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8 posts from May 15, 2013

May 15, 2013

Safety net hospitals scrambling to prevent $65 million Sott veto

Gov. Rick Scott may veto $65 million in hospital Medicaid funding, although safety net hospitals are mustering all their resources in order to change his mind.

The money is related to the state's transition to a new formula for paying hospitals for Medicaid, one that depends on services provided to patients instead of how long they are in a particular hospital's care. The Legislature provided the extra funding to help reduce the losses over 40 hospitals faced under the new formula, with safety nets among the worst hit.

That extra money was not a part of Scott's initial budget proposal, but the House insisted on it and the Senate agreed. If Scott vetoes it, Miami's Jackson Memorial hospital would lose the most cash: $23.3 million.

Shands Teaching Hospital in Gainesville would lose $11 million and Tampa General Hospital would see its funding slashed by $2 million. A range of rural and specialty hospitals would also lose funding, such as a $1 million loss for Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa.

Scott's office is still finalizing his veto list, and the governor has until May 24 to sign the budget and announce the funding he eliminated. His office wouldn't say if DRG funding will be on the list.

"We are reviewing the matter, along with the entire budget," spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said.

Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples, and the House's health care budget chief, fought for that money to be included in the budget and said the governor's office hasn't told him it's in jeopardy. The money includes $27 million from the general fund and another $38 million in federal dollars.

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Gov. Rick Scott to keynote Broward GOP dinner May 20

Gov. Rick Scott will give the keynote address at the Broward Republican Executive Committee's annual Lincoln Day dinner May 20 -- and then he flys to Chile later that night.

The gathering is the big event of the year for Broward Republicans to raise money and get pumped about helping their party hold on to statewide seats and maintain the rare notable elected seats they have in Broward.

Scott will likely make many stops in Broward leading up to the 2014 election as he seeks the votes from the county's 260,000 Republicans and 290,000 independents.

Other speakers include U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (by video), state Rep. George Moraitis, Broward County Commissioner Chip LaMarca, former state Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff who lost re-election last year, and RNC co-chair Sharon Day.

Moraitis and LaMarca both face voters next year in eastern Broward. LaMarca, the lone Republican on the county commission, could face a re-match from the commissioner he ousted in 2010: Democrat Ken Keechl who says he will decide by the end of summer whether to run. That could be one of the most closely watched races on the Broward ballot as both men would attract donations and assistance from beyond the district: LaMarca is a former Broward GOP chair and Keechl was the county's first openly gay mayor.

So far, Moraitis faces Democrat Scott Herman, an openly gay man who lost by a landslide when he ran as a Republican against Rep. Perry Thurston in 2012. There is some buzz among Democrats about trying to oust Moraitis, but the well-known Fort Lauderdale lawyer has easily fended off underdogs in the past and no big name has stepped up to the plate. One name sometimes mentioned as a Democratic opponent is Pompano Beach Mayor Lamar Fisher, who was re-elected in March, but he doesn't appear interested.

"I'm perfectly content where I'm at right now," Fisher said.

The Lincoln Day dinner is at the Westin Beach Resort in Fort Lauderdale -- it starts at 6:30 p.m. with the program starting at 8 p.m. For more details go to www.browardgop.org


The Miami Dolphins had "no realistic path to victory" at ballot box


The only poll that matters is on Election Day.

It’s a common cliché espoused by campaigns when surveys aren’t going their way.

But what happens when Election Day only has partial results and you lost big? Downplay the results.

“We would have won,” said Eric Jotkoff, spokesman for the Miami Dolphins star-crossed campaign seeking public money for stadium upgrades.

The partial results released Tuesday indicates that the Dolphins’ bid was a long shot from the start, with 43 percent supporting the plan and 57 percent opposed before the vote was essentially halted by the state due to legislative inaction.

To win, the Dolphins would probably have needed to win the remaining vote by roughly 52-48 percent, according to a Miami Herald analysis of the special elections likely voter turnout rate estimated by political consultants.

Put another way: The Dolphins effort needed the trend to reverse more than 18 percentage-points in its favor.

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Report: Florida has one the nation’s highest business tax burdens

Florida, long-touted as a business friendly state with no income tax, has one of the nation’s highest business tax burdens, according to a new report from a boutique economic consulting firm. 

The report says Florida has the nation’s 6th highest business tax burden, citing high costs for property taxes, sales taxes, public utilities and other fees.  It counters several other studies that highlight Florida’s low taxes and put the Sunshine State as a top place for businesses. 

