Sunday, September 09, 2012

Our digest of, and commentary on today's Florida political news and punditry follows.

Rivera pal on the lam

"A key witness in a federal investigation involving U.S. Rep. David Rivera failed to show up for an interview with prosecutors and the FBI one day after agents raided her Miami apartment and removed her computer, cellphone and other items."

Prosecutors believe Alliegro played a key role as a go-between for Rivera and a former Democratic congressional candidate who might have broken campaign finance laws in his failed bid against a rival of the Republican congressman in the Aug. 14 primary.
"The case definitely involves politics."
At issue: $46,000 in once-secret payments — many made with cash-stuffed envelopes — that candidate Justin Lamar Sternad used for mailers in his unsuccessful primary race against Joe Garcia, who now faces Rivera in the general election.

Sternad’s campaign finance disclosure reports initially gave no indication that he had paid for the mailers. He later amended the reports amid the FBI probe.

Investigators have focused on Alliegro because she acted as Sternad’s campaign manager. She may have first-hand knowledge of the source of the funds and whether Rivera was involved in funding the campaign of the political unknown, a part-time hotel worker.

"In FBI probe, Rep. David Rivera’s pal goes on lam, has computer seized.".

"Largest jobs incentive failure in state history"

"In what stands to be the largest jobs incentive failure in state history, Digital Domain Media Group announced Friday that it would close its Port St. Lucie animation studio, a $20 million black eye for the state." "Florida loses $20 million after Digital Domain closes". See also "Port St. Lucie officials analyzing impact Digital Domain's downsizing has on city" and "Digital Domain defaults on $35M loan - WPEC-TV 12" ("Digital Domain media group got $132 million in incentives from the city of Port St Lucie and the state").

"The anemic condition of Florida's Democratic Party"

Douglas Lyons: "Charlie Crist's got nerve."

Florida's Democrats got a problem.

Bad enough the former Republican governor turned independent crashed the big party in Charlotte, snagging a speaking spot no less. Worse, Crist's endorsement of President Barack Obama and his supposed interest in all things Democratic exposes what is common knowledge — the anemic condition of Florida's Democratic Party.

"Crist speech puts the onus on state Democratic Party".

"And they have the audio recording to prove it"

"On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said she was misquoted when a Washington Examiner reporter quoted her as saying that Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. told her 'that what the Republicans are doing is dangerous for Israel.'"

“I didn’t say he said that,” the Broward County lawmaker told Fox News, after the ambassador in question, Michael Oren, disputed the statement.

“And unfortunately, that comment was reported by a conservative newspaper. It’s not surprising that they would deliberately misquote me.”

Only they didn’t.

And they have the audio recording to prove it.

Examiner reporter Philip Klein captured audio of Wasserman Schultz’s remarks to a group of Jewish Democrats. Wasserman Schultz’s office confirmed the recording’s authenticity.

"Wasserman Schultz said she didn’t make comments about Israel’s ambassador, but she did".

"I smell desperation"

Nancy Smith says, "You've got to hand it to Democratic Party fundraisers. They don't care who they let walk their donkey. Never mind that I'm the editor of a conservative Florida website, I just received my seventh plea for a handout from a star Dem. Hey, they must like me. . . . I smell desperation" "Democrats, All Right Already With the Panhandling Email".

"Appeal of Pension [D]eform Smackdown"

"On March 6, Judge Jackie Fulford of the 2nd Judicial Circuit Court of Florida struck down two particularly controversial provisions of last year’s Senate Bill 2100. She ruled as unconstitutional the bill’s requirement that all employees, regardless of when hired, pay 3 percent of their salary toward their pension. Her ruling upheld the law with regard to those hired after July 1, 2011."

Fulford, ruling in favor of the public-sector unions which brought the suit, found that the changes were unconstitutional on three grounds:

- They constituted an unlawful impairment of employees’ contracts with the state of Florida.

- They were effectively an exercise of eminent domain without due compensation to those employees who had their property (i.e., expected benefits) taken from them.

- The Legislature violated state employees’ state constitutional right to collectively bargain over the terms and conditions of their employment.

"Florida Supreme Court Hears Rick Scott’s Appeal of Pension Reform Smackdown". "The Florida Supreme Court heard oral arguments Friday in a case that could determine whether state legislators face another $2 billion budget hole next year, or state workers will see their salary cuts retained."
The lawsuit, Scott v. Williams, was filed by the Florida Education Association after lawmakers passed, and Gov. Rick Scott signed, a 2011 law that imposed a 3 percent levy on 623,000 government worker salaries to offset the state’s investment into the Florida Retirement System.

