December 08, 2009

Oh, the inconvenience of a special session vs. moneyraising

Opponents of Sen. Paula Dockery, the moderate Republican running against AG Bill McCollum for the gubernatorial Republican primary, say her recent Facebook page post inviting "friends" to a fundraiser this weekend was not a violation of Senate money-raising rules.

But the Lakeland lawmaker took the post down this morning anyway, "in an abundance of caution." When the Times/Herald asked Dockery about it earlier today, she said she doesn't always man her FB candidate page and was not aware someone on the campaign had posted fundraiser information. She said she did not want the information posted on the page. Within 15 minutes, the post was gone.

Dockery said she didn't consider it a rule breaker, though, stressing that Senate rules against soliciting donations during a session or special session only apply to senators seeking re-election to the chamber.

"I'm not seeking re-election."

Meanwhile, Rep. David Rivera of Miami transformed a planned fundraiser into a "meet and greet." And Sen. Dave Aronberg wasn't around the Capitol on Monday as the special session was underway -- he was at a fundraiser in Tampa. Aronberg's absence Monday left the regulated industries committee without a quorum.

Ouch. There's fodder for Aronberg's opponent for the Democratic primary for Attorney General, Sen. Dan Gelber, who was in Tallahassee for the session.

Mike Fasano to Paula Dockery: No Ma'am

Sen. Paula Dockery had one more question to ask, a stack of documents on her desk that would invariably help her tear holes in the SunRail deal. But the Transportation and Economic Development Committee was winding down. Dockery had already asked three days' worth of questions in other committees, including this one. Sen. Jeremy Ring was about to close on the bill because, when Chairman Mike Fasano had asked if anyone wanted to debate, he got no answer. So when Dockery moved to ask another question, Fasano stopped her.

"No Ma'am." Fasano said.

The vote: 4-2

Storms says TED committee loss was payback for SunRail 'no'


So Senate President Jeff Atwater's spokeswoman said Sen. Ronda Storms was taken off the transportation and economic development committee as part of a larger reshuffling of assignments that happened in October after Sens. Joe Negron and John Thrasher got elected.

Storms begs to differ. She told the Times/Herald she never asked to be taken off the committee, which is a critical stop today before the proposed commuter rail legislation goes to the Senate floor for a vote. Nope, she's pretty sure she lost the post because Atwater knows she's opposed to the rail bill -- and could have killed it in the transportation committee before it ever got to the full chamber. Storms helped defeat the SunRail proposal in the 2009 regular session.

"Of course I didn't ask, and I did wonder if it was payment for my position last (session)," she said. "I was assured that was not the case, and I saw through dark-colored glass. And now I see clearly. I know that's what this is about, and I see it's probably for this (committee) vote.

"I'd be naive to think any differently," she said. "But you know, this is a tough sport and I can catch a few elbows. And I can give back"

December 07, 2009

Sen. Nancy Detert: "We have the votes" for SunRail

What magic thing did Gov. Charlie Crist say to Sen. Nancy Detert to get her to switch her nay vote on SunRail?

Not much.

"I went in as a yes and I came out as a yes," Detert said.

"We have the votes now to pass SunRail," Detert said. She's probably right. But by morning, the votes could change.

What changed her mind was the lure of federal train money and the bill itself, she said, specifically the liability provisions that put CSX on the hook to pay some money (up to $10 million) in the case of some accidents. Could the language be better?

"If I could write the bill, I would make it better, but they're not letting me write the bill," Detert said. "You can't give everything to everyone. Nothing's promised. If everyone gets something, then the bill becomes like Thanksgiving: Everybody gets turkey."

Continue reading "Sen. Nancy Detert: "We have the votes" for SunRail" »

Nelson, LeMieux: Florida risks losing "billions and billions" without rail bill

Sens. Bill Nelson and George LeMieux are urging Florida lawmakers to pass the rail bill, arguing in a letter to Gov. Charlie Crist and state legislative leaders that without it, "the prospects for receiving federal high speed rail funding diminish greatly.