The report, from Anderson Economics Group, uses a different methodology from most other studies. It calculates the total amount of taxes paid by Florida businesses as a percentage of those businesses’ operating profits. In essence, it aims to calculate the business tax “burden” by comparing taxes to profits. 

“This approach provides a comprehensive, objective measure of the state and local tax burden,” the report states. “We do not weight some taxes more than others, nor do we rely on any subjective judgment about which taxes are better than others.” 

Florida’s combined business taxes in 2011 equaled nearly $40 billion, or about 13.4 percent of “pre-tax operating surplus” (or profits).  Only five states had a higher ratio of business taxes to profits. The national average was 10.2 percent. 

Florida’s high ranking can be traced back to the state’s property taxes and public utilities costs. The property tax burden made up nearly half of the state’s business tax burden. Only Vermont and Maine had higher property tax costs compared to profits. Florida also had the nation’s highest public utilities sales taxes, compared to profits. If taxes are calculated as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product, Florida had the nation’s 3rd highest business tax burden. 

In other areas –- corporate income taxes, sales taxes, unemployment compensation taxes -– Florida’s tax burden was neither in the top 10 or bottom 10 among states. 

State lawmakers have moved to cut various business taxes in recent years, creating new exemptions for corporate income taxes and sales taxes for certain industries. Lawmakers have tried to slash property taxes as well, mostly focusing on homeowners. A constitutional amendment to reduce property taxes failed in a 2012 referendum vote.

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Cuban-American lawyer group: Grassley amendment bad for Cuban refugees

One of the least-talked about but most-significant aspects of the nation's immigration debate is the outsized influence of Cuban-Americans. Sen. Marco Rubio is helping push the immigration bill with Sen. Bob Menendez and Sen. Ted Cruz is essentially fighting them. In the House, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart is one of the key players.

So perhaps it's little wonder that Cuban refugees, who get a de facto pathway to citizenship by virtue of longstanding U.S. law, will continue to get that special immigration treatment.

Still, there are concerns in the Cuban-American community with the immigration debate. Today, the Cuban American Bar Association wrote a letter voicing its opposition to one of the many amendments to the Senate's immigration bill offered by Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa.

Some key excerpts:

In CABA’s view, one shared by many practitioners and scholars of constitutional and immigration law, “Grassley53” would permit a process contrary to the Supreme Court’s decisions in Zadvydas v. Davis, 588 U.S. 678 (2001), and Clark v. Martinez, 543 U.S. 371 (2005), as well as federal district court rulings. “Grassley53” would allow the Department of Homeland Security to indefinitely detain Cuban refugees, as well as others in similar situations, with final removal orders that cannot be carried out.

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Defeated Miami-Dade judge candidate says he never hired Hialeah boletera

via @msanchezMIA and @kikeflor

After having learned that his name appears next to the amount of $1,500 in a notebook kept by an alleged Hialeah ballot broker, lawyer Ricardo Corona said Tuesday that he never hired anyone to collect absentee ballots on his behalf during his unsuccessful campaign for a Miami-Dade judgeship in 2008.

“I do not know Deisy Cabrera. I have never met Deisy Cabrera. And I have not paid anybody to make payments to Deisy Cabrera,” Corona said in an interview with El Nuevo Herald, referring to the alleged ballot broker, or boletera, who was arrested last year.

Cabrera, 57, was charged last summer with ballot fraud and collecting absentee ballots in violation of a county ordinance. She has pleaded not guilty.

When authorities arrested Cabrera, they seized three notebooks in which she kept the names and contact information of more than 550 voters she apparently visited during every election cycle. Dozens of voters have said that Cabrera helped them fill out their absentee ballots, and many of them said they did not know whom they had voted for.

Cabrera also wrote down the names of seven judicial candidates in 2008 next to amounts of money that add up to more than $10,000. Through her attorney, Cabrera has said that she will not speak to El Nuevo Herald.

More here.

FAU President Saunders resigns amid controversies

After a series of very public controversies, Florida Atlantic University President Mary Jane Saunders resigned Tuesday, the school announced today.

Saunders faced a series of controversies in the past year, including defending a professor who asked students to stomp on a paper after writing the name "Jesus" and a failed attempt to name the football stadium after jail contractor Geo Group.

“There is no doubt the recent controversies have been significant and distracting to all members of the University community," Saunders wrote in her resignation letter, according to an excerpt posted on the school's website. "The issues and the fiercely negative media coverage have forced me to reassess my position as the President of FAU. I must make choices that are the best for the University, me and my family.”

