Wednesday, December 26, 2012

After reading the hard copy of your hometown newspaper, please "like" our site on Facebook and following us on Twitter. Our digest of, and commentary on today's Florida political news and punditry follows.

Scott's DEP "a political farce"

"On top of dozens of layoffs at the Department of Environmental Protection is the fact that Gov. Rick Scott's DEP secretary, Herschel Vinyard, has installed a number of people in the agency’s upper ranks whose experience was working for companies the DEP regulates."

The DEP's deputy secretary in charge of regulatory programs previously spent a decade as an engineer who specialized in getting clients their environmental permits. Another engineer who worked for developers heads up the division of water resources. A lawyer who helped power plants get their permits is now in charge of air pollution permitting. An engineering company lobbyist became a deputy director overseeing water and sewer facilities.

And the DEP's chief operating officer is a former chemical company and real estate executive from Brandon. He's not an employee, though. He's a consultant who's being paid $83 an hour — more than Vinyard makes on a per-hour basis — to advise Vinyard and his staff on ways to save money.

The DEP "was never great," said Mark Bardolph, a 27-year DEP veteran — and onetime whistle-blower — who was laid off from the Tallahassee office. "But now it's all a political farce."

"Layoffs, new hires reshape DEP".

Florida leads nation in death sentences

Courtesy of the "values" crowd: "A report by a national nonprofit group that studies the death penalty found that Florida remains among the most active states in using it and put more defendants on death row in 2012 than any other state."

The Death Penalty Information Center's report reveals that only nine states executed a prisoner this year, with Florida putting three to death. Texas, with 15, executed the most defendants, the report states.

However, the Sunshine State far exceeded other states in new death sentences: 21 defendants were sentenced to die in Florida through mid-December, the research says.

"That's more than twice Texas' figure for the same period. California, with 14 death sentences, was the only other state to reach double digits."
"The death penalty has been declining in use for about a decade and that continued in 2012," Executive Director Richard Dieter told the Orlando Sentinel. "There are now less states with the death penalty, as Connecticut abolished it this year."

Dieter said that the majority of new death-penalty cases in 2012 were in a small minority of states, with Florida, California, Texas and Pennsylvania accounting for 65 percent of new death sentences.

Often, he said, the inception of those cases is even more local, with prosecutors in individual jurisdictions contributing larger quantities of death-penalty cases. For example, several of Florida's new death cases in 2012 came from Duval County, the center's research shows.

"Report: Florida led nation in death sentences in 2012".

RNC flop

"Of 521 adults surveyed in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, 41 percent said the RNC had a positive impact on the region, while 43 percent said it made no difference. Ten percent felt it hurt the area. Braun Research of Princeton, N.J., conducted the poll, which has a margin of error of 4.3 percent, from Dec. 5-13." "Hosting GOP convention leaves mixed feelings, poll finds".

GOPers look to undo Jeb's 1999 pension reform

"Florida municipal leaders say they expect state lawmakers will soon give them authority to rein in police and fire pension funds, which they say have mushroomed into a burden on taxpayers and drain cash from other needed services."

But union officials and even the lawmaker serving as point-man on the issue acknowledge that tackling pensions will require hard-nosed negotiations in coming months.

State Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, chairman of a Senate panel poised to take up the issue, likened the legislature’s attempts to revamp pensions to Congress’ frustratingly contentious debates over Social Security and Medicare.

“It’s a complicated political issue with a lot of competing interest groups,” Ring said. “But there’s also plenty of blame to go around when you look at how we got here.” . . .

With 2013 a non-election year in Florida, the emotional rivalry that usually pits unions against Republicans may ease, he said.

And oh, the irony:
The target for cities is a 1999 law signed by then-Gov. Jeb Bush, who had been endorsed by the Florida PBA and firefighter unions in his campaign the previous fall against Democrat Buddy MacKay.

The measure requires that the growth since then of dollars flowing to cities from state taxes on property insurance premiums pay for additional benefits for police officers and firefighters. Under the law, city commissions have enacted a variety of pension sweeteners for police and firefighters, such as cost-of-living adjustments, lower retirement age, and increased “multipliers” for determining pensions based on years of service. . . .

