Sunday, February 03, 2013

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

Florida "GOP faces enormous challenges, short term and long term"

Adam C. Smith: "Every two years, campaign professionals, political scientists and journalists gather in Gainesville for a valuable conference by the University of Florida's graduate program in political campaigning. The main takeaway from Friday's conference? The GOP faces enormous challenges, short term and long term, to retain its viability."

Between the Democrats' overwhelming advantage among voters under 30 and minorities, in social media and grass roots campaigning, experts agreed, the Republican Party has to work on not just the nuts and bolts of campaigning but the underlying message that's appealing to a shrinking segment of the electorate.

"Demographics are going to bury them if they don't change policies. It's not enough just to build a better mousetrap,'' said Seth McKee, a political scientist at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

"Looking ahead to the 2014 governor's race, though, Democratic pollster Kevin Akins said Democrats can't take anything for granted. "
And as much as Democrats may want to harp on Gov. Rick Scott's role in leading a health care company that paid the largest Medicare fraud fine in American history, Akins said that message won't work.

"He's not a criminal and a crook. He's become an incumbent politician," Akins said. "You beat him when you talk about what his policies mean to the middle class."

The last poll by Akins' firm, Hamilton Campaigns, six weeks ago showed 42 percent of Florida voters approving of Scott's job performance and 56 percent disapproving.

Other polls have found Scott's approval ratings as low as in the 20 to 30 percent range, but Hamilton Campaigns has never found them so low.

"GOP's challenges in Florida".

"Extraordinary tax break for out-of-state companies"

The Tampa Bay Times editors: "The question for Gov. Rick Scott and Florida legislators: When will they stop supporting an extraordinary tax break for out-of-state companies that undercuts Florida jobs?" "Remedy sales tax unfairness".

Never mind

"Construction fund for USF, other Florida universities hits a wall".

Florida GOPers shower Scott with campaign cash

"While releasing a proposed education and business friendly $74.2 billion budget -- derided by critics as smacking of “pre-election year gimmicks” -- the group backing Gov. Rick Scott’s 2014 re-election has posted that $1.27 million was added to its coffers in January." "Scott’s Re-election Coffers Grow $1.27 Million in January".

Flabaggers in a dither

"As Scott seeks a second term, he's embracing education as never before and seeking $4 billion more in spending — and some Republicans don't like what they see."

"It's perplexing," said Henry Kelley of the Tea Party Network in Fort Walton Beach. "To say we're going to give $480 million more to teachers from someone who ran on accountability and changing things? Three years later, and it's 'Let's make government bigger in Tallahassee.'"
"It's about teachers, not tea party". The Sunshine State News puts it this way: "Rick Scott Takes Bold Risk With His Swing-to-the-Left Budget". "Swing-to-the-left"? Really? However, the country clubbers on the Tampa Bay Tribune editorial board think "Scott offers solid budget blueprint".

Legislative employee salaries online

"Floridians will finally get a chance on their own to find out how much people are getting paid to work for the Florida Legislature. The two Republican leaders of the Florida House and Florida Senate quietly this week added links on legislative websites that allow people to look up legislative employee salaries. The two chambers are also posting copies of contracts." "Salaries, contracts are posted online".

"It doesn't take a hunting dog to sniff out a smell this bad"

The Tampa Bay Times editors wonders where "were the legislative leaders who should have been looking out for taxpayer interests? And why were there no eyebrows raised or investigations launched when Ambler was later given a seat on Digital Domain's board for an annual $20,000 retainer plus $2,000 per meeting attended, or when his son, Jason Ambler, was reportedly given a job there? It doesn't take a hunting dog to sniff out a smell this bad." "Boondoggle sinks $20M in Florida funds"

"Help for homeowners"

Joe Henderson: "Bondi finds help for homeowners treading water".

