Would the first step in Higher Ed reform mean higher tuition for some majors?

The Florida Legislature is beginning another adventure into changing Florida’s community college and university system. The first step was a hearing of the House Education Committee with University of Florida president Bernie Machen and Florida State University president Eric Barron.

Legislators asked a number of questions, but the takeway was largely this: We need more graduates in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics areas and universities should be able to charge more for these majors because they cost more for universities to provide. The Associated Press reported:

Presidents of Florida’s two leading research universities suggested Friday that lawmakers let them pay for expanding expensive science, technology, engineering and math programs by charging those so-called STEM students higher tuition.

University of Florida’s Bernie Machen and Florida State University’s Eric Barron also told the House Education Committee their schools and possibly some others should be allowed to bring up tuition rates, now among the lowest in the nation, closer to the national average. Current law lets the Legislature and Board of Governors approve annual increases totaling no more than 15 percent.

Gov. Rick Scott, who has made job creation his top priority, has been pushing universities to boost STEM degree production because there’s greater demand for those graduates in the marketplace.

It’s an interesting dynamic. We need more of these graduates, so one would think there would be an incentive to get more students to major in these areas. Raising tuition is actually a disincentive, especially for students who are not on financial aid.

Could the proposal to charge more for STEM mean FEWER graduates? How will the legislature handle that?

Posted in Bills, Florida Legislature, Session | Comments Off

Already planning for a Special Session

The Florida Revenue Estimating Conference is a group of experts, part of the Office of Economic and Demographic Research. As their website says: [The] EDR is a research arm of the Legislature principally concerned with forecasting economic and social trends that affect policy making, revenues, and appropriations.

The Conference meets on a regular basis to review how Florida’s economy is doing, to estimate the amount of revenue Florida will have in a given fiscal year. This past week, the conference met to revue Florida’s General Revenue – funds that can be used by the Legislature for any purpose. The Palm Beach Post reported:

State economists Thursday made only modest changes to their revenue forecast for the upcoming budget year, dashing hopes that an improving economy might ease a $2 billion shortfall facing Florida lawmakers.

Lawmakers were handed an outlook that promises $26.1 million more than anticipated for the 2012-13 budget. But the uptick — while welcomed by legislative leaders — still means that Florida will be staring at its sixth straight year with a budget gap.

With the Legislature opening this week, the Revenue Estimating Conference met to revise its forecast from October. That outlook revealed the budget trench — deep, but still better than last year’s almost $4 billion shortfall, which forced wholesale spending cuts for schools, health programs and social services.

The next meeting will be in May and Florida’s fiscal year starts July 1st, and during that time there may be additional growth in Florida’s economy. This means that the May estimate of General Revenue could be more, which means the shortfall could be reduced further – every little bit means the Legislature doesn’t have to cut as deep.

So given that reality, many State Senators are urging a delay in passing the budget. The Miami Herald reports:

With updated revenue numbers that offered no relief from deep budget cuts, a bi-partisan majority of the Florida Senate wants to cut short the regular session in February and come back later in the spring when lawmakers hope to have a rosier revenue forecast that will avoid some of the $2 billion in projected cuts.

Incoming Senate President Don Gaetz and incoming Democratic Leader Chris Smith have circulated a petition to present to the Senate president, and have gathered a majority of Senate signatures for the effort in the face of strong resistance from the House, Gaetz told the Herald/Times.

Gaetz wants to avoid a special session so is calling for a legislative “hiatus” in February that would allow lawmakers to pause their work and come back to finish within the 60-day time limit.

Ah, but as Lee Corso says, not so fast my friend. The House is not convinced there is a need to wait. According to the Orlando Sentinel, House Speaker Dean Cannon believes the work can be done during the current session:

“What’s the problem with doing what the constitution tells us to do, when the constitution tells us to do it?” Cannon told the Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board on Friday.

The state’s economists made a minor, $27 million revision to their forecast Thursday and economist Amy Baker said afterward there was little data indicating the picture would markedly improve in coming months.

“No one has yet to make an argument why the data will be any different,” Cannon said. “Why not do our work on time? Why not make the tough choices while we’re here?”

