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237 posts from March 2008

March 26, 2008

Crist to Realtors: Keep on keepin' on

Gov. Charlie Crist painted a bright picture of Florida's housing market Wednesday during a gathering of the Florida Association of Realtors at the Capitol.

He thanked the real estate agents for their influence in helping pass the property tax amendment that Florida voters approved on Jan. 29.

Besides property tax reductions allowed by the amendment, it also provides Florida homeowners with portability savings if they move into a pricier home. So far, 5,000 Broward County homeowners have applied for portability savings, and Crist said he's working to find out how many have applied statewide.

"It's all because of you," Crist said from the Capitol steps, adding that Florida needs Realtors now more than ever as the state's population has topped 19 million.

One state agency whose days may be numbered

As it has done several times in the last few years, the Florida House is once again targeting the Parole Commission for extinction. But this year's proposal is a bit different than past attempts. Instead of completely blowing up the commission and farming out its jobs to various state and local agencies, the House proposal calls for changing the commission to the Parole Board and housing it within the Department of Corrections.

Even though House staff said the proposal does not envision the cutting of any positions, Monica David, the chairman of the commission expressed alarm over the proposal. But Rep. Dick Kravitz, after taking questions for a few minutes, called on members to vote the legislation out of the Safety and Security Council, which they did by a largely party-line vote.

Martinez says he's no Don Quixote on class size

Roberto Martinez, Miami laweyer and sponsor of the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission proposal to amend the Constitution to freeze class size caps and give school districts more flexibility says he will have the measure postponed at today's meeting of the commission, instead of taking a vote to revive it.

The panel last week rejected the amendment on a narrow vote and was left open to a revote at today's meeting when Commissioner Richard Corcoran, who voted against it, asked that it be reconsidered.

"I have no interest in being Don Quixote on this,'' he told the Herald. "A constitutional amendment is too expensive to pursue.'' He said only if school boards and superintendents ask to take it up will he continue to pursue it at a future meeting.

Conservative Colorado soccer Mom warns: Don't make our mistake

Kristie Hargrove calls herself a "typical soccer Mom," who is a "fiscally conservative Republican" that would have supported the Colorado tax cap passed in 1992 if she had been living there then. She and her family moved to Crested Butte in 1993 and by 2003, the state had gone drastically down hill.

"My daughter came home from school and said, I'm just freezing'' Hargrove recalled at a briefing in House Democratic Leader . The school board had decided that in order to save money, thermostats would be lowered significantly and students would just have to wear their jackers. Hargrove, a bookkeeper for her family building contracting company, demanded to see the books. "There was no money but we didn't know why."

After further investigation, she realized that the 10-year-old constitutional amendment, known as the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights known as TABOR which imposed strict limits on Colorado state and local spending meant that the legislature was forced to scale back dramatically school money. "I'm just your average citizen that goes and votes,'' she said. She thought that when she elected legislators, she could hold them accountable for decisions they made. But the TABOR proposal, written into the constitution, "has taken it out of their hands.''

"The sound bite is so easy: 'Just say no, it's your dough','' she said. "It's been devastating for us.'' To get out from under the cap, she said, local government "de-bruced" -- that's the jargon they use referring to the author of the TABOR idea, Bruce xxx. Local governments voted to exceed the caps, then raised fees and property taxes and created special taxing districts to pay for needs.

Overtime, the services that were traditionally paid by the state became the job of local governments and inequities prevail. Parents in wealthy school districts pay up to $900 in fees to have their kids play sports. Those luxuries are not as available in low income districts, she said.

Hargrove's visit to Tallahassee was paid for by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington-based think tank that advocates for low and moderate income familes. She will testify before the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission to urge them not to make the same mistake. "I can't understand why anybody would put that kind of fiscal constraint into the Constitution,'' she said.

Wasserman Schultz reaches out

Under fire from Democratic political activists and bloggers for not actively campaigning for three Miami Democrats, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz invited the trio to a Miami fundraiser last night, introducing them to the assembled donors and politicoes.

Joe Garcia, Raul Martinez and Annette Taddeo all got invites to the Chef Allen's fundraiser in Aventura. Beneficiaries of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee fundraiser: four incumbent Democratic House members from Arizona, Pennsylvania, Indiana and California.

Taddeo said she got to the dinner late but got an introduction from Wasserman Schultz, who has been criticized for saying close ties to the Republican incumbents prevent her from actively campaigning for the trio.

"I know people are upset, but the campaign for me is about the issues, not about what Debbie Wasserman Schultz does or doesn't do," Taddeo said.

Garcia said he got a chance to talk after Wasserman Schultz introduced him to the group.

"I've known Debbie Wasserman Schultz for 20 years," Garcia said. "I was glad to be there."

Senate sorry for slavery, Crist supports reparations

After the state Senate issued an apology for the state's "shameful'' history of slavery, Gov. Charlie Crist spoke with reporters and lauded the Senate and the never-too-late apology.

The resolution stops short of calling for reparations for descendants of slaves, though Crist said he was open to the idea ``if we can determine descendacy, certainly.''

Crist, who attended the floor vote, said afterward that ``Florida is sorry for the past transgressions and unfair treatment and in some cases just gross inequity as it exists toward members of the African-American community.''

