Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Blogging Florida

I'm back from Thanksgiving break! I got to argue with my Republican relatives and take my nephew to the Florida Caverns State Park and Wakulla Springs where we saw some manatees. Here's the latest from the Florida blogosphere:

Blogging Project

Florida Progressive over on FLA Politics posted a new project for bloggers: Reporting the State House and Senate Districts

It seems there has been a desire from everyone for more coverage in state politics and elections, rather than federal coverage. I admit I’m unknowing myself in a lot about what goes on in local politics around the state, so that’s why I hope this new project will help increase everyone’s knowledge on this. It is particularly important now as we try to take back at least one of the legislative chambers, so we can get this state back on the right track and just as importantly, so we have a stake in the redistricting process that will shape Florida politics for the next decade.

Here’s the deal. My overall goal is to have a report for every state house and senate district in the state. These reports should include information on the district (demographics, changes in area, past federal and state election results), information on the most recent district election (issues, financial contest, results), information on our 2008 prospects (Is there a challenger….if so, who are they and how is their campaign going?), and any other relevant information on the district.

Florida Primary

ryan t at Daily Kos is angry about the primary mess: I'm not giving them a dime

What do I do? I will tell you what I am doing. I'm not giving them a dime and every time they call I am telling them that outright. I have done it twice now. I stop them dead in their tracks when they start.

CALLER: Hello sir, I am calling on behalf of Joe Candidate. We would like to ask for a donation of $150.

ME: I have a problem. Until the Democratic party decides to solve the issue with the primary voting in Florida, I am not giving a dime to any Democratic candidate. Please convey this message. Thank you.

Oy Vey! I'm as angry about this mess as anyone, but not donating to any Democratic candidate is the wrong approach. If you want to send a message to the DNC, FDP or the presidential candidates ... fine. However, your local and state level Democrats need you now more than ever - send your money to them.

Sunny at Smashed Frog is talking primary too: No Room at the Inn about how the Democratic National Convention hasn't reserved any hotel rooms for Florida's delegates. Presumably we will have hotel rooms, just like our delegates will ultimately be seated, but it'd sure be helpful if they'd stop thumbing their nose at us.


the 13th juror writes: St. Pete fences out homeless rally. Heaven forbid people actually see that homelessness exists.


John P at his own blog writes: Republicans Continue to Push Failed Education Policy

Solochek then points out that Broward superintendent Jim Notter told him “that he believes the state, and not local educators, are responsible for the stress on the FCAT and teaching to the test.” Flores states that districts have taken it upon themselves to develop practice tests, reward students for FCAT performance, etc., and states, “I strongly believe that the stress of the FCAT will be greatly reduced the day we go back to just teaching students, not teaching test takers.”

AMEN, Rep. Flores. And that won’t happen until people like you get a clue. DOE Bureaucrats and legislators like you hung obscenely high stakes on FCAT, not districts. School districts have reacted in predictable fashion to a counter-productive so-called accountability system. This is like beating your children then taking them to task because they act out at school.

Speaking of Education, a reader emailed me a link to this news story out of Port St. Lucie Florida: Where do teachers draw the line when it comes to retraining students? Anna Moore's autistic son was forcefully restrained at the Oak Hammock K-8 school.

The Herald Tribune has an entire series on special needs children: The children left behind: a year in the life of a special needs class.

I stumbled across a new blog - Bob Graham's UWF Civics Education Project - which was established to:

... to encourage young people to become more involved in politics and civic life, rather than just be cynical about such matters. This is a non-partisan blog, aimed at getting students involved in the party of their choice, but to also focus on how they can work together in non-partisan ways, regardless of their individual political views or choice of candidates. The class project is to establish, promote, and implement a series of on campus events to promote voting and civic involvement among college aged youth, as well as to support Senator Graham's goal which is to promote the passage of a state law re-establishing the teaching of civics education in Florida's public schools.


Monday, November 19, 2007


Let's set politics aside for a moment. Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on all the things you are grateful for in your life and to help those less fortunate. Florida's food banks are struggling and you can help with much needed supplies.

Associated Press - Food Pantries Struggling with Shortages

"We have food banks in virtually every city in the country, and what we are hearing is that they are all facing severe shortages with demand so high," Ross Fraser, a spokesman for America's Second Harvest — The Nation's Food Bank Network, the nation's largest hunger relief group, said Friday. "One of our food banks in Florida said demand is up 35 percent over this time last year."

Herald Tribune - Families Struggle in Boom's Aftermath

Kerby Standard, a 50-year-old licensed electrician, was laid off in August by an electrical contracting firm that had been riding high during the construction boom.

