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285 posts from January 2010

January 29, 2010

Crist proposes $69.2 billion budget -- a $3 billion boost

Gov. Charlie Crist's bottom line for his fourth budget: $69.2 billion -- up from the $66.5 billion passed last year.

The budget revives Florida Forever, with a $50 million increase, includes $10 million in new teaacher bonus money, $3 million for "economic gardening" incentives for small business and $2.8 million to reduce class size, and $100 million in new university money -- and, Crist said, includes no layoffs or raises.

The proposed spending plan also includes $100 million in tax relief, including a 10-day back to school sales tax holiday and a reduction of the corporate income tax of $57 million, or 1 percent on the first $1 million of corporate income. He puts $55 million in the the KidCare health insurance program and $9.1 million to help 3000 families adopt children with special needs.

But legislators have already warned it's a budget built on wisps and whims. Senate President Jeff Atwater told reporters on Wednesday that Atwater he agreed with Crist's proposal to tap the Lawton Chiles Endowment Fund again. But he does not agree with Crist in reliance on the Seminole Tribe's gaming compact with the state to help public schools. The Legislature has refused to approve Crist's proposal for a gaming compact.

"As much as I would like to see us try again, the reality of this moment, that I think I could use that as a revenue source, doesn't exist for me," Atwater said. "We're going to deal with the facts as we see them: We have less revenue."

Crist brought his budget chief Jerry McDaniel to the podium and said he would ask the first question: "I want you to explain with all these priorities how you came up with this budget?"

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Obama tries to remind independents why they voted for him

TAMPA -- Amid declining poll numbers and political fortunes, President Barack Obama on Thursday tried to reconnect with the fickle state that helped put him in the White House and urged voters to keep the faith despite Florida's withering recession.

He aimed his message at the coveted independent voters clustered in this part of Florida who broke with tradition in 2008 and cast ballots for the Democratic nominee. Independent voters have recently carried Republican candidates to statewide victories in Massachusetts, Virginia and New Jersey, raising the GOP's hopes for the 2010 election.

The Tampa town hall was the first joint appearance outside the Washington area by Obama and Vice President Joe Biden since last February, when they traveled to Colorado to sign the economic stimulus bill into law.

"It's always nice to be out of Washington and spend a little time with the people who sent me to Washington,'' Obama told a raucous University of Tampa arena filled with more than 2,500 people.

Full story here.

January 28, 2010

The slaughtered pig and Marco Rubio


Republican U.S. Senate frontrunner Marco Rubio is getting on the wrong side of animal-rights activists who say his decision to post a twitter photo of a Christmas Eve pig slaughter was not only in poor taste -- it could have taken place at an illegal abattoir.

Rubio spokesman Alex Burgos denies the charge and said everything was on the up and up.

"This is not a USDA approved slaughter farm. This is not his home. This is an illegal operation," said Richard Couto, founder of the Miami-based Animal Recovery Mission, which fights what he says is a rash of illegal slaughter operations in the county.

"Most of the illegal farms have these wooden tables. You have four guys holding this pig down. It looks like this hog is still alive. The only time four men hold down a hog is when it is being slaughtered alive," Couto said.

But Burgos said Couto is off base. "There's no way four men could hold down a live pig that large," Burgos said, estimating the pig at 180 pounds.

He said Rubio snapped the photo at a Miami-Dade farm (he didn't know where) after the pig had been electrocuted (the common method of killing an animal). He said the men in the photo are preparing the pig to be roasted by removing the hog's hair.

"This is a Rubio family tradition enjoyed by thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people of Cuban-American descent every Christmas Eve," Burgos said. "It's Marco's way of giving insight into how his family spends Christmas Eve."

But Couto said he's looking for more proof to show that Marco Rubio doesn't "support the illegal industry going on in Miami-Dade." Couto said illegal slaughter operations break federal and state sanitary laws as well as local building and zoning rules. In addition, he said, they're cruel.

