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325 posts from May 2011

May 26, 2011

Debbie Wasserman Schultz and foreign cars

The Hill says the new chair of the national Democratic party -- who ripped Republicans today for not backing President Barack Obama's auto bailout and suggested they'd have Americans "driving foreign cars" -- apparently drives a foreign car herself.

 "If it were up to the candidates for president on the Republican side, we would be driving foreign cars; they would have let the auto industry in America go down the tubes," she said at a breakfast for reporters organized by The Christian Science Monitor

"But according to Florida motor vehicle records," the Hill reports, "the Wasserman Schultz household owns a 2010 Infiniti FX35, a Japanese car whose parent company is Nissan, another Japanese company. The car appears to be hers, since its license plate includes her initials." 

Tim Pawlenty's Florida team and its Jeb Bush ties

GOP presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty -- who made Florida one of his first stops on his kickoff campaign -- has announced a Florida campaign team -- with a number of Friends of Jeb Bush.

Phil Handy will serve as Pawlenty''s Florida state chairman, as well as a national finance co-chair. Handy was Bush's gubernatorial campaign state chairman in 1994 and 1998 and a co-chairman in 2002. Until January 2007, he served for six years as chairman of the Florida State Board of Education, appointed by Bush. Handy in 2008 was John McCain's Florida chairman and national co-chair.

Former Bush aide Justin Sayfie will serve as a Florida co-chair of Pawlenty's campaign. Sayfie was a senior policy advisor, spokesman and speechwriter for Bush and is the founder of the web aggregator, Sayfie Review.

Pawlenty already had longtime Bush family fundraiser Ann Herberger as the campaign’s national senior finance advisor and Gretchen Picotte as the Florida finance director. Picotte was on Gov. Rick Scott's  fundraising team. During the 2008 election, she served as Florida finance director for Rudy Giuliani's presidential committee. She also worked for McCain 2008.

Wasserman Schultz and West mind meld? Not so much

The Broward Democrat -- who this morning said she backed President Obama's Afghanistan policy and that her constituents are "willing to give his plan an opportunity to work" -- voted this afternoon along with other top House Democrats to send Obama a strong message: speed up U.S. troop withdrawals from Afghanistan.

Though the House's bid to require Obama to expedite the U.S. exit failed, it lost by a surprisingly close 215 to 204 vote. The outcome, and the fiery debate that preceded it, made it clear that the president's party, as well as a growing number of Republican, is growing restless as 2012 approaches.

The tally: 178 Democrats and 26 Republicans voted to pressure Obama. Eight Democrats, most from more conservative districts, and 207 Republicans were opposed. Leading the charge to prod the president were the House's top Democratic leaders.

Allen West, who cautions that the Taliban is still active in Afghanistan, voted against. A spokesman for Wasserman Schultz said her vote was not inconsistent with her remarks, noting that the administration had not opposed (or supported) the measure and that it gives the president time to send a plan with a timeframe to Congress.

Scott appoints former PSC director Mary Bane as energy advisor

Mary Bane 5 x 7 Gov. Rick Scott, who proclaimed during his campaign for governor that he didn't believe in the science of global warming and urged the state to open its coastal waters to oil drilling, has used his veto message to announce a new-found commitment to energy policy.

"As the country's third largest energy consumer, Florida needs a comprehensive energy policy,'' Scott wrote. "In signing Senate Bill 2156, I am committed to making the development of a strategic energy policy a priority of my administration. As such I am appointing Dr. Mary Bane as my special advisor on energy policy."

Bane retired as executive director of the Public Service Commission in December 2010 after a tumultuous final year in which her staff admitted to socializing with lobbyists, attending a Kentucky Derby party at the home of a Flower Power & Light lobbyist and staff members of commissioners were found texting messages to utilities officials. Bane applied and was nominated for a commissioner position on the PSC but was rejected by Gov. Charlie Crist who had criticized the for becoming too close to the utilities it regulates.

Scott's announcement came as part of a veto letter of SB 2106, which transfers the Florida Energy and Climate Commission to the Department of Agriculture, because he said it was redundant with another bill that eliminates the commission, SB 2156. Scott used the veto to announce that he will put a new focus on energy policy -- which is the goal of the legislatively-created energy commission. Scott proposed eliminating the energy commission in his proposed budget.


