Thursday, December 27, 2007

Legislative Update

If you think your wallet is feeling empty this holiday season, you should see the state of Florida's budget. If that isn't depressing enough, campaign season has already begun for people seeking office in the Florida Legislature. Don't worry though, we can still look back at this year and laugh through the tears.

State Budget

Tallahassee Democrat - House, Senate face $2.4B budget shortage

Choice quotes from the article:

"The cupboard is not just bare," Rep. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, said Wednesday. "The cupboard is gone."
Sen. Burt Saunders, R-Naples, said he is telling constituents in Lee and Collier counties that "the odds are very, very slim that we'll have any money at all for local projects.

"It's pretty clear that we have extremely limited funds," said Saunders. "This is probably one of the worst budget years ever."
"When the gavels go down, there are hundreds of millions of dollars to spend," [Senator Al]Lawson [D-Tallahassee] said. "I never get too excited about them telling me this, but what I'm concerned about is that they'll take care of the Republicans because there's an election year coming up."
"If I can't ask for it with a straight face, I've got no business putting in for it," [Representative Dave] Murzin [R-Pensacola] said. "There will be community budget requests submitted with the understanding that there is no money to fund them, but politically it is better to at least ask for them."

Orlando Sentinel - The ins and outs from Tallahassee

More choice quotes:

"I've sent out two letters in the last few weeks to the organizations we've tried to help in the past," said Sen. Lee Constantine, R-Altamonte Springs. "I'm telling them, the money is not there. Unless you can convince a state agency to put your request in their budget, you're probably not going to get funded."
Budget chiefs Sen. Lisa Carlton, R-Osprey, and Rep. Ray Sansom, R-Destin, are already playing the Grinch role. Setting a Jan. 4 deadline for accepting hometown requests, the pair recently sent a memo to lawmakers warning that lumps of coal were more likely this year than shiny new bikes.

Citing slumping tax receipts because of the stalled housing market, they wrote, "Given this reality, we advise that you not expect to receive any general revenue funding, either recurring or non-recurring, for community budget issue requests this coming session."

Legislative Races

Sun-Herald - State House District 72 race is heating up

It seems an aide for Representative Paige Kreegal's office was instructed to contact the employer of Keith Richter, a republican challenging Kreegal for office.

After university officials were tipped off that Richter's master’s degree was from an unaccredited diploma mill, he was demoted to teaching assistant. That tip came from Kreegel's office, specifically from his chief aide Barry Millman. Lehigh activist and Richter supporter Robert Anderson, president of the civic group Lehigh Acres Watchdog, was suspicious, and asked Kreegel's office for any e-mail communication with the university. Millman denied there was any. Twice.

“We have no records responsive to your request,” Millman responded, then “There is no further response forthcoming.”

Anderson wouldn't take no for an answer, however, and made the same request of House Speaker Marco Rubio. Rubio's office provided the e-mails, in which Millman questioned Richter's credentials. House counsel and investigators looked into the incident. A report issued in November says Millman points the finger at Kreegel.

“Millman stated he was told to do these things by Rep. Kreegel,” the report says.

House District 72 includes Desoto, most of Charlotte and part of Lee County. The republican primary for this seat is August 26, 2008.

The Democrat in the race is Judy Juliano - learn more about her via her website at:

Tallahassee Democrat - Term limits could be a problem for Big Bend

House Districts 8, 9 and 10 are all up for grabs due to term limits.

Democrat Curtis Richardson who will be vacating district 8 has five Democrats vying for his spot: Anthony Viegbesie, Alan Williams, Sean Shaw and Hubert Brown and Rodney Moore.

Democrat Loranne Ausley will be vacating district 9 has three Democrats and one Republican vying for her spot: Fred Varn, Michelle Vasilinda, Willie George Johnson and republican challenger Peter Boulware.

Republican Will Kendrick (formerly a Democrat) will vacate district 10 with two Democrats and one Republican vying for his spot: Julie Conley, A.J. Smith and republican challenger Don Curtis.

Also, Senate District 3 will have a rematch between Republican Charlie Dean and his Democratic challenger Suzan Franks.

Just for fun

St. Petersburg Times - Luckily, no media frenzy erupted.

