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157 posts from May 2007

May 29, 2007

Immigration and the Cuban connection

In Georgia to tout what some are suggesting may be his last opportunity for a big domestic policy victory, President Bush today credited two Cuban-Americans for helping him push an immigration overhaul.

Introducing Florida Sen. Mel Martinez and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, Bush said the Cuban-born pair "represent what the immigration debate is all about.

"Will we be a welcoming place, a place of law that renews our spirit by giving people a chance to succeed?" Bush said.

He gave Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., and Martinez - who is getting flack from both sides on the issue - credit for pushing the proposal.

"It takes a lot of courage in the face of some of the criticism in the political world to do what's right, not what's comfortable," Bush said.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported over the weekend that the GOP booed Chambliss at the state convention.

All eyes on Florida during presidential primary campaign

Florida will host back-to-back televised debates of the Democratic and Republican presidential contenders before the Jan. 29 primary.

A partnership between Leadership Florida, the Florida Press Association and the Florida Public Broadcasting Service, which produced four debates last year in Florida's races for governor and U.S. Senate, will announce the dates and locations for the presidential forums tomorrow.

The Republican Party of Florida is also hosting a debate between the GOP candidates in Orlando on Oct. 21 to be broadcast on FOX News.

With a new law moving the state's primary from the second Tuesday in March to the last Tuesday in January, the state is expected to play its biggest role ever in the nominating process.

Crist in Israel talks about pension fund

Gov. Charlie Crist completed Day One of his trip to Israel today, the first official visit the governor has made to a foreign nation since taking office in January. (Story here.)

The first day was comprised of lots of official meetings, including questions from Israeli's about SB 2142 that requires Florida to divest its pension fund of stock from companies that do business with Sudan and Iran.

Crist is accompanied on the five-day tour by U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami Republican, State Rep. Dan Gelber, a Miami Beach Democrat, Broward County Commissioner Stacy Ritter, a Democrat, U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, a Miramar Democrat, U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler , a Delray Beach Democrat, State Sen. Nan Rich, a Weston Democrat and Rep. Adam Hasner, a Delray Beach Republican.

Foreign_minister_tzipi_livini_is_left_fHere's Gelber's summary of events from the first day:

Photo: Foreign Minister Tzipi Livini is left flanked by the outgoing and incoming Counsel General of Israel in Florida; Gov. Crist and the Florida Delegation is to the right.
Most of the Florida delegation has arrived and, notwithstanding some serious jet lag, we began our day receiving a commercial briefing from officials with the U.S. Embassy in Israel.

From there we met with Israel's Foreign Minister Tzipi Livini at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem. U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (Dem. - Vermont) and other federal officials were just concluding their briefing when we arrived.  There was much discussion about the bill recently passed by the Florida Legislature limiting investment of Florida's pension fund in companies that do business with Iran.  Governor Crist indicated that he was looking foward to signing the bill upon receipt. The Israeli press corps were out en mass to see the new governor from Florida.

Img_0049_2  After the meeting, we received a briefing about the Israeli Life Sciences industry, and the extraordinary work being done at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, and the Hadassah Medical Organziation.

Photo: Broward County Commissioner Stacy Ritter, Rep Adam Hasner, Congresswoman Ileana Ros Lehtinen; Governor Crist, Senator Nan Rich, Rep Dan Gelber

May 26, 2007

From Tallahassee to Tel Aviv

By the numbers:

There are nearly 750,000 Jewish people in Florida.

Florida is the 4th largest market in the U.S. for Israel.

Charlie Crist is going to Israel on his 1st trade mission as governor.

Read Beth Reinhard's column about the trip here.

May 25, 2007

Rubio shoots back at Democrats tax relief plan

House Speaker Marco Rubio on Friday evening shot back at House Democratic Leader Dan Gelber and his idea to use more than $400 million in budget vetoes to lower property taxes used to pay for schools. Rubio said that the idea would "violate" the "principle of responsible budgeting."

As pointed out here previously, the money vetoed by Gov. Charlie Crist was a combination of money from trust funds as well as one-time money that would have to be replaced next year if it were used to lower school property taxes.