Pension haters close shop

After a slew of reports attacking defined benefit pensions - which surely would have repelled its namesake - failed to generate adequate funding from the right, "Financial woes force think tank named after Gov. LeRoy Collins to close".

Hiaasen: Florida is "a state of perpetual sleaze"

Carl Hiaasen: "Even in a state of perpetual sleaze, some dirty deals stink more than others. The most recent is a weird little law approved last spring that allows the South Florida Water Management District to enter the commercial billboard business." "Call this a sign of our sleazy times".

Florida state workers among the lowest paid in the country

The Tallahassee Democrat editorial board "Scott’s budget offers is a nod to the fact that state workers in Florida are among the lowest paid in the country, and that, even at that, they are seeing their paychecks reduced as they pay more into their retirement funds and pay more for benefits such as health insurance."

But it also shows that, for the seventh straight year, state employees will not see their base salaries increase. And, the state workforce once again will be reduced under the governor’s plan. He’s calling for the elimination of 3,600 positions, of which about 1,200 are now vacant.
"Paying it forward".

Weekly Roundup

"Weekly Roundup: The Budget of Milk and Honey".

Late to the game

John Kennedy writes that, "after years of saying 'no,' Scott released a state budget proposal that has left many advocates hearing, if not a resounding “yes,” at least a “maybe” from the state’s chief executive. Proponents of the Affordable Care Act say Scott’s approach is giving them renewed hope that Florida will fully embrace the plan while also going ahead and expanding Medicaid coverage in a state that is home to one of the nation’s largest uninsured populations." "Scott’s plan raises hopes for health law changes".

Entrepreneurs in action

"Universal has been able to get the credits by tapping a 16-year-old state-incentive program designed to encourage businesses to expand in or move into crime-plagued communities across Florida. The program offers as much as $1,500 in tax credits for every full-time job a business creates in a zone identified as an urban high-crime area. Universal, which borders Orlando's affluent Dr. Phillips neighborhood, has received credits for 1,561 jobs since August 2010, including cooks, security guards and boat drivers, among many others." "Universal gets $2.3M in tax breaks for creating jobs in 'high-crime' area".

"Scott's hot potato"

The Sun Sentinel editors write that "if Gov. Rick Scott is serious about his call to keep Florida an affordable place to live, he should fight to keep the state-owned company's current cap on rate hikes — no more than 10 percent per year. For if the Republican governor allows insurance premiums to spike, he will hurt our housing market, our battered economy and his re-election chances." "Gov. Scott's hot potato: Citizens Insurance".

Charter madness

Pembroke Pines "is proposing a bill that would require local school districts to share their property tax dollars with municipally-run charter schools." "Pines charters, School Board in tug-of-war for tax money".

"Wrong, maybe. Offensive, certainly. But not unlawful"

Fred Grimm: "It doesn’t much matter if developers employ lowdown tactics; if they wheedle, cajole, bully, induce, mislead, secretly manipulate, pay off — whatever it takes to wrest approval for controversial projects."

Unseemly, it turns out, is not the same as illegal.
"After a month-long trial a Miami-Dade jury last week went through a verdict form with a long checklist enumeratoring the ways the Related Group might have inveigled approval for a bayfront condo project next to Mercy Hospital in Coconut Grove."
The jury voted yes — 28 times. Jurors found that Related held backroom meetings with former Mayor Manny Diaz and various Miami city commissioners trying to elicit zoning variances for the three luxury condo towers. They found that the builder had hired well-connected lobbyists to work the city commission. That Related hired another set of lobbyists to make sure the county commission wouldn’t interfere.

Wrong, maybe. Offensive, certainly. But not unlawful. If Judge Trawick had ruled otherwise, he would have cast doubt on the very template Florida developers employ to get controversial developments approved. Related, after all, was only doing what developers do.

They hire whole platoons of power boy lobbyists. They find jobs for close friends and relatives of city and county commissioners. They employ key city and county bureaucrats to run their projects. They and all their flunkies make maximum campaign contributions. Then they send generous contributions to commissioners’ favorite charities. They put former city and county commissioners on their payrolls.

