With the 2009 Legislative Session set to open tomorrow, here’s a list of issues and people to watch during the “silly season” according to the St. Pete Times.
Issues to Watch:
After a series of spending cuts totaling nearly $7 billion over the past two years, legislators may have to cut more as tax collections continue to slide. From where? Schools and health care account for most spending from general tax dollars.
New taxes and fees on smokers, motorists, bottled-water drinkers and others could be on tap as legislators grope for money to cover a massive deficit that federal help can’t completely hide. New property tax-cut proposals are on the table, too.
It’s a perennial issue for lawmakers who must confront it on two fronts. The hurricane catastrophe fund isn’t big enough to meet its obligations, and State Farm Florida’s retreat from property policies is set to scramble an already fragile market.
Gov. Crist cut a deal with the Seminole Tribe to allow more gaming in exchange for a share of the money — without getting approval from lawmakers. They sued and won; now Crist is seeking their support for a new deal. But the lobbyist-heavy parimutuel industry will want something from the state, too.
An army of state and local officials, business leaders and lobbyists is pushing for legislative approval of a $1.2 billion Central Florida commuter rail project called Sunrail. Trial lawyers and labor unions halted it last year, but the venture has gained new momentum: Crist is leading the charge.
People to Watch:
Sen. JD Alexander R-Winter Haven
The strong-willed, plain-spoken citrus grower is the Senate’s chief budget writer. He’ll be squarely at the controls of virtually every major decision of the session.
Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla R-Miami
The Senate majority leader is a campaign consultant with a shrewd political mind whose duties include nailing down enough votes to move the Republican agenda.
Sen. Don Gaetz R-Niceville
A retired business executive and former Panhandle school superintendent, he figures to play a leading role as chairman of a Senate committee on Florida’s economy.
Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff R-Fort Lauderdale
In a year in which lawmakers will look to raise revenues, the South Florida lawyer chairs the House Finance and Tax Council, the destination for all tax bills.
Rep. Dean Cannon R-Winter Park
The next-in-line speaker is always influential, but the House leadership shakeup that ousted Ray Sansom as speaker has hastened the rise to power of this Orlando-area lawyer.