Florida Government and Politics Weekly Update

27 October 2008 Publication
Authors: Robert H. Hosay Thomas J. Maida

Public Affairs News Alert

Economy: State Budget
Last month, the Legislative Budget Commission transferred $672 million from the state rainy day fund, and Governor Charlie Crist ordered state agencies to “hold back” a percentage of their appropriated funds, in an effort to address a shortfall in the current (2008 – 2009) fiscal year's budget. Now it appears that fiscal year 2009 – 2010 will be an even tighter budget year. State revenue estimators project a continuing weak economy and a bleak state budget picture for the 2009 – 2010 fiscal year. Currently, state gross domestic product ranks 47th in the nation in real growth and 35th in per capita growth. As recently as 2005, Florida had the nation’s second-fastest growing economy. Population growth, which slowed to 0.7 percent in 2008, is expected to remain at that level in 2009 and to rise eventually to an average of 1.1 percent by 2025 – 2030. This contrasts with a growth rate in the 2.0 – 2.6 percent range in the decade between the mid-1990s and mid-2000s. The revenue estimators anticipate that Florida’s economy will not begin to rebound at least until early 2010. As a result of the worsening state economy, state revenue estimates for the upcoming fiscal year have been reduced by more than $2 billion from the March 2008 forecast.

Economy: Home Foreclosures
Florida is now second in the nation in the percentage of home foreclosures. In September, one out of 178 housing units in the state was in some stage of foreclosure. Only Nevada, with a rate of one in 82, had a higher percentage of homes in foreclosure. Florida foreclosure filings in September were up nine percent over August and up 44 percent over September 2007.

Politics: Voter Registration
When the voter registration rolls closed earlier this month, the Democrats’ statewide lead over Republicans was 657,775 registered voters. Four years ago, the Democrats’ edge was 368,757. Of the total 11,247,634 registered voters in Florida, 4,722,076 are Democrats (42.0 percent), 4,064,301 are Republicans (36.1 percent), and 2,103,119 have no party affiliation (18.7 percent). Minor parties account for the remaining 3.2 percent of registered voters. Long-term shifts in voter registration have led to speculation that two legislative leaders may be in difficult races, despite massive leads in fundraising. The coastal district represented by Senate President-designate Jeffrey H. Atwater (R-North Palm Beach) was 49 percent Republican when it was drawn in the 2002 redistricting, but today 39 percent of registered voters in the district are Republicans. Much of Atwater’s district overlaps the district of Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff (R-Fort Lauderdale), where Republican registrations have dropped from 51 percent to 42 percent in the same time period.

Politics: Crist’s Approval Ratings
In a poll of 600 likely voters taken for two Florida newspapers between October 13 and October 15, 2008 and released last week, 59 percent of respondents said they were “satisfied” or “extremely satisfied” with Governor Crist’s performance; among Democrats, 44 percent were “satisfied” or “extremely satisfied.” However, respondents were not as pleased with one of the signature policy items of the governor’s first two years in office. Only 32 percent said they were “satisfied” or “extremely satisfied” with the property tax reforms that increased the homestead exemption and provided “save our homes” portability.

Business and Insurance: Workers’ Compensation
Florida adopted major reforms to the workers’ compensation law in 2003, which have reduced workers’ compensation premiums for Florida employers by more than 60 percent (including the rate reduction that will take effect in January 2009). An attorney fee schedule was a central element of the 2003 law. On October 23, 2008, the Florida Supreme Court overturned the attorney fee schedule on statutory construction, rather than constitutional, grounds (Murray v. Mariner Health, Case No. SC07-244). The Florida Chamber of Commerce and other employer groups have stated that they will lobby the Legislature to restore the attorney fee schedule. Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty stated that the decision “might significantly erode the savings that have been so important to Florida employers” and that the Legislature “will have to intervene to clarify its intent to limit attorney’s fees.” McCarty also said that the workers’ compensation rating organization, the National Council on Compensation Insurance, will need to make a new rate filing to reflect the impact of the Murray decision.

Government: Open Government Commission
The Florida Commission on Open Government has finalized a series of recommendations to be known as the Fair Information Practices Act. The commission, which was created by executive order of Governor Crist in 2007, will recommend that: state agencies be required to justify their information collection practices; foster children and adoptive parents have more access to relevant records; and public records law exemptions be made more uniform. The commission also will recommend that it be given permanent status and its scope be expanded to include local government as well as state government. The recommendations will be presented formally to the governor and the Legislature later this year.

Constitutional Amendments: 2008 Ballot Questions
Six amendments to the Florida Constitution are on the general election ballot:

  • Amendment 1 (alien land law) deletes language that allows the state to regulate the ownership of land by “aliens ineligible for citizenship”
  • Amendment 2 (marriage) provides that marriage is the legal union only of one man and one woman, and provides that no other legal union that is the substantial equivalent of marriage will be recognized
  • Amendment 3 (property assessments: wind mitigation and energy) allows the Legislature to provide that a property’s assessed value will not be affected by improvements that increase the property’s resistance to wind damage or by the installation of renewable energy source devices
  • Amendment 4 (property taxes: permanently conserved land) requires the Legislature to provide a property tax exemption for real property encumbered by perpetual conservation easements or other perpetual conservation protections
  • Amendment 6 (property assessments: working waterfronts) provides for assessment of waterfront land used for specified purposes such as commercial fishing facilities and marine manufacturing facilities, based upon its current use
  • Amendment 8 (local option tax for community colleges) requires the Legislature to authorize counties to levy a local option sales tax, subject to voter approval, to supplement community college funding 

Public Affairs News Alert is part of our ongoing commitment to providing up-to-the minute information about pressing concerns or industry issues affecting our clients and our colleagues. If you have any questions about this alert or would like to discuss this topic further, please contact your Foley attorney or any of the following individuals: 

Marnie George
Tallahassee, Florida

Michael P. Harrell
Tallahassee, Florida

Robert H. Hosay
Tallahassee, Florida

Jonathan P. Kilman

Orlando, Florida

Thomas J. Maida
Tallahassee, Florida

Leonard E. Schulte
Tallahassee, Florida

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