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November 23, 2015

Under governor's plan, local taxpayers would bear most of $500M increase to K-12 education


One of Gov. Rick Scott's main initiatives in his 2016-17 proposal is more investments in education -- specifically $500 million he proposes to add to funding for K-12 public schools.

But Scott is getting swift blow-back from critics, because 85 percent of that extra funding would be shouldered not by the state, but through local property taxes that homeowners and businesses pay.

Of the $507.3 million suggested increase, $80 million -- or 15 percent -- is state dollars, while $427.3 million would come from the "required local effort."

In touting his proposal to make an "historic investment in education," Scott vows that Floridians' "will not see an increase in your millage rate."

However, that doesn't mean businesses and homeowners won't see a larger tax bill. As property values rebound statewide, the amount property owners pay in taxes also increases, even if the tax rate remains the same.

When reporters asked Scott about this Monday, he responded: "Property values, when they go up, that's good for us."

One senior Democrat in the Legislature accused Scott of caring "a lot more about corporations than he does the people of Florida," because Scott's other big initiative is a $1 billion tax cut, mostly benefiting businesses.

Continue reading "Under governor's plan, local taxpayers would bear most of $500M increase to K-12 education" »

Fear and anxiety for the GOP in the heartland


via @lesleyclark

COUNCIL BLUFFS, IOWA -- Sometimes this fall, it feels as if the contours of a familiar world for Republicans are under assault.

They worry that immigrants here illegally are gobbling up jobs and benefits. They fear that Islamic State terrorists could sneak across a porous border with Mexico and find their way into the United States. They complain that the U.S. is bowing to political correctness in response to racial tensions and the legalization of gay marriage.

Together, the newest worries lend a sharp new edge to anxiety over wages, jobs and debt.

“We’re going down the tubes and I don’t know if we can recover,” said James Burrack, 77, a farmer in northeastern Iowa who believes illegal immigration poses a major threat to the country’s economy and security. “Just give it all to the Muslims and we can be their subjects.”

Less than 10 weeks before Iowans kick off the presidential nomination with the first-in-the-nation caucuses, interviews with more than 50 Republican voters across the state paint a dark picture of deep discontent with the direction of the country.

This intense and focused anxiety helps explain why the establishment — media and political — has been wrong so often this year when it’s predicted that an inflammatory comment about Mexicans or Muslims would doom a candidate, or that the attacks in Paris would drive voters away from unconventional contenders.

The candidates are reflecting that mood, not leading it.

More here.

Photo credit: Charlie Neibergall, Associated Press

Gov. Scott wants more staffing cuts in health, environment


For the fifth year in a row, Gov. Rick Scott is asking for big job cuts to state agencies responsible for health care and the environment.

In his budget priorities released Monday, Scott asks the Legislature to eliminate a net of 718 jobs in the Department of Health and 152 in the Department of Environmental Protection.

All told, if the Legislature honors Scott’s request, the Department of Health will have shrunk by a fifth — more than 3,400 jobs eliminated — since Scott’s first budget in 2011-2012. More than 1,500 of those are in the last two years.

By and large, the cuts are expected to be for positions funded by the Legislature that have not been filled by Scott's agencies. About 200 jobs are expected to be connected to the transitioning of a health care plan for kids to be run by private insurers. Many of those could be filled by state workers who could be reassigned into other open jobs.

That means few workers are expected to lose their jobs. But it also means jobs for which the Legislature has set aside money are not being filled.

Scott is asking to eliminate more than 500 jobs in county health departments, which are charged with serving low-income people across the state. Last year, the governor asked for 758 health department jobs to be cut. Lawmakers got rid of an additional 55.

Last year, Scott’s proposal asked to cut funding for nutritionists who advise poor families, health counselors and family support workers, among other jobs in clinics across the state.

A list of which specific positions are expected to be eliminated has not been made available.

In the Department of Environmental Protection, most of the job cuts are likely to be empty positions, as well. Under the governor’s plan, most of them come from the state parks.

It is important to note that the governor’s recommended budget is only a suggestion. State lawmakers negotiate the nearly $80 billion state budget, and Scott has the power to veto items.

Still, lawmakers often make changes prioritized by the governor and his agencies. Scott this year asked each state agency to identify 5 percent of their jobs that could be cut.

Continue reading "Gov. Scott wants more staffing cuts in health, environment" »

Universities would bear half the cost to increase performance funding, under Rick Scott's budget proposal


In his 2016-17 budget proposal the Legislature, Gov. Rick Scott wants to continue holding the line on tuition for Florida's 12 public universities and 28 state colleges, while also devoting $120 million more toward performance-based funding for those institutions.

But half of the $100 million Scott wants to add to university performance incentives next year would actually come from the universities themselves.