Couto said he learned of the tweet and photo this week and was profoundly disturbed. Rubio likely anticipated a backlash when he posted the photo with the cutline: "Working on the 2009 Rubio family Christmas eve pig. Warning picture not for the faint of heart."

Could there be a political backlash for the grotesque photo? Probably not in a Republican primary, where vegans and animal-rights groups probably couldn't muster much of a caucus.

Rubio's bigger political pig problem might be about pork of a different sort -- big-government spending that he now decries. But as state House Speaker in 2007 and 2008, he presided over budgets that had extra millions for Miami-Dade -- from $800,000 for artificial turf on Miami-Dade fields where he played flag football to the $20 million extra for two years for Jackson Memorial Hospital. It awarded him a no-bid consulting gig after he left government. The special line item for Jackson then disappeared from the budget. More herehere and here


Crist wants $100 mil more for universities, but from where?

Gov. Charlie Crist just announced his proposal for a $7.1 billion higher education budget that includes $100 million more in annual base funding for the 11 universities. Yet nowhere in the press release does it say where that money will come from in the state budget, which is projected to be anywhere from $1 billion to $3 billion in the hole for 2010-11.

He also wants a $67-million increase for Florida’s 28 community colleges "to meet rising enrollment without increasing tuition." Will the extra cash come from the gambling compact that doesn't yet exist, as he proposes for his K-12 budget?

The proposal came on the same day he booted former Gov. Jeb Bush's appointees from the board that oversees the universities, and within hours of the Board of Governors unveiling its initiative to secure $1.75 billion more in state funding over the next 5 years for universities.

But talk to legislative leaders, and the proposals sound like fairyland wishes.

Senate president Jeff Atwater earlier this week said universities are likely to face cuts -- not significant hikes. He called Crist's budget proposals so far "optimistic." And House Speaker designate Dean Cannon said the university funding proposal is "ambitious."

"You can’t look at any budget item in a vacuum, they all impact all the other priorities," he said. "There are components of some of the things that Gov. Crist has proposed that sound good. Our job is to assemble a budget that reflects what revenues we have available and spends them wisely."

Crist boots Jeb's picks from universities board

Gov. Charlie Crist is shaking up the board that oversees Florida universities, replacing the current and former chairs plus two other members --  all of them originally appointed by of former Gov. Jeb Bush. He replaced them with a who's who of RPOF allies and donors.

Gone are former chairwoman Carolyn Roberts of Ocala and current chair Sheila McDeviit of St. Petersburg. Also ousted were business John Dasburg and Zachariah P. Zachariah, a Fort Lauderdale cardiologist who donates generously to the Bush family and is under S.E.C. scrutiny for alleged insider trading.

Crist did reappoint Ava Parker, the board's vice chairwoman. Crist, who attended today's BOG meeting in Tampa to unveil his higher ed budget, named Parker plus five new members including his higher education advisor Dean Colson and Daytona Beach developer Morteza “Mori” Hosseini, a frequent donor and member of the Florida Council of 100.

The other new appointments:

  • Realtor Richard A. Beard III, 66, of Tampa, a longtime member of the Florida Council of 100 and is the founding chairman of the USF Board of Trustees.
  • Patricia Frost, 72, of Miami Beach, a longtime teacher and principal in the Miami-Dade County public schools. She is currently a trustee at Florida International University.
  • John Rood, 54, of Jacksonville, current finance chairman of the RPOF. He is chairman of the Vestcor Companies and former U.S. ambassador to the Bahamas. He was vice chair, chairman and commissioner of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission from 1999 to 2004.

Obama voters keep the faith

Went looking for voters at the Tampa town hall meeting who have fallen out of love with President Barack Obama but no such luck. However, 52-year-old homemaker Susan Mascenik said he needs to make it clear that he won't be able to deliver on all points of his agenda.

"People would be less upset if it didn't sound like a promise,'' said Mascenik, who hadn't voted for a Democratic presidential nominee since Bill Clinton until Obama came along. "I'd like to see him try to follow through.''