Lawmakers argued at the time that the change was needed to fill a $3.6 billion budget gap and bring Florida in line with 47 states that require their government workers to contribute to their pension plans. The savings was then plowed back into the budget, not into the retirement fund.

But Leon County Circuit Court Judge Jackie Fulford ruled earlier this year that the pension changes were unconstitutional because the changes impaired the contractual rights of the FRS employees, took private property without full compensation and impaired employee collective bargaining rights. She ordered the state to halt the practice and reimburse workers with interest.

Attorney General Pam Bondi and Republican legislative leaders immediately challenged the ruling and continued collecting money from employee payments. It is now up to the court to decide but a decision could take months.

If the seven justices uphold the lower court ruling, state and local governments will have to reimburse active workers in the Florida Retirement System and cover the resulting hole in their budgets. The state has already taken more than $900 million from employees and are expected to take up to $2 billion by June 30, 2013, the end of the state’s current fiscal year. State economists have predicted that revenues appear to be meeting expectations and, for the first time in years, legislators may not face another year of belt tightening.

If the court upholds the ruling, employees could see a 3 percent increase in their paychecks and cost of living adjustments could be resumed.

"State Supreme Court hears arguments in controversial state pension fund case". See also "High court hears arguments on pension case" and "High court weighs changes to public retirement system".

Weekly Roundup

"Weekly Roundup: Hope or Change?".

Empty suits preach to each other

"As a diverse group of Florida small-business owners were advised on how banks, university business schools, and the government can help them grow, they were also advised by leading economists in the state that doubt remains the hallmark of the country’s anemic recovery that has been sputtering for four years." "Uncertainty in Dodd-Frank, Presidential Contest Clouds Florida's Economic Future". See also "Jeff Atwater Says Bankers Privately Urge Reform of Dodd-Frank".

"Simply playing politics — dangerous politics"

The Miami Herald editorial board: "Kiss your hard-earned tax money goodbye, Floridians — again. The state has rejected almost $28 million in federal funds because they come courtesy of the Affordable Care Act — sneeringly referred to as 'Obamacare' by many who oppose it , some on principle, and too many others who are simply playing politics — dangerous politics." "Blame Gov. Scott for Florida rejecting needed money for Healthy Start". Stephen Galvacky: "The Affordable Care Act, which some call Obamacare, would extend Medicaid coverage to more than a million uninsured, hard-working Floridians - if Gov. Rick Scott would let it. But Scott continues to reject the promised $20 billion in federal funds over the next decade, saying it's too expensive for Florida, even though the expansion would increase the state's Medicaid budget by a measly 2 percent over 10 years. The deal is that federal money would cover 100 percent of the expansion's costs until 2017, then 95 percent until 2020, then 90 percent thereafter. Yet Scott would rather lose that $20 billion to other states that implement the program." "Scott declines ACA, better have an alternative".

Campaign Roundup

"Campaign Roundup: Dropouts, self-financing and another lawsuit".

Scott determined to purge voter rolls

The Tampa Bay Times editorial board: "The courts seem to be the only branch of government protecting the right to vote. Voter registration and voting should be easy and convenient with no unnecessary barriers, but Republican governors and Republican-controlled legislatures in Florida and elsewhere don't see it that way. They have systematically been making voting harder for the young, African-Americans and Hispanics — groups that tend to lean Democratic. Fortunately, the federal courts have corrected some of the worst abuses by the executive and legislative branches."

A federal judge indicated last week that he will permanently block the strict limits on voter registration groups imposed in Florida last year, restoring the old rules giving groups 10 days instead of the 48 hours to submit completed voter applications. That's a big step toward making voter registration accessible again.

Even so, significant damage already has been done to Democratic registrations, according to the Florida Times-Union. From July 2011 to August of this year, only 11,365 additional Democrats registered statewide, while there were 128,039 added Republicans. Compare that to the years before the elections of 2004 and 2008, in which registrations by Democrats increased an average of 209,425 voters versus 103,555 for Republicans. The stark change is no coincidence.

