Sunday, January 20, 2008

FLORIDA DIGEST January 20, 2008

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Statewide poll: Voter support eroding for Florida property tax amendment
Approval far below 60 percent needed for amendment to pass

By Scott Wyman
January 20, 2008

Champions of the property tax relief proposal on the Jan. 29 presidentialprimary ballot face an uphill battle over the next week to win over a largenumber of undecided residents, a statewide poll of likely voters showed.

The poll of 500 likely voters conducted by the South Florida Sun-Sentineland the Florida Times-Union found 45 percent in favor of the plan, which is heavily touted by Gov. Charlie Crist.

Because it would amend the stateconstitution, 60 percent approval is required.

Support is weakest in South Florida and among the youngest voters, those 18to 29. Its biggest backers are voters who are Republican men 60 and older.

Most of those surveyed said they want the Legislature to try again to reformthe tax system if the initiative fails.

"We need to speak up and say this is not good enough and that we want realrelief," said John Dalman, a 37-year-old Royal Palm Beach resident who plansto vote no.

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St. Petersburg Times

What would it take to deter Giuliani?

By ADAMC. SMITH, Times Political Editor
Published January 20, 2008

While the other Republican candidates have been battling in places likeIowa, Michigan and South Carolina, Rudy Giuliani has been all Florida, allthe time. So if he fails to win on Jan. 29, should we assume it's all overfor hizzoner?

"You never want to say that. No candidate wants to say that. It's veryimportant to us, we've made that very clear to the people of Florida,"Giuliani said in a Political Connections interview airing today on BrightHouse Networks' Bay News 9 at 11 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.

Buzz's translation? Yup, it's probably the end if he loses.

In the interview, Giuliani touted his support for promoting energyindependence and renewable energy sources and brushed off the significanceof his law firm lobbying against provisions promoting renewable energy inCongress.

"Law firms represent clients. They do not necessarily represent thepolitical positions that people have," Giuliani said. "My politicalpositions are mine, they're not necessarily the positions that lawyers takewhen they're representing clients."

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Miami Herald

Florida's the next stop on the 2008 campaign trail

Posted on Sat, Jan. 19, 2008

One state now stands between an elbow-to-elbow Republican field and the Feb.5 voting sweepstakes that could cinch the party's presidential nomination:Florida.

John McCain's hard-fought win Saturday in South Carolina, along with hiscome-from-behind victory in New Hampshire, put him in an enviable positionheading into another Southern state.

But unlike South Carolina, McCain-leaning independent voters can't vote inFlorida's Jan. 29 primary, and the heavily Republican Cuban-Americancommunity looms as one of the biggest prizes in the nation's fourth-largeststate.

McCain plans to kick off his Florida tour Monday at the landmark Versaillesrestaurant in Little Havana, then head to Jacksonville and Pensacola, wherethe Vietnam War hero can tap a large population of military retirees andtheir families.

"This is huge because it's all about the momentum, and that's what we'llride on, though we're not going to take Florida for granted," said campaignspokeswoman Melissa Shuffield of McCain's victory in South Carolina. "We'reaggressively campaigning in the Sunshine State and we fully expect we canwin."

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Addie Greene says race issue could divide Democrats, help a Republican win

January 20, 2008

Addie Greene has seen a Klu Klux Klansman ride past her house and has beenstared down, insulted and threatened over the years by any number ofracists.

That's why she thinks it's silly and dangerous that racial tension hasreared its ugly head in the Democratic primaries, of all places.

The controversy over remarks by U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton that "Dr.King's dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed theCivil Rights Act of 1964" has angered black voters.

"Clinton made a mistake and said something she shouldn't have, and she'spaying for it," said Greene, 64. "I can tell you, she managed to find theone issue dealing with race that really upset the grass roots."

But, Greene added, "If this devolves again into an argument over race, I cantell you we're just going to paralyze ourselves in the Democratic Party andthe Republicans are going to win again. I simply don't think it should be anissue."

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A primer on the Florida property tax amendment

January 20, 2008

With little over a week to go before the polls open, your questions keepcoming about the potential sweep and effects of the proposed amendment toFlorida's constitution on property taxes.

If you have a query, you can e-mail it to us by going and clicking on "Send us your question."We'll post the answers to as many of your questions as we can, and alsoprint another of these columns in the newspaper on Jan. 27, the Sundaybefore the referendum.

Here are some recent inquiries from readers, and the answers furnished byour staff. We'll start with the most basic of questions: What's at stake forFloridians in the upcoming election?

QIs there a date in January when we have to vote on upcoming changes to thetax laws on property?

- R.P., Wellington

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Blacks in South Florida reflect on race and the presidential election

Story by Tim Collie and Gregory Lewis
Photography by Omar Vega
January 20, 2008

As South Floridians celebrate the birthday and legacy of the Rev. MartinLuther King Jr. on Monday, an African-American, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.,is a serious contender for president of the United States.

In the 45 years since King eloquently spoke of his dream of racial equalityfrom the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the political process has openedwide enough for a black man and a woman, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, tocontend for the Democratic Party's nomination for president.

But the scar of inequality is still tender. The South Florida Sun-Sentinelrecently talked with local veterans of the civil rights movement and theirheirs to seek opinions on how far we've come as a nation, and how far wehave yet to go. While Democratic and Republican candidates are drawingsupport from a broad spectrum of voters, a Sun-Sentinel poll found 63percent of black Democrats support Obama. Many of those interviewed areamong them.



Wrongly imprisoned man fights to be compensated

January 20, 2008
The Associated Press

Alan Crotzer is working at a landscaping company, hoping one day to becompensated for the 24 years he spent in prison for a rape he didn't commit.

Florida lawmakers have for a couple of years failed to pass a bill to payhim - and he's again asking the Legislature for $1.25 million for the twodecades of freedom he gave up.

It's too bad for Crotzer that he doesn't live somewhere else. Several stateshave automatic compensation for people who have been wrongfully imprisonedand then released, something that's happening more and more because ofincreasing use of DNA to prove innocence.

But Florida remains one of 28 states that don't guarantee compensation forthose who spent precious years behind bars for something they didn't do.Nine men have been freed by DNA in Florida in recent years, but only one hasreceived money.

Crotzer, 47, is seeking money for himself, but he'd rather the state makemoney available for anyone in his situation. He said most men released afteryears behind bars - especially those who were, like him, young whenimprisoned - have a hard time starting over without help. They're usuallybroke, and most have no job prospects. All they really know is prison life.

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Tampa Tribune

Sagging Pants Bill Doesn't Hold Up

The Tampa Tribune
Published: January 20, 2008

It's obvious that state Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, has a real problem withyoung people showing their underwear. For three years he has filed billsthat would require "fashion police" to patrol public schools and suspendkids wearing droopy drawers. Most of his efforts have failed in committee,but he's back with new legislation to deal with the adolescent crime ofgoing beltless.

The other day the Prekindergarten-12th Grade Education Committee approvedSiplin's latest "pull up your britches" bill, and it will go to the Senatefloor when the Florida Legislature convenes in March. Repeat offenders couldreceive 10-day suspensions from school. Surely a legislative panel whosepurview is education has more important matters to tend to.

For starters, fashion is not a legislative issue, in school or out. And manyschool districts already ban visible underwear. State mandates are notneeded.

In Hillsborough, the policy states: "Clothing not properly fastened....shall not be worn. ... All pants and shorts shall be secured at thewaist."

Yes, many adults object to seeing youngsters with oversized pants hangingbelow their posteriors. And it doesn't help to know the style likely camefrom prison, where beltless prisoners wear pants that hang low.

But parents, not government, should be the primary enforcers of whatstudents wear to school. If parents fail in their duties, as they often do,school administrators are empowered to address it.

Siplin's sagging-pants bill is overreaching and redundant. It should die onthe Senate floor.


St. Petersburg Times

It's time for Florida to be a heavyweight on insurance

By Robert Trigaux, Times Business Editor
Published January 20, 2008

After Florida regulators stood up, at least briefly, to the giant AllstateInsurance Co. last week, I was leaning toward this headline for this column:

At last, state finds spine

After all, Tallahassee's been pretending to have a backbone in dealing withthe powerful insurance industry since Hurricane Andrew bulldozed acrosssouth Miami in 1992 and introduced us to the modern era of mega-hurricanedestruction and hyper-escalating insurance rates.

Last week's action showed some chops by Florida's chief insurance regulator,Kevin McCarty with ample blessings from Gov. Charlie Crist, when he bannedall Allstate business in the state until the company delivers informationsought by state subpoenas about how the insurer really decides the rates itcharges homeowners.

It's been a long and frustrating contention by many Florida homeowners: Ifyou want to get the attention of a big property insurer here, take away itsprofitable line of insuring autos.

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St. Petersburg Times

Briefs: Which Florida counties have lowest jobless rates?

How's your Florida employment IQ? The state Agency for Work-force Innovationreported
Friday that Florida's unemployment rate bounced higher (4.7percent, seasonally adjusted) in December.

By Times Staff
Published January 20, 2008

Which Florida counties have lowest rates?

How's your Florida employment IQ? The state Agency for Work-force Innovation reported Friday that Florida's unemployment rate bounced higher (4.7percent, seasonally adjusted) in December. That's up from 4.3 percent inNovember and an ominous 1.4 percentage points from 3.3 percent one yearearlier. Can you name any of the three Florida counties with the lowest unemployment rates? (These are not seasonally adjusted.) (Try Liberty,Walton and Monroe, all 3 percent or less). And the three counties with thehighest unemployment rates? (Try Hendry at 6.9 percent, the Tampa Bay area'sHernando County at 6.6 percent and St. Lucie and Flagler counties tied at6.4 percent.) As for the four-county (Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco,Hernando) Tampa Bay metro area, unemployment in December rose to 4.7 percentin December from 4.3 percent in November and 3.7 percent in December 2006.Among larger metro areas, Gainesville enjoyed the lowest unemployment whilethe Palm Coast suffered the highest.

