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Governor Unveils Budget Plan

January 31st, 2013 by Mike Vasilinda

Governor Rick Scott today unveiled his budget for the year that starts in July. He’s proposing one point two billion more for schools, as well as bonuses for state employees and more spending on universities. However, even with the increase for schools, per student spending will be lower than the four years before Scott took office.

Rick Scott began his budget unveiling by applauding an improving economy, comparing it to the four years before he took office. “Florida lost 825 thousand jobs”, says Governor.

Scott proposes spending 68 hundred dollars per student. That’s a four hundred dollar increase in  per student funding. Still the 68 hundred is less than the four years before he took office. “This billion dollar investment sustains last year’s billion dollar investment in K-12”, says Governor Scott.

While per  student funding is still lagging, this budget sets a records for spending in K-12. 20 thousand new students will hit classrooms next year eating a lot of the new money. Scott wants to give teachers an across the board 25 hundred dollar raise. Teachers say it is better than nothing. “It’s a beginning we’re way behind I think where we should be in public education”, says David Worrell a Leon County teacher.

Scott would cut the state work force by three thousand, using the savings to offer one time 12 hundred dollar bonuses. Police unions say the Governor’s plan doesn’t go far enough. “They have taken a five percent cut if you add the contribution to the retirement system plus the two percent payroll tax. So we would like to see an increase to their base salary”, says Matt Puckett, Florida Police Benevolent Association.

And when it comes to tuition. “I don’t think tuition should be going up”, says Governor Scott. Universities say a proposed 118 million in new cash will keep them from seeking tuition hikes. “That’s a bargain the presidents and Board of Governors are willing to make”, says Bernie Machen, UF President.

Scott also wants to cut taxes for manufacturing equipment. He says it’s a way to keep the economy humming.

Posted in State News | 2 Comments »

House Goes After Political Slush Funds

January 31st, 2013 by flanews

There is new hope tonight, that political mudslinging in Florida will be toned down by the next election. As Whitney Ray tells us, Florida’s House Speaker is backing a plan to eliminate Committees of Continual Existence… which are basically campaign slush funds that help candidates sling mud, while keeping their names off the ads.

Every other November Floridians are bombarded with negative campaign ads. In state and local races, the committees creating the ads are normally funded by Committees of Continual Existence or CCEs. Confusing? Dan Krassner with Integrity Florida explains.

“CCEs are essentially a money pump. They can raise money, but they have to play a shell game that almost looks like money laundering to transfer funds elsewhere to be spent in campaigns,” said Krassner.

There more than 700 CCEs in Florida. They fatten the pockets of politicians and fill our commercial breaks with mud slinging. But that could all change this legislative session. House Speaker Will Weatherford is vowing to clean up Florida’s elections, no matter how complex the task.

“I had a lot of people tell me that campaign finance laws are too complex and it’s too hard to change them and many people have tried, but we’ve decided that complexity can’t be an excuse for inaction,” said Weatherford.

These are the campaign mailers I received during the last election cycle. In this hand are flyers from state and local elections and in this hand are attack ads from federal races. If the bill passes, many of these local attack ads may stop coming because politicians would have to put their names on them but there’s no fix in sight for congressional and presidential ads.

That’s because the US Supreme Court ruled Super PACs, which are essentially CCEs for federal races are completely legit, and nothing the state legislature does can stop them.

Beside’s eliminating CCEs the House bill would also raise the personal campaign contribution limit from five-hundred dollars to 10-thousand per election. Which means a person could give a candidate 10-thousand dollars in a primary race and 10-thousand more in the general election.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Enterprise Florida Launches Business Brand

January 31st, 2013 by flanews

An orange tie is the new mascot of Florida business.

Enterprise Florida unveiled the new logo and the state’s first ever business marketing campaign today in Tallahassee. The campaign’s aim is to attract more businesses to the Sunshine State to create jobs, but so far the only jobs the campaign is creating are in Tennessee. I asked Enterprise Florida President Gray Swoope why he and board members paid 200-thousand dollars to an out-of-state company to research Florida’s business brand.

Reporter: Are you saying there weren’t any Florida companies that could have done this research?
Swoope: No, absolutely not. Again we went through a process of who was the best at doing our research that had a track record of doing that and doing it for companies that know how we operate.

“Florida has many qualified public relation, marketing and advertising firms right here in our state but unfortunately Enterprise Florida did not use the state’s official procurement system and instead signed a contract with a Tennessee based firm that was even the high bidder,” said Krassner.

