Sunday, December 23, 2012

Please consider giving a newspaper subscription as a holiday gift. Our digest of, and commentary on today's Florida political news and punditry follows.

"But by some measures, Florida is in worse shape now than when Scott took office"

"It was a simple campaign mantra and the yardstick by which Gov. Rick Scott will be judged when he goes back before voters: 700,000 jobs in seven years."

The economy is recovering like gangbusters in some of the Sunshine State's traditional boom sectors such as tourism. But by some measures, Florida is in worse shape now than when Scott took office.

Floridians' per-capita income has been flat since Scott was inaugurated. Though the unemployment rate has dropped, more than half of the decline is attributed to people leaving the work force. Two key job sectors — construction and government employment — actually employ fewer people today than in 2010.

And though Florida's tourism and professional services sectors are humming, others such as retail, education and transportation are projected to produce fewer jobs than economists had predicted two years ago. Indeed, projections that Florida would create 632,100 jobs by 2015 have been cut back to 454,900 jobs.

But "there's another, bigger problem in trying to assess Scott's progress:"
Economists and policymakers alike say it's pointless to try to determine how many jobs the governor should be given credit for creating. That's because Florida's economy is powerfully shaped by national and international trends that no governor has power to influence. . . .

Florida's unemployment rate was 11.4 percent in January 2011 — and was down to 8.1 percent in November. In raw numbers, that translates to about 170,000 more people with jobs. An additional 760,000 people were unemployed and looking for work in a labor force of 9.3 million.

But state economists reported recently that 57 percent of this year's drop in the unemployment rate was because fewer workers are seeking jobs — and that the state was still 703,000 jobs below its pre-recession peak. Simply put, while new jobs are being created, an even greater number of workers have left the labor force.

What's more, given Florida's population growth, economists said it would take 1 million new jobs to get back to the same pre-recession level of employment.

Still, the governor's mantra heading into the second half of his term is that Florida's economic picture has dramatically improved.

"Democrats argue the governor has been claiming credit for job creation while simultaneously damaging it with massive spending cuts that led to layoffs of teachers, state employees and workers at companies such as road builders that rely on government contracts."
Donna Arduin, the former Jeb Bush budget director who developed Scott's "7-7-7" plan, said it was impossible to evaluate his performance based solely on Florida's job figures, given that much of the plan was not implemented.

"You really need to look at how the state has improved relative to other states," she said. And if lawmakers decided to make major tax cuts during the next two years, "that would make a big difference."

Others aren't so sure.

"The notion of simply cutting taxes and reducing regulatory burden in a state with a moderate level of regulation and extremely low taxes doesn't make much of an impact," said Orlando economist Hank Fishkind, whose firm works for land developers.

But what experts say is indisputable is that [Florida's] economy has taken longer to recover than anyone predicted in 2010.

Personal-income growth, for instance, is weaker than before Scott took office in 2011. Per-capita income was projected to grow to $38,853, an increase of $3,233. Instead, it's currently on pace to grow $2,200 by mid-2014.

"Is Scott's '7-7-7' jobs plan working? Record is mixed". See also "Scott touts drop in jobless rate", "Unemployment down in Florida, Palm Beach County; 24,500 jobs created statewide in November" and "Holidays Arrive with Florida's Lowest Jobless Mark in Four Years".

Gun nut takes "rhetorical aim" at former friend, Chain Gang Charlie

"As he postures to run against Republican Gov. Rick Scott, newly minted Democrat and former Gov. Charlie Crist no longer wholeheartedly backs the NRA's agenda. So Crist, the formerly staunch opponent of gun control, will no longer get the backing of the NRA. Asked about Crist's gun flip-flop, the NRA's Florida lobbyist and chief Marion Hammer took rhetorical aim." "Crist and the NRA". See also "NRA, RPOF Open Up on Gun Control Charlie Crist".

"Unemployment-claim denials have soared"

"Unemployment-claim denials have soared since [Florida's 2011] law took effect, even as the number of claims has fallen. Since the third quarter of 2011, when the measure was implemented, denials have jumped by more than 140 percent, according to federal labor data."

In a 15-month period ending in September, the state rejected 279,000 claims — more than twice the number it denied in the 15 months before the changes became law.

