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322 posts from May 2009

May 27, 2009

Sink gets AFL-CIO endorsement

With no primary in sight and the election still 18 months away, the Florida AFL-CIO endorsed Chief Financial Office Alex Sink for governor. Sink, a Democrat, faces Republican Bill McCollum in the race to replace Gov. Charlie Crist, who is running for U.S. Senate. Neither have a primary but rumors keep circulating about unhappy Republicans trying to recruit a new candidate. The latest to surface: Lakeland Sen. Paula Dockery.

The AFL-CIO says it represents 500,000 workers, retirees and their families. Here's part of the statement from President Cindy Hall:

"Our working families, who I am privileged to represent, are desperate for real change in Tallahassee and they are firmly convinced that Alex Sink has the strength, intelligence, experience and compassion to be the agent of that change.

"The responses of our legislative leaders to Florida’s current economic crisis make it abundantly clear that the people of Florida can no longer rely on Tallahassee’s entrenched power brokers to provide the real leadership we need to safely navigate these troubled times."

Crist signs budget but restores pay to state workers

Saying the economy is on the upswing, Florida's ever-optimistic Gov. Charlie Crist signed the state's $66.5 billion budget into law Wednesday, making two changes to the bill passed by lawmakers.

The governor restored pay to state workers -- reversing the 2 percent pay cuts imposed by the legislature -- and he vetoed the raids on the concealed weapons trust fund.

"I believe that now is not the best time to reduce state employees pay and so we have made that modifcation,'' Crist said. Agency heads will "respect the legislature's reduction without reducing salaries."

He said that the 28,000 state workers "and their families are consumers too. I want them to have the ability to make purchases and stimulate Florida's economy.''

At a bill signing ceremony attended by the legislature's top Republican budget chiefs, Crist said the state budget is "not nearly as dismal as many expected it to be. There are no broad base tax increases, no plans to release inmates from prison.'' And he noted that Florida isn't making cuts as deep as other states.

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Grand jury indicts Odom, adds perjury charge for Sansom

A4S_odom022209_57521c A grand jury has just indicted developer Jay Odom on a felony charge of official misconduct for his role in the $6 million airport building that Rep. Ray Sansom secured funding for in 2007.

The jury also added a perjury charge for Sansom, who testified in April that he was unaware the airport building would be used by Odom. (links to indictments here and here.)

State Attorney Willie Meggs said the principal theory of law was applied to charge Odom with official misconduct. "We charged him with being a principal to the acts of an official." In other words, Sansom would have no reason to seek money for an airport building had Odom not pushed for one, according to the indictment. A profile of Odom is here. Video: Meggs explains the charges.

Amid consumer protest, Crist says he doesn't like insurance bill

Gov. Charlie Crist said this morning that he continues to have concerns about the property insurance bill (HB 1171) that allows for large, well-capitalized companies like State Farm, to go unregulated.

"To have that industry unregulated in essence is not something that is appealing to me nor is it fair to the customer,'' Crist said at a morning media availability.

Meanwhile, the Consumer Federation of the Southeast and the Florida Public Interest Research Group called on the governor Wednesday to veto the bill.

"This should be a no brainer veto,'' said Walter Dartland, director of the Consumer Federation. "It will allow the major property insurers to raise rates any way they want.''

He warned that when a similar deregulation was allowed for property insurance of condominiums, "State farm dramatically increased rates over several years and then decided not to renew the policies. There's no reason for me to think that anything different can happen here.''

Sansom grand jury nearing a decision

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State Attorney Willie Meggs just left a Leon County courtroom to say the grand jury has begun deliberations after being called back to review new evidence in the Ray Sansom case. "They have been informed of some information and we have given them some law," Meggs said. The new evidence includes documents Meggs obtained from Northwest Florida State College regarding the $6 million airport building Sansom secured funding for in 2007.

The jurors have several options: Do nothing, amend the previous indictments or add a new person to the mix.

Jeb Bush Jr. endorses Rubio

Marco Rubio via Twitter: "Proud to announce the endorsement of Jeb Bush Jr. He will be a great asset in our efforts to reach the next generation of GOP leadership."

Endorsement : Today I would like to let you know that I will be enthusiastically supporting my friend Marco Rubio for his bid for the United States Senate. Florida and our country are at a crossroads. Not only in our economic life, but in who we are as Republicans.

My choice was a simple one: Marco Rubio represents the best in what our Party should strive to be and who it must engage – he is young, conservative, and believes in the principles of our Founding Fathers, that individual freedom and liberty are what makes our country great and always will.

Marco Rubio is a candidate who can help to bring our Party back on track by reaching out to our youth, entrepreneurs, Hispanics and those who believe that if you work hard enough, anything you dream can be achieved.  With Marco, we have a great opportunity to elect a true conservative and a greater obligation to elect a man of principle.

Charlie Crist fudging economy numbers. Again

Gov. Charlie Crist just wrapped up another short press briefing where he reiterated that he's an "optimist" and saw positive signs in the economy. Crist mentioned that his budget chief led him to believe that state financial forecasters issued an estimate in March that was "more bleak" than current tax collections indicate.

