Wednesday, January 23, 2013

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

Florida GOP donor indicted for campaign finance fraud

"Panhandle developer Jay Odom, the man whose desire for a new airplane hangar led to the downfall of former House Speaker Ray Sansom, has been indicted on federal campaign finance violations."

The two-count indictment accuses him of laundering more than $10,000 in personal funds in 2007 to reimburse individual contributions to an unnamed presidential candidate identified only as "Candidate A.'' The candidate appears to be Mike Huckabee, according to campaign finance data.
"Florida GOP donor Jay Odom indicted on campaign finance fraud charges".

Florida playing catch up on Obamacare

"Lawmakers this spring likely will decide whether the state wants to take part in running an exchange --- and, if so, how to do it. Under the federal health law, better known as Obamacare, each state will have such an exchange to act as a sort of online market where people will be able to shop for insurance coverage. Depending on income levels, many people will be eligible for subsidies to buy insurance through the exchange." "Lawmakers consider to put in place health insurance exchanges under Obamacare". See also "Wait on health insurance exchanges, experts tell committee" and "Should State Wait and See on Health Exchange?".

Oil drilling to Blackwater River State Forest?

"Last year legislation encouraging companies to explore and drill for oil on state lands died amid environmental opposition. This year, HB 431 would limit drilling to Blackwater River State Forest in the Panhandle." "Bill to encourage oil drilling filed again in House".

"Politicians broke the rules"

The Miami Herald editorial board writes that "in the Digital Domain case, "politicians broke the rules and rushed into a deal that ultimately will hurt Floridians." "Florida’s economic incentives work when Legislature follows rules".

Scott suddenly thinks teachers are grand

"With Florida expecting its first budget surplus in six years, Gov. Rick Scott wants to spend a chunk of it on higher pay for teachers — a proposal some see as more of Scott’s newfound support for public schools."

But skeptics see a governor hobbled by low popularity numbers in campaign mode, trying to prove he’s an ally of public education.

“Tell him to send the money, but no one is fooled by this,” said Karen Aronowitz, president of the 22,000-member United Teachers of Dade in Miami. “He’s just restoring money that was already stolen from teachers. He can campaign all he wants.”

Average teacher salaries in Florida are among the lowest in the country, at about $46,000 a year, lagging about $10,000 behind the national average.

While the money may be welcome, teachers might not be as quick to embrace Scott. Many teachers remain angry at him for cutting $1.3 billion to schools from his first budget, for signing a teacher-evaluation law that he now says must be reworked, for backing a merit pay system tied to students’ standardized test scores, and for requiring teachers to contribute 3 percent of their pay to their pensions — a requirement upheld last week by the Florida Supreme Court.

"Florida Gov. Rick Scott calls for teacher raises". See also "Gov. Scott to propose pay raises for Florida teachers", "Scott seeking pay raise for Florida's teachers" and "Gov. Scott to unveil teacher pay raise plan in Central Florida".


"The Florida Department of Environmental Protection holds possibly a final hearing Wednesday on rules that would provide for consistency among water management districts in water-use permitting. The Florida Conservation Coalition on Tuesday urged supporters to contact DEP expressing their concerns that the rules will not protect against future over-pumping." "Environmental groups still opposed to DEP water-use rules".

From the "values" crowd

"Freshman Rep. Ross Spano filed HB 401, increasing the corporate income tax exemption from $50,000 to $75,000, a major priority for Gov. Rick Scott." "Gov. Scott's business tax break filed in House".

Rick Scott's self-serving "political conversion"

The Sarasota Herald Tribune editorial board: "Gov. Rick Scott apparently has had an epiphany on the value of early voting. Hallelujah!"

Scott's revelation came some 18 months after he signed into law a 2011 bill that reduced the number of early-voting days in Florida from 14 to eight. It came after his office spent $500,000 defending the law in court, and after he refused to extend early voting during Florida's troubled November election.
"Scott's official endorsement of a return to what was the early-voting status quo before passage of the 2011 law appears to be a political conversion."
Democrats suggested that Thursday's announcement -- one day after a Public Policy Polling survey showed that only 33 percent of Floridians approve of Scott's performance as governor -- is self-serving. Scott is up for re-election in 2014.
"Scott's early-voting conversion".