At about the same time, Standard's wife became ill. And the balloon payment came due on their $1,350-a-month rent-to-own Bradenton home, forcing them to move into a weekly rental.

Now Standard is at Dollar Dynasty, a Sarasota food bank, loading three bags of free food into the back seat of his 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee.

"If I don't pay my rent every week I get kicked out," said Standard. "That's a hell of a thing to wake up to every day."

CNN - New Report Finds 16 Percent of All Children in Florida Don't Have Consistant Access to Meals

In Florida, 16 percent of all children live in food insecure households, which means they do not always know where they will find their next meal.

In the United States overall, one out of six children in small towns and big cities lives in a food insecure household. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), 12 million children in the United States live in this condition -- unable to consistently access nutritious and adequate amounts of food necessary for a healthy life.

See Study: http://www.secondharvest.org/learn_about_hunger/methodology.pdf

An interactive map showing child food insecurity state by state is at: http://www.secondharvest.org/childhunger

Sun-Sentinel - Federal aid to South Florida's food banks dwindles as the need grows

Officials at the Daily Bread, South Florida's largest food bank, said U.S. Department of Agriculture commodities — surplus food and food the government buys regularly from farmers, such as rice, produce and pasta — once made up 15 percent of its total food supply. Now that's down to 11 percent. Daily Bread gives 18 million pounds of food to 700 nonprofit organizations in South Florida each year.


The USDA drop comes at a time when one out of six Broward County residents say they suffer from hunger, according to a Broward County Food Security Survey released in June. In Palm Beach County, more than 53,000 people are enrolled in the government food stamp program, said officials at the United Way.

News Press - Time to help the needy

This year, the need is more pressing. As The News-Press has reported, The Salvation Army Pantry, the Harry Chapin Food Bank, the Cafe of Life and Amigos Center, just to name a few, are having a difficult time keeping up with the demand. As more people need food, the pantries are emptying quickly.

The economic downturn in Southwest Florida, caused mainly by the dormant real estate and construction industry, has hit the area very hard.

With an increase in unemployment and foreclosures, more people seek the help of these worthy organizations, which cannot feed all the hungry who arrive on their doorsteps.

The Florida Association of Food Banks serving all 67 counties in Florida. Please consider making a donation.


Legislative Update

Here's a few issues to think about before the legislative session convenes:

The Environment

The Ledger - Groups Organize to Save 'Forever'

Florida Forever, the program that supplies the money to buy and manage state parks and other environmental preserves, will expire in 2010. Then what?

A coalition of grassroots groups are being organized to push for extending the program at least until 2020 to finish the job begun decades ago and to find new ways to protect and manage land.

The Florida Forever Coalition is the group working on this project with the help of organizations like the Florida Wildlife Federation and the Audubon of Florida.

Environmental News Service - Florida seeks input on Northern Everglades Restoration

Florida state scientists and engineers today released a draft technical plan to protect and restore the Lake Okeechobee watershed and improve the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie watersheds, together known as the Northern Everglades.

The "Draft Lake Okeechobee Watershed Construction Project Phase II Technical Plan" is a critical step in the Northern Everglades initiative to protect and improve the quality, quantity, timing and distribution of water delivered to Lake Okeechobee and downstream receiving waters.

The multi-phased plan, developed by three state agencies, outlines the steps needed to reduce pollution, improve the health of the natural system north of the lake and clean water flowing into South Florida's "liquid heart."

The plan will be turned in to the Florida Legislature this February.

State Employees

Tallahassee Democrat - If a bonus were a bonus, it might mean something

Bill Cotterell reports on a new Florida TaxWatch publication called "Food for Thought" containing suggestions for improving government performance:

The topics include such riveting ideas as "Creating a culture of innovation in Florida government," "Organically growing cost savings," "Information management" and "Data integrity." In other words, if there was a way you could bottle this stuff, you could outsell Sominex and Nytol combined.

Perhaps the most interesting little chapter is titled "State employee merit pay." Not surprisingly, the corporate-funded TaxWatch is for it. Over the years, a common thread running through many TaxWatch white papers has been a belief that, as much as possible, working for state government ought to be like working in the private sector.

But the big difference in the TaxWatch proposal is that merit pay should be in addition to general, across-the-board percentage pay raises - not instead of them.

Just so you know, the bonus this year was $673.50 after taxes and only applied to career service employees. The state has hundreds of employees who work full-time called OPS who get no benefits at all, let alone year end bonuses. Also, Florida ranks near the bottom in terms of state workers to population and cost of state personnel per resident.