Swoope says even though the initial contract was with a Tennessee based firm, Enterprise Florida will spend millions with PR companies in Florida to promote the new business brand.

Posted in State News | 5 Comments »

Fan Freedom Movement Hits Florida

January 31st, 2013 by flanews

A movement to keep the market open for second hand ticket sellers is hitting Florida.

A bill filed in Tallahassee would secure a persons right to resell tickets they’ve bought for a sporting events or concerts. Right now some artists and sports teams are moving to paperless tickets, which can only be claimed by the buyer, using a credit card and photo-ID. Chris Grimm, a spokesman with Fan Freedom, says paperless tickets limit a buyers resell options.

“When fans buy tickets they own them. They are their property and they have the right to do with those tickets as they choose. They can give them away. They can sell them. They can donate them to charity,” said Grimm.

Supporters of paperless tickets say they protect buyers because you can’t loose them. They’re also environmentally friendly. Michael Marion, President of the Fans First Coalition issued this statement.

“Artists, teams and venues select paperless tickets when they want to offer fans an opportunity to buy a great ticket at a great price. Paperless tickets restrict scalpers from ripping off fans. StubHub, their lobbying front group and other resellers should focus their energy fighting scalpers, not the technologies that prevent scalpers from getting tickets in the first place.” said Marion.

Posted in State News | 3 Comments »

Another Settle Multi-Million Dollar Mortgage Settlement

January 31st, 2013 by flanews

Florida is reaping the benefits of yet another mortgage settlement.

Last year Florida cut an eight billion dollar deal with the nation’s five largest banks over shady lending practices. Today Attorney General Pam Bondi announced another settlement. This time Florida’s cut is 8.6 million dollars. Bondi’s office headed up the investigation that led to the settlement with Jacksonville based Lender Processing Services over its robo-signing practices.
“All these robo-signings that were going on, they were absolutely ridiculous at the height of our foreclosure crisis and they are being held accountable. We are very, very pleased about the settlement and Florida gets a very large portion of that money,” said Bondi.

The total settlement is 120 million dollars. It’s being divided among 46 states and the District of Columbia.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Court Sides with Legislature

January 31st, 2013 by Mike Vasilinda
In a unaminous opinion, the Florida Supreme Court has ruled against former U-S Senator Bob Graham and others, concluding the state legislature and not the Board of Governor’s, which oversees state universities, has the power to set tuition and fees. Graham had challenged the Legislature’s authority, arguing a consitutional amendment adopted by the people in 2002 gave the power to raise tuition to the Board of Governors. The court said the amendment did not change the legislature’s power to raise revenue and appropriate funds.

Posted in State News | 2 Comments »

Governor Rick Scott to Release Budget

January 30th, 2013 by Mike Vasilinda

He’s scheduled a 2 PM Thursday News Conference. Here’s his snazzy graphic:

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

Integrity Florida Makes Waves

January 30th, 2013 by flanews

State legislative leaders are vowing to pass the first comprehensive ethics reform bill in Florida in more than three decades. As Whitney Ray tells us, the push for reform is being spearheaded by a new government watchdog group.

They’ve only been in business for one year, but already this dynamic duo has a chance to make major changes to state ethics laws.

“Florida is leading the country in corruption and it’s time to crack down,” said Dan Krassner.

Krassner and Ben Willcox created Integrity Florida to make government more transparent. It appears to be working. At a pre-legislative session forum in the state capitol Wednesday, House Speaker Will Weatherford sang the groups praises.

“I though Integrity Florida’s report talking about 75 percent of the money spent on campaigns today is outside of the campaign, is eye opening,” said Weatherford.

Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz have made ethics reform a priority, vowing to pass the first comprehensive reform package in Florida in 36 years.

“We don’t believe that public office ought to be an opportunity for private gain,” said Gaetz/

This 52 page reform bill has already passed one committee in the senate. Krassner says there’s lot of good stuff inside, but there’s also provisions hurting the cause.

The bill allows law enforcement agencies to pass leads on to the state ethic commission. It allows the state to garnish wages of people who don’t pay their ethics fines. But it also gives politicians caught lying on their financial disclosure forms 30 days to fix the mistake.

“There are a few areas that need to be cleaned up that essentially give some politicians a get-out-of-jail free card and those provisions should be taken out of the bill,” said Krassner.