Florida's jobless edge shrinking

Speaking of job trends in Florida, University of Central Florida economistSean Snaith points out that Florida's 4.7 percent unemployment rate remainsless than the national average of 5 percent. But that gap continues toshrink. The rising rate means a modest loss of about 441,000 jobs from alabor force of about 9.3-million. Still, Snaith sees hope in some sectorsnot connected to the state's flattened housing market. "Strength in sectorsnot directly tied to housing continues to support the economy as theeconomic mood continues to sour," he said. "Employment growth in education,health services and the leisure and hospitality sectors actually acceleratedfrom last month's employment release."



The Rich, the Super Rich and the rest of us
South Florida's super-rich are stretching the gap between them and the merewealthy

By Jamie Malernee
January 20, 2008

He splits his time between a Paris penthouse and a waterfront South Floridamansion with rooftop hot tub, private volleyball court, housekeeper andhandyman.

Yet Internet entrepreneur Christian Jagodzinski, 39, doesn't considerhimself really rich. Not compared with his billionaire friend from PalmBeach, who spent $1 million to rent a yacht for a month while his ownmega-vessel was halfway around the globe.

Another well-to-do South Floridian, Suzy Peterfriend-Ross, could retire to alife of tennis lessons and martinis at noon. But the wealth adviser fromFort Lauderdale wouldn't call herself wealthy - not alongside her clients,who have had museum wings named in their honor.

Simply being a multimillionaire is not enough these days to qualify one forthe economic elite on Florida's Gold Coast, Jagodzinski and Peterfriend-Rossagree. In recent years, while the ranks of the region's poor and middleclass have seen small or modest gains, the number of rich residents,especially the super-rich, has jumped.

The result: a growing gap not just between the rich and poor, but betweenthe affluent and the megawealthy.

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Michael Mayo: Slots vote not a big concern in Broward County

Michael Mayo
News Columnist
January 20, 2008

Before he raffled off a Cadillac Escalade at his casino on New Year's Eve,Dan Adkins took an informal poll of the large crowd.

"I asked, 'How many people here are from Hallandale?'" said Adkins, vicepresident of Mardi Gras Gaming and Racetrack, in Hallandale Beach. "A hugecheer went up."

When he asked how many were from Aventura, there was just a smattering ofapplause. Ditto for North Miami Beach.

Which explains why he doesn't seem particularly concerned about Miami-Dade'supcoming vote to allow slots at three pari-mutuels.

"I have one interest right now, and that's reducing our [50-percent] taxburden," Adkins said.

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Miami Herald

The Miami Herald Recommends

Posted on Sun, Jan. 20, 2008

It doesn't seem like a difficult choice. Florida voters are being askedwhether they want to cut property taxes, and the temptation is to vote Yeson Amendment One without giving it a second thought. Voter beware. Anyonewho examines this dubious proposition on the Jan. 29 ballot will find plentyof reasons to vote No, both in one's own interest and for the good ofFlorida's future.

The logic behind a vote for approval is obvious. Why wait? A little taxreduction now is better than the promise of a fuller tax remedy later on.That is precisely what supporters of Amendment One and the state's skewedtax structure are counting on. Offering some tax relief today will take thesteam out of the drive for tax reform, leaving the current system in placeand making it harder to achieve meaningful and needed change in theproperty-tax system.

This is just one reason to vote against Amendment One, but there are manyothers. For one thing, it's unfair. The greatest relief goes to homeowners,who already get the best tax break in the form of Save Our Homes. It givesthe least help to those who need it most.

Businesses get a tax exemption on their first $25,000 of tangible personalproperty, nothing to get excited about. Owners of non-homesteaded propertieswill be protected against double-digit tax hikes, which means they couldstill face stiff increases year after year.

Don't expect a huge windfall, either. The average homeowner may see a taxbreak of a couple of hundred dollars a year. That is pitifully small by anymeasure, particularly when compared to the promise of significant reliefpromoted by Florida political leaders. With Amendment One enacted, they maywell argue, why ask for more?

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Miami Herald

Our primary has become a real drama

Posted on Sun, Jan. 20, 2008

It wasn't so long ago that Florida's primary seemed doomed to irrelevancy,thanks to the meat-heads in the Legislature who moved up the vote to Jan.29.

What a clever idea, they said, leap-frogging ahead of all those other bigstates!

To no one's surprise but their own, this enthusiasm failed to rub off on theDemocratic and Republican leaderships. As punishment for breaking the rules,Florida's GOP was stripped of half its delegates to the nominatingconvention, while the state Democratic party forfeited the whole slate.

Thus, the stage was set for a pretend primary, a largely pointless beautycontest in which even the media showed only a half-hearted interest.

Floridians from the Panhandle to the Keys breathed a secret sigh of relief.Having had a bellyful of the political limelight -- and ridicule -- in 2000,we were thrilled at the prospect of being ignored this time, at least untilNovember.

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