Thursday, October 4, 2007

Legislative Update

"No man's life, liberty or property is safe while the legislature is in session ..." -- Judge Gideon J. Tucker (1866)

Here's a roundup of what the legislature has been up to:

Property Tax

Sarasota Herald Tribune: Session Could Take a Detour

Three options facing the Legislature on property tax reform.
  • Do nothing and hope an appeals court or the Florida Supreme Court reverses a Leon County judge's decision last month. The judge found that the Jan. 29 ballot language approved by the Republican-dominated Legislature in June unconstitutionally misled voters.

  • Try to tweak the Jan. 29 ballot language to meet the judge's concerns. But a number of GOP lawmakers have reversed their support since June, making this a long shot.

  • Move to a new plan. Options include doubling the homestead exemption, allowing homeowners to keep some accrued Save Our Homes tax savings if they move, reducing the tangible property tax for businesses or some combination of this or other ideas. But to get any plan on the Jan. 29 ballot, lawmakers need to act by Oct. 29 and pass any plan by a three-fourths margin. That gives Democrats – outnumbered nearly 2-1 in the Legislature – virtual veto power.

Budget Cuts

News-Press: Budget cut tussle begins: Dems say GOP plan won't fly

Senate Democratic Leader Steve Geller of Cooper City said most Senate Democrats will refuse to vote for the plan when it reaches the floor later this week.

Democrats want the cuts, which will largely fall on education and health care, to be at least partially offset with revenue increases, including an expansion of gambling and a rollback of tax breaks for special interests.

"For this special session, it's going to be a plan between the House Republicans and the Senate Republicans and it's not going to be one the Democrats can go along with," Geller said.

House Democratic Leader Dan Gelber of Miami Beach agreed.

"We've had the worst high school graduation rate for three consecutive years, and now we're going to take 300 million out of our public education base?" Gelber said. "It makes no sense."

St. Pete Times: Budget at hand, but minds on taxes

Democrats have threatened to vote no on budget cuts, complaining that Republicans won't debate alternatives, like ending old sales tax exemptions or more recent tax cuts passed during former Gov. Jeb Bush's tenure.

"Everything needs to be on the table," said Senate Minority Leader Steve Geller, D-Cooper City.

"That's not going to happen in this session," said Senate President Ken Pruitt, R-Port St.

Yeah, why discuss doing something like restoring the intangibles tax, which brought in $1.1 Billion in revenue to the state, when we could cut things like healthcare and education instead?


Tallahassee Democrat: PIP's return not if, but when

Heeding regulators who say they need time to handle changes to Florida's off-again, on-again mandatory medical coverage, negotiators said Wednesday they have agreed to a five-month delay in restarting Personal Injury Protection, as well as the state's no-fault law.

The restart date for PIP, under this proposal, would be February 15.

Government in the Sunshine?

Sun-Sentinel: Secrecy ushers in special session

Many lawmakers are openly critical of the unprecedented number of closed-door attempts at deal making that will ultimately determine what they vote on. Indeed, leaders didn't even announce the agenda for the session until Friday -- a task usually completed weeks in advance.

House Democratic Leader Dan Gelber of Miami Beach was sharply critical of House Speaker Marco Rubio, R-West Miami, and Senate President Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, who last week agreed to $790 million in budget cuts in a pact most lawmakers first learned about via e-mail.

"I know it's easier to have a meeting when the public isn't there and when all the legislators who might disagree aren't there," Gelber said. "But, candidly, it's not better. It's not fair."

Learn more about Florida's Sunshine Law and Public Records Law. Are secret meetings part of the accountability that Marco Rubio keeps talking about?

I'm not a big sports fan, but

Florida Today: Legislators make way for football game

House and Senate members have a tight schedule to agree on $1 billion in budget cuts, made all the tighter because most of them will be booted out of town for the weekend. Tallahassee was long-ago booked for a Florida State University football game.

Hey, whatever its takes to get them out of town!