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229 posts from February 2008

February 29, 2008

Deal to avoid court furloughs announced

House and Senate budget leaders announced Friday they have agreed to use one-time cash to fill the budget hole in the court system and avoid the need for rolling furloughs of judicial assistants and other court state. Judges from across the state warned that because of their salary-heavy budgets, they only way for them to sustain the budget cuts was to lay off staff for up to 8 weeks in the county courts and three weeks in circuit courts.

The budget amendment , agreed to by House and Senate leaders, will "partially restore'' the proposed cuts, said Rep. Dick Kravitz in a statement on Friday. Legislators are poised to slice about $542 million out of this year's budget to balance it before the June 30 fiscal year end and $17 million of it was coming from the courts.

The amendment will "allow the courts to continue to conduct their normal functions,'' said Rep. Dorothy Hukill, a Port Orange Republican. "This measure will stabilize the court system for the present fiscall year and allow the courst the time needed to make the necessary adjustments for the next budget year.''

Let the fur fly: Humane Society ranks Congress

The Humane Society is out with a ranking of members of Congress on a variety of animal protection measures, including an animal fighting ban that outlaws the transport of cockfighting weapons.

Recorded votes and bill sponsorship were tallied, along with members of Congress who signed letters seeking to enforce animal welfare laws.

No one in Florida scored 100, but South Florida Democrats appeared to be the most animal-friendly: Reps. Ron Klein, D-Boca Raton, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston and Robert Wexler, D-Palm Beach, scored 83. Republican Reps. Tom Feeney, Oviedo; Connie Mack, Cape Coral and Cliff Stearns, Ocala, got zeroes.

Among the South Florida Republicans, Reps. Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen led with 67 points, followed by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart at 34. That was Democratic Rep. Kendrick Meek's score too.

In the Senate, Democrat Bill Nelson scored 50 and Republican Mel Martinez: 0. But Martinez's office points out that the senator (whose father was a vet) supports and has been a past co-sponsor of a bill that seeks to ban the slaughter of horses for human consumption. He's also voted to prohibit animal fighting and to increase funding for veterinarian science.

"Of course he loves animals," spokesman Ken Lundberg said.

Read the full report at humane_society.pdf 

Crew that saved Martinez and others is feted

The crew of a C-130 Hercules plane that in August evaded surface-to-air rocket fire just 5 minutes out of Baghdad airport - saving Sens. Mel Martinez and others - was awarded Air Mobility Command's 2007 Field of Aeronautics and Astronautics Aviator Valor award, according to Air Force Link.

The award, the Air Force notes, "is given for a conspicuous act of courage or valor performed during aerial flight during either combat or noncombat."

The Air Force says the crew, led by Maj. Paul Pepe, was carrying Martinez, R-Fla., Sen.Richard Shelby, R-Ala., Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla. and Rep. Bud Cramer, D-Ala., when it came under fire.

The story says the crew began its "ascent out of the airport and reached an approximate altitude of 5,000 feet when 1st Lt. Robert Davidson, the navigator, spotted three separate but coordinated rockets fired at the aircraft.

Davidson directed the crew to perform immediate maneuvers to avoid the rockets and each of the members began executing the individual measures they were trained on," the story says. Martinez had credited the crew with taking immediate action to protect the flight. The group was headed to Jordan and the plane was not struck and no one was injured.

The crew is trained at Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina.

Read the full account here.

Garcia cries foul on the Ultima Palabra

Democratic Congressional candidate Joe Garcia says he got sandbagged by a local TV show that provided Miami Republican incumbent Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart an "unfair opportunity to attack Mr. Garcia's statements out of context."

So Garcia's campaign today filed a formal complaint, demanding equal time. The complaint against GenTV Canal 8 alleges that Garcia was asked to appear on Ultima Palabra, a show hosted by Ninoska Perez-Castellon, whom Garcia says "has a history of making personal attacks" against him. Garcia says he taped an interview under an agreement that both candidates would be taped, though Garcia said he would have preferred to go on the show with Diaz-Balart.

After the interview, though, Garcia says, he was told Diaz-Balart would go live and his interview would be scrapped. Instead, he says "significant portions" of his interview ran, allowing Diaz-Balart "the unfair oppurtunity to attack ...out of context" and robbing Garcia of a "reciprocal opportunity to reply."

"Our campaign will not be intimidated by the scare-tactics of those who seek to divide South Florida," Roland Sanchez-Medina, a spokesman for Garcia said. "For far too long, certain commentators have pushed their divisive partisan agenda under the guise of freedom for Cuba. This is wrong and must stop."

See the complaint at LetterGenTV01.pdf

This session's D-Day

Put this down on your calendar: Tuesday, March 11. That's the date the state economists will come together to come up with the official general revenue numbers that will be used to shape the 2008-09 budget.

It's not bound to be pretty. General revenue collections - which is primarily the state's 6 percent sales tax - have been coming in below the last set of estimates reached in November. Collections through the end of January are $209 million below what was forecast back in November, which is why lawmakers are poised to slash more than $500 million from the 2007-08 budget in the first 10 days of the session.

The question is how bad it will be going forward. Last fall economists slashed nearly $1.5 billion from their 2008-09 estimate, leading to state legislators to say they may need to cut anywhere between $2 billion to $3 billion to balance the budget (without diverting money from trust funds, reserve accounts or raising money from other sources like gambling or fee hikes.)

