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220 posts from May 2013

May 31, 2013

Gov. Rick Scott OK'd tuition hikes in 2011, 2012, calls them a tax in 2013

Gov. Rick Scott has called tuition increases a tax on Florida families and vetoed a 3 percent increase in this year's budget. But he has also approved tuition increases, both in 2011 and 2012. A story in Saturday's paper digs into the governor's philosophy on tuition hikes:

“We owe it to the families in our state who are paying tuition today and those planning to pay tuition for the next generation of Floridians to be direct: Raising tuition is a tax increase,” Scott wrote in the National Review Online. “And, unfortunately, it is a tax increase that directly affects whether Floridians can achieve the American dream of earning a higher-education diploma.”

If true, count Scott among the tax raisers.

While Scott proudly vetoed a 3 percent tuition hike last month, his 2011 budget included an 8 percent hike for students, at a cost of roughly $50 million. Scott also approved a 5 percent tuition increase for state colleges in 2012, saying that “colleges remain best positioned to weigh the needs of their institutions against the burden of increased student costs.”

When asked Friday about the discrepancies between his recent words and his past actions, Scott blamed the Legislature. He said the 2011 tuition increase was also included in a second, broader bill that the governor was reluctant to veto.

He said he would veto the same bill if it appeared on his desk today.

Read more here.

Amid vote-fraud probe & staff chief resignation, Rep. Joe Garcia's opponent Carlos Curbelo pounces

That didn't take long.

A few moments after U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia's chief of staff quit amid a fraud probe involving phantom absentee-ballot requests, a top Republican opponent was quick to call on the Democrat to say all he knows. Here's the statement from Miami-Dade School Board member Carlos Curbelo:

"The news coming out of Congressional District 26 is deeply troubling and offensive to our community. Joe Garcia has to come clean immediately and tell the public if his campaign was involved in absentee ballot fraud," said Curbelo.

Curbelo has served on the Miami-Dade School Board since 2010, where he represents the residents of Southwest Dade. He is strongly considering running for Congress and recently launched a Congressional Exploratory Committee and Finance Team showing strong support from business and civic leaders of both political parties.

Curbelo continued: "The people of Southwest Dade and the Keys are sick and tired of politicians that will do or say anything to get elected. Every day it becomes more evident that we need to turn the page on this culture of corruption and get new leadership in Washington."


Congressman Joe Garcia's chief of staff implicated in phantom absentee-ballot scheme


Congressman Joe Garcia’s chief of staff abruptly resigned Friday after being implicated in a sophisticated scheme to manipulate last year’s primary elections by submitting hundreds of fraudulent absentee-ballot requests.

Friday afternoon, Garcia said he had asked Jeffrey Garcia, no relation, for his resignation after the chief of staff — also the congressman’s top political strategist — took responsibility for the scheme. Joe Garcia took the action hours after law enforcement investigators raided the homes of another of his employees and a former campaign aide in connection with the investigation.

“I’m shocked and disappointed about this,” Garcia, who said he was unaware of the plot, told The Miami Herald. “This is something that hit me from left field. Until today, I had no earthly idea this was going on.”

Jeffrey Garcia declined to comment. He also worked last year on the campaign of Democrat Patrick Murphy, who unseated tea-party Republican Congressman Allen West. Murphy has not been implicated in the phantom-requests operation.

The Miami-Dade state attorney’s office served search warrants Friday at the homes of Giancarlo Sopo, 30, Joe Garcia’s communications director, and John Estes, 26, his 2012 campaign manager. Neither Estes nor Sopo responded to requests for comment.

The raids marked a sign of significant progress in the probe that prosecutors reopened in February, after a Herald investigation found that hundreds of the 2,552 fraudulent requests for the Aug. 14 primaries originated from Internet Protocol addresses in Miami that could be further traced. The bulk of the requests were masked by foreign IP addresses.

It is unclear if the requests from domestic and foreign IP addresses are related to the same operatives.

More on this developing story here.

Where did Dems go on the pension bill?

Few bills have cut local government spending so severely as SB 1810 with so little opposition from Democrats.

Passed on the last day of session, the bill requires 1,000 employers to pay more into the state retirement system’s $135 billion pension system.

State agencies, universities and colleges, school districts and counties will pay nearly $900 million more next year in contributions in an effort to boost the pension system’s funding level above its current 86.9 percent level.

But while most of the employers who have to pay more received additional funding to cover the expense, counties were left with no obvious way to pay the higher amounts. Large urban counties like Miami-Dade, Hillsborough and Pinellas say they must cut services or consider raising taxes to cover the shortfall, and are making their complaints known.

Too late little too late. The bill was passed a month ago, the bill signed two weeks later. And not one lawmaker voted against it.

What happened to the Democrats? They blamed a combination of miscommunications and a hectic finish to the legislative session that made it difficult to truly understand the ramifications of the bill.

“You’re talking about a conference bill on the last day of session,” said Senate Minority Leader Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale. “Most legislators knew what it did, but I don’t recall looking at exact numbers. They could have been out there, but on the last day of session, I’m not sure those numbers were available.”

Continue reading "Where did Dems go on the pension bill?" »

RPOF's 'Crist-ory' about tax pledge faces the Truth-O-Meter

The Republican Party of Florida is launching a pre-emptive strike against former golden boy Charlie Crist, who very well could run for governor in 2014 as a Democrat. In a new Web ad, the state GOP spoofs the History Channel with a segment called "This Day in CRIST-ory."

The date: May 28, 2009. (The date should be May 27, but the state GOP flubbed that.)

The setting: Tallahassee.