The average number of rejections rose to almost 56,000 per quarter, up from about 23,000. Total rejections during the past 15 months is more than all the denials issued in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

The denials have piled up even as total claims fell. Average weekly claims from first-time filers have dropped almost 34 percent during the past two years. Continuing claims shrank by 43 percent.

The data reflect denials issued under the state unemployment program, which provides the first 23 weeks of benefits to laid-off Floridians. It includes claims rejected on largely procedural grounds, not those denied because a worker quit or was dismissed for misconduct.

"Florida has long had one of the least-generous unemployment programs in the nation. Its maximum benefit is $275 a week, a figure that hasn't changed in more than a decade. Its average benefit is $231 a week, the 48th-lowest in the U.S."
But worker advocates say the requirements delay and sometimes block people from getting benefits they have earned.

Claimants may no longer file by phone and must complete a 45-question online skills assessment before receiving payments and enter detailed evidence of their work-search activities in the state's online system.

Though each requirement sounds benign, workers say the state's instructions are unclear and the online filing system is temperamental. With little phone help available, many claimants find themselves lost if they encounter a problem or make a mistake.

"'This has been a nightmare,' said Arthur Rosenberg, an attorney with Florida Legal Services in Miami. 'Basically, a maze of obstacles has been put in place.'" "Jobless-benefit denials soar under new Florida law".

"Not a good deal for Florida"

The Tampa Bay Times editorial board remind us that "the state is spending $4 billion on tax breaks and other incentives for businesses."

Gov. Rick Scott is a strong supporter of these kinds of enticements, but the game is heavily tilted toward the companies that pit one state against another, and it doesn't always work. A reassessment of Florida's real priorities is in order. . . .

There is nothing conservative about such government largesse going to private industry. It gives a competitive advantage to certain companies, typically large corporations with political clout, distorting the marketplace. And it puts government in the position of picking corporate winners and losers, a role much maligned by Republicans when it was the Obama administration providing loan guarantees to the solar panel maker Solyndra.

In Florida, companies like Embraer Aircraft Holding and the Boeing Co. can win deals worth tens of millions of dollars that are hashed out in a process shrouded in secrecy due to exemptions from public records law. Whether the promised jobs materialize is another matter. A Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald analysis late last year was not encouraging. Since 1995, it found that only one-third of the jobs promised by companies that signed contracts with state officials for incentives had been filled. The program starves government coffers and shifts the remaining tax burden to individuals and small businesses. Overall, that's not a good deal for Florida or the nation.

"Florida can ill afford corporate welfare".

Barreiro voted to award a hefty contract to friend

"Miami-Dade County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro says he did not violate ethics guidelines when he voted to award a hefty contract to friend’s a construction firm." "Questions raised about Miami-Dade Commissioner Barreiro’s votes for friend’s firm".

Florida's NRA and its craven political supporters

Randy Schultz: "Florida embodies the nation’s devolution to a gun culture."

The NRA’s argument is: If the government starts taking one gun, the government will take all the guns. If the government starts taking guns, the government will take other freedoms. To me, essential freedoms have been those that the government takes away from you in prison. To the NRA, freedom is the ability to own three assault rifles, four Glocks and unlimited ammo.

And, in Florida, to be able to conceal your firearm. And take it to work. And to use it in self-defense even if you provoke the confrontation. And, perhaps next on the agenda, to wear it openly. Statewide. In 2011, the NRA got the legislature to again override local firearm ordinances. None of this helps draw tourists or companies.

A quarter-century ago, the NRA in Florida was resisting what it considered to be infringements on “gun rights.” Having put down that movement, the NRA began pushing for expansion of “gun rights,” beyond all reason based on the assumption that a more armed populace is a safer populace and that untrained civilians can handle firearms like trained law enforcements officers.

"Florida has been intimidated by the NRA long enough".

Lie down with dogs

The Orlando Sentinel editors are disappointed that their Republican friends "in charge in Tallahassee have dismantled limits on development and deprived Florida Forever and other environmental initiatives of funding, all in the name of spurring economic growth." "State leaders must act to save ailing springs, rivers". Related: "The Everglades: Where the wildflowers are".

