Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Pledges forgotten, local governments repurpose federally funded parks

Robert McClure/InvestigateWest
On the shores of Lake Michigan, a private golf course and housing development, seen here in 2009, sits on public land once protected under the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act.
The government promised that the public would get parks where citizens could exercise and stay strong – shared open spaces that would be theirs forever, places that would inspire and invigorate.
But one park became a Las Vegas hotel. Another was almost turned into a beachfront McDonald’s. Another is being converted into an upscale private resort in Oklahoma.  And in New York City, the National Park Service allowed the New York Yankees, the nation’s richest baseball franchise, to build a parking garage atop public ball fields that needy kids at the local schools didn’t see replaced for six years.
Forty-eight years after Congress and President John F. Kennedy promised parks to the public, the budget-battered National Park Service program that awarded $3.9 billion-plus to state and local governments to buy or improve those parks has routinely allowed the land to be converted to other uses. Frequently, critics contend, these transactions violate federal law and regulations requiring that federally funded recreational acreage be replaced by lands of equal value.

'Desperate for funding'
Now, with tough times crimping cities’ budgets, parks advocates say they are seeing increasing efforts to privatize parks funded under the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act.
“Cities are just desperate for funding to keep schools open and what-have-you, and that becomes a big threat,” said Huey Johnson, the former California natural resources secretary who founded the parks-advocacy group Defense of Place. “The place the cities turn is, ‘Well let’s sell the parks.’ . . .  This is really affecting the quality of people’s lives.”
For three years, InvestigateWest tracked the Park Service program and several large park conversions where critics contend the Park Service has sanctioned parkland trades that shortchange taxpayers.
In Oklahoma, the state allowed one of its most popular parks -- Lake Texoma State Park -- to deteriorate badly before selling it in 2008 to a developer who is turning it into a luxurious private resort named Pointe Vista. The development team includes one of the state’s wealthiest businessmen. The state still has not replaced the park facilities.
In Michigan, stands of towering trees on a woodsy 22-acre patch of parkland were knocked down so three holes of a privately owned golf course could be built – extending right to the crest of sand dunes overlooking Lake Michigan. The town, Benton Harbor, the poorest in the state, is predominantly African-American. In exchange, residents are getting a system of hiking trails connecting smaller chunks of inland acreage. The replacement land was located around old industrial areas and contained lead, benzo()pyrene and about 20 other chemicals, according to a report prepared for the developer.
Related story:
Towering condos
In Sandusky, Ohio, residents nearly lost a waterfront park to a developer’s hotel and towering condos.  In exchange for a view of Sandusky Bay on Lake Erie, residents were going to get contaminated acreage inland that looks out on a T.G.I. Friday’s. Only the developer’s financing problems scotched the deal.12
From New York’s Yankee Stadium to San Francisco’s Candlestick Park, neighborhood public parks improved with grants from the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act are being converted to private uses.

 Paul Joseph Brown / InvestigateWest
Retiree Dennis Haile inspects a fishing pole in Lake Texoma State Park in Oklahoma.
In every case it knows about, the National Park Service says it has wrung from those who take over parkland a promise to replace the open space with land of “at least equal fair market value and of reasonably equivalent usefulness and location.”  But the agency relies on states to alert the agency to parkland being converted to different uses in the first place – a key limitation in the Park Service’s oversight authority.
And critics say some such conversions go on under the radar without the parks ever being replaced. Even when the Park Service is notified, an imbalance of power between local advocates and wealthy private developers sometimes means uneven deals get struck. Opponents have sought to block a few such deals in court, with mixed success.
InvestigateWest found that the Park Service’s internal controls are not adequate to fully police the program, and only in the last 12 years has the agency started to keep detailed information about park names and locations, a necessary step for monitoring compliance. These failures have led to what parks advocates contend is an increasing number of park closures and conversions, including cases where the replacement land is inferior to the original.
Moreover, the federal government relies on states to conduct inspections of LWCF-funded parks within five years of project completion and every five years thereafter, as Park Service  rules require. However, some parks go without inspection for up to a decade, leaving large windows of time for opportunists to strike deals to appropriate parkland.
“The financial situations in the states are pretty critical across the board,” said Joel Lynch, chief of the Park Service’s State and Local Assistance Programs Division. “I’m sure some states have forgotten their responsibilities on inspecting the sites. We know that’s occurring. We don’t have a sense if it’s widespread or not.”
Sometimes local governments just don’t want to hear about the law’s requirement that privatized parkland must be replaced, said Sam Hall, who directed the program during the 1970s through the 1990s. When Las Vegas allowed a hotel to be built on federally funded parkland in the early 1990s, city officials wouldn’t agree to build a new park until the Park Service threatened to invoke provisions in federal law that allowed withholding of federal funding for highways and other purposes, Hall said.
Local governments have tried even more outrageous shenanigans.  For example, American Samoa started making plans to allow a McDonald’s to be built in a park that offers the only public beach in the South Pacific U.S. territory, said David Siegenthaler of the Park Service, who polices park conversions in California and American Samoa.
When Siegenthaler, who’d gotten an anonymous tip about the proposed deal, called to check on it, Samoan officials repeatedly denied they planned to allow the McDonald’s, he said. Eventually, however, he discovered the governor had signed an agreement to allow the deal. Ultimately the deal was killed.
History of abuse
The National Park Service is ill equipped to monitor these parkland takeovers.
Hall, the former program director, said Congress originally provided enough funding to double-check on whether states were enforcing the requirements that privatized parkland be replaced.
“We found a lot of conversions. We found primarily local governments who would sell lands to a local developer for housing, or they put a fire station on the land or wanted to turn it into a municipal city dump,” he said.
In one case in Louisiana, the concessionaire running a state park campground beside a reservoir actually started selling off RV pads, Hall recalled. State inspectors who were coming around dutifully at least once every five years caught him.
“People had put in brick patios and all kinds of developments on their little sites,” Hall said. “It was a major conversion.”
But staff and funding cuts whittled away at the National Park Service’s ability to keep on top of the trend.
Government auditors long ago documented how overwhelmed federal workers were unable to keep up with the growing parkland acreage purchased or improved under the program, although their findings were little noticed by politicians or the public. The U.S. General Accounting Office reported in 1977 that the federal agency then responsible for the program, the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation, had not set up a reliable system for inspecting the parks to make sure they stayed available for outdoor recreation for the public. Auditors described one aspect of the inspection system, checks made on parks under development, as “hit or miss.” They also said staffing levels were too low to police the whole process.
Environmental woes imperil America's national parks
Fast-forward to 2008, and the results of a federal Department of Interior Inspector General report suggested that the problems have only snowballed.
“We believe (the Park Service) needs to strengthen its monitoring and oversight of program results,” inspectors wrote.
While the Park Service’s rules call for a program audit of each state every three years, Park Service officials say those have not been done in many years for some states, and they are catching up on a backlog that in some cases meant states escaped such scrutiny for eight years or more. Bob Anderson, supervisor of the Park Service’s Midwest region for state and local assistance, said while the Park Service previously assigned one person to most states, some workers now manage as many as eight states. And travel money is short.

