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In Florida You Can Vote Absentee— Just Don’t Be Absent!
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This will be a critical election year for Floridians, with decisions that will impact our competitiveness in education, health care, coastal drilling, protection of our water resources and growth management—and the list goes on. Voters will face a historic number of state offices up for election, with no incumbents running. In addition, voters have to navigate a large number of complex ballot amendments, with their choices having a major impact on everything from school class size to property taxes.

For the August 24 Florida primary, our association encourages our members to vote the easy way. There are three ways to cast your ballot:

  • Vote by Mail—you may request an absentee ballot and NOT have to register any reason for your request—and ask to be put on the permanent list if this is your chosen way of voting
  • Vote early at designated sites in your county
  • Vote on Election Day

For more details on finding your precinct, how to order a mail-in ballot, locating your early voting site or finding polling hours for Election Day, voters may log on to www.VoteAnywhere.org, or for Spanish to www.VamosaVotar.org. These sites are provided courtesy of the League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan organization devoted to ensuring the integrity of the election process.

This is a reapportionment year, so everyone will be receiving a new voter card with new precincts and possibly new candidates and incumbents.

POLITICAL ISSUES

Budget
The governor has signed HB 5001, the 2012 Appropriations Act, into law. The 2012 budget totaled approximately $70 billion. The governor vetoed line items totaling just over $142 million. Florida TaxWatch issued a press release stating that Governor Scott vetoed 61 percent of its "turkey list.” TaxWatch applauded the governor for working to protect the integrity of the budget process.

Redistricting
The Florida Supreme Court recently invalidated eight of the 40 Senate districts proposed by the Florida Legislature. As a result, the Legislature met in special session to pass a revised Senate map. The Legislature assigned districts by lottery after the Supreme Court questioned the district numbers, which favored most incumbents by giving them an extra two years. Staggered Senate terms mean that some districts get the possibility of an extra two years before term limits kick in. The map was also revised to address the districts the court invalidated. The Florida Supreme Court has heard arguments on the second attempt by lawmakers to draw Senate districts. If the court finds the new map to be legally deficient, the court itself can change the lines.

The revised redistricting map is also headed to the U.S. Department of Justice for preclearance under the federal Voting Rights Act. State officials submitted the plan recently, although the Florida Supreme Court has yet to consider it. Submitting it before court review will give the Justice Department time to act before candidate qualifying occurs in June. Federal preclearance is required because of past racial discrimination in five Florida counties.

Governor Scott Taps DCF Chief Wilkins for New Cost-Cutting Role
Governor Scott has announced he is tapping Department of Children and Families (DCF) Secretary David Wilkins for a new role focused on streamlining state government and cutting costs. A former Accenture executive, Wilkins will keep his current job and also become the state’s first chief operating officer for government operations. He will remain at his current $140,000 salary and will report to Chief of Staff Steve MacNamara.

Stewart Named DMS Interim Chief
The Governor’s Office has announced Scott Stewart is moving to the Department of Management Services (DMS) as interim secretary. He replaces Jack Miles, who was DMS secretary from January 2011 until he resigned from his $140,000/year job in February. Stewart is currently the assistant secretary for administration at DCF. Stewart will continue at his $115,000 DCF salary.

Carlucci Tapped for Ethics Commission
Governor Scott has named former Jacksonville City Councilman Matthew Carlucci to the Florida Ethics Commission. He replaces Cheryl Forchilli, a Tampa lawyer who was appointed by Governor Charlie Crist. Carlucci, a 55-year-old insurance agent, served on the City Council from 1987 to 1994 and again from 1999 through 2003 and pushed for strong ethics laws and the creation of a city ethics office. His late father, Joe Carlucci, was a state senator.