For more detailed information please review the Florida Tax Watch report: "Food For Thought"


WMBB TV Panama City - Florida to reexamine internet sales taxes

Florida’s attempts at collecting what it is owed from online shopping would be downright comical were it not for the amount of money at stake – as much as $2.4 billion in the state next year and almost $34 billion nationally. Now, with the state’s economy slumping, its budget in the red and taxpayers in open revolt, attention is turning once again to simplifying – and enforcing – Internet sales tax collections.

The topic will be addressed in the Florida Senate's Finance and Tax Committee and is also being discussed by the Taxation and Budget Reform Committee.

Bradenton Herald - Will Florida regain sales-tax money?

Florida TaxWatch has pushed for imposing the sales tax on online purchases as a way to broaden the tax base and lower property-tax rates. The state loses about $2.35 billion a year in potential sales tax on goods sold in Florida over the Internet or through other remote means, the group maintains.

The tax commission's finance committee Friday decided to require Florida to join 22 other states in an agreement to streamline their tax laws so they can begin collecting taxes on Internet, catalog and other remote sales. That's a measure McKay says will likely have the commission's universal endorsement.

"I think we ought to force online retailers to collect sales tax," McKay said. "Failure to do so puts Florida merchants at a significant disadvantage."

The Taxation and Budget Reform Commission recommended that the Florida Legislature revamp the entire sales-tax system and review all the exemptions and exclusions on the books.


News-Press - Many would-be Florida voters 'lost'

Like thousands of other would-be Florida voters, Figueroa's application went astray in a state registration process that since 2006 has become more computerized, circuitous and complex.

County election officials say the number of voters lost through Florida's central registration system is small — 90 percent of applications get voter cards.

The result is applications from more than 43,000 Floridians hoping to become eligible voters over the past 21 months were rejected by state computer programs and kicked out for special review.

After you turn in your voter registration form, follow-up and be persistant.

Housing Market

Naples News - Florida holds $2 billion in junk bonds

Think private investors are the only ones affected by the recent sub-prime mortgage fallout? Think again.

Florida holds about $2.3 billion in non-investment grade securities as it feels the effects of the bottomless mortgage market, the state’s top investment officials told the governor and cabinet last week.

Over the past several months, about $2.3 billion worth of state investments have been downgraded to so-called junk status. That said, Coleman Stipanovich, director of the State Board of Administration, told cabinet members many of the underlying investments remain sound and the SBA is not jettisoning them en masse.

Daytona Beach News-Journal - Housing slump hits home

If all you want to do is sell your house and the talk of subprime meltdowns, securitization and the Federal Reserve Bank's interest rate cuts is Greek to you, you're in good company.

For others in Volusia and Flagler counties who aren't even trying to buy or sell a house, it may seem like a mystery why the housing slump is hurting them, too. People are losing their jobs, their retirement, their savings. It started with layoffs in construction and real estate and then trickled down to harm schoolteachers, secretaries and restaurant workers.

"The gal who does my nails said her business is struggling," said Mary Spearman, president of Gulf Stream Mortgage in Port Orange. "If people cut back, that's the kind of thing they cut out. I've talked to a lot of people and this has affected all types of businesses."

Floridians are used to weathering storms, but this latest battering has taken a heavy toll.

On a personal note, I just got a letter from Countrywide encouraging me to buy a home and offering a new 40 Year Mortgage that will ensure my payments are affordable. Look, if you don't think I can afford to buy a home using a standard 30 year fixed rate mortage, chances are, I can't afford to buy a home.


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Florida Rankings - Health

This year two institutions, the United Health Foundation and the Commonwealth Fund conducted state by state analysis of our health and healthcare system. The results indicate that Florida isn't doing as well as it should.

On November 5th, the United Health Foundation issued its 18th annual America's Health Rankings report comparing Americans' health, state by state. On page 48 of the report, you'll find the results for Florida.

Florida ranked 41 this year, unchanged from last year.

Strengths include a low rate of cancer deaths at 191.8 deaths per 100,000 population, a low prevalence of obesity at 23.1 percent of the population and a low prevalence of binge drinking at 13.7 percent of the population.

Challenges include a high incidence of infectious disease at 41.0 cases per 100,000 population, a high rate of uninsured population at 21.2 percent and a high violent crime rate at 712 offenses per 100,000 population. Florida ranks lower for health determinants than for health outcomes, indicating that overall healthiness may decline over time.

