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207 posts from July 2009

July 31, 2009

Wasserman Schultz: Fox News Sunday's "Power Player"

Fox News Sunday has dubbed Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz its "Classic Power Player" this week and says it will have the Broward Democrat on Sunday to talk about "her own personal, and public, fight with breast cancer."

She could've qualified as a Classic Power Player as well for her propensity in pulling down federal dollars for her congressional district. Wasserman Schultz, who chairs one of the House appropriations subcommittees, said today she's nabbed $40 million worth of earmarks this year's budget bills -- twice as much as the rising Democratic star did a year ago. (And with a broken leg, no less)

Though the projects -- dubbed earmarks and derided as pork barrel spending -- have their critics, (see earlier post on Wasserman Schultz earmarks), the rep says they account for less than 1 percent of the federal budget and help Floridians -- who pay more in federal taxes than they get back, get their fair share.

The full list of her earmarks follows the jump.

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Second day of compact talks ended with no resolution

Lawyers for Gov. Charlie Crist and the Seminole Tribe met on Wednesday for the second full day of talks since they began negotiations in early July and many of the same issues that divide them remain, said George LeMieux, who is representing the governor.

But Rep. Bill Galvano, the Bradenton Republican who led the House negotiations on the compact legislation, suggested that the tribe is operating under flawed thinking if it assumes it is entitled to all the games it was awarded in the first compact. And, he adds, it is now operating those games illegally.

The sticking points continue to be: giving the tribe the exclusive right to operate slot machines and card games; the scope of the games they will be allowed to offer; the money they will agree to pay in exchange for their exclusivity; and the amount of state regulation they will accept.

The tribe has balked at the take-it-or-leave it deal lawmakers offered that urges the governor to give the tribe black jack and other banked card games at no more than three of its seven casinos, and pay the state no less than $150 million a year, LeMieux told the Herald/Times.

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FAMU law, like FIU law, now fully accredited

Seven years after lawmakers reopened Florida A&M University’s law school with $40-million in taxpayer dollars, the school has received full accreditation -- overcoming a tumultuous track record of leadership turnover, faculty rancor and academic concerns.

The American Bar Association this afternoon granted full accreditation — a national stamp of approval that is vital to the school’s reputation and long-term survival. The decision by the ABA’s Council on Legal Education Opportunity is a major victory for the historically black College of Law, which reopened in 2002, more than three decades after legislators shut it down amid court-ordered desegregation.

"It's probably the best news we've had in 2009," said FAMU graduate Sen. Al Lawson, who spent 12 years working to get the law school reopened. "It's been a long haul, and I think it's a real credit to the administration."

Lawmakers reestablished the law school with high expectations about training a more diverse pool of attorneys for the increasingly diverse Sunshine State. FAMU officials and law school alumni said Friday’s ABA decision is proof the law school has moved beyond the earlier struggles that garnered so many negative headlines.

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Fasano calls on all agencies to follow DOT lead on contracts

Sen. Mike Fasano, the head of the budget committee that oversees transportation, said Friday that he wants other state agencies to do what DOT Secretary Stephanie Kopelousos' has done: stop giving automatic pay raises to contractors.

Kopelousos ordered the change afater legislators required all agencies to look at their contracts in the January special session, said Dick Kane, her spokesman. In a letter to Sen. Dave Aronberg on Wednesday, Kopelousos included a chart that shows the state saving at least $10 million this year from the salary hikes alone.

"If DOT can do it, that means that every other state agency should go back to their vendor and say we are not going to kick into the pay raise that was agreed to bec the dollars are not there,'' Fasano told the Herald/Times.

When the issue was raised during the legislative session, Fasano said Senate staff said that if the legislature ordered agencies to halt the so-called "escalation clauses" that allowed for automatic pay hikes, "that agency could be hit by a lawsuit by the vendor.''

But DOT ordered its staff to review 1,967 contracts and has begun renegotiating them to eliminate the automatic salary hikes and will not include the clause in future contracts. "I'm sure DOT looked into the ramifications,'' said Fasano, R-New Port Richey. "If DOT can do it, I beleive it can be done at every other agency,'' he said.

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Crist picks cash-raising over Jim King memorial

Much of the Capitol political establishment will be in Jacksonville tomorrow for the first of two memorial services planned for the late Sen. Jim King, but not Gov. Charlie Crist.

Crist, who already has raised $4.3 million for his U.S. Senate campaign, will be in Aspen, Colorado raising more money -- this time at the home of Debbie and Brent Sembler. The host committee includes a lineup of prominent developers and a casino backer.