Paul Joseph Brown / InvestigateWest
A banner announcing the Pointe Vista development at Lake Texoma State Park in Oklahoma is hung in July 2009.
Michael D. Wilson, who ran the Park Service unit in charge of policing park conversions until 2010, said in recent years the agency has been finding out about increasing numbers of park conversions, although it's unclear whether more are occurring or the agency is just getting better at detecting them through modern methods such as Google alerts. The agency is pursuing more than 60 cases in Oregon, some dating back a decade, for example.
At least some states know they’re falling down on the job. Auditors for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection reported in February of this year that the state had stopped doing inspections, instead relying on “limited self-inspections” by cities, noting: “This could lead to misuse of grant funds.” The same system is being tried as a pilot program in other states including California, Park Service officials said.
Michael Gelardi is a Portland, Ore., attorney who analyzed the park-conversion issue in a 2007 law review article at the University of Washington. He pointed out that cities are violating federal law when they convert a park without Park Service permission.
“The National Park Service should be keeping track of the investments that they’ve made with the public’s money in these parks,” Gelardi said. “They need to make sure that the recipients of these grants follow federal law.”
Johnson, the California parks advocate, cautions that unless reforms are undertaken, more cash-strapped cities are likely to push for privatizing parkland without offering citizens equal recreational opportunities.
“It’s just like watching bank accounts if you’re a bank president,” Johnson said. “If you walk out of the bank and don’t watch… someone’s going to walk away with some of the money.”

More on this story from InvestigateWest
Heart of Michigan park sacrificed for private golf course

Oklahoma park bought and paid for

Kids wait six years for ballfields taken over by Yankee Stadium

LuAnne Kozma, a Michigan parks activist, said the entire debate needs to be re-framed so that cities and states no longer look to the biggest patch of green on their map when government coffers come up short.
“We’re trying to get people to realize that there shouldn’t be a dollar value attached to a park any more,” she said. “Once a park becomes a park, it’s out of the market . . . It’s just priceless.”
Jason Alcorn contributed to this report, which was edited by Carol Smith. InvestigateWest is a donor-supported investigative newsroom in Seattle. 
CHECK THE DATABASE: Look up park grants in your state.

Suspected Auburn shooter turns himself in to federal courthouse


The man suspected of shooting six people near Auburn University surrendered to U.S. Marshals Tuesday. Auburn Police Chief Tommy Dawson updates the press on the latest developments in the case.
 Updated at 10:54 p.m. ET: The man suspected of killing three people, including two former Auburn University football players, during a party Saturday night turned himself in Tuesday at a federal courthouse in Montgomery, Ala.

Ho / AFP - Getty Images
Desmonte Leonard, 22, suspected in the shooting deaths of three people at a party Saturday night, turned himself into the federal courthouse on Tuesday evening.

Desmonte Leonard, 22, is suspected of shooting six people; he has been charged with three counts of capital murder.
Leonard arrived at the U.S. federal courthouse just before 8 p.m., walked through the courthouse doors and surrendered to U.S. Marshal Art Baylor, previously the Montgomery Police chief.
He is being held at Montgomery County jail.
He is being represented by Susan James, a defense lawyer in Montgomery, Ala., according to She contacted U.S. Marshals to discuss the terms of her client’s surrender.
“I think he was just tired,” James told WSFA. “He wanted somebody to tell him what to do.”
She said the story of what happened Saturday night may be different than what most expect.
"I wanted to make sure they could get him into custody without someone trying to take him out," she said.

Saturday through Tuesday, police homed in on Montgomery, where Leonard lives. On Monday, they surrounded a house where they believed he was and piped in tear gas. Police said they heard coughing but ultimately did not find Leonard.
Police leave home after search for Auburn shootings suspect
Police did arrest two other men: Jeremy Thomas, 18, was questioned for hindering prosecution, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported, and Gabriel Thomas, 41, was arrested late Sunday for allegedly providing false information to police.
The shooting occurred before midnight on Saturday at the University Heights apartments, a large complex near campus favored by Auburn University's students and athletes. Leonard apparently fled in a white Chevrolet Caprice, which he later ditched.
When police arrived at the scene, Edward Christian, 20, was found dead on the sidewalk. Christian was a student and former offensive lineman for the Auburn Tigers football team.
Ladarious Phillips and DeMario Pitts, both 20, were transported to the hospital, where they later died. Phillips was a student and former backup fullback who gave up football in April, according to his coach. Pitts lived in Auburn.
Police Chief Tommy Dawson said at a news conference on Sunday that he believed the shooting was "a fight that obviously got out of hand."
The shooting has shaken Auburn, a city of 53,000 that revolves around the football team. The Auburn Tigers have won two national championships, most recently in 2011 against the University of Oregon. Cam Newton, a quarterback, won the coveted Heisman Trophy that year.
The Associated Press, Mark Stevenson and Marian Smith contributed to this report.

Seminole County Sheriff's Office
Shellie Zimmerman, wife of George Zimmerman, the man accused of shooting Trayvon Martin, is seen Tuesday in a police booking photo Sanford, Fla.

Shellie Zimmerman, wife of Trayvon Martin killer, arrested on perjury charge

Updated: 1:32 a.m. ET: Shellie Zimmerman, wife of George Zimmerman, charged with murdering Trayvon Martin, was arrested Tuesday on one count of perjury, the Seminole County, Fla., Sheriff’s Department said.
Deputies arrested Shellie Zimmerman, 25,  about 3:30 p.m. ET, after they were advised by the office of State Attorney Angela Corey that a warrant had been issued.
She was booked into John E. Polk Correctional Facility and released on $1,000 bond, officials said.
George Zimmerman, 28, was charged with second-degree murder in the Feb. 26 shooting of Martin. He pleaded not guilty. Police say that he claimed on the night of the shooting that he acted in self-defense.

