JaxPoliticsOnline.com

Observations and musings on Jacksonville Politics

The Hometown Democracy Debate Heats Up

Amendment 4, also known as Hometown Democracy, will be the ballot initiative to watch in 2010.  The highly-controversial amendment cleared another hurdle yesterday when the Florida Supreme Court issued an advisory opinion to Attorney General Bill McCollum stating that a revised financial impact statement now complied with state law.  

“Local governments will incur additional costs due to the requirement to conduct referenda,” the court opined.  The impact on state government; however, “will be insignificant.”

Amendment 4 would require that any comprehensive land use plan changes approved by city councils or county commissions go before the public in the form of a ballot referendum.  Critics say that requiring the public to vote on all comprehensive changes would clog up local ballots and could necessitate dozens of referenda throughout the year.  On the other hand, proponents contend that local politicians are too dependent on large developers for campaign funds and have been quick to approve amendments in the past.

The recent legislative session only served to further heighten the stakes as the Legislature moved to strip much of the existing growth management policies currently in place in an effort to jump-start the state’s flagging real estate industry.  To the dismay of many, Charlie Crist—a self-proclaimed environmentalist—went along with the Legislature’s efforts. As a result, many previous opponents of Amendment 4 are beginning to change their tune, including Florida Times-Union Columnist Ron Littlepage.  Littlepage cited the Legislature’s near-stripping of concurrency requirements and the on-going Craig Airfield controversy in announcing his shifting position on the initiative.  (Interestingly enough, several local governments, including Weston, Key Biscayne and Miami Beach, have filed suit to block the rewrite of growth management laws.  They argue that eliminating concurrency created “unfunded mandates” for local governments.)

Despite their opposition to the recent moves by the Legislature in regards to growth management, the St. Pete Times Editorial Board is not convinced that Amendment 4 is the answer.  They cite the “St. Pete Beach experiment” in detailing their distaste for the initiative.  St. Pete Beach, the Times said, demonstrates that “land planning via referendum is a messy, unpredictable business that leads to higher government costs due to litigation and a stalemate when it comes to development.”

On its face, some argue that the amendment demonstrates an abdication of voter responsibility.  If the voting public is unhappy with politicians rubber stamping the requests of developers, they argue, then voters have an obligation to show up at the polls in support of individuals who pledge their commitment to uphold the comprehensive plan.  

One thing is for certain—it will be a high-stakes, expensive war as the Florida Chamber, developers and real estate interests make an all-out effort to prevent the amendment from reaching that magical 60%.  

The ad wars on YouTube have already begun.  A sampling, including a satirical reprise of the 1970’s era “Crying Indian” PSA, can be viewed below. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: 2010, Florida, Florida Legislature, Florida Politics, , , , , , , , , ,

The Hottest 2010 Campaign Issue? Travel On State Planes

One of the hottest issues emerging in the statewide races coming up in 2010 appears to be travel on state aircraft.  Florida Lt. Governor Jeff Kottkamp was the first to come under fire for what some deemed as “excessive” travel on state aircraft on the taxpayers dime.  Kottkamp, a rumored candidate for Attorney General, has moved to put the accusations to rest by reimbursing the state and hiring a well-respected legal team to assist in fighting ethics complaints.

The issue has not stopped with Kottkamp; however.  Attorney General Bill McCollum and CFO Alex Sink are now both facing ethics complaints over their own use of state aircraft.  Today, the first attack ad of the political cycle emerged with a YouTube video targeted at Sink.  The ad was produced by the 527 group “Don’t Bank on Sink”, which is headed up by Gainesville businessman Jay Navarrete.  The ad appears below: Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Florida, Florida Politics, , , , , ,

Florida Last In Stimulus Dollars

Charles Dharapak

Charles Dharapak

Despite Charlie Crist’s very public embrace of Barack Obama and Obama’s federal stimulus plan, Florida ranks dead last in dollars received per person according to a study by the Palm Beach Post.  Crist’s endorsement of the stimulus, which brought the Governor considerable heat from deficit hawks within his own party, gave the President a much-needed bipartisan boost as he sold the plan to the American public earlier this year.  That involvement seems not to have paid off to many Floridians.

Florida TaxWatch’s Dominic Calabro placed the blame on Florida’s elected officials.  In an interview with the Palm Beach Post, Calabro alleged that the low return per resident showed “how inept Florida’s government officials are.”

