« February 2008 | Main | April 2008 »

237 posts from March 2008

March 31, 2008

Nader returns to Florida

Consumer activist and presidential candidate Ralph Nader, the man some Floridians blame for Al Gore's loss in 2000, will visit Fort Lauderdale Tuesday for a press conference and campaign rally.

The events kick off at 1:30 p.m. at the Cinema Paradiso at 503 SE 6th St.

Nader's not been a welcome figure in the state after President Bush in 2000 won Florida by 537 votes - and a protracted legal battle. The state Democratic party in 2004 unsuccessfully battled to keep Nader's name off the ballot.

How did dentures get back in the budget? Rubio: my loan

When a befuddled reporter asked House Speaker Marco Rubio at a media availability today how the Medicaid money for dentures, eyeglasses and hearing aids that was cut last week from the Health and Human Services draft budget got restored when the final budget came out late Sunday, Rubio had this to offer:

"My home equity loan. I used it,'' he quipped, referring to the generous loan the Miami Herald chronicled, in which U.S. Century Bank gave him $185,000 in new equity a month after he closed on his West Miami home. That equity enabled him to draw a 10-year $135,000 home equity loan.

House reverses course and says to tap budget reserves

House Budget Chairman Ray Sansom and House Speaker Marco Rubio said the House has agreed to give the governor authority to tap into half of the $1.3 billion reserve account, known as the Budget Stabilization Fund, and the Lawton Chiles Endowment reserve account if the money is needed to offset a budget deficit after the legislature leaves town in May. House leaders had vehemently opposed that approach in spite of the governor's repeated insistence that it is a smart way to approach the budget cuts.

The House stops short of using the money to offset what it said will be about a 10 percent reduction over last year's $72 billion budget, down to $65 billion this year. Instead, it will use the money only if there is yet another drop in revenues that forces the budget to be out of balance after lawmakers complete it in May.

Under the House plan, the governor would have to get approval of the Legislative Budget Commission to spend the money. Sansom said Rubio "made a decision over the weekend that "this is a time to do that" despite the House's repeated rejection of the Gov. Charlie Crist's suggestion to take the reserve funds to balance the budget in the face of a steep economic downturn.

The money in the budget stabilization account must be tapped only in an emergency and must be repaid in three budget years. Sansom said he believes the state's economic downturn can qualify as a emergency.

"We need to be in a position to react rapidly if conditions deteriorate rapidly,'' Rubio said, when it make take weeks to convene the Legislature. "We are in uncharted waters.''

"This is just a way to make sure the government continues to operate,'' Sansom explained.

First Florida voters slam Giuliani, now the sidewalks?

The New York Daily News reports that Rudy Giuliani "may have parried the rhetorical punches of his GOP opponents during the primaries, but a Florida sidewalk proved a more formidable foe a few weeks ago."

The New York tabloid reports that the former New York City mayor who folded his campaign for president shortly after bottoming out in Florida, "came away with a nasty shiner after he 'fell off a curb,' " according to a Giuliani rep.

"There was no cosmetic surgery, but he needed a couple of stitches to close the cut," the newspaper reported. "Wife Judith finds the fully-healed Rudy as gorgeous as ever."

Sorry Charlie, no raise this year

This probably got overlooked when Gov. Charlie Crist released his own budget proposal earlier this year: No pay raises for the governor, members of the Cabinet, Supreme Court justices, state attorneys and public defenders. (Crist by the way earns nearly $133,000 a year.)

In its budget proposal unveiled on Sunday, the House has advocated that same position. As for other state employees, it's not so clear. Right now the House budget has no official language, but it does include nearly $40 million for state employee compensation. Last year lawmakers set aside more than $194 million for one-time employment bonuses.

Another thing that appears to be missing: How will lawmakers handle their own salaries? Will the Legislature change state law, or accept the automatic pay hikes that kick in each year. It is worth noting that the House budget does call for the Legislature's own internal budget to be 11 percent less than what it was a year ago.

(UPDATE: As noted in the comments, state law ties legislative pay to the "average increase" given to career service employees for the previous year. Last year state workers did not get an average increase, but a $1,000 bonus. That would seem to suggest that lawmakers will get no raise this year and a raise next year would appear to be unlikely since the House is only considering targeted pay hikes for highway troopers. Sorry for the mistake.)

