Sunday, March 24, 2013

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

Florida Legislature shills for Koch Brothers

John Kennedy: "The Florida House’s push to overhaul the $136 billion pension plan used by more than 600,000 teachers, police, firefighters and other government workers is headed toward tense, end-of-session deal-making with the Senate."

But roots of the controversial reform effort are deep and stretch far from Florida’s Capitol.

Critics trace the campaign back three years — to New Orleans, where dozens of Florida lawmakers gathered for a conference hosted by a controversial advocacy group that helps corporations and conservative interest groups write bills for legislatures across the country.

Jonathan Williams, a policy director for the American Legislative Exchange Council, told The Palm Beach Post that the organization’s three days of meetings in August 2011 helped affirm the need among many legislators to take a hard look at public employee benefits. . . .

ALEC has advocated changes in environmental and labor laws, voter ID measures and pro-gun laws such as the “stand your ground” legislation, which came into focus following Travon Martin’s shooting death last year in Central Florida.

"In Florida, where free-market conservative Republicans control every phase of state government, ALEC’s model bills have proved a touchstone for many policies."
Almost 50 Florida lawmakers – all Republicans – registered for ALEC’s 2011 conference, including Weatherford and Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, sponsor of the House’s proposed change and a member of an ALEC task force that examined public pensions.
"Fla. House push to overhaul pensions has national roots".

Background: "Hundreds of ALEC’s model bills and resolutions bear traces of Koch DNA: raw ideas that were once at the fringes but that have been carved into 'mainstream' policy through the wealth and will of Charles and David Koch. Of all the Kochs’ investments in right-wing organizations, ALEC provides some of the best returns: it gives the Kochs a way to make their brand of free-market fundamentalism legally binding." "ALEC Exposed: The Koch Connection".

Negron gets a taste of FlaGOP wingnuttery

The Palm Beach Post editors: "One week after a Senate committee rejected an Affordable Care Act provision to extend Medicaid to 1 million uninsured Floridians, Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart offered an alternative to provide those individuals with private insurance using the same pot of federal money. Nearly three weeks after a House committee rejected Medicaid expansion, that chamber has offered nothing but criticism of Sen. Negron’s proposal for using federal money." "Editorial: Adopt Florida Senate’s plan to cover the state’s uninsured".

The great brown hope ain't so great

"Sorry, Washington superstar, Time magazine coverboy and hip-hop maven, she’s never heard of you."

“Marco Rubio?” said 28-year-old Memorie Annese, taking her daughters to a public library in this city tucked amid soaring mountains and the Rio Grande.

But the Mexican-American, school bus-driving union member who voted for President Barack Obama didn’t hesitate when asked if she would consider a Republican candidate with immigrant roots.

“Heck yeah — if he’s good,” Annese said. “There’s a connection.”

"New Mexico and Texas underscore the GOP’s challenges."
Obama won New Mexico for the second time in 2012 and left it looking less like the tossup of past elections, including 2004 when George W. Bush won 40 percent of the Hispanic vote. Republicans will be playing catch-up there in 2016.

In Texas, the GOP will be trying not to lose more ground. The classic Republican “red” state is slowly turning into a battleground, though Hispanic participation in elections still lags. By the 2016 election there will be about 905,000 new Hispanic voters versus fewer than 200,000 new white voters, according to a study by the Center for American Progress. . . .

A Quinnipiac poll last week added fuel. A hypothetical 2016 matchup between Rubio and Hillary Clinton showed her winning handily in Florida and capturing 57 percent of the Hispanic vote to Rubio’s 35 percent.

"Rubio ran for the Senate in 2010 as a tough-on-immigration candidate."
He even opposed the Dream Act, which would help immigrants brought to the United States as children achieve citizenship.

Now Rubio is pushing comprehensive reform that would provide a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented residents, and a faster pace for so-called Dreamers.

“The shift [read "flip-flop"] is crucial for Rubio to have any ability to attract votes. There’s no question it was a political consideration,” said Matt Barreto, director of Latino Decisions, an independent polling firm. “He would have had a huge problem if he had not come on board. He would have been attacked as someone who doesn’t support the community.”

"Marco Rubio brings GOP hope with Hispanics but challenges remain".

House cowers in the face of "documented atrocities"

The Tampa Bay Times editorial Board: "The Florida House's proposed solution for ensuring children are not abused in religious group homes and fly-by-night boarding schools is not as ambitious as it could have been given the documented atrocities." "A better eye on children's safety".

"Medical marijuana push"

"Medical marijuana push: South Florida takes center stage".

"Profiting from what amounts to legal usury"

The Tampa Bay Times editors: "Payday loans are short-term loans with triple-digit interest rates made to cash-strapped borrowers regardless of their ability to repay. It's a debt trap now practiced by a handful of big banks, including Wells Fargo Bank, U.S. Bank, Regions Bank, Bank of Oklahoma, Guaranty Bank and Fifth Third Bank. These institutions have decided that profits from what amounts to legal usury is worth the cost to their reputation. But federal regulators don't have to agree. Both they and Florida lawmakers need to step in to rein in all the state's payday lenders."

