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243 posts from November 2009

November 27, 2009

SunRail opposition gears up. Is FDOT union busting?

As a special session seems likely on rail issues, opponents of the proposed SunRail commuter system say it's the same old bad deal. The issues: cost, liability for taxpayers and federal protections for railroad workers on the tracks the state wants to buy from CSX for Central Florida commuter rail.

Will taxpayers be liable if CSX, which will continue to operate on the taxpayer-owned lines, causes an accident? Who knows? FDOT isn't producing any documentation showing what the deal is. Lakeland Sen. Paula Dockery has had to put in a public records request to find out. No response so far. What will the cost of the deal be? Who knows? FDOT isn't saying. Will railroad workers, who enjoy federal railroad protections, lose their labor rights? Who knows? FDOT isn't saying.

Yet we're going to have a special lawmaking session next week on the matter, anyway. And the fate of Tri-Rail funding hangs in the balance. So, potentially, does the state's application for high-speed rail money, which partly depends on the state showing more support for rail. AFL-CIO President Mike Williams just wrote a letter asking lawmakers to scuttle the SunRail deal. Expect the unions to make their case in Washington as well, where a certain president owes Big Labor a few favors and where mistrust is high of a Republican-led Legislature that went out of its way to once stop a bullet train plan that they now claim is a must for Florida.

Below is Williams letter. We asked FDOT for comment. Nothing in response. All aboard!

Continue reading "SunRail opposition gears up. Is FDOT union busting?" »

LeMieux has got Crist's back

During his first visit to South Florida since joining the Senate, Republican George LeMieux talked about how he's looking out for Florida -- and for the man who put him in office, Charlie Crist. He also discussed the nationwide debate over the right course for the Republican party. Story here.

November 26, 2009

Marco Rubio's tax pledge is false

Step aside Gov. Charlie Crist. You've got some double-talking company** in the Republican race for U.S. Senate: Marco Rubio.

"I have never voted for a tax increase," Rubio says on his campaign Web site.

Not so, says the Pulitzer Prize-winning Politifact checker:

From 2000 to 2008 -- the years Rubio was in office -- the required local effort from Florida's school districts rose about 102 percent, from $4.08 billion to $8.25 billion. Rubio voted for the budget, and the schools tax, each year. Some of that increase was created by new construction, but at least $2.5 billion came in additional property tax payments made by Floridians.

Two important caveats:

• In 2008, the Rubio-led House originally passed a budget that did not raise the schools tax -- the increase came later during budget negotiations between the House and Senate. Rubio praised that year's final budget as being balanced "without raising taxes."

• And in eight of Rubio's nine years, the corresponding tax rate went down. But because of increasing property values, the actual dollar amount -- the figure the Legislature sets -- grew.
The best example of this comes in 2007. As Rubio, Crist and the Legislature were pushing to reform the state's property tax system, they also were passing a budget that increased school property tax collections about $340 million, excluding increases for new construction.

The Rubio analysis here

**More herehere, here and here on Crist's double-talking. (Note: this list is not exhaustive, but is larger than Rubio's because Crist has more of a record and, seemingly, more inconsistencies with that record).

November 25, 2009

Rothstein's CFO cried about wanting to avoid jail

Attorney Bill Scherer filed an amended complaint today on behalf of investors who lost around $100 million due to Scott Rothstein. Among the new defendants: Irene Stay, CFO at the Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler law firm.

When the law firm's phones were ringing off the hook from bilked investors when Rothstein took off for Morocco, Stuart Rosenfeldt, co-owner of the firm, pressed Stay for confirmation of money in the operating and trust accounts, states the complaint.

"Eventually Stay relented and began inconsolably crying repeating the phrase, "I don't want to go to jail."

Stay could not be reached.

Atwater, Cretul tell members special might be called Monday

Legislators might not be thankful for this heads-up: Senate President Jeff Atwater and House Speaker Larry Cretul just sent letters to members in their respective chambers to notify them that if negotiations continue to move positively, a special session on commuter and high-speed rail could be called Monday -- to begin just three days later on Thursday, Dec. 3.

