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10 posts from May 9, 2013

May 09, 2013

Miami-Dade faces $50-million-plus budget shortfall

@PatriciaMazzei

Miami-Dade County faces a $50 million-plus budget shortfall under current projections, Mayor Carlos Gimenez warned commissioners this week after informing employee unions that the county will ask for a continuation of significant benefit concessions.

Gimenez’s administration is requesting that, for another year, workers continue to contribute 5 percent of their base pay toward the cost of health insurance, among other concessions particular to each union.

Extending the contribution requires the county to return to the bargaining table with most of its bargaining units. The mayor had said he would try to eliminate the contribution this year, and the contracts, negotiated for a three-year period, provide for reopening certain agreement provisions if the contribution is to continue past Jan. 1, 2014.

“I have directed staff to being scheduling negotiation sessions with all of [the] unions in order to come to a consensus on the terms of the agreements as soon as possible since, as per the existing contract language, there is a time window of time allotted for negotiations,” Gimenez wrote commissioners Wednesday.

More here.

Did Ana Alliegro double-cross David Rivera, secretly record him in scandal?

@MarcACaputo

A friend of former U.S. Rep. David Rivera who’s implicated in a federal corruption investigation made a recording of the Republican last year — and now prosecutors have the evidence, The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald have learned.

Ana Alliegro made the recording, perhaps secretly, months before the FBI raided her home and seized her computer last year. She later skipped town and was last seen in Nicaragua.

Alliegro played a key role in the ill-fated Democratic congressional campaign of Justin Lamar Sternad, who in February admitted receiving $81,486 in illegal contributions and aid from unnamed “coconspirators.”

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Budget lands on Scott's desk, is tuition hike on the chopping block?

It was only Friday that lawmakers passed the $74.5 billion budget.

Now, it's Gov. Rick Scott's turn. The 450-page document landed on Scott's desk Thursday. He has until May 24 to sign it -- and veto anything he doesn't deem appropriate.

In his first year in office in 2011, Scott vetoed $615 million in member projects. Last year, Scott vetoed $143 million in various projects. He's been coy so far about what he's going to reject this year, but he'll have a lot to choose from. It's stuffed with hometown spending on cultural centers, water projects and college and university funding.

The biggest single veto drama is whether Scott will deep-six the proposed 3 percent tuition hike.  University leaders are expecting Scott to veto it. Former Gov. Charlie Crist did the same thing in 2007. Although some questioned the legality of Crist's actions, Scott's general counsel says it set a precedent that puts Scott on solid ground if he does the same this year.

Universities anticipate Gov. Rick Scott veto of tuition increase

A 3 percent tuition increase was written into the state budget, but state university leaders aren't banking on that money. Gov. Rick Scott has made it clear that he doesn't support increasing the cost of earning a degree.

Here's a excerpt from an article that will be published in Friday's paper:

Most expect Gov. Rick Scott to veto the modest tuition increase when he signs the state budget into law in the coming weeks.

"He's come out strongly against tuition increases and fee increases, and now will be a time to see if the governor stands by his word," said Brian Goff, the outgoing student body president at the University of South Florida.

Scott hasn't formally received the budget from the Legislature, and when he does he'll have 15 days to decide whether to sign it into law or veto it. But he has been clear where he stands on tuition.

"I do not support any tuition increase," the governor says whenever asked.

There's enough to like in the budget for the state's 12 public universities, even without the money a tuition increase would bring.

Read more here.

PPP: FL backs procitizenship-path candidates 49-29 percent. GOP voters? Not so much.

@MarcACaputo

Florida’s Hispanic voters, the fastest-growing segment of the state’s electorate, are the most likely to support candidates who back a path to citizenship for those illegally in the country, a new poll from a Democratic-leaning firm has found.

Seven in 10 Hispanic voters said they’d be more likely to vote for a pro-pathway candidate, compared to 49 percent of African-Americans and 47 percent of non-Hispanic whites, the survey from Public Policy Polling shows.

Overall, 49 percent of Florida voters overall said they’d back a pro-pathway candidate and only 29 percent said they’d be less likely to do so.

But the poll also indicates that Florida congressional support for an immigration-reform bill is no sure thing due to Republican concerns with a pathway to citizenship. Republican members of Florida’s congressional delegation outnumber Democratic members by a 17-10 split.

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Redistricting legal battle returns to Florida Supreme Court

The Florida Legislature and the League of Women Voters squared off Thursday before the state Supreme Court as both sides continue an intense legal battle over the behind-the-scenes maneuvering that produced the Republican-crafted 2012 maps of state House and Senate districts.

House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz, represented in court by former Supreme Court Justice Raoul Cantero, asked the state's highest court to block a lower court from holding a full-blown trial on claims by voting groups that lawmakers, consultants and party operatives schemed to draw districts to partisan advantage in violation of the two "fair districts" amendments to the state Constitution.

"The Constitution grants exclusive jurisdiction to the Supreme Court" on all redistricting matters, Cantero told reporters outside the courthouse. "We went through this very grueling process for several weeks last year and that's it until 2020 ... It's a close question and I'm confident they'll rule in our favor."

