JaxPoliticsOnline.com

Observations and musings on Jacksonville Politics

Legislature Faces Tougher Choices

We’ve had two Friday the 13ths in the past 4 weeks.  And if you didn’t suffer from triskaidekaphobia before, this past Friday’s budget projections will probably make you wary the next time Friday the 13th rolls around.

According to the St. Pete Times, in their announcements about the state of Florida’s economy,

state economists were using words like  “deteriorating” or in a “downturn” or “negative” when they held their meeting Friday to assess tax revenues that fill the state’s general-revenue fund, which accounts for schools, health care, prisons and courts.

The 2009-10 budget year, which begins July 1, will mark the fourth year in a row that tax collections have declined. Next year, the state’s general-revenue fund might take in $19.9 billion. That’s about the same as the 2002-03 level.

Amy Baker, coordinator of the Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research, said Florida’s economy won’t improve much until 2011. Then, the credit market should improve and a big chunk of baby boomers will hit retirement age and move to Florida along with their money.

By the end of their meeting, the economists agreed that their November tax collection estimate for the current year was off by $1.1 billion. Next year, it’s off by $2.4 billion.  Read the rest of this entry »

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

Does Florida Need A Lt. Governor?

Florida’s little-known lieutenant governor has reimbursed the state $6,600.59 for trips his wife and son took on state aircraft last year.  

Of course, what the lieutenant governor has not done is explain why he took 365 trips on state aircraft over a 2 year period.  (Let me break that down into simple math that even a member of the Florida Legislature could understand…that’s one plane trip every other day.)  

Now, any Gator fan could understand the lack of interest in Tallahassee.  It’s typically a town that we swoop into for a quick win and head home.  But when one is elected Lt. Governor, it is often assumed that one might stick around—at least during the work week.  Don’t make that assumption of our current lieutenant governor, however.  Mr. Kottkamp can hardly pause in Tallahassee for a day or two at the most per week, despite the $385,000 home he purchased in the city.  Instead, he can be found in his Ft. Meyers mansion, making the occasional trek to Edison State College where he keeps his office.  

If the commuting trips cost so much, one can only guess how much it costs Florida taxpayers to subsidize the office of a lieutenant governor who refuses to live in the state’s capital?

Actually, come to think of it, what purpose exactly does a lieutenant governor serve in the state of Florida?  In a time of budgetary hardships, perhaps we should consider eliminating the office (and all of its corresponding budget demands) altogether?  I’m sure the President of the Senate could assume the role of Governor in the event it was vacated. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Florida, Florida Politics, , ,

Florida Deficit Hits $6 Billion

I wonder what trust funds they will raid this year.

Sen. J.D. Alexander just opened the Senate Ways and Means Committee and announced that the state shortfall is likely to be in the $5 to $6 billion range next year, including $1.9 billion in recurring revenue. “No single solution will solve that,” he said. “There is little doubt that further budget reductions will be necessary.”

Alexander told the Herald/Times that the initial analysis and discussion with Washington is that the stimulus package “would not allow us to use it for the core missions of the state. I don’t know that we’ll be able to fill the holes with the stimulus money even if you ignore the one-time nonrecurring holes.”

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

Are Prisons Breaking Our Budget?

Interesting reality check from Florida’s embrace of mandatory sentencing guidelines.

Everyone in Florida government is singing the Budget Blues. But underlying the melody is a drumbeat many state leaders profess not to hear: The sound of countless prison doors slamming shut. Like it or not, the state’s incarceration policies have a direct and growing impact on the current budget crisis.

AN EXPENSIVE HABIT

Florida’s prison system is growing faster than that of any other state. According to a report by the Pew Charitable Trust, corrections (which includes state prisons and probation) consumed 9.3 percent of the state budget in 2007. The only states to allocate a greater portion of their budget were Oregon and Michigan.

And that only accounts for direct prison and probation spending — it doesn’t encompass increased public support for the families prisoners leave behind, or the burden on city and county governments that have to build additional jail space and employ more public-safety workers. Meanwhile, the state — whose daily average prison population is projected to top 100,000 this year — will need to build new facilities this year or face overcrowding. Department of Corrections Secretary Walter McNeil has requested $439.2 million in the coming budget year to add capacity.

Few people are pushing for dangerous murderers and rapists to be released. But neither can they dispute that Florida’s incarceration spree occurred at a time when crime rates were actually trending downward. Florida hasn’t become a more dangerous place to live, it’s just become one that has become politically addicted to the idea of increasingly harsh punishments.

HANDCUFFING JUDGES

One of the more important checks against legislative excess has been hobbled. Lawmakers have significantly eroded the ability of judges to determine fair, justifiable sentences for a wide range of crimes.