Home sales and prices shoot up

"Home sales shot up 15.8 percent in December, and the median sale price rose 14.1 percent to $154,000." "Florida home and condo sales, prices shoot up in December".

Florida lags other big states in venture capital investment

"Despite the uptick in the fourth quarter, Florida ranked 18th in venture capital investment in 2012." "Venture capital picks up in 4th quarter, but Florida lags other big states".

Presentations before the Senate Gaming Committee

"Pari-mutuels and anti-gambling forces made presentations before the Senate Gaming Committee on Tuesday, with both agreeing that internet sweepstakes cafes should be removed from the legal "gray area" in which they operate." "Pari-mutuels present case to Senate gaming panel".

Tampa socialite speaks

"Jill and Scott Kelley on the Petraeus scandal and loss of privacy". See also "Tampa socialite addresses Petraeus scandal".

Balancing the budget on the backs of state employees

"Moody’s: Employee Pension Ruling is ‘Credit Positive’ for Florida".

GOPers discover "ethics"

"Political ethics experts say they are impressed by many of the items in the proposed bill that a Senate ethics committee unanimously approved Tuesday."

Touted as the most far-reaching ethics reform in 36 years, the bill would:

• Extend a ban that currently prohibits lawmakers from lobbying their colleagues in the legislative branch for two years after leaving office to include the executive branch (the governor's office and state agencies);

• Prohibit lawmakers and all elected officials in Florida from accepting a state administrative job after getting elected;

• Require lawmakers to abstain from voting on issues that benefit them or family members;

• And prohibit lawmakers from using political committees for personal expenses.

"Sweeping Senate ethics bill clears committee". See also "Ethics reform bill passes out of committee on unanimous vote", "New restrictions on Florida public officials passes first Senate committee hurdle" and "Senate Committee Unanimously Approves Major State Ethics Overhaul".

Florida Crystals is "holding the state hostage"

"Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet will be asked on Wednesday to agree to a no-bid contract to allow two major agriculture companies to farm on Everglades land for another 30 years, a deal that would include pouring tons of phosphorous-laden fertilizer onto the site the state is spending billions to clean-up."

The request from Florida Crystals and A. Duda and Sons is supported by the state Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Herschel Vinyard and South Florida Water Management District officials. But environmentalists aren’t happy.

“The State of Florida is putting 13,952 acres of state land off the table as a possible solution to future problems,’’ said Charles Lee, director of advocacy for Audubon of Florida at a meeting of the Cabinet aides last week. “It is passing up an opportunity.”

Environmentalists have agreed to allow Florida Crystals to continue sugar farming 7,862 acres in the Everglades Agricultural Area because they believe the company is “holding the state hostage” and won’t allow a crucial next step to go forward in the Everglades clean-up plan if they don’t get the deal.

But environmentalists strongly oppose the Duda deal, which would allow that company to continue to grow vegetables farm 6,089 acres of land and pump 339 tons of fertilizer each year into the Everglades, exacerbating the clean-up problem the state is spending billions to fix. They want the state to require Duda to reduce its phosphorous run-off in exchange for the favorable no-bid contract.

"Growers want state to give them 30-year no-bid access to Everglades land". See also "In deals for Everglades restoration, state weighs no-bid leases to growers". Meanwhile, The Palm Beach Post's Randy Schultz writes that "the state must demand that Florida Crystals not hold the state’s own land hostage and demand that Duda clean up the mess it is making on state land." "Editorial: Sweeten land deals for state, not farm giants".

5 things to know

"5 things to know in Florida for Jan. 23".

"Greed-based health insurance increases"

The Palm Beach Post editorial board: "Though medical costs have slowed as fewer Americans seek health care because of the economy, insurance premiums in some states are rising as high as 25 percent. Critics blame the Affordable Care Act, even though key provisions don’t take effect until next year. In fact, Obamacare is only partly responsible. Insurers get most blame as they seek maximum profits before the health care landscape drastically changes." "Let state deny greed-based health insurance increases".

"Florida's springs are in trouble"

"Florida's springs are in trouble. Most have lost flow. Some have reversed themselves. Many of them are suffering from rampant pollution that has spurred the growth of toxic algae. There are signs that saltwater is intruding. What will it take to fix all this? According to state water officials, $122.4 million — just to start." "Saving springs won't be cheap".