Governor Wields Veto Pen Before Signing Budget

Gov. Rick Scott signed Florida's $69-billion budget Thursday, using his line item veto power to chop more than half of a billion dollars in spending. Many of the cuts were for higher education construction projects, and health and human service programs. WLRN-Miami Herald News Reporter Gina Jordan has more.

Budget Signed With Big Vetoes

Scott's vetoes also aim at five conforming bills

In addition to the record dollar amount of line item vetoes today, Gov. Rick Scott also vetoed five budget-related bills. They include:

SB 2118 -- Which would have raised court costs and fees for defendants found guilty or who plead guilty to pay for FDLE costs of a statewide crime lab and transfer contracting and oversight of private prisons from Department of Management Services to teh Department of Corrections. Scott said that was "contrary to my recommendation to consolidate state agency contracting" in DMS.

SB 2106 -- The bill repeats the action of another bill, SB 2156, which transfers the Florida Energy and  Climate Change Commission to the Department of Agriculture.

SB 1738 -- Which would have created an Agency for Enterprise Business Services with the Department of Management Services to streamline purchasing and procurement. Scott said in his veto letter that the new agency is duplicative and in conflict his new Agency for Enterprise Information Technology.

HB 5305 -- Would have repealed the Correctional Medical Authority, preserving the ability of the state to supervise and monitor inmate head care through another level of government. The bill was barely passed on the last night of session and, afterwards was vigorously opposed by Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey and Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa.

Fasano said he called DOC Secretary Ed Buss on Tuesday urging him to appeal to the governor to veto the repeal of the Correctional Medical Association. Buss agreed, Fasano said, and the governor listened. "I was pleased to see he was able to keep it intact,'' Fasano said. "The last thing we need is another federal lawsuit that will cost taxpayers millions of dollars."

Fasano said the watchdog role of the agency is more important than ever now that legislators are moving forward with privatizing inmate medical and mental health. One problem: there is no funding in the budget for CMA. Fasano said Buss is committed to finding a way to keep the oversight board going.




Cannon takes umbrage with Scott's "new found emphasis" on K-12 education | More reactions from lawmakers

House Speaker Dean Cannon just issued this critical statement about Gov. Rick Scott's budget vetoes and comments on restoring education funding:

“The people of Florida sent us to Tallahassee to make hard choices during difficult times. We produced a responsible state budget that prioritizes the critical needs of our state, and I am proud that budget was signed into law.

“However, I feel compelled to respond to the Governor’s suggestion that the sum of his vetoes is available for re-appropriation to K-12 education and that doing so would fund education at or near the same level as last year. The Governor’s vetoes freed up less than $100 million in general revenue. If the Legislature were in session and could re-appropriate these funds, they would increase the FEFP by only 0.6 %, which would move the FEFP reduction from 7.9% to 7.3%.

“What is more surprising is the Governor’s sudden emphasis on K-12 education.  The budget we sent him funds education at a higher level than the Governor recommended just a few months ago, when he proposed a 10% cut to the FEFP. The Governor communicated numerous priorities during session, and we did our best to accommodate him. It would have been helpful if the Governor had shared this new found emphasis with us before the budget was finalized.

“It is the Governor’s constitutional authority to veto line items in the budget, and I respect his decisions. The vetoes of general revenue appropriations will further increase the more than $2 billion the Legislature set aside in our state’s reserves, which will help protect our bond rating and ensure that we have ample reserves in the event of an emergency.”

From House Majority Leader Carlos Lopez-Cantera:

“We produced a realistic and dependable budget that prioritizes our spending on what is most important to ensure the safety and security of Floridians. I am pleased this responsible budget was signed into law.

“While I respect the Governor’s constitutional authority to veto line items in the budget, I am displeased by his mischaracterization of the Legislature’s good faith efforts to fund education. Our budget funds education at a higher level than the Governor himself proposed in his budget recommendations. The House of Representatives has been consistent in our prioritization of quality education in the state of Florida from day one.” 

