Monday, November 19, 2007

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.