April 25, 2011

Behind the curtain: A cheat-sheet for budget-talk impasse

The annual squabble between the House and Senate over the Florida budget is well underway amid secret talks, personality conflicts and policies affecting everything from school kids to criminals.

 On Monday, Senate budget chief JD Alexander expressed exasperation over the negotiating tactics of House Speaker Dean Cannon, whose chamber refused to respond to a budget offer that Alexander made Thursday evening.

"I personally walked it over. And we've heard nothing," Alexander said. "He refuses to deal with me."

Alexander said it’s all resolvable. But Cannon or House Appropriations Chairwoman Denise Grimsley need to at least call him back. Here’s what he offered:

Continue reading "Behind the curtain: A cheat-sheet for budget-talk impasse" »

March 31, 2011

Mike Haridopolos dismisses 'idle threats' of S.C., Iowa over convention

Florida Senate President and U.S. Senate candidate Mike Haridopolos wants South Carolina and Iowa Republicans to chill out about punishing Florida for having an early primary:

"It continues to amaze me that Republican leaders in other states feel threatened by Florida in next year’s presidential preference primary.  I have said all along that Florida does not want to jump the traditional early states of New Hampshire, Iowa, South Carolina or Nevada.  We simply want to go fifth.

As the ultimate swing state with a population reflective of the country’s demographics, Florida should have a significant role as early in the nominating process as possible. Vice President Biden said last week that the President Obama’s fortunes for reelection rest on Florida. That should be our total focus.

 Idle threats by other states are not productive.  Unified Republicans will gather in Tampa in August 2012 to select the person who will replace Barrack Obama as President of the United States."

Continue reading "Mike Haridopolos dismisses 'idle threats' of S.C., Iowa over convention" »

March 21, 2011

Dean Cannon: No to Medically Needy cuts? No to mandatory-minimums

In a rather blunt memo, House Speaker Dean Cannon reiterated his pledge to not raise taxes, to sock more money into savings and to resist cuts to the budget that he thinks don't work. Cannon suggested the House will once again raid the state's road-building fund to prioritize people over things. He also said K-12 spending will have a top priority, though the budget will still have across-the-board cuts, including reductions to state employee retirement benefits.

“We will not offer phantom cuts based on unproven efficiencies," Cannon wrote. "We will not risk our favorable bond ratings by producing a budget with inadequate reserves. Most importantly, we will not rake money out of the struggling Florida economy by increasing taxes or fees.”

Phantom cuts? It seems Cannon indirectly took issue with the Senate's healthcare budget by saying the "the House budget will not adopt strategies to control Medicaid spending that result in cost shifts toward the other aspects of our state-funded health care infrastructure, including driving uncompensated care into our public hospitals and emergency departments.”

Translation: That nearly $1 billion the Senate and Gov. Rick Scott want to save by cutting the so-called "Medically Needy" program for transplant patients. To House officials, the cuts probably won't pass federal muster and wouldn't save money anyway.

Cannon was none-too-pleased last year when the Senate wouldn't hear his Medicaid reform plan, and echoes of that displeasure were in his letter as well. “Because of the Legislature’s inability to enact comprehensive Medicaid reform, we continue to experience uncontrolled escalations in the caseloads and costs of this Federal entitlement program,” Cannon said.

Cannon also said no, essentially, to a Senate push to alter mandatory-minimum sentences by stating that the House wouldn't go along with changing "adult sentencing policies."

Letter here. Download Initial Budget Allocations Memo

Cannon also released draft budget allocations (Download Allocations 3-21-11. Here's how they compare with the Senate's draft plans (general revenue only):

Section Senate    House  Senate over House
Pek-12 9,809.90 8,204.50 1,605.40
Health 6,526.30 7,106.90 -580.60
Higher Ed 3,476.20 3,136.40 339.80
Justice 3,406.40 3,332.80 73.60
TED 336.10 269.6 66.50
Gov Ops 404.80 255.6 149.20
Ag-Environment ? 187.10 -187.10


March 17, 2011

Cannon's plan to split Supreme Court gathers steam

House Speaker Dean Cannon's bold plan to split the Supreme Court into two panels and to add three new justices moved forward Thursday with a party-line 10-5 vote by the House Civil Justice Subcommittee. The panel's chairman, Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, R-Orlando, steered the bill to passage as expected, with all Republicans voting yes and all Democrats voting no.

The Cannon plan would replace the existing seven-member Supreme Court with two five-member panels, one to handle civil cases and the other to hear criminal cases. Republicans say the court spends too much time on death penalty appeals, forcing cases to languish for more than a year on the court's crowded docket.

