In the three decades since voters enacted a business income tax, Florida has more than doubled in size and business profits have never been higher. So why, a new Senate report asks, did corporate taxes fall while corporate profits rose?
The answer is that companies hired lawyers to find ways to duck their tax obligations, so much so that the businesses left paying the tax are being played for fools. In 2001, according to an analysis by Times writer Sydney P. Freedberg, just 5,303 of the state's 1.5-million businesses paid 98 percent of the tax. Nine of every 10 businesses paid nothing at all. Verizon Communications Inc., with $6-billion in pretax earnings, was among them. "Corporations' free ride".
STRANGE BEDFELLOWS - Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Lieberman was endorsed Tuesday by U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, who cited the Connecticut senator's position on national security and involvement with civil rights issues. "Rep. Alcee Hastings endorses Lieberman for president".
BE AFRAID, VERY AFRAID -Florida House Speaker Johnnie Byrd doesn't deny he's conservative and says on his campaign Web site that he is running for the U.S. Senate because the "liberal agenda of the Democratic Party is out of step with the typical Florida family."
YOU DON'T THINK . . .A state senator called Tuesday for an expanded state investigation into a conference at a Miami Beach resort hotel last year where state officials partied with the help of telephone companies now urging them to approve the biggest local phone rate increase in Florida history. "Senator urges investigation into utility-backed convention".
DUMB VOTERS . . . AN IDEA MADE IN GOP HEAVEN -One of the more flippant education reforms in Florida this year was to offer students an Econo Lodge version of high school. U.S. Rep. Jim Davis, D-Tampa, is justly critical of the three-year graduation plan. "Fix this in Florida".
STRAW BALLOT - Floridians just lost an important attempt to make their voices heard and their clout felt in nominating a candidate for president next year. Now they must unite across party lines to help fix the process all states are using to choose presidential nominees. That process is badly broken and risks a serious misfire in 2004. "No Straw Vote: What's Next?" 8:52 AM
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YOU GO, JIM -U.S. Rep. Jim Davis said Monday he will introduce legislation to cut federal funding for states that don't require students to take history or government classes as a graduation requirement.
Chris Whittle and Florida are in business together now, and business is already good - for him.
Through one of its investment firms, Liberty Partners of New York, the state employee pension fund put up $174-million on Wednesday to buy out Whittle's sinking for-profit Edison Schools Inc. The company's stock traded for $36.75 a share two years ago, but Edison went private in a deal that paid investors only $1.76 a share. Whittle, on the other hand, did famously. Among his spoils, according to Fortune magazine, were: $4.2-million for his shares, remaining CEO with an increase in pay from $345,000 to more than $600,000, keeping 3.7 percent of the company with an option to sell it back for up to $17-million, more time to pay off $10.4-million in existing loans from Edison and $1.7-million more in loans.
Whittle's payday would be just another corporate outrage except for his benefactors. Liberty works for the state Board of Administration, which oversees the $92-billion pension fund. Because nearly half the pension members are teachers, that puts Florida in the unseemly position of using public teachers' retirement money to bail out a businessman who wants to profit at their expense. "Where the money goes".
THE "JEB!" BUSH LEGACY -Florida's tax system favors the rich. . . .
The Florida Constitution prohibits imposition of a state income tax. And that's unlikely to change anytime soon. Florida, then, relies heavily on sales taxes to finance government operations -- a far more regressive form of taxation that unduly penalizes the poor. Over the years, lawmakers have exacerbated that gap between rich and poor by exempting an ever-growing list of special-interest groups from levying the tax.
In a recent national study, in fact, the nonpartisan Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy ranked Florida second behind only Washington state as having the most regressive tax system in the nation. As the accompanying chart shows, the poor in Florida pay 4.8 times more taxes as a percentage of their earnings than do the wealthy. "Hurting the poor".
When lawmakers in August settled on a medical malpractice insurance plan they needed four angry sessions to complete, Gov. Jeb Bush was ebullient. "I think historians will look back and say, "Job well done,' " Bush said then. "I'm confident this will bring a reduction in insurance premiums."
As it turns out, "reduction" is a relative term. ".
SHOWCASING MIAMI -This week's hemispheric trade summit, which draws negotiators from 34 countries, could prove to be a pivotal moment in Miami's history, and there are many places where one can witness history being made.
That's because along with the negotiating sessions, there will be a heavy agenda of receptions, seminars, parties -- and protests.
Perhaps as important as the ministerial itself, this will be -- if things go right -- Miami's time to bask in an international spotlight as a sophisticated multicultural, multilingual urban center. "A crucial moment for the city of Miami".
TAX REFORM -Florida's tax structure, which relies heavily on sales-tax collections, has not been changed for nearly half a century. In the interim, special-interest groups have been so successful at wooing weak-kneed lawmakers that more items and services now are exempt from the sales tax -- nearly $25 billion worth -- than remit the tax, which amounts to $17.5 billion. "Path to fairness".
OUR "EDUCATION GOVERNOR" - [f]ederal policymakers are overlooking the role their counterparts on the state level have played in driving tuition up and quality down.
After all, the president's own brother, Gov. Jeb Bush, and the Republican-controlled Legislature have been hard at work squeezing the Florida university system.
Florida's state universities are crowded, cash-strapped and slipping in national reputation.
Their tuitions have been increased as a matter of a state policy, pushed by Gov. Bush, to load more of the cost on families. Even with tuition increases, the financially strapped institutions aren't sure they can offer enough courses to meet immediate demand, much less ensure students graduate on time. "Storming the ivory tower".
MED MAL - What a surprise. Florida's doctors and health-care providers probably won't have lower medical-malpractice insurance premiums any time soon, despite the Legislature's attempts at reform. "Weak prescription". I suppose we need to "Try again on medical malpractice".
CHAMBER SAYS "JUMP", GOP ASKS "HOW HIGH" - [S]tate lawmakers have been talking about making it tougher to amend the state constitution. So far it has been nothing but talk.
Even after Gov. Jeb Bush pushed to repeal both the high-speed rail and class-size reduction amendments, legislators left Tallahassee this year without enacting any changes on how amendments are added to the constitution.
That may change, however, during the 2004 session. Lawmakers appear ready to respond to a growing chorus from business leaders, such as the Florida Chamber of Commerce, who argue that it should be harder for voter initiatives to be placed on the ballot. "'04 session may tackle ballot drives".
GOOD RIDDANCE -Donna Arduin, 40, a former aide to Florida's Republican Gov. Jeb Bush, will be the principal counsel [to Schwarzenegger] on budget issues and is expected to do the dirty work of cutting sacred-cow programs. "Some key players".
SURELY OUR COMPASSIONATE GOVERNOR IS DOING SOMETHING ABOUT THIS - In Florida, the nation's citrus belt and major winter vegetable producer, farmers will continue to enjoy a limitless supply of cheap labor. If this legislation passes, all competitive incentives to improve wages and benefits for farm workers will be removed. "Farm workers get another raw deal".
Rep. Marco Rubio, a Miami legislator who rocketed through Republican party ranks, has clinched a bid for state House speaker following the 2006 election, becoming the first Cuban American designated to lead one of the legislative chambers.
