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467 posts from March 2011

March 21, 2011

Senate warns of gloomier education budget

The relatively rosy picture a Florida Senate panel painted Friday for the state education budget quickly got gloomier Monday.

On Friday, Sen. David Simmons, the Altamonte Springs Republican who chairs the Pre-K-12 budget subcommittee, had unveiled a preliminary proposal showing a 2.28 percent cut to education funding.

Monday, Simmons' plan was up to a 6.5 percent cut -- much closer to the 7.7 percent number the House put out last week, though still less than the 10 percent proposed by Gov. Rick Scott.

The larger cut is due to the $739 million in education funding the state would lose by requiring state employees to pay into their pensions. (Salaries expenses for the Department of Education would go down, too.)

Sen. Jeremy Ring, a Margate Democrat who heads a pension reform panel, said the number was higher than he would be willing to support. The Senate has proposed that state employees pay about 2 percent of their salaries toward their pensions, less than the 5 percent Scott has asked for.

"It seems very glaring," Ring said. "This is the elephant in the room right now."

Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, said she wants to avoid a "bumper sticker" saying lawmakers balanced the state budget "on the backs of teachers."

"We're really flying in the dark here," said Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach. "Obviously there are going to be reductions. Maybe it won't look as good as we thought it could look."

When Rick Scott gave Haley Barbour a stern ‘earful’

With Haley Barbour’s announcement that he’s picking up some Florida talent for a possible presidential bid, Rick Scott’s longtime supporters have been abuzz with the story of how Scott firmly but quietly rebuked the Mississippi governor for meddling in Florida’s acerbic GOP primary.

“Haley, you cost me more than $7 million,” Scott had told him repeatedly, as if reciting a mantra, sources say.

The conversation came the day after Scott won the Aug. 24 primary in an improbable victory against Republican rival Bill McCollum and party insiders like Barbour, who was the head of the Republican Governor’s Association as it tacitly steered money to defeat Scott.

The behind-the-scenes support for McCollum was brought out in the open by Barbour, who issued a rare Aug. 17 proclamation condemning a Scott ad that tied McCollum to party boss Jim Greer.

"The truth is that Bill McCollum's leadership is part of what led to the removal of Jim Greer. This ad distorts the facts and was clearly created without any knowledge of what actually took place," Barbour said. "It has no place in this primary. We ask Mr. Scott to pull this ad and move forward in the primary in a constructive manner."

Scott’s response was simple: No.

He then doubled the ad buy, according to campaign sources and, in part, won office with this commercial as his closing argument in the primary race. The day after was like the beginning of the movie The Hangover -- there was a tiger in the suite. And it was Rick Scott. It was time for Republican leaders and insiders to come home to Scott. Scott wasn’t coming to them. Barbour learned that first hand.

Continue reading "When Rick Scott gave Haley Barbour a stern ‘earful’" »

Lois Frankel announces she'll challenge Allen West

West Palm Beach mayor Lois Frankel announced today that she'll take on Broward Republican Rep. Allen West -- elected in November as a tea party favorite.

"Congress isn’t working for working families," Frankel said. "There’s too much partisanship and not enough results. We need a Member of Congress who knows how to get things done.”

The National Republican Congressional Committee didn't wait for the official word -- it was out with a press release attacking Frankel's tenure as mayor before her announcement. Frankel is the second Democrat to target West. Fort Lauderdale businessman Patrick Murphy last week announced his plans to run, calling West a "right wing extremist." 

Former Marco Rubio aide to run for state House

Rafael Perez, who three years ago lost a tight Florida House Republican primary to now-state Rep. Erik Fresen, announced Monday he will run again -- but for a different seat.

Perez intends to seek Rep. Esteban Bovo's Hialeah post, under the presumption that Bovo, a Republican, will resign to run for the post of former Miami-Dade County Commissioner Natacha Seijas, who was recalled along with Mayor Carlos Alvarez in a landslide last week.

"I am from Hialeah, I was raised here," Perez said. "I've always wanted to be a public servant."

Perez, who owns a general contracting business in Hialeah,  was once a legislative aide to Sen. Marco Rubio when Rubio served in Tallahassee. In 2008, Perez lost the race to replace Rubio in a district that includes Coral Gables, West Miami, Miami Springs and a portion of Hialeah. Perez would have to move into Bovo's district if elected.

This time around, Perez expects to have a short window to raise money and campaign for the House. If Bovo resigns, Gov. Rick Scott should schedule a special election to replace Bovo at the same time as the county sets a date to cast ballots for a new mayor and commissioner, Perez said.

Francisco J. Lago, also a Republican, has already filed to run for Bovo's seat, but for 2012. It is unclear if he would run in a special election; Lago could not be immediately reached for comment.

Rick Scott jobs estimate from Panama trade deal is a little flimsy, PolitiFact Florida finds

Gov. Rick Scott is back from Panama and urging President Barack Obama to submit a free trade agreement with the Latin American country to Congress for its ratification. Scott says the trade deal could create 15,000 jobs for Florida over five years. "After meeting with Panamanian trade leaders, I am convinced more than ever that free trade agreements with Panama and other Latin American countries are essential to Florida's future. Florida has an important stake in ratification of trade agreements with both Panama and Colombia – agreements that have been waiting for congressional ratification since 2007." PolitiFact Florida looks into Scott's numbers and and isn't quite as impressed.

