Sunday, March 31, 2013

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

Digital Domain deal pushed by Crist "through a back door in the budget"

Charlie Crist's Digital Domain scandal won't go away. Aaron Deslatte: Dr. Dale Brill was former Gov. Charlie Crist's main economic-development director.

It was his job to go out and close multimillion-dollar incentive deals with companies that agreed to add jobs. Back before the recession, Florida lawmakers were throwing hundreds of millions of tax dollars at companies every year.

The now infamously doomed Digital Domain special-effects company project was code-named "Project Bumblebee" and pushed by Crist and key lawmakers through a back door in the budget that left taxpayers on the hook for some $20 million in incentives. It also changed Brill's life.

"Brill was the star witness in a scathing inspector general's report last week that documented how the failed deal came together, a classic story of politicians using government to benefit themselves that not only can happen again but likely does every year." "Failed Digital Domain deal was turning point for Brill".

Legislature will pass the halfway point on Wednesday

"With a new $74 billion-plus state budget taking shape, the 2013 Legislature will pass the halfway point of its annual 60-day session this Wednesday. The budget bill is the only legislation lawmakers must pass before the session's scheduled end on May 3. But with more than 1,700 bills and resolutions pending, Floridians still have a lot at stake in the outcome of the legislative gathering." "At legislative session's midpoint, major life issues still in flux".

"In typical Tallahassee fashion"

The Tampa Bay Times editors: "In typical Tallahassee fashion, money is trumping children's health care in a fight over a House bill that would close a gap in the state's medical safety net. The bill, HB 689, would provide a health insurance bridge for children through a government-funded program when a parent loses coverage due to a job loss or doesn't have insurance for other reasons. Providing this peace of mind to Florida families wouldn't cost much — the highest estimate is $15 million annually — but the price tag appears to be stalling the bill's progress." "Filling a gap in children's health care".

"Sea-level rise"

"A study done in October by the 'Southeast Florida Regional Compact Climate Change' said a one-foot rise in sea level would threaten property across Palm Beach County with a total taxable value of $396 million to $557 million. In a catastrophic three-foot rise, the value of flooded properties would be $3.6 billion to $4.5 billion. At the same time that nature is working on the shoreline, the number of people living there, is going up, up, and up, according to a report released last week." "PB County particularly vulnerable to sea-level rise".

"Tallahassee's taxophobes"

The Orlando Sentinel editors: "Florida may have lost billions of dollars in government revenue in recent years from unpaid sales taxes on Internet purchases — money that could have spared education, health care and other public services from deep spending cuts."

Finally, lawmakers look ready to close the loophole that allows online retailers to sell products to Floridians without charging sales taxes. This quirk in the tax code gives out-of-state companies like Amazon a pricing advantage of at least a 6 percent over brick-and-mortar retailers in Florida, who are legally bound to impose the tax.

These traditional retailers employ Floridians and invest in their communities. They deserve to be treated fairly.

But Tallahassee's taxophobes are insisting that any extra revenue be offset with tax cuts. Never mind that Internet sales taxes already are owed, but almost always unpaid. One study estimates Florida lost more than $450 million in taxes this way in 2012.

"Make consumer-friendly deal to collect online tax".

"Textgate" trial

"The 'textgate' civil lawsuit against Orange County officials now promises to be even more expensive and prolonged. Once slated for June, lawyers are now aiming for an Oct. 7 trial in the politically explosive case."

The legal fight grew out of a paid-sick-time referendum that Citizens pushed for last summer. Proponents said the measure would protect low-wage workers, but many businesses argued it would kill jobs.

On Sept. 11, county commissioners voted 4-3 to keep the measure off the Nov. 6 ballot, despite 50,000 voter petitions requesting the vote. A judicial panel later ruled that delay tactic violated the county's charter.

The measure is now slated for the August 2014 primary ballot, though Republican state lawmakers are now trying to block all local benefit and wage efforts.

After the county's Sept. 11 delay vote, Citizens and the news media, including the Orlando Sentinel, sought public records from top Orange officials to see how the decision came about.