His $150,000 bond was revoked after allegations that during an April 20 bail hearing he and Shellie Zimmerman misled the court about their finances, neglecting to disclose they had raised at least $135,000 in a PayPal account.
The order issued Tuesday by Assistant State Attorney John Guy charged Shellie Zimmerman with knowingly making false statements during the April hearing.
Speaking outside the Seminole County Jail late Tuesday evening, George Zimmerman’s attorney Mark O’Mara said his client is worried about his wife after learning of the arrest.
“Now that she’s being charged with a crime he’s worried about her,” O’Mara said, adding that George Zimmerman is concerned because she is “out in the public eye.”
O’Mara also said that the prosecution surprised him with Tuesday’s arrest, complaining the surprise fell short of professional courtesy. “I didn’t actually get a phone call until after the arrest, and I had asked for one before that,” O’Mara said.
Also Tuesday, the court released Seminole County Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester’s order revoking George Zimmerman’s bond.
"There are several factors that weigh against his release ... Most importantly, though, is the fact that he has now demonstrated that he does not properly respect the law or the integrity of the judicial process."

New Obama ad whacks tax-raising, job-losing, millionaire-helping Mitt Romney

No one will accuse President Obama's re-election team of playing nice this election. The Democrat's latest ad pushes the narrative that Mitt Romney's economic record as Mass. governor left the state in debt and mired in anemic job growth. 

And here's one from the vault -- Obama's ad whacking McCain over his comment

Read more here:

Read more here:

Gramm and Hubbard: What a Romney Recovery Might Look Like

Given last week's grim jobs report, it's now clearer than ever that the November election will be a referendum on the economy. Has the president's program worked? Does Mitt Romney have a better program to promote job creation and prosperity? Fortunately, Americans have evidence that will allow them not only to judge President Obama's economic performance, but also to compare that performance with Mr. Romney's proposed alternative.

Twice in postwar America, deep recessions have driven the unemployment rate to 10%. In the 1981-82 recession, the unemployment rate soared to 10.8%. In the 2007-09 recession, it peaked at 10%.

Both downturns were rooted in financial convulsions. The 1981-82 recession was induced by restrictive monetary policy aimed at breaking the back of double-digit inflation and interest rates, which generated a housing and savings-and-loan crisis. The more recent recession resulted from excessive government intervention to increase homeownership by expanding subprime housing loans, on which substantial leverage was built. The resulting wave of defaults damaged the base of the banking system.

Fifty-three months after the start of the 1981-82 recession, total employment in the U.S. was up 7.5 million, or almost 7.5% higher than when the recession began. The labor-force participation rate rose to 65% from 63.8%, as optimism about the future pulled potential workers into the job market. Real per capita gross domestic product increased by $2,870 and was 11% higher than when the recession started.

Fifty-three months after the start of the 2007-09 recession, however, total employment in the U.S. is still down four million jobs, or 2.7% lower than when the recession began. The labor-force participation rate has dropped to 63.8% from 66%, as discouraged workers have exited the labor market. Real per capita GDP has declined by $964 and is 2.2% lower today than when the recession began.

If the current economy had matched the job-creation rate of the recovery from the 1981-82 recession, there would be 15 million more Americans at work today, 8.3 million more Americans would be in the labor force, and per capita GDP would be $5,792 higher than it is today.

The superior job creation and income growth following the 1981-82 recession are all the more striking as they occurred against the backdrop of restrictive monetary policy. The Federal Reserve tried to beat back double-digit inflation in the early 1980s with tight money. Prime interest rates averaged 11.9%, and the three-year Treasury note rate averaged 11.2% during the recovery. By contrast, today's Fed has an expansive monetary policy with record low interest rates, a 3.2% prime rate and a 0.3% three-year Treasury note rate.123


The recessions of 1981-82 and 2007-09 presented the greatest economic-policy challenges in postwar America. So what accounts for the explosion of growth after the former and not the latter? Policy plays a role.

In the early 1980s, President Ronald Reagan's policies were aimed not just at overcoming the 1981-82 recession, but overcoming the stagnation of the 1970s. By reducing domestic discretionary spending, setting out a three-year program to reduce tax rates, and alleviating the regulatory burden, Reagan sought to make it profitable to invest in America again. He clearly succeeded.

President Obama's polices would, by contrast, make permanent a significant surge in federal spending and raise marginal tax rates on earnings and entrepreneurial returns. Meanwhile, his health-care and financial reforms will expand regulation and government involvement in the economy to an extent not seen during peacetime since the Great Depression. Despite a massive fiscal stimulus, the lowest interest rates in U.S. history, and $5 trillion of new federal debt, we are still mired in a recovery so weak that many Americans believe we are still in a recession.

Mr. Romney's economic principles are strikingly similar to Reagan's. He would reduce the size and cost of the federal government. He champions a reduction in marginal tax rates in the context of a general tax reform. Particularly powerful are his proposals to reduce marginal tax rates on business income earned by corporate and unincorporated businesses alike. His goal, like Reagan's, is to make it profitable to invest in job creation.

Despite growing evidence that government spending and mounting government debt are not stimulating growth, President Obama recently urged the Europeans to stimulate their economies with more deficit spending. Europe needs growth-oriented policies, to be sure, but does the president believe that more government spending and ever-mounting national debt promote lasting growth? If more government spending and borrowing were the keys to growth, Greece would be experiencing a new Golden Age.

The difference between the Obama and Romney policies reflects a fundamental disagreement about the engine that drives the American economy. Mr. Obama believes government is the driver of growth, and that short-term stimulus and greater regulation is what the country needs. Mr. Romney believes growth comes from the private sector and government should get long-term policy right—restraining federal spending to avoid tax hikes, reforming the tax code, and regulating more wisely.

In a recent criticism of Mr. Romney's experience as CEO of the private-equity firm Bain Capital, Mr. Obama said the president's job is "not simply to maximize profits." He warned, "if your main argument for how to grow the economy is 'I knew how to make a lot of money for investors,' then you're missing what this job is about." But aren't private-sector jobs generated by profits?

Jobs are sustainable only when profits are sustainable. The American economy was built on the profits earned by serving consumers, and it will only be saved by earning profits. The president apparently does not understand that basic point.

Do voters?

Mr. Gramm, a former U.S. senator, is senior partner of US Policy Metrics. Mr. Hubbard, dean of Columbia Business School, was chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President George W. Bush. He is an economic adviser to Mitt Romney.
The New York Times

Latino Growth Not Fully Felt at Voting Booth

Matthew Staver for The New York Times
Linda Vargas works as a volunteer in Denver with Mi Familia Vota, which helps Latinos become citizens and register to vote.

