Saturday, April 13, 2013

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

"Overlap between campaign contributions and public policy"

Jason Garcia: "International Speedway Corp. is trying to win millions of dollars in tax breaks from the Florida Legislature this spring for an expansion of Daytona International Speedway. And the company found a perfect way to show off the racetrack: Free tickets to the Daytona 500."

New campaign-finance records show that ISC gave nearly $27,000 worth of tickets, food and drink to the Republican Party of Florida on the day of NASCAR's biggest race. The Daytona Beach-based company gave another $2,200 in tickets, food and drinks to the Florida Democratic Party on race day.

The gifts came a little more than a week before state lawmakers gaveled open their 2013 session, where legislation is now advancing that could give ISC tax breaks worth close to $100 million over 30 years.

"The free Daytona 500 tickets are just one example of the overlap between campaign contributions and public policy found in new state fundraising reports released this week."
The American Resort Development Association gave $102,500 to the Republican Party during the quarter and $50,000 more to the Democratic Party. The time-share industry trade group is lobbying lawmakers to pass a controversial bill that would impose new restrictions on owners trying to get rid of their time shares.

Walt Disney World gave $140,000 to the Republicans, plus $30,000 — and about $11,000 in freebies — to the Democrats. The giant resort is lobbying for legislation that would expand the legal definition of tickets to cover its new "MagicBand" wristbands and strengthen penalties on theme-park ticket fraud.

And Progress Energy gave $300,000 in checks and about $25,000 worth of private airplane flights to the state GOP, along with $5,000 to the Democratic Party. The company opposes efforts to rescind a law allowing it and other utilities to charge frees for nuclear power plants that may never be built.

Meanwhile, rather than cutting a check, Universal Orlando gave the Republican Party about $185,000 worth of free park tickets, hotel rooms, food and entertainment for the party to use in an annual fundraiser held at the resort just before the legislative session began.

Universal's latest donation came as lawmakers discussed whether to impose new limits on a tax-incentive program that is supposed to stimulate development in "urban high crime areas," which Universal and its hotel affiliate have tapped into for more than $8 million in tax breaks. Lawmakers appear unlikely to make any changes to the program this year.

"Legislative leaders say the size of contributions has no bearing on their agenda in Tallahassee."
Republicans control the governor's office and large majorities in the Legislature, so businesses and other interest groups generally steer far more money to the GOP. The latest reports show the Republican Party raised approximately $6 million during the first quarter, while the Democratic Party raised about $1.1 million.

State lawmakers are prohibited from raising money themselves while the Legislature is in session. But the parties don't face that restriction.

And many times, the timing of contributions coincides with legislative actions.

"Records show overlap between political fundraising and the Legislature's agenda".

Runnin' gub'ment like a bidness

"The federal government says it will investigate a $1 billion state housing program designed to help homeowners avoid foreclosure. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson called for the audit last month, complaining that the Florida Hardest Hit Fund was poorly run and not reaching enough people." "Feds to probe Florida foreclosure aid program".

Budget blues

"$74.4 billion House budget has money for education, state workers". See also "Florida lawmaking news at a glance".

Musta been Scott's tax cuts

"Florida economy is looking up, UCF prof says".

Selling state planes amped up Carroll's travel costs

Selling the state planes, another great Scott idea. As a result, "Carroll was the first lieutenant governor in recent times without access to a state plane to get to official events, because Scott ordered the two planes sold after he was elected. A multimillionaire, Scott has his own plane and pays for his own travel." "State put Jennifer Carroll on a budget after a series of big travel bills" (By the way, "Carroll did not travel lavishly, flying coach on commercial airlines and avoiding $400-a-night hotel rooms").

Small ball

Update: "Florida can save millions by accepting federal Medicaid funds, state agency says". "House Republicans offered a bare-bones alternative to expanding Medicaid on Thursday, bypassing more than $50 billion in federal aid while setting up a clash with Gov. Rick Scott and the more moderate Senate."

The House's plan would cover up to 130,000 disabled adults and adults with children, far less than the estimated 1 million Floridians who could be covered by federal money.
"House Republicans, Gov. Rick Scott at odds over health care plan".

"Well-connected, for-profit providers"

"The Legislature's stampede to significantly expand online learning for students in public schools has nothing to do with offering more options and meeting unmet needs. It has everything to do with creating opportunities for well-connected, for-profit providers to make money at the expense of public schools." "Online learning plan out of line" ("online classes should not be diverting public money for public schools into the pockets of lightly supervised for-profit operators. That's a bad bet for students and for taxpayers.")

"Republican bad girl" found hiding under a rock in Nicaragua

"Rivera's Missing Pal Ana Alliegro Found". See also "Justin Sternad’s political consultant denies wrongdoing or ties to his congressional campaign to Miami New Times reports".

Cheapening public service

Frank Cerabino: "Two years ago, legislators made a clumsy attempt to radically undermine the state prison system, the third-largest in the country, with a plan that was ultimately blocked by the courts."

Here’s how it worked: Without fanfare or public debate, legislators inserted language into the state budget that called for turning 29 prisons in 18 counties in the southern part of Florida into for-profit prisons.

And to make sure those privately run prisons would show the mandated 7 percent savings in operational costs over the state’s traditional prisons, the state started shipping the high-maintenance and expensive prisoners out of those prisons earmarked for privatization and into the traditional public prisons.

"That’s one way to show privatization works."
Now, they’re doing the same thing to public schools.

The parental trigger bill is designed to lead to the widespread conversion of traditional public schools in Florida to charter schools, which receive public money but don’t have to follow the restrictions of traditional public schools.

Hundreds of charter schools already are operating in the state and teaching about 7 percent of the state’s public school students. The results are mixed. Some schools are good, but many aren’t. Charter schools routinely get more than their share of F-ratings in the annual roundup of schools.

And they take capital improvement dollars away from traditional schools, money that’s flushed away when the charters go broke, which happens about 20 percent of the time.

Charter schools in Florida also have found some bizarre ways to turn a profit: One school in Miami-Dade operated as a nightclub after school hours. A Pensacola charter rented out teens for road work. And a charter school in New Port Richey offered $50 for students to sign up new kids to boost the school’s head count.

"So-called ‘parent trigger’ bill chartering course similar to privately run state prisons".

Education experts in action

"State lawmakers approved a sweeping education proposal that would create two distinct designations for high school diplomas." "Lawmakers approve major changes in graduation requirements, online university".

"Absentee ballot fraud case unravels"

"Charges against the original nine defendants, dubbed the “Madison Nine,” have been dismissed to all but two of them." "North Florida absentee ballot fraud case unravels for prosecutors".

"Student records more accessible"

"This week, the state Senate passed a sweeping bill that would make student records more accessible by housing them in an expansive online database. The proposal has drawn fire from parent groups, who believe the measure will enable for-profit education companies to take advantage of individual student information."

Meanwhile, lawmakers in the House are moving to exempt teacher performance data from state public records laws for a three-year window. The controversial proposal comes weeks after the Florida Times-Union lost a lawsuit against the state to obtain the data, which will soon be tied to pay raises. The newspaper is appealing the decision.
"Florida Legislature grapples with decision on student, teacher records".