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275 posts from February 2011

February 25, 2011

Haridopolos on high speed rail: "No means no."

Senate President Mike Haridopolos made the following statement after U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood extended the high speed rail funding decision another week:

"Adding another week to the deadline for Florida to take $2.4 billion to build high speed rail won’t change my mind. No means no. Why is Washington working so hard to spend money it doesn’t have? Instead of letting that money burn a hole in his pocket, Secretary LaHood should send it back to the federal treasury. As our state and country continue to recover from a serious economic downturn, those who were elected to represent its citizens should make a serious commitment to reduce spending and have the ability to decide between our wants and our needs. Again, I say no thank you to the federal government’s offer."

Saunders schedules vote for 2012 Democratic House leader

Florida House Democratic Leader Ron Saunders on Friday announced that the House Democratic Caucus will meet at 8:45 a.m. on March 8 for the purpose of designating the Democratic nominee for Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives for the 2012-14 term.

The race pits Rep. Perry Thurston from Plantation against Joseph Gibbons from Hallandale.

Thurston for months has been calling on Saunders to schedule an election before session begins to end any divisiveness over the issue.

"When you have less than 40 members the last thing you need is to not be unified," said Thurston, who lost to Saunders by a tiny margin in that race.  "Once we have the election everybody will come together and we'll all be on the same page."

Gibbons said he would have preferred to wait.

"I wish we would have waited a little longer, the second or third week of session, so the freshmen would have an opportunity to see us on the floor," Gibbons said.

He is pressuring Thurston to bow out of the race, saying he had his chance to lead the caucus in the last election and lose.

"You shouldn't have two African-Americans running against each other," Gibbons said.


Gov. Scott's evolving position on Florida labor law and collective bargaining

Days after Gov. Rick Scott told a Tallahassee radio station that he was supportive of collective bargaining, he now says he wish it wasn't allowed in Florida.

Scott's original remarks came in a half-hour interview on WFLA FM Radio on Tuesday in which he referred to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. (Just as Walker is mentioning Scott.) “Walker is trying to eliminate collective bargaining,” Scott said. "My belief is, as long as people know what they're doing, collective bargaining is fine." He added, however: "as long as people know what they're voting for."

On Friday, Scott gave an interview with Bloomberg TV in Washington, D.C. and changed his tune. While Florida's Constitution protects workers from being compelled to join a union, it also protects unionworkers by guaranteeing their right to collective bargaining. Scott acknowledged the constitutional protections, but announced he'd now would like to see the constitution changed.

“It’d be great to be able to change it,'' Scott said, according to a preview of the interview posted on the Bloomberg web site. “Our state workers don’t pay for anything into their pension plan. And we can’t afford that -- it’s not fair to taxpayers. If you didn’t have collective bargaining, would it be better for the state? Absolutely.”

What a difference a week -- of national attention directed at another governor -- makes. For another take on this issue, read former New York Times reporter David Cay Johnston's criticism of the way the media has covered the collective bargaining dust up in Wisconsin. His point: Walker, and Florida Gov. Scott for that matter, are wrong when they say that workers don't pay for their retirement accounts.

Continue reading "Gov. Scott's evolving position on Florida labor law and collective bargaining" »

All checks, no balance: A Herald/Times special report

As Florida lawmakers arrive in Tallahassee for the 2011 session, few dispute that a sea change has swept through the Capitol in recent years.

Term limits ushered in an era that gives lawmakers less time to master the art of legislative politics while accelerating their campaigns for the next political office. Super-parties have emerged from a mish-mash of campaign finance laws. The power of a 40-member Senate and 120-member House has been concentrated among a few select lawmakers. And pro-consumer ideas are often drowned out by the drumbeat of special interests.
In a special report to be published Sunday, the Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau examines institutional problems within a Legislature that has struggled to push the state out of its economic crisis. 

UPDATED: Republican leader Eric Cantor has "concerns" about David Rivera

Miami Republican David Rivera, who is under criminal investigation for financial dealings, wasn't at a recent Eric Cantor fundraiser in Miami and the Majority Leader's spokesman said today that was no mistake.

"Given recent reports, investigations in Florida, Eric has concerns and he believes this was the appropriate way to handle it," said Brad Dayspring

A website, Florida Clarion, reported earlier that Cantor spoke with former state Rep. Renier Diaz de la Portilla, at the Cantor Victory Fund event at Dade Medical College, but Cantor was said not to have had any conversations with Republicans who might be eyeing Rivera's seat in the event that there's an opening. (See update after the jump.)