“I think that’s an internal Senate discussion,” he added. “We can walk and chew gum at the same time.”

The Florida Constitution provides only two things the Legislature HAS to do. Every ten years, it has to redraw the boundaries of Florida’s legislative and Congressional districts. And every year it has to pass a budget. Will the Legislature delay it’s obligations in 2012? Stay tuned…

Posted in 2012, Budget, Florida Legislature, Session | Comments Off

Florida House to Explore Higher Education Reform

As many readers may know, I am a former student body president at the University of South Florida and higher education policy has been an interest of mine ever since. As reported by a number of media outlets, House Speaker Dean Cannon would like to reform our higher education system:

From the Florida Current:

House Speaker Dean Cannon used his speech at the opening of the 2012 legislative session on Tuesday to warn that the state university system is “racing toward mediocrity” and to announce that this session will be the time to start at least laying the groundwork for changes.

From the Orlando Sentinel:

Cannon, a term-limited Winter Park Republican who has secured tens of millions in funding for the University of Central Florida over the years, including a new medical school, said part of the problem was that lawmakers had for decades acted parochially to support their hometown schools.

“We have a Board of Governors unsure of how to exercise its authority or execute its mission,” Cannon said. “And we, as a Legislature, and I freely include myself in this critique, have contributed to the problem by parochially advancing the interests of our local university or college at the expense of the system as a whole. If left unchecked, we will continue to have a higher education system that is aggressively racing to the middle.”

However, vast changes will take time. The Miami Herald reported:

Speaking to reporters later in the day, Cannon said he would like to see lawmakers take on “strategic, big-picture issues” in higher education — but said he did not have any specific reforms in mind.

He also didn’t have a clear timetable.

“My goal… is to start the conversation,” Cannon said. “It may or may not see legislation this year.”

I will be watching this issue during the 2012 session and beyond.

Posted in Bills, Florida Legislature, Session | Comments Off

GOP Power Voices Getting in Line?

Okay… so a lot of my Republican friends are not happy about what appears now to be inevitable: Mitt Romney as the Republican Nominee.

But it’s becoming so obvious that Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity are defending the former Massachusetts Governor:

If anyone had any doubt that the Republican Fox primary has finally settled on a candidate, look no further than this segment where Sean Hannity goes after Texas Gov. Rick Perry for his attacks on frontrunner Mitt Romney and him daring to call Romney a “vulture capitalist.” (Crooks & Liars)

Rush Limbaugh spent a second day lacing into Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry over their hits on Mitt Romney about Bain Capital, providing extremely useful cover for the front-runner — a candidate whose praises he has not often sung during the primary (Politico)

Truthfully, both are really defending capitalism… as well as reminding everyone of Reagan’s 11th Commandment.

Posted in 2012, Elections, Republican Party | 1 Comment

The Florida Senate is ready to pass redistricting next week

Today the Florida Senate Committee on Reapportionment passed proposed committee substitutes (PCSs) for Senate Bill 1174 and Senate Joint Resolution 1176, the state Senate and Congressional redistricting plans,with bipartisan support.

According the the Tampa Bay Times:

The committee voted 22-4 in favor of the Senate map, with four of the 10 Democrats on the committee opposed: Rich, Maria Sachs of Delray Beach, Oscar Braynon of Miami and Arthenia Joyner of Tampa.

According to a Herald/Times analysis, the map of the 40-member Senate creates 24 Republican-leaning districts, sacrificing Republican strength in areas now held by 11 of the senators leaving because of term limits. The proposal includes 14 Democrat-leaning districts and two competitive districts that could be considered a toss-up. The map creates a new Hispanic access seat in Central Florida and eight of the districts have 50 percent or more minority voters.

The Congressional map approved by the committee creates 15 Republican-leaning districts, 10 Democrat-leaning districts and two competitive districts. Five of the districts have fifty percent or more registered Democratic voters, including the minority majority seats now held by U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown, Alcee Hastings and Frederica Wilson. None of the districts have 30 percent or more registered Independent voters. In six of the proposed districts, 50 percent or more of registered voters are black or Hispanic, including districts now held by U.S. Reps. David Rivera and Mario Diaz Balart.