Most involved in the pension fight say the rule is likely to be challenged in court — and may not survive. But its appearance is fortifying attempts to readdress the 1999 state law.

"Legislators, though, know they have to tread carefully with anything related to pensions."
While municipal pensions underwent slight changes two years ago, lawmakers at the time approved major changes to the Florida Retirement System. Over union opposition, they ordered the more than 600,000 teachers and other government workers in the fund to pay 3 percent of their paychecks to its financing.

Unions challenged the constitutionality of the 3 percent requirement and won a round in Leon County Circuit Court. The case is now before the Florida Supreme Court.

If lawmakers lose, analysts have said the state would owe $1.1 billion in back pay to public employees in the state retirement system. Without the employees’ contribution, the legislature also would have to find an additional $861.2 million to finance the pension fund next year.

Ring, the Margate Democrat, said such a ruling would likely halt any work on municipal pensions.

“A ruling like that would consume everything next year,” Ring said.

"Cities seek change in law giving police, firefighters extra pension benefits".

"It's bordering on an alternative reality"

The Sarasota Herald Tribune editors: "Here is what Gov. Rick Scott recently said, during an interview with CNN about Florida's elections:"

"We need to have bipartisan legislation that deals with three issues. One, the length of our ballot. Two, we've got to allow our supervisors more flexibility in the size of their polling locations and, three, the number of days we have. We've got to look back at the number of days of early voting we had."

We couldn't have said it better.

In fact, Herald-Tribune editorials focused on the 2012 general election have emphasized those same three points.

Democrats pounced on Scott's statement, which reversed his previous defense of Florida's election laws, which were substantially revised in 2011 and signed by the governor. "It's bordering on an alternative reality," said former state Sen. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach. "He and his colleagues in the Legislature created precisely what happened."

Indeed, they did.

"Three-step election reform".

Scott trying to figure a way to take credit for the Obama-economy

"Florida Economy Displayed Life in 2012 without Addition of New Casinos".

"Sandy Hook Six"

Bill Maxwell: "An irony of ironies is that our public schools — where most Americans send their children each morning — collectively serve as the scapegoat for many of our societal ills. Another irony is that our teachers, to whom we entrust the education and socialization of our children, are some of the nation's most maligned public servants."

Many conservative politicians, think tank opinion shapers and other influential people establish their careers attacking teachers, portraying them as a pack of unionized incompetents and freeloaders. Many ordinary citizens — many who had positive experiences in their public schools — have contracted the demonize-teachers fever.
"Not surprisingly, some of those attitudes prevailed in Newtown, Conn., where 20 children and six adults were shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary., a nonprofit news journal, reported that shortly before the Newtown massacre, school board members wrestled with cutting $1 million from the budget and were considering eliminating Sandy Hook's library and music programs."
According to, an irate reader wrote a scathing letter in the discussion section of the local newspaper to a teacher who opposed cutting the two programs.

I share a portion of the letter because its sentiments echo those of millions of other Americans:

"You, as a public sector employee, don't generate ANY revenue. Every penny of the budget of your public sector enterprise is TAKEN from producers. It's other people's money versus money your organization EARNED. Your salary is not market based. Your salary, nor your benefits, nor your job, is in jeopardy during contracting economic times. If I want a raise I have to prove I have contributed more to the bottom line, and then it doesn't matter unless the entire firm has grown the bottom line sufficiently to give me that raise. You are insulated from that reality. … How is that fair? Especially in light of the fact that you don't even generate the revenue that pays for your constantly rising salary?"
At Sandy Hook, instead of acting like moochers who sprint for the parking lot at 3 p.m., the six educators who died were trying to protect the 6- and 7-year-old students in their care from the killer's semiautomatic weapon. They were classroom teachers, a school psychologist, a behavioral therapist and a principal.

And they are heroes.

"Sandy Hook Six did what comes naturally".

All Aboard Florida

"If the All Aboard Florida train becomes a reality, the system linking Orlando International Airport with Miami would generate $145 million in fares annually by 2018, according to records filed by the company with the state. With one-way tickets estimated in the $100 range, that would mean the Coral Gables-based company is expecting to carry nearly 1.5 million passengers between Central and South Florida within three years of its inaugural trip in 2015." "Orlando-to-Miami train could generate $145M in fares".