Rubio secured the position Friday with the surrender of two key rivals after a short but furious campaign that at one point had nearly a dozen contenders angling for support. "Miamian in line to lead House".
IT NEVER ENDS (PART 3) -With re-election looming next year, the White House believes winning the support of hard-line, anti-Castro voters in South Florida is more important than effective and rational diplomacy. So, political back scratching has squandered another opportunity to push the island toward a transition to democracy and a more productive economy. "Policy Needed, Not Pandering".
MEL (NOTHING BUT POLITICS) MARTINEZ MAY BE IN HOT WATER -HUD Secretary Mel Martinez, whose job as HUD Secretary appears to be little more than serving as a "hispanic" face at GOP fundraisers and pep rallies around the country, might be in hot water:
Mel Martinez isn't a U.S. Senate candidate yet, but his phone calls to Florida Republicans are drawing heat from Democrats.
Martinez, the secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, may have violated the Hatch Act, a federal law banning political activity by federal employees, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee said.
The committee called on Martinez to release government phone logs and e-mail and said it will file a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain the records.
"It is entirely likely that these calls were made on government phones or at a minimum from government offices, either of which is a possible violation of the Hatch Act," said Brad Woodhouse of the DSCC. "Secretary Martinez should release his phone records to simply clear this matter up." "Democrats want to examine HUD chief's telephone logs".
DO US A FAVOR MEL AND STAY IN DC - Hard to tell where the line is these days as Florida spends thousands of dollars a year to provide drivers and door openers for people who have been designated "dignitaries."
For two years we taxpayers have been footing the bill for personal security services for Mel Martinez, secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, when he travels in Florida. The cost since January is more than $20,000. . . . Without this duty, agents from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Capitol Police might be out catching criminals like regular cops.
This weekend FDLE is squiring Martinez around as he celebrates homecoming at Florida State University. Martinez is among former graduates who are being honored. On Friday he was a featured participant in a parade through downtown Tallahassee. . . . One might wonder if all these trips Martinez is making to Florida were designed to help him win friends for a future race.
The former Orange County chairman's name popped up this week as a possible candidate for the U.S. Senate seat being abandoned by Bob Graham. Martinez was long considered a possible candidate for governor in 2006. . . . Martinez has asked 13 times since January - mostly on trips to Orlando. One trip was to a World Series game. Another was to a football game.
The security includes a car and driver, so a politician doesn't have the hassle of getting from one place to another on his own.
No agents accompany U.S. Sens. Bob Graham and Bill Nelson when they visit Florida and none are provided for Attorney General Charlie Crist or Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher.
Bush says he authorizes it for Martinez and any governor or foreign dignitary who requests it. Some suspicious souls believe the governor is doing it for Martinez because he wants to help him win an election. Bush insists he's not taking sides. "Personal security has a public cost".
STRAW BALLOT -Florida Democrats meet Sunday in Tampa under pressure from national party leaders to kill a proposed presidential straw vote at next month's state convention. "Florida Democrats to decide straw vote".
IS THIS STILL AN ISSUE? THOUGHT "JEB!" ALREADY SAVED US FROM COASTAL DRILLING -A far-reaching Republican compromise on energy legislation to be unveiled today will not include an inventory of gas and oil that could have led to drilling off Florida's coast, according to congressional sources. "Deal blocks prospecting for oil, gas off Florida".
SCRIPPS -Environmentalists on Friday blasted the county's plans to put The Scripps Research Institute on a 2,000-acre citrus farm near The Acreage, saying the project and the growth it could spawn threaten neighboring conservation lands. "Scripps choice faces criticism".
NOW WE KNOW WE'RE IN TROUBLE - "Scripps oversight panel lists movers, shakers". The "movers" and "shakers" - appointed by that estimable trio of Bush, Byrd and King - include "a nursing home executive, the head of a Fortune 500 company, a BellSouth vice president and the founder of Outback Steakhouse. There's also the state's top medical official, a former university president, a lawyer for developers, a dentist and the owner of a waste-disposal company."
WHOOPEE -Enterprise Florida, the state's economic development agency, has predicted that, if FTAA becomes a reality and Miami is its headquarters, the state's economy will receive a boost of $13.6 billion "Trade pact could mean $13.6 billion Florida boon".
But, "difficult to foresee is how the free trade agreement itself, no matter where the secretariat is located, might impact area businesses." Moreover, "[t]he state's citrus and sugar cane growers oppose the FTAA, largely because of Brazil, the world's largest producer of oranges and sugar cane. Tariffs protect the citrus juice industry in Florida, and sugar has the benefit of quotas that limit imports. Growers believe that, if the barriers are removed under FTAA, their industries will be largely overwhelmed by cheaper products from the South American nation." 4:28 AM
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Notes For Friday, November 14, 2003
The Gainesville Sun get's it right: shame on you, Gov. Bush . . . sanctimony ill fits a shrewd politician who has presided over the slashing of billions of dollars in taxes. "Shameful cuts".
TOP STORY - The buzz continues about Martinez getting into the race: U.S. Housing Secretary Mel Mart?nez, who five months ago ruled out a bid for the U.S. Senate, said Thursday he's now exploring the race amid heavy lobbying from people ''high in the Republican Party'' worried that the GOP lacks a front-runner in the race to replace retiring Democrat Bob Graham. "Housing secretary considers run".
All we can say is "run Bob, run". Fact is Martinez - a middle tier personal injury lawyer who had served only a few months as Orange County Chair (the only elected position in which he has served) before he was selected by Dubya to head HUD (a position for which he was wholly unqualified) - is an empty suit. And a right winger to boot - Martinez' claim to fame is to have run for Lt. Gov on the Ken Connor - Bob Martinez ticket a few years back (a ticket that made "Jeb!" - Feeney look progressive).
HARRIS VERSUS MARTINEZ, LET THE FUN BEGIN -U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris called Mel Martinez a "good candidate" but said Thursday his move toward entering the U.S. Senate race does not end her own thoughts of joining the already crowded field of Republican contenders.
Harris, R-Sarasota, has been considering running since Democratic Sen. Bob Graham said last week that he would not seek election to a fourth term next fall.
"The most important thing to me is that we have a candidate who can deliver Florida," Harris said. "Mel is a good candidate. . . . If it looks like Mel can deliver the state in 2006, that will be great."
However, she later added, "I'm not going to make a snap decision. I will make this decision on my own timetable, not anyone else's."
The jockeying between Harris and Martinez came on a day both accompanied President Bush to an Orlando fund-raiser, the president's 17th visit to Florida since his election as president. "Contenders jockey at president's visit".
And Mike Thomas has these observations (though he is flat out wrong in suggesting that Martinez is remotely "moderate"):
Why is Toni Jennings smiling? Mel Martinez may be running for the Senate, clearing the decks for her to be the next governor. ...
And now for a synopsis of declared and suspected Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate:
Mel Martinez: He is the only one who doesn't want him to run because he wants to be governor.
Johnnie Byrd: The guy would be a disaster in a general election, but Jeb Bush has to humor him because he is speaker of the House.
Katherine Harris: Could she sneak enough of the moderate vote to beat Mel in a crowded primary? The White House doesn't want to find out.
Bill McCollum: He lost to Bill Nelson the last time out. Enough said.