Back in June, the Commonwealth Fund ranked the healthcare performance of all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia with the release of its report - Aiming Higher: Results from a State Scorecard on Health System Performance.

Florida scored a ranking of 43. See the Florida Scorecard tables.

Business Week recently did its own comparison based on the data from both the UHF and Commonwealth reports. In their table of U.S. State Health Systems Compared they also gave Florida an overall rank of 43.


Taxes, taxes, taxes

How do voters really feel about the Florida Legislature's "tax reform" measure? We'll find out in a mere 11 weeks on January 29th. In the meantime, there's plenty in the media and the blogosphere to offer us clues:

National Exposure

TIME Magazine - Can Florida's Tax Revolt Stay Alive?

The reformers met stiff resistance from cities and counties that rely on property taxes to keep the lights on — and, in many cases, spent like sailors during the real estate boom and now find their coffers depleted during the current real estate bust. Crist and Tallahassee also failed to convince the public how they'd achieve the cuts without injuring a school system that remains one of the most underfunded in the country. Instead of sweeping changes, the politicians now talk of incremental steps they'll pursue over the next several years to provide tax relief to homeowners, renters, snowbirds and businesses. That may not be fast enough; the state is rapidly losing its allure as a low-cost haven — so much so that a Zogby International poll this year that showed half of South Floridians and 37% of all Floridians are considering leaving the state.

Voters, however, may not wait around for lawmakers to continue tinkering. Frustrated by legislative inaction, grass-roots tax reformers are now considering following California's Proposition 13 example from the 1970s and shooting for citizen-driven initiatives to cap what local governments can spend by tying local budgets to cost-of-living increases and economic growth. "Legislators dropped the ball, absolutely," said Margie Patchett, executive director of Volusia Tax Reform, one of a dozen groups that have formed to change the property tax structure with an eye toward a possible 2010 ballot initiative. "They had a perfect opportunity to do something significant and they lacked the political will and courage to do it."

I added the emphasis on how low funding is for schools in this state. If our leaders in Florida want a stable tax base, one of the things they need to do is attract industries into the state that provide high paying jobs. The best jobs tend to require a well-educated workforce and when such industries look at places to locate their businesses, one of the factors they consider is the availability of a quality education. Higher paying jobs leads to more people who can afford to buy a home, which leads to a more stable tax base. Our educational system and our economic circumstances are connected.

As for people leaving the state, this native Floridian wouldn't necessarily be sad to see them go.

BTW, the Volusia Tax Reform organization cited in the TIME article is not a non-partisan group given how excited they are that Jeb! Bush is wearing one of their stickers or their endorsement by the local Republican Party. Now, there's nothing wrong with being partisan, but I thought readers should know that the group mentioned in the article pushing for reform are doing so from a particular political perspective.

Local Heat

Ocala Star-Banner - Panderers and charades

... Crist and the sheep who call themselves leaders in the Legislature are indeed pandering with what they call tax reform. The recent property tax reform is a charade, nothing more than a shell game that will shift more of the burden of Florida's burgeoning public service demands to cities, counties and school boards, while at the same time idiotically curtailing their ability to raise tax dollars to pay the ever-growing tab.

The hocus-pocus measure passed by the Legislature — with plenty of arm twisting by Crist, so he could disingenuously claim he delivered on a promise to cut property taxes — will presumably "cut" taxes by $12 billion over five years. Analysts say it should mean an average property tax savings of $240.

What those in Tallahassee don't tell us is that the state gave up nothing. What they won't acknowledge is while they have cut the amount cities, counties and school boards can raise to pay for essential services, those bodies will likely have to tax in other ways — through assessments, fees and local sales taxes. And when those new taxes are enacted, you can bet your property tax savings those self-serving cowards in Tallahassee will say, "Well, we tried to cut your taxes."

Lakeland Ledger - What Passes for Florida Tax Reform

This has been all about political bragging rights, not fairness or equity. The end result: A tax proposal that is even less fair, less inequitable, less able to support Florida's fiscal needs and even more difficult to fix in the future.

Polls Indicate

Palm Beach Post Poll - What Floridians think about the property tax amendment (PDF)

Property Tax Plan
53% - Yes
27% - No
20% - Undecided

Property Tax Plan (*after given arguments against)

47% - Yes
36% - No
16% - Undecided

* voters heard the amendment would benefit those who need it least, would not help first-time home buyers, and would cut into education funding.