The story: Then-Republican Gov. Crist is signing a $66.5 billion budget that includes a $1-a-pack cigarette tax and higher fees on drivers licenses and motor vehicle tags. The new taxes and fees, which are estimated to generate $2.2 billion, are needed to pass a balanced state budget -- and were supported by Republicans in the Legislature -- but also break Crist’s pledge not to raise taxes.

"Two weeks after signing a taxpayer protection pledge, he (Crist) breaks it!" the Republican Party’s ad exclaims.

Here at PolitiFact Florida, we didn’t need a history lesson to remember the basics of the 2009 budget. But we did wonder about the state GOP’s assertion that Crist had the gall to break a pledge just two weeks after he signed it. Read our analysis.

GOP to Hispanics: We want you to seek state-level office

A national project aimed at diversifying the Republican Party will spend $6 million to recruit new Hispanic candidates.

Leaders of the Future Majority Project on Friday said they hope to identify 200 new political hopefuls -- and propel at least 75 into state-level office.

“The Future Majority Project is working to ensure the Republican Party better reflects America’s diversity, and I’m proud that we are bringing much needed voices to the table,” said Florida state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, a Miami Republican involved with the effort.

The announcement came at the tail end of a Republican leadership convention in Austin.

The Future Majority Project is part of the Republican State Leadership Committee, an organization that seeks to elect Republicans to state-level offices. Last year, the project identified 125 new Hispanic candidates in 26 states.

A separate initiative by the Republican State Leadership Committee identified 191 new female candidates. Eighty-four of the women won office, according to data provided by the organization.

The Future Majority Project has powerful allies. Its chairs are Governors Susana Martinez of New Mexico and Brian Sandoval of Nevada. Diaz and Florida state Rep. Jose Oliva, of Miami Lakes, serve on the advisory board.

Counties bristle as bill comes due for pension bill

TALLAHASSEE — A bill passed in the waning moments of the 2013 legislative session with little discussion and signed two weeks later by Gov. Rick Scott will cost state and local governments nearly $900 million in additional expenses next year, hitting county governments especially hard as they struggle to emerge from a prolonged economic slump.

The bill, SB 1810, raised the rates employers must pay into Florida's $135 billion pension fund so that the state could more aggressively manage a deficit in the retirement system. Though the higher level will please conservatives like Scott who want the pension fully funded, it comes at a cost that some say is unnecessary when the stock market is hitting record highs.

The new rates will force 1,000 state, county and local employers to pay more into the system: $177 million from state agencies, $100 million from universities and colleges, $300 million from school districts, $50 million from cities and special districts, and $264 million from Florida's 67 counties.

How did this get bill get passed? Read story here

Gov. Rick Scott: Raising tuition is a tax increase

Gov. Rick Scott has an opinion piece in National Review Online pounding his opposition to tuition increases. Scott vetoed a 3 percent tuition increase when he signed Florida's budget earlier this month. An excerpt from Scott's column:

"While many political leaders have been quick to join us in fighting tax and fee increases on almost any other front, our fight to hold the line on tuition has proven less popular. But we owe it to the families in our state who are paying tuition today and those planning to pay tuition for the next generation of Floridians to be direct: Raising tuition is a tax increase. And, unfortunately, it is a tax increase that directly affects whether Floridians can achieve the American dream of earning a higher-education diploma.

"The easy answer in government will always be to spend more money. But that doesn’t mean it’s the right answer. In business, it is the company that can provide the highest-quality service at the lowest cost that succeeds. That is what we want for our higher-education system in Florida. The opportunities and dreams of future graduates are at stake, and we owe it to them to continue our fight against the tax increase of rising tuition."

May 30, 2013

RPOF chief launches "FreeNanRich" Twitter campaign to mock Dems for dissing one of its own



Way to go, Florida Democratic Party, you've allowed the Republican Party of Florida to mock you for appearing to mistreat one of your own, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nan Rich.


Rich wants to speak at the Democrats Jefferson-Jackson Dinner. The FDP said no. It wants a streamlined program. So only three people can speak.


RIch said she just wants five minutes to speak. The answer was still no. More background is here.


RPOF chairman Lenny Curry is loving every minute. Here's a message he sent out:



Continue reading "RPOF chief launches "FreeNanRich" Twitter campaign to mock Dems for dissing one of its own" »

Evangelical leaders shell out $250,000 to support immigration bill

Evangelical Christians are taking to Florida's airwaves in support of immigration reform.

On Thursday, the Evangelical Immigration Table announced a quarter-million-dollar media buy that will include radio ads and billboards in Florida. They're hoping the effort will convince Republican leaders on legislation that provides a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. 

"We’re expecting thousands more to stand up and be counted as advocates of immigration reform," said Dr. Russell Moore, president-elect of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. 

In a media call, spiritual  leaders called immigration reform a "biblical and theological issue."

"Before my political affiliation, I am a Christian," said Rev. Dan Krause, the lead pastor at Chugach Covenant Church in Anchorage. "My values are rooted in that place... I’m completely convinced that God has spoken on this issue. It is our job as Christians and as Christian leaders to love those who are here in Jesus’ name."

The Senate version of the legislation, which is headed to the floor, establishes a 13-year road to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. The bill also creates new opportunities for low-skilled and highly skilled workers to come to the country, and strengthens border security.

The faith-based leaders called the provisions "fair."

Their ads, urging Christians to pray for reform, will air nationally on the Salem Communications Network. There will be additional ads in Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Montana, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.

Florida's share will feature Rev. Dr. David Uth, senior pastor at First Baptist Orlando.

Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas will also see the message plastered on billboards located near a handful of key congressional offices.  

The media buy is part of the Evangelical Immigration Table's #pray4reform campaign.