Dan Webster: We all know where nice guys finish. . . .
GET READY . . . Doctors and trial lawyers scratched and clawed during the past year as the Legislature tried to fix Florida's medical-malpractice insurance system. But that fight could pale compared with the political war that is now brewing.
The powerful interest groups are preparing to ask voters to pass competing constitutional amendments next year that would take dead aim at the wallets of doctors and lawyers throughout the state. "Doctors, lawyers take malpractice fight to public".
FLORIDA SUPREME COURT REINSTATES "ONE FLORIDA" SUIT - The Florida Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the NAACP can challenge rules eliminating racial and gender preferences in university admissions.
The 4-3 ruling overturned a decision by the 1st District Court of Appeal to dismiss the civil rights group's challenge to Gov. Jeb Bush's "One Florida" initiative and his "Talented 20" guarantee. . . . The Florida Conferences of Branches of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People had argued the rules were a startling change in policy that could be made only by the Legislature -- not the governor or an executive agency. In Thursday's majority opinion, Chief Justice Harry Lee Anstead wrote that the appeals court had gone far beyond a 1980 ruling by Florida's high court that spelled out the standard for when groups have the right to challenge the actions of government agencies.
What's more, Anstead wrote, the appeals court had been inconsistent with its own rulings since then because it had allowed environmental groups and professional associations to challenge agency rules.
"In other words it made little sense to grant standing to persons who had formed associations out of a common interest in protecting wildlife or the environment, and yet deny standing to an association that was formed to protect the rights of minorities and is composed substantially of minorities, when policy concerning the admission of minorities to state universities was changed," Anstead wrote. "High court OK's NAACP challenge".
JEBBITES ON VERGE OF CONTOLLING FLORIDA SUPREME COURT - In the "One Florida" case excerpted above, "Justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis, and Peggy Quince joined Anstead in the majority." None were "Jeb!" appointments (though Bush had a role in Quince's selection). However, "Justices Charles Wells, Raoul Cantero, and Kenneth Bell dissented." The latter two were Bush appointees, and Wells, while a Chiles appointee has been reliably in the right wing corner (e.g., Wells dissented in every case that favored Gore in the Florida 2000 litigation that reached the Florida Supreme Court and in most death penalty cases where a new trial/resentencing is ordered). At best, then, the Florida Supreme Court is one vote away from shifting into a right wing majority.
WHO CARES -President Bush, sweeping through the Central Florida corridor that will be vital to his re-election next year, raised big money for his campaign Thursday and exerted pressure on Congress to approve prescription drugs for senior citizens. "Quick trip pays off for President Bush".
COMPANY LAWYER APPOINTED IN 'GLADES CASE - U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno, now supervising the lawsuit under which the state promised to clean up the Everglades, has named a Miami lawyer to be special master in the case . . . John M. Barkett's role will be to see whether the state is meeting its commitments as laid out in an agreement approved by Judge William Hoeveler . . . He knows environmental law from representing companies negotiating with the Justice Department over cleanup of Superfund sites. "Protect the Everglades" 6:42 AM
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Florida's "windfall" of new tax dollars will only help the state dig out of its hole.
To hear Gov. Jeb Bush's aides tell it, happy days are here again.
The governor's fiscal discipline -- aided by a rebounding national economy, the hot housing market and home refinances -- could bolster state tax coffers by as much as $2 billion next year.
But lawmakers shouldn't pop the champagne corks quite yet.
Like many other states, Florida has borrowed heavily in recent years to keep the state afloat. Last year, for example, about $1.3 billion in one-time revenue sources were used to finance recurring needs, such as education and social services. And about $700 million on the plus side of the ledger sheet is a one-shot cash infusion from the federal government to help states weather the poor economy and offset Medicaid costs.
So much for a $2 billion windfall.
Add to that voter mandates to reduce class sizes, offer pre-kindergarten classes and start building a bullet train, and lawmakers and the governor could be at least another $1 billion in the red before the legislative session even begins. "Hold off on the party".
HMMM . . . Tom Lee thinks the Florida Legislature should have a financial plan instead of flying by the seat of its pants trying to balance its budget every spring.
It's likely that millions of Floridians agree with Lee on that.
The Legislature's annual budget struggle is so politically charged that legitimate needs frequently get short shrift because various officials have different priorities, especially when money is tight.
What's significant about Tom Lee's idea is that he is in a position to do something about it. Lee, a Republican from Brandon, is chairman of the Florida Senate Rules Committee and is in line to become the Senate president for the two-year period following the November 2004 general election. "Florida financial plan".
BYRD -Byrd should quit hyping his political dreams of claiming a U.S. Senate seat at Ms. Schiavo's expense. There's plenty to do in Tallahassee without government butting into intensely private matters. "Johnnie Byrd's intrusion".
DON'T COUNT ON IT -Maybe it's time for the Legislature and Gov. Jeb Bush to decide that it's time to start actually paying for the growth that's sweeping the state -- or else stop doing so much to promote it.
Because we'll pay for it, one way or another.
The governor and Legislature have in recent years been cutting taxes while simultaneously pushing tourism and economic development with the state's accustomed enthusiasm. "How will we pay for a growing state?"
"SCRIPPS WAFFLES ON RESEARCH SITE" -With the ink barely dry on its $369-million deal with Florida, Scripps Research Institute already is reaching for the Wite-Out on its location.
Palm Beach County officials say the California biotech group is unhappy with the 2,000-acre tract it selected several weeks ago and now prefers a 100-acre site that is next to the north campus of Florida Atlantic University and the Florida Marlins' spring training stadium.
The late-inning change of heart is raising concern that the 50,000-job biotech cluster Gov. Bush promised to deliver over 15 years already may be in flux. "Scripps waffles on research site".
The site Scripps now wants "Lacks built-in, adjacent space for spinoff companies, the heart of the economic impact estimates." And, it would seem the state is helpless to prevent the change - after all we don't want to upset Scripps. And, we suspect, the quickly drawn up deal does nothing to protect the state viz. location of the facility. See also "Scripps decides against Abacoa" and "Landowners scramble over Scripps".
FCAT FUNNY BUSINESS -The Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test is as powerful as it is controversial, the results determining not only the academic fate of individual students but also the grade given to public schools they attend. Despite the FCAT's influence on so many Floridians, however, its contents have remained - as far as parents are concerned - classified. "FCAT confidential".
HOME GROWN -Despite - or maybe because of - tough competition in the grocery industry, Publix Super Markets continues to thrive as the largest private company based in Florida and one of the top five in the nation. "Forbes list puts Publix among private giants".
VOUCHERS - "Vouchers withheld from 41 schools". Oh, and by the way, the skimpy forms don't even have to be notarized: The forms were supposed to be notarized, a requirement that Education Commissioner Horne touted last month as bringing a higher level of accountability to vouchers. But the state has now dropped that requirement.
MARRIAGE INITIAVE MISPLACED - Among the ideas circulating for three new pilot projects are: mandated pre-marriage counseling; government-sponsored promulgation of pro-marriage "materials," often based on religious principles; an attack on the divorce rate.
Acting with the best of intentions, it would take very delicate footwork to reach these goals in an effective but noncoercive way -- and that's assuming there's money to spare for such an effort. There's not. Budget constraints are forcing Florida to hack money for job training, subsidized child care, domestic violence prevention and health care.
