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Property Tax Down, Fees Up

January 31st, 2008 by flanews

Amendment one promises property owners a tax break, but county and city leaders say the referendum is simply robbing Peter to pay Paul.
Whitney Ray tells us how the 9 billion dollars in tax relief could force county and city governments to raise fees.

Hear it here: Property Tax Down, Fees Up

Tuesday’s vote was to lower property taxes, but experts say higher millage rates, increased fees, and the loss of sales tax exemptions are on the horizon.

Bill Horak, who voted for amendment one, said he knew referendum would come with a catch.

“It doesn’t surprise me,” said Horak. “I think we still need to pay for those folks. I just think spreading the taxes as equally as possible is a good way to look at it.”

The tax cut will save home owners an average of 240 dollars a year, but the loss of that cash will cause local governments to look for ways to make ends meet. Members of The Association of Counties said mileage rates could go up and government services could cost more.

“Fees are something counties will have a chance to look at,” said Cragin Mosteller, a spokesperson for the association.

Experts with Tax watch said fees for trash, fire and parks services are most likely to go up. Governor Charlie Crist said despite what counties and cities do he’s looking for even more property tax cuts.

“We have to consult with the legislature and see what their appetite is,” said Crist. “I know what the appetite of the people is, they want to see more property tax cuts. And I support it.”

How the amendment shakes out financially will be different in every county.

Experts with Florida Tax Watch said taxes on gas could also be raised.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Governor Looks to State Reserve for Budget Relief

January 31st, 2008 by flanews

Governor Charlie Crist wants to use some of the state’s 70 billion dollar budget to fight gangs, keep the economy healthy and protect natural resources. He also suggested taking money from the state’s reserve to meet those goals. The governor announced his budget priorities Thursday. Crist suggested using more than 63 million dollars to make health insurance options available to low income families. He suggested spending more than a billion dollars in trust fund cash.

“Florida’s reserves continue to remain strong,” Crist said. “Even with utilizing some of these trust funds we maintain a balance of 4 Billion dollars after the recommendations.”

The governor recommended the legislature put more than 100 million dollars into schools.

Posted in Charlie Crist, State Budget, State News | No Comments »

Court Gives Allstate the Go Ahead

January 31st, 2008 by flanews

The court that let Allstate continue selling policies after the state tried to shut them down has rebuffed the state’s appeal. An appeals court rejected the state’s attempt to immediately stop Allstate from writing new insurance policies in Florida. Regulators have ten days to submit paperwork supporting their decision to suspend the company’s licenses. A spokesperson for Florida’s Insurance Commissioner said the ruling doesn’t bother him, since his office has already received thousands of documents.

“They can continue to sell insurance and for them, it’s business as usual,” said Ed Domansky, a spokesperson for The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation. “It also means that there are some time frames in place now for documents to be filed with the courts as part of the appeals process.”

Allstate carries about 300,000 Homeowners policies in Florida.

Posted in Insurance, State News | No Comments »

Political Legends Join Governor to Educated Kids

January 31st, 2008 by flanews

State leaders are making efforts to educated people about the government. Today, Former Florida Senator Bob Graham and Lou Frey joined Governor Charlie Crist to announce efforts to teach Florida students as early as elementary school, about American government. Frey said the subject has been neglected for too long.

“When 40 percent of the people in this state can’t tell you what our three branches of government are, it gives you a little pause. When our 4th graders can’t pick the Constitution out as our leading legal document, it gives you a little pause,” Frey said.

Helios Education Foundation partnered with the former legislators. The Foundation donated more than half a million dollars to the effort.

Posted in Charlie Crist, Education, Legislature, State News | No Comments »

Keeping Kids Out of Foster Care

January 31st, 2008 by flanews

Members of a Department of Children and Families taskforce said if a child has to be sent to foster care, the agency has already failed. The taskforce met Thursday to discuss ways to keep parents and children together. It’s recommending “wrap-around” services to treat symptoms of abuse such as drug use or mental illness.

“A lot of individuals, it’s not necessarily that they don’t love their children, they love their children but they don’t have the parenting skills. They may have a substance abuse problem or they may have a mental health problem,” said George Sheldon of the Department of Children and Families. “So if you deal with some of those root causes, it’s a lot better than placing a child in foster care where he might be in five, six, seven, eight, ten different placements.”

The taskforce will continue to look at the issue for at least another year.