Dean Cannon: No to Medically Needy cuts? No to mandatory-minimums

In a rather blunt memo, House Speaker Dean Cannon reiterated his pledge to not raise taxes, to sock more money into savings and to resist cuts to the budget that he thinks don't work. Cannon suggested the House will once again raid the state's road-building fund to prioritize people over things. He also said K-12 spending will have a top priority, though the budget will still have across-the-board cuts, including reductions to state employee retirement benefits.

“We will not offer phantom cuts based on unproven efficiencies," Cannon wrote. "We will not risk our favorable bond ratings by producing a budget with inadequate reserves. Most importantly, we will not rake money out of the struggling Florida economy by increasing taxes or fees.”

Phantom cuts? It seems Cannon indirectly took issue with the Senate's healthcare budget by saying the "the House budget will not adopt strategies to control Medicaid spending that result in cost shifts toward the other aspects of our state-funded health care infrastructure, including driving uncompensated care into our public hospitals and emergency departments.”

Translation: That nearly $1 billion the Senate and Gov. Rick Scott want to save by cutting the so-called "Medically Needy" program for transplant patients. To House officials, the cuts probably won't pass federal muster and wouldn't save money anyway.

Cannon was none-too-pleased last year when the Senate wouldn't hear his Medicaid reform plan, and echoes of that displeasure were in his letter as well. “Because of the Legislature’s inability to enact comprehensive Medicaid reform, we continue to experience uncontrolled escalations in the caseloads and costs of this Federal entitlement program,” Cannon said.

Cannon also said no, essentially, to a Senate push to alter mandatory-minimum sentences by stating that the House wouldn't go along with changing "adult sentencing policies."

Letter here. Download Initial Budget Allocations Memo

Cannon also released draft budget allocations (Download Allocations 3-21-11. Here's how they compare with the Senate's draft plans (general revenue only):

Section Senate    House  Senate over House
Pek-12 9,809.90 8,204.50 1,605.40
Health 6,526.30 7,106.90 -580.60
Higher Ed 3,476.20 3,136.40 339.80
Justice 3,406.40 3,332.80 73.60
TED 336.10 269.6 66.50
Gov Ops 404.80 255.6 149.20
Ag-Environment ? 187.10 -187.10


Fla. education commissioner to resign

Florida Education Commissioner Eric Smith plans to resign as of June 10, he announced in a statement Monday morning.

"It has been my privilege to serve as COmmissioner during a period in which Florida demonstrated bold national leadership in the filed of education," he wrote, adding that he informed members of the State Board of Education of his decision over the weekend. "The time has come, however, to allow our newly elected Governor to have input through the State Board of Education on the type of leader to pursue his goals for education."

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Republicans want more info on Libya

The Miami Republican and chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee is siding with other congressional Republicans who say President Barack Obama needs to better define U.S. goals in Libya.

"The United States has and always should stand with those who are oppressed and denied their fundamental freedoms," she said in a statement. "However, that cannot be the only criteria on which we base U.S. military involvement.

"I am concerned that the President has yet to clearly define for the American people what vital United States security interests he believes are currently at stake in Libya. We need to know what the President believes ultimately must be accomplished in Libya to protect and advance U.S. interests there.

Continue reading "Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Republicans want more info on Libya " »

Campaign contributions would jump 2,000 percent under bill that passes first committee stop

Candidates for governor could collect contributions of up to $10,000 for both primary and general elections races under a bill approved this morning, 7-5, by the Senate Rules Subcommittee on Ethics and Elections.

Currently, all state candidates are limited to donations of no more than $500, one of the strictest caps in the country. Contributions under the proposal (SB 1690) would increase to $5,000 for Cabinet races and $2,500 for state legisaltive candidates.

The bill does nothing to improve disclosure laws. But Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, the Miami Republican sponsoring the campaign finance bill, said he would bring another bill through the committee this year that would tighten disclosure laws.

Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, said his campaign finance bill would let politicians raise fewer contributions and spend more time devoted to public service. "Elections are generally getting more expensive," he said.

For background on some of the problems with Florida's campaign finance laws, click here.

Spanish-language radio played key role in recall

To announce his recall campaign against Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez in September, Norman Braman turned to a drive-time show on Spanish-language radio. He was on the same airwaves again last week, thanking voters for trouncing Alvarez out of office.

Braman doesn’t speak the language. But over six months, he waged his wildly successful effort against Alvarez primarily on Spanish-language media, where news outlets seized the ratings moment and gave a voice to the anger of Hispanic voters who were once Alvarez’s political base.

The day-to-day coverage of the campaign, with Braman often taking calls from radio listeners, played a key role in helping the billionaire auto dealer portray himself as a man in close touch with voters — an image that later shielded him from attacks by Alvarez that Braman did not have enough standing in the community to force a recall.

By the time Alvarez and County Commissioner Natacha Seijas, who was also recalled Tuesday, put on their own media charm offensive a few weeks before the election, it was too little, too late. Full story here.