Columnist Howard Troxler has some fun with a round-up of (mostly fake) news from 2007 and here's a few quotes from his humorous reflections on what transpired this past year:

Jan. 29: Legislature votes to ask insurance companies "pretty please with sugar on top" to cut rates.
Feb. 17:Rare fossils discovered by Pinellas student. School Board declares them to be 5,700 years old.
March 21: Hillsborough Elections Supervisor Buddy Johnson announces new citizen-participation game, "Precinct Hide-and-Seek."
May 4:Florida Legislature votes to hold 2012 presidential primary in 2008.

Don't forget, December 31st is the last day to register to vote in the January 29th primary.


Monday, December 17, 2007

Unfunded Mandates

What happens when the Florida Legislature, which is in charge of the state budget, can't afford to pay for everything? It shifts the burden to city and county budgets.

According to the Florida Association of Counties a number of unfunded mandates are passed down to our 67 counties:

Medicaid - $213 million
Department of Juvenile Justice - $100 million
Revenue Sharing Loss - $262 million - Since 1999, tax cuts by the Legislature have resulted in a series of revenue cuts to county budgets
Court Facilities - $83 million
Solid Waste Recycling Grants Loss - $17 million - Counties are mandated to do this and costs initially were picked up by grants – which were later cut from the state budget.
Special Risk Retirement, Disability and Workers Compensation - These costs cover the special needs of firefighters and law enforcement personnel
Mental Health Treatment in Jails - actual dollar amount unknown, but this is a significant recurring impact to county budgets.
Environmental and Growth Management Compliance - actual dollar amount unknown but this is a significant recurring impact to county budgets - Completion of each county’s comprehensive land use plan requires that the plan has built-in financial feasibility
Zero Tolerance - $100 million

The quantifiable total is close to $1 billion in unfunded mandates - yet the financial impact of three mandates highlighted above cannot be quantified.

In other words, each year local governments are covering $1 billion of expenses that were historically the responsibility of the state, with no state funding support attached.

And while the Legislature is currently debating the largest local government revenue cut in state history, they are at the same time discussing additional unfunded mandates.

An article in News Press last month provides more detail on the expenditures passed down to counties with regards to juvenile justice: State's bills for juvenilles challeged

The state's Department of Juvenile Justice is overbilling some counties for juvenile detention costs, according to the counties' officials, and the agency lacks documentation to back up its figures.

A recent Auditor General's report supported some of those claims, saying the department did not show enough information to support its estimates and payments for holding juvenile offenders before their cases get settled in court.


With property tax cuts already enacted by the Legislature and a $12 billion property tax relief proposal on the Jan. 29, ballot, counties say unfunded mandates like juvenile detention costs become even more difficult for them.

The article lists state estimates of what it will charge counties for holding juvenile offenders. Statewide, counties are picking up about $101.1 million.

In Collier County a commissioner mentioned the costs passed along to that county over the years:
“Since 2000 we’ve had about $8 million in unfunded mandates sent down to this county alone,” [Collier County Commissioner Frank] Halas said. “When they can’t meet their budgets they send more unfunded mandates down to us and I’m tired of it.”

Unfunded Mandates for Schools

Miami Herald - State must spend more for education

Two recommendations concern school-district funding:

• First, the state cannot continue to impose programs with which we must comply without giving us the money to do so. The class-size amendment is one of several costly examples. School districts have had to figure out how to lower class sizes or construct more classroom space without receiving sufficient state funding for the task.

• Second, even though education is a state function, local governments have increasingly been asked to fund schools. For several years, with the boom in home prices, the local cost may not have been sufficiently painful for us to complain. The percentage of state funds received dwindled, and county taxes swept in to cover the shortfalls. Now, with the real-estate decline, we can try to lower property taxes only if we insist that the state resume its responsibility for funding education.

I will ask the Miami-Dade School Board at the December meeting to adopt a resolution urging the TBRC to recommend to the state to stop unfunded mandates and to resume funding education.

Naples News - Groups lobby Collier state legisative delegation

Collier School’s Superintendent Dennis Thompson asked that the state impose no unfunded mandates on the schools that would cost the district money.