The Post questions the ability of the stimulus to improve Florida’s unemployment rate—something the President promised would be a result when he touted the stimulus in a Florida stop in February.

The low distribution has left many Floridians confused and left the President potentially vulnerable in a battleground state.  Read the Post’s article in its entirety here.

Filed under: Florida, Florida Legislature, Florida Politics, , , , , ,

City Council Emergency Rules Up for Review

The definition of “Emergency” was stretched recently when Councilmember Richard Clark introduced controversial Ordinance 2009-467; an emergency, no-bid appropriation for a $168,000.00 batting cage in Wingate Park.  The Jacksonville Ethics Commission was called upon to examine his request and revisited the issue during their June 29, 2009 Commission Meeting.  During this session, City Attorney Margaret Sidman walked the board members through a detailed explanation of City Council’s Emergency and Procurement rules.  Although the Ethics Commission’s original findings indicated Mr. Clark’s bill was legally sound, under intense criticism from other Councilmembers and the media, Richard Clark withdrew the bill and sent it back to committee so it could be re-submitted with competitive bids and without its emergency status.

This bill has become such a case study in the ambiguities of City Council’s Emergency Status Rules, that the Ethics Commission Legislative Subcommittee will meet on July 23, 2009 at 1PM to discuss if and how those rules can be enhanced.  Currently, City Council Rules 4.901 -4.906 do not explicitly define what constitutes an emergency and leaves the decision up to Councilmembers.  This allows the definition of an emergency to be loosely interpreted, influenced by special interests and provides few safeguards to ensure that the public has adequate time to review and respond to “emergency” legislation.

According to Ms. Sidman, nearly 8% of 2009 legislation submitted to date rose to the level of emergency status; and Jacksonville hadn’t even seen its first hurricane of the season.  She did indicate that there are formulaic, flow-charting procedures in place that Council Committees are urged to follow when designating emergency legislation, but they are merely suggestions and not mandates.

How often those flow-charting procedures are used remains a mystery.  Councilmember Clark has yet to answer how these rules and procedures were applied in the case of Ordinance 2009-467. Flowcharts and deliberation aside, according to the rules Mr. Clark was technically allowed to decide that a batting cage was an “emergency” regardless if his constituents didn’t think so.

With any luck the Ethics Commission Legislative Subcommittee will be able to recommend tightening these rules so special interest bills are not fast-tracked before the taxpayers can see what they’re really paying for.  Rules on emergency legislation need to be in place to guarantee open government for the public interest and not an open checkbook for pet projects.

Filed under: Florida, Jacksonville, Jacksonville City Council, , , , , , , , , ,

Wall Street Journal Slams Charlie Crist, Says FL Headed For Disaster

Tagging him “Hurricane Charlie,” the conservative Wall Street Journal slammed Florida Governor Charlie Crist this week.  The newspaper cites Crist’s recent veto of property insurance reform as one of the major reasons Crist wants to get out of Tallahassee “before the next hurricane hits.”  His veto, says the Journal, “all but guarantees a state disaster.”

The bill would have trimmed the cost of a state-run enterprise that insures homeowners against storm damage. The program has an $18 billion unfunded liability and has taxpayers on the line for tens of billions in property losses from the next major hurricane. The Republican legislature tried to reduce those future losses, but Mr. Crist sounded like Barney Frank rolling the dice on Fannie Mae in declaring there’s nothing to worry about.

By way of background, two years ago Mr. Crist gave a big gift to coastal property owners by converting the state of Florida into one of the world’s largest property insurers. The Citizens Property Insurance Corporation provides below market-rate insurance policies directly to homeowners. Meanwhile, the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund (CAT) regulates how much private insurers can charge homeowners and requires companies to purchase low-cost reinsurance from the government. Mr. Crist didn’t invent these programs, but he vastly expanded their reach — to about one million policies today. He transformed Citizens from insurer of last to first resort.

Here’s the problem: This system isn’t even within a coastal mile of being actuarially sound. The state government acknowledges that in many high-storm risk areas the premiums are from 35% to 65% below what is needed to cover potential claims. That subsidy has made Mr. Crist popular with many coastal residents even as the state plays Russian roulette with the weather.

You can read the rest of the article here.

