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167 posts from December 2012

December 24, 2012

Merry X-mas from FL: State gives up collecting $124m in taxes, fees, fines

Think about this AP story next time the Legislature says it can't fund, say, a $30 million program or business incentive:

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- For the third year in a row, Florida is giving up on collecting more than $100 million in taxes, fees and fines owed the state.

But the amount of money the state is walking away from continues to grow. Data released this past month shows that the state forgave $124.2 million in the fiscal year that ended June 30.

Florida in 2011 wrote off $110.5 million as uncollectable, while the number was more than $109 million the year before.

The overall amount of money that Florida is losing is small compared with the size of the state's annual $70 billion budget. But the failure to collect the money comes amid year after year of state budget cuts.

State Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart and the new Senate budget chief, said even though the amount is small he still wants the Legislature to re-examine whether the state is doing enough to collect money it is owed.

"We want to be circumspect and prudent with every dollar we have available to us in the state budget," Negron said. "We'll take a fresh look at that number and see if there is any possibility of reducing that amount."

More here

Despite arrests, Miami-Dade ballot brokers prepare for 2013 municipal elections

When two well-known absentee-ballot brokers in Hialeah were arrested four months ago on charges of electoral fraud, several of their accomplices stayed away from politics, fearing they would be discovered during the campaigns leading up to the November elections.

However, given authorities’ apparent lack of interest in investigating the cases, some of the Miami-Dade ballot brokers, known as boleteros, have already begun to coordinate the collection of absentee ballots for next year.

There will be elections in 2013 in 15 of Miami-Dade’s 35 municipalities, among them the largest cities in the county — Miami, Hialeah and Miami Beach.

“When I saw on television that they had arrested that woman in Hialeah, I told my husband, ‘I’m glad it wasn’t me,’ ” said an experienced boletera who has worked for several municipal campaigns during the past decade.

“But I think it’s unfair that the politicians who hire us can simply wash their hands and not one of them has been arrested,” added the woman, who asked to remain anonymous.

So far there has not been a deep investigation into the politicians who benefited from the work ofboleteros Deisy Cabrera and Sergio Robaina, who were arrested in August. Authorities made the arrests under a county ordinance that, beginning last July, penalized those who collect more than two ballots belonging to other people.

Miami-Dade, Broward ports on edge as strike looms

PortMiami administrators are on edge as the nation’s 14,650 longshoremen threaten to shut down the giant gantry cranes used to ship containers at 15 major East Coast ports at midnight Saturday. The job action portends a potential blow of tens of millions of dollars a day to Miami-Dade County’s economy.

PortMiami, the nation’s 11th-largest shipper of containers, does almost $20 billion a year in container business. Any shutdown is not expected to affect cruise ships.

“It’s not a good thing,” said PortMiami Director Bill Johnson, who gathered with staff Friday to discuss the looming shut down. “Ninety-percent of what Americans consume arrives by water. Within a few days it could mean a major disruption throughout the entire U.S.”

At Fort Lauderdale’s Port Everglades, spokeswoman Ellen Kennedy said the department is stepping up security and preparing First Amendment zones in anticipation of picket lines.

“We’re very concerned about it,” she said. “We want to make sure operations continue for those not affected.”

A strike would have far less impact in Broward, which has only two container transport companies that employ longshoremen. Miami has several more, including world leader Maersk. All together, they employ “hundreds of workers” — though local International Longshoremen’s Association offices and PortMiami officials could not give an exact figure.

Johnson said a strike would affect far more than the 6,000 workers at the port, putting a virtual halt to one of the largest economic engines in the county. His office has little in the way of a contingency plan should the longshoremen walk out Saturday night.

Miami-Dade commissioner rented office space from firm that received $25 million county contract

Miami-Dade Commissioner Bruno Barreiro voted to award a $25 million contract to Munilla Construction Management to build a test track for Metrorail cars in May and again in November. In between both votes, he rented office space from the firm’s owners, county records show.

Less than two months before the second vote, four Munilla family members — Pedro, Juan, Jorge and Fernando — contributed the maximum amount of $500 each to Barreiro, who was well on his way to retaining his commission seat for a fifth time.

County records show Barreiro rented the office as his campaign headquarters between June and November, paying $700 a month for the property at 1429 SW First St., in Miami.

Barreiro, who acknowledges being close friends with several of the Munilla family members, has voted to grant at least two other multi-million dollar construction contracts to MCM in the past two years.

In late 2011, MCM won a $50 million contract to do miscellaneous work at Miami International Airport. Barreiro, as the chairman of the Regional Transportation Committee, sponsored the bill. In January, he voted to award a $7.7 million contract to the firm to expand Terminal D at PortMiami.

The commissioner said he did not perceive any conflict in renting office space from the Munilla family.

December 23, 2012

Christian-persecuting, Abortion-forcing China loves the Christmas-time business

Happy birthday, Jesus!

Love, China.

For a country that persecutes Christians, China sure profits from Christmas.

So China’s “one-child” policy has led to forced abortions? Well, those nativity sets celebrating a child the state wanted to kill two millennia ago are under $20 at your local store.

“Made in China” is everywhere on the shelves. But it’s nowhere in our political discourse right now.

Contrast that with all the political talk this entire year about the ills of China.

Just after the New Year, Florida airwaves were flooded with deceptive political ads that bashed Republican Newt Gingrich for once backing a bill “supporting China’s brutal one-child policy.”

Mitt Romney, the beneficiary of the attack ads, went on to win Florida’s Jan. 31 primary a few weeks after raising the China-abortion issue at a debate.