So much for the Laffer Curve

"In just two years, South Florida households have slashed their spending by nearly $10,000, cutting back on everything -- from dining out to buying clothes and even healthcare." "Spending plummets in South Florida after Great Recession".

Nelson takes on ALEC

John Lantigua: "In his testimony before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee last week, Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson connected the recent frustration and chaos at polling places in Florida and other states to the efforts of one little-known organization: the American Legislative Exchange Council – also known as ALEC."

Nelson said a reduction in Florida early voting days from 14 to eight and new rules that forced people who had changed counties to file time-consuming provisional ballots provoked long lines at the polls that afflicted many voters, especially in urban areas where some waited up to seven hours to vote.

Those changes were adopted by the GOP-controlled legislature as part of the 2011 bill HB 1355, which Republicans said was aimed at fighting voter fraud and saving money. Wednesday, Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who signed the bill into law, changed course and suggested Florida should undo part of it and again expand early voting days to head off problems.

Florida was one of at least 14 states that altered their voting laws leading up to the 2012 general election.

“Let’s not forget that this effort in Florida took place against the backdrop of a broader Republican-led campaign to restrict voting,” Nelson testified Wednesday. “Leading up to the 2012 election, at least a dozen states controlled by Republicans approved new obstacles to voting as part of a campaign linked to the American Legislative Exchange Council.”

ALEC is an organization four decades old that brings together representatives of large U.S. corporations and more than 2,000 conservative legislators from around the U.S. Most of its multi-million dollar funding comes from its corporate members. The group arranges for corporate and legislative members to meet behind closed doors to exchange ideas and writes model legislation that lawmakers can promote in their states.

A list of who in Florida belongs to ALEC was not made available by the Florida chairman of the group, State Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City, despite repeated requests by The Palm Beach Post. The national organization also did not respond to the same request.

"GOP group accused of instigating election changes, but early-voting ties unclear".

Locals block developers

Naja and Arnaud Girard, who own a Key West marine assistance and boat salvage company, "started poking around Washington, D.C., archives and online databases, trying to find a way to keep at least some of [Key West's Wisteria Island] island undeveloped. They hit the jackpot: documents that suggested the Bernsteins could not own the island because the Navy had not given up title to Wisteria until 1982. And, when it did, it transferred it to the U.S. Department of the Interior, not the state of Florida." "A tussle for a wild isle in the Florida Keys".

Scott embodies Mack's entitlement, West's tea party credentials, and Rivera's ethical inferiority rolled into one

Stephen Goldstein: "In Florida, in November, 'the people' rose up and began to take back the state for representative government. But will the momentum to wallop big money and the tea party/GOP continue? Or will the good guys fizzle, as they too often do, and let the bad guys recoup their losses and then some in 2014?"

The liberal gains this year exceeded anything I could have hoped for. In spite of Gov. Scott's and the Legislature's voter suppression efforts, Floridians came out in droves, stood in lines for hours, and gave President Obama a decisive victory over Mitt Romney. All the jabber about Jewish voters' abandoning the president because he allegedly isn't a friend of Israel proved to be FOX-induced hysteria.

In addition, the power of "the people" neutralized all the money spent by outside groups to unseat three state Supreme Court justices so Rick Scott could pack the court with right-wing radicals and defeated draconian amendments to the state constitution. Floridians sent an undeniable message to conspiring, carpetbagger, political fat cats: Spend your money here to soak in the sun, but don't mess with our three co-equal branches of government.

But far-and-away my super-colossal cause for celebration was the November defeat Florida voters handed to a political trifecta who never should have been elected to Congress or any office.

First, Connie Mack, the son of a former congressman and two-term U.S. senator from Florida, rode into Washington on his family name. He gave up his career as special events coordinator for Hooters and his seat in the Florida House of Representatives, then moved from Fort Lauderdale to Fort Myers to run for a sure-thing: the U.S. House seat his father once held.

Elected in 2005, he never ran a business and always depended upon a government paycheck. But that didn't curb his chutzpah from rabidly spouting free-market, entrepreneurial principles and deriding "the entitlement" society that provides for others who didn't chose their genes as wisely as he did. He would still be parked in Congress for life had he not overreached by running against U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

Now, let him fend for himself, release his rugged individualism, and seize all the economic opportunity he can through his family connections — he'll need them now more than ever.