"Florida is not the only Republican-controlled state where new voting restrictions have been struck down. Last week, a different three-judge federal panel in Washington rejected a stringent Texas voter ID law. The judges found that for people without a driver's license it would be costly and difficult to obtain the state ID necessary to vote, adversely impacting minority voters. In Ohio, a federal judge restored early-voting days that had been eliminated."
Meanwhile, Scott remains determined to purge the voter rolls using a federal database that is a helpful but imperfect tool. The courts will have to remain vigilant, because no other branch of government is standing up for the rights of voters.
"Courts safeguard voters' rights".

Florida GOP General counsel behind fake "progressives" group

"A Republican-linked group operating under a liberal-sounding name is targeting Democratic candidates in competitive state Senate races across Florida."

One piece slammed state Rep. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, for voting in 2008 for a National Rifle Association-backed bill allowing employees to keep guns in their cars when they park at work. Soto is running against Republican personal-injury lawyer Will McBride in a Central Florida district that includes parts of Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties.

Another mailer criticized Volusia County Chairman Frank Bruno for voting to raise the county's gas tax more than 20 years ago. Bruno faces Rep. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, in a district that takes in parts of Volusia, Lake and Marion counties.

A third accused Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, of supporting former Republican President George W. Bush because she contributed to his 2000 campaign. Sachs is squaring off with fellow Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, after the two were drawn into the same South Florida seat as part of the once-a-decade process of redistricting.

The three races are viewed by strategists in both political parties as the most competitive Senate elections in Florida this fall.

Records show Progressives was formed late last month. It is an "electioneering communications organization," which means it can raise unlimited amounts of money to influence campaigns.

The group lists the same mailing address as a law firm and lobbying shop run by Tallahassee lawyer Richard Coates. Coates is also the general counsel for the Republican Party of Florida.

"Group with liberal name but GOP links attacks Democratic Senate candidates".

"Judicial slapdowns of ridiculous laws passed by renegades in the Legislature"

The Miami Herald editors: "Under Gov. Rick Scott, Florida has not sat still for rulings that haven’t gone its way. In fact, the state continues to throw good money after bad appealing several judicial slapdowns of ridiculous and unconstitutional laws passed by renegades in the Legislature. And the state’s records on winning appeals is dismal — and expensive. So far, courts have rejected egregious attempts to limit residents’ rights to vote, be fairly represented in the Legislature and speak without fear of being penalized by the government." "Another judicial smackdown".

"On a fast track"

"The search for a new Florida Education Commissioner is on a fast track, but the search firm hired to screen potential candidates may ask for more time." "Board of Education remains in hunt for new state commissioner".

"Consumers should be outraged by this corporate welfare program"

The Tampa Bay Times editorial board: "The state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp. wants to make itself stronger by first making itself weaker. The insurer's board voted unanimously Friday to bribe private insurers with $350 million in sweetheart loans to take policies out of Citizens. That means Citizens initially will wind up with less reserves and riskier policies — and that homeowners will pay even higher rates for less coverage while private insurers make out like bandits. It is a flawed strategy that has failed before, and consumers should be outraged by this corporate welfare program."

Urged on by Gov. Rick Scott, Citizens is virtually giving away premium money paid by 1.4 million policyholders in order to shed policies. It reflects the typical Tallahassee thinking that government solutions are always bad and competition and the private market are always better solutions. The problem, of course, is that homeowners are hostages. They have to buy property insurance if they have mortgages, and private insurance remains unavailable or unaffordable — or both — in too many areas of the state.
"Citizens' corporate welfare puts consumers on hook".

"A much-deserved scolding"

The Palm Beach Post editorial board: "A federal judge has given Florida a much-deserved scolding for its senseless discrimination against American-born children of illegal immigrants. You’d think that the prospect of a state government creating huge categories of second-class citizens was a thing of the past, but when it comes to paying college tuition in Florida, that’s been the sad reality for years." "Judge right on in-state tuition for birthright citizens".

"Guns 'n' voters"

The Sarasota Herald Tribune editorial board: "If Josef Sever had just been satisfied with illegally buying guns and obtaining a concealed-weapons permit, he might never have gotten caught. But Sever also voted. And that's where Gov. Rick Scott had him. . . . So far, Scott's voter purge has been a bust, with only Sever's case surfacing among Florida's 11 million-plus voters. The governor might have better luck, and might better protect the public interest, through closer scrutiny of gun buyers and permit applications." "Guns 'n' voters".

Executives spent lavishly

"The massive state-run insurer will review its internal policies on travel expenses and corporate credit cards after a Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times series revealed that some executives spent lavishly for hotel rooms and meals." "State to rein in lavish travel spending at Citizens".