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5 posts from April 21, 2013

April 21, 2013

Gov. Scott's legislative agenda: a short list that remains incomplete as clock ticks

As Gov. Rick Scott and House Speaker Will Weatherford sat shoulder-to-shoulder at a recent legislative prayer breakfast, the governor may have had a special reason to look to the heavens.

With two weeks left in the 2013 session, Scott’s legislative priorities are in serious disarray. He hasn’t asked for much, and lawmakers aren’t placating him.

His top priority of a $2,500 teacher pay raise appears in budget proposals not as the across-the-board, no-strings increase he advocated for. Instead, legislators in the House and Senate agreed to have any salary boost tied to performance, a move at odds with the governor.

“There’s going to be merit pay as a part of funding for teachers,” Weatherford said. “The governor asked us to spend $1 billion on education. Our budget does that. The Senate’s budget does that. I think he’ll be happy and pleased at the end of the day.” More here from Steve Bousquet.

Florida budget talks about as clear as gumbo

One of those watching state lawmakers discuss budget negotiations this weekend was Gov. Rick Scott’s spokeswoman, Melissa Sellers.

A newcomer to Florida, Sellers was the spokeswoman for Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal before joining Scott’s office last year. With this being her first legislative session in Tallahassee, Sellers said Saturday she was impressed after watching the Conference Committee on Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development Appropriations explain how they were divvying up $11.2 billion.

“In Louisiana, these meetings are held in smoky back rooms,” Sellers said. “The public never gets to see this.”

But for lobbyists, reporters, members of the general public, and even most lawmakers, there is more than just a hint of Cajun flavor in how lawmakers decide the budget.

Yes, the meetings are held in public. But the meetings are after the fact. The chairs merely announce the spending decisions that were made behind closed doors among the chamber leaders. If you weren’t in the room when that decision was made, good luck understanding the rationale for the spending, or, more importantly, what was swapped for it or who asked for it.

Continue reading "Florida budget talks about as clear as gumbo" »

House and Senate agree: $480 million for teacher pay raises

The House and Senate reached at least one key agreement Sunday: $480 million is the right amount to spend on teacher pay raises.

The Senate initially proposed spending $480 million at the suggestion of Gov. Rick Scott

The House wanted to spend $676 million and give districts more flexibility with the money. The lower chamber adjusted the number to $628 million late last week, but on Sunday, decided that $480 million would be OK.

House Education Appropriations Chairman Erik Fresen, R-Miami, said the two chambers would work together to determine how much flexibility districts ought to have. 

Much to the governor's dismay, both chambers are sticking to a pledge to tie the pay increases to performance. (Scott is championing $2,500 across-the-board pay raises.)

Continue reading "House and Senate agree: $480 million for teacher pay raises" »

Anatomy of a deal: How the Dolphins negotiated a stadium renovation with Miami-Dade County


Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross unveiled a major renovation to Sun Life Stadium on Jan. 14, sitting in front of a bright, wall-sized rendering of the upgrades and telling reporters to forget about a potential referendum asking voters to approve some public funding for the project.

“I mean, that’s really not a possibility,” he said, because the team was setting a tight deadline to have a renovation agreement in place by the time the 50th and 51st Super Bowls were awarded May 22. “There’s no possibility of that happening.”

He was wrong. Less than three months later, Miami-Dade commissioners gave tentative approval to a subsidized renovation to the Miami Gardens stadium — and scheduled a May 14 referendum to give voters a say.

The special election, which will take place only if state lawmakers approve Dolphins-backed legislation, was the first of several hard-fought concessions the Dolphins would make at the request of Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez in closed-door negotiations. Crucial details, including how much the county would pay and for how long, were not resolved until the last, dramatic two-day marathon negotiation session, according to dealmakers from both sides, who over the past two weeks recounted how the final agreement came together.

They negotiated under the political weight of recent history. The controversial deal to publicly finance most of the Miami Marlins’ new ballpark, approved without a popular vote, loomed over the talks. The Dolphins, who tried to avoid comparisons to the Marlins, and Gimenez, who doggedly opposed the baseball deal, vowed this time would be different.

More here.

From shadows to spotlight, Mario Diaz-Balart plays powerful role in immigration talks


Mario Diaz-Balart spoke bluntly to his fellow U.S. House Republicans during a closed-door meeting at Washington’s Capitol Hill Club.

“Immigration is the 800-pound gorilla,” the Miami congressman told the room of vote-counting whips just seven days after last November’s election.

“The 800-pound gorilla just punched us in the face.”

Indeed, Hispanic voters had turned from Republicans in record numbers, in heavy measure because of the way the party’s candidates handled immigration.

But beyond the political numbers, Diaz-Balart said, the immigration policy data mattered even more.

About 11 million immigrants illegally live in the country. The system is broken. The time to fix it, he said, is during a non-election year.

“After I was done speaking, unlike in previous years, a huge number of my colleagues on the whip team came up to me to tell me it was time to do it,” Diaz-Balart told The Herald.

“What really changed,” he said, “was a willingness by many to confront the small handful of members who have been very vocal against doing anything, against doing anything realistic.”

That day, Nov. 13, marks not just a turning point in the immigration debate, but a significant moment in Diaz-Balart’s political career.

Today, the longtime lawmaker plays one of the most-crucial Washington roles in immigration that many have never heard about.

More here

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/04/20/3355230/from-shadows-to-spotlight-mario.html#storylink=cpy