June 9, 2012

DENVER — The nation’s rapidly growing Latino population is one of the most powerful forces working in President Obama’s favor in many of the states that will determine his contest with Mitt Romney. But Latinos are not registering or voting in numbers that fully reflect their potential strength, leaving Hispanic leaders frustrated and Democrats worried as they increase efforts to rally Latino support.
Interviews with Latino voters across the country suggested a range of reasons for what has become, over a decade, an entrenched pattern of nonparticipation, ranging from a distrust of government to a fear of what many see as an intimidating effort by law enforcement and political leaders to crack down on immigrants, legal or not.

Voter Voices: Hector Galindo Morales
Eighteen-year-old Hector Galindo Morales of Colorado will be voting for the first time this year. Though he is still undecided, he has identified immigration as his major issue.

Here in Denver, Ben Monterosso, the executive director of Mi Familia Vota, or My Family Votes, a national group that helps Latinos become citizens and register to vote, gathered organizers around a table in his office and recited census data demonstrating the lack of Latino participation. 

The Hispanic Electorate

The gap between Hispanics eligible to vote and those who register and turn out to vote has continued to grow, though Hispanic turnout has surpassed that of Asians in recent elections.

“Our potential at the ballot box is not being maximized,” Mr. Monterosso told them. “The untapped potential is there.”
More than 21 million Latinos will be eligible to vote this November, clustered in pockets from Colorado to Florida, as well as in less obvious states like Illinois, Iowa, North Carolina and Virginia. Yet just over 10 million of them are registered, and even fewer turn out to vote.
In the 2008 presidential election, when a record 10 million Latinos showed up at the polls nationwide, that amounted to just half of the eligible voters. By contrast, 66 percent of eligible whites and 65 percent of eligible blacks voted, according to a study by the Pew Hispanic Center.
That disparity is echoed in swing states across the country. In Nevada, 42 percent of eligible Hispanics are registered, while just 35 percent are registered in Virginia, according to Latino Decisions, which studies Latino voting trends.
Although Latinos do not turn up at the polls in the same numbers, relative to their population, as other ethnic groups, their overall numbers are growing so rapidly that they are nevertheless on the verge of becoming the powerful force in American politics that officials in both parties have long anticipated — an effect that would only be magnified should they somehow begin to match the voting percentages of other ethnic groups.
Mr. Obama’s campaign has seized on that as a central part of his re-election strategy, with an early burst of three Spanish-language television advertisements in four swing states, including Colorado, and voter registration drives in Latino neighborhoods.
“Hi, are you registered to vote?” Linda Vargas, 62, called out in English and Spanish to people walking into a public library on the outskirts of Denver as she sat behind a table stacked with voter registration forms.
This segment of the American electorate is by any measure sprawling, with near-explosive population growth in places like California and Texas and growing numbers in swing states like Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Nevada and New Mexico. Their presence in such politically important states has only fed the frustration of Latino organizers over their underrepresentation at the polls.
Matt A. Barreto, an associate professor of political science at the University of Washington and head of Latino Decisions, said the population growth had produced a higher Latino vote in every presidential election over the last decade, a number that had the effect of masking the political apathy of many Latino voters.
“The population growth has driven increases in the Latino vote every year,” he said. “But we still need to confront a registration gap that is quite significant.”
Jim Messina, Mr. Obama’s campaign manager, said Latino voters were a critical factor in the president’s re-election hopes. “Look, if we do our job right and have a good ground game, I absolutely believe that Latino voters can be one of the big reasons we win this election,” he said.
Officials in Mr. Romney’s campaign argued that he would cut into Mr. Obama’s Latino support by challenging his record on the economy, and how, they said, it had been particularly harmful to Latinos. Last week, the Romney campaign posted a Spanish-language advertisement on its Web site pointing to rising unemployment among Latinos.
“Understand the dynamic of this election: it’s about the economy and it’s about jobs,” said Joshua Baca, who is responsible for the Romney campaign’s Hispanic outreach. “Whatever the Obama campaign wants to do with regards to targeting Hispanic voters, that’s fine. Our message is going to be, ‘It doesn’t matter if you are Hispanic, if you’re a woman, if you’re African-American: it’s the economy.’ ”
Latino voters overwhelmingly support Mr. Obama over Mr. Romney, according to recent polls. The anger at Republicans for supporting tough immigration laws, like the one passed in Arizona last year, is powerful and potentially damaging to Mr. Romney after a Republican primary in which the candidates largely rallied behind that law.
Yet interviews suggest lingering concerns with what many see as Mr. Obama’s failure to deliver on promises to change the immigration system, as well as distress about his stewardship of the economy. Together, those forces appear to be producing a general wariness of government.
“They promise, ‘Oh, we’re going to do this for the Hispanic community, we’re going to do that,’ and we never get even half of the things that they promise,” said Derkis Sanchez, 51, an independent who lives in Miami.
Evidence of the lack of participation can be found across the West, and particularly in Colorado, a state that could be one of the most contested in November. In 2010, 114,000 of the 455,000 Latinos eligible to vote in the state turned out, a study by Latino Decisions found; 47 percent of eligible voters are registered today.
The number of Latinos eligible to vote nationally may overstate their actual influence. Of the 21 million, nearly 10 million live in California or Texas, which are unlikely to be in play in November.
And while an influx of younger voters is helping to push up the overall number, younger voters have historically been disproportionately uninterested in politics, a particular challenge in Colorado given that the Latino population is younger than the overall population. A Pew study found that one-third of the nation’s eligible Hispanic voters are between 18 and 29; but they make up just 22 percent of the overall population.
Arturo Vargas, the head of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, said his organization projected that 12.2 million Latino voters would turn out this November.
“But we do have a performance gap between Hispanic voters and non-Hispanic voters,” he said.
Many analysts argue that the demographic wave of Hispanic voters that began in California in 1994, with a backlash to a state voter initiative backed by Republicans that prohibited illegal immigrants from using public services, is now sweeping over Arizona and Colorado, and eventually will return even Texas to the Democratic fold.
“I believe long term all those states are coming on the map,” Mr. Messina said.
Democrats and Republicans have recognized the rising power of Latino voters for over a decade; advisers to George W. Bush had repeatedly identified Hispanics as central to building a long-lasting electoral coalition. But the Republican position has dropped sharply as the party has been identified with tough policies focused on illegal immigrants.
Republicans have also pushed to impose tough restrictions on voter registration, which Democrats and Latino groups attacked as a way to discourage Hispanics, among others, from voting.
“Our state government is kind of repressive against immigration,” said Alejandro Martinez, 32, a Democrat who lives in Nogales, Ariz. “They’re afraid to go out there and vote.”
Organizers meeting with Mr. Monterosso said they had encountered deep reservations among Hispanics across party lines.
“When I hear a lot of Latinos say they are U.S. citizens but they are not registered to vote, that makes me worried: we are not helping one another,” said Jose Sanchez, 24. “I’m seeing in our community a lot of frustration, a lot of anger, a lot of disappointment and a lot of fear. We have a president that promised so much to our community but has offered us really bad news.”
Mr. Monterosso, sitting quietly as Mr. Sanchez spoke, responded that Republicans had led the way in demonizing Latinos for political gain. “Every single attack on our community has come from the Republican side,” he said.
Just outside Denver, Daniel Lucero, the co-owner of a barbershop, said neither political party had paid enough attention to Latino voters.
“I would say the majority I know, maybe 10 to 12 percent of them vote,” said Mr. Lucero, 66. “The rest don’t care. They feel like politics doesn’t affect them.”
In Nogales, Barbara Gudenkauf, said many of her fellow Latinos “feel like their issues aren’t being addressed. ‘My vote is not going to count. Why bother to take the time off work if it’s not going to make a difference?’ ”
On a hot afternoon in Las Vegas recently, Leo Murrieta, the director of Mi Familia Vota in Nevada, drove to the Department of Motor Vehicles office in a Latino neighborhood and watched as his workers, voter registration forms in hand, stopped people outside the office.
“I have staff out in 10 places today,” he said. “There’s a lot of work to be done.”
Marisa Gerber contributed reporting from Nogales, Ariz.; Dan Frosch from Colorado and New Mexico; and Susannah Nesmith from Miami.

