This page has been saying for a while that the billions in Medicaid expansion dollars will enable the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to prevail as cash conquers kooky ideology. That money-money-money theme still holds true, only the audacity of taxpayer theft has been expanded to monstrous proportions.
It has never been about health care for needy citizens, in case you were under some delusion that the GOP majority in Tallahassee gives a rat’s heinie about the “health care” part of “health care dollars.”
Since the US Supreme Court decided ultimately to uphold the ACA (Florida led the legal fight), and then the election victory of Barack Obama (even in Florida), Florida’s GOP has been hinting that it was giving serious consideration to playing ball on federal health care reform [ahem] given the billions of dollars that could flow into the coffers of their corporate sponsors. The billions of federal dollars would be part of an expansion of Medicaid to reach uninsured citizens with low incomes, directly and fully paid by the US government for the first 3 years and then 90% of the cost until 2020.
When Gov. Rick Scott recently allowed that he would sign a Medicaid expansion bill in an apparent quid pro quo exchange for the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) permission to privatize Medicaid statewide, the gauntlet was then thrown down to the Florida House and Senate. (By the way, Medicaid privatization is a profoundly bad idea that has been costly and performed terribly in trials in a 5 county test program in Florida. Despite the evidence, HHS catered to Scott, a profoundly stupid move by HHS.)
Without the privatization permission, it’s still a really sweet deal. How sweet? States get the uninsured covered, but as was stated earlier, only a few seem to care about health care for citizens. More importantly to GOP legislators, health care providers get a huge pot of new money to help with their profitability, and in the case of hospitals, some payment for the millions of dollars in monthly losses from providing care to the uninsured. Such losses have been a huge burden for community hospitals like Munroe Regional Medical Center in Ocala, and have been a primary driver in the negative fiscal forecasts. These billions of federal dollars would help not only hospitals but also medical practices which have taken losses, and generally provide a generous boost for the entire state economy. This infusion of cash may end up having greater economic benefit than the billions in high speed rail money that Rick Scott cavalierly tossed back to DC.
Add in the Medicaid privatization permission that HHS gave Scott in an apparent quid pro quo for his acquiescence on Medicaid expansion, and you can see a whole new string of companies, private insurers and their HMOs, cashing in on the deal. What seems to be the theme is that every corporate interest is getting bought off to provide health care at taxpayer expense, meaning the corporations get big profits and citizens get nickled-and-dimed on their health care plus, as taxpayers, fund their leveraged profits. Giving citizens less health care becomes the corporate goal, subsidized by taxpayer’s health care dollars. What? Is something wrong with this picture?
But now it gets worse.
HHS recently gave permission to Arkansas to take federal Medicaid expansion dollars and hand them directly to private insurance companies to pay for private policies for the uninsured. Why is this idea even worse than privatized Medicaid?
According to Congressional Budget Office estimates, it will cost about $9,000 to buy a person private insurance on the health insurance exchanges created by the law, compared with about $6,000 to add the person to Medicaid.
That would be a 50% increase in cost for the Arkansas plan! It certainly doesn’t bother Arkansas legislators since they won’t be paying much of anything for it.
(Despite the obscenely hysterical rhetoric about state costs to administer expanded Medicaid, everyone knows it amounts to chump change and it’s a great deal for the states. Funny how that noise has evaporated these days, isn’t it?)
With this 50% increased cost, will there be more health care, more people covered, more generous or comprehensive benefits? No. NO! It’s the exact same health care, but with a 50% profit premium for corporations. This is why corporations spend what amounts to a pittance to buy some legislators; their return on investment is mammoth … and shameful.
If legislators and their corporate sponsors ought to be ashamed, it is hard to think of the appropriate punishment for HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius and her administration for handing out such an absurd and useless gift to GOP dominated state legislatures since water-boarding really is torture. It certainly wasn’t necessary since privatization permission – again, a terrible mistake – had already been granted. Now a key lever for cost containment has been eliminated. There will be no incentive to responsible management, just the vast sucking sound as taxpayer dollars are transferred to corporate profits and shareholder equity. Remember W’s Medicare prescription drug bill? Deja vu all over again!
Clearly insurers like Florida Blue (Blue Cross/Blue Shield – the biggest campaign donor in Florida; sorry, hospital association) and others are upset at the thought of having to provide coverage without guarding against pre-existing conditions, i.e. cherry picking the “healthy ones.” They don’t believe they will benefit sufficiently, and, let’s not kid ourselves, their corporate benefit and bottom line are the primary concerns, not health care.
Expect our state legislators to come up with disgustingly transparent spin as they pivot toward an Arkansas plan. Try these code phrases, like Senate President Don Gaetz (R-Niceville):
… they seek a Florida solution, not a Washington solution….
or summa cum weenie Mark Wilson of the Florida Chamber:
If it’s a take Washington’s mandate or nothing question, the Florida Chamber stands in opposition to Washington’s version of a one-size-fits-all Medicaid expansion. While we are against what Washington passed in its current form, we are for a flexible Florida solution.
or House Speaker Will Weatherford (R-Wesley Chapel) trying to stay on message with the Chamber – okay, Wilson told him what to say and he memorized it:
Like the House, the committee gathered the facts and decided that Washington’s inflexible approach to force Florida to take a ‘one-size fits all’ policy choice is not in our state’s best interest.
Obviously it isn’t a one-size-fits-all policy, and they know it. The GOP/Chamber spin doctors should be convicted of malpractice and incompetence for that pathetic line.
There is some other nonsense about personal responsibility and other window dressing you may hear like the Chamber’s 11 prerequisites for expansion (LOL!), but you, wise reader, understand that the real ambition of GOP legislators is unfettered profits for their corporate sponsors, not minding at all that it comes at taxpayer expense … again.
In a reversal of his longstanding contempt for and condemnation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) known as Obamacare, Gov. Rick Scott endorsed Medicaid expansion. His hasty press conference came immediately on the heels of an announcement by the US Dept. of Health and Human Services that Florida could largely proceed with its scheme for privatizing Medicaid statewide.