Sort of.

Year to date, the forecasters' estimates are off by a mere $20.3 million. That's .12 percent off the estimate of $17.316 billion. And the head of the Legislature's Office of Economic and Demographic Research, Amy Baker, said the main reason for the higher-than-forecast collections was due to a change in the way corporate income taxes are being collected. In future months, she said, those tax collections could come in lower than forecast. So the estimate in the long run will be spot on. And therefore realistically bleak.

"The good news is things didn't deteriorate more," Baker said. "The decline is stabilizing and slowing down, which we forecast."

Here's what Crist didn't mention: Sales taxes (the mainstay of the budget) are still declining relative to the March revenue estimate. It's off $44m. Also, the actual tax collections overall are down 12.8 percent compared to last year.

Crist also pointed out that home sales are going up, and the unemployment rate is declining. No mention of the fact that real-estate activity has increased because of foreclosures and so-called "distressed" sales. Nor did Crist mention that the unemployment rate's slight (two-tenths of a percent) decline was for one month or that 9.6 percent unemployment rate is far higher than when he took office.

So that leaves consumer confidence, which Crist also lauded. True. It's up. Slightly. But in a state/country where excess consumption helped lead to financial disaster, it's unclear how reliable the consumer confidence number really is in the long run.

Quizz: Who said Florida's "economic engine" would be "fired up" by Crist's property-tax cut plan? Oh yeah. That was Gov. Crist. In 2007.

May 26, 2009

Federal judge strikes down Florida campaign law

A Florida campaign law requiring nonpartisan groups to register as elections groups unconstitutionally limits political free speech, a federal judge has ruled.  (Read the ruling here.)

“This is a tremendous victory for the First Amendment right to speak about politics without the government getting in the way,” said Bert Gall, an attorney for the Institute for Justice, which filed suit on behalf of the Broward Coalition of Condominiums, Homeowners Associations and Community Organizations, the University of Florida College Libertarians and the National Taxpayers Union.

“Florida’s law put everyday political speech under the thumb of campaign finance bureaucrats. But with today’s ruling, all Floridians—not just political insiders—can now discuss important political issues without fear of being punished or forced to submit to onerous regulations," Gall said.

U.S. District Judge Stephan P. Mickle ruled Friday. The law requires even nonpolitical organizations to register with the state if they merely mention candidates or issues in publications or through other communications such as Web sites. In October, Mickle granted a preliminary injunction that stopped the state from enforcing the law pending the final ruling in a suit filed by some affected groups.

A spokeswoman for Secretary of State Kurt Browning said Tuesday that he will appeal the decision to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.

"I can't believe the state will spend tax dollars to appeal this," said Charlotte Greenbarg, president of the Broward Coalition, which printed a newsletter discussing items on the November ballot only to find out it would have to register as an elections group. She said she was "delighted" by the ruling.

Reporting by The Associated Press and Alex Leary

$15 million in budget 'turkeys' now before Crist

The budget turkey is a rare find this year. TaxWatch's annual list identifies 10 projects worth $15 million that it says bypassed the normal appropriation process. "The Legislature was forced to make a number of very difficult decisions this year because of the state's financial situation," said Dominic Calabro, president of the organization.

This year's total is down from $110 million last year and is the lowest amount since the turkey watch began in 1994 (there were two no-turkey years).

The 10 projects, most of which were funded through trust funds, include $100,000 for the task force on African-American History; $300,000 for the Hillsborough Association of Retarded Citizens; $1 million for the Miami project to cure paralysis; $8 million for an infrastructure pilot program for counties and schools; $3 million for a pilot to make traffic signals less vulnerable to hurricanes; and $125,000 for the Holocaust museum in St. Petersburg.

The full list and TaxWatch report is here. The group cautions that not all projects are bad but that they should not be added during conference or as part of normal budgeting. It is now up to Gov. Charlie Crist to decide whether to veto the so-called turkeys.

Martinez on Sotomayor: "Great pride"

Mel Martinez is one of 99 senators (100 if the Minnesota election is concluded) who'll get a chance to vote on Sotomayor and here's his take: "During the twenty-five years I spent in Florida courts, I gained a great respect for our judicial system and the importance it plays in our society. At the apex of this system is the Supreme Court of the United States. On that court, we must have the very best.

"As an Hispanic-American, I take great pride in seeing the nomination of an Hispanic person to serve in this high position - an historic first. Judge Sonia Sotomayor's personal life story is one of great accomplishments and a source of inspiration; it also demonstrates the great opportunities our nation has to offer.

"The appointment and confirmation of Federal judges is the only time that the Constitution brings all three branches of our government together into one unified process. These unique opportunities require that all
participants work to ensure the process is both fair and thorough. When it comes to judicial candidates, we ought to look at experience, fairness, impartiality, temperament, and knowledge of the law. I look forward to participating in a fair and thorough process as the Senate conducts its constitutionally-required examination of Judge Sotomayor¹s qualifications for serving on the nation¹s highest court."