Miami-Herald - Poll: Voters not sold on property-tax plan

Additional results to the same poll:

A whopping 77 percent said legislators did a fair or poor job on tax relief, "a very scathing indictment of a body that just produced a major tax-reform plan," Eldon said.

And that same number -- 77 percent -- of voters believe the Legislature's efforts in January to reduce property-insurance rates did very little to nothing at all. Only 10 percent said they believe rates will go down.


Only 34 percent of voters believe the state is headed in the right direction, while 44 percent say it's heading down the "wrong track."

While 23 percent of voters surveyed rated property taxes as the worst strain on their household budgets, 25 percent said homeowners insurance was the worst. Those financial woes were followed by gasoline prices, healthcare costs, home energy rates and consumer credit-card debt.

Learn More

TCPalm.com - Tax Reform? - this article offers a little Q&A on how the tax plan would effect residents if inacted.

November 13 - FLORIDA TODAY will host a public forum called "Florida Tax Reform: What It Means To You." The session will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. at the newspaper, one mile north of the Pineda Causeway on U.S. 1 in Melbourne.

November 19 - League of Women Voters in Collier County will hold a public property tax forum at 12:30 p.m. at the Collier Athletic Club, 7th Avenue North in Naples.

November 19 - Property Tax Forum at Florida Gulf Coast University in Lee County, 7 to 9 p.m. at FGCU's student ballroom, 10501 FGCU Blvd. S., in south Lee County off Ben Hill Griffin Parkway between Alico and Corkscrew roads.

Bloggers Weigh In

FCD turns Florida Blue - Property Tax (R)eform

Florida Kossacks - Local Elected Officials - Please Stand Up


Meet Your Legislators

You have the opportunity to meet your elected officials in the state legislature at local public hearings that they hold every year. These meetings are often held prior to the start of the next legislative session right in your own community so that you can voice your concerns. Here's a run down of a few such meetings I was able to locate doing a quick Google search:

November 13 - Osceola County Legislative Delegation, noon today at the Osceola County Commission Chambers, 1 Courthouse Square. More Details ...

November 15 - Pinellas County Legislative Delegation, 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., at the Dr. William E. Hale Senior Activity Center, 330 Douglas Avenue, Dunedin. More Details ...

November 16 - Hillsborough County Legislative Delegation, Roundtables, 9:00 a.m. at the Hillsborough County Courthouse, 6th Floor, 800 E. Twiggs Street, Tampa Parking: City of Tampa Twiggs Street, Garage, 901 E. Twiggs Street. More Details ...

November 28 - Duval County Legislative Delegation, Organizational Meeting and General Legislative Hearing is Wednesday, November 28, 2007, 1:00 p.m., in the Council Chambers of City Hall, St. James Building, 1st Floor, located at 117 W. Duval Street. The purpose of the meeting is to elect a Chairman and Vice Chairman. Following the election, public testimony on general issues, legislation and appropriations will be heard. More Details ...

November 29 - Orange County Legislative Delegation, Orange County Commission Chambers located at 201 South Rosalind Ave., Orlando, 32801, from 3:00pm until completion. More Details ...

December 4 - Manatee County Legislative Delegation, 9 a.m. to noon at the Senior Enrichment Center. More Details ...

December 5 - Clay County Legislative Delegation, Organizational Meeting and General Legislative Hearing on Wednesday, December 5th from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the Board Room, Clay County Administrative Building, 477 Houston Street, Green Cove Springs. More Details ...

December 7 - Hillsborough County Legislative Delegation, public hearings and workshop at 9:00 a.m. on Friday, December 7, in Fred B. Karl County Center, 26th Floor Conference Center, 60 1 E. Kennedy Boulevard, Tampa (parking available at Pierce Street Parking Garage, 319 Pierce Street with the entrance on Jackson Street). More Details ...

January 3 - Pinellas County Legislative Delegation, 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., at The Hickman Theater, 5501 27th Ave. S., Gulfport. On this date, final action will be taken on all Local Bills. More Details ...

The website for the Palm Beach County Legislative Delegation has lots of useful information including a complete list of their public hearings for this year:

Tuesday, November 13, 2007 2:00 pm – 5:00 pm
South Florida Water Management District Headquarters,
B-1 Auditorium
3301 Gun Club Road, West Palm Beach

Tuesday, November 27, 2007 2:00 pm – 5:00 pm
Florida Atlantic University, Live Oak Pavilion
777 Glades Road, Boca Raton

Monday, December 17, 2007 1:30 pm – 4:00 pm
Belle Glade City Hall
110 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard, Belle Glade

Tuesday, January 15, 2008 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Jupiter Community Center
200 Military Trail, Jupiter ** Local Bill Hearing **

Monday, January 28, 2008 1:30 pm – 4:00 pm
The Flagler Museum
1 Whitehall Way, Palm Beach

To find information on your Legislative Delegation, type the name of your county, plus the words "legislative delegation" and search any search engine. The news section of the search engine is a good place to look as well as simply checking your local newspaper.

