JaxPoliticsOnline.com

Observations and musings on Jacksonville 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 »

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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, , , , , ,

School Board To Consider Tax Increase on Tuesday

According to Mary Kelli Palka of The Florida Times-Union, the Duval County School Board will vote hold a vote on Tuesday to address whether or not the board will increase the millage rate to fund reserves. The board is concerned that further cuts in education may be coming from the state and they wish to increase the county’s reserves to deal with that possibility.

According to an earlier article in the Times-Union, a majority of the board is leaning towards supporting the increase.  The vote will require an endorsement of five of the seven members of the board.

Read the Times-Union article here.

Filed under: Jacksonville, , ,

Sunday Night Detour: Ray Charles

From a true legend with Jacksonville roots.  Hope everyone enjoyed their weekend of celebrating our freedom.

Filed under: Sunday Night Detour, ,

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, , , , ,

The Tax Conversation Continued

The news from Jacksonville.com on Tuesday was discouraging—Jacksonville’s Public Libraries are facing a budget cut of $1.1 million next year, even if a proposed 12% hike in the millage rate is passed.  This cut, David Hunt points out, is on top of a $1 million cut the city imposed last year.  (That cut was partially made up by the state, but with the state in dire straits, don’t expect a repeat this year.)  If the Mayor’s millage rate increase is not passed, the Times-Union reports that the city will close 5 of the city’s 21 public libraries.

While some may shrug their shoulders and argue that, in times of economic hardship, libraries are something that can be sacrificed.  However, a visit to your local Jacksonville Library will likely show that they are a necessary service—particularly when money is tight for the average citizen.

For this writer, it’s personal.  As a child who was an avid reader and grew up without a television, the public library was my only means of gaining knowledge.  I vividly remember concealing Hardy Boys books between historical biographies as I snuck back into my house after a trip to the library.  (The Hardy Boys were deemed too “worldly” for me to read, so I had to consume them on the sly.)  For many Duval County youth (and adults), public libraries remain the sole means of expanding their knowledge base.

With the news breaking on Wednesday that decreases in the property tax roll were not as severe as anticipated, the Mayor has now scaled back his tax increase recommendation to 1.02 mills.  According to the Mayor’s Office, this rate of 9.5 mills would place the city close to the rate the city had in place three years ago before Amendment 1 was passed.  Of course, there were no Stormwater Fees, Garbage Fees or JEA Franchise Fees three years ago.  Not to mention the Duval County School Board is also pondering a millage rate hike.  Because of those facts, it’s rather disingenuous to say the city is returning to 2006 tax levels—it’s a tactic voters see through and resent.

That aside, some are now asking why the Mayor would propose a tax increase that only “maintains the status quo.”  They wonder what Jacksonville has accomplished if the Council approves a 12% increase in property taxes and necessary services are still severely impacted.  How can a tax increase that does nothing to improve the city’s long-term financial woes make this a better city to live in?  After all, isn’t that the question we are to be asking—what kind of city do we want to live in?

While voter anger at the proposed tax increase has been quite vocal, many within the community have acknowledged the fact that Duval’s millage rate is low in comparison to other major metropolitan areas.  At the same time,they have expressed their concern that the Mayor is looking to push through an increase that does nothing for the future financial health of the city because the increase would be made before several crucial issues were resolved.  After all, the Mayor’s budget depends on two key components that are unknowns:

  • Furloughs for all non-public safety employees and zero raises across the board. Neither one of these options are a guarantee—they will have to be negotiated at the collective bargaining table.  The door appears to be left open for special pay increases.
  • Possibly modifying the 8.4% DROP guarantee that the Police & Fireman’s Pension Fund has, extending the retirement age and other key elements of the pension system. Once again, these reforms are absolutely not a guarantee.  They will have to be negotiated at the collective bargaining table with the most powerful unions in the city.  Duval County John Rutherford has already weighed in on the proposals for the Police & Fireman’s Pension Fund, recently telling WOKV reporter Jared Halpern that he is opposed to some of Peyton’s reforms.

If either of these crucial elements fails to pan out—and it is likely that some elements will not—the proposed budget will be in trouble.

The Mayor could more effectively make his case by backing away from a “doom and gloom” approach—an approach that has been used more than once over the last few years—and open up the process.  It’s not enough to tell the public that $30 million of the current budget shortfall is “from the global economic crisis.”  Voters should be shown the data that backs up this claim.

The Mayor should also explore the option of dedicating 1 mill of property tax revenue to funding ongoing capital maintenance and improvements—another suggestion of the JCCI study which has been largely ignored.  This dedication of funds is something that the public could see the results of with their own eyes.

The Mayor should move immediately to begin pressuring the Council to act on pension reform.  As Mayor, he has the bully pulpit in Jacksonville and the ability to drive the discussion.  Voters will remain wary of any tax increase proposed before pension reform in complete and unless the Mayor steps up to the plate now, any hope he has of winning support for his proposal decreases with each passing day.

Filed under: Jacksonville, Jacksonville City Council, Mayor of Jacksonville, , , , , , , , ,

Tea Parties Coming Back To The First Coast

Tea Parties are returning to the First Coast just in time for the July 4th weekend.  Fresh off the success of the first party, which organizers say drew nearly 2,000 people to a lunch-time event at the Jacksonville Landing, the Duval County Republican Party is planning a repeat performance on Thursday, July 2nd from 5:30 to 7:00.  Anxious, perhaps, to avoid any criticism of local government spending or the recently-proposed property tax increases, Republican organizers have asked that participants make signs focused on “Washington” and “big government spending.”  The participants have been asked to declare their “independence from tyranny.”

St. Augustine will hold a tea party of its own on July 5 at Castillo de San Marcos.

The Duval County Republican Party’s flyer is below…  UPDATE:  The Duval County Republican Party has said that although they “promoted” this event, they did not sponsor or plan it.  The flyer below has been updated to reflect the flyer that was originally e-mailed.  The sentence “Paid by Republican Party of Duval County” is at the bottom, referring to the party’s covering the cost to promote the event via e-mail.

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Jacksonville, , , , , , ,

Classical Music Returning to Prime Time WJCT

This is terrific news for the Jacksonville airwaves:

WJCT is pleased to announce the return of classical music to prime time public radio! Beginning on Monday, June 29th tune in to WJCT 89.9 FM and enjoy wonderful classical music every weeknight at 7pm.

You’ll love Performance Today. It’s one of America’s most popular classical music radio programs, with more than 1.2 million weekly listeners around the country.

Hosted by Fred Child, Performance Today features live concertsby famous artists in concert halls around the globe and from the American Public Media studios, as well as interviews, news and features.

For more information, visit WJCT’s blog.


Filed under: Jacksonville,

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, , , ,

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