Mark Merrill -- head of Gov. Jeb Bush's new marriage and families initiative -- touts the success of welfare "reform" in the war against poverty. The truth: Reform efforts haven't cured poverty; they've exacerbated it, creating a new subclass of ultrapoor clinging to the edges of survival without a lifeline. . . . If any new money comes in, it should be directed first to the state's immediate needs -- and a state-sponsored marriage initiative is not among them. Such initiatives in other states are overwhelmingly associated with groups that espouse strong religious agendas. They revolve -- sometimes subtly, sometimes not -- around the notion that the strongest family is a bread-winning husband with a submissive, stay-at-home wife. And the coercion factor in this movement is strong. In West Virginia, welfare recipients received a $100 bonus if they married. Other states (including Florida) have considered a far darker option: repealing no-fault divorce laws, which would force spouses to rip each other apart publicly to get out of a bad marriage. Florida's Merrill is on record in favor of "opening a debate" on no-fault divorce.
Strong marriages and strong families are important. But they can't be forced. The state's time and energy are better spent in promoting the education, health and safety of all Floridians -- and letting the matchmaking take care of itself. "Marriage initiative".
MORE EMBARASSING BY THE MINUTE - An appeal by Gov. Jeb Bush is causing another delay in resolving the case of Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged St. Petersburg woman whose bitter end-of-life legal battle has attracted worldwide attention.
WE'RE SHOCKED, TRULY SHOCKED -Lower medical-malpractice-insurance premiums are unlikely to be delivered soon to Florida doctors and other health-care providers despite long labors over the issue in three recent legislative special sessions. "Doctors likely to keep paying". See also "Rates upset doctors, lawyers".
VOUCHER LITIGATION TIES UP STATE MONEY -The state of Florida must pony up another $2 million as a security bond to keep running its original school-voucher program, a circuit judge decided Monday. The state is appealing Circuit Judge Kevin Davey's ruling last year that the Opportunity Scholarship program was unconstitutional because it allows parents to use tax dollars to send their children to religious schools.
GETTING THE TRUTH ABOUT "ONE FLORIDA" - An ongoing, independent audit of the One Florida contracting program would enhance its credibility and dispel nagging suspicions in some quarters that the statistics don't provide a realistic assessment of the state's efforts to do business with minority vendors. "Audit Needed To Secure Future".
STATE GOP LOSER TO REPLACE FIRST BLACK POLK COUNTY COMMISSIONER - Insurance executive and Republican activist Henry Paul Senft was appointed late Monday to fill the vacancy on the Polk County Commission left open by the death of Charles R. Richardson Sr. last month
Richardson was the first black member of the commission, and some had called on Gov. Jeb Bush to replace him with another black person.
Nancy Argenziano reacted strongly when a group called Florida Council of 100 sent a report on state water woes straight to Gov. Jeb Bush and consequently onto front pages of several state newspapers.
"I said, 'who are they?' " the 8-year Florida legislator recalled thinking when the report came out in September, "and, why should we respond to them?"
A senator on the Natural Resources Committee, Argenziano learned quickly what others in Florida's inner circles have known for decades: Florida Council of 100 consists of some of the state's best and brightest CEOs. . . . "It is not a group that is out there trying to increase its membership by looking for media coverage," Executive Director Charles Ohlinger said. "All we are really trying to do is improve Florida."
It has been fairly successful at keeping that low profile. It is a private, nonprofit association that describes itself as non-partisan, member supported, and concerned about major issues affecting Florida's future.
Although the group itself isn't particularly well-known, the people in it are. Its chairman is Al Hoffman, developer of one of the state's largest planned communities. He has donated thousands of dollars in recent years to campaigns of both Gov. Jeb Bush and President George W. Bush and serves, as he did in 2001, as the Republican National Committee's finance committee chairman.
Other members include Sunkist Growers Inc. CEO Jeff Gargiulo, who donated tens of thousands to the Republican Party; newspaper publishers from around the state; and Lee Arnold, a Tampa-area developer who donated a few thousand dollars to the Bushes and the Republican Party and who is chairman of the group's water task force.
Ohlinger said individual members are politically active, but he said the group insulates itself from politics when it comes time to study such issues as education, taxation, and most recently, water
"They all do things through party affiliation, they all have lobbyists," Ohlinger said. "But once they step into council meetings they really are trying to do things that are best for the state as a whole."
Others involved in Tallahassee's ongoing tugs-of-war find Ohlinger's assertion hard to swallow. They point out that Gov. Bush approves new members nominated by the council. Members then pay $3,000 a year to cover staff salaries and riverfront offices in Tampa. "Council of 100 is low-key, but influential".
UNBELIEVABLE - In "Death row lawyers, state spar over changes in capital appeals", we read that the state is objecting to lawyers expert in capital case appeals representing more than five inmates, even if (1) the same attorneys, while working for the state, handled in excess of five cases, and (2) the attorneys are willing to work for free.
SCRIPPS WAS IN A MONEY JAM-For a nonprofit research center with dreams of expansion, the offer of more than $500 million from Florida taxpayers to open a branch in Palm Beach County could not have come at a better time.
MANATEES - Florida's manatees are in trouble. The problem is very straightforward: More boats are crowding onto Florida's lakes and rivers. More manatees are being hit and killed by boats. They don't breed fast enough to keep up. They're in trouble. . . . So why are so many Florida officials intent on pretending otherwise? "Illogical assault".
At the starting line of Florida's most competitive U.S. Senate race in 16 years, both Republicans and Democrats had better heed the lessons of the last one:
Greed kills, and three's a crowd.
In 1988, a bruising six-gun battle for the Democratic nomination ended with a nominee so damaged that a little-known Republican with a famous name squeaked his way into the Senate. And in Florida, land of close elections, campaign-scarred Buddy MacKay lost to Connie Mack, a baseball legend's grandson, by a disputed 33,000 votes.
In 2004, Democrats will have four or more competing for the open seat of retiring U.S. Sen. Bob Graham. Already, one appears hell-bent to decimate another who could become one of his party's strongest statewide candidates: U.S. Rep. Peter Deutsch of Pembroke Pines has Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas in his cross-hairs.
The battle between two South Florida powers, with millions of dollars at their disposal, could clear a path for the one Central Floridian, Tampa's Betty Castor, to march through the wreckage. "Senate lesson from '88: Greed kills, 3's a crowd".
COMPASSIONATE CONSERVATISM -State officials say the cuts are needed to prevent a shortfall they project at $27 million. Though the legislature has consistently increased spending on developmental disabilities, it has not been enough to meet rising costs and demand for services. Agencies that offer work and training programs for people with disabilities like Down syndrome and cerebral palsy say the cuts will force them to close programs and lay off staff. "State cuts decrease options for disabled".
DYCKMAN ON DISNEY "ARROGANCE" -It may be trite to point out that Mickey Mouse is a dirty rat but, regrettably, it remains true. Walt Disney World's bullying of the Florida High Speed Rail Authority, which has submitted to serving only Disney and no competing Orlando area destination, means that nothing has changed since the 1967 Legislature created what the Wall Street Journal aptly called "a self-governing corporate kingdom." Arrogance has been the kingdom's modus operandi since the first (and as I recall only) local hearing where Central Florida residents could comment on the proposed legislation. "Disney magic didn't happen all by itself".