Ah-ha! The fix was in, you think – a quid pro quo. The feds and the guv say, ‘No way.’ But you, smarty pants progressive, Daily Marion reader, “You’re right!” You have read our posts on this subject.
Following the Supreme Court decision on the ACA, it seemed to us like ideology would remain Scott’s guiding light, but then in considering the amount of money involved, it was recognized that billions of dollars can motivate remarkable turnarounds in attitude. While Scott is alienating his Tea Party base and other (former) allies by betraying them on Obamacare, he exposes himself to a challenger from –hold your breath – a worse conservative who will continue to demonize Obamacare. Still, the possibility of a quid pro quo seemed in the works to us:
Did Gov. Scott manage to pull a quid pro quo from HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius that will have Florida as more cooperative participant in the ACA Medicaid expansion in exchange for this scandalous profit-from-the-poor scheme?
A huge concern is oversight of this privatization scheme. Those are the details that should be of paramount concern. The feds need the ability to apply close scrutiny, intervene, and have the authority to cut off poor performers swiftly since dismal performance has plagued the pilot program in a variety of ways. In general, Florida has a terrible history of compliance with federal rules.
Florida CHAIN, a health care advocacy group, stated:
Consumer health advocates have fought hard to ensure that access to care and consumer protections remain a top priority. We are encouraged by the inclusion of those protections and the movement toward a more transparent, inclusive process and more robust independent monitoring. We are hopeful that the final language and implementation will reflect what is most important – full access to quality health care for Medicaid beneficiaries with proper oversight.
There has been an expected push back from the legislature since they don’t like it when governors act independently. House Speaker Will Weatherford (R-Wesley Chapel) released a statement:
“Governor Scott has made his decision and I certainly respect his thoughts. However, the Florida Legislature will make the ultimate decision,” state GOP House Speaker Will Weatherford said in a statement Wednesday. “I am personally skeptical that this inflexible law will improve the quality of healthcare in our state and ensure our long-term financial stability.”
Don’t think that the legislature is likely to torpedo this deal. This is just turf defense. They have all been waffling since the SCOTUS decision, and got really shaky-bakey when Romney lost. Prime legislative health care leader, Sen. Joe Negron (R-Stuart) said this week:
Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, chairman of the Senate panel reviewing the law, told the Palm Beach Post there is “clearly a nexus between the two … Without the waiver, we are not likely to move ahead with expansion.”
How likely is the Senate (and the House for that matter) to move ahead with Medicaid expansion? With Gov. Scott taking the lead, and the heat, it opens doors for the GOP legislative leaders to kick a little dirt, look down, and admit the federals dollars will make their best-est friends, the medical and insurance lobbyists, really damn happy. Um, what ideology?
Scott lamely tried to conjure a fig leaf to cover himself; a three year test drive of Medicaid expansion. Right. Once you let it in, it will be as entrenched as Medicare.
Now it would be a pleasant surprise to see the GOP leaders doing a bona fide, come-to-Jesus, on their knees expression of compassion for the poor souls who have no health insurance, who have suffered, who have been in pain, and who even stood to lose their lives. So, maybe a bit more emotive than the Governor:
Scott … said that he still had questions about the health care law but called the three-year Medicaid expansion a “compassionate, common sense step forward.”
Gee, that’s “gushing” for Gov. Scott who was also quoted as saying:
“I cannot in good conscience deny Floridians [healthcare].”
Okay, that last one made Snow White awaken and Pinocchio blush. Scott’s medical history indicates he has never been plagued with “conscience,” certainly not a good one, and is highly unlikely to be afflicted by one now.
Seriously, you know what’s going to make this a no-brainer: b-b-billions! How much are we talking about? Well,
Families USA released a report that said making more lower-income Floridians eligible for health coverage under Medicaid will yield 71,300 new jobs and pump $8.9 billion more in economic activity into the state.
Lawmakers have been getting an earful, like from the hospitals. You can imagine all the lobbyists who have been pressing legislators to figure a way to say “yes” to Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion billions. The Florida Chamber is among those cheering Scott’s decision – here the Miami Herald has a nice compilation of the wide variety of reactions.
With HHS okaying a privatization scheme for Medicaid, it’s definitely a done deal, not “compassion” at all. Health insurers and HMOs will be scrapping for a piece of the multi-billion dollar pie and market share, instructing the legislators that they’ve purchased to simply set the table for their taking.
It’s a sweet deal, alright. First and foremost, about a million Floridians will finally be getting health care. For them, it’s the sweetest deal – a genuine life-saver.
No matter how predatory the health insurers are likely to be (and rest assured, some will be true to form), it will still be better than no health care for the uninsured, and there will be recourse. Expect some shaky years for starters, but honestly, a competitive private marketplace for Medicaid could force insurers to do the job right or lose the contract to a competitor. But it’s definitely a sweet deal for the Florida health care industry, too.
Will everyone be happy? Not the Tea Party. The rest? Well, they certainly won’t admit to happiness … on their way to the bank.
In an appalling show of bombastic and bumbling ineptitude, three of five Marion County Commissioners – all 5 Republicans – voted Tuesday morning to deny the Amendment 11 tax exemption to poor, longtime resident seniors. Despite public pressure from news articles and a Star Banner editorial that chastised the Commissioners for their reluctance, and about a dozen public commenters who appealed for its adoption during the meeting, commissioners made it clear that poor seniors are not as important as half-baked, hypocritical ideological positions.
After approving $350,000 in tax breaks for R+L Carriers, a huge trucking company owned by local mega-millionaire “Larry” Roberts, which is locating a logistics center at the old Taylor, Bean and Whitaker office building near North Magnolia Ave., Ocala, pictured right, there was a presentation by an official from ICE of US Homeland Security whose ill treatment by Commissioner McClain is the subject of another post.
A parade of public comment ensued, most seeking adoption of the Amendment 11 tax exemption which was passed by Florida voters last November by 61%, and also by 61% of Marion County voters. Adoption would require a super-majority of commissioners – 4 of 5.