If you know of a legislative delegation meeting, please feel free to email me or post it to the calendar.

Hat tip to Gene Smith for the idea of posting legislative delegation meeting announcements.


Friday, November 9, 2007

Legislative Update

Reaction to the legislature's constitutional amendment on property taxes is still reververating across the state:

Back to Court?

Tallahassee Democract - Court challenge looms for tax plan

As Save Our Homes works now, resident homeowners lose built-up tax protections when they move. Homesteaders with hundreds of thousands of dollars in assessed value now safe from taxation start over, with current assessments, with the sale of their home. With portability, homesteaders could take it with them in a move.

That's kept plenty of Floridians from moving. Proponents say making the benefits - up to $500,000 - portability will kick-start the moribund real-estate market. Critics say it will further entrench the inequities inherent in Save Our Homes - the protections are greater the longer a homesteader has been in the same place. Some legal analysts say it's asking for a court challenge.

TBN Weekly - Legislators split on tax bill impact

The latest tax reform package, which must still be approved by voters Jan. 29, would increase the homestead exemption from $25,000 to about $40,000, provides an average tax savings of $240 and adds portability on tax savings from the Save Our Homes cap.

Therein lies the problem, some legal experts say. The fact that portability would give in-state home buyers an advantage over persons relocating from out of state could violate the U.S. Constitution.

Others argue that Save Our Homes shifts more of the tax burden to non-homestead property owners, which they say could be unconstitutional because it prevents business growth and discriminates against interstate commerce.

The Florida Education Association teacher's union and the Florida AFL-CIO have issues with the proposal. From the Florida Times-Union:

The unions' argument: That the tax benefits of the Jan. 29 amendment to property owners would come at too high a cost in local government services.

AFL-CIO spokesman Rich Templin said it's "possible and probable" that the union would launch a coordinated campaign with groups like the teachers union. For now, Templin said the unions' top leaders are still studying the amendment, though he noted there were already plans under way to oppose the previous amendment that was headed to voters before it was scuttled by a judge and ultimately replaced by legislators.

"We would not be starting from zero," Templin said. "We were ready to go with a grass-roots, mainstream plan to defeat the last plan, and we have not stopped. We're confident when the governor is done crisscrossing the state like a cheerleader and people start looking at this, they'll realize it will decimate their schools, parks, senior centers and after-school programs."

Orlando Sentinel - Proposal pits tax relief against cash for schools

"The current proposal does not hold education harmless, and, as promised, the FEA cannot support and will not support the current plan in its current form," [Andy]Ford [president of the Florida Education Association] said.

Tax reform or tax cuts?

Florida TaxWatch is another organization reviewing the proposed amendment:

Florida TaxWatch finds that that the plan really amounts to tax cuts – not true tax reform.

Savings are targeted almost exclusively to homestead property owners, leaving non-homesteaders and businesses with little protection from property taxes that have spiraled out of control.

Another issue is that providing more benefits to homesteaders and attempting to fix problems Save Our Homes created for them makes it much more difficult to create a future constitutional amendment to help non-homestead property that would garner enough voter support to pass. Still another problem is that heaping savings on homesteaders may naturally disincentive them from participating to try to keep local government spending under control. Read more about the Florida TaxWatch analysis here.

Ocala Star-Banner - Payton delivers sharp rebuke to Crist, Legislature on tax cuts

"Shame on you, Governor Crist. Shame on you, members of the Florida Legislature. How can you brag about cutting taxes? Do you really think the people don't understand you are taking food out of the mouth of some poor child and calling it tax reform?"

With ire and passion, Marion County Commissioner Jim Payton on Thursday chastised lawmakers before an audience of about 325 social service providers and children's supporters at the seventh annual Children First breakfast at the Ocala Hilton.

Lawmakers have agreed on a proposal, which must be approved by voters in January, that could cut property taxes by $12 billion over the next five years.

"Will you please tell me who this phantom family is who's going to take care of these little children?" the Republican commissioner continued. "Do you understand, governor and members of the Legislature, that these are children of children? They don't have a family, damn it. What do you not understand? Governor Crist and members of the Florida House and Senate, we are asking you to stop this charade. Stop this cheap political pandering for a few votes that might further some ill-conceived ambition. This morning we are calling you out, governor and members of the Legislature. Will you hear our call?"