"It is unsound fiscal policy to appropriate nonrecurring dollars for recurring costs,'' wrote Rubio, who pointed out that voters in 2006 even approved an amendment that caps the annual amount of one-time, or non-recurring money, that can be used on ongoing expenses.

Rubio then suggested to Democrats that they consider modifying the class size amendment as a way to generate savings that could be used to lower school property taxes. Or he said maybe the Democrats could consider replacing property taxes with a "consumption tax."

Gallagher ethics charges will likely be dropped

Remember the ethics charges against Tom Gallagher that Gov. Charlie Crist used against him in their GOP primary debate? The attorney prosecuting the case on behalf of the Florida Commission on Ethics has reached a settlement with Gallagher's attorney that calls for the charges to be dropped.

Under the joint stipulation that will go before the full commission at its June 8th meeting, it states that "the public interest would not be served by proceeding further." The commission found that in July 2006 that enough evidence existed to say that former insurance commissioner Gallagher had broken state ethics laws when he purchased stock in two companies whose subsidiaries were regulated by the Department of Insurance.

The settlement agreement says that both sides now agree that Gallagher's stock ownership was "minimal" and that he had publicly disclosed it and that it did not involve an "abuse of his position." But the settlement agreement also states that Gallagher was "unaware" that his conduct could be seen as a violation of state law and that "in hindsight" he should have requested an advisory opinion regarding the stock purchase.

To read the proposed settlement: Download gallagher_stipulation.pdf

On the road with Wexler and Crist

Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Boca Raton, will lead a bipartisan delegation to Israel with his paper ballot buddy, Gov. Charlie Crist.

The meetings in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem will focus on strengthening economic, security and military relations between the U.S. and Israel. The group also plans to meet with Israeli officials and business leaders to talk about boosting trade between the state of Israel and Florida.

The agenda includes meetings with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Knesset Speaker and Acting President of Israel Dalia Itzik.

Others on the trip include a number of Florida business leaders, U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, Alcee Hastings, D-Miramar, state Sen. Nan Rich, state Reps. Adam Hasner and Dan Gelber and Broward County Commissioner Stacy Ritter.

Gelber asks legislative leaders to use vetoed money for tax cuts

House Democratic Leader Rep. Dan Gelber on Friday asked House Speaker Marco Rubio and Senate President Ken Pruitt to use the more than $400 million from budget vetoes to cut school property taxes. In his letter, Gelber writes: "This is the only part of local property bills that we control and we believe it was wholly irresponsible to increase the state imposed local property tax by almost $4 billion over the last 8 years. This appropriation is a good down payment on our efforts to reverse this trend."

Gov. Charlie Crist on Thursday slashed "$459 million" from the budget, but Crist's math includes money that isn't even in state hands. Part of the $459 million total includes the 5 percent tuition hikes for community colleges and universities.

An additional wrinkle: Most of the money Crist vetoed comes out of trust funds and is not recurring general revenue, meaning it won't be there next year. But local property taxes are used for day-to-day expenses.

Gelber concedes the limitations on the money, but he says there is enough in state reserves to begin reducing property taxes: "We can't keep balancing education on the backs of homeowners."

Jeb defends FCAT and A+ plan

Responding to his week's revelations by the Department of Education that there were problems with the 2006 FCAT scores, former Gov. Jeb Bush is using his own website to defend the high-stakes test and his A+ reforms that he put in place in 1999.

Bush, who set up the Foundation for Florida's Future to promote his education reforms, says in his message that a "one year problem" is not a reason to junk the accountability measures included in the A+ plan. The A+ plan uses scores from the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test to reward high-performing schools and sanction low-performing ones.

"The question before Floridians today is, do we want to go back to the way it was before accountability? Bush asks.

Bush continues that "Florida is now headed in the right direction" and that "success requires continual reform."

The Arza "B#tch" tape

Here's the recording that got former Rep. Ralph Arza in trouble: Download Arza.mp3. (FYI: the second voice is Arza's cousin, Paulino Barbon).