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18 posts from March 6, 2013

March 06, 2013

Weatherford gets long-awaited case for pension overhaul

Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford thinks he finally has the evidence that proves it’s time to reform the state’s $136 billion pension system.

He’s made it one of his chief priorities to prevent new employees from enrolling in the guaranteed benefit plan starting Jan. 1, 2014.

He says that other states, such as Illinois, New York and California, have proven that pension systems are unsustainable. Until now, however, he couldn’t show projections on how much it would save Florida, or how much it would cost to switch to 401(k)-style plans.

He had hoped to find out on Feb. 15 from a study by Milliman, a Vienna, VA actuarial firm, but it was deemed incomplete. On Friday, the firm turned in a second study, this one including what it would cost if nothing was done to the existing pension system and its 145,000 accounts. According to Weatherford’s office, it’s all good.

* An estimated $9.8 billion in savings to taxpayers in 2042-43.

* An estimated $2.1 billion in savings to taxpayers in 2023-24.

* No cost in the first fiscal year of the implementation and a modest $2.7 million cost in FY 2014-15

* First savings realized in 2015-16 ($12.9 million).

* Reduction in taxpayer risk as taxpayer savings increases.

Now that's an interpretation of the report from Weatherford’s office, which has been pushing for the changes. Other groups representing state and local government workers who are enrolled in the pension, are reviewing the Milliman study as well. Some have already observed that the study makes bold assumptions and leaves out important costs. We’ll be hearing from them in the coming days. In the meantime, the Milliman report, and Weatherford’s interpretation of it, only builds momentum for HB 7011.

Universal gun background check bill filed, sponsor admits its a tough sell

Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, introduced the “Universal Background Check Act” on Wednesday, filing a gun control bill that requires virtually all sales of firearms to be conducted through licensed dealers.

The bill would require non-licensed individuals that want to sell or “transfer” a gun to do so through a licensed dealer. The gun control bill faces long odds in Florida’s gun-friendly, Republican-dominated Legislature, something Sachs readily acknowledged.

“I am not so sold on the idea that this bill is going to pass, “ said Sachs. “What I am looking forward to, and I am furious about his as so many Floridians are, let’s have the discussion. Let’s bring everyone to the table and let’s have this discussion.”

Licensed dealers are required to conduct background checks prior to selling firearms but so-called "loopholes” in the law allow some gun sales to occur without a background check, something that Congress and the White House are considering addressing.

Continue reading "Universal gun background check bill filed, sponsor admits its a tough sell" »

Dolphins bill gets unanimous vote in Senate, poll shows local referendum would be tough

The Miami Dolphins cleared another hurdle Wednesday as a Senate committee unanimously approved in the team’s plan to get taxpayer financing for a $400 million stadium.

The bill, SB 306, picked up a major amendment Wednesday, with lawmakers agreeing to allow Miami-Dade voters to have the final say on whether or not to approve the taxpayer subsidies for the stadium in Miami Gardens.

The referendum could be a tough sell, and potentially a deal killer, as a new poll suggests that Miami-Dade voters are overwhelmingly opposed to the Dolphins’ proposal. More than 70 percent oppose the proposal and most of those strongly oppose it, according to the poll from Dario Moreno, a political science professor at Florida International University.

Those supporting the bill brushed the poll aside, saying the team had its own internal polls that showed more favorable results.

“Ultimately, taking this through the referendum was the important piece to us,” said Dolphins CEO Mike Dee, who traveled to Tallahassee to voice support for SB 306. “We want the voters to have a voice, and at the end of the day, the facts will prevail.”

Marcus Bach-Armas, Manager of Corporate Affairs for the Dolphins,  said he questioned the validity of the poll because it came from “Norman Braman’s pollster.” Braman, a staunch opponent of taxpayer financed stadium deals, has campaigned heavily against the bill.

Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, who is sponsoring the bill, said he is not concerned about the referendum, and is instead focusing on getting the bill through the Legislature.

“My job is to pass it in the Senate, and that’s what I’m going to do,” he said, adding that there would be ample time to convince the public about the benefits of a new stadium. The bill has cleared its first Senate committee with a unanimous vote.

The amendment allows the referendum to take place before the bill is enacted. That could potentially allow Miami-Dade to set a referendum vote for sometime this Spring, ahead of the National Football League’s decision of where Super Bowl 50 will take place. South Florida is being considered, and the Dolphins say a newly renovated stadium could help give the region a leg up.

“This is going to be a great economic boom to my community and to the state of Florida,” said Braynon.

If the plan gets approval from a majority of Miami-Dade voters, many of whom are still stinging from the widely panned Marlins stadium deal, the Dolphins are likely to get a flashy new stadium.