LEGISLATIVE ISSUES

Governor Signs ‘Jobs Package’ With Business Tax Breaks
Governor Scott has signed four bills that he describes as his "jobs package” designed to help drive down the unemployment rate. As a result of the passage of these bills, businesses will see $120 million in tax cuts, unemployment compensation will now be "reemployment assistance,” the governor will have more power to fire individual regional workforce board members for cause and the process for eliminating regulations will be streamlined. The four bills passed include:

HB 7023 – This bill allows the governor to fire members of the regional workforce boards in Florida for cause and reduces the number of board members.

HB 7027 – This is the reemployment assistance bill, under which free job skills training will be offered applicants who score poorly on a skills test. It also reduces the work search requirements from five employer contacts per week to three per week for rural unemployed workers. Under the bill, businesses will pay a lower minimum rate per employee for the unemployment compensation tax for the next three years but will have a higher minimum rate in 2015 and 2016 than they would have had under the current schedule for replenishing the unemployment compensation trust fund, which was depleted during the recession.

HB 7029 – This bill eliminates 270 obsolete regulations and allows for a more streamlined process for the Department of State to strike outdated regulations.

HB 7087 – This bill provides $120 million in tax breaks to businesses, much of it in select industries, including film and entertainment, the oil industry, packing houses and the aircraft industry. The tax cuts include an increase in the corporate business tax exemption from $25,000 to $50,000. A three-day back-to-school sales tax holiday is also included.

OTHER ISSUES OF INTEREST

Florida Supreme Court Accepts Public Pension Case
The Florida Supreme Court announced that it will hear a challenge to a law passed last year that requires public employees to contribute 3 percent of their salaries toward retirement. The state’s first legal brief is due May 17. Oral argument is set for Sept. 5. Leon County Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford ruled that the pension contributions and an elimination of cost-of-living increases violate a contract between the state and its employees, resulting in an unconstitutional taking. The case was quickly appealed, and the First District Court of Appeal certified it as a case of great public importance.

Court’s Online Travel Company Ruling on Tax Will be Appealed
Circuit Judge James Shelfer has ruled that online travel companies can only be charged tax on the rate they pay for hotel rooms rather than the rate customers are charged. The judge has not yet signed a written order. However, media reports based on the hearing transcripts indicate he found that Florida’s tax law is too vague to support the counties’ argument that the tax should be based on the full price customers are charged for rooms as opposed to the reduced rate paid by the online travel companies. The lawsuit involves 17 counties and four tax collectors and is one of several that have been filed over the issue.

Unemployment Dips to 9 Percent in March
Florida’s unemployment rate fell to 9 percent in March, according to numbers released Friday by the Department of Economic Opportunity. This represents a drop of 0.4 percent from February and is the largest drop in one month for nearly two decades. The rate is the lowest for Florida since January 2009. The state added 10,800 jobs in March, and the total number of unemployed workers fell by 35,000 to 836,000.

Florida Consumer Confidence Continues Slide in April
According to the University of Florida, consumer confidence among Floridians declined again for the third consecutive month in April from 75 to 73. Meanwhile, a national survey conducted by a private research group, The Conference Board, showed confidence in the economy held relatively steady from March to April, down slightly from 69.5 to 69.2. Because consumer spending accounts for 70 percent of economic activity, consumer confidence is tracked closely each month.

Florida Bond Rating Holds at AAA With Negative Outlook
Fitch Ratings, one of the three major credit rating agencies, reaffirmed Florida’s AAA credit rating but also kept its outlook listed as negative. The statement released by Fitch includes some of the earliest independent assessments of Florida’s fiscal standing following the recent legislative session and a court ruling against mandatory employee contributions to the state retirement fund. According to the statement, Florida’s top rating "recognizes the state’s strong financial management practices, moderate debt burden, well-funded pension system, solid long-term economic prospects, and still satisfactory reserves.” However, the negative outlook suggests Florida is running out of options to balance its budget if the economic recovery doesn’t pick up steam. The state could suffer a rating downgrade if revenue forecasts are revised downward substantially, or in the event of an "unfavorable resolution of the pension lawsuit, resulting in a material reduction in reserves.”

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