Are there still inequities today, considering that about half the state's prison population of 96,000 is black while only about 16 percent of the state's total population is black?

''That's hard to determine. You have to analyze these on a case by case basis,'' Crist said. ``Whether or not there have been injustices in a case based upon race must be determined by the facts of that case.''

More here

Tax panel won't revote on class size, will only get workshop on taxcap

The Taxation and Budget Reform Commission began its day-long agenda Wednesday and the chances of getting through it immediately got easier. Commissioner Roberto Martinez told education lobbyists that he will withdraw his proposed amendment to freeze class sizes. The proposal was scheduled for a revote after commissioners rejected it last week and it was left open for reconsideration.

Commissioner Mike Hogan is also likely to postpone the vote on his proposal to limit government spending by using the constitution to cap all government taxes and fees, after a lengthy debate today. Votes are getting increasingly hard to come by for the ambitious proposal before the 25-member panel. Read full story here.

March 25, 2008

Sink warns tax panel: tax cap will hurt bond rating

On the eve of an historic vote by the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink fired off a letter to the panel warning them that if they put the proposal to cap government revenues on the ballot and it passes, it will "negatively impact our state's bond ratings and hamstring our ability to govern."

Read Sink's letter here: Download alex_sink_tabor_letter.pdf

Tax cut crusaders stream to Tallahassee, only Rubio has time for attention

The crowd was large and the passion intense as the 530 people, mostly from Miami-Dade, traveled to Tallahassee Tuesday to tell legislators to stay focused on giving them property tax relief. They came from Miami-Dade, Broward, Volusia, Orlando and Sarasota counties and they wore blue t-shirts that read:  "Continue the fight for lower property taxes.''

House Speaker Marco Rubio of West Miami addressed the crowd in the House chamber, as did his deputies, Reps. David Rivera, Carlos Lopez-Cantera and Julio Robaina. "We need to do more, that's why we're here today,'' Rubio said. He urged them to keep pushing for the 2010 ballot initiative to cap the increase in all property tax assessments at 1.35 percent and to support the proposal by the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission to cut property taxes by $9.6 billion and replace them with increases in the sales tax and budget cuts.

"The Legislature has the power to put the 1.35 plan on the ballot,'' Rubio said. "It's not over; we're going to win.''

What he didn't tell them is that the bill to put the 1.35 percent constitutional amendment on the November ballot still hasn't had its first hearing in the House and, while it may get approval there, House leaders are not likely to spend any political capital demanding that the reluctant Senate take it up.

"It'll be fine in the House,'' Rubio told the media later. "I think we'll have the votes to pass it." But, he acknowledged, it's a long shot: "We need to come behind it as a movement.''

One traveler from Miami saw the irony. He told Rubio they visited several legislators offices on Tuesday and got no legislators. After "a 10-hour bus ride...and no one is here,'' he said. "We need help from everyone in this chamber,'' he reminded Rubio. "Because tomorrow you need our vote. If you don't give help us today, we don't give you our vote tomorrow.''

Rivera played to the crowd. "Don't give up. Sit in their offices,'' he prodded.

He didn't tell them that, as Rules chairman, he has the power to refuse to hear dozens of Senate bills until they take up the House's property tax plan, if the House really wanted to make a point.

Rubio acknowleged the long, 10-hour bus ride many people from Hialeah and his West Miami neighborhood made. "I understand what a sacrifice that is,'' he said. The group turned around later Tuesday and made the long trek back.

But unlike last year, when a similar crowd drew a visit from the governor, Gov. Charlie Crist didn't show up. He wasn't forgotten, however. "Where's the governor,'' someone shouted from the chamber balcony after Rubio spoke. "What about drop like a rock?'' the man jeered. It was a reference to the governor's promise that property taxes would decline dramatically after the legislature acted last year.

"Political Welfare" or "Leveling the Playing Field" ? It may be up to Florida voters to decide

Republicans called it "welfare," Democrats called it "leveling the playing field," but Florida voters may  soon be the ones making the call over whether or not to continue funding the state's campaign finance system.

A bill by Rep. Alan Hays, a Umatilla Republican, that asks state voters to decide whether to repeal state funding for political campaigns, passed through the House Policy and Budget Committee Tuesday afternoon - but not before Republicans and Democrats took shots at one another during debate.

"If you can't convince people to contribute to your campaign then maybe you shouldn't be running for office," said House Majority Leader Adam Hasner, of Delray Beach. "Let [voters] decide if we should have public welfare for campaigns."

Democrats refuted the notion that public financing was a form of political "welfare."

"Public financing has the potential to level the playing field," said Rep.Curtis Richardson, a Tallahassee Democrat. "It's no secret that the Republican party has access to dollars that typically the Democratic party does not."

Gov. Charlie Crist has said he opposes eliminating public financing for campaigns.

Soon after the vote, Hasner's office and House Democratic Leader Dan Gelber's office wasted no time in issuing press releases lambasting the other party's stance on the issue. Both releases are available below.

House Republican Press Release
Download pr_house_republican_seeks_to_end_welfare_for_politicians.pdf
House Democrats Press Release
Download 3.25.08 Public Campaign Finance Media Alert.pdf