An earlier tweet from C L-C: A little perplexed by @FLGovScott statement. He "vetoed so education would get more fund" yet the Leg funded it higher than his own budget.

Senate President Mike Haridopolos:

"This year Florida faced the largest budget shortfall in state history. Despite this challenge we passed a balanced budget without raising taxes or fees.

In addition the legislature reformed Medicaid, education and government pensions in order to produce long term stability. Our reform-minded agenda will bring predictability to Florida’s economy and attract new job creators to our state. That’s what this past session was all about – making needed changes to make Florida’s future even brighter.

We respect the constitutional rights of the governor and the Senate will thoughtfully review each of Governor Scott’s vetoes."

Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, shared some of Cannon's sentiments in a statement emailed to the Times/Herald:

"When did Governor Scott all of a sudden care about our teachers? It's a bit disingenuous when he says we should have put more money into helping our teachers when the budget he presented to the Florida Legislature in January cut education almost twice as much than what the legislature finally passed. I guess he read his poll numbers yesterday. If he truly wants the Florida Legislature to take the vetoed dollars and put them in to our educational system he should immediate call the Legislators back for a special session so we can avoid teacher layoffs."

From House Budget Chairwoman Denise Grimsley:

"Facing the most difficult budget year in recent history, lawmakers did not waiver in their resolve to produce a realistic and responsible budget that offers achievable cuts in order to prioritize the critical needs of our state.

“From the onset of the 2011 Legislative Session, it was our top priority to achieve necessary spending reductions to fill the $4.6 billion budget shortfall, without raising taxes or fees on hardworking Floridians.  With Governor Scott’s signature today, I am happy to report that we have accomplished that goal.

“While the decisions we were forced to make were often not easy, they were necessary to achieve a fiscally sound, balanced budget for the State of Florida.”

Senate Majority Leader Andy Gardiner:

“I’d like to congratulate Governor Scott on today’s budget signing and commend him for the collaborative approach he has taken while working with the Legislature.  Our state’s nearly $4 billion budget deficit made this year especially challenging for the Legislature and the Governor.  I saw firsthand the amount of energy and hours of time dedicated by our Senate Appropriations chairmen and members of our appropriations committees.  It was often painstaking to make necessary budget cuts while also protecting Florida’s most vulnerable citizens.

“Governor Scott used his discretion to veto budget items that he deemed unnecessary.  Many of those funding issues are important to members of the Florida Senate, as well as the Floridians who are affected by programs in the state budget. Over the coming weeks I will visit with senators statewide as we carefully examine the Governor’s vetoes and the budget as a whole.  As elected representatives of the people of the state of Florida, it is our duty to thoroughly review the Governor’s decisions while considering the wide-ranging needs of our diverse state.”

Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee:

“Governor Rick Scott signed the budget today in The Villages, a development populated by thousands of middle-class retirees, many of whom are former teachers, firefighters, law enforcement and  middle managers, but not full-time Florida residents. Not only was Governor Scott out of town, but he is out of touch with the reality that is life for the majority of Floridians. ...

Let’s get to work” was supposed to be our motto this legislative session, but what our Republican legislature got to work on was restricting the rights of women, lessening regulations for our most vulnerable, and balancing the budget by taxing our state employees, all while giving corporations a tax cut. Jobs were cut, not created, and I fear the decisions of this legislature will negatively affect main street restaurants, shoe stores and auto repair shops in our state as almost a million public servants and retirees have less money to spend because of the choices made by Governor Scott and the Legislature."

Rick Scott vetoes record $615m from budget

At a campaign-style event, Gov. Rick Scott made himself Florida’s new veto king Thursday when he axed $615 million from the state budget before signing it.

The biggest target of the veto pen: A $305 million reduction for land buys. But the money might not be real because the state would only earn it from the future sale of surplus lands. The college system also bore the brunt of the reduction, with Scott vetoing tens of millions of construction projects. He also cut hundreds of millions of relatively small earmarks inserted by top legislators to benefit their hometown districts.

Scott called on his fellow Republicans who control the Legislature to plow the vetoed money back into the classroom. Scott praised lawmakers for balancing the budget in tough times, but then subtly swiped at them for doing the bidding of "special interests" by packing the budget with so many hometown projects.