Posted in Children, Health, Legislature, State News | 1 Comment »

Governor Said People Want More Tax Cuts

January 31st, 2008 by flanews

One property tax vote down and more are on the horizon. Governor Charlie Crist, back at the Capitol after a long campaign, told reporters the people want more property tax breaks. Crist said he’ll meet with the state legislature to discuss more tax cuts. He also said if the amendment is challenged in court is will be upheld.

“It’s not going to backfire,” Crist told reporters Thursday. “I congratulate the people for putting it in the Constitution. As I understand it, it was a tremendous turnout on Tuesday. The more we can educate people about their power to vote and the power that the people have to exercise their right to democracy, the greater opportunity they will have to influence the future of this great state. I just couldn’t be more pleased with their performance, their taking this so seriously on Tuesday, and how they turned out in tremendous numbers.”

Floridians approved the referendum with 64 percent voting for the amendment.

Posted in Amendments, Charlie Crist, Elections, Legislature, Property Taxes, State News, Voting | 1 Comment »

Gambling Compact Showdown in FL Supreme Court

January 30th, 2008 by flanews

Lawyers for the state legislature and Governor Charlie Crist squared off at the state Supreme Court Wednesday, over the gambling issue. In November, the governor gave the Seminole Indian Tribe exclusive rights to gambling on their reservations, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, the legislature said the governor went too far.

Hear it here: Gambling Compact Showdown in FL Supreme Court

Las Vegas Style slots went into action Monday on the Seminole Reservation. If the agreement with the state stands, black jack will begin in April or May. State legislative leaders were in the Supreme Court to claim the governor went too far when he cut the gambling deal. Their lawyer barely got a word out before he was hit with tough questions.

“Is it your position that the governor does not have the power at all,” asked Supreme Court Justice Charlie Wells

The hearing lasted an hour.

The question the court must answer is whether the governor could give the tribe card games, which are prohibited in state law. The legislature’s lawyer says he can’t.

“Black jack is the major mainstream casino gambling type of card game,” said attorney Jon Mills.

Lawyers for the Seminoles and the governor said once voters approved
Vegas style slots, federal law took the gambling question out of the state’s hands.

“Once the state made the policy choice, the policy decision to allow class 3 gaming, then everything else that happened after that was taken out of the hands of the legislature,” Chris Kise, Counsel for the Governor.

“It’s undisputed that Florida has class 3 gaming, the question is whether that means their entitled to the card games.”

The court often takes months to decide, but this decision could come much sooner. Among the options open to the court, is to do nothing, which would send the case back to the legislature, which could then attempt to overturn the Indian compact.

Posted in Charlie Crist, Criminal Justice, Gambling, Legislature, Politics, State Budget, State News | No Comments »

Voters Approve Tax Break, Commission Looks at More Tax Reform

January 30th, 2008 by flanews

Voters decided to lower property tax, and now members of the Taxation and Budget Commission are scrambling to reform the tax system. An estimated 9 billion dollars will be cut from the budget. As Whitney Ray tells us, city and county managers across Florida will have to decide where to make budget cuts.

Hear it here: Voters Approve Tax Break, Commission Looks at More Tax Reform

After Tuesday’s vote, fears remain. Revenue will fall, and city and county workers could pay the price.

“Some of these counties are going to have some real hard choices to make,” said Cragin Mosteller, a spokesperson with the Association of Counties.

The Association of Counties, along with mayors, emergency workers, and teachers, opposed amendment one. The opposition only swayed voters in 11 counties, most of them in the panhandle. Now all of Florida’s 67 counties will have to cut corners.

“In some counties services will be cut. Perhaps they’re only quality of life services, which is unfortunate because that’s what makes our lives easy and great. For some it will be harder choices and they’ll have to make some harder decisions,” said Mosteller.

Members of Florida’s Professional Firefighters and The Police Chiefs Association refused an on camera interview. Florida Education Association spokesperson Mark Pudlow wasn’t too embarrassed to voice his disappointment.

“It may be that programs go away in schools,” said Pudlow. “It may be that there are other changes. It could be that there are layoffs.”

The real price tag of what voters approved, which will determine how deep cuts maybe, won’t be known for months. The Taxation and Budget Reform Commission met to discuss tax reform. Members of the committee are looking at ways to make a fairer tax system. One recommendation is to take away some of Florida’s hundreds of tax exemptions.

“There are exemptions that may have been there 10, 15, 20 years that may have been good public policy when enacted, that simply don’t meet the needs of the state today,” said member Martha Barnett.

The Taxation and Budget Reform Commission’s report is due in May.

Posted in Amendments, Charlie Crist, Elections, Politics, Property Taxes, State Budget, State News, Voting | No Comments »

Undecided Voters Will Decide Amendment 1

January 29th, 2008 by flanews

Both sides in the property tax debate are predicting the outcome will be close. The measure needs 60 percent to be approved and as Mike Vasilinda reports, polls show the decision will be up to those who make up their mind today.

Hear it here: Undecided Voters Will Decide Amendment 1

Some voters knew exactly what they would do on Amendment 1.

“It’s going down,” said one voter.

“I voted yes,” said another voter.

They also knew why.

“We are moving to a brand new home in a month, so that was not hard for me to make up my mind,” said voter Eleanor Smith, who voted yes on 1.

“It’s far too complex and I prefer the services to the pittance that you would get,” said voter Elspeth Stowell, who voted no on 1.

Polls have shown consistently that Amendment 1 is below the 60 percent threshold for passage, which means its fate will be in the hands
of undecided voters.

In the end the outcome depends on who votes. We met the O’Neals, Who just moved to Florida from Philadelphia, their way to vote.

“We have not, we are not well informed on Amendment one and we’re hoping to figure it out as we get there,” said the O’Neals.

“And you’re here, though,” said Mike Vasilinda. “We are,” they said.

So we waited and got their decision.

“You voted for it? We did. (Why?) It seemed like the logical common sense thing to do given the increase in property values over time,” the O’Neals said.

Jennifer Heckman is another undecided voter.

“Probably decide right before we go in and vote, leaning toward no. I think I would prefer for the legislature to do something.”

So in the end, what happens on Amendment 1 will likely hinge on who showed up to vote on election day. And what they decided when they got there.

Amendment 1 is the first amendment required to have 60% for approval. Ironically, only 57% of voters gave the okay to the higher threshold in the 2006 election.

Posted in Amendments, Property Taxes, State News, Voting | 3 Comments »

No Delegates, No Problems

January 29th, 2008 by flanews

Florida moved up its primary and was penalized by both parties, but that hasn’t stopped a surge of Floridians from voting. As Whitney Ray tells us, the historical significance of the presidential preference primary has voters rushing to the polls.
Hear it Here: No Delegates, No Problems

The phone was ringing off the hook at the Secretary of States voter hotline center, Tuesday. Independents wanted to know, why they couldn’t vote for a presidential candidate and democrats wanting to know if their votes will even be counted. The Democratic Party lost all its delegates because of the early primary.

“Their vote will be counted,” said Sterling Ivey, spokesperson for the Secretary of State. “Whether the state party and national party acknowledges the election in Florida, that’s for the state and national party to determine.”

The implications of Florida’s primary go beyond delegates at the national conventions for most voters. Despite the party losing its delegates, democrats said they want their voices heard. Almost half a million voted early. Democrats and Republicans said this election is one for the history books.

“It’s so diverse for the first time,” Republican Udora Hogge said. “There’s a women on the ballot.”

“To have an actual African American presidential candidate that so many people are supporting is amazing,” said Annette Ponder, who cast her vote for Barack Obama.

Despite the penalty, Florida Democrats are still recruiting all their delegates, hoping they get a say. The Democratic National Convention will be held in August. The Republican Convention will be held about a week later in September.

Posted in Elections, Politics, State News, Voting | 1 Comment »

Democratic Candidates Ignoring Florida Could Hurt In November

January 28th, 2008 by flanews

Despite being penalized by both national parties, Tuesday is shaping up for a record turnout. Already, nearly a million people have voted early or by absentee ballot, and As Whitney Ray tells us, Democrats and Republicans say the loss of delegates is not dampening their spirit.
Hear It Here: Democratic Candidates Ignoring Florida Could Hurt In November

The Democrats lost all their delegates. The Republicans lost half. Party Leaders, like retired U.S. Senator Bob Graham, said the lack of the democrat campaigns will hurt the party’s eventual nominee.

“I won’t say we’ve shot ourselves in the foot, but we’ve taken off a few toes,” Graham Said

The Democratic Party is trying to put the best spin possible on the situation. Leaders of the Florida Democratic Party said they see two advantages to not having their candidates here. They’ve had more time to rally grassroots support. They said there’s also been an increased focus on the Republican candidates which could have an adverse affect in November.

“John McCain’s not for the Catastrophe Fund,” said Leonard Joseph, Executive Director of The Florida Democratic Party. “Floridians have to decide if they would really support someone who says that’s not a priority.”

Republican leaders said they’ve seen an unprecedented shift to the GOP.

“It sends the message that the democrats don’t care about Floridians votes,” said Erin VanSickle, a spokesperson for The Republican Party of Florida

Life long Democrat William Foutz said he’s not discouraged by the lack of campaigning.

“No one can disenfranchise Florida from doing anything and I think we will comeback at the convention because they going to need our votes,” said Foutz.

Florida Democrats are still moving forward like its business as usual. They’re still recruiting all their delegates.

Posted in Elections, Politics, State News, Voting | No Comments »

Poll Shows Lead Change

January 28th, 2008 by flanews

With the Florida primary on the horizon, recent poll results hail a new Republican frontrunner, while the leader is the same on the Democratic side. Quinnipiac University’s recent sample of likely Florida voters, shows Presidential hopefuls Senator John McCain and Mitt Romney in a virtual dead heat for first place among Republicans, 32 to 31 percent. Meanwhile Senator Hilary Clinton maintains a 20 point lead over Senator Barack Obama among Democrats, with 50 percent support.

“There’s no indication that despite Senator Obama’s lead and his win in South Carolina this weekend that it’s going to affect the race in terms of who’s going to win,” said Peter Brown with the Quinnipiac Polling Institute.

Brown also commented on how the Republican race to the White House is shaping up.

“You’ve got two tiers, we’ve got the 1st place race, and the 3rd place race, and the 1st place race is very, very close,”

Brown said don’t count on any comebacks. The poll also shows that supporters of McCain and Clinton are least likely to change their minds before tomorrow’s big showdown.

Posted in Elections, Politics, State News, Voting | No Comments »

Former Senator Against Slot Machines

January 28th, 2008 by flanews

Voters in Miami-Dade County will decide on Tuesday whether they want to take a gamble on slot machines at three locations. Pari-mutuel owners are arguing that they need gaming revenue to stay in business. Former governor and U.S. Senator Bob Graham is urging voters to say no to slots.

“The future of our state is not going to be in slot machines,” said Graham. “It’s going to be in building quality communities, people with values, work ethic, educated in order to be productive. And those things, in my judgment, are not consistent with the kind of future that’s based on luck that is the essence of gambling.”

State figures show there are about 3,285 slot machines running in Florida. The addition of slots in Miami-Dade could potentially add 2,000 to that total.

Posted in Charlie Crist, Elections, Gambling, Politics, State News, Voting | No Comments »

Almost a Million Floridians Cast Early Votes

January 28th, 2008 by flanews

Nearly one million early and absentee voters have already cast ballots in Tuesday’s presidential primary. The Secretary of State’s spokesman said that number also includes 100,000 independent voters who wanted to vote for or against Amendment 1, which would cut property taxes. Election officials are not anticipating any problems tomorrow.

“This is the last election where touch screens will be used in 14 of the counties,” said Sterling Ivey, the spokesman for Florida’s Secretary of State. “After this election, beginning in July, the counties are required to move to an optical scan voting system. So, the supervisors are using equipment and machines are using equipments and machines that they’ve used in previous elections. We don’t expect there to be any problems with polls tomorrow. There haven’t been any noticeable problems with the early voting sites with the equipment or the technology used for the last two weeks.”

There are close to 8 million registered voters in Florida.

Posted in Amendments, Elections, Politics, Property Taxes, State News, Voting | 1 Comment »

Suit Claims State Officials Ignored Anti-Pollution Laws

January 28th, 2008 by flanews

A lawsuit was filed Monday on behalf of a whistleblower from Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection. Lawyers for the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility filed the suit at the Leon County Courthouse. Tom White, a scientist for almost twenty years with Florida’s DEP, worked at the Port St. Lucie laboratory. White accuses state officials of ignoring anti-pollution laws and destroying records.

“The Federal Government will come down and mandate that certain standards are met within the water bodies that show on the impaired water body list,” said Danielle Joyce-Kelley, one of the lawyers representing White. “This hits all Floridians because Florida has to pay for the water clean up.”

White is seeking more than 100,000 dollars in missing wages and other damages.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

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