The maps can be viewed via the Florida Senate’s website at http://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Redistricting/.

Posted in 2012, Florida Legislature, Redistricting | Comments Off

The Florida Legislature starts today

House Speaker Dean Cannon & Senate President Mike Haridopolos
(AP)

Sixteen years ago, I had the pleasure of working my first session. The last session the Democrats were in control, as the Republicans would sweep into power that fall.

There have been a lot of changes. Term limits. Gift bans. Successive Republican administrations. A significant bend to the right in the legislative leadership, even in the more collegial Florida Senate. The Florida of today is not that much different, although we do have lower taxes and a bigger budget.

So what will the 2012 Session bring us? Redistricting for one, it’s the reason they’re starting in January instead of March — but more on that in another post.

The St. Petersburg er… TAMPA BAY Times (still getting used to that one) lists their five key issues as redistricting, the budget, gambling, insurance fraud, and online sales tax collections.

Gambling
The gambling issue is spearheaded by an effort to allow “destination” casinos in South Florida. The bill is getting some tweaks as it moves through the process. Personally, I support the idea – it would mean the Seminole Hard Rock Casino could become a destination casino as well; Federal law says that Native Americans can operate the same type of casinos that are allowed anywhere else in the state.

Insurance
Insurance fraud, specifically in the Personal Injury Protection area, is a key concern. PIP fraud occurs when doctors are bill insurance companies without performing any services. They get “patients” who were in real, although minor auto accidents, to submit claims and to get the minimum coverage. With little oversight, and no ability to investigate, it’s ripe for such corruption. And we all pay just a little more in our auto insurance premiums. At the same time, over-regulation of PIP (yes, Republicans, fighting fraud requires government regulation) could make it harder for true injuries to be paid. It’s fine balance that that puts trial attorneys, insurance companies, consumer advocates, and medical professionals into an interesting dynamic.

Online Sales Tax
When it comes to collecting online sales tax, the public and likely many legislators, don’t know purchases from eBay and Amazon and all other online sites are already subject to Florida’s sales and use tax. You see, the tax is supposed to be paid by the buyer — and is only collected by the seller because it’s easier for all of us. Brick and mortar stores actually get to KEEP some of the sales tax to offset the cost of collecting it. However, when you make a purchase online you – yes you, dear reader – are required to send a check to the Florida Department of Revenue for the tax, if the purchase is taxable.

Now you can see the issue. Most of us – myself included – don’t take the time to send that check. And more and more of us like shopping online. This is becoming a problem for our bricks and mortar stores — they claim, perhaps rightfully so, they are becoming the show rooms for online companies. We go to the local Best Buy and look around, ask some questions, then we go online to find a better deal. That is great for the short term, but in the long term stores will close and people will be out of work.

Budget
Florida doesn’t do the same kind of budgeting as the Federal Government. We don’t project out 10 years… but Florida does compare year to year. Our state will collect, from all sources, some $2 billion less than it needs to meet the projected funding levels of all our programs. And Governor Rick Scott wants to continue rolling back on the Corporate Income Tax – a good thing in the long run, making it cheaper for businesses to operate here in Florida. Finding the funds to plug the hole, or cutting back on programs, will make for an interesting dynamic.

Redistricting
The last big issue, one on which State of Sunshine will focus these coming weeks, is the redrawing of the lines for the Florida House of Representatives, Florida Senate, and Florida’s Congressional Districts. I took part in the process ten years ago, and it was an interesting process – and the passage of two Fair Districts amendments will make it that much more this time around.

Stay tuned….

Posted in Florida Legislature, Session | Comments Off

Why Mitt Romney will win the GOP Nomination

So, Mitt Romney won the Iowa Caucus last night. Technically. The final vote shows that he won by 8 votes.

He also received exactly 6 votes less than he did four years ago. Think about that. Four years ago he spent $10 million and campaigned hard, only to lose to Mike Huckabee. This year, Romney spent significantly less, and campaigned the least out of all candidates in Iowa — and got the same result.