Had the change been in place in 2010, Former State Senator Jim Norman could have simply added this half million dollar home to a form and avoid the ethics commission.

Legislative leaders are also vowing to shut the revolving door between the legislature and lobbyists, after finding out that the state’s last two house speakers have joined up to open their own Tallahassee lobbying firm.

Posted in State News | 6 Comments »

Election Reform Legislation to Come

January 30th, 2013 by flanews

Today Republican Legislative leaders told reporters six hours is too long to wait to cast a ballot. That’s how long some people waited to vote in Florida in the 2012 presidential election. Voting rights groups say a 2011 state law that shortened early voting from 14 to eight days is to blame for the long lines. Senate President Don Gaetz is looking at expanding early voting during the upcoming legislative session.

“What I think the Senate will look at is understanding that Florida and Florida counties are very diverse and we can’t force a one-size fits all template down on the heads of people who live in different places and live in different circumstances,” said Gaetz.

Gaetz was in the legislature when early voting was cut nearly in half and Governor Rick Scott signed and defended the reduction in days bill. Now both Republican leaders are open to restoring at least some of the days.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

I – 75 One Year Later

January 29th, 2013 by flanews

One year ago today 11 people died in a deadly pile up on I-75 near Gainesville. A mixture of fog and smoke from a nearby wildfire created the dangerous conditions that lead to the crash. As Whitney Ray tells us, the tragedy is shaping new policies at the Florida Highway Patrol.

The charred frames of trailers and the twisted metal of cars are a somber reminder of the tragedy on I-75. One year ago, on a stretch of interstate near Gainesville, 11 people died after fog and smoke from a nearby wildfire made it nearly impossible for drivers to see.

The Florida Highway Patrol closed the road, but by 3:30 in the morning conditions improved. The interstate was reopened over the objections of at least one trooper.

An investigated concluded poor communications among troopers contributed to the crash. FHP responded saying nothing they could have done would have changed the outcome.

And FHP is remaining quiet on the terrible anniversary. A spokesperson for the patrol tells me they’re not commenting oncamera because of possible future lawsuits. But actions speak louder than words and FHP has already taken significant steps.

Each troop now has a watch supervisor in charge of monitoring conditions and will conduct annual reviews of its road closing procedures.

These billboards are part of FHP’s low visibility campaign, but maybe the biggest awareness weapon of them all is the tragedy itself.

At a rest stop near the state capital we met Ray Watkins, a retired race car driver from England, where fog is a constant problem.

“I was surprised they didn’t have all the signs out, very surprised. You won’t let that happen anymore, will ya?” said Watkins.

Tuesday Ray loaded up his car with friends and family at his vacation home near Gainesville. They headed toward north, avoiding I-75. There are even more changes in the works. The Florida Department of Transportation has money to put digital warning signs in dangerous areas. There are also talks or putting closed circuit TV cameras on roadways to monitor conditions.

Posted in State News | 14 Comments »

Praying for Pay Raises

January 29th, 2013 by flanews

Preachers from African American Churches in Florida and leaders of national Christian organizations are praying for pay raises for state workers.

At a church near the state capitol Tuesday, the group told reporters state workers have been discriminated against because they haven’t had a raise in six years. We asked Reverend R B Holmes how much the raise should be and what program could be cut or tax increased to pay for it. Holmes is leaving the specifics up to lawmakers, but says it’s part of what Dr. Martin Luther King died for.

“Dr King died for the right for folk to get pay raises and he died in Memphis, Tennessee April 1968, dying for sanitation workers,” said Holmes.

Bills have been filed to give state workers a raise. We’ll get a clearer picture of whether or not the idea has a chance, once Governor Rick Scott unveils his budget. That unveiling is expected later this week.

Posted in State News | 5 Comments »

Crotzer Granted 100K Bail

January 29th, 2013 by flanews

After spending 25 years in prison for a Tampa rape he didn’t commit Alan Crotzer may be headed back to the big house.

Crotzer was exonerated through DNA evidence in 2006. The state gave him a million dollars for his wrongful imprisonment, but in July Crotzer was arrested again. This time charged with attempted murder. Today a judge in Tallahassee set Crotzer’s bail at 100-thousand dollars. No date has been set for the trial.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

NRA Opposes Universal Background Checks

January 29th, 2013 by flanews

The Nation Rifle Association is opposing the President’s plan to require background checks on all gun buyers.

The NRA says universal background checks would clog the system and give the government information about who owns firearms. Former NRA President Marion Hammer says if lists of gun owners are made available to the government, history tells us, the fall of the Republic could follow.