Filed under: Florida, Florida Politics, , , , ,

Crist Backtracks and Signs Controversial Water Bill

Despite a prior statement that he was “leaning towards” vetoing SB 2080, the controversial water resources legislation that would severely limit accountability in the water consumption permitting process, Charlie Crist backtracked today and signed SB 2080 into law.  JaxPoliticsOnline.com had written about this legislation on more than one occasion and nearly every major newspaper in the state (as well as Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton) had called on the Governor to veto it.  He had previously given every indication that he would.  Until he quietly signed it today.

It’s a sad day for Florida’s aquifer and the St. Johns River.

Filed under: Florida, Florida Politics, , , ,

GOP Senate Primary Starting To Heat Up

With today the last day of fundraising for the 1st quarter reporting of the US Senate race, the Republican primary is starting to look interesting.  Incumbent Governor Charlie Crist entered the race as a hands-down favorite, but former Florida Speaker Marco Rubio is beginning to make some headway.

According to a new Mason-Dixon poll released yesterday, Rubio’s support has surged among Republican voters.  While Crist still leads the race by an impressive 51% to 23%, Rubio appears to be gaining ground.  According to the poll, only 52% of GOP primary voters had heard of Rubio.  But, among those who were familiar with the former Speaker, Rubio trails Crist by only 2 points—33% to 31%.

More details are available at the St. Pete Times.

Filed under: Florida, Florida Politics, , ,

FL Representative Under Fire For Stock Trades

The Cleveland Plain-Dealer has named US Rep Ginny Brown-Waite (R-Brooksville) as one of the members of the U.S. House Financial Services Committee who engaged in the trading of financial stocks as the bottom fell out of the market last year.  The trades were ironic, the Plain-Dealer said, because these same Representatives would later sit in judgement of these same companies, criticizing them for “greed.”  Some of the trades occurred on the same day Congress voted on bank bailout legislation.

According to the Plain-Dealer, Ms. Brown-Waite purchased up to $15,000 in Citigroup stock the day before the House passed the bailout legislation.  Less than two weeks later, on the same day Bush Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson was pressuring banks to accept the bailout money, Ms. Brown-Waite purchased up to $15,000 in Bank of America stock.

Of course, the lesson here might be to never look to a member of Congress for investment advice.  On October 2, 2008, Citigroup stock was trading at $22.50.  It closed on June 29, 2009 at $3.02.  On October 13, 2008, Bank of America stock was trading at $22.79.  It closed on June 29, 2009 at $13.19.

Ms. Brown-Waite was certainly not the only member of Congress involved in the trades.  The full article can be found here.

Filed under: Florida, Florida Politics, , , , , ,

State Farm Continues Pullout After Crist Vetoes Bill

After Gov. Charlie Crist announced that he was vetoing House Bill  1171, widely known as the “State Farm Bill”, State Farm announced that they planned to continue with their plans—expressed on Tuesday—to exit the state’s home insurance market within the next two years.

Crist had previously expressed reservations over the bill, stating that it had “no provisions that [allowed] consumers to renew options and make a choice that best [fit] their needs.”  According to State Farm and their supporters; however, the bill would have allowed them to raise rates to more “realistic” levels to cover potential losses, without being subject to state regulation.

The Republican-controlled Legislature, which overwhelmingly supported the bill, is not pleased with Crist’s veto.  House Speaker Larry Cretul called Crist’s veto a “disappointment” and prominent leaders in the House and Senate are now hinting at efforts to override the Governor’s veto.

Filed under: Florida, Florida Politics, , , , ,

FHSAA Reconsidering Reducing Female Sports

Facing a legal challenge from prominent Jacksonville attorneys, the Florida High School Athletic Association has called a meeting to reconsider the earlier decision to slash a number of high school sports, a move that was decried as a violation of Title IX.  The cuts would not have included football and cheerleading and would have disproportionately affected girls, particularly in light of the fact that cheerleading does not qualify as a competitive sport under Title IX.

According to The Florida Times-Union, the parents of the children who filed the suit have asked US District Judge Timothy Corrigan for an injunction to prevent the association from implementing the new policy.  Corrigan has scheduled a hearing on that request on July 17, which would be two days after the board’s published meeting date, at which they will consider amending their previous policy change.

The lead attorney suing FHSAA sees progress.  Wayne Hogan told the judge that without the suit, the FHSAA would have been unlikely to revisit the issue.

Filed under: Florida, , , , ,

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