Clinton says Russia is sending gunships to Syria, could escalate conflict 'quite dramatically'

Banned words in some states: Rising sea levels

WARNING*******Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, S.C, N.C, Virginia********WARNING

If you are freakish enough to believe the rubbish that the republicans are trying to flush down your throats, then I suggest boats, floats, life jackets and paddles, because your gonna need them.  Coastsal areas, low lying land, and those where it floods when it rains, you all know who you are and where you live. Wow, I would hate for you all to wake up one morning and get up feet wet getting out of bed. (snicker)

It must be frustrating for our guys in Tallahassee. The governor and the legislative leadership have made it plenty clear that they have no use for this global warming stuff. Yet climate scientists keep dumping water on Florida’s future.
The latest damper comes from Climate Central, which just published two papers in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Research Letters, warning that due to global warming and rising sea levels, 3.7 million Americans reside in areas with an escalating risk of storm surge and coastal flooding. Half of them are in Florida. South Florida comes out looking particularly soggy.
Last year, Florida Atlantic University’s Center for Urban and Environmental Solutions warned that rising sea levels will back up drainage canals, inundate roads, farms and low-lying neighborhoods, cause sewage systems and septic tanks to fail and inject salt water into water wells.
Obviously, something needs to be done. About those damn scientists, of course. Not global warming.
Like-minded legislators and state officials in Texas, Virginia and North Carolina — states with their own coastal vulnerabilities — have shown Florida just how to deal with such annoyances. They erase offending words and passages. They made it flat out illegal for state planners and zoning officials to refer to nettlesome scientific findings that might hurt coastal property values.
Last year the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which had commissioned a scientific study of Galveston Bay, excised references to rising sea levels. “You can debate climate warming, but sea level is going up; it’s measured globally, with satellites,” the study’s lead author, John Anderson of Rice University, told reporters. “For them to be so bold as to remove it — they actually omitted whole sentences that mentioned sea level rise.”
A spokesman shrugged off the criticism, noting that the commission had paid for the study (albeit with public funds): “We have the right to make sure it reflects our views.”

Last week in Virginia, the General Assembly approved a study on the effects of sea-level rise only after references to “sea level rise” were removed. The phenomenon has been rechristened “recurrent flooding.” References to “climate change” have similarly disappeared from the official Virginia lexicon.

North Carolina has its own novel way of dealing with troublesome eggheads and their talk of coastal flooding. A bill was approved in a state Senate committee last week that would require the state’s Division of Coastal Management to use “historic data,” not these global warming projections, to predict sea levels.
Developers had been upset by a 2010 report from the Coastal Resources Commission advising state officials to prepare for a sea level increase of up to 55 inches by 2100. Not good news for coastal developers looking for loans and flood insurance. But developers have clout. And scientists don’t.
Legislators across the Old Confederacy have shown Florida how to cope with all this annoying talk of global warming, rising seas, coastal flooding and devastating hurricane surges:
Censor the reports. Change the words. Or pass a law that says to hell with science. And never mind the future.

The Romney emails we weren't supposed to see

Shortly before departing the governor's office, Mitt Romney oversaw the purchase of 17 state-issued hard drives, and wiped clean computers and servers that contained electronic copies of emails in the governor's office. Why? For one reason: to purge his administration's email records.
Romney later admitted the move was intended to hide official correspondence from the public and keep potentially-embarrassing information under wraps in advance of his presidential campaign. (Yes, this is the same Romney who often speaks about "transparency" in government.)
The email purge was largely successful, but not completely -- some of the emails from one member of Romney's cabinet survived, and the Wall Street Journal used a public-records request to obtain the correspondence between the cabinet secretary and other top Romney officials.
The most interesting revelations relate to Romney's efforts to pass his health care reform law.
[A] small cache of emails survived, including some that have never publicly surfaced surrounding Mr. Romney's efforts to pass his now-controversial health-care law. The emails show the Republican governor was closely engaged in negotiating details of the bill, working with top Democratic state leaders and drafting early copies of opinion articles backing it.
Mr. Romney and his aides, meanwhile, strongly defended the so-called individual mandate, a requirement that everyone in Massachusetts have or buy health insurance. And they privately discussed ideas that might be anathema to today's GOP -- including publicly shaming companies that didn't provide enough health insurance to employees.