Thousands of email and phone messages were released, with some showing texts with commissioners and lobbyists opposed to sick time during the Sept. 11 hearing. Other records also revealed countless messages on and around that day had also been deleted or lost.

"Orange 'textgate' trial delayed until October".

"If every big national news story leads back to Florida"

Randy Schultz: "The Republicans who lead the Florida Legislature could help their party and the state with a gesture that would be compassionate and practical: Repeal the ban on same-sex adoptions."

If every big national news story leads back to Florida, Justice Scalia’s ignorant observation [that there is “considerable disagreement among sociologists” about the effect on children of having same-sex parents] brought the same-sex marriage story back to Florida.

In 1977, responding to a hateful anti-homosexual-rights campaign in Dade County, the Legislature passed and then-Gov. Reubin Askew signed legislation prohibiting any gay or lesbian in Florida from adopting children. The Senate sponsor told homosexuals to “get back in the closet.”

The ban stood for 33 years. Dade County became Miami-Dade County. In 2010, however, the 3rd District Court of Appeal upheld the ruling of a Miami-Dade judge who had ruled in 2008 that the ban violated the Florida Constitution because it unfairly deprived children of a home. . . .

The “considerable disagreement among sociologists” that Justice Scalia referenced actually is considerable agreement.

His comment typified the often bizarre exchanges last week about the supposed purpose of marriage.

"Take some of the same-sex hatred in Florida’s off the books".

Ayn Rand creeps lead editors by their noses

Even though "the Florida Retirement System is funded at 86.9 percent, which is considered healthy", the pension haters comprising the Tampa Trib editorial board parrot the right wing pantywaists at Florida TaxWatch, who tell us that pensions are bad things.

After all, "if you want to know what would benefit taxpayers, you need only consider that most American businesses have done exactly what [House Speaker Will] Weatherford proposes: move from a pension to a 401(k)-style retirement system." "Put state’s retirement risk on workers, not taxpayers".

It speaks volumes that Florida's MSM editors worship at the feet of the Ayn Randy children that fund and play in the TaxWatch sandbox. Take a look at the following excerpts from the screed describing what these TaxWatch folks publicly claim they "believe":

You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.

You cannot help small men by tearing down big men.

You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich.

You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer. . . .

You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatreds.

"We Believe".

The TaxWatch creed sounds a lot like a simpleton's distillation of the doggerel in Rand's Atlas Shrugged, doesn't it? Consider these words from the Rand bible:

[D]o you know the hallmark of the second-rater? It's resentment of another man's achievement. Those touchy mediocrities who sit trembling lest someone's work prove greater than their own—they have no inkling of the loneliness that comes when you reach the top. The loneliness for an equal — for a mind to respect and an achievement to admire. They bare their teeth at you from out of their rat holes, thinking that you take pleasure in letting your brilliance dim them — while you'd give a year of your life to see a flicker of talent anywhere among them. They envy achievement, and their dream of greatness is a world where all men have become their acknowledged inferiors. They don't know that that dream is the infallible proof of mediocrity, because that sort of world is what the man of achievement would not be able to bear. . . .

So you think that money is the root of all evil? Have you ever asked what is the root of money? Money is a tool of exchange, which can't exist unless there are goods produced and men able to produce them. Money is the material shape of the principle that men who wish to deal with one another must deal by trade and give value for value. Money is not the tool of the moochers, who claim your product by tears or of the looters, who take it from you by force. Money is made possible only by the men who produce. Is this what you consider evil? . . .

But you say that money is made by the strong at the expense of the weak? What strength do you mean? It is not the strength of guns or muscles. Wealth is the product of man's capacity to think. Then is money made by the man who invents a motor at the expense of those who did not invent it? Is money made by the intelligent at the expense of the fools? By the able at the expense of the incompetent? By the ambitious at the expense of the lazy? Money is made - before it can be looted or mooched - made by the effort of every honest man, each to the extent of his ability.

As the TaxWatch geniuses would put it, "You cannot help small men by tearing down big men."

An economist once shared "the best line" he had ever heard about Ayn Rand’s influence:

There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.