“We have seen historically in other nations where when government finally finds out who has guns and where they are, they have the ability to take them,” said Hammer.

Hammer says requiring checks on every gun transfer could stop families from passing down antique gun heirlooms.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Reporting Child Abuse a Legal Obligation

January 28th, 2013 by flanews

Calls to Florida’s child abuse hotline are up 16 percent, not because there’s more abuse but because of a new law requiring people to report. As Whitney Ray tells us, failing to report child abuse is now a third degree felony.

After news of the Jerry Sandusky scandal spread, Florida lawmakers got to work passing the toughest child abuse reporting laws in the county.

Department of Children and Families Secretary David Wilkins was joined by child abuse survivor Lauren Book Monday to unveil a program showing people how to spot child abuse victims.

“It’s our moral obligation and now it’s our legal obligation,” said Book.

Lauren walks the state every year and teaches safety in schools.

She lobbied to stiffen penalties for not reporting abuse increasing the punishment from a misdemeanor to a third degree felony. Since the law’s passage, calls to DCF’s child abuse hotline have risen 16 percent.

And hotline workers say more callers equals more points of view, giving DCF multiple perspectives on the same case or incident.”

“So many of the calls are also data points, so it may not be a necessity to do an investigation at that point, but it may be collecting information that may be used to make a decision down the road,” said Wilkins.

DCF and Lauren are spreading the message through a campaign called Don’t Miss the Signs. Despite all her success Lauren isn’t ready to stop fighting.

“I don’t know if I’m ever going to rest. I think I’m going to constantly be working on making this an issue that is important for the rest of our lives,” said Book.

Lauren’s launched an online petition, asking people to speak up for abused children. The new law also creates a one million dollar fine for colleges and universities whose administrators learn about abuse but don’t tell the proper authorities.

Posted in State News | 126 Comments »

Lefty and Taxes

January 25th, 2013 by flanews

PGA Golfer Phil Mickelson is making news for comments he made about his taxes. Mickelson’s federal income tax rate is increasing from 35 percent to 39 percent and his California state income taxes shot up from 10 to 13 percent. As Whitney Ray tells us, Florida Republicans wasted no time inviting Lefty to the Sunshine State, touting our golf courses and the lack of a state income tax.

He’s one of the most famous golfers in the world. Phil Mickelson has won four majors and racked up millions of dollars in prize money.

But this week the golfer, famously known as Lefty, was in the news for another reason. Michelson’s federal income tax rate climbed from 35 percent to 39 and his California state taxes rose from 10 to 13 percent.

Lefty hinted that he might leave California to avoid the income tax increase and Republicans here at the Florida State Capitol wasted no time extending an invitation to the famous golfer.

On Twitter, the Florida Senate Majority Office wrote this message to Mickelson touting the state’s golf courses and low tax rates.

“We don’t have a state income tax on persons. We have a great climate. We have great schools. We have great opportunities for people and for Phil Mickelson and people like him, we’ve got great golf courses,” said Senate President Don Gaetz.

Tigers Woods defended Mickelson’s comments. He moved from California to Florida. And when Lebron James brought his talents to South Beach, financial experts called the move genius, because it saved the basketball star millions.

But those left of Lefty say the last thing Florida needs is another rich athlete who doesn’t want to pay his taxes.

“It’s kind of a sad day when the draw to your state is come on down, you don’t have to pay your fair share of taxes,” said Karen Woodall, a social services advocate.

For more than a decade Florida Democrats have filed bills to end sales tax exemptions on yachts, limos and other luxury item, saying it would generate half a billion dollars a year for the state budget.

Through his spokesperson, Mickelson apologized for his statements on taxes. He says taxes are a private matter and from now on he’ll keep his opinions to himself.

We asked Florida TaxWatch if the state’s tax code attracts the nation’s upper crust. Rob Weissert, Vice President of Research for the nonprofit think-tank, says it definitely helps. Weissert says low taxes, no income taxes, the weather and the entertainment available are just a few reasons people flock to the Sunshine State, but he adds it’s not just rich people who find the tax code enticing.

“The lack of a personal income tax in Florida helps everyone. It helps everyone retain more of their income and use that to purchase goods which circulate through the economy or to invest in growing their own business or someone else’s,” said Weissert.

Florida is just one of seven states without a personal income tax. Two other states limit taxes levied on people’s wages.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

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