Second, voters sent Rep. Allen West packing, let us hope for good — although with bravado that leaves one speechless, he compared himself to Abraham Lincoln, who lost an election, then won. . . .

Third, voters in Miami-Dade finally elected Joe Garcia over ethically-challenged David Rivera, which, at a pathetic level, says more about their defense of the indefensible than his willingness to game the system. At least he's gone.

Good riddance to the bad karma of Mack, West, and Rivera.

"But when the clock strikes midnight on December 31, what will the future hold? So much to do, so little time. Politically speaking, it is already Nov. 4, 2014, Election Day. Florida is at a tipping point. The next big test is whether 'the people' are committed and able to self-correct our disastrous political present and fire Rick Scott."
Scott embodies Connie Mack's sense of personal entitlement, Allen West's tea party credentials, and David Rivera's ethical inferiority rolled into one, along with his unique brand of cluelessness that has allowed him to be in office for almost two years and still not "get it."

I'm counting on Nov. 4, 2014 being the end of Scott's beginning and the beginning of a life scott-free for the rest of us.

"Floridians must reclaim government".

"What’s an inexperienced, political novice of a governor to do?"

The Palm Beach Post editorial board writes today that "Scott’s latest 180-degree shift also may be his most stunning: After signing a bill last year that shortened the number of days of early voting, the governor last week announced that Florida needs to … extend early voting."

What a difference an election makes. President Barack Obama’s victory, in which he carried Florida, underscored demographic shifts expected to favor Democrats for years. That has led Republicans at every level to ruminate on how to remain relevant. For Gov. Scott, the calculus is complicated further by low polling numbers — even a majority of Republicans don’t want him to run — and former Gov. Charlie Crist’s recent move to the Democrats, raising the possibility that he could mount a serious challenge to Gov. Scott in 2014.

What’s an inexperienced, political novice of a governor to do?

The answer, evidently, is to renounce controversial stands and make an abrupt dash to the political center, the same reflexive thinking evident in Gov. Scott’s new embrace of public education and his “tour” this year of the state’s public schools. After the election, Gov. Scott’s secretary of state went on a listening tour of his own to meet with county elections supervisors. Halfway through the governor’s term, the Scott administration finally is trying to understand how Florida works. . . .

It is in keeping with the actions of a man who came into office with little notion of how state government operates, and for whom each day promises some new policy revelation on the taxpayers’ dime.

"Scott arrives late to the early-voting party".

Grubbing for Wingnuts

Adam C. Smith: "Yes, it's too early to be looking at the 2016 presidential election, but it's hard to ignore that two prominent Floridians top the list of potential Republican nominees: former Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio."

Rubio, 41, is the early favorite among Republican voters, polls show, and he is doing nothing to bat down speculation about running. Among the big decisions he'll face: Does he really want to leave the Senate after one term, because he could not run for two offices at the same time?

Bush, 59, hasn't been schmoozing activists in Iowa already, as Rubio has, but has drawn a front-page New York Times story about the potential of him running for the office his father and brother held. Among the factors he'll face: Is the Bush name still radioactive? Would his wife support it? Could it harm his sons' political ambitions?

"Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio in 2016? Some surprising insights".

Scott's had with "independent, critical thinkers"

"For Scott, college was a means to an end." "Scott's drive to cut waste, promote STEM in higher ed shaped by his own college experience".

As the Miami Herald's Fabiola Santiago recently explained, Rick Scott will "do whatever it takes to make sure Florida’s future generations of college graduates do not get the kind of well-rounded education that helps them become independent, critical thinkers, engaged citizens. You know, people who vote with a social conscience."

Yee haw!

"With many parents still concerned after last week's mass shooting in Connecticut, state Rep. Mike Fasano hopes to ease their fears by hiring school resource officers for every Florida elementary school. Fasano sent Gov. Rick Scott a letter Friday asking him to include the measure in his proposed state budget." "Fasano: Schools need officers".

Scott wants to deny longshoremen the right to strike

"Rick Scott Urges President Obama to Wade into East Coast Port Negotiations".