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4 posts from March 2, 2014

March 02, 2014

Miami-Dade Delgation starts 2014 session with united front on budget issues

Late last month, state lawmakers from across Miami-Dade County hunkered down and drew up a list of their collective priorities.

The exercise was about more than creating a road map for the upcoming session. It was about presenting a united front to the Florida Legislature.

“For first time in a long time, the Miami-Dade delegation is seen as a substantive delegation, rather than a bunch of crazy people who fight each other,” said Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, a Miami Republican and vice chair of the delegation.

That newfound cohesion may help the state’s largest delegation accomplish its goals in Tallahassee this year.

The priorities are as diverse as the delegation itself: Protect funding for Jackson Memorial Hospital; increase incentives to lure the film industry to Florida; step up the penalties for hit-and-run drivers; and extend in-state tuition college rates to undocumented students.

Miami-Dade lawmakers will also work together to secure state dollars for local projects, from the Skyrise Miami observation tower to the senior centers known as comedores.

Still, some high-profile — and high-impact — issues are likely to be divisive.

Miami-Dade lawmakers have already expressed conflicting opinions on subsidies for sports stadiums, destination casinos and a half-penny sales tax to support construction at Miami Dade College and Florida International University.

Read more here.

New Medicaid law to sting Jackson

Jackson Memorial Hospital is bracing again for big cuts — this time, the result of a new law that will send millions of federal dollars that used to go to Miami-Dade hospitals elsewhere in the state.

When the provision takes effect in July, healthcare systems across Miami-Dade County stand to lose $218 million in Medicaid matching funds, also known as Low Income Pool funds.

Jackson alone will shoulder a $140 million hit. “That would be fairly catastrophic,” Chief Executive Officer Carlos Migoya said. “We’re at a point right now where we are fairly efficient. It’s not like we have a whole lot of extra fat to cut.”

Tony Carvalho, president of the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida, says the new funding system should be repealed. “We believe that it’s an arbitrary methodology without a lot of basis in policy,” he said. “And we believe the state is best served by deleting the whole section of law.”

Miami-Dade lawmakers say they will do what they can to help.

“That is arguably the most important Miami-Dade delegation priority,” said Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami. “This is the opposite of Robin Hood. It is stealing from the poor to give to the rich.”

Read more here.

Marco Rubio on Russia's 'lies,' Venezuela's repression and gay vs. religious rights


The crisis in Crimea and the violence in Venezuela are making Marco Rubio a hot-ticket again on cable news.

After fading somewhat from view after the conservative blowback over his immigration bill, Florida's Republican senator is back to being a must-book for the 24-hour news beast, in great part because of his role on the Senate's foreign-relations committee.

Rubio called on the Obama Administration to further "isolate" Russia for its invasion of Ukranian-held Crimea, suggested we help bolster Ukraine's military capabality as well as its government and to restart a missle-defense shield plan that has troubled Russia and, before it, the Soviet Union for decades.

"You’re dealing with a government that lies as a matter of course, and it’s very difficult to enter an understanding with them on anything when they are willing to lie and cover things up in this way," Rubio told NBC's Meet The Press host David Gregory.

Continue reading "Marco Rubio on Russia's 'lies,' Venezuela's repression and gay vs. religious rights" »

As session opens, special interest cash helps to buy into the agenda

030214 MH front pageWhen Florida legislators open their annual 60-day session Tuesday, many of the decisions about what issues make it onto the agenda have already been made — thanks in large part to the powerful special interest groups and a torrent of cash flowing into the coffers of legislative political committees.

It’s all about buying in on the legislative agenda.

The Florida Senate, for example, has offered up a bill to create two new resort casinos, one each in Miami-Dade and Broward. The proposal comes after a year of study and $400,000 in fees to consultants. The biggest beneficiaries: three casino giants — Genting Resorts World, Las Vegas Sands and the Seminole Tribe — the largest gaming contributors to political campaigns this cycle.

Another example: a bill to preserve a dental care contract for Miami-based MCNA. It failed last year. This year’s bill, which would remove $200 million in dental care from the state’s Medicaid reform, has rocketed through House and Senate committees even before the start of session. The juice? Proponents say it’s the hard-work and persuasion skills of the bill sponsors, Miami Republicans Sen. Anitere Flores and Rep. Jose Felix Diaz. It doesn’t hurt that MCNA gave more than $355,000 to the political committees of Republican legislators and the Republican Party in the last seven months.

And then there’s billionaire Coral Gables executive Miguel “Mike” Fernandez, who is pushing a bill to allow Miami-Dade College and Florida International University to reap the revenue from a proposed a half-penny sales tax. After years of legislative resistance, the bill is all set for a vote on the House floor. Who’s Fernandez? He’s co-finance chair of Gov. Rick Scott’s campaign and has given legislators more than $250,000 this cycle, and is the governor’s biggest backer — donating $2.4 million in the last four years.

To be sure, money has long commanded attention in the Legislature. Businesses hire teams of lobbyists to mount a full court press on major issues and seed the debate with campaign cash. Lawmakers depend heavily on the special interest money to underwrite their campaigns. But over the past year, the amount of money flowing into political committees is unprecedented and has ignited an arms race for cash.

“The thirst for campaign money has just reached a new level,’’ said veteran lobbyist Ron Book, in between two legislative fundraisers in Miami last week. “I say this every year and every year it gets worse.” Story here. 

Capitol cash

Florida’s new campaign finance law authorized legislators to create political committees that can collect checks of unlimited amounts. They do not have to report what legislation the money is intended to influence but they must report campaign contributions monthly. Below, a list of legislators with the most collected in their political committees in the 2014 election cycle*.

Legislators Political committee Largest checks
Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart $1,114,650 $50,000 Miguel Fernandez, $50,000 MCNA (a Medicaid dental care provider), $50,000 Paul Tudor Jones (environmental advocate), $50,000 FPL, $50,000 Matt Gaetz PAC, $50,000 Anitere Flores PAC
Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton 745,974 $25,000 Automated Healthcare, $25,000 Bealls, $25,000 Fla. Med. Assn., $25,000 FPL
Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater 674,990 $30,000 Genting, $25,000 AFSCME (union)
Rep. Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island 652,000 $275,000 Florida Blue, $75,000 Republican St. Leadership Comm., $50,000 Impact (insurance PAC)
Rep. Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland 316,000 $25,000 Genting, $25,000 ALICO
Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring 301,578 $50,000 Fla. Med. Assn., $15,000 AFSCME
Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami 247,803 $50,000 Genting, $50,000 Florida Optometric Association Political Committee
Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami 253,623 $50,000 Disney, $15,000 AT&T
Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Trinity 227,283 $50,000 Disney, $30,000 Genting
Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Miami 211,971 $15,000 AT&T, $15,000 Florida Justice PAC (trial lawyers)

SOURCE: Florida Department of Elections.

*The 2014 election cycle began in November 2012. The contributions are through February 26, 2014.