"Without statewide support for rail, (Florida) will essentially be sending billions and billions of federal dollars to other states while forfeiting our own chance to build high speed rail, the next generation of regional transportation systems," the pair wrote in the letter to Crist, House Speaker Larry Cretul and Senate President Jeff Atwater

Dockery: As Gov, would 'clean house' at FDOT

Sen. Paula Dockery, amid her SunRail tirade during a noon press conference with the group "Ax the Tax,"  dropped this campaign promise: That if elected Governor, one of the first things she would do  is "clean house" at the Florida Department of Transportation. The FDOT stands to gain a lot more power under the legislation, which creates a rail commission under the FDOT umbrella.

Dockery said good people work there but "the leadership is completely out of control."

SunRail? Jobs? Ring says rail bill isn't about that. Huh?

Much of the House's debate this morning about the proposed commuter rail legislation emphasized SunRail, the Central Florida commuter system that supporters are trying to get passed after two years of defeat.

But to hear Sen. Jeremy Ring tell it to fellow members of the Senate Democratic Caucus, the bill isn't about that at all.

"This simply demonstrates the state's committment to future passenger rail, without setting up any specific rail system," said Ring, D-Margate, the bill's sponsor. "All we're doing is trying to set up an infrastructure for future rail system ...whatever that may be."

Sen. Charlie Justice replied that if the bill is not about SunRail, why not strip out the entire section that sets aside $641 million to buy track for SunRail (if federal money for high-speed rail comes in?)

Ring replied that the language was put into the bill at the request of those of "SunRail opponents." But chief opponent Sen. Paula Dockery sure didn't ask for it. She opposes the SunRail spending, saying it's far too expensive.

Continue reading "SunRail? Jobs? Ring says rail bill isn't about that. Huh?" »

Siplin on Ring's rail claims: 'That's not true. I'm not stupid.'

Well, that didn't go very well.

If Senate Dems Jeremy Ring and Al Lawson were hoping to walk away from today's lunchtime Democratic Caucus meeting with support for the rail legislation from their fellow D's, they saw those hopes dashed -- and before a packed room full of reporters, staffers, and rail supporters and opponents.

The most tense exchange came when senators Gary Siplin of Orlando and Tony Hill of Jacksonville took issue with Ring's assertion that defeat of the proposal will lead to "the end of TriRail" and other commuter rail. The feds have threatened to cut $256 million in TriRail money unless the state shows its 'commitment' to rail.

"So if we don't do this now, we have to deal with that," Ring said.

"Well, whose fault is that?" Siplin shot back.

Ring: "The Legislature's."

Hill: "That is not true. South Florida TriRail made that decision." (Each of the three South Florida counties significantly cut the property tax money dedicated to TriRail, so now TriRail is seeking more money and the feds are seeking a show of 'commitment.')

Siplin echoed: "That is not true. I'm not stupid. Ain't nobody crazy here."

Lawson tried to calm things down with: "Come on now. Don't make me have to stand up!"

Hill: "Well, that's what we're trying to do here, is stand up to this."

Continue reading "Siplin on Ring's rail claims: 'That's not true. I'm not stupid.'" »

Dockery joins 'strange bedfellow' in SunRail fight

Behind an "Ax the Tax" sign and a bank of microphones, state Sen. Paula Dockery continued her assault on the proposed commuter rail legislation, launching into a 40-minute number-laden dissertation that left a Capitol press corps weary.

The Republican gubernatorial candidate specifically took issue with the $44 million the state transportation department already spent on the SunRail project even before the legislation received approval. The bulk of the cost is legal expenses but she questioned the $265,561.01 given to MyRegion.org, a group that she said brought (by bus and plane) people to Tallahassee to lobby in favor of the project.

Continue reading "Dockery joins 'strange bedfellow' in SunRail fight" »