President Bush joins the fray, bashes Obama on Cuba

Just like John McCain and Hillary Clinton before him, President Bush is criticizing Barack Obama for having the audacity to suggest that he'd meet with new Cuban leader Raul Castro.

The remarks are among the first forays Bush has made into the race to succeed him and he seemed to relish the opportunity. Never mentioning Obama by name, he said it would a mistake to engage Castro without some evidence of change - like freeing political prisoners and scheduling elections.

"Sitting down at the table, having your picture taken with a tyrant such as Raúl Castro . . . lends the status of the office and the status of our country to him,'" Bush said at a White House press conference. "He gains a lot from it by saying, 'Look at me, I'm now recognized by the president of the United States.' "

Read more of Bush's remarks and Obama's contention that "the American people aren't looking for more of do-nothing Cuba policy" here.

February 28, 2008

Alvarez won't endorse... for now

Even as his own campaign grows more secure, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez said he will not get make endorsements in any other local races... at least not yet.

"I have to worry about my campaign," he said Thursday. "Until it's decided, I'm not going to get involved in any campaign."

But the summer qualification period passes without any high-profile candidates entering the race, he said he could make endorsements before the August elections.

And if he does end up in a tough fight this summer but wins without a runoff, he said he might help some candidates during the fall.

Only one county commissioner has drawn opponents - Joe Martinez. He is being challenged by retired Miami policeman Rudy Herbello and marketing executive Whilmer "Whilly" Bermudez. Alvarez's support could make a difference if that race gets tight.

So far, Alvarez's only opponent is Helen Williams, a former teacher who often speaks at School Board meetings. The mayor has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars and, on Thursday, won full-throated support from the South Florida AFL-CIO.

That labor group opposed him in 2004 and helped lead the charge against his strong-mayor campaign in 2006. Though still wary of that new government structure, the union leaders who spoke at Thursday's endorsement were unreserved.

They praised his defense of county workers' salaries and his push to lower health insurance costs for employees to cover their spouses and children.

"He's about the workers and the families of workers," said Fred Frost, AFL-CIO president, flanked by leaders from large unions that represent local teachers, transit workers, firefighters and more.

Alvarez said the endorsement was a personal victory, that he was disappointed in himself for not winning the union's backing in 2004.

"We're all blue-collar workers," said Alvarez, a former policeman. "That why I have tried so hard for the last three-plus years to make my actions speak louder than words anyone could say."

Crist's United Way faux pas

Sometimes it can be hard serving two masters. Just ask Gov. Charlie Crist.

Crist acknowledged on Thursday that he had agreed to spend time with U.S. Sen. John McCain, the soon-to-be GOP nominee, at his ranch this weekend in Arizona.  But it turns out that Crist was also supposed to headline on Saturday night the "Governor's Bowl,'' a fundraiser for the United Way of Broward County, and whose host committee includes George LeMieux, Crist's former chief of staff. Crist's name is all over the invitation that was sent out by the group and even includes a Crist quote.

Yet Crist told reporters that he didn't know much about the event, didn't know he was supposed to go until Thursday, and wasn't even sure of the location. But word of Crist's decision to bypass the event was not taken lightly by some of the movers and shakers of Broward County who planned to attend the event.

When asked about spending time with McCain, Crist replied: "Well I need to review that. I was given notification that there may be a ball that's in my name which I did not realize until about a half hour ago. If that in fact is the case I'll be staying in Florida."

When asked about the event, Crist said: "I don't know a lot about it except that it's in association with United Way. It's in South Florida."

When asked he was invited by McCain to spend some time with him, Crist said: "I was invited by the senator and his wife to join him on a piece of property they have in Northern Arizona. I had accepted the invitation.  But as I say if there's a United Way event that's really a governor's ball I feel the obligation to stay. What we were going to do is have the Lt. Governor go. But if it's really in my name I feel the right thing to do is for me to stay in Florida."

Second term for Pruitt sounding possible?

With both Republican and Democratic polls showing the race between Sen. Jeff Atwater and former Sen. Skip Campbell a dead heat, there's a growing chorus of Republicans saying maybe it's time to alleviate the uncertainties and give Ken Pruitt another term. Atwater has been designated the next Senate president but it's a tough election year for Republicans and Campbell has shown the district has voted increasingly with Ds in recent elections.

Pruitt was elected to the Senate in 2000 but was among the group of senators given an extra two years after reapportionment in 2002. Other possible winners in the dead heat match-up: Jim King, another former Senate president whose term expires in 2010, Dennis Jones, who along with King will be running the Senate elections so Atwater can concentrate on his campaign, and Alex Villalobos, who was supposed to have a shot at the presidency until he was targeted and ousted.

Obama campaign says he's not dissing Baptists

Florida's GOP chief accused Democrat Barack Obama of bailing on 1,000 people who signed up to see him address a Baptist convention on March 20 in Panama City.

The presidential candidate ceased campaigning in Florida six months ago because the state held an early primary that was not authorized by the national party.

"Senator Obama’s choice to cancel his appearance once again illustrates his lack of interest in ddressing the concerns of Florida voters,'' said Florida Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer. "First he signed a pledge refusing to campaign here, and now he is adding insult to injury by continuing to keep Florida voters at arms’ length.''

But Obama's campaign says he was never confirmed to attend the event. "This information was posted by a supporter without knowledge of his schedule,'' said campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki.