Sunday, January 06, 2008

FLORIDA DIGEST January 6, 2008

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Tallahassee Democrat

Property-tax proposal: savior or charade?

By Jim Ash
Article published Jan 6, 2008


Supporters say it's the magic ingredient that will put the fizz back inFlorida's stagnant real-estate market, and ultimately, the state's economy.

Skeptics say it's the tail wagging the dog and it won't work.

Portability, the catchphrase in Florida's latest taxpayer revolt, is thegreat unknown.

A key feature in the $9.3 billion property-tax-relief package on the Jan. 29ballot, portability would allow homeowners to "port" or take some or all oftheir Save Our Homes savings with them when they move.

The theory is that homesteaders who have benefited from years of a 3 percentannual assessment cap are locked in their current homes because they don'twant to lose their artificially low tax bills when they move. The Save OurHomes clock resets when a homeowner buys a new home, limiting only futureincreases.

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Behind closed doors, Florida's airplane crept back into budget
Lawmaker behind push flew frequently

By Aaron Deslatte
Tallahassee Bureau
January 5, 2008


When the Legislature was forced to cut $1 billion from the state budget lastOctober, state Sen. J.D. Alexander rammed through a requirement that thestate sell one of its three airplanes to save $200,000 a year.

His argument was simple: The aircraft used by the governor, Cabinet andlegislators to fly around the state shouldn't take priority over educationand social services spending.

But a week later, he heard from his boss, Senate President Ken Pruitt.

"He said it was a big state, and people in Miami needed a way to get toTallahassee," Alexander, R-Winter Haven, said. So, behind closed doors, themoney was put back in.

But as it turned out, lawmakers from Miami hardly used the state planes lastyear.

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Sarasota Herald Tribune

Obama faces more difficult test in Florida

Article published Jan 5, 2008

TALLAHASSEE -- The odds will be much tougher in Florida for Barack Obama toduplicate his historic victory in the Iowa Democratic presidential caucus.

While Obama may gain more momentum by winning other states before the Jan.29 primary in Florida, strategists and pollsters say it will be difficultfor the Illinois senator to overcome Hillary Clinton's lead in the state.But conversely, with Clinton finishing a disappointing third place in Iowa,Florida may become a must-win state for the New York senator.

Complicating Obama's chances is that Florida voters are not likely to get tosee him in person as he and the other Democrats continue to boycott thestate, which has been punished by national Democratic leaders for moving upits primary.

Independent polls have consistently given Clinton a lead of more than 20percentage points over Obama and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards. Amid-December poll from Quinnipiac University had Clinton with 43 percent ofthe primary vote to Obama's 21 percent and Edwards' 19 percent.

Aubrey Jewett, a political scientist from the University of Central Florida,said the boycott should help Clinton maintain that lead.

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St. Petersburg Times

Florida voters, step forward

A Times Editorial
Published January 5, 2008

Iowans have performed a great public service for Floridians. The remarkablevictories by Republican Mike Huckabee and Democrat Barack Obama in the Iowacaucuses reshaped the political landscape and ensured there will be nopresumptive party nominees by the Jan. 29 Florida primary. Now Democratsshould come to their senses and drop their foolish boycott of the SunshineState, where voters are just as eager to see the candidates up close andparticipate in the process as they were in the Midwest.

Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean bragged about theenormous turnout of some 239,000 Iowa Democrats, including many first-timecaucus participants who were inspired by Obama. That is an impressiveachievement and speaks volumes about the thirst for change in this country.Yet there are more Democrats in Hillsborough County alone. It makes no sensefor Democrats to continue to tell Floridians their primary vote will notcount and that the state's delegates will not be seated at the nationalconvention. After they get past Tuesday's New Hampshire primary, theDemocratic candidates should come to Florida and make their case. To ignorethe fourth-largest state while Republicans build campaign networks and soakup television time is incredibly short-sighted and will hurt the Democraticnominee in the long run - regardless of who that turns out to be.

Not so long ago, it was presumed to be Clinton. That presumption disappearedin the Iowa cornfields. While just four Democrats who won the Iowa caucuseshave become the party nominee since 1972, Obama's stirring victory signalsthis contest will not be decided quickly. That gives voters in Florida andother large, more diverse states an opportunity to have their voices heard.

One can't help but be inspired by the sight of an African-American candidatefor president defying the odds and winning in a virtually all-white state.Obama became the youthful voice and face for change, and he led Clintonamong first-time caucusgoers, younger voters and women. The Illinoissenator's challenge now is to build on that enthusiasm, add more detail towhat change actually means and weather the attacks from the Clinton campthat are sure to come.

Clinton, who has consistently led in Florida, is down but not out by anymeans. She is tenacious and experienced in tough campaigns, and her policypositions are generally detailed and well-researched. But she already isretooling her pitch for a restless electorate eager for a fresh approach andless interested in experience and a familiar face.

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Miami Herald

Florida looms larger in Republican race

Posted on Fri, Jan. 04, 2008

Florida stubbornly moved up its presidential primary in the hopes of havinga say in picking the next president -- and the tumult in Iowa suggests itmight yet happen.

As the candidates sped to New Hampshire to regroup and campaign forTuesday's first-in-the-nation primary, observers suggested Mike Huckabee'scome-from-nowhere-win Thursday in Iowa could give Florida a chance to playkingmaker, particularly on the Republican side.

''Florida voters are in the driver's seat,'' said Jim Greer, chairman of theRepublican Party of Florida. He projected the GOP field may be unsettled bythe time Florida votes on Jan. 29, noting that New Hampshire may favor MittRomney or John McCain, but that Huckabee has an edge in the Jan. 19 GOPprimary in South Carolina, where former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson also ismaking a play.

''No candidate will have this tremendous momentum coming into Florida,''Greer said. ``Even if a candidate has a win, it's not a huge win. You'llhave a second-place nipping at your heels.''

Expectations for a major Florida role could evaporate if one candidate winsdecisively in an early primary state and creates momentum. With that inmind, Rudy Giuliani -- who has banked his campaign on the premise that asplashy win in Florida would propel him into the giant sweepstakes Feb. 5,when nearly two dozen states vote -- hit the trail in New Hampshire onFriday in hopes of cutting his expected losses there Tuesday.

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Miami Herald

Foster kids ill-prepared for adulthood

Posted on Sat, Jan. 05, 2008

In southern Sarasota, nearly one in four former foster kids is homeless. InSt. Augustine, fewer than one in 10 foster children age 17 is performing atgrade level. And in Miami, Tampa and Daytona Beach, fewer than one in four17-year-old foster kids passed Florida's high-stakes standardized assessmenttest.

These are some of the findings of a recent survey of children age 13 to 23in state care designed to gauge Florida's success in preparing older fosterchildren for adulthood. More than 6,700 foster children were interviewedduring the survey, which also included a review of state records.

Child welfare administrators and children's advocates who have seen thereport say it confirms long-standing fears that Florida has done a poor jobof preparing foster children for the demands of adulthood and independence.

''This is child abuse,'' said Department of Children & Families SecretaryBob Butterworth, who has called the plight of former foster kids one of hisagency's highest priorities in 2008. The agency commissioned the survey.

Ronnie Williams, a 20-year-old from Miami, said no one taught him how tocook, keep a house or apartment, live within a budget, balance a checkbookor maintain a relationship with a landlord before he aged out of state care.His biggest challenge by far, he said, has been finding safe, affordablehousing on the $892 monthly stipend he receives from the state.

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Across Broward, homicides rose sharply last year
Even police are shocked by sharp rise in homicides

By Brian Haas
January 6, 2008

Last year, 118 people were slain in Broward County.

Most were shot, others stabbed. One woman was dragged to death under a van.Another was burned and her severed head found in the Everglades. Two BrowardSheriff's Office deputies were gunned down in the line of duty.

Not since 1990, when 123 people were killed, has the county had so manyhomicides, according to records compiled by the Broward Medical Examiner'sOffice, local law enforcement agencies and the FBI. Authorities have beenunable to explain what has become a 71 percent increase in homicides since2004.

Motives for the killings ran the gamut: petty arguments, drugs, robberies.Women made up a disproportionate part of the increase, partly because of ajump in domestic-related murders. Sheriff Al Lamberti guessed that economicduress could play a part in domestic murders, and that easy access to gunshas led to split-second, fatal decisions.

Most of all, he said, deputies have noticed a change in criminals'attitudes. They're nastier and more willing to pull the trigger - even whena law enforcement officer is involved.

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