"Turns out, unseemly practices aren’t illegal for developers".

Pension haters get to work in Tally

"Local governments with underfunded pension plans would not be able to look to the state for a bail out, under a bill filed this week that is expected to become a template for legislation in the months ahead. Meanwhile, House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz reiterated that it’s time for the state to change its own retirement system by having state employees shift from a traditional pension plan to a defined contribution plan, such as a 401(k), that has become more prevalent in the private sector." "State, local government pension systems may face changes this year".

"Scott has reversed himself on almost everything but his wardrobe"

The Palm Beach Post editorial board: "In trying to remake his image for re-election, Gov. Rick Scott has reversed himself on almost everything but his wardrobe. Each reversal, however, has been aimed at certain voters. The governor’s biggest potential reversal is thus unlikely, because it would help non-voters." "Florida should restore ex-felons’ rights when they complete their sentence".

"'Textgate' — for dummies"

Scott Maxwell: "Texting — and 'textgate' — for dummies".

Wingnuts whine about "a wolf in wolf's clothing"

"Here's a sampling of criticism [of Rubio] from the right:"

Ann Coulter: "For decades, Democrats have been working feverishly to create more Democrats by encouraging divorce (another Democratic voter!), illegitimacy (another Democratic voter!) and Third World immigration (another Democratic voter!).

"Strangely, some Republicans seem determined to create more Democratic voters, too. That will be the primary result of Sen. Marco Rubio's amnesty plan. … Rubio's bill is nothing but amnesty. It isn't even 'amnesty thinly disguised as border enforcement.' This is a wolf in wolf's clothing."

"Rubio blasted from the right".

"A lesson in how and why politicians bend with the wind"

"Two Republican U.S. senators from Florida have stood at the center of one of the most contentious national debates in recent history — immigration reform."

One, former Sen. Mel Martinez, consistently favored a comprehensive reform bill with a path to earned citizenship for illegal residents.

The result: He was castigated by his party as an advocate of "amnesty" and is now out of politics.

The other, Sen. Marco Rubio, has flipped 180 degrees on the issue — at least according to critics. Formerly a staunch opponent, he's the leading GOP advocate of a pathway to legal status today.

The result: He's now a front-runner for the GOP nomination for president in 2016.

"Their fates are a lesson in how and why politicians bend with the wind."
The two Floridians' careers are intertwined, starting with their shared roots in the GOP-leaning Cuban immigrant community. That forced both into the debate.

But Rubio had another constituency: He came to prominence as a tea party champion. That meant he had to thread the needle on immigration, appealing both to immigrant advocates and hard-line conservatives.

He has danced between the two sides on issues ranging from official English to legalization for "Dreamers" — children brought here illegally by their parents.

"Immigration issue took Rubio, Martinez on different paths".

Scott gives polluters green light to foul waterways

The Tampa Bay Times editors argue that it "is senseless to give the major polluters a green light to foul the very waterways that taxpayers are spending dearly to fix."

But that is what Gov. Rick Scott and the state's Republican leadership continue to do in a twisted cycle of taking with one hand and giving with the other. A governor who has just recommitted to spending money on Everglades restoration projects should recognize the inconsistency.
"About two weeks ago, the governor and Cabinet unanimously approved the request of two agriculture companies to continue farming state land under terms that would pump even more pollution into the Everglades cleanup area. The state is also beginning to tally the costs of ignoring the degradation of Florida's springs, with cleanup costs estimated at $122 million (just to start). That hefty price is a natural result in a state that has weakened clean-water efforts for years. And it reflects the damage-now, pay-later environmental policy that harms the state's economy."
Scott and the Legislature need to bring environmental policy and budgeting much more in line so the two work in concert and not at odds with each other.
"Florida's twisted waterways policy".