At the time, it turns out, Democrats weren't on board with an individual mandate, but Romney and his aides championed the provision. His health secretary wrote in early 2006, "We must have an individual mandate for any plan to work."
In fact, Romney personally drafted an op-ed making the case for a mandate. "Either the individual pays or the taxpayers pay. A free ride on government is not libertarian," the governor wrote, adding, "An uninsured libertarian might counter that he could refuse the free care, but under law, that is impossible -- and inhumane."
This from a GOP presidential candidate who now pretends to believe the mandate is an authoritarian, unconstitutional nightmare.
This was pretty amusing, too.
The idea to publicly name companies apparently came as aides were trying to find other ways to motivate employers to give insurance.
"I know the dems hate this, but we can also [throw] back in the Gov's original notion of having some sort of 'public disclosure' of employers who promote a culture of uninsurance," wrote Cindy Gillespie, a top Romney adviser, to other officials Feb. 13, 2006.
Ms. Gillespie suggested asking companies to provide quarterly reports on their number of uninsured workers and publishing the list as an ad in the Boston Globe. "The Globe would love it and it would keep the issue of the uninsured front and center," she wrote.
As Jonathan Cohn joked this morning, "Wow. A Republican administration urging corporate disclosure and public brow-beating by the liberal media. No way this guy is going to get the support of a national business lobby sharply opposed to universal health coverage and the individual insurance mandate, right? Oh, wait..."

Holocaust survivors lobby Congress to get their day in court

Holocaust survivors seek the ability to sue major insurers, but a key congressional committee remains unlikely to hear the bill.

They’ve been told no many times before, but Holocaust survivors across the United States aren’t giving up their fight to file suit in U.S. courts against European companies for unpaid life insurance policies sold before World War II worth billions of dollars.
Only Congress can help.
That brought dozens of Holocaust survivors, many of whom live in Florida, to Washington on Thursday to urge the House Judiciary Committee to consider legislation that would allow lawsuits to be filed in U.S. courts.
The prospects aren’t good.
Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, met with some of the survivors, but has not scheduled a crucial hearing needed to consider the legislation. He has told key lawmakers he wants to review it more before making any decision.
The proposed bipartisan bill — sponsored by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton — would give thousands of survivors the right to sue Germany’s Allianz SE, Italy’s Assicurazioni Generali and other major European firms in U.S. courts to recover the value of life insurance policies bought before World War II. It would also force those companies to disclose lists of policies held by Jews during that era.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of survivors have been denied access to the U.S. courts because the federal government has said that the claims system under an international Holocaust commission is the only way for them to be compensated for their losses.
The bill, which has languished for years, is named for Tom Lantos, a California Democrat and the only Holocaust survivor to serve in Congress. His widow, Annette Lantos, and his daughters attended the press conference Thursday.
The bill passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which is chaired by Ros-Lehtinen, but it must also get through the House Judiciary Committee before it can go to the House floor for a possible vote.
Said Ros-Lehtinen: “All they want is the opportunity to bring their cases before an unbiased judge."
Smith told Ros-Lehtinen and Deutch that he’s concerned about changing an international claims process endorsed by three previous administrations: Clinton, Bush and Obama. Also: European insurers and their governments say they’ve already met their obligations to most Holocaust survivors with unpaid policies.
Smith also told the two South Florida lawmakers that he is concerned about their proposed legislation because major Jewish groups oppose any additional changes to the claims process — which was mostly handled by the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims.
The commission paid out about $305 million, and an additional $200 million went to humanitarian programs for survivors. This is less than 3 percent of the amount owed to victims and their familiesestimated today at roughly $20 billion, according to Holocaust survivors’ lawyers who want to sue in U.S. court.
Several large national Jewish organizations — including the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, B’nai B’rith and the World Jewish Congress — have previously argued that re-engaging in court could unrealistically raise the expectations of survivors.
That’s because those organizations benefitted from the existing settlement agreement, said David Mermelstein, of the Miami Holocaust Survivors of Dade County.
"Money talks," he said.
The bill continues to lag in the Senate, where Sen. Bill Nelson is leading the charge and the main sponsor. He took some heat from Holocaust survivors last year for not pushing harder on the legislation.
Deutch said they’re aware that supporters have their work cut out for them. But he also said that his fellow members of the Judiciary Committee are committed to justice, and the bipartisan nature of the legislation should help.
They are representing "powerful advocates with strong stories," Deutch said. "It’s not about foreign agreements, it’s not about relationships with foreign governments, it’s about access to our court system for the purpose of pursuing justice.”
Holocaust survivor Jay Ipson, who now lives in Virginia, said that if war criminals were allowed trials at Nuremberg, they, too, should be able to sue.
"Those Nazis had their day in court," he said. "We as Holocaust survivors are not asking for anything that those Nazis didn’t get."

The Miami Herald

Sen. Marco Rubio earning respect in Senate for foreign-policy work


Senator Marco Rubio

Senator Marco Rubio
Marco Rubio had just stepped off the plane from his first visit to Cuba, the homeland of his forebears, a land at the heart of his political identity.Did he at least bring back a souvenir?

“No,” he said Tuesday evening.
No sand? No water? No rocks?             

