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Property Tax Divide

April 25th, 2007 by Mike Vasilinda

House and Senate negotiations in Tallahassee over property tax relief are at a standstill tonight. House republicans remain committed to a sales tax hike to offset the taxes on homesteads, The Governor has not taken sides yet, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, that is about to change.

Hear it here: Property Tax Update

House Republicans want to raise the sales tax by up to 2 ˝ cents to offset the taxes on your home. The Senate wants a modest rollback and local governments to tighten their belts. Rep. Jack Seiler says a bitter divide remains among House and Senate negotiators. “We’re almost like planets on two different orbits right now.” Says Seiler.

Meanwhile, Charlie Crist took the rare opportunity to reach out to the 40 plus house democrats. “I know what the people want, and they want us truly to work together. They don’t like us fighting. They don’t like us bickering,” Crist told the minority conference.

For the last two days, the governor has distanced himself a sales tax hike. Quoting the Rolling Stones, Charlie Crist’s message to House republicans was simple. “You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you might get what you need. And what we need is a significant property tax cut for the people.”

The pop lyric is as specific as the governor has been so far besides saying he wants taxes to “drop like a rock”. Until now, the governor has avoided talking about specific changes to the property tax law, but this late in the game, that is going to change.

The governor is finally starting to use the power of the office as the legislative clock ticks down. He is holding town hall meetings and talking directly to voters through satellite media tours of the state.

A draft of the Governor’s plan embrace’s a roll back of property taxes to their 2003 level with a cap on any additional revenue for local governments. He would double the Homestead exemption, give a break to businesses on tangible Personal Property taxes. First time home buyers will get a tax break during the first year, and existing homeowners would be able to take some of their homestead tax savings with them when they move.

See the draft here: proposal-tax-reform-1.pdf

Posted in Charlie Crist, Property Taxes, State News | 2 Comments »

Developmentally Disabled Cuts Debated

April 20th, 2007 by Mike Vasilinda

Thousands of families who care for the Developmentally Disabled are facing the prospect of losing state services after July First. Up to 200 million dollars is on the chopping block in Tallahassee. Mike Vasilinda tells us the cuts are being considered because of bureaucratic bungling… but it’s the disabled who will pay the price.

Hear it here: DD Cuts

Elizabeth Hanes says art therapy has made a huge difference in the quality of her life
“I wouldn’t know what my true talents are… I wouldn’t without them.” she says.

Unfortunately for Elizabeth and thousands of other families, severe cuts in services like art and dance therapy are on the table at the state legislature. The problem starts with a lack of accountability from the Agency for People with Disabilities. The agency has at times said it didn’t need any more money… then spend 150 million more than it had.

No one knows exactly what, if anything, will be cut says John Hall, the chief lobbyist for Florida’s retarded. “That’s the 64 million dollar question. People are gonna… these are services that have already been judged medically necessary.”

Several hundred developmentally disabled came to the capitol this week. They got encouragement from the Governor “It is important that we have caring hearts.” says Charlie Crist.

But lawmakers seem destined to make changes for fear the DD program is out of control. Aaron Bean is negotiating for the House: “We’re still very much open for a creative solution to limit the amount of harm done.”

Unfortunately for Elizabeth and thousands like her, their quality of life is measured by what enriches them….including art therapy “I love it. It is everything. I mean, it is so awesome!” says Elizabeth Hanes.

Posted in Charlie Crist, Education, Health, Legislature, Politics, State News | 2 Comments »

Virginia Tech Aftermath in Florida

April 17th, 2007 by Mike Vasilinda

The Virginia tech shootings are on the minds of college students and parents everywhere. In Tallahassee, at the FSU campus, College Police Chiefs from around the country were already gathered to discuss how to prevent and respond to emergencies. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the chiefs are reexamining how they do business.

Hear it here: Shooting Aftermath

FSU police say they have a plan to respond to a campus shooter…and it has been practiced…but Police Chief David Kelly says it is only as good as the information that is fed to them.

“Looking back at other past incidents, there have been a pattern of circumstances that could point to a change in behavior and those are the cues that we need to be mindful for it.”

While students say they feel safe, Finance Major Ronald Chunga of Miami says the Virginia shootings are the talk of FSU

“There should have been way better notification. The guy was a college student. They should have let the students know if they if they wanna be in school… if they wanna be in class or not, says Chunga.

Police chiefs from almost a dozen ACC schools were already meeting in Tallahassee to discuss safety. Most say it is too early to know if their plans need to change.