VOUCHER MADNESS - The latest scandal -- The Post has exposed many -- features millions in public money going to home-schoolers, who aren't supposed to get any. The rip-off comes as the state is quietly dropping a proposed reform that would have required voucher schools to physically exist. Even on the frontier, the one-room schoolhouse had real walls.
The abandoned reform was supposed to counter another Post-exposed scandal in which voucher "brokers" pretended to be private schools, raked in vouchers for home-schooling parents, then kept a hefty portion for administrative costs. When the paper reported that scheme, Education Commissioner Jim Horne declared, "Schools that are not schools will have their scholarships eliminated." Scholarships is his euphemism for vouchers. "Stop giving state money to home-school families".
GOOD RIDDANCE - We suspect that, unlike Florida where "Jeb!"and his hacks have largely had a free ride, Donna Arduin will face serious scrutiny in California. Good riddance to her:
As Donna Arduin, Gov. Jeb Bush's budget director, heads west to a similar post in California, she might find next winter in Sacramento politically hotter than a Tallahassee summer.
Arduin, who is joining the administration of Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger, already is drawing the wrath of social-service advocates and others fearful of the budget ax she is expected to wield.
"We're deeply concerned, given her track record," Anthony Wright, executive director of a low-income advocacy group called Health Access, told the Los Angeles Times. "In Florida, she proposed and pushed through cuts that were unthinkable to both Democrats and Republicans here in California."
The state Assembly's budget chairwoman, Jenny Oropeza, a Long Beach Democrat, acknowledged Arduin must bring "integrity" back to a state budget crippled by a $25 billion shortfall.
But, she added, "Integrity also requires us to make the necessary investments in California's future and fulfill our commitments to the people of California." "Budget chief's past worries Californians".
IT ALL DEPENDS ON WHAT THE MEANING OF THE WORD "CUT" IS-The state budget "increase" for services to the developmentally disabled will leave 150 computer-dependent clients of the Palm Beach Habilitation Center speechless. It will leave another 70 food service-trained clients of the Lake Worth center jobless. And it will leave 12,550 disabled residents now on waiting lists helpless.
The Florida Department of Children and Families calls its $27 million shortfall an "overall average increase." "This is not a cut," said Shelly Brantley, director of the state's developmental disabilities program. "This is only an adjustment" -- one forced upon the state's neediest residents. Although more than last year's budget, the $658 million in state and federal money allotted to serve 30,000 people remains inadequate. "Florida shuts out needy".
PRIVATIZATION RUN AMUCK - The Naples Daily News illustrates the perils of privatization in an exhaustive article today. It begins with this:
Gov. Jeb Bush's campaign to privatize social services will soon arrive in Southwest Florida with the transforming power of a $97.5 million tidal wave.
The regional Department of Children and Families is giving a 5-year child welfare oversight contract valued at that amount to Camelot Community Care, a not-for-profit managed by Providence Service Corp., a Tucson-based company listed on the NASDAQ. . . . In essence, a not-for-profit that is assuming governmental powers is planning to give a large amount of money and authority to a corporate sibling with little experience in the area, bypassing several more-established local groups. "Tucson firm gets DCF child welfare oversight contract".
PULL SOME STRINGS, "JEB!" -The state already has extended the Everglades cleanup deadline by 10 years and muddled standards for water quality. Now, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in a 110-page list of water-quantity rules released this week, has failed to spell out ways to assure that the Everglades will get enough water to recover. "Too weak on Everglades".
Back to Florida. Now that the rush to hand out money to Scripps is over and done with, Joseph Layton puts it in perspective. In Florida, we have:
A governor mouthing support for education but injuring that same system with his higher educational governance plan -- a plan rejected by Floridians.
A governor refusing to properly fund education so that Florida voters were forced to pass a constitutional amendment to decrease class size to ensure that our children are educated, not warehoused. Then the governor pleads poverty when asked to enforce the constitution, ignoring the will of the people.
A governor claiming a desire for educational excellence and accountability but starving the education system of funds, from grade school through the state university system. The system was cut by $110 million, and the University of Florida by $50 million this year. This was done after a spate of large tax cuts -- mostly to out-of-state corporations -- depleted our treasury.
Now, with little public discussion or input, Gov. Jeb Bush tells us that he has a great deal. With $310 million in state monies and another $200 million from Palm Beach County, he will bring to Florida a ''world-class research institute,'' the Scripps Research Institute. The funding is to be spaced over seven years, handing over to Scripps $72.9 million per year. Scripps promises 545 jobs for this largess. There may be more, or maybe less, jobs. However, 545 jobs at $510 million comes down to $935,780 per job -- no bargain for Florida. "Governor should use funds to improve education".
HARRIS "SERIOUSLY" CONSIDERING SENATE RUN -U.S. Rep Katherine Harris -- whose role as Florida's Secretary of State during the 2000 presidential election made her a hero to Republicans and a villain to Democrats -- said Thursday she is "seriously" considering running for Florida's open U.S. Senate seat next year. "Katherine Harris ponders Senate race".
SENATE POLL -With nine months to go before the primary, about two-thirds of Republican voters haven't picked a favorite in the race for U.S. Senate, a poll by GOP candidate Bill McCollum showed. "'Undecided' leads in McCollum poll".
FIRST PREZ DEBATE AT UM -The political spotlight will shine on South Florida Sept. 30, 2004, when a national television audience tunes into the first debate in the presidential general-election campaign of 2004 at the University of Miami. "Contested state in election debacle to kick off 2004 debates".
A LEGITIMATE QUESTION -Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Lieberman set up a town hall-type meeting in Broward County Thursday to talk about issues vital to seniors. So he was caught off guard by one attendee's question.
Seventy-five-year-old Alice Romans, seated in the front row, asked, "What about the young people walking the streets with their dropped pants?"
Lieberman quickly recovered from his surprise. "All right, where's my staff? What's my position on dropped pants?" he said with a broad smile as his audience roared.
Florida public university students will actually save money if the state further increases tuition and fees, a legislative advisory board concluded, and it recommends that each of the state's 11 public universities be given that authority.
We agree that
"This is one of the most absurd reasons I've ever heard to raise tuition," said state Sen. Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, the Senate's budget chairman. "That's absolutely nuts. They need to get out of their cubicles in Tallahassee and get out here in the real world. I had advised them earlier not to waste their time. It's not going to happen in the legislature."
"I think the impact would be very negative," said Scott Ross, executive director of the Florida Students Association, which consists of 10 of the 11 student body presidents of the state's public universities.
And where did the "brain trust" that came up with this idea come from? You guessed it:
The Council for Education Policy, Research and Improvement is a nine-member board appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush and the speakers of the Senate and the House to evaluate state education programs and recommend improvements.