News Zap - Local officials get bad news; Legislative delegation to county: State facing budget cuts
“To start with, let’s talk about things that won’t cost you any money,” said school board member Joe Arnold as he began his presentation. He proposed a constitutional amendment to clarify the issue of classroom size.

He said that on the FCAT if students in the lowest 25 percentile do not show improvement, the school drops a letter grade. He proposed an incentive program rather than the current punitive measures.

Stricter qualification for home school teachers was one of several other educational issues Mr. Arnold raised. He said that often a student will be home schooled for a period of time. When they come back to school they are at the same level academically as when they left. He also asked that the legislature not pass any unfunded mandates for schools.

Sun-Sentinel - High quality promised, but not given
1. Get the state Legislature out of the business of creating education policy. What they collectively know about teaching and learning could fit in a thimble. The biggest obstacle to improving our public schools is posturing political hacks. One year, some yokel introduces a bill to guarantee there's a U.S. flag in every classroom. Another time, another maven decides that trans fat should be banned from meals in school cafeterias. In addition to social engineering, legislators pass countless unfunded mandates, which drain resources classroom teachers need to get their real job done.

So, when you complain about your property tax bill, keep in mind that it is not all you local government's fault, the state is culpable as well.


Monday, December 10, 2007

Florida Primary

They won't seat our delegates? Our votes won't count? Hogwash!

Yes, the DNC has every right to enforce its rules. The outcome of the Nelson lawsuit is of no surprise to me and I expect the Ausman lawsuit to meet a similar fate.

What everyone seems to be missing is how the primary process actually works. Sure, the rules committee has stripped Florida of its delegates, for now, but they don't have the final say in this matter.

Primary Timeline:

January - June: Caucuses and Primaries

February: Super Tuesday

February/March: Democratic Nominee is Known

The Nominee selects the majority of people who serve on the Convention Credentials Committee - the group that decides on things like the seating of delegates. Do you honestly think the nominee for the general election is going instruct their people not to seat Florida?

July/August: Democratic Convention (August 25-28 this year)

At the convention, the voting by the delegates is perfunctory as the person who won a majority is already known. In order to show party unity, there's usually some bargaining to ensure that virtually all the delegates vote for the nominee. It's essentially a ceremonial event.

For the last 30+ years - this is how its worked.

The only way it would work any differently is if it wasn't clear who had the majority of votes going into the convention, in which case there would be a brokered convention where candidates would likely be fighting over us.

Our delegates, both now and in the past, are selected and seated after we know who the nominee is going to be.

The difference between this year and how things worked in the past is that we get to vote before the nominee is known (January) instead of afterwards (March). How we vote will influence all the states that follow us. Political pundits in the media won't be able to help themselves from talking about it.

As for the seating of our delegates, you don't have to take my word for it.

From a December 1, 2007 article by the Associated Press:

Former DNC Chairman Don Fowler, a member of the rules panel, said stripping the delegates from Michigan and Florida — and prohibiting candidates from campaigning there during the primaries — will hurt party-building efforts in those states.

Fowler also said that stripping the delegates was unnecessary, since many party insiders believe that the eventual nominee will have them restored at the convention.

"No one at this table believes that the delegates from Florida and Michigan will be absent from the convention," Fowler told the rules panel.

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said in a statement: "The threat not to seat the delegates of Michigan and Florida at the Democratic convention is a hollow threat. They will be seated, and when they are, it will be plain for all to see that the privileged position that New Hampshire and Iowa have extracted through threats and pledges from candidates is on its last legs."

Under convention rules, a credentials committee controlled by the presidential candidate with the most delegates will verify the legitimacy of delegates.

Back in October I quoted from a St. Pete Times article where Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and DNC Chair Howard Dean made similar statements:

... House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a round-table discussion with reporters in Washington that the Democratic National Committee can try to enforce its rules, but the party's authority essentially ends when the convention begins.

"The reality is if you want to know if Florida is going to be seated, ask the Democratic nominee as soon as one emerges," Pelosi said.

Dean agreed.

"At the end of the day, the nominee will make a decision, essentially about who gets seated," Dean agreed.

So there you have it.


Legislative Update

Do you really trust these guys to make the right decisions about your money? If not, fire them.

