Friday, February 21, 2014

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

Report: "Florida is really near the bottom of the barrel"

"A new report [.pdf] released by the LeRoy Collins Institute on Thursday concludes that Florida is falling behind not only the rest of the country but also in the South in key areas from teacher salaries to high-wage jobs to adequate roads."

It was written by two academics at the University of Florida, Drs. David Denslow and James Dewey, along with UF’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research.

"In a lot of ways," Dewey said, "the state of Florida is really near the bottom of the barrel."

"The report 'examines the past and predicts a future in state revenues, demographics, the Florida Retirement System, K-12 education, higher education and infrastructure (particularly transportation).' Among the findings:"
• The Florida Retirement System, the pension fund for hundreds of thousands of public employees, is a “model” for other states. Sound and strong, it is threatened by the Legislature’s contemplation of requiring new entrants to join a defined contribution plan.

• Teacher salaries in Florida declined at the fourth fastest rate among states between 2000 and 2012, and it will be difficult to make significant progress “without increasing tax rates, however unlikely that might be.”

• Gas taxes, the principal funding source for transportation, continue to erode because they are not indexed for inflation and the popularity of energy-efficient cars means people are buying less gasoline.

• Florida’s lack of a personal income tax results in a heavy reliance on the 6 percent statewide sales tax and property taxes, and property taxes fall heaviest on businesses.

"Report: Florida’s revenue, spending face grim future". See also "Collins Institute study paints grim picture".

How much? Not much

"Tea party groups have already begun organizing email campaigns to reach the governor en masse. 'He does an about-face on Common Core or he's history,' Marion Clare, a tea party activist from Citrus County told Sunshine State News. 'This is very important to us. We won't vote for (Democrat Charlie) Crist, but we won't vote for Rick Scott either.'" "How Much Trouble Will Common Core Cause for Rick Scott's Campaign?". How much trouble? Not much: The FlaBaggers always come home to GOP-land.


"Republican challenger Carlos Curbelo tried to characterize Rep. Joe Garcia as hypocritical for accepting contributions from Bill Delahunt, a former congressman turned lobbyist." "Challenger Carlos Curbelo, Rep. Joe Garcia trade jabs on ties to Venezuela, gambling". More: "In CD 26, Joe Garcia and Carlos Curbelo Clash Over Venezuela".

GOPers get their hate on

"An overhaul of the Florida Retirement System [which is in no need of an "overhaul"] is in for a close vote in the 2014 legislative session, Senate President Don Gaetz said Thursday."

The Senate Community Affairs Committee voted 5-4 on Tuesday for a bill by its chairman, Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, that would set up a “cash-balance” pension plan in the FRS for newly hired employees. One Republican, Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater, joined three Democrats on the committee who voted against the bill, saying members did not have financial data to demonstrate that changes would be beneficial for employees or their government employers.

“The Senate is divided on the issue,” Gaetz said. “There are those who don’t want to make any changes at all, and there are those who believe that we have to create a more secure future for the retirement system that’s not dependent on draining $500 million out of the budget to fund the unfunded liabilities of the pension system.” . . .

The Legislature deadlocked over FRS changes last year. The House passed a bill making all new hires go into the “defined contribution” pension plan, similar to the 401(k) investment system prevalent in the private sector, but Simpson countered with a bill that would have let them stay in the “defined benefit” plan popular with most state workers. Simpson’s bill offered a reduction in payroll fees, from 3 percent to 2 percent, for those who opted into the defined contribution plan.

This year, he proposed the cash-balance option -- a hybrid in which employees would still be assured a set pension amount when they retire, with a guaranteed 2 percent growth rate. Any earnings above 2 percent would be split between employer and employee.

The pending bill would also exempt special-risk retirees, mostly police and firefighters, who get a 3 percent pension credit per year. They could remain in the existing defined benefit plan, unless they wanted to opt into the portable, faster-vesting cash-balance plan.

Gaetz said an unidentified senator recently showed him a headcount indicating 18 senators are opposed to FRS changes. While a 22-18 vote would still pass the bill, if all members were present, loss of just two would defeat it -- as happened to the House bill last year, when Simpson offered his alternative.

"Gaetz says pension changes may be in trouble".

5 Things to Know

"5 Things to Know in Florida for Feb. 21".

Wait till the FlaBaggers get a load of this

The Tampa Tribune editors: "House Speaker Will Weatherford is taking a reasonable and humane approach to a legislative measure that would grant in-state college tuition rates to the children of immigrants living in the country illegally."

The bill would change a law that punishes children who are educated in Florida’s high schools but are treated differently from their classmates when attempting to further their education by attending college.
"State’s unfair immigrant tuition law needs change".

Utilities and Energy

"Session Outlook 2014: Utilities and Energy".

"Class warfare" agenda

"House Democratic leaders rolled out a "class warfare" agenda for the 2014 legislative session Thursday, vowing to fight Gov. Rick Scott and Republican leaders to make sure new state revenue is used to expand Florida's Medicaid program, improve education and fund other programs for the poor and middle class."

"In my mind, there is no budget surplus," Rep. Perry Thurston, the House minority leader, said at a news conference. "There can be no budget surplus when we have so many unmet needs."

Rep. Mark Pafford, the West Palm Beach Democrat in line to succeed Thurston as House leader of the party, said the state has a 16-year history of reducing taxes and cutting budgets under Republican governors and GOP majorities in the House and Senate. With about $1.2 billion in new revenue projected for the 2014-15 fiscal year, Pafford said Democrats will constantly raise issues of Medicaid expansion, education funding and other needs.

"House Democrats say session will be 'class warfare'". Meanwhile, "Gaetz predicts session to have a quick start".

"Business groups" fight spring restoration bill

"The ambitious measure being pushed by a bipartisan group of senators -- and opposed by influential business groups [the Association of Florida Community Developers, the Florida Fertilizer and Agrichemical Association and the Florida Chamber of Commerce] -- will be stripped of language that would have required local governments to help fund work needed to improve the quality of water in springs-shed restoration projects." "Senate Looks to Make Springs Plan Easier to Swallow". See also "Approach on Florida springs bill moves from 'stick' to 'carrot'" and "Senator says 'Plan B' is ready for critics of draft springs legislation".

DCCC bashes Jolly over SS privatization

"With less than three weeks to go until the election, candidates running for an open congressional seat in Pinellas County continue to battle for position. Republican David Jolly and former state CFO Alex Sink, the Democratic candidate, are clashing over Social Security while also reaching out to bolster their stock with voters. The two major party candidates and Libertarian Lucas Overby will meet in the March 11 special election."

At the national level, the Democratic Congressional Committee (DCCC) released a memo on Wednesday bashing Jolly over Social Security and doubling down on their attacks against his lobbying work on the matter.

“Jolly was paid almost a hundred thousand dollars to lobby on issues like Social Security reform for a radical millionaire (and his current campaign finance co-chair) who supports privatizing Social Security – forcing seniors to gamble with their retirement on the stock market,” the DCCC insisted in the memo. “Jolly’s benefactor even called the Social Security Trust Fund a ‘Ponzi scheme.’ That’s why it’s no surprise Jolly is still saying ‘Social Security is not guaranteed,' and that privatization should ‘be on the table.'"

"Pinellas Congressional Candidates Wrangle over Social Security, Focus on Voter Outreach".