Cannon, a Winter Park lawyer, is a vocal critic of the Supreme Court, and he has publicly criticized justices for overstepping their authority by stripping three legislative-sponsored amendments off the 2010 ballot. Cannon personally argued one of the rejected amendments before the court. 

The Florida Chamber of Commerce and Florida Justice Reform Institute support the bifurcated court, while the Florida Bar and some judges voiced strong concerns. Polk County Circuit Judge John Laurent, a former state senator, said Cannon's plan seems to omit the post of chief justice, which Laurent called a serious problem. "We need a boss," Laurent said.

The Cannon proposal now moves to the House Judiciary Committee before hitting the House floor. Two other court-related bills that passed Thursday would require Senate confirmation of all appellate court judges in Florida and eliminate the Florida Bar's ability to recommend candidates to serve on judicial nominating commissions.

-- Steve Bousquet

March 12, 2011

Dean Cannon: Rick Scott's SunRail freeze won't 'leverage' me

Sounds like House Speaker Dean Cannon' is confident Gov. Rick Scott will ultimately approve of SunRail. Could Scott leverage Cannon by freezing some SunRail projects in the meantime? No way, says Cannon. He trusts the governor. His written statement:

"It is true that I support the SunRail project.  The economics of the project, the degree of specific direction from legislature, the carefulness in planning and the potential benefits to Florida differ substantially from the recently canceled high speed rail project.

It is also true that I have a great deal of faith in the integrity and business judgment of our Governor.  I do not believe he will play political games with a project that could serve such an important role in Central Florida's economic recovery.

However, if anyone expects SunRail to serve as 'leverage' with the House, he or she will be sorely disappointed.  While I support the project, I will not abandon responsible, conservative public policy for any infrastructure project."

Rick Scott's SunRail delay puts Speaker Dean Cannon et al on notice

Work to open the SunRail commuter train will be delayed as Gov. Rick Scott studies whether the central Florida line will cost taxpayers money. Scott froze $235 million in contracts in January and on Friday announced on Facebook that he's extending the freeze while he conducts a financial review of the $1.2 billion project.

So reads an AP brief into the matter. It's big news in the Orlando-area, and has big political implications in the state Capitol. House Speaker Dean Cannon, a Winter Park Republican and de facto political leader of the Central Florida political elite, was a major but quiet force behind the train.

With SunRail approved in December of 09, it looked as if Cannon had everything he wanted before he became speaker. The apparent desirelessness was Cannon's greatest strength because the more you want in the state Capitol, the weaker you can be as a leader. Now Scott has leverage over Cannon, just as he has over Senate President Mike Haridopolos, who's running for U.S. Senate.

Scott certainly wants headlines, and he gets them in spades with moves like this. He can't lose right now. If he rejects SunRail, he's a hero to the anti-train tea partiers. If he lets it go, he has the gratitude of the Central Florida power structure -- and the tacit agreement of all its pro-Sunrail legislators to get in line, starting with Cannon.

Scott's office announced he'll delay the SunRail contracts until July -- that just happens to be the start of the new budget year and comes well after the end of the legislative session in May. All aboard?

March 08, 2011

What they're saying about Gov. Rick Scott's speech

House Speaker Dean Cannon: "I share Governor Scott’s commitment to making the tough policy decisions that will benefit our state in the long-term, rather than settling for a knee-jerk Washington approach that tries to put off short-term problems regardless of negative long-term consequences. I look forward to working with the Governor on the many issues for which he has advocated which require legislative approval or oversight. I am confident that we can work together to refine the best ideas that come from each chamber and the Governor’s Office and am very encouraged by the progress we have already made."

Senate President Mike Haridopolos: "I congratulate Governor Scott for laying out a vision for Florida that will result in the economic turnaround we so badly need in our state. The message of getting to work that propelled him to the Governor’s office has carried forward in his role as Florida’s chief executive. The Governor’s vision for Florida is bold and decisive.  The Florida Senate is prepared to work with him to accomplish the goals he discussed in his State of the State address. During the next 60 days, his agenda will get a thorough review in the Senate. We all share the same goal – getting Florida back to work."

Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith: "Tonight, Governor Rick Scott’s words trying to defend his job destroying agenda rang hollow to Floridians hurting during the hard economic times. Since he took office, Floridians have seen that Rick Scott only cares about imposing his rigid and extreme philosophy on our state, rather than working to implement common sense solutions for Florida. Whether he is killing high speed rail, proposing his spending plan that would lay off 20,000 teachers, or putting communities at risk by ending critical law enforcement tools to stop pill-mills, Rick Scott’s agenda is doing real harm to our state."

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam: “I share the Governor’s vision to reduce unemployment and grow our economy by creating jobs.  I look forward to working with the Governor, the members of the Cabinet and the Legislature to accomplish this goal. As Commissioner of Agriculture, I’m focused on fostering an environment in which businesses can grow and thrive in Florida. I believe we should invest in higher education, research and grants that will enable Floridians to create, innovate and, ultimately, generate more jobs across our great state."

Florida Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Mark Wilson: "It’s refreshing to have a Governor who says the same things after the election as he did before the election. Governor Scott understands that to grow the private sector, we must shrink the government sector. Tonight, Governor Scott reinforced his pledge to improve education, lower taxes on entrepreneurs, and to pass legal reform. Florida is keeping the American dream alive, and Governor Scott has the bold vision and the uncommon courage to stay strong and help Florida lead the nation back to prosperity."

House Majority Leader Carlos Lopez-Cantera: “I, like Governor Scott, believe that Florida should not rely on handouts from the federal government or participate in the reckless spending practices that have become so commonplace in Washington D.C. The governor highlighted the need for a fiscally responsible government that eliminates wasteful spending, curbs the growth of entitlement programs, and restores jobs to Floridians.  Although addressing these difficult issues may not be easy, it is necessary to ensure the future economic prosperity of our state and our state’s citizens. I look forward to working with him this Session."

March 06, 2011

Haridopolos steered money to college that gave him unusual book deal

When he bangs the gavel down on his first regular session as Senate President, Mike Haridopolos will already have sustained more public-relations blows and blunders than any of his predecessors in recent times. As a recently announced candidate for U.S. Senate, Haridopolos' tough job got even tougher.

Last week, Brevard Community College finally published what was supposed to be a "scholarly work," Florida Legislative History and Processes -- a book that revealed little about either despite the title. The $152,000 arrangement, which came amid budget cuts to colleges, has long raised eyebrows. But the prose and common sense advice (buy a computer, get a cellphone if you're a political candidate) produced snickers.

Turns out, Haridopolos helped his former employer when he could. He steered $3.1 million to his former employer according to state budget documents. The two projects: renovations in 2009, and a 2006 project that sought to help build a facility, connected to the college, to help turtle-nesting, manatee and whale and dolphin research. In all, he has accounted for about $42.7 million in hometown spending -- not a lot for a powerful senator.

Two weeks ago, his rules committee admonished him for failing to properly fill out constitutionally required financial disclosures -- forms that revealed, among other things, that he scored a consulting job with a local appliance company that lobbies the Legislature. 

Before all of this, Haridopolos also voted raise taxes by $2.2 billion. He had voted to cut taxes and spending by a far greater amount over his career, but the single tax increase that he anguished over two years ago could prove costly in a Republican primary. Add up all the ingredients -- the tax increase, the financial disclosures, the book deal, the money for the college -- and Haridopolos reputation as a fiscal conservative has taken some blows.

Profile here

Meantime, his colleague in the Florida House, Dean Cannon, looks like he's on autopilot. He's not an announced candidate, runs a more top-down organization and hasn't made as many missteps as Haridopolos.

Profile here

February 28, 2011

Let's Get to Work -- and laugh with Rick, Mike, Dean et al at the Press Corps Skits

Press skits

It's time for the 56th (Sometimes) Annual Florida Press Corps skits. This year's event will be Tuesday, March 15, at The Moon in Tallahassee.

Tickets are $35 per person this year, including dinner. All proceeds go to the Barbara Frye Scholarship Fund for journalism students. Get there early -- doors open at 6:30 p.m. The show starts at 7:30 p.m.

Check out our web site for tickets, and our two-minute video promo featuring (sort of) Gov. Rick Scott, and more information on the show.

February 27, 2011

How Florida's House and Senate leaders can demand lockstep control of the agenda

When the Florida Legislature convenes in two weeks, two men will wield almost uncheckable power over a conservative agenda of lower taxes, budget cuts, evaluating teacher performance, and Medicaid and pension reform.

House Speaker Dean Cannon, a lawyer from Winter Park, and Senate President Mike Haridopolos, a Merritt Island college professor who is running for the U.S. Senate, are poised to dominate the debate over the state’s budget and job crisis.

Unlike previous presiding officers, Cannon and Haridopolos consolidated their power on the strength of a veto-proof majority delivered by the Republican landslide in November. They strengthened that clout by steering millions of dollars in campaign cash to the political campaigns of newcomers who now owe their elections in large part to them.

Each has assigned a pecking order status to members – giving their favorites the most coveted office space, the most sought-after committee assignments, and even the most convenient parking spots. And, working with a small circle of advisors, each can determine which of the Gov. Rick Scott’s proposals stay in the budget, and which get killed.

Read more here for on the first in the Capital Clout series by the Miami Herald and St. Petersburg Times.


Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/02/26/v-fullstory/2086737/two-lawmakers-dominate-tallahassee.html#ixzz1FAeR3HYw