Property Taxes

Naples News - Sen. Saunders: Don't expect state to pass further property tax breaks

"I don’t believe there will be much appetite in the Florida legislature to do anything additional," said Saunders, R-Naples. "I think the Legislature will stand down this coming year."


It isn’t just property taxes — it’s also property insurance, he said, and he noted the struggling state of the state’s economy — something he doesn’t expect will improve right away.


Ocala Star Banner - A storm despite the calm

Florida's property insurers will pocket $3.4 billion this year, which promises to be another record-setter for many insurance companies, according to Associated Press reports. That's on top of $3 billion they made in 2006, for a two-year total of $6.4 billion.

In response Robert Hartwig, head of the industry group the Insurance Information Institute, pointed out that Florida's claims from the multiple storms in 2004 and '05 cost insurers $13.1 billion, meaning they are $6.7 billion in the hole. We're curious if that's for the industry as a whole in Florida, or just the companies that didn't flee the state when they got hit with all these claims.

In addition, Sam Miller, executive vice president of the Florida Insurance Council, explained why our rates won't drop: "You have to make money during the years there are no hurricanes," he told the AP.

Clear enough now? Lots of storms, premiums go up to pay claims. No storms, premiums go up - albeit maybe by not as much - to pay claims. Even here in the middle of the state.

Lakeland Ledger - Businesses now have coverage option in Citizens Insurance

Citizens Insurance is the state-run insurer of last resort. Typically, homeowners - and now business owners - get their property insurance through Citizens when they can't obtain it through other carriers due to the age of their property, construction type, the property's location in a high-risk area or failure to meet other insurers' eligibility guidelines.

What happens to the state budget if we get hit by one or more hurricanes?

Tax Reform

Florida Emerald Coast - State tax commission gets an earful

The 25-member commission can place proposed constitutional amendments directly on the ballot. Several people at the meeting were convinced that the board could bring about tax reform the Florida Legislature has failed to provide.

"Give Floridians a choice. Our legislators have proven they cannot do this," said Adam Guillette, the head of Florida’s chapter of Americans for Prosperity, who pushed for a "taxpayer protection amendment."

"You are our only hope."

We need to make the tax system more fair, which will reduce the tax burden for those who need it most, while still generating the necessary revenue to provide the services the public expects. Make sure your legislator is talking about actual tax reform, not merely tauting tax cuts for their own short-term political gain.

Legislative Delegation

Okaloosa County - Members of the delegation are holding a public meeting from 6-8 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 18. The meeting will take place in room 128 of the Okaloosa-Walton College campus.

See Calendar

Contact your local legislative delegation to find out about meetings in your area: Contact information for all County Legislative Delegations


Tuesday, December 4, 2007

You Tube Candidate: Bill Ramos

I did a quick search on You Tube to see if I could find any candidates for state office and I found one for the Florida House who recently posted some campaign videos: Bill Ramos.

Bill Ramos is running for District 81 which consists of parts of Martin and St. Lucie Counties. In the 2000 general election, according to the district's statistics, it voted George Bush 48.8%, Al Gore 48.9% and Ralph Nader 1.2%. At the time the district had 41,766 registered Republicans, 29,650 registered Democrats, and 18,031 registered Independent/Other parties.

The seat is currently occupied by Republican Gayle B. Harrell who is term limited.

Bill Ramos ran against her in 2006:

Gayle Harrell: 54.3%
Bill Ramos:     45.7%

There are currently 4 other people vying for the seat: Republicans Robert E. Bailey, Michael DiTerlizzi, Jeff Gorman and Democrat Adam Fetterman.

The Florida Department of State, Division of Elections Fundraising report:

Michael DiTerlizzi 11,588.00 Filed 09/20/2007
Adam Fetterman 46,454.01 Filed 04/10/2007
Jeff Gorman 2,172.51 Filed 09/13/2007
Bill Ramos 3,517.35 Filed 03/27/2007
Robert E. Bailey N/A Filed 10/17/2007

Here's the campaign video:

View: Ramos campaign videos

For more information, visit the Bill Ramos for State Representative website.


Monday, December 3, 2007

Legislative Update

Let's hope our legislators were too busy enjoying the holiday to cook up any new schemes for legislative session:


TCPalm - State Senator Mike Fasano: Legislature's proposal offers Floridians long-needed tax relief

Erm, the republican sales pitch on the property tax amendment has begun.