A month later, President Obama mentioned China during a Coral Gables fundraiser where he fretted about “shipping jobs overseas.”

“I don’t want this nation to be known just for buying and consuming things,” the president said.

But Obama didn’t talk much about that by the end of the month after his election.

More here

Bill McBride, husband of Alex Sink and former gubernatorial candidate, dies

Bill McBride, a former Democratic gubernatorial candidate and Tampa lawyer, died Saturday.

He had a heart attack Saturday evening while in Mount Airy, N.C., with family, according to his wife, Alex Sink, also a former Democratic gubernatorial candidate.

Mr. McBride, who lost the 2002 gubernatorial election to Jeb Bush, was 67 years old.

Watch this link for more information.

December 21, 2012

Jon Hammar, jailed ex-Marine from Miami, released from Mexican prison

Jon Hammar, the former Marine from Palmetto Bay who had been detained at a Mexican prison since August, has been freed.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the family's congresswoman, relayed the news late Friday night. Hammar's mother, Olivia, also issued a statement to the press about her son's release.

"The only expression that captures how we feel today is that 'our cup runneth over,'" the family said. It thanked Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Sens. Bill Nelson (a Democrat) and Marco Rubio (a Republican), and Rep. Mike Thompson, a California Democrat, for assisting in Hammar's case. Thompson represents the California district where Hammar, who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, spent some time in a residential facility for veterans, being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder.

In her own statement, Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami Republican, thanked "the American people" and her congressional colleagues for pushing for Hammar's release. "I am overcome with joy knowing that Jon will be spending Christmas with his parents, family and friends," she said.

Read their full statements after the jump.

Continue reading "Jon Hammar, jailed ex-Marine from Miami, released from Mexican prison" »

FL Dem chair donnybrook update: Tant didn't purge voters, Clendenin took sugar cash (so what?)

Looks like we've got a liberal blog war over the race for Florida Democratic Party chair, pitting Allison Tant vs. Alan Clendenin.

Tant was hit first, by The Political Hurricane blog, which backs Clendenin. It noted that Tant once lobbied in 2000 for Choice Point, the parent company of DBT, which was hired by then-Secretary of State Katherine Harris to purge voter rolls of suspected felons. Many Democrats and minorities who were lawful voters got purged as well.

When the story came out, Tant said she had nothing to do with the felon purge issue. And now a former partner, Martha Barnett, backs her up. Barnett said the two and others worked at the Holland & Knight law firm, which was hired to represent a host of clients. ChoicePoint bought a company they were already representing, Barnett said, and Tant's involvement with the company concerned identity-theft issues.

"Holland & Knight, nor Allison Tant who was an employee of the firm at the time, was not involved in any way in the Florida Secretary of State voter purge issue you referenced in your article," Barnett said in an email.

The Progressive Dems United blog (which looks like it's written by an anonymous political consultant) fired back today against Clendenin for heading up a 2010 political committee called Committee for a Better Tampa. It took $10,000 from a committee linked to U.S. Sugar, a boogeyman to some liberals/environmentalists.

But U.S. Sugar gives to almost everyone. For instance, the Democratic Party has taken in at least $755,105 from U.S. Sugar and a subsidiary since the 1990s. Add in other sugar growers, and the party has taken in at least $841,000 (and probably far more if all the subsidiaries are included). Big sugar also helped Rod Smith wage a failed campaign for governor in 2006. He's now the Democratic Party chair.

The vote for party chair is Jan. 26. For both Clendenin and Tant, that day can't come soon enough.

 

Gov. Scott pleads with Obama to help avoid ports strike

 Earlier this week, the National Retail Federation asked President Barack Obama to step in and help avoid a workers strike that could shut down ports along the East Coast, including Tampa, Jacksonville, Miami and Port Everglades. Now, Gov. Rick Scott is chiming in with his own letter to the president asking for action to prevent unions representing port workers from imposing a lockout on Dec. 29.

"As governor of Florida, I am deeply concerned about the economic well-being of my state," Scott wrote. "The predicted effects of a strike on the state of Florida would be devastating."

Scott writes that cargo-related activities in Florida's ports generate 550,000 jobs either directly or indirectly and contribute $66 billion to the economy. He said a strike could affect the supply chain nationwide and even could impede military operations.

The governor suggests that Obama use the powers vested under the Taft-Harley Act of 1947 to address the dispute. In 2002, President George W. Bush invoked the law, which restricts the power of labor unions, to end a strike that shuttered 29 West Coast ports for 11 days.

Here is a link to the letter: Download Scott to Obama on ports

Gov. Rick Scott trumpets latest unemployment numbers

Gov. Rick Scott is clearly proud of the state's latest unemployment numbers, which are at the lowest point since November 2008. The state unemployment rate in November 2012 dipped to a seasonally adjusted 8.1 percent, a 0.4 percentage point drop from the month before and two 2 percentage points than a year prior.

In addition to putting out a customary news release announcing the newest stats, Scott's office also sent several additional releases with regional highlights, as well as a link to an Associated Press article.

For example, the release for the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metro area said this region led the state in job growth over the year. In the Miami-Miami Beach-Kendall metro area, the governor's office said the 4.4 percentage point drop in unemployment from December 2010 to November 2012 was the largest in the state.

Scott also has a half-dozen interviews on his schedule today, presumably to tout the latest signs of Florida's recovering economy.

Here is an excerpt of the AP's coverage:

Continue reading "Gov. Rick Scott trumpets latest unemployment numbers" »