Sunday, March 03, 2013

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

Firefighters battle "fierce wildfires" as torpid Republican legislators plot to gut their pensions

"A rapidly growing wildfire of at least 1,000 acres forced evacuations and shut down a section of Interstate 95 near Ormond Beach on Saturday as firefighters battled strong gusts of wind fanning and spreading the flames."

The fire went from zero percent contained most of the day to 75 percent contained by the evening — but officials were expecting more dry, windy conditions Sunday.
"Fierce wildfire near I-95 is 75 percent contained; dangerous windy conditions remain". See also "Wildfire causes homes in Volusia to be evacuated" ("four wildfires burned nearly 1,500 acres in three counties [including the] massive brush fire in Volusia County.")

"Benedict Arnold of the Florida tea party movement"

"Gov. Rick Scott came into office on a conservative wave, promising to change Tallahassee, fight President Barack Obama's health care overhaul and make Florida as business friendly as he could."

He shunned the press, announced his first budget at a tea party rally in a central Florida church and entered his first legislative session like the powerful CEO he was before spending more than $70 million of his own money to win office in 2010.
"What a difference two years can make."
Scott has undergone a transformation. He's cozying up to teachers instead of antagonizing them, he's learned the art of compromise with the Legislature and he's even cooperating with the federal government to put the president's health care plan into place.

"He's really the Benedict Arnold of the tea party/patriot movement in Florida. Most conservatives feel betrayed by him and members have been calling me and saying they want him fired," said Everett Wilkinson of the South Florida Tea Party, who once called Scott a rock star. "He's flip-flopped on such major areas. It shows how a man can be corrupted with D.C. and Tallahassee."

"Far from Tea Party roots, Scott prepares to address Florida".

"Annual quest to overturn the state's gift ban"

Scott Maxwell on "the Legislature's annual quest to overturn the state's gift ban." "Each spring, lawmakers resurrect freebies quest".

"Fears of another bubble"

"South Florida's once-moribund housing market has rallied, with bidding wars pitting investors against first-time buyers in a chaotic race for a limited supply of homes. But amid the frenzy comes a concern: Are prices rising too fast?" "Fast-rising home prices stir fears of another bubble".

"Problems are much deeper and the thinking much shallower"

Randy Schultz: "When it comes to the debate about homeowners insurance in Florida, it’s as if most telephones were connected to walls on lines and the web was something only spiders use. As the Florida Legislature prepares to convene Tuesday, it is more than 20 years since Hurricane Andrew leveled the property insurance system and any pretense that things ever would be normal. For all the financial turmoil of 2007 and 2008, you can see the Florida real estate market eventually sorting itself out. At this point, it’s hard to see the property insurance market similarly settling, because the problems are much deeper and the thinking much shallower." "Florida Legislature must show new thinking on property insurance".

Putnam's hypocritical attacks on Scott

Marc Caputo: "Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam criticized Gov. Rick Scott over expanding Medicaid, but Putnam may have a taste for big government himself."

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam’s headline-grabbing criticism of fellow Republican Rick Scott over expanding Medicaid highlighted just how much the governor flip-flopped on government spending and entitlement programs.

But Putnam has a more extensive record of supporting expensive entitlements and big-government spending.

As a member of Congress from 2001-2011, Putnam voted for budget-busting legislation — including the massive Medicare prescription-drug entitlement program estimated to cost nearly $1 trillion over a decade. Putnam also stuffed the federal budget with hometown-spending and helped override vetoes by President Bush on what the White House called a “fiscally irresponsible” Medicare bill and a $300 billion farm bill.

Years later, Putnam called Scott’s call to expand Medicaid as irresponsible, costly and “naive.” . . .

The fallout between Scott and Putnam stoked speculation that Putnam might challenge Scott in a GOP primary next year. Putnam’s office downplayed the talk.

The GOP discord —as well as the tensions between each man’s rhetoric and record — is also emblematic of Obama-era Republican struggles. Many Republicans spent big under Bush then became deficit hawks under Obama. They railed against Obama policies, only to tacitly support some of them in the end.

"Attacks on Gov. Rick Scott’s Medicaid move mask Adam Putnam’s big-spending record".


"Reviving stalled Everglades reservoir raises homes and cost questions".