Mag Councilman, a 31-year-old music teacher, said Obama's announcement of $1.25 billion in federal aid for high-speed rail gave his jobs-first State of the Union speech some backbone.

"It gave it more credibility,'' she said. "People are on edge here, and we need the boost.''

Louis Garcia, a 55-year-old retired firefighter, said he was just as supportive of Obama as he was when he voted for him more than one year ago. "He took over a nightmare,'' he said. "He's doing everything he can do.''

Meek, Wasserman Schultz on Air Force One

Is there a better way to get to a presidential town hall meeting than on Air Force One? U.S. Reps. Kendrick Meek of Miami, Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, Kathy Castor of Tampa and Alan Grayson of Orlando are getting a ride today with President Barack Obama to Tampa.

Waiting for Obama on the tarmac will be Gov. Charlie Crist, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer.

Before heading over to the town hall meeting, Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are scheduled to tour a maintenance hangar and greet crew members working on a KC-135 Stratotanker that has been refueling planes flying aid to Haiti.

Universities, Crist push plan to double funding

On the heels of a Florida Council of 100 report recommending the state universities double their state and tuition funding over the next five years, the Board of Governors that oversees the 11 universities today is launching an initiative to do just that.

The New Florida Initiative seeks to increase state support for the SUS by $1.75 billion over five years -- all under the mantra of economic development and moving Florida. into the "knowledge-based economy." Coupled with revenue from tuition increases, the money would double funding.

Gov. Charlie Crist this afternoon is expected to  announce the first step in the long-term investment: $100 million in new, recurring funding as part of his recommended higher education budget.

But the source of that much money is unclear, and last week he recommended a K-12 budget that is propped up with over $400 million in revenues from a gambling compact that has yet to be signed by the Legislature.

Also, Senate President Jeff Atwater - who often praises the colleges as key to economic development - warned yesterday that universities are likely to face funding cuts, or maybe hold steady. But he said a significant hike in funding for 2010-11 is doubtful, given the state budget deficit.

SUS leaders say the support will enable public universities to  generate thousands more in college graduates, expand research and outside research grants, create spinoffs and new patents that boost Florida's economy.

--Shannon Colavecchio,Times/Herald

Thrasher: Fundraising going great

State Sen. John Thrasher said he is on track to meet his pledge to raise $1million for the Republican Party of Florida as a part of his bid for chairman. Thrasher told Buzz he raised more than $250,000 and expects to continue that pace for the final three weeks before the Feb. 20 vote, in which he faces underdog Sharon Day. He said its an exciting time to raise money after the GOP win the Massachusetts Senate race.

Buzz caught up with Thrasher this morning at Jacksonville International Airport as he read the Wall Street Journal while waiting for an early morning flight to Fort Lauderdale where he planned to speak at a tort reform conference hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and make a few fundraising visits.

Maybe the most telling detail about how his leadership would differ from the big-spending era of ousted Chairman Jim Greer is Thrasher's choice of airline: Southwest. No private jets and no first-class here. He said the price is right and it's almost always on time.

-- John Frank

Jeb says it's 'appropriate' for gov to meet pres

Appearing on NBC's Today Show on the morning that President Barack Obama is scheduled to hold a town hall in his home state, former Gov. Jeb Bush was asked if he would have joined the president as Gov Charlie Crist did one year ago to push the administration's economic stimulus plan.

"I would go when the president comes to the state,'' he said. "I think it's more than appropriate. It's not a sign of support. I wouldn't have necessarily embraced the stimulus plan that did not have support in the state and campaign for it and put Republicans in a vulnerable position."

In other words: handshake, but no hug. (Crist is planning to greet Obama on the airport tarmac this morning.)

Remember, it was Crist who stood up Jeb's brother, former President George W. Bush, when he visited Florida right before the 2006 election.

Jeb also said this morning: "I think that leaders on both sides of the aisle need to figure out where there is common ground and at least focus on that ... It's one thing to give a good speech. The other thing is to invite people that don't agree exactly with your point of view to build consensus."