Amendment 11 narrowly defined who would qualify for a complete property tax exemption;
- resident in the home for 25 years,
- income under $27,000 per year, and
- over age 65.
An exact number of possible qualifying properties has not been provided, but the County Tax Appraiser estimated the annual cost at $162,000 per year. The Marion County Commission’s annual budget exceeds $500,000,000; yes, over $500 million.
Among those struggling to pay their property taxes, James Bowden of Belleview explained how he had lived in Marion County his entire life, never made great money in a community known even today for its abysmally low wages, and how his taxes had increased to accommodate others as the community grew by leaps and bounds.
David Sullivan from northwest Marion told how he was now “broke” and too old to work any longer, and called the impact on the county budget “miniscule.”
Anita Frauenshuh of SW Hwy 200 said that her household would not benefit from Amendment 11 but she stood as an advocate. She noted that the affected seniors had paid taxes and contributed to the community’s economy and well-being for over 25 years, and were still doing so. Further, the 61% voter approval was not simply votes from likely beneficiaries, but a popular endorsement by all citizens.
Irvin Curtin of Belleview, who had been mentioned in the first article raising the issue to the County Commission, asserted that 60 of 67 Florida counties plus 118 municipalities had adopted Amendment 11. He wryly commented that with a $162,000 cost and a $500,000,000 budget, “there isn’t much slack to be picked up.” He noted that there are dozens of tax exemptions in the county’s property tax code, and it was “reprehensible” for commissioners to oppose this one.
Nancy Noonan of Summerfield contrasted the commissioners’ willingness to commit $30 million of taxpayer funds for rich local developer John Rudnianyn to have an unneeded exit ramp on I-75 to benefit his neighboring property, yet couldn’t allow a mere $162,000 for longtime resident, poor seniors. Sge calculated that the funds set out just for Rudnianyn’s wish would pay for the Amendment 11 exemption for 185 years. She said it seemed that the wealthy and privileged could get taxpayer funds, but deserving seniors were dismissed.
Tea Party leader Butch Verrando bellowed against adoption in threatening terms for commissioners’ re-election. Verrando claimed that today the amount was $162,000, but in 5 years it would be $1 million, and in 5 more years it would be $5 million. He was just pulling the numbers out of thin air, of course. He’s Tea Party; that’s what he does. He further showed his complete ignorance of the subject by declaring that if adopted, the exemption would make Marion County into a “repository for every old person who has no income.” He called it a “socialist agenda.” He probably thinks lunch menus are a socialist agenda, too.
Commission Chair Bryant had John Schaefer, the county’s Fiscal Manager, verify the $162,000, and he noted that adoption was up to each county or municipal government. It did not apply to school taxes. As far as Verrando’s assertion of gigantic increases, Schaefer said “one could speculate” that increases could possibly occur over time without guessing any amounts.
County attorney Guy Minter noted that the law allows for “periodic adjustment for income limitations.”
At the end of the public comments, new commissioner Earl Arnett (pic left) moved adoption of Amendment 11 and gained a reluctant second from fellow new commissioner David Moore (pic right). Let the crazy begin.
Arnett noted that 17% of seniors struggle with their day-to-day costs, and allowed that this would provide needed relief. Moore didn’t like a narrow tax break for a special group, and preferred across the board tax cuts, yet remained reluctantly in favor.
Commissioner Carl Zalak tried to claim that charity was not the government’s business, that it was a matter of personal free will. Indeed, it would be hard to categorize the county’s giveaways to wealthy families and rich corporations as “charity,” but they were giveaways nonetheless. It seems he did not consider the difference between the undeserving and the deserving. Typically, the rich and powerful don’t need government charity, but they get it all the time from the County Commission. The deserving simply don’t get (or deserve) anything in the upside-down world of Carl Zalak. To top off his inane comments, he said it was “picking winners and losers.” Huh? Who? Well, that’s so dumb, irrelevant, and out of context, it doesn’t deserve further comment.
Commissioner Stan McClain reiterated his favorite line that property taxes are just plain wrong. Therefore, you might think he would be in favor of this tax exemption for poor seniors. You would be wrong. His view reflects another bowl full of wacky. He correctly chastised state legislators for not simply taking action themselves and making local officials do their work. He went on to rail about the accumulated cost of $162,000 year after year, and what the county would not be able to do as a result.
As Ms. Noonan said, this pittance would be paid up for 185 years with the money committed to Mr. Rudnianyn’s useless exit ramp. McClain had no problem at all with the Rudnianyn giveaway, to cite just one glaring example of wealthy welfare. Advocating the so-called Fair Tax which is a regressive and harmful tax scheme, McClain said there were too many property tax exemptions, it was an unfair system, that only a small segment of the community was actually paying taxes, and soon everyone would want a tax exemption. If you were looking for a consistent and logical explanation from McClain, that was as close as it came. None of it made much sense or held much water. His final flourish was to call the Amendment 11 exemption “progressive, liberal tax policy.” Loopy, I know, but that’s what he said; a tax break is “progressive, liberal tax policy.” Yup, and he’s been elected three times.
Any hope for an intelligent remark from an experienced county commissioner was lost when Commission Chair Kathy Bryant started. She babbled about working two jobs and raising four kids and helping an elderly neighbor, none of which connected to the issue at hand. (What, she is a “real” person, too?) Finally she said adoption of Amendment 11 would “open Pandora’s box” and have everyone wanting a tax break. They must all have been reading from the same playbook. Ya’ think? Niblock’s “Poppycock” or did they think it up by themselves? She, too, parroted the meaningless criticism that the property tax system is broken. She claimed that “only property owners support county government” and it was unfair. This would be shocking news to the many folks who pay a variety of taxes that form revenue streams for county government. If taxpayers don’t own property, they don’t seem to exist in Commissioner Bryant’s world, much less count for anything. Of course, even if you do own property and qualify for Amendment 11 tax relief, you still don’t count for anything with Commissioner Bryant. Get rich if you want attention.