Churning loans is considered the crux of the business model. In Florida, over 60 percent of payday revenue is generated from borrowers who take out 12 or more loans per year, according to a 2010 report prepared for the state Office of Financial Regulation.
"Rein in legalized loan sharking".

"Scott takes credit for economic boost"

"Florida Gov. Rick Scott told Pinellas County Republicans at a fundraising dinner Saturday his administration has improved the state's economy."

However, the public employee haters in the crowd

seemed to grumble when he spoke about the teacher pay raise, which also has generated objections in the Legislature.
"Scott takes credit for economic boost in speech to Pinellas Republicans".

"The 'Things Used To Be Worse' platform"

Randy Schultz: "Gov. Rick Scott crowed last week that Florida’s unemployment rate is below the national average. Like Barack Obama, he will run for reelection on the Things Used To Be Worse platform. States compete for jobs. Gov. Scott says he has made Florida more competitive. Part of his strategy is financial incentives. In fact, giving companies money might be the least effective strategy." "Is money the best way for Florida to attract jobs?".

Sharp exchange between Scott and Weatherford

Zac Anderson: "Political arguments over money usually stem from an absence of it, especially in a state Capitol that has struggled through deep budget cuts in recent years. So a sharp exchange last week between Gov. Rick Scott and House Speaker Will Weatherford was notable. Enjoying a budget surplus for the first time since the Great Recession started, Scott and Weatherford have the luxury of arguing over how much to spend on teacher raises." "Brighter budget picture changes tone of Tallahassee money battles".

Cuts will affect "Florida’s most vulnerable residents"

"Although state lawmakers have more cash for the state budget this year, some programs could still come up short in the annual scrimmage over funding. And the outcome may make a difference in the lives of some of Florida’s most vulnerable residents." "Scott budget proposes cuts to epilepsy services".

Florida cancer patients treated with pills

The Tampa Trib editors: "Under current law, Florida cancer patients who are treated with pills instead of intravenous chemotherapy are likely to get hit with a hefty out-of-pocket bill. The situation is discriminatory and hampers effective treatment." "Fix loophole in cancer coverage".

"Stop talking and build"

Daniel Ruth: "Tampa Bay remains the last major metropolitan area in the United States without a public transportation system making use of bus and rail lines." "Stop talking and build a rail line".

"The bitter taste of the sugar subsidy"

Carl Hiaasen reminds us that "not everyone who depends on the federal government is suffering in these austere times."

According to the Wall Street Journal, the USDA is on the verge of purchasing 400,000 tons of sugar in a massive bailout of domestic sugar processors. The move would cost taxpayers about $80 million.

It’s the sweetest of deals for the big companies that grow cane and beets. For years the government has guaranteed an artificially high price for American sugar, undercutting foreign competitors and inflating consumer prices for everything from soft drinks to breakfast cereal. . . .

The major beneficiaries of this bailout would be cane growers in Florida and beet operations in Minnesota, Michigan and North Dakota. Big Sugar has outsized political clout in Washington, as evidenced by the silence of so-called fiscal conservatives.

Heavy campaign contributions are spread among Democrats and Republicans alike. Barack Obama took money from the sugar industry, as did Mitt Romney. Hefty donations went to both of Florida’s senators, Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio.

Every time somebody in Congress tries to kill the sugar subsidy, the measure gets voted down — by some of the same lawmakers who love to rail against public spending on welfare benefits, health care and education.

In Florida, the bitter taste of the sugar subsidy goes back decades. The program helped to make multimillionaires out of people who prolifically polluted the Everglades, and who for years fought all efforts to make them clean up their waste water. . . .

Remember all the feigned outrage on conservative talk radio when the government bailed out the auto industry? At least we taxpayers weren’t forced to buy up all those acres of unsold Hummers.

Incidentally, American car makers don’t have the advantage of being shielded from foreign manufacturers like Toyota or Honda.

If you’re in the sugar business in this country, you can depend on politicians to restrict imports and guarantee a set price for your crop — the antithesis of free-market competition.

It’s not a one-time shot, either. It’s an ongoing gush of entitlement.

While we’re cutting scholarships for the children of dead war heroes.

"Big Sugar’s subsidy — how sweet it is".

Medicaid "big business for insurance companies"

"When they voted to kill the Medicaid expansion this month, Republican lawmakers knocked the government-run insurance program as flawed, costly and out-of-control."

But that very program is about to become big business for insurance companies competing to serve low-income Floridians.

Even without expanding Medicaid, 3 million residents still remain on the rolls. About half of them get their benefits through privately run managed care. Starting next year, nearly everyone will have to use HMOs and other forms of managed care, thanks to federal approval of a Republican plan in the works for years.

The prospect has insurers gearing up, and industry analysts talking profit potential.

"Insurers gear up for managed care plans under Medicaid".