Continue reading "Dolphins bill gets unanimous vote in Senate, poll shows local referendum would be tough" »

Dolphins stadium-tax deal highly unpopular, a 'toxic' political killer, poll shows

@MarcACaputo

About 73 percent of likely Miami-Dade voters oppose a plan to give the Miami Dolphins a tax subsidy for stadium improvements, according to a new poll obtained by The Miami Herald that indicates the issue is a political killer for politicians to support.

"This is toxic to the Legislature, the county commission and the executive," said Dario Moreno, a political science professor at Florida International University who conducted the 1,000 voter survey for a private client.

"There's not one group of likely voter who supports this idea," Moreno said. "Even in County Commission District 1, where the stadium is, people are overwhelmingly opposed."

Opposition cuts across demographic and party lines. It is highly unpopular in each of the county's 13 commission districts.

Overall, nearly 61 percent of people polled strongly oppose the measure, while nearly 12 percent simply oppose it. Only 17 percent support or strongly support it.

Poisoning the Dolphins effort: The unpopular Miami Marlins baseball stadium deal, which led to the recall of former Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez, Moreno said.

"These are recall numbers," he said. "These numbers are very similar to the recall numbers. What they tell you is Miami-Dade County has not yet recovered from the Marlins deal. And I think people are very reluctant to give public money to a private sports team."

People are paying attention as well, with 59 percent of voters saying they're somewhat or very familiar with the proposal.

The poll, conducted Monday and Tuesday, comes on the heels of the first state Senate committee vote in the Legislature (background here). Lawmakers are amending the bill to ensure that voters have a referendum so that they'll have a final say over increasing the bed tax by a penny and giving the Dolphins a $3 million annual sales-tax subsidy to help pay for stadium improvements.

But there's a good chance the measure will never make it out of the Legislature. Poll numbers like this can slow the momentum of any measure in the Legislature that's not a top priority of the leadership; and this isn't a must-pass bill for the House speaker or Senate president, neither of whom is from South Florida.

Also, before the poll was released, many in the Miami-Dade delegation already opposed the plan, making it tougher to pass as well in a 60-day lawmaking session where legislators from across the state want their bills to pass and don't have the time to spend on a measure that appears is if it will go nowhere.

Add in the strong opposition in the poll, and it becomes more politically popular to oppose the Dolphins measure. Also, a majority of legislators are Republican, who worry about votes that could make them look as if they're raising taxes.

A vote like that is a recipe for a GOP primary that many Republican lawmakers would prefer to avoid.

The poll questions were carefully worded. For instance, it described the sales-tax deal as a "rebate," even though the program can sometimes act more like a subsidy.

Also, Moreno said, this poll's sample size is not just large for a single county -- 1,000 -- it was conducted by using a verified voter list that targeted high-propensity voters. So it minimized the chance that non-voters or less-likely voters were surveyed.

The Dolphins effort might have already done political damage. The poll shows that 49 percent of likely voters believe the county is on the wrong track while about 28 percent think it's on the right track.

"That sentiment is partly a result of the Dolphins plan," Moreno said. "By going to the commission and getting support for this, it really soured people's view of the county. It looks like business as usual."

Moreno, who has polled for Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, said he had simple advice: "Don't support this."

Gimenez said he has his doubts about the Dolphins deal.

"These numbers don't surprise me," the mayor said. "The Marlins deal is the elephant in the room. It poisoned any effort like this for any future sports franchise. Before this poll, we didn't even know if we were going to reach an agreement with teh Dolphins. Now the path is even tougher."

Weatherford opposes Medicaid expansion; his dad says his family was helped by it

In outlining his opposition to expanding Medicaid on Tuesday, Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford told an emotional story about how his family relied on existing safety nets to provide health care for his 13-month-old brother.

“Peter lost his battle with cancer and my father found himself with a mountain of medical bills that he could never afford to pay,” Weatherford told lawmakers on the floor of the House of Representatives. “It was the safety net that picked my father up. It was the safety net that picked my family up.”

He left out one detail, the name of the safety net.

According to his father, it was Medicaid.

The federal-state health care program for the poor covered more than $100,000 in Peter’s medical costs, Weatherford’s father told the Herald/Times.

“There was no way I could pay that,” said Bill Weatherford, 62, when reached by phone in Odessa.

The House speaker, asked later, said Medicaid did not help cover his brother’s hospital bills and that he thinks his father was mistaken. He said he would look into the matter.

“I don’t know the specifics of what happened,” said Weatherford, who was 15 when his brother died in 1995. “I know my brother had cancer, I know we were uninsured, and I know they weren’t able to pay their bills.”

More here from Mike Van Sickler and Jodie Tillman

 

Fact-checking Gov. Rick Scott, Florida Democrats on State of the State

Gov. Rick Scott touted Florida's improving economy and his wish list for the upcoming legislative session during his third State of the State speech before the Florida Legislature on Tuesday.

Scott's speech hit his favorite talking points, both old and new. This year, Scott's hoping for a tax break for manufacturers and pay increases for school teachers.