As broken as they claim the property tax system apparently is, none of the commissioners seem capable of lifting a finger to fix it. Isn’t that why they were elected? But enough logic; there are exemptions that rich people need to stay wealthy. Consider the impressive agricultural tax break likely received by mega-millionaire Larry Roberts, private owner of R+L Carriers – yeah, the one getting that tax break mentioned in the beginning of the meeting. His ag tax break for his mammoth horse farm on oodles of northwest Marion acres is worth a bundle. The aerial view at left shows the Roberts estate. Pretty nice.
It’s the same agricultural exemption used by developers for choice properties worth millions; ‘plant pine and you’re fine.’
Sorry, poor seniors who have lived here for over 25 years: you can go and suck an egg.
It was a sad and shameful day for Marion County as the majority of commissioners failed to serve its people fairly, turning a blind eye to their own hypocrisy while offering a stupidly inconsistent ideology in condemning poor, longtime resident seniors for daring to seek a puny tax break.
You may be disappointed that all the gory details of Florida GOP shenanigans in the era of former Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) Chair Jim Greer won’t be dribbling out for weeks, but surely you also realize that no cash bought this outcome. It is unimaginable that a woeful tale of corruption that involved large sums of money and the biggest names in the Florida GOP would be determined by some kind of cash payoff of which the public will likely never learn. Heaven forbid!
Yes, Jim Greer suddenly decided to plead guilty first thing on Monday morning when jury selection was scheduled to begin. Greer was accepting the inevitability of a likely prison term of anywhere between 3 1/2 and 35 years. As recently as last week, Greer and his attorney promised a trial of salacious disclosures involving GOP heavyweights and stalwarts that would reach out and likely besmirch folks like ascendant darling US Sen. Marco Rubio, former Gov. Charlie Crist, former Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Bill McCollum, former US Sen. George LeMieux, and a host of statewide GOP leaders including big donors.
Greer had been willing to go to the mat in demonstrating his innocence while “promising a Shakespearean tragedy in which ‘everyone dies in the end.’”
Well, there were also cheap weenies like powerful State Senator John Thrasher (R-Jax pictured below), who assumed leadership at RPOF after Greer. Thrasher decided to stiff Greer on the severance package – $11,000 per month for a year – which RPOF committed to furnish in a written agreement. Yes, W-R-I-T-T-E-N. Reneging on a deal is bad form as former House Speaker turned big time lobbyist Dean Cannon stated, and was seconded by former Senate President Mike “Dirty Hari” Haridopolos who admitted lying at first about the very existence of the written severance agreement. But who could imagine the upright citizens at RPOF actually buying off the silence of their shamed leader of scams and schemes. Right?
It may seem like an obvious case of divine intervention that has touched the tarnished soul of Jim Greer and brought him to repent of his evil ways and confess his trespasses. Say it with me, brothers and sisters: Hallelujah! Amen!
But his revealing and candid January, 2013 interview with Miami New Times disclosed this previous self-reckoning:
Today, finally, the Greers blame themselves. When Jim talks about his time as [RPOF] chairman, he adopts the persona of a sinner at confession. “I spent too much,” Greer says, looking away. “I think I should have recognized that I didn’t need to stay in a five-star hotel. I should have set a better example, and I didn’t.”
Oh, wait. There was that talk about another attempt to buy Jim Greer’s silence with hush money. A documented offer from over a year ago clearly has no bearing on today’s sudden declaration and would never indicate any ongoing attempt by RPOF to shut him up. Similarly, that all of this had come out prior to the Republican National Convention in Tampa was entirely – no doubt about it! – coincidental.
Indeed, there were some fascinating stories about which we had hoped to learn more.
Remember the golf cart filled with prostitutes at the Bahamas getaway for party officials and donors? Surely it was all a misunderstanding; a few boys getting a bit wild and out of line. You know how it can be when you’re away from home and living large on corporate contributions. Besides, those gals didn’t, like, have business cards that said “Prostitute” on them. Did they?
Then there was this titillating tidbit:
[Judge Marc] Lubet also will decide whether the public and the media should have access to a salacious-sounding four-page interview taken from a witness. Richard Hornsby, an Orlando defense lawyer representing two unnamed witnesses, tried Thursday to prevent it from being shared with the defense. Lubet took a break to read over the document and decided the state must release it to Greer. He said he will examine case law as to whether it should be shielded from public view because of, in Hornsby’s words, its defamatory nature.
Again, you know how people like to make up stuff or get too excited. Although the judge seemed to feel it was admissible, judges can get carried away, too.
There may have been some intriguing revelations from his Number 2 at RPOF, the huggable Delmar Johnson, who seemed quite familiar with the lovely lady guests in the golf cart at the Bahamas shindig, among other things. You know just by looking at Delmar that, with his straight-shooting sincerity, he has a big future in time share resales.
Some folks may have wanted to hear more about the explicit RPOF strategy of denying the vote to blacks and Hispanics which Greer could have elucidated under oath. It is difficult to imagine since the avowed purpose of the voter suppression law sponsored by Ocala Republican Rep. Dennis Baxley was to prevent voter fraud, no matter how non-existent and nonsensical the whole charade might be.
As Jim Greer awaits sentencing, we are left with this memorable statement by the disgraced former RPOF Chairman:
“This trial will continue to show that nothing has come from Republicans and there’s no reason for them to keep power,” Greer says. “The people need to know what the Republican Party is. It’s dysfunctional.”
Really, Jim, we don’t need your trial to know the truth of that statement.
Vaya con dios! Greer, we hope you took the RPOF people to the cleaners … again.
Campaign finance reform had been announced in November as a priority of new Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford (R-Wesley Chapel, pictured left with former Speaker Larry Cretul (R-Ocala)) who said that reform of the secretive flood of campaign cash is best addressed by removing caps on direct campaign donations (now $500) and requiring fast, full disclosure of donors, something certain entities can legally avoid.