Tax cuts

Orlando-Sentinel - Florida House speaker to continue fight for tax cuts

The Speaker plans to raise money from two lobbyist groups, Floridians for Property Tax Reform and his own 100ideas.org, to push his tax-cutting agenda. Of the former, reporter Aaron Deslatte uncovers this interesting tidbit:

In the minutes after the tax-cutting session ended Oct. 29, Rubio said he hadn't "given a lot of thought" to his next steps.

But three weeks earlier, on Oct. 8, the speaker had already asked the House's chief lawyer whether he could raise money for the group without violating Florida's fundraising-disclosure law and lobbyist-gift ban, records show.

Because the speaker did not "create, control or maintain" the group, House General Counsel Jeremiah Hawkes wrote, he won't have to adhere to a 2006 law that public officials disclose on a Web site the companies or lobbyists giving them checks.

That means Rubio could potentially raise tens of thousands of dollars from lobbyists whose clients have business before the Legislature -- and never disclose their names.

This from a guy who touts accountability.


Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Voting and Elections

Yesterday was election day in communities all across the state. Given that Florida has a storied history with regards to elections, let's look at how things stand:

A couple glitches

Orlando Sentinel - Memory card containing results of Volusia County early voting results erased.

Herald-Tribune - Sarasota County notes some voting glitches


Herald Tribune - Voting audits can't vary, court says

A county charter amendment that many credit for helping phase out touch-screen voting machines statewide is unconstitutional, a state appeals court ruled Wednesday.

The decision will not affect the type of voting machines used in Sarasota County because the state has since passed a law prohibiting touch-screen voting machines. But the decision will reduce how much auditing of election results the county will have to do after each election.

The court ruled that counties cannot have different auditing standards than the state. The county charter amendment required an audit of 5 percent of all precincts after an election. The state law requires 1 percent.

Herald Tribune - Demand better voting audit system

To have the security of honest election results, we must have a meaningful manual audit. Then, if the tallies are wrong, we can immediately check to see why and how the machines erred.

The current law calls for an audit, only after the election results are announced, of 1 percent of the precincts and in only one randomly chosen race. The delay allows more time for ballots to be mishandled and machine software to be altered.

Paper ballots are a good start, but without proper auditing provisions in place there's no way to ensure the results are tabulated correctly. Contact your state legislators and demand they support stricter auditing provisions.

New Voting Machines

Sun-Sentinel - Experts say PBC voting machines must be upgraded soon

Like computers and other electronic devices that are outdated soon after their purchase, voting equipment in Palm Beach County apparently doesn't have a long shelf life either.

Voting machine executives told county commissioners today that there's no way the county can avoid making costly technology upgrades over the next five years and beyond.

Questions about Changes to Florida's Voting Laws

News-Press - Fla. asked to detail balloting procedures

The U.S. Justice Department has asked state election officials to provide detailed information about efforts to curb fraudulent voting, from policing voter registration drives to requiring photo IDs at the polls.

Pending that review, the federal agency is withholding approval of a handful of voting laws passed this spring, saying it needs more information to assure the changes don't discriminate against minorities.

Miami-Herald - Feds question fairness of state's new voting law

An Oct. 29 letter from the Department of Justice says the agency needs more information to decide the impact the changes will have on minority voters.

"Our analysis also indicates that the information is insufficient to enable us to determine that the proposed changes . . . do not have the purpose and will not have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race, color or membership in a language minority group," wrote John Tanner, chief of the voting section of the Civil Rights Division.

The questionable provisions involve changes to voter ID requirements and new requirements on organizations that register voters that were passed as part of CS/HB 537 the same bill that gave us paper ballots.


Monday, November 5, 2007

Blogging Florida

Praxis issues a request of the Netroots: We need more attention on state politics Amen!

Build Florida's DEC's offers some email marketing advice: Who's on your Email list?

Change in Tallahassee urges voters to sign the Florida Redistricting Petition

Miami-Dade Dems points out that Jeb backed driver's licenses for the undocumented

Smashed Frog wants you to know about Jack Parker and his Pips


Legislative Update

The Florida Legislature may not be in session, but we've still got to keep an eye on the results of their handywork. Plus, we ought to be on the lookout for what they have in store for us next.

Property Tax

Herald-Tribune - 'Best' isn't good enough

The proposed property tax amendment might prove popular enough with voters in January to gain the 60 percent required for passage -- after all, the most significant monetary benefits would accrue to full-time resident homeowners, who are among the most frequent voters.

