist and the Judicial Nominating Committee to quit squabbling over the appointment.  Tallahassee lawyer Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte filed suit on Pleus’ behalf Monday, asking the state’s highest court to intervene.

The Committee reviewed 28 applicants for the job last year and submitted six nominees to the governor. Crist asked the JNC to reconvene and submit a new list, saying he wanted more diversity. He said the committee has been reluctant to send names that include African Americans. The JNC contends it is without authority to reconvene and come up with a new list.

The Constitution gives the governor 60 days after receiving a list of nominees to make the appointment, a deadline that elapsed on January 5.
Crist said he wants to review the lawsuit and consult with his general counsel before deciding what he can do.

-- Lucy Morgan

Crist won't 'judge' McCollum ads

Gov. Charlie Crist offered only a mild defense of Attorney General Bill McCollum's no-bid contract with his former campaign consultant to run ads warning parents about Internet sex predators.

Asked if the ads look more like political spots than public service announcements, Crist said, "I'll leave that to others to judge. I know that the cause he's talking about is incredibly important, having been attorney general.''

Compare his remarks to the strongly worded defense from Crist's handpicked chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, Jim Greer, who called criticism of the ads a "partisan witch hunt."

Crist was in Hialeah today to promote his Cover Florida initiative to help the estimated 4 million people who don't have private insurance. He said only about 1,000 people have signed up.

"While it's disappointing to me, for the 1,000 or so that have signed up, it's a breakthrough,'' he said.

Asked about scaling back plans to buy Big Sugar land to help the Everglades, Crist said, "The economy is what it is. I think we're going to have an announcement Wednesday or Thursday on that, but we have to deal with the reality that exists right now, and there is less money...I think hopefully by Wednesday or Thursday we'll show a plan that hits the sweet spot -- no pun intended  -- but also recognizes that these are difficult economic times, but also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.''

On whether he's warming to the idea of raising taxes on cigarettes if the money went to health care: "Certainly the health care aspect of it makes it more palatable than it would be otherwise. I'd still rather not do it if we don't have to, but we've only got four weeks left to go in our session."

On reports that he's disengaged from the budget process: "Oh I don't have any days off. I'm always on the phone. I'm always working. I'm never not governor of Florida and very engaged and I think we're making some very good progress."

Big tobacco tells Cretul: No net gain with cig tax

House Speaker Larry Cretul heard from lobbyists for the nation's largest tobacco companies in his office this morning with an anti-tax pitch that warned if the House agrees with the Senate and raises the cigarette tax, the state will see its revenue from Big Tobacco decline.

That's because these companies predict that buyers will switch to lower-priced cigarettes that don't pay into the tobacco settlement fund. Without raising the cigarette tax, the state will get $2.4 billion in Medicaid money, they said.

"People all of a sudden would have a choice,'' said Larry Williams of Reynolds Tobacco. "Do they want to stop smoking or swithc to a product that's $2 a pack less.''

"Our mission is to say, first people who use our product -- 55 percent of them are at the poverty level -- and if you're going to balance the budget, you're going to balance it on their backs.'' 

The industry lobbyists weren't the only ones offering arguments against the cigarette tax. Finance and Tax Committee Chairwomen Ellyn Bogdanoff sat in the meeting and suggested that if people stop buying cigarettes, they also stop visiting convenience stores.

 "Twenty-two percent of all sales in convenience stores are cigarettes,'' she said. "We need to look at everything. IF they don't go in to buy cigarettes, they don't buy the coke. They don't buy the chips.''

Senate clean energy bill includes nuclear

Sen. Jim King's energy and utilities committee won't take up the proposal until Tuesday morning, but lobbyists for companies including Gulf Power and FPL hurried to the Capitol this morning to dissect the committee's just-released proposal for new "clean energy" standards in Florida.

SB 1154 would require that 20 percent of energy in the Sunshine State come from renewable and "clean" (i.e. new nuclear) sources by the year 2020. Twenty-five percent could come from nuclear energy (FPL and Progress have nuclear plants and are planning new ones). Half would be reserved for wind and solar energy (FPL is also building solar plants), and the rest could come from biomass, solid waste and other renewable energy sources.

The proposal includes a consumer protection to limit to 2 percent any rate hikes associated with new costs of meeting the 20 by 2020 requirement. It also encourages the use of natural gas in Florida by allowing a company like Peoples Gas to hook up new lines to areas still under development, where current demand is low but future demand is anticipated.

Governor Charlie Crist has made "20 by 2020" a priority for this legislative session, but achieving that goal is a thorny matter that has varied groups including environmentalists, big utilities and even Big Sugar and paper companies fighting for their own interests in the renewable energy arena.

FPL and Progress, for example, support the inclusion of nuclear. But paper companies and Big Sugar would probably be happier with a bill that excluded nuclear because it might force the big utilities to buy some of their 20 percent renewable energy from the paper companies or Big Sugar - which can turn their waste into renewable energy.

King's committee takes up the bill at 9 a.m. The House has yet to release its proposal, but word is they have been waiting to see the Senate version before moving.

Retiring judge asks court to force Crist to fill job

A retiring appellate court judge has asked the Florida Supreme Court to force Gov. Charlie Crist to appoint his replacement.

Judge Robert J. Pleus has continued to serve at the Fifth District Court of Appeal while waiting for Crist and the Judicial Nominating Committee that selected nominees for the job squabble over who should get the job.

The committee reviewed 28 applicants for the job last year and submitted six nominees to the governor. Crist asked the JNC to reconvene and submit a new list, saying he wanted more diversity. The JNC contends it is without authority to reconvene and come up with a new list.

The Constitution gives the governor 60 days after receiving a list of nominees to make the appointment, a deadline that elapsed on Jan. 5.

The petition to the state’s highest court was filed by Tallahassee lawyer Talbot “Sandy’’ D’Alemberte. Crist’s office had no immediate comment.
Lucy Morgan, Times senior correspondent

March 29, 2009

Jim Morin takes on Bill McCollum


March 28, 2009

Politicians use TV to get the word out

In the first half of 1997, Bill Nelson -- then Florida's insurance commissioner and treasurer -- starred in a public service announcement that was reported to have aired more than 8,200 times. The ad promoted Nelson's efforts to compensate Prudential Life Insurance policyholders who may have been victims of a scam.

Was Nelson merely educating the public about the workings of state government? Or was the Democrat increasing his own visibility in anticipation of his next state campaign? Maybe both?

Read more about taxpayer-funded political branding here.