Observations and musings on Jacksonville Politics

Growth Management: 11th Hour Surprise

The Sarasota Herald Tribune provides a good summary of the Legislature’s changes to Florida’s growth management laws that includes opinions from both sides of the hotly contested issue.

It was the ultimate 11th-hour surprise.

With just minutes to go in the 2009 session, state legislators revived and passed one of the biggest changes to Florida’s growth laws in decades.

The sweeping bill, which Gov. Charlie Crist is soon expected to sign into law, will:

•  Automatically allow developers in seven of Florida’s 67 counties [including Duval County] and nearly half of its 410 municipalities to add more residents and traffic without expanding or adding roads. They will instead pay a fee, which the state has yet to decide how to calculate.

•  Enable other counties and municipalities to designate urban areas where they, too, can overlook new developments’ impact on roads, if they choose.

•  Eliminate reviews by state and regional regulators of major urban developments that could impact roads and services in nearby cities and counties.

Builders and lawmakers see the bill as an incentive to build in urban areas because builders would still have to pay for new roads and other impact fees associated with rural areas. They also say it will make it faster to develop property, boosting the economy.

But watchdog groups decry it as a blatant sellout to developers, the kind of profit-driven policy that has created problems in Florida for decades.

Read the entire article here.

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

PB Post Calls for Veto of State Farm Bailout Bill

Governor Crist has already been sending signals that he may veto the State Farm bailout bill saying the bill “gives me some pause.”  Now the Palm Beach Post weighs in on the State Farm rate saga:

Letting insurance costs in Florida rise out of sight makes as much sense as letting house prices drop out of sight. But that’s what will happen unless Gov. Crist vetoes HB 1171.

Call it The State Farm Bailout Bill. Last year, the company – which, with 1 million policies, is Florida’s largest private insurer – asked for a 47 percent statewide increase just two years after getting a post-Wilma 52 percent increase. The Office of Insurance Regulation said no. A judge said no. So the company threatened to drop every policy in the state.

Was it a bluff? Who knows, but it worked on the Legislature. HB 1171 would allow the state’s largest private insurers to raise rates for property coverage as much as they want. Supporters claim that this free-market approach would stimulate competition and, over time, actually drive down rates and cause companies to take policies out of state-run Citizens.

The free market, though, got Florida into this problem. Companies wanted to dump riskier homeowner policies and keep the safe ones. That’s how Citizens got its 1 million policies. Private companies continue to shed policies in other coastal states. There’s no guarantee that this bill would increase competition. The only guarantee is that large insurers would make more money.

Sen. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, defended his vote for the bill by saying that “this is just a short-term thing.” Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres, mounted the same weak defense for his yes vote, saying that the Banking and Insurance Committee chairman had promised a staff review after a year. But the Senate rejected an amendment by Sen. Deutch for a review after two years by the chief financial officer. The Senate rejected an amendment that companies keep all existing policies.

Senate President Jeff Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, voted against HB 1171. He is rumored to be a candidate for chief financial officer in 2010. So he saw HB 1171 as a potential political liability or a bad deal for consumers or both. Gov. Crist has his own political plans for 2010. Similarly, for reasons that make sense for the state and for him, he should veto this bill.

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

$44 Million in Free Insurance

Florida’s budget could gain $44 million if all of those State employees who are eligible for free insurance were to sign up and pay the usual rates – that includes our legislators.  Over 1,000 of those state employees eligible make at least $100,000 per year.  Interestingly enough, the subject has not even come up in the Legislature’s budget talks.

Read more here.

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

The Rise and Fall of Ray Sansom and his Cronies

Today, the trustees of the Northwest Florida State College voted to return the $6 million Panhandle legislator Ray Sansom obtained for them secretly (less $300,000 the college already spent, that is).  They also voted to fire Bob Richburg, the college president and Sansom’s close buddy.   No punishment so far for Jay Odom who would have benfitted from the college’s airplane hangar.

Read the rest of the story here.

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

House Sales Tax Break Costs Floridians $20 Million

Just what Florida needs (sigh), more tax breaks – to the tune of $20 million.  Who voted for these folks?

Fort Lauderdale Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff’s sales-tax package cleared the House, 116-0. The sales-tax exemption review was initially launched to try to create revenues — but Bogdanoff’s bill actually costs the state about $20 million.

The details:

* Revive Florida’s back-to-school tax holiday on clothes under $50 and school supplies under $10 for one weekend, Aug. 8-10.

* Do another tax free holiday from June 5-7 at the onset of hurricane season for items including batteries, generators, storm shutters, etc.

* Repeals the sales tax exemptions for hospital-run gym memberships, ostrich feed, magazine subscriptions, charter fishing trips with six or more passengers and “coin-operated amusement machines,” which include adult arcades (i.e. grey machines) and games at places such as Chuck E. Cheese

* Creates a new tax exemption for tickets to NBA or NHL All-Star games.

* Creates a maximum tax cap of $18,000 on the purchase of a yacht or airplane over $300,000. A tax cap of $300 would be established for fractional aircraft ownership.  Orlando Sentinel

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

Legislators Still Getting Plenty of Free Gifts

Just in case you really thought the gift ban that applies to the Florida Legislature was really working, please note that our elected legislators merely use a different path to get themselves plenty of freebies.

Freebies are still flowing freely
H-T Capital Bureau Correspondent

Smarting from scandals linking lobbyists and state legislators, the Florida Legislature tried to crack down three years ago on legislators accepting meals, gifts and other freebies from lobbyists.