Five (5) of the nine members of the Council for Education Policy, Research and Improvement (the "CEPRI") are appointed by "Jeb!". And, if you expected the CEPRI's board members to be experts on education, you would be wrong. CEPRI chairman Akshay Desai is a geriatric doctor, and Vice Chair Bob Taylor is the "charmain of the Mariner Group and Robb & Stucky Ltd., [and] a member of the Florida Council of 100"; the member profiled in the inagural newsletter is a surge protector manufacturer. See Insight (.pdf document),July 1, 2003, Vol 1, Issue 1 of the quarterly publication of the CEPRI.
To understand the mindset of these folks, the first thing the Executive Director reported (.pdf document) at the CEPRI's last meeting (on October 3, 2003) was that "he met with representatives of the Council of 100".
The Council of 100 is a collection of CEOs that advise the Governor. While claiming to be nonpartisan, the Council of 100 is naturally a collection of GOP stalwarts (with token Dems sprinkled in). Here's a brief description of the group from "Whose Florida?", including a 2001 Florda Today article titled "Florida Council of 100 blurs business, political lines":
Surrounded by a multi-million dollar modern art collection, seated on purple, crushed-velvet chairs that resemble thrones, Florida's top CEOs mingle amid strains of harp and piano music.
The cocktail-party setting echoes political fund-raisers hosted and attended by the same people. But on this balmy autumn evening in Orlando, the Council of 100 is setting its agenda for Florida.
The businessmen -- from developers to Disney executives to bankers -- are drafting blueprints to restructure Florida's education system, revive its economy and fight off tax reform.
Working side-by-side behind closed doors with Gov. Jeb Bush and led by Bush's own campaign finance chairman -- they are driven by the conviction that what's good for Florida business must be good for the rest of the state.
For some of them, the conviction is keeping Bush in office is good for business.
"We want to be a force in shaping public policy. We want to be influential. That's our mission," said Al Hoffman, the wealthy Bonita Springs businessman who personifies the Bush way of doing business.
Hoffman is an important GOP insider -- George W. Bush's campaign co-chair, Jeb Bush's past and future campaign finance chairman, and at the moment also the finance chairman of the Republican National Committee.
He also is one of the state's most influential businessmen, and at the meeting in Orlando this fall, Hoffman ascended to chairmanship of the Florida Council of 100.
VOUCHER MADNESS -With the cameras rolling, state education commissioner Jim Horne stood tall in the saddle. These private schools that get tax money, he said in the heat of August, are going to start answering for what they do and they are going to answer under sworn affidavit. If they don't, he said, their vouchers will be yanked by November.
Well, autumn is closing in on winter, and Horne is looking less like a John Wayne than a Don Knotts. As it turns out, Horne, once the cameras were turned off, took the swear out of sworn and the nip out of November. His plan to bring some immediate accountability to the corporate tax credit voucher program is beginning to resemble a substitute teacher battling to restore classroom decorum: Will you sit in your seats, pretty please?
The six-page sworn compliance form, as originally announced by Horne, was to provide assurance to the Department of Education that voucher schools were following all state laws and to give parents better consumer information about what the schools have to offer. To date, according to a review of DOE records by the Palm Beach Post, neither has really occurred. Some 67 schools have yet to even answer the questionnaire and all are apparently still free to receive tax-supported vouchers. One high school director in Boca Raton told the Post he had never heard of the compliance form, though his school still receives voucher payments. "When did they want it by?" he asked.
Ineptitude seems to play a leading role in these regulatory lapses, but political pressure is not far behind. "Come fall, the heat is off".
MORE VOUCHER MADNESS - Hundreds of Florida students are using more than $2.3 million in tax-supported vouchers to get home-schooling or attend part-time private schools -- something state lawmakers insist they never intended.
Parents don't normally get state money to teach their children at home, but at least 380 students are receiving one of two types of vouchers to be home-schooled full- or part-time, according to a Palm Beach Post analysis.
And because lawmakers in 2002 opened up the state's corporate voucher program to some students who have never gone to a public school, thousands more children who are being home-schooled could get vouchers as well, potentially costing the state tens of millions of dollars. "380 students getting vouchers for home-schooling".
BIG SUGAR, GUARDIANS OF THE 'GLADES -Have you seen Big Sugar's latest round of propaganda? South Florida sugar growers are running TV ads touting themselves as guardians of the Everglades.
All absurdity aside, it does raise a question: What is the point of this?
WHO DO YOU THINK IS PAYING THIS GUY? YOU GUESSED IT -Ken Connor, once considered the leader of Florida's right-to-life movement, will be Gov. Jeb Bush's lead counsel in the defense of Terri's Law, a measure that forced doctors to reinsert Terri Schiavo's feeding tube last month.
Connor, who works in a Tampa law firm, filed a motion Wednesday to dismiss Michael Schiavo's Pinellas-Pasco lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the law. "Terri's Law defender lashes out".
A GOOD READ -Next year's wide-open race for the U.S. Senate again raises the question of which political party rules Florida: the Democrats or the Republicans. "Political parties prep for battle".
MORE ENVIRO FRIENDLY NEWS FROM THE "JEB!" ADMIN -The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, a seven-member board appointed by the governor, [had] postponed a decision last year after heavy criticism from environmentalists and skeptical reviews from outside scientists. "Florida wildlife commission to vote on downgrading manatees' status".
DISNEY "BOONDOGGLE" -Disney fans wonder how The Mouse could top its Pirates of the Caribbean attraction and the spin-off movie. Apparently, the answer is a new tourist draw called The Great Train Robbery.
Florida's High Speed Rail Commission has decided that the voter-mandated bullet train will run directly from Orlando International Airport to Walt Disney World, bypassing Disney competitors, such as Universal Studios, on International Drive. Shut out also is Orange County's publicly financed convention center. The Legislature has final authority to approve or alter the recommended route. "Next stop: Boondoggle".
SUICIDE -We're tempted to say, Only in Florida. But this kind of lunacy could happen in any other state since, we're fairly confident, the other 49 probably haven't thought to prohibit that kind of entertainment either. "Suicide watch".
Gov. Jeb Bush's "A-Plus" plan and the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Tests have done much to improve education in Florida, primarily by establishing a system of accountability. "Alternative Worth a Try".
PLEASE, MAKE IT SO -On the Republican side, advisers to U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris of Sarasota pointed to her statement following Graham's announcement Monday, when she said it "has certainly created a blip on my radar screen, but I cannot yet say that my decision has changed." . . . Harris had previously backed away from entering the Senate race. She gained notoriety when she served as secretary of state during the 2000 Florida recount and would garner immediate name recognition among Republican primary voters.
THIS IS A COMPLETE FARCE - One of the state's first attempts at accountability for its three voucher programs has produced a list of private schools taking tax-financed vouchers that some are calling inaccurate and others confusing.
The list shows that 67 private schools have yet to answer a state questionnaire aimed at increasing accountability on the loosely monitored voucher programs, including former Education Secretary William Bennett's Internet-based James Madison K12 Academy.
But some schools, citing increasing government interference, decided against taking vouchers this year and didn't fill out the form. Others said they didn't know anything about the questionnaire -- despite media attention, and letters from the state warning that failure to comply would mean the loss of voucher money. "67 schools haven't answered voucher survey".
CASTOR IN LEAD?According to the poll, which has an overall margin of error of 3.7 percentage points, Castor scored a 37 percent favorable rating statewide, compared to U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings at 32 percent, U.S. Rep. Peter Deutsch at 24 percent and Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas at 17 percent. "Castor says she leads Senate race".
