« December 2007 | Main | February 2008 »

425 posts from January 2008

January 31, 2008

Sink says gov's trust fund raid = tax increase

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink is joining the chorus of criticism of Gov. Charlie Crist's proposed budget. While she commends him for proposing to increase KidCare by $60 million, she blasts him for raiding the workers compensation trust fund. Her statement, emphasis added:

"While I understand the current challenge to find resources in this year’s budget, I am concerned about
the recommendation to sweep $129.5 million from the Workers’ Compensation Administration Trust Fund.  Through efficient management and reform of the Workers’ Compensation system, our state has been able to reduce Workers’ Compensation Administrative Trust Fund assessments from 2.75 percent to 0.25 percent, which is a 91 percent reduction over an eight-year period.  A trust fund sweep of
this magnitude will require the state to raise Workers’ Compensation assessments—taxes—on Florida businesses as early as January 2009.  I look forward to working with the Governor and the Legislature to prevent assessment increases on Florida’s business owners, many of whom are struggling to balance their own budgets.”

McCain's 'tenuous' coalition in Florida

A "strategy memo" gives Republican Mitt Romney's campaign latest spin on Florida's presidential primary: if only a few more Rush Limbaughs had gone to the polls, he would have won. Also note the reference to McCain's $2 million on paid media, which fails to mention Romney heavily outspending him over the course of the campaign.

"The coalitions that John McCain assembled in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida have been strikingly similar - and are strikingly tenuous. Public polling shows McCain ahead in many states, but we are now in a two-man race and a few points' movement among conservatives is all that's needed to tip the scales in favor of Gov. Romney. In Florida, a state where McCain spent nearly $2 million on paid media in the final two weeks; had the endorsement of the state's sitting Republican governor, the Republican senator, and five GOP congressmen; and benefited from an electorate where one in three voters was over the age of 65, he failed to come within 8 points of Gov. Romney among conservative voters.

"In fact, according to exit poll data, if Gov. Romney had won conservatives in Florida 41%-25% over McCain, rather than 37%-29% - just a four-point shift - he would have won the state. Former Giuliani and Thompson supporters in February 5th states will be looking for a new candidate over the next week, and it will not take very many conservatives moving to Romney to disrupt McCain's victory formula."

Sansom politely slams gov's budget ideas

Florida House Budget and Policy Council Chair Ray Sansom released his statement today in response to the Gov. Charlie Crist's proposed 2008-09 state budget and makes it very clear he's not a fan of much of it. He doesn't want to rely on school tax increases, using non-recurring money or tapping trust fund accounts to close the budget gap, as the governor proposes. Here's his statement, emphasis added:

Less than two years ago, the people of Florida voted and told their state leaders to practice fiscal responsibility and not balance the state’s budget using one-time and non-recurring dollars. Keeping in mind our constitutional requirements as we consider the Governor’s budget recommendations, we will consider their impact on our state’s fiscal health, not just this coming fiscal year, but also in the future.

This is going to be a very challenging budget year. With current estimates showing a $2 billion shortfall in upcoming years, the House believes that thoughtful spending reductions would best serve Florida long-term, not tax increases, accounting transfers, or a new reliance on one-time or stagnant revenue sources.

We have also committed to not borrow or bond ourselves out of this situation because we refuse to take the easy way out and pass these tough decisions onto future state leaders.  And while optimistic about our state’s future, we believe that we should continue the practice of maintaining the state’s reserves, because it is fiscally prudent to be prepared in case of hurricanes or other emergencies.

As we work to strengthen our state’s future and diversify our economy, the House is committed to making sure that we balance our budget responsibly.  We look forward to partnering with our colleagues in the Senate and with the Governor to recharge our economy and help make Florida affordable once again.

Crist proposes spending $1.1 billion in trust fund cash

Gov. Charlie Crist recommends the Legislature balance the budget by relying on once untouchable trust fund accounts to pay for general needs. He wants to pull $400 million out of the Lawton Chiles Endowment, the tobacco lawsuit trust fund intended for health care needs, and wants to spend $740 million from other reserved accounts, intended for workers compensation and insurance regulation to balance his proposed $70 billion budget, he announced today.

The more than two consecutive years in revenue declines "represent an historic challenge that this administration is facing,'' Crist said. He predicted the economy will improve however and give Florda added revenues in the future to replenish the trust funds.

Crist repeated his recommendation that the legislature replenish the $100 million in lost school district revenues because of the property tax amendment approved by voters on Tuesday. He also wants to continue the back-to-school and hurricane preparedness sales tax holidays. Download crist_2008_budget.pdf  Download governor_crist_announces_priorities_for_200809_budget.htm

Sen. Lisa Carlton, Senate Appropriations chairman, said the Senate will reivew his budget recommendations but stopped short of embracing any of his priorities. She also noted that the governor is working on revenue estimates that will be outdated in a couple of weeks, thereby raising more questions about how solid his proposals will be.

"There are many pieces of information that the Senate will use to build a budget this year -- the most significant will be the next revenue estimating conference numbers,'' she said in a statement. "Make no mistake; this is going to be a very challenging budget year."

She added: "It is critical that we approach our work with a long-term view, keeping a keen eye on the condition of our economy in Florida and nationally.''

Mayor: prop tax amendment won't cause crisis; won't help housing market much either

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez said Wednesday that the $100 million hit to the county by the property tax amendment approved by voters will not cause a county budget crisis -- but neither will it solve the housing crisis.

"At some point in time, it will impact the level of service we can provide," Alvarez said during an impromptu news conference at Florida Memorial University. "We're going to have to do a better job with the money that we have."

He would not speculate how the cuts would be distributed across the county's massive bureaucracy, which has a $7.3 billion budget, except to say that he hoped to avoid cuts in public safety. He said it was "premature'' to discuss seeking concessions when the county's labor unions -- which represent 90 percent of the government's 30,000 workers -- begin negotiating new long-term deals later this year.