Meanwhile, Democrats released an attack on Scott through a "pre-buttal," a memo released ahead of Scott's speech that criticized his for slashing the state workforce and cutting funding for education.

In making their specific arguments, though, we found both teams flubbed some of facts.

• Scott blamed state government's taxing and borrowing for the bad state of the economy when he became governor two years ago. "Now is not the time to turn back to the legacy of taxing and borrowing that crippled the economy we inherited two years ago," he said.

Economists across the board said this was nonsense. Florida's economy was hurt by the housing crisis and the national financial crisis, not taxing and borrowing from state government. We rated his statement False.

• Scott repeated the claim that his proposed education budget "is the highest state funding level in Florida history." That sounds like Florida students are getting more money than ever, but they're not. Scott's counting only the money that state government contributes, not federal or local funding. When you look at the big picture, education funding in Florida falls short of an all-time high. We rated his statement Half True.

•The Florida Democratic Party said that Scott's record on education is terrible, and that he doesn't consider education a "core function" of the state. We looked for statements where Scott would have said that and came up empty. We rated the Democrats' statement False.

• The Florida Democratic Party claimed that Scott had axed more public sector jobs than had been created in the private sector in 2012. We checked the numbers and found that was totally wrong; the Democrats had only counted part of the year. We rated their statement Pants on Fire.

Fact-checking by Angie Holan, Katie Sanders, Amy Sherman and Lou Jacobson

Moment of silence for Hugo Chavez denied Venezuela's baseball team before loss to Miami Marlins

JUPITER -- As the manager of Venezuela’s World Baseball Classic team, former major leaguer Luis Sojo got to know late president Hugo Chavez well over the years.

“He was a man of baseball,” Sojo said a couple of hours before his team faced the Marlins in an exhibition game at Roger Dean Stadium. “He was always aware of the team and who was on it. He was the first call I got in the morning during the tournaments in 2006 and 2009. He lived for baseball.

“It’s always sad when someone dies. He was a human being, a president, a man who battled a lot for his life. He asked his family for peace. We’re in a tough situation in our country right now. God has [Chavez] now.”

The Venezuelan national team, which lost to the Marlins 6-5 on Tuesday and will play the Cardinals on Wednesday afternoon before heading to Puerto Rico for WBC tournament pool play, requested a moment of silence and that the country’s flag be placed at half staff before Tuesday’s game in honor of their late president.

But after consulting with Major League Baseball officials, a Marlins spokesman said a joint decision was made not to do so because “there wasn’t enough time to honor the request.” The Venezuelan national flag stood at half staff for several minutes while the team took batting practice Tuesday. But the flag was eventually returned to full staff.

A spokesman for the Venezuelan team told reporters the country’s minister of sports, Hector Rodriguez, relayed the following message to the team before Tuesday’s game: “Please tell the guys to concentrate on sports and leave the political stuff out.”


Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/03/06/3269308/moment-of-silence-for-hugo-chavez.html#storylink=omni_popular#storylink=cpy

More here


Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/03/06/3269308/moment-of-silence-for-hugo-chavez.html#storylink=omni_popular#storylink=cpy

Moment of silence for Hugo Chavez denied Venezuela's baseball team before loss to Miami Marlins

JUPITER -- As the manager of Venezuela’s World Baseball Classic team, former major leaguer Luis Sojo got to know late president Hugo Chavez well over the years.

“He was a man of baseball,” Sojo said a couple of hours before his team faced the Marlins in an exhibition game at Roger Dean Stadium. “He was always aware of the team and who was on it. He was the first call I got in the morning during the tournaments in 2006 and 2009. He lived for baseball.

“It’s always sad when someone dies. He was a human being, a president, a man who battled a lot for his life. He asked his family for peace. We’re in a tough situation in our country right now. God has [Chavez] now.”

The Venezuelan national team, which lost to the Marlins 6-5 on Tuesday and will play the Cardinals on Wednesday afternoon before heading to Puerto Rico for WBC tournament pool play, requested a moment of silence and that the country’s flag be placed at half staff before Tuesday’s game in honor of their late president.

But after consulting with Major League Baseball officials, a Marlins spokesman said a joint decision was made not to do so because “there wasn’t enough time to honor the request.” The Venezuelan national flag stood at half staff for several minutes while the team took batting practice Tuesday. But the flag was eventually returned to full staff.

A spokesman for the Venezuelan team told reporters the country’s minister of sports, Hector Rodriguez, relayed the following message to the team before Tuesday’s game: “Please tell the guys to concentrate on sports and leave the political stuff out.”


Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/03/06/3269308/moment-of-silence-for-hugo-chavez.html#storylink=omni_popular#storylink=cpy

More here


Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/03/06/3269308/moment-of-silence-for-hugo-chavez.html#storylink=omni_popular#storylink=cpy