DEAN BLASTS "JEB!" -Presidential candidate Howard Dean said Tuesday that Gov. Jeb Bush and the Florida Legislature should be embarrassed by their involvement in the medical treatment of Terry Schiavo.
Florida lawmakers, at the urging of Bush, hurriedly passed legislation last month forcing doctors to reinsert Schiavo's feeding tube six days after her husband, Michael, ordered it removed.
"I would be embarrassed if I was the legislature and governor," Dean told several hundred members and guests of the Tallahassee Tiger Bay Club, a nonpartisan public affairs group.
Dean, a physician who received his medical degree from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City in 1978, went on to say that these medical decisions should be between the doctor and family.
'GLADES -The federal government's detailed rule book for the $8.4 billion Everglades restoration finally got a public unveiling Tuesday -- and a swift attack from dozens of environmental groups, who called it a surrender to farmers and developers.
Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Interior Secretary Gale Norton praised the rules, which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers finished nearly a year behind schedule after a contentious series of public comments and meetings, including one hosted by the White House. "Environmentalists blast [Everglades]restoration rules".
OFF TOPIC: THIS IS AN OUTRAGE - Objectively incompetent Condi Rice - who, as "national security advisor presided over the biggest national security disaster in U.S. history - had the gall to blame previous administrations for 9-11:
Condoleezza Rice, the president's national security adviser, recently blamed prior administrations for not doing enough to address the growing threat of terrorism over the last 20 years. This, according to Rice, "emboldened" groups such as al-Qaida to rachet up their attacks.
SARCASAM 101 -Somewhere along the line, the governor has apparently begun to acknowledge that there really are three branches of government, three roles for leadership - not just his and two that play bit parts.
Jeb Bush is now officially on the record, saying to the Associated Press in a discussion regarding his intervention into the Terri Schiavo case, "I cannot unilaterally overthrow court decisions. It's not my job. "Thumbs up - A-plus for Jeb in Civics 101".
IGNORING THE CONSTITUTION -Many legal experts believe a law quickly passed by Florida lawmakers and signed by Gov. Jeb Bush to help keep a brain-damaged woman alive will be found unconstitutional.
But the argument over constitutionality isn't one that carries much weight in the Capitol halls, where the Republican governor and GOP-led Legislature who have sworn to uphold the Florida Constitution often pay scant attention to it.
The battle over Terri Schiavo's life is only the latest example, albeit one of the most blatant, of the executive and legislative branches of government ignoring the fact that the courts have separate powers.
''Ignore is too weak a word,'' said University of Pittsburgh law professor Alan Meisel. He said the Schiavo case was more an example of ``Going out of their way to flout the existence of the courts.'' "Case blurs lines of power".
HE'LL COME AROUND -Florida's citrus and sugar industries aim to leverage the state's key role in President Bush's reelection bid as they shield themselves from a free trade pact Bush favors. "Sugar, citrus at odds with Bush".
Martin Dyckman writes about the "The Legislature that knows no tomorrows": It is often said of the Florida Legislature that most of them cannot see beyond the next election. The real problem is that they can't see even see that far. Why should they, when they don't have to?
The way the districts are rigged, only one incumbent in 10 - if that many - will have any serious opposition. If they ran horse races that way, the perps would go to jail. . . . Conspiracy theorists could find more than coincidence in the fact that the instigator of term limits, Phil Handy, is now one of the key figures in an administration whose apparent goal is to privatize half the government and neuter what's left. Throughout the country, term limits were the tool of people who wanted to see government weak and special interests strong. A weak Legislature - the predictable consequence of term limits - is exactly the ticket if one's ultimate goal is, as Jeb Bush boasted at his second inauguration, to leave state buildings standing empty.
I have heard some people say that it was remarkable that so shortsighted a Legislature was willing to vote more than $310-million for an investment, the Scripps Institute, that is unlikely to bear measurable fruit (if it ever does) until after these legislators are gone. Can it mean that for once the Legislature did look beyond the next election?
Not necessarily. If the Scripps vote turns out to be worthy of blame, not credit, who'll still be around to bear it? No one. That made what should have been a tough vote an easy one, and what made it even easier was the fear - among those few who might have competitive campaigns - of how Governor Gimmick would bash them in the media, which he commands, if they turned down the glittery prize he had brought back from California. . . . The governor and the House - but to its credit, not the Senate - have opted for budgeting systems that make it nearly impossible to tell how well, or how poorly, the state is caring for its people and managing its finances from one year to the next. Ed Montanaro, who quit as the Legislature's chief economic forecaster before Johnnie Byrd could drag him to the guillotine, brilliantly calls it "faith-based budgeting." It is deficit spending (which the Constitution forbids) by stealth. Florida is by official policy the land of no tomorrows.
DIRTY LAUNDRY - The St Pete Times explains "How Terri's Law came to pass". The bill, voted on and signed in less than 24 hours, brought praise and scorn not seen since the 2000 election.
And the Palm Beach Post explains that . . .
[i]f you listen only to Gov. Bush and the Legislature talk about Terri Schiavo, you might think that the courts have rushed to end the life of a helpless woman. If you read what the courts actually have done and said, you understand that the governor and Legislature are wrong.
The story line from Tallahassee is loving parents vs. scheming husband, aided by reckless, uncaring judges. To the rescue come a compassionate, moral governor and Legislature. In reality, the cast and the roles don't line up quite so perfectly. "Courts gave Schiavo case a full hearing".
THE REAL BARBARA BUSH - As we read about how "Barbara Bush speaks her mind", let's not forget the real - mean spirited and nasty - Barbara; here she is opining about deaths of U.S. soldiers in Iraq:
''Why should we hear about body bags and deaths and how many, what day it's gonna happen?'' Mrs. Bush declared. ''It's not relevant. So why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that?''
SCHOOL BONUSES BOGUS -There's a fundamental flaw in Florida's reward system for high-performing schools, and it doesn't take an A-plus student to see it. "Make bonuses count".
NOW THAT'S POLITICAL PAYBACK - The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights will investigate allegations that [Florida] agencies failed to act when black residents complained about pollution from former garbage dumps, the city's sewage system and phosphate processor Coronet Industries, officials say. "Pollution complaints bring probe".
WAL MART DISEASE (OR, THE FLORIDIFICATION) OF THE U.S. ECONOMY - The world's largest retailer and America's largest private employer is spreading its "dead-end jobs" approach throughout the U.S. It would seem, then, that the U.S. is being Floridified - that is an abundance of low paying, part-time jobs without benefits. A Washington Post column in the Bradenton Herald explains that Wal Mart is . . .
[k]nown for its dead-end jobs, Wal- Mart is clearly dragging down pay and benefits for millions of workers. The company does not release figures, but start- up Wal-Mart workers aren't likely to get more than $6.25 to $8 an hour. A big chunk are part-time -- clearly by design -- and an amazing 500,000 quit each year. Nearly half the company's workers make less than $15,300 a year, the federal annual poverty income for a family of three.
Result: Wal-Mart workers often turn to food stamps, apply for the federal government's Earned Income Tax Credit, and turn to states for child support payments. Wal- Mart gets to "sell for less" because it shifts the costs to all taxpayers. When you buy for less at Wal-Mart, you're paying: It's just a question out of which pocket.