"I'm sure most Floridians believe as I do that spending 250-thousand dollars on education materials for our kids is more important that spending a quarter of a million dollars to learn how to catch rainwater," Scott said, an apparent reference to what he listed as a "Water Savings Plan" that he cut from the budget.

"Where I'm from, rainwater can be caught with a two dollar bucket."

Unmentioned by Scott: He called for even bigger K-12 cuts than the Legislature was willing to deliver.

The news of the vetoes elicited applause from the conservative crowd assembled in The Villages retirement community, where the political newcomer hosted what he billed as a “celebration” of his “jobs budget.” To underscore the campaign-like flavor, the event was underwritten and broadcast by the Republican Party of Florida.

One group, The Villages Democratic Club, was barred from the event, told by a staffer of Scott’s that it was a “private event.” Other staffers and Republican operatives scoured the crowd and had sheriffs deputies remove those who wore liberal-looking badges.

Democrats couldn’t help but note the irony that Scott was talking about job creation at the same time he signed a budget that eliminates almost 4,500 state-worker jobs and could therefore make matters worse

“If he means the ‘jobs budget’ is killing jobs, then it’s an accurate title,” said Democratic House leader Ron Saunders of Key West.

 The job cuts were part of a one-two punch felt by state workers, who will now be required to kick in an additional three percent of their salaries to fund their retirements. Nearly every government service was cut: healthcare for the poor, schools, the environment and courts.

The budget, passed May 7 by the Legislature, now weighs in at roughly $69.1 billion after the $615 million in vetoes. It’s about $1.3 billion smaller than the current budget, which expires at the end of the fiscal year on June 30.

Lawmakers actually cut more in anticipated spending –about $3.7 billion -- than meets the eye because Medicaid rolls boomed in the down economy, putting more pressure on them to trim spending. Also, property taxes that help fund education decreased when property values plummeted. At the same time, courts were handling more foreclosure cases and prison costs continued to increase.

Despite all the pressures to cut and save, legislators still set aside about $300 million for tax cuts and business incentives. It was a far cry from the $2.4 billion in tax-and-fee cuts that Scott called for, but legislators made sure to give some tax relief to ensure he didn’t veto the budget.

Scott was placated with a roughly $37 million corporate-income tax cut that saved businesses about an average of about $1,100.

Legislators also socked away about $2.4 billion in savings, determined to avoid a fourth straight year of budget cuts. And they sprinkled at least $200 million on hometown projects, nicknamed “turkeys” by some.

Some, such as a $5 million regatta center in Sarasota, were tough to justify in a year when state workers and teachers faced layoffs.

"Special interests probably aren’t happy with the tough choices I made," Scott said, "but I am confident everyone can agree that funding for our children and students is more important than pleasing Tallahassee’s special interests.”

$615 million veto list here (transportation trust fund raid stays)

Here's the veto list from Rick Scott

Download 05.26.2011-Veto-List

Debbie Wasserman Schultz says Obama will not lose Jewish support over '67 border flap

The new chair of the national Democratic party called suggestions that President Obama did "significant damage" to his support in the Jewish community by saying a peace agreement in Israel would be predicated on 1967 borders (and land swaps) -- a "gross overstatement.

At a Christian Science Monitor breakfast, Wasserman Schultz acknowledged that Obama's remarks last week had raised some hackles: "If you looked at the Jewish community at large, if you polled the Jewish community at large, there are Jewish voters, Jewish Americans, who are expressing concern about the president’s policy," she said. But, she noted "what he said...was essentially what has been American policy since President Clinton."

She suggested Republicans are looking to make political points on the issue and accused them of "outright lying" about Obama's stance. She said the party would be working aggressively to assure Jewish voters that Obama -- who got 78 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008 -- was on their side.

"At end of day, the natural home for the Jewish community in America is the Democratic Party," said Wasserman Shultz. "It's why the Democrats consistently get overwhelming support from the Jewish voters up and down the ticket." 

She also rejected an assertion by the Republican Jewish Coalition that she had asked for a "gag order" on criticism of U.S.-Israeli policy. See video below.