Previously, it was expected any special would be called to coincide with the committee week that begins Dec. 7. But Hannukah is at the end of that week, and Cretul and Atwater don't want to risk a lengthier than expected session that conflicts with the Jewish holiday.

Keep reading for their letters...

Continue reading "Atwater, Cretul tell members special might be called Monday" »

Special session could start next week

Word is that legislative leaders and Gov. Charlie Crist are close to a deal on Tri-Rail, SunRail and high-speed rail, and could call a special session as early as next week.

Crist said he preferred the week of Dec. 7, but the Legislature might meet before then to avoid running into Hannukah.

Expect Sen. Paula Dockery of Lakeland -- who is trying to raise her statewide profile as she runs for governor -- to show her usual determination to kill Central Florida's SunRail, saying it's a bad deal for taxpayers.


Crist moves special election for Wexler seat

Gov. Charlie Crist just released the executive order to reschedule the special election to fill Congressman Robert Wexler's seat. The original date conflicted with Passover. Now it will be held April 13, 2010.

Read the order here:  Download Wexler Executive Order 09-265

Rothstein's lawyer says big whop about living in client's house

Herbert Stettin, the trustee in the bankruptcy case involving Scott Rothstein's former law firm, raised questions today in court about Rothstein's defense attorney, Marc Nurik, living in one of his client's homes.

Stettin explained after the hearing that he wonders if the house was purchased with money from the Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler law firm -- dollars that should go to investors.

Nurik, who wasn't at the hearing, questions why the lawyers care where he lives. He said he moved into the house on Castilla Isle in Fort Lauderdale last year. He declined to be specific about how much he pays in rent and whether he paid in the past but said that he paid rent this month that went into an escrow account.

"If someone can pay to fix the kitchen I will pay even more rent,'' Nurik said. "The kitchen rotted out so there is no sink, half the kitchen was ripped out. There was no fridge for a month, there is no dishwasher. There is a little bar sink about the size of your two hands to wash dishes. ... They are concerned about my kitchenless house I am renting how about all the money being billed by attorneys running around on this bankruptcy estate that is going to leave no money for investors at the end of the day?"

Nurik also disputed rumors that he received $750,000 from Rothstein to represent him. Nurik said he has been paid ''a little'' but declined to say how much, and jokes that if Stettin can get his hands on that six-figure amount he'll split it with him.

"I'm not planning on getting paid by anything that is questionable or that I'm going to be forced to give it back,'' he said.

Ultimately will Nurik be summoned to a hearing to answer questions about how much he has been paid? Stay tuned.

Nurik and Stettin have a connection. Nurik worked for the law firm of John Genovese's before he went to work for Rothstein. Genovese has been retained by Stettin to pursue some claims.

What did Eikenberg, Strum, LeMieux know about Scott Rothstein?

Gov. Charlie Crist bragged the other night that all his chiefs of staff have been from Broward County, forming a "Broward County connection."

Accused Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein was from there as well. And he gave loads of money to Crist and the Republican party. Did George LeMieux (now a Sen.) Eric Eikenberg (now on the Crist Sen. campaign) and current chief Shane Strum ever say anything? We don't know about the last two. They didn't return calls for comment.

LeMieux said he wondered where Rothstein's money came from, but didn't want to "criticize" someone who was so generous. LeMieux lamented the "culture of corruption" in South Florida as well. More here on all that.

Supreme Court disbars Rothstein

As expected, the Florida Supreme Court approved the permanent disbarment of alleged Ponzi schemer and major political donor Scott Walter Rothstein. The order, signed by the court's clerk, allows the Florida Bar to recover $1,250 in costs from Rothstein, though it might be difficult considering those at the front of the reimbursement line.

Rothstein can appeal, and only after that window expires is it final, but the order is "effective immediately."