HUD chief out, no effect on Miami-Dade

The Bush administration's top housing official is stepping down amid a criminal investigation and pressure from Democratic critics.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson said today his resignation will take effect April 18.

A spokeswoman for HUD said Jackson's departure will not have "any impact whatsoever" on the agency's controversial takeover of the Miami-Dade housing agency.

The federal agency took control of the troubled county agency last fall.

President Bush called Jackson a "strong leader and a good man" and said he accepted the resignation "with regret.

Jackson has been fending off allegations of cronyism and favoritism involving HUD contractors for the past two years, the Associated Press said. The FBI has been examining the ties between Jackson and a friend who was paid $392,000 by Jackson's department as a construction manager in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

He was first appointed deputy secretary of HUD, and was promoted in December 2003 after Mel Martinez quit the job to run for Senate. Martinez said in a statement he was "proud" to work with Jackson.

"I commend him for the work he has done and for willingly leaving his private life to commit himself to public service," Martinez said. "His devotion to the agency’s mission was clear and his personal experience helped him to help make the American Dream a reality for many families."

March 30, 2008

Martinez: McCain gets an "incomplete"

Florida Sen. Mel Martinez endorsed John McCain and is credited with helping him win the Florida primary.

But that didn't stop the former HUD chief from criticizing McCain's stance on the mortgage meltdown.

Appearing on CNN's Late Edition, Martinez said he'd give McCain an "incomplete" for saying that it's "not the duty of government to bail out and reward those who act irresponsibly whether they're big banks or small borrowers."

"He stated the obvious, which is that we cannot rescue those who made poor investments and poor decisions," Martinez said. "However where I think he fell short, and where I think he will agree with me, is that we need to do some things that can help families, that can help people."

"There are some things that need to be done that we can do without a bailout of investors who made bad investments, that are focused on families," Martinez said.

The Republican senator, who appeared with his Democratic counterpart, Sen. Bill Nelson, said he agrees with Nelson that the parties need to overhaul the presidential primary process. Florida Republicans were also sanctioned for holding an early primary in violation of national party rules, though the party lost only half its delegates.

"I agree with Bill that we have to go ahead and reform the primary system, but I'm not ready to junk the electoral college," Martinez said. "I think the balance we've had in our nation, which has been so wise for centuries, two centuries, of having small and large states participate in the election of our president, I think ought to be preserved.

"But I totally agree with Bill that we need to redo the primary," he said. "We need to regionalize them and come up with a sequential way of doing them that takes out the kind of nonsense we've had this year."

Read the full transcript in comments.

Nelson: Any resolution to Florida delegate debacle "at least another couple of months" away

Bill Nelson says he sees no quick resolution to seating Florida's delegates.

Nelson, who backs Hillary Clinton, said today on C-Span's Newsmakers that neither Clinton nor Barack Obama are willing to entertain a compromise.

"Right now both of these candidates are looking at any offer of compromises through the lens of whether it advantages them or disadvantages them," Nelson said. "Neither one of them is ready to agree....

"I think we're in a stalemate for at least another couple of months, until the course of these primaries and caucuses have run," Nelson said.

Clinton: I'm in until we resolve Florida

Hillary Clinton is emphatically rejecting calls for her to wrap up her bid for the presidency, telling the Washington Post she's in the fight "until we see what happens in the next 10 contests and until we resolve Florida and Michigan..."

"We cannot go forward until Florida and Michigan are taken care of, otherwise the eventual nominee will not have the legitimacy that I think will haunt us," Clinton said. ""I can imagine the ads the Republican Party and John McCain will run if we don't figure out how we can count the votes in Michigan and Florida."

The Post said Clinton's campaign requested the interview Saturday to talk about how she could win and to emphasize her focus on Michigan and Florida.

March 29, 2008

Pity Florida, give money

Hillary Clinton's cash-poor presidential campaign (as compared to rival Barack Obama's flush account) is increasingly using the neglect of Florida and Michigan voters as a fundraising appeal.

"Not big on quitting,'' reads one e-mail, alluding to some calls for her to give up. "Only 130 delegates separate Hillary from Senator Obama -- and that's not counting Florida and Michigan voters...There's no better way to tell Hillary that you support her staying in than to make a contribution to her campaign."

Another appeal reads: "The people of Michigan and Florida must have a voice in selecting our nominee for president...Click here to join me in showing our support for seating Florida and Michigan delegates at the convention."