Surprisingly, Integrity Florida, the newcomer watchdog group, has just submitted a report to the Florida House that fully endorses Weatherford’s two key ideas. Okay, it’s a mirror image of Weatherford’s viewpoint with a generous dollop of Integrity’s claim to non-partisanship thrown in. Click here to download their report.
The Orlando Sentinel’s Aaron Deslatte wasted no time with a very informative piece challenging some of the basic calculations in Integrity’s report. Deslatte also reviews the different entities that may have their hands on cash that ends up with a campaign, and describes how the process can be rather elaborate in shielding the true donor.
Since the US Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case opened the floodgates to a torrent of corporate campaign cash, many have raised grave questions about the integrity of political campaigns and candidates. A 2012 case tested a century old Montana state law restricting corporate campaign donations, giving the Supremes an opportunity to reconsider their dubious decision to give corporations the free speech (and campaign donation) rights of individuals. The court’s decision affirmed Citizens United, striking down the Montana law as unconstitutional. Bad news for states.
In the 2012 presidential campaign, voters were shocked to see massive amounts of cash being donated to candidates in the Republican primary process, like Sheldon Adelson literally keeping Newt Gingrich’s campaign alive with his own funding. It seemed every candidate needed a billionaire backer to stay afloat financially in a race defined by cash.
In Florida, Democrats well remember the bizarre 2010 US Senate candidacy of billionaire Jeff Greene who appeared out of nowhere, easily spent huge sums, forced Kendrick Meek to spend precious cash in a farcical primary, and then disappeared off the political map. Some question whether Greene was just a shill to undermine Meek’s funding. By the way, Greene is still a mess.
In short, what happens with campaign cash matters in a variety of ways. It affects races, campaigns, candidacies, candidate positions, opponents, etc. And 2012 showed one thing clearly; there is a lot of cash for politics. And surely it’s spent for a reason.
Both Weatherford and Integrity Florida start from the same premise, stated in the IF Report:
The state-level campaign finance system in Florida is fundamentally broken.
That’s a dramatic statement, but isn’t it broken in most places, certainly since Citizens United? The IF report claims that Florida’s campaign finance system amounts to “money laundering”:
… [The current system] has failed in preventing unlimited amounts of money from being spent to attempt to influence the outcomes of our state and local elections. Donors have a proven track record of adapting to any campaign finance regulatory schemes that seek to limit contributions or restrain spending.
Weatherford and IF seem to believe that removing the $500 campaign donation cap is a non-event since it is being circumvented so readily and donors always seem to find some way around restrictions. The IF report cites four states that have unlimited contributions, the disparate states of Missouri, Oregon, Utah, and Virginia, pointing to their politically mixed legislatures as proof that unlimited donations don’t result in any advantages. It’s an entirely specious and irrelevant argument. No one denies that Republicans already have a consistently huge cash advantage in Florida and unlimited donations will surely encourage that gap to remain, if not widen. Unlimited campaign cash is about who gets to buy the candidates for how much, not partisan political advantages. If they’re already bought, no caps simply increases the ante for the players.
Further, Weatherford and IF are convinced that 24 hour disclosure of donations will bring accountability. If there is a money laundering system – let’s not argue the point; it seems valid enough – do they seriously believe that new routes for cash won’t be found, passing through more obscure entities in a continuation of the current game plan? The IF report focuses on the operational feasibility of fast reporting – yes, it can be done. The IF report says absolutely nothing about impacts of fast reporting that would suggest it has any benefit of disclosure. In short, 24 hour full disclosure reporting is a great idea and should be done, but don’t think it’s a magic bean that will contribute much at all to lifting the covers on secretive donors.
Basically, Floridians are supposed to believe Weatherford and IF that there is some sort of worthwhile trade-off in lifting the $500 donation limit, making unlimited donations possible, in order to gain 24 hour full disclosure reporting. Do you see any merit?
From Weatherford, one expects posturing like this that would really drench the whole messed up system with bigger bucket loads of cash.
If Integrity Florida was serious, they might have presented a reform agenda that would serve to tame the cash flow and demand fast, full disclosure of donations. IF might have drawn the best examples from other states that have effected reforms. Instead, they somehow envisioned Weatherford’s agenda and produced an 8 page rubber stamp. Their organization did itself no favors with this report, and now IF deserves close scrutiny itself since its allegiance to seriously improving the political process seems doubtful.
This year’s Marion Legislative Delegation meeting had several presenters articulate positions on progressive issues, something Marion’s legislators are not used to hearing, much less considering. This should be recognized as the seeds of something that will grow.
Each year, the delegation of state representatives and state senators gathers in the respective counties to hear concerns from constituents prior to the start of the annual two month legislative session. In Marion County, there are three state senators and four representatives, all Republicans except for Rep. Clovis Watson.
The progressive coalition, Awake Marion, had several of its participants make presentations. [Disclaimer: the writer is Awake Marion’s coordinator.] Combined with several human services agencies, legislators heard about a number of areas of concern where state funding for key community-building programs and services was the primary focus, contrasting against the skewed priorities of legislators who can always find money for a corporate tax credit, can always ignore tax loopholes, and can always award lucrative, unaccountable contracts to privateers.
Despite the absence of anyone (anyone!) from the public schools, Nancy Noonan, president of Marions United for Public Education, an advocacy group that shares in the Awake Marion coalition, was present so that someone spoke up for public education. Noonan highlighted the unfunded mandates like teacher merit pay and the requirement for digital textbook technology that the legislature should correct with an allocation of proper funds. She said that money should stop being thrown at unproven, largely ineffective, and often unaccountable “reform” schemes that divert funding from public schools. Finally, she reminded legislators that there was an ongoing need to add revenue, readily available by ending corporate tax and sales tax exemptions, credits, and loopholes.
As if deaf to what Noonan had just said, State Senator Alan Hays (R-Umatilla) then called attention to the pension case awaiting a court decision which could overturn the 3% pension contribution that the Tea Party/GOP legislature had enacted for state employees. If decided against the state, it could result in a $1.3 billion bill for the state. Hays said that would change everything. Had he so quickly forgotten Noonan’s call to raise revenue by addressing the hodgepodge of wasteful tax breaks that litter the state tax code? Or did Hays never hear her words in the first place?
Whitfield Jenkins, representing Marion County NAACP, another Awake Marion coalition participant, urged legislators to pay attention to “underserved communities” which most often meant minority communities. While he cited progress locally in multi-level government partnerships to spur economic investment and development, he urged sustained vigilance and commitment to forging a new direction in such communities.
Pat Hawk of Water Well Justice, an Awake Marion coalition participant, reviewed the history of wells going dry in the area, including her own not long ago. She called attention to the disturbingly low water levels in Lake Weir and Orange Lake as well as the historically low flow rate at Silver Springs, acknowledging that there are mostly unknowns when it comes to what is happening in the Floridan Aquifer. Noting how drilling a new well was a major cost for families and seniors, Hawk sought special state funding for citizens forced to drill new wells since there is no apparent intention by the legislature to protect citizens and their water by limiting new water withdrawal permits.
Guy Marwick, noted longtime Marion environmentalist, admonished the state for its Band Aid approaches to water and conservation policy. He expressed his deep concern about water quality, citing nitrate contamination, permits for large withdrawals, and the spreading threat of saltwater intrusion and contamination of the aquifer and wells due to excessive withdrawals. Comprehensive solutions are needed, and are long overdue, he emphasized.
Michael Davis, an activist leader in Awake Marion’s Juvenile Justice Project, called for repeal of SB2112, a law which allowed county governments to assume control of local juvenile justice detention services. Previously, Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) handled all juvenile justice detention since it was uniquely capable of dealing with youth with issues. Duh. But for financial reasons, counties were given the option of taking them over from DJJ and saving large sums. It was such a really bad idea that only 3 of 67 Florida counties have begun handling juvenile detention; Marion, Seminole, and Polk. As Davis stated, Marion’s is considered a model operation, Seminole’s program is passable, and Polk’s is a disaster that has resulted in dangerous and abusive situations for youth among untrained correction officers, plunging Polk into a lawsuit for its gross mismanagement. The best idea, said Davis, would be to repeal SB2112 and let DJJ return to doing what it knows how to do and is supposed to do.
Delphine Herbert who, active with other community organizations, is leader of Marions for Peace, another Awake Marion participant, insisted that the state needed leadership to address the culture of violence, particularly in the wake of the Newtown, CT school shootings. Citing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., she suggested that more guns did not equal more protection: “Where do we go from here? Chaos or community? … Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. “
It was over four hours of public comment, so there is another post or two to come. But the sound of progressive voices increased noticeably this year, signs of new community advocacy in Marion. Of course, getting the legislative delegation’s ears to listen is also a work in progress.
This panel was formed following excellent investigative reporting in 2011 by the Miami Herald called “Neglected to Death.” It revealed appalling neglect and abuse in lightly regulated Assistant Living Facilities (ALFs), and showed the death of 70 individuals from such abysmal conditions in about ten years.
Amid the furor, Gov. Scott directed a stern-sounding, vigorous response: empower citizens and crack down, form an investigatory panel and fix the problems! At the time, it seemed Scott was serious about disallowing more bad practices by the ALFs when he vetoed the facility owners’ desired deregulation that would have allowed complaints to be hushed up with secrecy. The law was sponsored by Rep. Matt Hudson (R-Naples) and scandal magnet Rep. Daphne Campbell (D-Miami Shores). Campbell got lots of attention last summer for her Medicaid fraud investigation and six figure IRS tax liens.
As is now evident, this was really short-hand for appearing to address the issue while things simmer down. Taking advantage of the issue being off the front pages and blogs for over a year, this industry-skewed panel produced yet another scandal whitewash, handing the powerful ALF industry and its lobbyists not so much as a wrist slap.
‘[Providers] are probably doing cartwheels right now,’ said Brian Lee, a resident advocate and director of Families for Better Care.
If this scandal panel whitewash has a familiar ring, it should.
In mid-November, the panel investigating the “Shoot to Kill” law (a.k.a. Stand your Ground) concluded that the law needed no real change, despite the tragic killing of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin whose shooter may yet be fully protected from prosecution. Click here for the post examining this panel’s outrageous report.
Before November was over, another black teen, Jordan Russell Davis, had been shot and killed in a hail of bullets, and his shooter, Michael David Dunn, is expected to invoke immunity from prosecution thanks to the “Shoot to Kill” law’s shield. Click here for the post on this latest incident.
The Scott ALF panel was also stacked, just like Scott’s “Shoot to Kill” panel, indicating a pre-determined result. It included Rep. Matt Hudson, mentioned above for his industry coddling deregulation law that Scott surprisingly vetoed. The Assisted Living Workgroup was endowed with industry insiders and other political chums. One member was Larry Sherberg, an ALF owner cited for neglectful conditions and care. No surprise that Larry was upset by thoughts of reformist regulations:
A key member of the panel, Sherberg, 60, has argued that the push for stricter regulations — including harsher penalties — will hurt the industry.
Larry is not typically the kind of fellow who should be on this investigatory panel. But Larry wasn’t alone:
More than a dozen assisted living facility executives landed positions on the panel, a sign to advocates for residents that passing reforms will be a challenge.
Gov. Scott was able to channel “The Amazing Kreskin” by predicting the panel’s outcome by auto-suggestion over a year ago:
Governor Rick Scott called for the task force. Scott, who is for less regulations overall, says neglect by a few bad facilities may be making the whole industry look bad.
The panel’s failure to produce substantive reform follows on the legislature’s deeply disappointing failure to produce anything to protect senior citizens in its 2012 session, choosing instead to protect the industry.
