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12 posts from October 10, 2013

October 10, 2013

Lawmakers warm to cuts on taxes and fees for cell phones, rental of commercial property

When it was announced that Florida was looking at a surplus of $845 million, it was only a matter of time before special interests would begin lining up seeking some of the excess money. Compared to last year’s surplus of $71.3 million, next year seems like a golden opportunity for lobbyists to make their clients happy.

Gov. Rick Scott has already declared that he wants to cut taxes and fees by $500 million, but he has yet to identify where he intends to cut.

Meanwhile, the one fee that Senate leadership has announced it wants to cut is the motor registration fee, which will cost about $233 million.

What about the House?

Well, on Thursday, the House’s Finance & Taxation committee held a three-hour hearing to listen to requests from groups representing big business, small businesses, realtors and retailers. The result: Lawmakers will have much to choose from in deciding which taxes and fees they consider eliminating or cutting -- way more than the surplus will cover, actually.

Here are just a few of those discussed Thursday.

Continue reading "Lawmakers warm to cuts on taxes and fees for cell phones, rental of commercial property" »

Kendall crowd says no to 'Diaz-Balart Elementary'


A proposal to rename a Kendall school after a former Miami-Dade congressman apparently didn’t go over well Wednesday night.

A crowd of close to 200 at Kendale Elementary, 10693 SW 93rd St., rejected the proposed renaming. Parent Ofi Blandon said they preferred the school’s current name to "Diaz-Balart Elementary."

“Everybody was like what? Diaz-Balart? No way,” she said. “They chose the wrong school.”

According to School Board Member Carlos Curbelo, who represents the school and attended the meeting, the Diaz-Balart referred to was Lincoln Diaz-Balart, who served 18 years in the U.S. House of Representatives before stepping down in 2010. But Curbelo, who once worked for Diaz-Balart, said parents’ opposition wasn’t to naming the school after the former congressman.

 “Their opposition was to any name change,” Curbelo said, adding that "eventually, it certainly makes sense to have a school named after him.”

Curbelo said the renaming proposal, made in a letter by a Kendall resident, is now moot. Attempts to reach Diaz-Balart Thursday by email and through a message left with his son were unsuccessful.

League of Women Voters slams Scott's next purge of non-citizens

The League of Women Voters has joined the chorus of those who don't see much improvement between Florida's purge of non-citizens last year and Gov. Rick Scott's proposed upcoming purge.  

On Thursday, the group released this statement:

Tallahassee, FL -- Yesterday Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner wrapped up his "Project Integrity Tour" in South Florida, capping off a five-city swing through the state with Supervisors of Elections and local citizens.

Prior efforts to purge voters by the state have shown a steady track record of defective, and often disastrous results, with eligible voters being removed and challenged. The Secretary proposes to use the SAVE (System Alien Verification for Entitlements) database exclusively, when other federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), use multiple databases.

"Using the federal SAVE Program to conduct this 'cleaning' of the voter rolls is like taking a chihuahua on a hunting expedition -- it is an inappropriate tool for this application," says League President Deirdre Macnab. "The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has already warned that this database is not a foolproof means of verifying the voter rolls."

Registering to vote as a non-citizen is a crime, and non-citizens should not vote. At the same time, eligible citizens should not be removed due to haste or inaccurate and unreliable information. The League of Women Voters of Florida supports the state's 67 independently elected Supervisors of Elections, as they and their staffs are on the front lines of every Florida election, and they know what works. They update our voter rolls every day to keep our database clean, accurate and efficient. The League will be watching to ensure that the rights of eligible voters are not undermined.

"We urge the Secretary's office to look for ways to engage the state's electorate and use the Department of State's resources to make the voting process more accessible to citizens, rather than more strenuous," Macnab concluded.

The League believes our problem in Florida is not the voter rolls, but rather that not enough citizens are voting. We must find more effective ways to facilitate active voter turnout, not erect roadblocks. Florida has work to do.

Miami Beach mayoral candidate denies link to mystery campaign group


In Miami Beach, who’s behind mayoral candidate Michael Góngora’s campaign is a bit of a mystery.