TCPalm - S. Curt Kiser: In the long term, Florida needs tax reform more than tax relief

Florida’s lawmakers are once again scrambling to shore up the state budget to deal with a slumping economy. It’s human nature to deal with the here-and-now. But Florida needs a plan for the long haul, not just the next election cycle.

The property-tax break the Legislature proposed for the statewide ballot won’t change Florida’s systemic fiscal problems. We need tax reform, not just tax relief.

Florida’s current economic troubles shouldn’t come as a real surprise. Two years ago, the nonpartisan LeRoy Collins Institute at Florida State University released an important economic study, "Tough Choices: Shaping Florida’s Future," warning that the real estate boom would end and leave a budget hole. Some leaders ignored it, because Florida was swimming in revenue. Now the predictions have come true.

Ocala Star-Banner - Updating our archaic tax system

The Florida Legislature has tried seemingly everything to deal with the state's fiscal crisis, which centers on a $1.1 billion shortfall that seems to be growing by the day: they've drained trust funds, proposed auctioning off toll roads, raised tuition fees while cutting education spending, shaved funding for health care programs, foisted much of the burden onto local government, forced departments to cut jobs or simply agreed not to fill state job vacancies.

Well, almost everything.
What they haven't done is the obvious, especially for a state that depends so heavily on a sales tax as a key source of revenue - boost sales tax revenues.

The idea is to review items currently exempt from sales tax to see if those exemptions still make sense and applying the state sales tax to Internet transactions. Nothing new. I did find this bit amusing:

Now, recall leaders in Tallahassee did kick around the idea of sales tax reform earlier this year. House Speaker Marco Rubio pushed for a steep hike in the sales tax in order to eradicate property taxes, a bit of unrealistic political pandering that died, thankfully, when people realized it lightened the fiscal load of the wealthy by refitting it onto the backs of the poor and the working class.

Less amusing was this Pensacola News Journal article: Tax revolt could push Rubio to a higher office.

Hey, I'm all for making the tax system more fair in the state, but lets not reward the guy who came up with the looniest and most irresponsible plan just because you like the fact that he's screaming the loudest on the issue.

Sun-Sentinel - ... Senator Steve Geller answers questions about property taxes.

Department of Citrus

Lakeland Ledger - Report Critical of Citrus Department

Florida citrus growers could save up to $844,350 in their tax money by eliminating the Lakeland-based Florida Department of Citrus and integrating its functions into the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in Tallahassee.

Or they could save $61.8 million - the department's current annual budget - by eliminating the citrus agency and its programs entirely.

Those are two of the six options outlined in a Nov. 16 report from the Florida Legislature's Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability, which was assigned the task of reviewing the Citrus Department and recommending whether it should continue or face sunset.

The Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA)is assigned the task of performing a "Sunset Review" to determine whether or not a state agency needs to continue to exist. OPPAGA reports to the Joint Sunset Committee of the Florida Legislature.

Agencies currently under review are: Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Department of Citrus, Department of Environmental Protection, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles and Water Management Districts. You can find copies of OPPAGA's interim reports on the sunset reviews page of their website.

Legislative Delegations

December 4th

St. Lucie County Legislative Delegation: Meeting, public hearing. IRCC Kight Center for Emerging Techologies, 3209 Virginia Ave., Fort Pierce 9 a.m.-4 p.m., (561) 279-1 633.

Polk County Legislative Delegation: Legislators will be meeting with the County Commission at 10 a.m. on Dec. 4 in the commission chambers as part of an all-day series of meetings with constituents in preparation for the 2008 legislative session.

December 5th

Okeechobee County Legislative Delegation: for more information please contact Chairperson: Senator J. D. Alexander, 122 East Tillman Ave., Suite 1
Lake Wales, FL 33853, Telephone: (863) 679-4411, Fax: (863) 679-4413

Seminole County Legislative Delegation: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday in County Commission chambers at 1101 E. First St., Sanford. The delegation will hear from the public on matters of statewide concern and will talk about local bills that were drafted and filed with Rep. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, by last month.

To find out about meetings of your local legislative delegation please contact them, you can download: Contact information for all County Legislative Delegations