The panel’s final report calls for keeping things just as they are for the most part, proposes some re-arranging of the oversight deck chairs, and reviewing existing processes. It seems audacious, but the recommendations include a proposal shielding ALFs from complaint disclosure, just like the law that Hudson sponsored and Scott vetoed, as described above. Yup, déjà vu all over again! This is what the report says:
Enable a public record exemption for AHCA complaints. Complaints filed with AHCA are currently not protected from disclosure. Consider adding confidentiality to AHCA complaints equivalent to that of the Ombudsman.
Remember, it took the Miami Herald’s investigation to get any kind of response to ghastly ALF problems, not Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) doing any watchdog activism. (As Long-Term Care Ombudsman Brian Lee’s case showed, advocacy that disturbs the owners will get you fired by Pink Slip Rick.) AHCA was asleep at the wheel as a rule, as described here:
… a drop in state inspections of homes by 33 percent, and a pattern of reducing penalties against bad homes. The Herald found that the state could have shut down 70 homes in 2008 and 2009 for such violations as abuse and neglect leading to deaths, but closed just seven. [bold added]
Now the panel recommends allowing owners to hide the complaints behind state-sanctioned secrecy! What could possibly go wrong?
Again, Brian Lee had nailed it nine months ago as the legislative session was wrapping up and nothing was happening:
‘The only reason they’re doing it [considering reform legislation] now is because they’re under the media spotlight. A year from now, or two years from now, when all the dust has settled, those facilities are going to go back to business as usual.’
If you were wondering who in Tallahassee was doing the work to protect the people, particularly vulnerable seniors (and even the unarmed getting shot and killed), you would be mistaken if you thought it was elected officials like Republican legislators or Governor Scott. Their collective indifference toward the exploitation, endangerment, and brutalizing of Florida citizens in order to protect powerful industry and partisan interests becomes more appalling by the week.
On Cyber Monday, the online retailers’ version of Black Friday, consumers were predicted to have spent $2 billion on that single day, having spent an estimated $1 billion online on Black Friday. If you live in Florida, you were able to make your purchases and generally evade paying any sales tax at the time of sale (unless the retailer is based in Florida).
While Florida has bled red ink from its state budget for years, slashing spending for everything from education to health care to environment, one of the major sources of state revenue – the sales tax – has failed to collect anything near the amount possible from online sales.
Few states have taken the steps needed to collect sales tax from online purchases.
A leading opponent of any online sales tax has been giant online retailer Amazon.com. Amazon has been playing ‘let’s make a deal’ with state legislatures for years, offering to build facilities, make capital investments, and bring new jobs in exchange for forgoing or delaying imposition of any online sales tax, like in Tennessee, for example. The delaying tactic is in the expectation that Congress will institute national guidelines for online sales taxation. Apparently Amazon and their online retailing cohorts like eBay and Overstock.com have not considered Congress’s grinding dysfunction to do anything about taxes, tax codes, or tax anything.
These tactics by Amazon are a marked change from its earlier bullying, like in Colorado in 2010 and Illinois in early 2011 where it fired its in-state associate retailers in retaliation for the states’ imposing the sales tax. The idea was to deny sales through any state-based associates; no in-state sales, no sales tax collection. When you’re Amazon, you don’t mind taking a loss to deliver a black eye to an opponent.
There has also been the tactic of rewarding those who give Amazon what it wants, like in Arizona, where new distribution centers are being sited as long as there is no hint of any online sales tax.
Here is how the map looked in late 2011 as Amazon did its wheeling and dealing, published by TheStreet.com.
Amazon has decided to face the music as its tax firewall crumbles, exposing it to myriad state and local sales taxation rates and destinations. Given Amazon’s ability to handle retail traffic, it doesn’t seem like processing sales tax collections should be such a struggle. It seems more likely that Amazon (a) doesn’t want the added cost of doing such tax processing, but moreover (b) doesn’t want to lose the pricing advantage it has always enjoyed over brick-and-mortar “Main Street” retailers who have always had to collect and remit sales taxes, and have always had those taxes built into their pricing which adds 6%-9% to the cost.
You can watch Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos swallow really hard and often, blink a lot, and tell a CNN/Money interviewer last month that Amazon has always supported a federal rule on state collection of online sales taxes and thinks it will happen soon.
So, I know you’re wondering where Florida fits into the picture, being a major retail state with significant budgetary needs. Haven’t heard anything? Well, you haven’t missed anything; there is no talk of going anywhere near collecting an online sales tax in the Sunshine State.
This is pretty remarkable since heavy hitting, right wing, pro-corporate lobbyists like Florida Chamber of Commerce, Associated Industries of Florida, and Florida Retail Federation actually support a Florida online sales tax, or at least they say they do. The Chamber estimates that Florida will fail to collect about $450 million in sales tax revenue this year.
Since these lobbying groups typically can buy their way to the souls of GOP legislators, what’s the hold up? Usually, it’s idiot ideology rearing its ugly head – yes, I mean you, Tea Partiers. While the Chamber and their corpo cronies point out that it would simply be the collection of an existing tax, not the imposition of a new tax, we still have had dim-witted responses like this one from former Senate President Mike Haridopolos in October, 2011:
“I think we made a pretty firm statement as far as sales taxes are concerned or tax increases, that there would not be an increase in taxes,” Haridopolos told reporters … “If there were any adjustments, we’d have to see an equal reduction somewhere else … The income revenue from increased taxes would not be passing the Senate, and it would not pass the House,” he added. “And if somehow it passed both chambers – which I consider the likelihood zero – the governor would surely veto it, if it was a revenue enhancement.”
In true anti-government mindlessness, Haridopolos would have required reduced government spending to offset the addition of new tax revenue. It makes absolutely no sense, except as ideological flatulence. Gov. Scott follows similar logic, unsurprisingly given his historic proclivity for Tea.
This needs to be remembered when the next budget proposal gets kicked around in Tallahassee this spring. These clowns cry about the state’s lack of funds and insist that the skinny people tighten their belts further while the fat cats let their belts out with tax breaks and privileged treatment. These same GOP clowns won’t lift a finger to act intelligently and take the steps needed to begin collecting the cyber sales tax.
That $450 million would surely help, but first Florida needs worthy leaders.
Last Friday night, unarmed Jordan Russell Davis, 17, of Jacksonville, was shot and killed while inside of a parked SUV by Michael David Dunn, 45. Eight or nine shots were fired into the SUV at Davis who was the only one hit, arising from words exchanged over Dunn’s complaint about loud music from the SUV. After the shooting, Dunn left the convenience store parking lot when his girlfriend returned to his vehicle.
Dunn was staying over in a hotel, having gone to Jacksonville to attend his son’s wedding. He learned of the death from the shooting by watching the news and returned to his home in Satellite Beach. He was arrested on Saturday and is being held without bond.
It was recently reported that Dunn’s lawyer would be using a self-defense claim under the Stand Your Ground Law to defend his client. Dunn is claiming that he saw a gun barrel in the SUV’s window. There was no gun in the SUV according to Jacksonville Police.
The outrage surrounding the Trayvon Martin killing by George Zimmerman in Sanford arose from prosecutors finding no case could be made due to the Stand Your Ground Law which grants immunity in cases of self-defense, even against unarmed victims, provided the assailant claims to have been threatened.
A special panel convened by Gov. Rick Scott had just concluded its work and had released a draft final report last week which indicated that the law was essentially sound and effective and did not need any real change. A blog post here last week detailed the ways in which this panel and its report were a complete whitewash.
The Stand Your Ground Law was sponsored by State Rep. Dennis Baxley (R-ALEC/NRA/Ocala) who has continued to be a staunch defender of the law, and who served on Gov. Scott’s stacked special panel.
Once again, a shameful act is being given the indecency of validation by a despicable and unnecessary law. And once again, Floridians will get the spectacle of watching to see how you can get away with murder in Florida.
It was February, 2012 when George Zimmerman shot to death unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in Sanford, FL, and nothing happened to Zimmerman. As if in agreement with doing nothing , a special panel was convened by Gov. Scott about the “Stand Your Ground” Law. The panel met, heard testimony, and essentially decided to do nothing.
The vague and unnecessary “Stand Your Ground” Law sponsored in 2005 by NRA darling, State Rep. Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala), has proven deadly and unjust time after time after time. Amazingly, it took international furor weeks after the Trayvon Martin shooting for anyone to realize that Florida had handed a license to kill to its citizens if they simply felt threatened.
Local prosecutors declined to pursue charges against Zimmerman due to the “feel threatened” provision of the Stand Your Ground Law (776.013 “presumption of fear of death or great bodily harm”). As the uproar grew to a crescendo in late March, Gov. Scott and Attorney General Bondi called for a special prosecutor, State Attorney Angela Corey of Jacksonville, who eventually filed charges against Zimmerman.
The Governor’s panel, officially called the Task Force on Citizen Safety and Protection, was criticized from its inception for being largely composed of the law’s legislative defenders, including Rep. Baxley – indeed, all had voted to enact the law. The panel had Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll as co-chair who had the Scott-like audacity to declare:
“It is a mischaracterization for anyone to presume this task force is not balanced.”
Carroll further underscored the predictable outcome:
The goal will be to “come forward with a better fix than what we have now, if there is truly a concern and an issue out there,” she said. [Emphasis added]
Apparently Carroll was unaware of the Trayvon Martin killing that had generated a tidal wave of concern about the issue. Are we off to a good start yet?
Baxley chimed in with his own unhelpful direction:
“Let’s don’t let this turn into a trial of [Florida Statutes Chapter] 776.” Baxley said it was “premature” to assume the law needed to be overhauled.
The bias against critics of the law being on the panel didn’t help allay the misgivings of community leaders and citizens. Many sensed a total whitewash had been initiated with the kind of arrogant disregard for minority citizen outrage that has come to characterize the GOP legislature and governor. Do something to humor and placate the noisome rabble (like a special panel), give it a few months to settle down, issue a meaningless report, and voila, who cares any longer?
And here we are, six months after the panel was chosen. The conclusion is that everything seems just fine. I know, what a shock. Click here for the draft final report, a whopping 5 pages (in 14 point font to make it appear longer?) with a one page conclusion that blithely affirms the value of the law, and seeks better definition of “unlawful activity.” That’s all, folks!
It must be noted that there were a number of other community leaders on the panel besides legislators. Click here to see the list and their bios. It is remarkable that no panel members have been able to utter a worthy reproach of this ridiculous law. Typical was co-chair Rev. R. B. Holmes (standing left in the above picture with Lt. Gov. Carroll and Gov. Scott) who was apparently worried about the law being pre-judged by critics when he should have been worried about the panel having pre-judged the law … with its blessing.
“It was a very difficult process where many people had already prejudged the outcome,” said vice-chairman R.B. Holmes, pastor of Tallahassee’s Bethel Missionary Baptist Church. “We’re very clear that we did it right.”
It remains incredible that such a deplorably inept outcome could be produced, no matter how rigged and predictable. Not even a hint of a fig leaf was offered to hide the shame of their sanction of murder!
Is my criticism the result of reading reams of testimony and listening to dozens of expert witnesses and legal whizzes in a slew of meetings around the state? Not hardly, but it doesn’t actually require much effort to get a grip on this.
Just click here for the Tampa Bay Times special web page on Stand Your Ground which documents cases and statistics that obviate the need for the Governor’s asinine special panel and its stooges.
Look under the big circle chart and see “Weapon Comparison.” Victims: 19 gun, 8 knife, 135 unarmed, 30 other. Accused: 121 gun, 36 knife, 18 unarmed, 17 other. Still have any questions?
The website states:
A Tampa Bay Times investigation has found that Florida’s “stand your ground” law is being used in ways never imagined — to free gang members involved in shootouts, drug dealers beefing with clients, and people who shot their victims in the back. Defendants have invoked the law to excuse all manner of mischief, from minor fistfights to drug possession to killing an endangered species.
It will remain up to citizens, always, to insist that government act with justice and repeal this useless law that enables getting away with murder in Florida.