Only $50 million of the proposed increase would come from new funding, while the other $50 million is proposed to come out of the 12 universities' base operating budgets.

Performance funding is doled out to each university based on how well each institution "performs" on 10 metrics, including average cost per graduate, percent of graduates employed or continuing education and the institution's six-year graduation rate.

Continue reading "Universities would bear half the cost to increase performance funding, under Rick Scott's budget proposal" »

Latest TV ad by pro-Jeb Bush super PAC focuses on - what else? - foreign policy


The Paris terrorist attacks have dominated the 2016 Republican primary race, forcing candidates to focus on foreign policy and national security.

The latest example: Right to Rise USA, the pro-Jeb Bush super PAC, has produced a new TV ad highlighting a speech Bush gave last week on national defense.

The spot, titled "Leader," is scheduled to air on Fox News Channel nationally and in the early primary states (Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina) beginning Wednesday, said Paul Lindsay, a super PAC spokesman.


Suffolk poll: Marco Rubio in second place in New Hampshire


Marco Rubio is in second place among Republican primary voters in new Hampshire, according to a new poll by Suffolk University and the Boston Globe.

Rubio still only has half the support of frontrunner Donald Trump, the poll shows: 11 percent compared to Trump's 22 percent. But the Florida senator has more support than other GOP establishment candidates who could challenge Trump. And Rubio remains well-liked by poll respondents: 64 percent gave him a favorable rating and 22 percent an unfavorable one, the best numbers in the field.

"Donald Trump's loyal 22 percent goes a long way in New Hampshire," David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center, said in a statement. "As long as the remaining 78 percent is split relatively evenly among the six or seven major contenders, we're getting close to 'Trump-mate' in the Granite State."

The other top candidates were Ben Carson (10 percent), Ted Cruz and John Kasich (9 percent each), and Jeb Bush (8 percent).

Last time Suffolk polled the New Hampshire field, in June, Bush was in first place, followed by Trump.

Miami-Dade schools looks to cash in on land

District land@cveiga

When it comes to some of Miami-Dade’s biggest proposed development deals, one surprising major player has emerged.

It’s not condo magnate Jorge Pérez, golf course mogul Donald Trump, the Soffer family of Fontainebleau fame or any of the other familiar names.

It’s the Miami-Dade County School Board and Superintendent Alberto Carvalho.

Riding widespread community support and popularity, the board and Carvalho have increasingly sought to capitalize on South Florida’s lucrative real estate market, efforts they insist will benefit 350,000 mostly poor school kids.

The district has taken a starring role in negotiations with David Beckham to build a Major League Soccer stadium, and to bring the world’s largest shopping mall to land on the edge of the Everglades. But the country’s fourth-largest school district isn’t finished.

Sitting on land in some of Miami’s hottest neighborhoods, Miami-Dade is now considering offering up its downtown headquarters for what could be a 10-acre redevelopment — and to profit off a school site in the exclusive Design District.

“There is a clear opportunity,” Carvalho recently told School Board members.

The only thing standing in the way is South Florida’s infamously cyclical real estate market, which appears to be headed for a cool down. Squeezed by a strong dollar and plenty of inventory, developers have already shelved plans for new towers downtown.

There’s also the question: should a school district insert itself in complicated real estate deals?

“Generally speaking, the school district is all about educating. It’s not about real estate development. And when somebody gets away from their expertise, nothing good ever comes of it,” said Peter Zalewski, founder of the South Florida condo-tracking website CraneSpotters.

More here.

Backlog of 10,000 rape kits not addressed in Scott's new budget plan

Via @JeremySWallace

Florida Gov. Rick Scott touted in press releases last week that he was going to ask the Legislature for $8.5 million to improve the state crime lab’s turnaround times in processing incoming crime evidence. But his proposed budget released Monday does not include any funding to directly address a backlog of older rape kits in evidence rooms around the state that will likely cost the state at least another $9 million to handle.

In his proposed 2016-2017 spending plan released Monday, Scott proposed $3.8 million for a variety of enhancements to the current forensic services budget for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, funding FDLE officials said was critical to keeping up with incoming requests for biology testing, including rape kits.  Scott also proposed another $4 million to give pay raises to the agencies 297 crime lab employees to help retain current workers.

But the budget plan does not address any funding expected to be identified in a state report due out next month that will show the state has more than 10,000 untested rape kits in evidence rooms around the state.State officials, including Attorney General Pam Bondi, have been pushing to test those older DNA samples in hopes they can identify criminals in other cases or help uncover serial rapists.