Florida, like many states, adopted sentencing guidelines as a way to keep sentences relatively fair across geographic and racial lines. After sentencing guidelines passed in 1983, courts used a “score sheet” that added points for the particulars of an offense, the criminal background of an offender and other relevant considerations. The resulting score was then matched to a “guideline” range of prison and/or probation time — but judges could depart from the guidelines if they found good reason to do so. That approach used fairness as a base line, giving judges the ability to tailor sentences to circumstances.

Read the rest of the editorial here.

Filed under: Florida, , , ,

Republicans get serious about tax exemptions

Fresh off efforts to close the current fiscal years deficit hole, Florida lawmakers are facing the prospect of slashing billions (or raising billions) to fill the growing hole in next year’s budget. And, it appears, they are finally exploring options other than raiding the state’s trust funds. From the St. Pete Times:

House Finance and Tax Committee chairman Dean Cannon of Winter Park has assigned his 12 committee members a homework assignment: review the 239 sales-tax exemptions (worth about $12.3b) and figure out the reasons, benefits and drawbacks of each of them.

Each member has been assigned to review and probe two groups of 10 exemptions. They’ll come back with their reports Feb. 8.

Filed under: Florida, Florida Politics, ,

Charlie Ready to Raid Trust Funds AGAIN!

Charlie Crist has apparently decided the only way to balance the budget budget is to return, once again, to raiding the state’s trust funds. The Lawton Chiles Endowment is in his crosshairs again:

Gov. Charlie Crist and Republican legislative leaders are back at the well, planning to draw $700 million from the Lawton Chiles Endowment over the heated objections of the late governor’s heirs.

While Crist and lawmakers argue that the move is necessary to fix a $2.4 billion budget shortfall, nobody can say how much it will cost the state in the long run.

Critics warn that if the state goes ahead with plans to take the payout in June, it would amount to a fire sale, locking in hundreds of millions of dollars in losses the fund suffered in the recent stock market crash. The problem, “unrealized losses,” should be familiar to any homeowner who has been forced to sell when market conditions say the house is worth less than when it was bought.

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

Charlie’s Math Not Adding Up

Gov. Charlie Crist has asked for additional time to submit his budget to the State Legislature. Crist, who raided the state’s trust funds to balance this year’s budget deficit, apparently has realized he has no more trust funds to raid. His solution? He’s hoping for a bailout from the incoming President.

Gov. Charlie Crist asked legislative leaders for permission Tuesday to submit his budget proposals abit late — in the hope that more details of the federal economic stimulus package might be known, and deeper cuts to services avoided.

Crist is required to submit a balanced budget to the Legislature at least 30 days before the start of the regular session on March 3. The governor can waive that deadline with the signatures of the House speaker and Senate president. So, he wants to put it off until Feb. 20.[The Orlando Sentinel]

The Governor’s letter formally requesting the extension can be found here. No word on whether Ray Sansom has his list of pork for Northwest Florida State College ready yet or not.

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

Sink objects to funds raid

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer, Alex Sink, has objected to the Governor’s plan to raid state trust funds to balance the current budget deficit. Sink notes that Crist is attempting to raid 87% of the current balance of the Chiles Fund at a time when the fund’s balances are quite low—all in a short-sighted attempt to find a quick fix. Consider this Ms. Sink’s opening salvo in her US Senate race. The letter can be found here.

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

Duval Schools: Let’s push for fat, uncreative kids

Duval’s public schools are reacting to the growing budget crisis by proposing slashing physical education and art classes. From today’s Times-Union:

Drastically reducing the number of arts teachers, freezing salaries and restructuring health care benefits are part of a $133 million list of cuts that Duval County Public Schools could make in the next fiscal year.

The district said last month it expects a budget shortfall of more than $98 million because of increased costs, less money from the state and having to make up for the $57 million it spent from its reserves in previous years.

The district projects its shortfall could balloon to $139 million if the state pushes forward with a class-size reduction initiative that was put on hold last year because of budget woes.

Let’s just make a concerted effort to increase the childhood obesity rate and educate children without any sense of creativity. That’s how we can build a world-class education system!

Filed under: Jacksonville, , , , , , ,

Warren Buffet pockets $224 million from Florida

I’m sure there will be debate as to whether or not this was a good idea, particularly given Florida’s budget issues. Did Buffet find a sucker or Charlie a sugar daddy? Too late for debate, though..the money’s already gone.

Billionaire Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. won a $224 million bet that Florida would escape major damage from hurricanes this year.

Florida’s option agreement that would have compelled Buffett to buy $4 billion of bonds to finance storm recovery will expire Dec. 31, Dennis MacKee, a spokesman for the State Board of Administration, said in an interview today. The state earlier paid Buffett $224 million in return for his commitment to buy the debt if needed. The calm season meant Florida had no need to raise the money.

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

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