Then there's health. Part- time Wal-Mart workers have to wait two years, full-time employees six months, for insurance -- and even then the coverage has high premiums and deductibles. The result, says United Food and Commercial Workers (AFL-CIO), which has been trying to organize Wal-Mart: "Nearly 700,000 Wal-Mart workers are forced to get health insurance from government or through spouses' plans, driving up health costs for all of us." As insurance for all Americans turns into a hot political issue, Wal- Mart's dereliction on health coverage for its army of workers will be hard to ignore.
U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, Florida's senior senator and former governor, will return to Tallahassee on Monday with a roofer's apron, hammer and hardhat to perform his 391st in a series of signature "work days."
Democrats and other observers read Graham's hastily planned work day -- with a lunch-hour news conference -- as a clear signal that Graham, a three-term senator who abandoned his bid for the presidency this fall, will seek re-election next year
When House Speaker Johnnie Byrd was accused of abandoning a $2.9-million state contract with one computer company in favor of one picked by a political friend, he was quick to defend his honor. "Left with the options of paying a vendor for work he did not complete or letting the House computer system fail, I believe we made the correct decision," he wrote this newspaper. ". . . In an emergency situation, I turned to trusted and experienced professionals."
Asked to defend his actions in a court of law, though, Byrd suddenly seems out of the loop. He is now fighting a deposition in the lawsuit Hayes Computer Systems filed against the House, and his attorney told the court recently that Byrd has no "independent knowledge" of the decision and no "facts to add."
That's curious, given that some of the people who already have testified under oath say that Byrd made numerous personal demands and that Hayes' scope of work changed almost overnight when Byrd became speaker last fall. In fact, Paul Hawkes, a policy chief for Byrd's predecessor, says he didn't see much wrong with the Hayes computer system. Hawkes, who is now a state appeals court judge, said in a sworn deposition that "everybody was happy with the way it was progressing."More.
"JEB!"'S ATTACK ON 'GLADES HITS ROADBLOCK -A federal judge agreed with environmental groups and an Indian tribe Wednesday to appoint an expert to monitor Everglades pollution cleanup, in a defeat for the Bush administrations in Washington and in Tallahassee.
JAILS OR BOOKS?But the state can't keep balancing the budget on the backs of parents and students. Lawmakers this year budgeted $66 million to build prisons. Meanwhile, they agreed to tuition increases of between 8.5 percent and 15 percent for universities and a 7.5 percent rise for community colleges, while adding no money for student growth. "Pruitt calling it right".
"JEB!" THE MOVIE MOGUL - "Movie Fan Jeb Bush Has Greenlight Power in Florida". This piece - which includes an interview of "Jeb!", includes the following misstatement in the intoductory language: "Bush has been admired for keeping Florida's economy on track during tough times." We suspect that this falsehood will be repeated again and again as "Jeb!" continues to stride upon the national stage in preparation for 2008.
PAT ROBERTSON STANDS WITH "JEB!" -The organization which represents doctors who work in hospices and nursing homes said Thursday that Florida lawmakers and Gov. Jeb Bush are interfering with private end-of-life decisions by blocking Terri Schiavo's death.
INSURANCE INDUSTRY: IF YOU CAN'T PAY, HIT THE HIGHWAY - We read that "Legislature mulls risk-pool insurance". This system creates a "high-risk pool insuring sick and otherwise uninsurable residents":
"I can buy property insurance on a luxury beach house in hurricane alley," [pool advocate Michelle] Robleto said. "Yet, if I have cancer or diabetes, I cannot buy health insurance outside the employer-based system. Our system is, indeed, missing something very important."
Opponents, such as Steven Smith of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida, argued risk pools are an inefficient solution, requiring big state subsidies and helping a small percentage of uninsured residents.
Taxpayers would end up paying most of the $6,000 a year in yearly costs for high-risk individuals, said Smith, who said a 6-year-old Department of Insurance study pegged that figure at about 20,000 Floridians.
"It wouldn't work," Smith said. "You need to know this is a subsidy program."
PHONE RATE HIKES -Earlier this month, Sprint, Verizon and BellSouth hit a speed bump in their drive for the largest phone-rate increase in the state's history.
But the triumvirate -- Florida's local-service "phoneopolies" -- could slam into a bigger road block today, with the release of testimony showing that their numbers don't add up. That's good news for consumers. "Reality calling". See also "Sounding off on proposed phone hikes".
It is not the time to replace him with a rookie Democrat or mindless Republican droid who would rubber stamp Bush's policies -- if Bush were re-elected. That this droid could be House Speaker Johnnie Byrd, the most nakedly ambitious and duplicitous politician ever to slither out of Tallahassee, is even more disturbing.
MUST READ: "JEB!"'S LEGACY -Thanks to special-interest politics, billion-dollar corporations shoulder less of Florida's tax burden than ever, leaving consumers to carry more. "Unfair share".
HOW LONG BEFORE HE'S SINGING OUT OF THE "JEB!" HYMNAL?[Sen. Tom] Lee is the man most likely to succeed Senate President Jim King a year from now. In the past two years the Legislature has had four special sessions to deal with the budget, and it won't get easier when Lee takes over.
Some estimates of the financial hole Floridians face are as high as several billion dollars, partly because Florida's share of the federal estate tax will dry up. And the cost of reducing class sizes will continue to climb.
Lee has been sounding the alarm about the Legislature's spending habits for a couple of years. He did it again in February as Bush budget director Donna Arduin gave senators a rosy picture.
"Here we are again: building a budget that focuses on getting us out of two years, declaring victory and shifting the liability down the road to the next group of people, without the tools to resolve the problems we know are going to be there," Lee told Arduin and other lawmakers. "We're so political sometimes we don't even want to know the answer," Lee said. "Senator wants Florida to get a financial plan".
SURELY "JEB!", OUR ENVIROMENTSL GOV., WILL ACT ON THIS -Florida is one of the states that haven't weighed in with major global warming legislation. Yet, as a peninsula, it could suffer worse than most. If sea levels rise as predicted, much of South Florida could end up under water. Global warming also could produce more numerous and intense hurricanes. "States Lead Way On Warming".
PRIVATIZATION -Two private health plans said they'll care for Miami-Dade County's uninsured children for less money than the state pays now. Florida did well to accept the low bids. Now it must ensure that cost savings don't come at the expense of the children's well-being.
Come Jan. 1, 2004, Staywell and Amerigroup, for-profit firms, will assume responsibility for 25,000 children in the county's Healthy Kids program.
This, despite the fact that "Audits, surveys and monitoring by state boards have found good health outcomes and satisfied families under the current program."
FORGET THAT "WE CAN DO IT BETTER AT THE STATE LEVEL" STUFF - It's always funny to see the conservative states rights hacks running to the feds whenerver they have a problem. For example:
"There are a lot of people in Iraq who have never had orange juice," [Bob] Crawford said.
The citrus department has enlisted Gov. Jeb Bush to persuade federal agriculture officials to approve the purchase, which is estimated to cost $240 million. Bush's connections as the president's brother will be helpful, Crawford said.