Older kits languish in evidence rooms in Florida for a variety of reasons. Sometimes victims no longer want an investigation to continue, a case is not being pursued by prosecutors or a suspect has already pled guilty so the kit was never tested. A big factor is simply improvements in technology. Many of the older kits have been sitting on shelves for up to 25 years, when DNA testing was not as common place or reliable as it is today.

But testing the older kits would be costly. While FDLE’s report isn’t due until next month, agency officials have said it costs them $904 to outsource each rape kit. At that price, the state would be looking at more than $9 million in additional expenses if they are told to test all of those extra kits had to be outsourced. FDLE officials say they do not have the staff currently to handle another 10,000 laboratory requests.

When FDLE submitted it's annual budget request to the governor earlier this fall, it did not include any funding for the older, untested rape kits. But in early November, FDLE officials for the first time confirmed their December report will show the state has more than 10,000 such kits.

“The Governor is proud to fully fund FDLE’s request for crime lab support and invest millions in additional resources to help reduce the backlog of these kits across the state,” Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz, said about FDLE's original request that did not include funding for the untested kits.

Though Scott is not proposing funding the backlogged kits, the Florida Legislature has already begun making noise that they want the backlogged addressed. State Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, told FDLE officials that addressing the backlog has to be a priority that jumps ahead of many of their other tasks. He even suggested paying for more staff if that would help handle the backlog.

"I'm committed to making sure every kit needed to be tested is done so in a prompt manner," Negron said earlier this month.

While Scott is required to submit a proposed budget, it is up to the Florida Legislature to build the budget, though Scott has the power to veto items he objects to. 

David Beckham may draw a stadium foe from Miami-Dade GOP

Beckham pic 2


David Beckham’s push for a soccer stadium in Miami may be drawing opposition from the local Republican Party.

Nelson Diaz, chairman of the Miami-Dade GOP, said Saturday he’s hearing criticism from local party members who don’t want the county school board to give Beckham a property-tax break by assuming ownership of his planned 30,000-seat home for Major League Soccer.

“The feeling is: We’ve had enough,” said Diaz, a lobbyist with Southern Strategies and volunteer chairman of the county party’s executive committee. “I have not taken a position myself, but I kind of share a little bit of that feeling. We made a bad deal with the Marlins. Are we going to do it again?”

Diaz said the party may invite Beckham’s group to make its pitch in January and then take a position on the privately financed deal.

In heavily Democratic Miami-Dade, there are more independents than Republicans, who make up about 28 percent of the electorate. But the GOP could have outsized influence on the soccer deal since it is slated to be approved in a Miami referendum that would coincide with the March presidential primary that may be a showdown between Miami candidates Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio.

At issue is Beckham’s pursuit of government ownership for a stadium he and his investors would privately fund. He has offered to spend about $200 million to build a stadium for his Major League Soccer franchise, and pay Miami for a portfolio of city land next to Marlins Park. He wants the school system to take ownership of the stadium, which would shield the facility from paying property taxes.

More here

New Yorker profiles Marco Rubio, 'un joven viejo'

From the New Yorker:

At the age of forty-four, [Marco] Rubio has lively dark eyes, soft cheeks, and downy brown hair affixed in a perfect part. He sometimes asks crowds to see him in the tradition of a “young President who said, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.’ ” (J.F.K. was forty-three when he entered the White House.) Senator Ted Cruz, of Texas, is only five months older than Rubio, but nobody calls him boyish.

If the Democrats nominate Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, the Party will be offering the oldest candidate that it has ever run in a general election, and Rubio has taken to saying, “Never in the modern history of this country has the political class in both parties been more out of touch with our country than it is right now.” But in policy terms Rubio can appear older than his years. His opposition to same-sex marriage, to raising the minimum wage, and to restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba puts him out of step with most American Latinos. In the Spanish-language media, he is sometimes described as un joven viejo—a young fogey.

After a summer submerged in a raucous primary field, Rubio had recently climbed into third place. He was ahead of Jeb Bush, his former mentor, and far behind [Donald] Trump and Ben Carson. Trump’s campaign marched to the sound of a dirge—“The American Dream is dead,” he told crowds—and Rubio presented himself as a sunny alternative, a way out of Trump’s sulfurous moment. “We’re very blessed to have so many good people running for President,” he said earnestly to the crowd in Boulder City.


Rubio’s campaign faces a range of tactical questions—Does he have the organization to win an early state? Will he lose his home state to Trump? Could Cruz win with only conservative and evangelical voters?—but the larger question will be harder to solve: Rubio has succeeded in politics by straddling as many positions as possible. He is the Catholic at the Protestant church, the quarterback of both teams, the joven viejo. But it isn’t clear that he can continue to do that and also be as bold as he would need to be to alter the Presidential prospects of the Republican Party in a changing country.

More here.