Read more here:
“No,” he smiled.
For Rubio, who traveled to Guantanamo Bay Naval Base as a member of the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence, the trip was all business. And that’s pretty typical for the Republican freshmen senator, according to colleagues like Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry and Rubio’s fellow foreign-policy hawk Sen. Joe Lieberman.
“Marco’s not a show horse,” Lieberman said. “He’s a workhorse.”
One day he’ll be giving a speech at the Brookings Institution in Washington or the Council on Foreign Relations in New York on Thursday. Next, he’ll be lugging Henry Kissinger’s “Diplomacy” tome to a Munich conference, stopping along the way in Madrid to chat with Spain’s prime minister in Spanish as his unilingual Anglo colleagues twiddle their thumbs. He also has travelled to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Malta, Libya, Haiti and Colombia.
The nation’s political chattering class focuses most heavily on Rubio as a vice-presidential shortlister, but his Senate colleagues can’t help but talk about him becoming a key foreign-policy player as a member of the intelligence and foreign-relations committees.
Lieberman and Kerry are Senate experts both in foreign policy and running in a presidential election. Kerry was the Democrats’ presidential nominee in 2004; Lieberman the Democrats’ vice-presidential candidate in 2000 before becoming an independent.
Both say Rubio is able to handle the rigors of the national campaign trail and the Senate at the same time.
“I’ve been impressed by his thinking — doing the homework necessary to earn the credibility with respect to your approach to things. I think that’s constructive,” Kerry said.
“A lot of the colleagues around here, obviously, are interested in substance and interested in people who do the work and are not impressed by people who are prone to play the political end of something and hold a press conference and not do the work,” Kerry said. “They want to see someone buckle down and learn the ropes. And I think he’s clearly been doing that in a very positive way.”
Rubio, though, still adheres to the party line.
His praise of President Obama is sparse — even amid seeming foreign-policy triumphs like the overthrow and death of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi in October. At the time, Rubio and other Republicans gave Obama relatively little credit.
“Let’s give credit where credit is due: it’s the French and the British that led on this fight,” Rubio, echoing the Republican Party line, said at the time in a video clip mocked by The Daily Show’s John Stewart, who essentially accused Rubio and others of being neither gracious nor statesman like.
Asked Stewart: “What the f--- is wrong with you people? Are you that small?”
When asked about the lampooning on the popular liberal comedy show, Rubio said he stood by his criticisms, which were aimed more at Obama for not acting more quickly and decisively.
“The fact the U.S. didn’t take a leading role long enough meant the conflict went longer, cost more lives, destroyed more infrastructure and ultimately has created a set of problems now,” Rubio said.
“I doubt the Daily Show is the place for those kinds of nuances.”
Rubio’s foreign policy isn’t subtle. It’s hawkish, neoconservative and revolves around the belief that America is a force for good that shouldn’t be ashamed to achieve peace through firepower superiority or checkbook diplomacy.
He prefers to talk about how the United States spread democracy and rebuilt Japan and South Korea after World War II. He spends little time talking about the failures.
And he wants America to stay in Afghanistan until it’s more stable — an expensive proposition that, after a decade of U.S. involvement, may be as elusive as ever. He also supports the Cuba embargo, which has failed to topple the Castro family’s dictatorial de facto monarchy that has survived the terms of 11 U.S. presidents.
Later this month, Rubio will release his much-anticipated autobiography, An American Son, which is to detail his family’s emigration and exile from Cuba in 1956. The book will undoubtedly be more sentimental than his trip to Guantanamo, after which he batted down speculation about burnishing his foreign-policy cred for political purposes. Many members of Congress have returned from Guantanamo clutching souvenir tri-folded flags that flew at the base, or ballcaps that say Guantanamo. Rubio didn’t.
Rubio said that, while foreign heads of state and politicians, bash the United States publicly, their tone changes in private.
“They’re begging for U.S. influence and leadership,” he said. “They’re not threatened by us. They’re not scared of us. They’re not worried about the United States being involved because we have a track record.”
That feeling was reinforced “by driving through the streets of Tripoli and seeing pro-American graffiti on the walls. Of having people come up to me on the streets and thank the United States – thank you America for what you did – by the enthusiastic greeting we received in the hospital that we visited or people we met people in the square.”
Rubio travelled there in September, before Gadhafi was killed, with senators John McCain and Lieberman, who also accompanied Rubio in February to Munich and Spain, where they met Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy Brey.
“When it got to Marco he began engaging in conversation with the prime minister in Spanish,” Lieberman said. “I was impressed.”
Months later, in April, Lieberman introduced Rubio in his foreign-policy coming-out speech at the liberal-leaning Brookings Institution — a perfect forum for the freshman senator to stoke speculation about a vice-presidential bid, while showcasing his foreign policy chops and his bipartisan bonafides.
Though Rubio at one point misplaced the last page of his speech — an accident mocked by liberal commentators — Lieberman said he was blown away by Rubio’s ability to opine thoughtfully on affairs from Haiti to Iran to Afghanistan
“This wasn’t someone just reading a speech,” he said. “He knew the subject matter.”
Lieberman said he sees Rubio rapidly becoming part of a new “deep bench” of foreign policy experts in the Republican caucus, especially after it lost Indiana Sen. Dick Lugar, who was just ousted in a primary tea-party rout. Lieberman said Rubio is “unique.”
But, in some ways, Rubio’s retracing the steps of Hillary Clinton, who arrived to the Senate a rookie but as a rock-star politician. She’s now the ultimate foreign-policy official: secretary of state. Like Clinton, Rubio blended into the Senate for the first few months in office, shied away from the spotlight and immersed himself in his work.
Just after the Brookings speech, Rubio joined with Democratic Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania to author a resolution condemning the atrocities in Syria. Rubio, Lieberman said, helped overcome Republican objections. Case said in a written statement that he was happy with the “bipartisan effort” against Syria and Iran.
“While we disagree on many issues,” Casey, a fellow foreign relations committee member, said, “he has welcomed the opportunity to work together in a bipartisan way on these critical national security issues.”
As evidenced by the written statement, Casey was far more hesitant to discuss his Republican colleague in an interview. Other Democratic senators weren’t willing to comment at all about the man who could be the number two on the opposition ticket.
Still, Rubio has a strong working relationship with fellow Florida Sen. and intelligence committee member Bill Nelson, who faces a tough reelection. And Kerry and Lieberman said Rubio seems ready to be on this year’s ballot as well.
"If you’re up to it, I don’t think there’s pressure,” Kerry said. “I think he’s handling it well. I don’t see any sign that it’s pressure.”

Read more here:

Sen. Marco Rubio's bill draws charges of hypocrisy from immigrant advocates

Same old, same old, Republican crap........

Sen. Marco Rubio is pushing a bill to impose stricter rules on child tax credits because the IRS allowed undocumented workers to collect $4.2 billion in credits.