With 30 or 40 thousand students crisscrossing campus every day, the problem remains: how do you tell them all something right now?

University of Miami Police Chief David Rivero says everyone needs to look at new communication technology. “So that’s one of the things we’re going to look at to see if there is an ability to have a better P-A system or alarms or sirens or something that we train and tell our students how to respond.”

FSU is making counseling available to students… police presence is up. And the school is already talking about how to reach students with safety information when small classes begin.

Governor Charlie Crist has ordered state flags flow at half staff until Sunday in honor of the Virginia Tech shooting victims. University police chiefs have also been asked to appear before a legislative committee next week to talk about their campus security plans.

Posted in State News | 2 Comments »

“Cute” Email Backfires

April 13th, 2007 by Mike Vasilinda

Immus shot off his mouth and is out of a job, and a state representative who didn’t think twice about pushing the send button on an email has had to apologize. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the apology hasn’t soothed
everyone who was offended.

It is the kind of thing that shows up in you inbox everyday. This
animated message reminds you to pay your taxes..Because 12 million
illegal aliens are depending on you. It was forwarded to every member of
the state house, and it has angered many Hispanic republicans, including Carlos Lopez-Cantera of Miami “I think it was inappropriate. You are talking about people’s liveshere. And it’s not something to be dismissed, or just bantered about in
a humorous fashion.”

The sender, State Representative Don Brown of Defuniak Springs thinks
Immigration is an important issue “I do regret that in that particular context, the email was foundoffensive by my members. I didn’t intend to offend anybody.”

Even the governor, who didn’t really want to get in the middle was
pushed for his response. “I’m the grandson of an immigrant…we ought to just do unto others.It’s pretty simple.”

One of the lessons learned here is something we call all benefit from,
and that’s thinking twice before pushing the send button. The controversy may not be over. The Hispanic Caucus will talk about what if anything should happen to Brown at a meeting they have called for Monday.

While Brown has apologized for any angst he has caused his
fellow House members, he says he is not apologizing for taking a strong
stance against illegal immigration, which he calls one of the biggest
problems facing the country.

Posted in Charlie Crist, Legislature | 1 Comment »

The People’s Lobbyist

April 13th, 2007 by Mike Vasilinda

For the last few days, Governor Charlie Crist has been doing the unprecedented. He has been attending House and Senate Committee meetings in an effort to make his wishes on legislation known. Crist told reporters the idea is to let lawmakers know exactly how important an issue might be. Today, he attended the House Policy and Budget Council to argue for money for stem cell research and new voting machines.
Crist says he wants to make sure they get the message “I think it’s important to the people. Whether its stem cell, to heal people, or a paper trail, to validate our elections. I don’t want Florida to be embarrassed in the future, in our elections, and we have a
big election next year. And so, I just want to make sure the membership knows it’s important to the people, so I am conveying that today.”

Money for stem cell research and new voting machines remains in doubt as
lawmakers hammer out the final details of the state spending plan.

Posted in Charlie Crist, Legislature, Politics, Voting | 1 Comment »

Dozier Under Investigation

April 13th, 2007 by Mike Vasilinda

The Arthur  G. Dozier  School for Boys in Marianna is under fire tonight for using inappropriate, unprofessional, and abusive actions toward kids in its care.  After an investigation involving abuse that occurred in February, the regional residential services director and acting superintendent of the school was fired on Thursday. DJJ secretary Walter McNeil says problems at the school permeate the entire operation  “We recognize that there are systemic, operational problems at our Dozier facility that span the chain of command from top to bottom.  With that, even as we speak, we take appropriate administrative and investigative actions.  It is clear that we have to act decisively to change the culture of our Dozier facility.”

In the interim, DJJ assistant secretary Rex Uberman will supervise daily operations at the school.

Posted in Children, Criminal Justice | No Comments »

100 Days and Counting

April 12th, 2007 by Mike Vasilinda

Today’s is Charlie Crist’s 100th full day as governor. So far one of his biggest promises made on day one is unfulfilled, and as Mike Vasilinda tells us, it is touch and go over whether that promise will be kept any time soon.

On day one, Charlie Crist made big promises. ““Item one on that agenda must be to reduce the burden of our people from the spiraling cost of property insurance and property taxes.”

Then he accomplished the near impossible. Getting lawmakers to compromise on insurance reform, although expectations on rate reductions have so far exceeded reality. Says Crist “There’s certainly more to do and we’ve gotta stay vigilant on this issue, Mike. I think we need to make sure that we continue to hold the insurance industry’s feet to the fire.”

Still, The Governor is getting high marks from most capitol insiders… Democrats included.
“I’m very proud of him. I’m glad he’s a Floridian.” says Democratic activist Gayle Andrews

But time is running out in the legislative session for property tax reform. Just three weeks remain…and the Senate waited until day 100th to unveil it’s long awaited plan.

“Let me be clear… this was no easy task.” says Senate President Ken Pruitt.

The governor’s popularity remains unprecedentedly high. His trick is to keep the property tax debate from languishing for the next 100 or even 200 days.”

But on day 100, the governor remains optimistic the promises made on day one will be fulfilled.
“I think there’s plenty of time to form a consensus to make sure that these property taxes drop like a rock. I know the people expect it”

And expect it they do.

Just how popular is the governor? A recent poll by Quinnipiac University shows Charlie Crist has a 73% approval rating and his ranking with democrats is almost as high as it is with republicans.

Posted in Charlie Crist, Insurance, Legislature, Property Taxes, State News | No Comments »

Symphony Blues

April 3rd, 2007 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida has more than a dozen official symbols… everything from a state tree to an official pie. Now two Tampa lawmakers want to make the Tampa Symphony the “Official Symphony of Florida”, but as Mike Vasilinda tells, ten other symphonies are not fond of the idea.

Hear it here: Suffering Symphonies 

Florida has a state sand: Myakka. A state fruit: the orange. And a questionable state song: There’s an official reptile, a state marine mammal… even an official pie: the Key Lime pie…and the list goes on.

So in addition to a state flower and a state fruit… and even the moonstone being the state gem, two Tampa lawmakers now want to make the Tampa symphony as the official symphony of Florida. The only problem is the other orchestras don’t like it.

There are 11 professional orchestras in Florida. Naming one as the official would be a slap in the face to the others. Mary Bedford is the President of the Tallahassee Symphony.  “Orchestras do not require this type of designation. It would be like designating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the official state football team.” says Bedford.

When we asked Governor Charlie Crist what he might do if the bill reaches his desk, he assured us he loved all music. “And Lynyrd Skynyrd too, I should say. You know, a great Florida band whose lead guitarist was a supporter during the campaign from the Fort Myers area. It’s a great outlet for our people.”

Similar legislation was vetoed by Jeb Bush, who said it wasn’t needed.

Posted in Legislature, Politics, State News | 1 Comment »

Coal Costs Questioned

April 2nd, 2007 by Mike Vasilinda

The state’s Public Counsel says Progress Energy customers are due anywhere from 111 million to 143 million dollars in refunds on fuel supplies purchased over the past ten years. Three days of hearings began in Tallahassee this morning and consumer advocates argue that Progress bought expensive coal from companies it controlled, and then shipped it in barges owned by the company instead of using cheaper coal more readily available. Public Counsel Joe McGlothlin says the highest overcharges were in recent years.

“2005 only, the difference between the fuel burned and what should have been burned had they been taking advantage of PRV Coal and using the 50/50 blend the units were designed to burn was 29 million dollars. For 2004, standing alone… 21 million dollars. For 2003, standing alone… 15 million dollars.”

Progress Energy disputes the charges, saying the time to question what it paid for coal in previous years has come and gone. Attorney Joe Burnett says the company has done nothing wrong.


SOT: Joe Burnett / Progress Attorney

“The evidence in this case will show we made reasonable and prudent decisions that saved customers… not cost, saved customers hundreds of millions of dollars from 1996 to 2005.”

If a refund of the full amount is ordered, it would be about 84 dollars for each of Progress’s 1.7 million customers. It would likely be spread out over the course of a year and come in the form of a credit against a current bill.


Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

On Who’s Side?

April 2nd, 2007 by Mike Vasilinda

Nationwide Insurance stunned state regulators today at a public hearing when it asked for increased profits while seeking to drop 26 hundred dwelling fire policies. The company wants to raise rates an average of 70 percent statewide, with some areas seeing hikes of 90 percent. Regulators also questioned why the company did not include savings from recent changes in state law, why the company buys reinsurance from primarily from its parent company. Deputy Insurance Commissioner Belinda Miller questioned the company’s motives in increasing its profit margin.

“Why all of a sudden do they need a 15% level of profit when in past years they certified… the actuaries certified… that 3.4% produced an adequate rate… an actuarially sound rate.”

Nationwide has until April 6th to submit new information to the state. A decision on the rate hike will be made sometime this month.


Posted in State News | No Comments »

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