But despite that ban, state lawmakers are still wining and dining for free or getting free tickets and hotel rooms at places like Universal Studios in Orlando.

It’s all legal.

They form political organizations that can accept contributions from lobbyists and use the proceeds for meals and travel. They can eat free or accept free tickets to Disney World, for example, but the meal and trip are considered a donation to the Republican Party of Florida or the Florida Democratic Party.

Some legislators also are members of caucus groups that take donations from lobbyists and use the money for meals and other expenses.

“There is some hypocrisy that the gift ban seems to ban the small stuff but not the big stuff,” conceded Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres, who represents a part of Charlotte County.

Read the rest of this entry »

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

Changes Called for in Florida Legislature

Perhaps the Florida Legislature could use a remedial class in transparency and openness.

From the St. Pete Times

They clearly don’t get it.

Something strange comes over state legislators when they gather inside the Capitol.

It’s like everyone’s IQ drops below room temperature — and in a building that is always colder than necessary lest someone break into a sweat — this is a dramatic drop.

It gets worse when a grand jury takes aim at them. This month, a Leon County Grand Jury indicted former House Speaker Ray Sansom for official misconduct — accusing him of falsifying a budget record so he could slip $6 million into the state budget to build an airplane hangar for a friend and contributor.

Sansom says he’ll be vindicated. And yes, he is innocent until proven guilty.

But the grand jury went a lot further and essentially indicted the entire Legislature for the way lawmakers cloak the budget process in secret and slip last-minute appropriations into the spending plan long after all the public meetings are over.

“That’s the way it works,” explained Sen. Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee, as he defended Sansom’s budgetary prowess.

Rep. David Rivera, R-Miami, says the grand jury would see things differently if its members were in the Legislature.

Yes. That is the way it works. And perhaps it is time for it to end. When public officials decide how to spend public money, they ought to be doing it right out in the open so we can all see it.

Read the rest of this entry »

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

Florida House Poised to Approve Drilling

A bill requiring the governor and Cabinet to accept $1 million application fees from bidders interested in exploring state-controlled waters that stretch to 10 miles offshore is poised for approval in the House.  Funds generated from resulting leases would be distributed to Florida Forever (up to $300 million for land acquisition and up to $15 million for land management per year), up to $20 million for beach nourishment and up to $20 million for distribution to coastal cities and counties where the leases occur. The bill does not address the requisite pipelines or other onshore infrastructure that will be necessary to transport the gas or oil from the drilling equipment to the refining or other shore based related facilities other than to require the state to provide a lessee an easement over any sovereign submerged lands.

According to the St. Pete Times, Senator Bill Nelson’s office has released this map of existing drilling platforms in the Gulf of Mexico: “You’ll readily see Florida’s future – for inside the green line is where the Florida House bill proposes to put rigs, not to mention expedited permitting for stuff, like, refineries,” said Dan McLaughlin.

Meanwhile, the St. Pete Times also reports that Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink weighed in on the measure, saying she strongly opposes it because it “would threaten Florida’s economy by bringing oil rigs 3 miles off our coast, sanctioning drilling in the shallow waters of the Gulf, and allowing unlimited pipelines to go through sensitive areas up to our beaches.”  She also blasted the late-session emergence of the bill which, has been worked on for weeks behind the scenes but emerged at the late meeting of the late committee of the House this week.

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

Harsh Criticism Results in New Voting Law Proposal

Facing stinging rebuke, including an extremely critical New York Times editorial, House leadership has gutted much of the elections bill that caused so much controversy last week.  The controversy began with a bill proposal that would have tightened ID requirements for voters; required paid petition circulators to register with the state; required voters who changed their address close to an election to cast provisional ballots; and made it a crime for anyone to interact with voters within 100 feet of a polling place.  As if the provisions of the bill weren’t bad enough, Republicans, including our own local legislator Jennifer Carroll, sharply cut off any debate of the bill during consideration at a House Council meeting.

According to the St. Pete Times, the full House is expected to consider a much weaker proposal today.  The new bill tightens the requirements for removing deceased voters from the voter rolls; requires petition-gatherers to turn in signed petitions within 45 days of collecting them; and restores legislator-controlled leadership funds, which were banned in the 1990s.  The funds would allow the public to know which legislators are receiving contributions from which interests, but critics say the funds’ revival would increase the reliance on large, unrestricted campaign contributions from special interests.  In addition, critics are concerned over the new version’s provisions that would shorten the lifespan of signatures on constitutional amendment petitions from four years to two years, and eliminate the 150-day limit for voters to revoke their signatures.

Read the rest of the story here.

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

Sun Should Shine on Florida’s Legislature

Former Speaker of the House Ray Sansom’s recent indictment for secret budget shenanigans during his term as budget chief in the Florida Legislature should bring calls for Sunshine Laws to apply to the Florida Legislature.  Like most people, I thought the indictment and criticism would lead to more voluntary openness in the Legislature’s budget process.  But despite that indictment and the grand jury’s strong criticism of the Florida Legislature’s secretive budget process, Florida’s legislators continue on their merry, secretive way this session.  In the meantime, the indicted Ray Sansom is weighing his return to the Legislature on a day-by-day basis.

It’s a sad state of affairs for Florida’s citizenry.

Read the Miami Herald’s story here.

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

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