Tampa Bay Times

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio this month filed a bill aimed at making it harder for undocumented immigrants to claim a child tax credit. The effort drew little attention for good reason: Rubio’s office did not publicize it.
But liberal groups and immigrant advocates noticed and are accusing the Florida Republican of hypocrisy, saying he is hurting innocent children at the same time he pushes a Dream Act alternative that seeks to help children who were brought to the United States illegally, as he says, "through no fault of their own."
"There is no way Sen. Rubio can logically square this proposal that puts low-income U.S.-citizen children in the crosshairs with his professed desire to provide ’humanitarian’ relief to ’blameless’ undocumented youth," reads a piece by the liberal Center for American Progress. "This attack on the child tax credit appears to be a calculated attempt by Sen. Rubio to demonstrate his commitment to ’legality’ and his willingness to crack down on ’illegal immigrants.’ But in his zeal to burnish his hardline bona fides with conservatives, he would actually take food off the tables of low-income U.S.-citizen kids who are, in every sense of the word, blameless. Even using a political calculator, adding Sen. Rubio’s two proposals together equals hypocrisy."
Rubio has not yet released his Dream Act proposal, which aims to grant legal status to some children of illegal immigrants, and has drawn opposition from the far right, which views it as amnesty. His Responsible Child Tax Credit Eligibility Verification Act of 2012 comes in response to a government audit from last year that said the IRS allowed undocumented workers to collect $4.2 billion in tax credits.
People without Social Security numbers can seek the credit through individual taxpayer identification numbers. The audit confirmed fraudulent filings. Rubio’s legislation addresses that by requiring "certain nonresident aliens to provide valid immigration documents to claim the refundable portion of the child tax credit."
Rubio’s office dismissed the criticism as partisanship. A spokesman noted the legislation still allows noncitizens working here legally to claim the credit but they must provide documentation.
"Sens. Rubio, (John) Thune and others are sponsoring common-sense legislation to crackdown on fraud that costs taxpayers. We’re still in the process of gathering sponsors," said Rubio spokesman Alex Conant. "Obviously some partisan groups are looking for any excuse to attack Sen. Rubio and they’re confusing the issue here. We’re continuing to develop Sen. Rubio’s proposal to help high-achieving, undocumented children and hope to have bipartisan legislation soon."
Rubio’s bill is not the first to address the problem. A bill filed by Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., and Sen. David Vitter, R-La., has the same aim but would require people seeking the credit to have a valid Social Security card. Democratic Leader Sen. Harry Reid has opposed it.
The Center for American Progress contends Rubio’s bill would hurt children and overstates the problem:

"The $4.2 billion in refundable credits that were issued in 2010 to more than 2 million ITIN filers represented about 15 percent of the total child tax credit refunds paid. Those same ITIN filers, however, also contributed more than $7 billion in federal taxes toward Medicare and Social Security, programs from which they will never recoup benefits. In other words, morality aside, the U.S. Treasury and American taxpayers still come out ahead by granting child tax credits to low-income families with an undocumented tax filer."

Task force faces big hurdles to save state billions of dollars

 A state panel appointed to spell out ways to save money finds an unexpected hurdle to streamlining state government: a lobbyist-driven legislature.

Proposals from the Government Efficiency Task Force
  • State workers: Give employees a choice of health insurance plans that cap the state’s contribution to save $300 million a year and all require the 19 percent of government workers who are senior officials to pay more into their health insurance, thus saving the state $34 million a year.
  • Contracts: Require state agencies to pool purchases, apply consistent pricing and competitive bidding to mental health and substance abuse services. Potential savings $96 million a year. 
  • Crime: Give judges web-based tools to allow a judge to determine an inmate’s chances of committing a crime again when sentencing and consider and consider an inmate’s educational needs when deciding where to house them.
  • Inmates: Provide basic life skills training for short-term inmates and give longer term inmates a literacy track. Set up a pilot program to develop “widely-accepted security protocols for Internet access.”
    • Prisons: Create specialty prisons focused on chemical dependency, literacy and basic education. giving them more flexibility in determining the severity of the sentence.
  • Universities: Require universities to increase transparency in higher education funding and urged the legislature to allocate funds based on university performance.
    • University contracts: Urge universities to combine resources when purchasing services.
  • Cap the retirement benefits for high salaried workers — such as those making more than the $140,000 salary of state agency heads.

Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

If Florida government truly were efficient, universities would offer a full complement of classes all summer. Judges would be given more flexibility when sentencing offenders. Inmates would get vocational training and literacy skills in prison. And legislators would not pass laws that tie the hands of state officials when negotiating contracts.
These are just some of the recommendations offered up Wednesday by the constitutionally-created Government Efficiency Task Force, a 15-member panel required to meet every four years to make money-saving recommendations to the governor, Legislature and the Florida Supreme Court.
Many of the ideas — such as year-round universities — have been on the rule books before but have been whittled down by the Legislature.
Indeed, Florida’s 160-member Legislature, and its practice of allowing monied special interest to dictate its policies, became the indirect punching bag of many of the task force recommendations.
The task force is appointed by the governor, House speaker and Senate president. Tucked in its 250 pages of recommendations are numerous examples of barriers that prevent the state from saving billions of dollars. Those barriers are erected by legislators and often grow out of turf battles between agencies and industries.
Consider the proposal that to reduce repeat offenders in prison — now 33 percent — more emphasis should be given on providing vocational training, education and literacy programs which have been shown to reduce recidivism. The state now spends $19,000 a year on each inmate and devotes only 1 percent of the prison budget to inmate education. Or the suggestion that judges be given flexibility when sentencing criminals based on an inmate’s risk of returning to crime.
Sen. Mike Bennett, a Sarasota Republican and member of the task force, said the recommendations are good ones but tricky to get out of the Republican legislature.
“In the quest of not looking soft on the crime, the Florida Legislature — which I’ve been a proud member of for many years — seems to have gone a little bit overboard,’’ he said. “A lot of these recommendations have come up last year and in the past,” but they don’t get addressed because “the legislation we run is lobby driven — industry driven — instead of what’s best for the people of the state of Florida.”
The task force noted that because of exceptions written by legislators into the law, the Department of Management Services is barred from seeking competitive bids for legal services, health services, artistic services, lectures, training and education services and substance abuse and mental health contracts — services estimated at $8.4 billion a year.
Legislators also carved out exceptions for 32 vendors whose services don’t have to go through the state’s web-based vendor database known as MyFloridaMarketPlace.  Check it out!!!

Task force chairman Abe Uccello said the task force recommendations, if adopted, could save the state as much as $3 billion a year. 

He said he is confident Gov. Rick Scott will embrace the proposals and “handed the baton” to David Wilkins, whom Gov. Rick Scott has assigned to review state contracts and procedures to squeeze out efficiencies. Wilkins heads the state Department of Children and Families.
“Some of the ideas we’re already doing,’’ Wilkins told the committee, as he ticked off a list of eight initiatives he and other agencies will start implementing this summer. “Basically, we just want to keep the momentum going.”
Among Wilkins’ goals: 
  • consolidate hiring and human resource management throughout state government; 
  • consolidate lease management, vehicle usage and computer and cell phone contracts; 
  • get out of contracts earlier and negotiate savings more often; and 
offer monetary incentives to high performing state workers.
Bennett chastised the governor’s office for not working aggressively on any issue last session except the PIP auto insurance reform “even though they had other missions.” He suggested Scott must persuade the House speaker and the Senate president “that your priorities are their priorities” if he wants the efficiency ideas to survive.
“Without having that coordination, it’s not going to happen,’’ Bennett warned. “You will not overcome the lobby corps on the other side. So you have to do it together and you have to have the political courage to know that you have to go against this particular industry or this particular lobby group.”