"Runt of the South Florida litter"

"For the third largest county in the state, Palm Beach County is the runt of the South Florida litter. With an economy based on retirees and tourists, Palm Beach lost significant wealth with the housing bust, as did all of Florida. But without substantial international business and tourism to keep it afloat, as Miami had, or a major draw like the cruise ship industry in Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach has limped back from the recession." "Palm Beach County's economic recovery trails neighbors to the south".

Cutting down on wingnuttery?

"As legislators return to Tallahassee for their two-month-long annual session, beginning Tuesday, they will tackle some of the state’s most intractable problems, and they vow to do it with a new tone." "Florida lawmakers to angry voters: We hear you".

This is a bit hard to take: "Intent on wiping their chambers clean of the toxic atmosphere that has permeated politics in the state Capitol and beyond for more than two years, Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford have made ethics, elections and campaign finance reform their top priorities for the 2013 legislative session that begins on Tuesday." "Young gun, old hand aim to clear legislative toxic air".

"Why look a gift horse in the mouth?"

The Miami Herald editors: "No one believes the tight-fisted Mr. Scott, who campaigned against 'bloated government,' has undergone a miraculous ideological conversion. The governor’s need to improve his dismal approval ratings dictated the change in course. But why look a gift horse in the mouth? If an upcoming election is what it takes for Mr. Scott to realize that government can improve people’s lives and that public employees are not the enemy, why complain?" "Time for Legislature to invest in Florida".

The Orlando Sentinel editorial board writes that "whether Florida can afford to spend at the level the governor has proposed and avoid further cuts comes down to the decisions lawmakers will reach on taxes: how much to collect, and how much to give away."

Business incentives: Florida has a terrible record of return on these investments. The Sentinel found hundreds of millions of dollars awarded to businesses betweeen 1995 and 2011 created fewer than half the promised jobs. Yet Scott wants $287 million for the state to throw at companies next year, a huge jump from this year's $111 million.

Lawmakers should hold off on any increase unless and until Scott can prove that taxpayers are getting their money's worth.

Tax giveaways: Sentinel reporting also has revealed that some tax breaks intended to create jobs are so poorly conceived that companies are cashing in for investments they would make anyway. Universal Orlando has claimed millions of dollars through a tax break intended for companies that create jobs in "high-crime areas." Other companies, like Publix Super Markets, have cut their tax bills for expanding in areas that are "perceived" to be polluted.

Some lawmakers have been talking about tightening such breaks. Time to follow through.

"To balance budget and limit cuts, fix tax policy". Related: "Lawmakers facing big-ticket decisions in 2013 session".

They're tripping at every step

"The effort to create fair student assessments is running so far behind that many educators and lawmakers are questioning whether school districts can pull it off before the state's merit-pay plan starts in the 2014-15 school year."

As part of Florida's teacher-merit-pay effort, a large part of a teacher's annual evaluation will be based on the progress students make on standardized tests such as end-of-course exams or the FCAT.
"Districts lag in creating merit-pay tests for teachers".

"Managed about as carefully as amateur night at your local strip joint"

Carl Hiaasen writes that "Rick Scott campaigned for governor on the promise of running Florida like a big business, but the one big business that Florida actually runs is out of control."

Citizens Property Insurance Corp. was created a decade ago, supposedly to help residents afford hurricane coverage for their homes. With 1.3 million policyholders, Citizens is the state’s largest insurer of property.

And it’s been managed about as carefully as amateur night at your local strip joint. In fact, that’s where one happy Citizens worker liked to use his company credit card.

"This Florida citizen outraged by Citizens insurance". See also "Fred Grimm: Our disasters should be subsidized".

PolitiFact heads to Tally

"When politicians start legislating in Tallahassee, PolitiFact Florida will be checking for the truth. We’ll be in the committee rooms and at the press conferences." "PolitiFact Florida to track Tallahassee lawmakers".

"Bleak picture envisioned by alarmed and disgusted tourism leaders"

"Airfares will go up. Lines at airports will extend 'out the door.' Foreign travelers will turn to other destinations outside this country. And irritated, price-conscious Americans will stay home or climb into their cars rather than fly to vacation spots like Florida."

That's the bleak picture envisioned by alarmed and disgusted tourism leaders, who predict that the federal budget cuts known as "sequestration" will dampen the summer vacation season and potentially damage Florida's leading industry.
"Florida tourism threatened by budget cuts, higher fares".