The pundits are theorizing this is bad for Romney. Romney has been polling at 25% for a really long time. And he received 25% of the vote Tuesday night. “No traction” is what a lot of people are saying. The GOP is still searching for the “Anti-Romney.”

Hogwash.

He held serve.

You see, Romney was never going to run away with Iowa. He never topped 25% in polling! This was not about winning Iowa.

It was about bringing down Newt Gingrich.

Sure, the flavor-of-the-week Rick Santorum is getting headlines and has some momentum. That momentum will end in New Hampshire. Romney’s second home. A more liberal voting base than Iowa. An open primary. And the flavor will change. Hunstman has been focusing on the first primary, but can’t seem to get a second look — too bad, he would be my choice.

After New Hampshire, Santorum has a shot in the conservative “First Primary in the South” in the Palmetto State. It fits his base… but Rick Perry is staying in the race, and has more money than Santorum. If Gingrich stays in the race, the “Anti-Romney” vote is split three ways. And that doesn’t count the “Wing-Nut” vote Ron Paul will get. I would bet only one of them would fold after South Carolina – maybe none.

Which brings us to Florida.

Ah, the Sunshine State. The GOP is as diverse as our fair state. Reformed Dixiecrats, seniors who love their government health care, Cuban immigrants, strong evangelicals, and dyed-in-the-wool small government types.

But more important than that. It’s big. Really big. And big means expensive.

Romney will have more money than his competitors. He didn’t use it in Iowa. Doesn’t need it in New Hampshire. Won’t put up much of a fight in South Carolina. But he’s already running ads in Florida.

In 2008, a then-very-popular Florida Governor Charlie Crist endorsed John McCain right before the primary, delivering the state and effectively ending the campaign. Everything else was prologue for McCain.

In 2012, Florida Governor Rick Scott has little support. If he endorsed, it could be a kiss of death for the candidate. Romney’s financial edge – plus the continued split of the Anti-Romney votes – will give him another win. Three out of four.

February is a long tough slough… only caucuses in Nevada, Colorado, Minnesota, and Maine before the Feb 28th votes in Arizona (and McCain just endorsed Romney) and Michigan (where Romney was born and where he won in 2008).

If the Anti-Romney vote is not unified before or by Florida. Romney will win the nomination.

Posted in 2012, National, Republican Party | 1 Comment

State of Sunshine to Return in 2012

Hello dear readers… if you’re still here.

Three years ago, my interest in politics waned… and I’m still more than a little unhappy with both parties.

But 2012 is a big year. Tampa is hosting the Republican National Convention, and there will be interesting races because of redistricting in the State of Florida.

So I have a plan. I will be returning to the fold in the next few weeks… slowly.

I updated by WordPress to 3.3.1. I need to update a lot more.

Stay tuned. The State of Sunshine will return this year.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

2010 is an interesting year

Okay… many friends and connections must really be in shock. This year will be one of the most interesting political seasons in my lifetime, and the State of Sunshine is still on hiatus.

Two major NPA candidates (Crist & Chiles) the fun billionaires trying to buy their election (Greene & Scott), the lack of attention on cabinet races… yes, I think I can feel the pull.

I’m still busy as ever at my day job, and I’m rehearsing for a play… so it’s really hard to find time to blog.

But, my friends, I can feel the pull calling my name…

Posted in 2010, Elections, State of Sunshine | Comments Off

State of Sunshine on indefinite hiatus

Dear Readers,

Things have gotten busier for me and posts have become less and less often. This was always meant to be something I did in my spare time, and I have less and less of that these days.

So I have come to the decision to officially put the blog on hiatus for an indefinite period of time.

I thank my loyal readers who kept up with my posts, including those on Creative Loafing “PoHo” blog.

You can still follow me on Twitter (@StateOfSunshine) as I can type 140 characters from time to time.

Feel free to explore older posts and comment… who knows, the spark of interest might come back sooner rather than later.

- Jim Johnson, Publisher

Posted in Political Whore, State of Sunshine | Comments Off