That Cantor is willing to go on the record with "concerns," can't be good for Rivera. House Speaker John Boehner said last month that the House is "waiting to see how this plays out." Lawmakers can't ask the House Ethics Committee to investigate while a criminal investigation is unfolding, and as Boehner noted, the allegations predate Rivera's congressional tenure.

Continue reading "UPDATED: Republican leader Eric Cantor has "concerns" about David Rivera " »

Sen. Dockery wants Rick Scott's rail guy to cough up his bullet-train emails

The last time Sen. Paula Dockery requested passenger rail-related emails from the Florida Department of Transportation it led to a bizarro investigation involving breakfast-food-name-emails that were sent and received by DOT official Kevin Thibault. (The probe, concerning whether public records were hidden, determined there was no wrongdoing).

Now Dockery's back. And again she wants documents about rail from Thibault, who despite his high position as DOT's rail guru couldn't tell us last week about basic ridership numbers for Central Florida's proposed commuter rail line and high-speed rail.

Here's the records request:

Continue reading "Sen. Dockery wants Rick Scott's rail guy to cough up his bullet-train emails" »

Transportation chief LaHood gives Rick Scott another week on rail, but calls some of his claims: "baloney"

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says he's giving Florida Gov. Rick Scott another week to consider the feds offer of $2.4 billion for high speed rail. LaHood said he met with Scott today "to discuss the high speed rail project that will create jobs and economic development for the entire state of Florida.

"He asked me for additional information about the state’s role in this project, the responsibilities of the Florida Department of Transportation, as well as how the state would be protected from liability," LaHood said in a statement. "I have decided to give Governor Scott additional time to review the agreement crafted by local officials from Orlando, Tampa, Lakeland and Miami, and to consult with his staff at the state Department of Transportation. He has committed to making a final decision by the end of next week. I feel we owe it to the people of Florida, who have been working to bring high speed rail to their state for the last 20 years, to go the extra mile."

But LaHood earlier today slammed Scott for (twice) declining federal dollars for high speed rail.

Asked on Bloomberg News about Scott's contention that the project could pose a $3 billion risk to the state and that if it went kaput, the state would have to pay back the $2.4 billion, LaHood said, "It's baloney.

"He doesn't know what he's talking about," LaHood said. "We just worked out a very good agreement between the cities of Orlando. No other person on this planet, including people in Florida that have been working on high-speed rail for 20 years, would agree with that statement. There's no factual information in there."

North Florida county slammed with lawsuits alleging racism

White Gadsden County officials successfully conspired to remove or demote every black supervisor in county government, multiple lawsuits claim. What's more, the suits say that an African-American commissioner played a key role in the plot.

The ringleader, according to court filings, was another county commissioner, Douglas Croley, who was depicted as referring to black employees as "the Tribe" and was the only white on the five-member commission leading up to the 2008 election.

The suits say Croley schemed with Commissioner Eugene Lamb, who is black, to defeat another incumbent black commissioner and replace him with a white man, Gene Morgan.

Once they succeeded, the suits allege, the new commission majority of Croley, Lamb and Morgan pressured a black county administrator to resign. They replaced him with a white man and gave him a "hit list" of black supervisors to fire in order to "whiten up" the staff. Read more here.

Fasano calls out PSC for shutting a door to some open records

Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, sent a letter to Public Service Commissioner Art Graham Friday asking why the PSC removed a link from its web site that listed all public records requests sought by members of the public.

The PSC web site may be difficult to navigate and challenging for the average ratepayer to figure out, but it is known for being chock full of valuable information. In fact, it was one of the few agencies that had the tenacity to let others know the status of its response time to public records request. No more. As Fasano notes, they've removed that feature, now forcing the public to request a public record to determine how promptly the agency replies to public records.

"Given the systemic problems over the past few years regarding the demonstrated lack of access to public records, the wrongful denial and unacceptable delays in providing such public records, and the questionable conduct of some who have served on the commission, this is not the time to remove the general public’s access to commission records,'' wrote Fasano. Download Grahamart.ltr[1]


Cut to unemployment benefits headed to House floor

The state House Republican plan to cut reduce the burden on businesses by cutting unemployment compensation from the state for out-of-work Floridians passed through its final committee stop this morning and is ready for a vote by on the House floor.

The bill (HB 7005) was approved by the House Economic Affairs Committee on a partisan vote, 12-5. The bill, among other things, would reduce the maximum benefits by 23 percent to $5,500. State benefits would be available for 20 weeks instead of 26 weeks.