As with last year's cuts, which totaled $225 million, Alvarez struck a moderate tone. He said the amendment's overwhelming victory in Miami-Dade -- more than 71 percent -- sent a strong message, but it also will not address the county's housing woes.

The solution, he said, would be to address runaway tax bills on commercial and rental property. "The inequities that existed yesterday exist today," he said.


January 30, 2008

McCain, Romney take Florida spat to California

John McCain's accusation that Republican rival Mitt Romney backed a timetable to withdraw troops from Iraq -- a turning point in the closing days of Florida's presidential primary campaign -- provoked the most heated discussion in tonight's televised debate from California.

McCain stretched the truth about Romney's position and still is. Here's the testy exchange, according to a transcript provided by CNN:

Romney: "I do not propose nor have I ever proposed a public or secret date for withdrawal. It's just simply wrong. And by the way, raising it a few days before the Florida primary, when there was very little time for me to correct the record, when the question that was most frequently asked is, 'Oh, you're for a specific date of withdrawal,' sort of falls in the kind of dirty tricks that I think Ronald Reagan would have found to be reprehensible..."

CNN moderator Anderson Cooper: "Senator McCain, tough words."

McCain: "Well, of course, he said he wanted a timetable..."

Romney: "Is it not fair -- is it not fair to have the person who's being accused of having a position he doesn't have be the expert on what his position is?  How is it that you're the expert on my position, when my position has been very clear?"

Cooper: "He does not say he is supporting a withdrawal..." 

Romney:  "And what's interesting here is it's an attempt to do the Washington-style old politics, which is lay a charge out there, regardless of whether it's true or not, don't check it, don't talk to the other candidate, just throw it out there, get it in the media and the stream. There's not a single media source that I've seen that hasn't said it wasn't reprehensible. Even the New York Times said it was wrong. The Washington Post -- they endorsed you -- The Washington Post gave you three Pinocchios for it.  It's simply -- it's simply wrong, and the senator knows it..." 

McCain: "...As far as Washington politics is concerned, I think my friend Governor Huckabee, sir, will attest the millions of dollars of attack ads and negative ads you leveled against him in Iowa, the millions of dollars of attack ads you have attacked against me in New Hampshire, and have ever since.   A lot of it is your own money. You're free to do with it what you want to. You can spend it all.  But the fact is that...your negative ads, my friend, have set the tone, unfortunately, in this campaign."

Governor to release budget "priorities" on Thursday

Gov. Charlie Crist will release his budget "priorities" on Thursday, calling it a "very challenging'' plan that "Florida can be very proud of and is very compassionate.'' If the Legislature adopts the plan, it will require an extraordinary vote because it will use non-recurring money for recurring needs beyond the 3 percent allowed by law.


Bennett beats the rap over charges he killed bill to hurt developer

Sen. Mike Bennett, a Republican from Bradenton, has been cleared by the Florida Commission on Ethics on charges that he used his position to try to force a developer to work out a deal with another developer. The dispute stems from a battle during the 2007 session when Bennett killed a local bill that would have created a special taxing district for approximately 5,700 acres in North Port in Sarasota County.

The lead prosecutor on the case concluded that while it was true that Bennett did kill the local bill there is not evidence that Bennett "misused" his position. However, the investigative report contains serious allegations, including that Bennett went to bat for former State Sen. Pat Neal, who owned property adjacent to the land targeted for the taxing district, and that Neal demanded $20 million from  the developer of the property in exchange for dropping opposition to the project.

Here's the investigative report: Download bennett_investigation.pdf
Here's the recommendation on what actions should be taken against Bennett: Download bennett_recommendation.pdf

Ethics panel refuses to zing Zapata over bitter feud

The Florida Commission on Ethics on Friday found probable cause that Rep. Juan Zapata failed to properly fill out his financial disclosure forms between 2001 and 2005. But the commission voted not to take any further action against Zapata, saying that the preliminary investigation revealed the errors were "unintentional" and that he has since turned in amended forms showing who he owes money to and other financial information.

The commission found no probable cause on much more serious charges: That Zapata waged a vendetta against the Colombian American Service Association after the group refused to reinstate to him to the board of directors and after the group turned down his suggestion that together they buy an office building that would house both his legislative office and CASA offices. The group alleged that Zapata then went after their funding and attempted to discredit the organization with state and local governments.

The advocate in the case says that while there is "evidence" that Zapata did retaliate against the organization, there is "insufficient evidence to reasonably indicate" he used his position as a state legislator to do so.

Here's the advocate's recommendation: Download zapata_recommendation.pdf And here's the investigative report: Download zapata_investigation.pdf

Group says it plans to sue state over voter registration

Project Vote and Demos have sent a letter on behalf of the Florida branch of ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, to Secretary of State Kurt Browning giving him a 90 days notice before the organization files a lawsuit over voter registration practices in Florida.

ACORN maintains that the Department of Children and Families and the Department of Health are not in compliance with the National Voter Registration Act, saying that the numbers show that the two agencies are not offering voter registration applications to people applying for public assistance. A survey by Project Vote in Broward, Palm Beach, Miami-Dade and Orange Counties in November showed that several state agency offices did not maintain voter registration forms and interviews with clients indicated they were not offered voter registration applications.

The group says it looks forward to meeting with Browning to discuss these problems and await his "remedy" that he will carry out. Here's a copy of the letter: Download acorn_letter.pdf

A statement from Browning's office said the state "looks forward" to demonstrating compliance with federal law and there are "multiple checks" to ensure public assistance agencies are providing applications to clients. The statement said just because the number of applications from public agencies has dropped does not mean the state is not following the law.