But the proposal and process that led to it fail the tests of good government and effective leadership. The amendment would not solve the most pressing problems related to property taxes,, yet it would compound other problems. Furthermore, it is designed to appeal to the self-interests of a specific group of taxpayers -- property owners with homestead exemptions -- at the cost of other taxpayers and with little consideration of the social and economic impacts statewide.

Tallahassee Democrat - This isn't reform

Right now, it's property taxes, but the bigger issue is that Florida is not a high-tax state. People move down here from high-tax states and, within a year or less, start complaining.

When he was governor, Bob Graham used to call Florida "a mistress state" that people visit for a good time, but they don't think of the old gal needing roads and prisons and schools and environmental protection - all the stuff they pay for back home.

We are a big, growing, diverse state with a strait-jacket revenue system based on a regressive, Swiss-cheese tax code. The sales tax, mainstay of our budget, is riddled with exemptions that were enacted not because they produce jobs or spur the economy, but because somebody hired the right lobbyists.

St. Petersburg Times - Tax reform failure

This is an amendment that takes what's wrong with the current property tax system and amplifies it. The unfair advantage long-time homeowners have over more recent home buyers would be extended. The shifting of the tax burden from homesteaded property to nonhomesteaded property would be exacerbated. And the cost for making matters worse would be indefensible.

Sun-Sentinel - Onus now on taxation commission to deliver real property tax reform

The onus now shifts to the state Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, which has a deliberative enough forum to address issues the lawmakers left undone — notably the glaring inequities in property taxes — and the teeth to either recommend substantial changes to the Legislature or ask the voters to amend the state constitution in other ways.

The question is, will they? The fact that the commission is considering school vouchers, coupled with the chairman's reluctance to tackle sales tax exemptions or other ideas to generate new revenue, is not reassuring. The commission must come up with more comprehensive ideas if Floridians are to expect a broader tax overhaul.


Tallahassee Democrat - Future budget outlook grim, economists say

If the the last round of budget cuts seemed painful, wait until next year, warns one of Florida's top economic forecasters.

"Clearly, no matter what, next year is worse than this in terms of the mismatch between expenditure needs and revenue," University of Florida economics researcher David Denslow said Thursday, following his testimony before the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission. The commission, which meets every 20 years, is considering tax issues to put on the November 2008 ballot.

Sun-Sentinel - Florida budget commission panel gets a shot at taxes too

The commission, which meets every 20 years, can put proposed constitutional amendments before voters. It has conducted hearings around the state and is ready to begin debating its ideas for how best to solve the problem of high property tax bills.

But the group was reminded by Jim Scott, a former Broward County commissioner and Republican state Senate president, that it is also responsible for reviewing budget issues. If the amendment proposed by the Legislature does pass, it has been estimated that the state's public school budget could lose more than $2.7 billion in revenue over the next five years.

Florida Taxation and Buget Reform Commission website has information on meetings and proposals.

Bloggers Weigh In

Mark Weaver - A progressive tax reform initiative

Benjamin Kirby - The mess the legislature left and call all new ideas on tax reform

Brian - Citizen involvement and tax policy

What's in store next session?

The legislature will be back in regular session beginning on March 4, 2008. So, assuming they don't schedule yet another special session, we have about 4 months before they start reeking havoc on us again.

Senate Bills for 2008 Regular Session

House Bills for 2008 Regular Session

State of Florida Three Year Revenue and Expenditure Outlook Fiscal Year 2008-09 - 2010-11. (PDF)


Thursday, November 1, 2007

Going Local

Florida Netroots focuses on whats going on at the state and local level, but admittedly there hasn't been much emphasis on local politics, so from time to time I'm going to post a "Going Local" diary featuring stories from various communities around the state.

Leon County - Local political parties target minority voters. The local Democratic and Republican parties are developing strategies to attract African-American voters.

Orange County - Qualifying begins for 3 town seats. For Windermere residents, "the seats for mayor and two of the five town-council members are up for grabs."

Seminole County - Variety spices House contest. This district 34 Florida House seat will have 4 contenders in the general election.

Dade County - Scandal shadows election strategist. "Veteran political consultant Randy Hilliard, ensnared as an FBI informant in a Florida Keys corruption probe, is back in business in Miami Beach."

Monroe County - Ted Nixon (D) is running for Monroe County Legislature. This is his latest campaign video on You Tube:

Know of a good local political story? Email Florida Netroots