King, who died Sunday of pancreatic cancer, dedicated his final session of a 23-year career to pushing Crist's renewable energy goals. It ultimately died amid House stalling and a last-minute House attempt to tack on offshore oil drilling.

But King received compliments for taking on the complicated and politically divisive issue and crafting a proposal that went as far as it could to please many factions.

Lt. Governor Jeff Kottkamp will attend the service tomorrow in Jacksonville. Crist's official governor calendar says "no scheduled events."

Sink keeps assets in blind trust; out of her sight but also the public's

When Alex Sink became Florida's top financial watchdog almost three years ago, she put her assets in a Sink2 blind trust, which she said would help her avoid conflicts of interest.

Yet Sink's effort to avoid potential conflicts and hold herself to a self-proclaimed higher standard has an unintended consequence: There is less public disclosure about her finances than other officials and greater uncertainty as to whether she is deciding matters in which she may have a financial interest.

Why? Because blind trusts are not regulated in Florida and there are no rules guaranteeing that officeholders' financial dealings are being handled independent of their public duties.

In fact, the Florida Commission on Ethics once ruled that one of Sink's predecessors could not avoid conflicts of interest by creating a blind trust and parking his financial holdings in it. Now a candidate for governor, Sink dismisses the reasoning, saying her blind trust is still the best way to go above and beyond the state's ethics laws.

"It's blind because I don't know what's in there. "


-- Adam Smith

House Dems take to the web and YouTube

Florida House Democratic Leader Franklin Sands unveiled a new web site today, featuring the caucus and highlighting floor speeches of several individual members, thanks to YouTube.

Sand's introduces the site with a video message (in which is obviously reading a prepared script) and says they'll be using the site to keep people informed about their positions and will "communicate in a timely manner to keep Floridians up to date."

No mystery here: 'User' of Sansom's airport building was Odom

A Northwest Florida State College spokeswoman, Sylvia Bryan, has repeatedly refused to answer a simple but critical question: Who is the "user" of a  planned airport building at Destin Airport.

We've also gotten silence from the architect who wrote the e-mail saying he had it "confirmed" that the user of the "staging area" would store multiple aircraft in the building. The e-mail is important not only for what it confirms, but also because it came three days after Rep. Ray Sansom first insisted to the Times/Herald that there was never a plan for his friend Jay Odom to use the building.

Now a college official sheds light on what was already obvious. "Do you know who the identity is of the user of the staging area is," state investigator Jim Anderson asked vice president Gary Yancey in an interview July 21. (The interview, taken under oath, and others were made public today.)

"No," Yancey replied. Do you have an idea of who that would have been? "My assumption is that when I got that that he was referring to Destin Jet," which is Odom's corporate jet business.

Yancey said it was his intention all along to make the building a hangar, so "we could possibly park airplanes in there. It didn't matter who was doing it." Anderson asked if there were discussions about anyone other than Destin Jet using the space. "Only theoretically. I mean, we never mentioned anybody by name."

Did you mention Destin Jet by name? "Oh, yes."

Broward to name interim replacement for ousted CFO

Broward County Administrator Bertha Henry will ask commissioners Tuesday to appoint Melissa Heller as interim CFO for six months while she searches for a permenant replacement.

Heller has worked for Broward since 1999, most recently as deputy director to CFO Mike Geoghegan. Earlier this month, Henry asked Geoghegan to resign. He left -- without signing the letter of resignation Henry gave him that states he won't sue in exchange for 90 days pay. He has until Monday to sign but said in an interview today that he has been advised by an attorney not to sign though he has no plans to sue.

"I'm just trying to look out for my rights,'' Geoghegan said.

The agenda item about Heller states that the promotion will have no fiscal impact, but HR director Jim Acton could not be reached regarding whether that means she won't get a raise.

Henry's actions in mid-July -- the same week she released the budget and while commissioners were on a month-long break -- took some by surprise. Commissioner Ken Keechl at the time said that Henry would have to explain her reasons.

Capitol, Jax flags at half staff for King

Gov. Charlie Crist this morning ordered that flags at the Capitol and in Jacksonville be lowered to half-staff now through Tuesday, in honor of the late Sen. Jim King, R-Jacksonville

Tuesday at 2 p.m. in House chambers, lawmakers and friends will hold a memorial service for the longtime lawmaker and former Senate president, who died last weekend of pancreatic cancer.

Read the memo here: Download Flags at Half-Staff - Senator Jim King