Saunders served as FAU president for three years. The school's Board of Trustees will likely launch a national search to name her replacement at the Boca Raton-based school, and an interim president will be in place by the fall.

Dennis Crudele, FAU’s senior vice president for finance and administration, was named the acting president, effective immediately.

The chairman of the board overseeing all 12 state universities said today that Saunders had made a "very difficult decision for her and her family."

"The Board of Governors is grateful to President Saunders for her dedication to Florida Atlantic University and to the State University System over the past three years, and we wish her all the best in the future," Chairman Dean Colson said. "We stand in full support of FAU’s Board of Trustees and university leaders as they work through this transition."

Will Weatherford on failed Dolphins stadium vote: Told ya so


Last night's crushing defeat of the Miami Dolphins stadium effort was a matter of some vindication for House Speaker Will Weatherford, who has taken a measure of heat from the club and a few fans for refusing to resurrect a bill that would have fully authorized a referendum.

As a result, we only have partial results. But it's a big part: nearly 61,000 counted ballots and a 43-57 percent rejection.

So the Dolphins looked headed for defeat had the Legislature voted on the bill that stalled in the House.

"As I said all along, public financing of the SunLife Stadium had significant challenges. The referendum result was just one more example," Weatherford, a Wesley Chapel Republican said. "The Dolphins are a great Florida team, and I hope the leadership will focus their energy on constructive and collaborative solutions."

Keep hoping, Mr. Speaker.

Dolphins owner and billionaire Steve Ross threw a tantrum when he didn't get his way, hurled a veiled threat at Weatherford and others and paid no attention to his own complicity in his own failures.

Indeed, this deal had problems from the start. An early poll showed how troubled the initial stadium deal was with Miami-Dade voters. The Dolphins ignored the results and attacked the pollster. Ross said he didn't want a public vote. There's a reason for that.

Since the May 3 session ended, the Dolphins have shown anything but a desire to be constructive, at least regarding public dialogue about what happened to its bill in the Florida House. And the portion of its fans or the general public who are utterly clueless about how the Legislature works are all stirred up by the Dolphins-spread myth that Weatherford killed the bill.

That's an exaggeration. The Dolphins bill stalled in the House.

First: it never was put on the agenda in the House budget committee by Chairman Seth McKeel. The budget committee was its last committee stop. Technically, under legislative process, that's a major killer.

Second: a similar measure that passed the Senate cleared that chamber too late in the session to make it easy to take up in the last week in the House without a two-thirds vote. I said as much in this column and repeatedly indicated in blog posts and on Twitter that the Dolphins' had problems. I was ignored. Had the bill arrived in time (on Monday before about 5 p.m. in this case) the House Rules Committee could have put it on the agenda to be voted on. It didn't. The rules committee, chaired by Rep. Rob Schenck could have made a special effort to agenda the bill "if received" by the Senate. But it didn't. So blame Schenck, too, as well as Dolphins-opposing members of his committee like future speakers Richard Corcoran and Jose Oliva.

Third: Oliva is a good example of the real nexus of opposition: Miami-Dade's Republican delegation in the House. A majority opposed the Dolphins bill. Why? Perhaps because, under the structure of representative government, they held the office most-close to constituents in the Legislature and realized that the people of Miami-Dade didn't want this (cf. the results last night). And they were stirring up opposition among other Republicans of the Florida House, where the GOP has a majority. The ring leaders: Carlos Trujillo, Michael Bileca and Jose Javier Rodriguez (who's a Democrat).

Now there's a good chance that, had the bill hit the House floor, it would have passed by a simple majority vote of the 120 members if nearly all the Democrats stuck together and about 20 Republicans had gone their way.

But to get the bill there, Weatherford would have had to go out of his way to resurrect the bill. That's not so much as killing as refusing to render aid. And it happens with hundreds of bills every lawmaking session. It's the process. It's can be ugly sausage-making. It sucks for advocates. But it is what it is. What made the Dolphins so special is that a rich guy lost and then attacked a fellow Republican.

So let's review: McKeel, Schenck, Corcoran, Oliva, Bileca and Rodriguez all played a role. They have a four major things in common:

1) They're members of the House.

2) They opposed the Dolphins deal and worked to kill it

3) None is named Will Weatherford.

4) All can say: I told ya so

As I said all along, public financing of the SunLife Stadium had significant challenges. The referendum result was just one more example. The Dolphins are a great Florida team, and I hope the leadership will focus their energy on constructive and collaborative solutions.