A Nevada business with ties to Góngora has donated $17,400 to an election organization active on the Beach. There’s no telling where the Nevada business got the money.

The election organization, Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility, has failed to file its finance reports,according to state records, further clouding who may be donating.

Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility has also failed to register with the city, as is required by state law.

Meanwhile, the organization has sent out mailers and run television ads attacking mayoral candidate Philip LevineEntertainer Steve Berke also is running for the mayor’s seat.

Góngora’s opponents say the Nevada corporation is a front to funnel campaign contributions to Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility, without having to reveal who the donors are. Góngora says that’s not true and he has no affiliation to the outside entities.

“Talk about a shell game and hiding the money,” said election lawyer J.C. Planas, who is working with the Levine campaign.

Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility is headed by Góngora’s former campaign consultant: Randy Hilliard. And the Nevada corporation — the “Women’s Leadership Conference” — counted Góngora’s mother among its registered agents, until recently.

More here.

Scott office directs all agencies not to use state money to keep federal programs afloat

In response to the prolonged federal shutdown, Gov. Rick Scott’s chief of staff on Thursday ordered that no state funds will be used to offset any federal programs that run out of cash as a result of the federal inaction.

In a draft letter, directed to the governor’s agencies, chief of staff Adam Hollingsworth said that absent a federal resolution to the shutdown, “it is important that we ensure that state funds are not committed as a temporary backfill to federal programs as a matter of course.”

Hollingsworth did not address what might happen to the programs that will not meet payroll next week -- from school districts to vocational services for the blind -- if the shutdown continues, according to state records. 

His two-page memo said that "no accounting measures (journal transfers) or budget actions (budget amendments) are taken to temporarily support unavailable federal funds through the use of state funds." Any attempt to do so would require approved of the governor's office, he said, in consultation with the Florida Legislature.

For his part, Scott would not answer reporters’ questions about what impact the shutdown is having on the state but directed blame for the gridlock in Washington to President Barack Obama.

“The buck always stops with the president,’’ Scott said in an interview with the Herald/Times. “We need more leadership and we need more negotiation in Washington DC. I expect our leaders to resolve their differences. They need to get this fixed."

The Scott's hard-line directive indicates that the governor has rejected the approach adopted by governors of other high volume tourists states. The federal government said Thursday it will allow states to use their own money to reopen some national parks during the shutdown, and governors in Utah, South Dakota, Arizona and Colorado have suggested they will do that. Story and documents here.

Outlier or trend-start? UNF poll shows Rick Scott w/in 4 of Charlie Crist


Polls have pretty consistently shown Gov. Rick Scott trailing Gov. Charlie Crist by about double digits. Liberal-leaning Public Policy Polling showed Crist up by 12 percentage points recently and a Republican source shared poll results with us indicating Crist was up by 10 (46-36%).

Now comes the University of North Florida showing Crist leading Scott by just 4 points, 44-40. And, despite nearly every other poll, UNF also finds more voters approve of Scott than disapprove.

Maybe it's right. Maybe it's an outlier.

Last year's UNF presidential polls appeared more accurate in hindsight than ours (we showed Romney beating Obama; he lost in FL). But since folks often point out PPP's liberal leanings, turnabout is fair play.

More here

More questions raised about Florida prison provider

Here's an excerpt from the full story  by Broward Bulldog.

The two top executives of a state vendor who negotiated a $1.2 billion contract with the Florida Department of Corrections to provide medical care for thousands of state prisoners were abruptly dismissed on Wednesday.

Tennessee-based Corizon, operating subsidiary of Valitas Health Services, declined to discuss the reason for the departures of Chief Executive Officer Rich Hallworth and President Stuart Campbell.

The move, however, followed a Sept. 23 announcement by Moody’s Investors Service that it had downgraded approximately $360 million in Valitas’s corporate debt securities - changing the company’s rating outlook from stable to negative and increasing the likelihood of default.

Last week, BrowardBulldog.org reported that Corizon, which began work in August at 41 state correctional facilities in North and Central Florida, was sued 660 times for malpractice across the country in the last five years. Nearly half of those cases remain open. Of those that are closed, 91 – one in four – ended with confidential settlements.