Miami lawyer Adam Schachter, representing the League of Women Voters and other groups, said the 2010 fair district amendments changed the Florida Constitution to prevent the Legislature from drawing districts that favor or disfavor a political party or an incumbent. He said evidence already unearthed in the lower-court case, before Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis, suggests the amendments were violated.

"The Florida voters passed these amendments to change the process," Schachter told the justices, "and allowing them access to the courts is the way to effectuate that change."

Internal emails on both sides of the partisan divide in redistricting show that Republicans and Democrats both privately sought to maximize their political advantages in the once-a-decade remapping of political boundaries. Republicans used private email accounts, held brainstorming sessions and set up personal "dropboxes," and a Democratic consultant wrote a 2011 email that said in part: Underlying goal is to increase the number of safe Democratic seats and the number of competitive seats."

During nearly an hour of oral arguments Thursday, the most animated justice was Charles Canady, a former Republican state legislator and member of Congress, who was openly skeptical of many of Schacter's arguments, and suggested that there has to be a finality to lawsuits challenging redistricting plans. "We can be litigating these redistricting plans over and over and over again for the next decade," Canady said.

-- Steve Bousquet

Jeb Bush, conservative Hispanic group trash 'inflammatory,' 'ignorant' Heritage immigration expert

@MarcACaputo

Day two dawns of the Republican pushback against The Heritage Foundation's researcher who has a low opinion of Hispanics and immigrants. Here's the press release:

WASHINGTON, DC – Members of the Hispanic Leadership Network’s (HLN) National Advisory Committee released the following statement regarding the inflammatory remarks on immigrants’ intelligence by the Heritage Foundation’s Jason Richwine. The HLN Advisory Committee signees are: Governor Jeb Bush, Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, U.S. Treasurer Rosario Marin, Mario Rodriguez, Massey Villarreal, Jovita Carranza and HLN's executive director, Jennifer S. Korn.

“The beliefs espoused by the Heritage Foundation’s Jason Richwine are ignorant and reflect a lack of understanding of our immigration system and the American immigrant experience. American Hispanics are not a community of low intelligence but rather one of entrepreneurship and upward mobility. This lack of understanding, from the author himself of Heritage’s immigration study, only further discredits their already controversial and flawed findings. This is particularly disappointing because of our respect for the Heritage Foundation and their traditions of high standards, rigorous work, and support for immigration reform. We look forward to the next Heritage study that excludes such obvious biases and flawed starting points.”

The Hispanic Leadership Network began its efforts in 2011 and strives to engage the Hispanic community on center-right issues that will restore opportunity and prosperity in America.

Jeb, Jeb Jr. and George P. Bush hold a Miami fundraiser and....

@MarcACaputo

Place your which-Bush-will-run-for-president-next bets (my guess: George P. Bush).

From a press release:

Maverick PAC (MavPAC) will host their annual conference this year from July 12-14 in Miami, Florida, with keynote speaker, former Florida Governor, Jeb Bush. The young Republican PAC will also be joined by co-chairs George P. Bush and Jay Zeidman and Conference Chairs Slater Bayliss, Jeb Bush, Jr., and Luis Gazitua. This three-day conference of strategic planning and development for upcoming elections will be a kick-off to what will be an extremely successful year ahead.

Rest here: Download Press Release-MavPAC-Annual Conference 2013-Jeb Bush

"Amnesty is amnesty:" Rubio, Diaz-Balart have immigration problems in FL's delegation

A sizable number of Florida's Republican U.S. House members have problems with the Senate immigration bill championed by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

And that spells trouble for ultimate passage in the GOP-controlled House even as a Senate committee marks up the bill today. There, Rubio's longtime friend and de facto immigration expert Mario Diaz-Balart is trying to gain consensus behind the scenes. Obviously, it's not easy.

"No matter how you might color it, amnesty is amnesty," Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Indian Shores, told The Tampa Bay Times.

Diaz-Balart and Rubio say they're not for amnesty, but amnesty is in the eye of the beholder. And there are a lot of beholders.

Story here

Feds sue Gaetz's former company for Medicare fraud, including period he was vice-chairman

The U.S. Department of Justice has filed suit against the hospice company founded by Florida Senate President Don Gaetz, accusing the company of engaging in Medicare fraud for more than 11 years, including during the time Gaetz was vice chairman of the company.

The lawsuit, filed May 2 in the District Court for the western district of Missouri, alleges that since at least 2002 Vitas Hospice Services and Vitas Healthcare Corp., the largest provider of for-profit hospice services in the country, “misspent tens of millions of taxpayer dollars from the Medicare program.”

Gaetz sold the company in 2004 to its current owner, Cincinnati-based Chemed, and reportedly no longer owns any shares or has any affiliation with the company. Chemed operates hospice services in 18 states including Florida.

The suit, filed on the eve of the final day of the legislative session, alleges that the Chemed and its hospice subsidiaries defrauded Medicare by billing Medicare for patients who were not eligible for hospice care, and for charging Medicare for crisis care given to patients who either didn’t need it or never received it.

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