Florida won't join Mississippi flood insurance lawsuit, but supports the effort

Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater on Thursday announced that they are filling a "friend of the court" brief in support of a Mississippi lawsuit aimed at halting massive flood insurance increases, but they have decided not to join the lawsuit as a litigant.

"We’re hoping Congress will do the right thing,'' Bondi said, in explaining why the state has decided not to put its legal might behind the effort. "We haven't ruled anything out at this point" noting that she hopes Mississippi's efforts are successful.

Mississippi Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney filed suit against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency last week asking a judge to halt the rate increases imposed by the Biggert Waters Flood Control Act of 2012 until FEMA completes an affordability study required by the act. Chaney asked the state's attorney general to join him in the lawsuit but he declined.

Under the act, an estimated 268,000 Florida homeowners with older homes in flood prone areas could see their rates soar when their property changes hands. The act was designed to eliminate a $24 billion deficit in the National Flood Insurance Program by gradually increasing rates for most homeowners in the program, and charging full-market rates for those who have benefited from below-market rates for years.

Continue reading "Florida won't join Mississippi flood insurance lawsuit, but supports the effort" »

Despite flap over fundraiser, Bondi raises big money in AG race

For all the flak her campaign took when Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi asked to delay an execution because it conflicted with a fundraiser, it turns out she doesn’t need the money that badly.

Bondi’s re-election campaign announced Thursday it had raised $624,594 in its first three months. It’s the biggest opening quarter for an AG candidate since Charlie Crist raised $744,438 in 2001. (One caveat: Bondi is the first incumbent since Bob Butterworth in 1998 to seek reelection, so her contributions partially reflect the power of incumbency that the other candidates don't have.)

What's more, as SaintPetersBlog helpfully points out, Bondi is also associated with an Electioneering Communications Organization called "And Justice For All" -- not to be confused with the 1979 film starring Al Pacino. The ECO's website says its mission is "to promote justice in Florida by identifying and communicating about public officials and candidates who have track records of supporting justice in our state." And, oh yeah, Bondi is associated with the ECO. It reports having raised more than $800,000, including $500,000 from the Republican State Leadership Committee-Florida PAC.

When she ran for the first time as Attorney General in 2010, Bondi raised a total of $1.84 million. She raised $198,755 in her first month as an announced candidate in 2009. She then raised $222,779 in her first entire quarter in 2010.

The amount announced Thursday covers three months, from July 1 to Sept. 30. Bondi filed to run for re-election on July 1.

“We appreciate all of the hard work from so many supporters that made this happen,” her campaign manager, Pablo Diaz, said in an e-mail. “(We) look forward to continuing to build Pam’s network of support in the months ahead.” 

Continue reading "Despite flap over fundraiser, Bondi raises big money in AG race" »

Keys shutdown outrage: Guides banned from fishing much of FL Bay in Everglades Park


M_everg2The federal government's partial shutdown doesn't just involve memorials and park paths -- it also includes massive stretches of water in Florida Bay in the jurisdiction of Everglades National Park.

Florida Keys fishing guides are hurting as a result, especially in the Upper Keys, which abut the park. Islamorada fishermen held a protest Wednesday.

Park rangers say don't blame them; their orders come from Washington.

It's also tough for some people to understand how the federal government can close navigable waters (they're closed to fishing, not navigation).

Some fishing guides feel as if they're being made an example of; noting that they're seeing more ranger patrols now that the park's waters are "closed." It is interesting that the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, which the anti-federal voters of the Keys rejected in a 1996 straw poll, remains open.

Democrats are outraged, blaming the House for precipitating the shutdown. Republicans are outraged, blaming President Obama's administration for trying to make the shutdown as painful as possible.

"We don't need a resolution to keep the waters open," said state Rep. Holly Raschein, R-Key Largo. "They're being targeted."

But a shutdown's a shutdown. Things close.

Here's today's story from our Keys reporter Cammy Clark:

Continue reading "Keys shutdown outrage: Guides banned from fishing much of FL Bay in Everglades Park" »