Florida Government and Politics Weekly Update

16 November 2009 Publication
Authors: Robert H. Hosay Thomas J. Maida

Public Policy News Alert

Economy: Third-Quarter Existing Home and Condo Sales Continued to Rise While Prices Appeared to Stabilize
In a November 10, 2009 report, Florida Realtors® (formerly known as the Florida Association of Realtors®) announced that sales of existing single-family homes in July – September 2009 were 33 percent higher than sales in the third quarter of 2008. Sales of existing condominium units were 56 percent higher in July – September 2009 than in the third quarter of 2008.

Third quarter 2009 data also reflected a slight increase over sales in April – June 2009. Third quarter sales of existing homes were 2.8 percent higher than in the second quarter, and third quarter sales of existing condominium units were 0.4 percent higher than in the second quarter.

The median sales price for existing homes during the third quarter of 2009 was $145,400, which represents a 22-percent drop from the third quarter 2008 median sales price of $185,600. The median sales price for condominium units reflected an even larger year-over-year decrease, dropping to $106,100 in third quarter 2009. The 2009 figure represents a 34-percent decrease from the third quarter 2008 median price of $160,100.

The new data may indicate that prices are stabilizing. The third quarter 2009 median sales price for existing homes was 1.2 percent higher than the second quarter 2008 median price of $143,600.

Sales increased and prices fell in all of Florida’s Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs). The most dramatic increases in sales and reductions in prices occurred in the Fort Myers-Cape Coral area. Existing home sales in that are were 88 percent higher in the third quarter of 2009 than in the third quarter of 2008, and prices fell by 40 percent.

Politics: Republican Leaders Raise Grievances Against State Republican Chair Jim Greer
In what has been described in the press as “a near-mutiny among party activists, elected officials, and fundraisers,” a majority of the state Republican executive committee called for an “emergency closed meeting with Republican Party of Florida Chair Jim Greer to air what appeared to be a growing list of grievances. Mr. Greer responded to these requests by holding a conference call with executive committee members on November 12, 2009 in which, according to one participant, “[h]e was very apologetic and said he faced a lot of difficult decisions over the last several months. He indicated that he was very surprised with the reactions he was getting around the state and now he wants to make amends.”

Mr. Greer said the conference call “was a very productive, positive discussion,” and added, ”I was humbled by the support that the board demonstrated.”

The main complaints about Mr. Greer’s management of the state party apparently focused on what some regarded as lavish spending of party funds and on allegations that the party apparatus was devoting too much attention to the U.S. Senate primary campaign of Governor Charlie Crist at the expense of candidates for other offices and attacking his opponent, former state House speaker Marco Rubio (R-Miami).

Gov. Crist indicated that he has “extremely high” confidence in Mr. Greer, also stating, “I know he is a tireless worker. He is dedicated to trying to help the party do better and broaden the appeal to minorities. I just think he’s done a great job.”

Politics: U.S. Attorney Files Civil Suit Against Political Fundraiser Scott Rothstein, Alleging Massive Ponzi Scheme
On November 9, 2009, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida filed a civil complaint against Fort Lauderdale attorney Scott Rothstein, alleging that he was responsible for a massive Ponzi scheme in which he is alleged to have sold shares in fictitious structured settlements. According to John Gillies, special agent in charge of the Miami office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the scheme could be South Florida’s largest fraud ever, involving many hundreds of investors and more than $1 billion.

In recent years, Mr. Rothstein became one of the state’s most prominent political fundraisers. Although it may be difficult to determine the precise amount of political contributions made by Mr. Rothstein and interests associated with Mr. Rothstein, estimates range as high as $1.4 million in the last three years, including $571,000 in contributions to the Republican Party of Florida and $200,000 to the Florida Democratic Party. Ever since news of Mr. Rothstein’s legal troubles became known earlier this month, both parties and various candidates have been attempting to identify and return his contributions.

Environment: Senate President Jeff Atwater Orders Study of Offshore Drilling
Stating that Floridians “deserve a thoughtful and deliberative conversation free of rancor or hyperbole,” Senate President Jeff Atwater (R-North Palm Beach) on November 9, 2009 ordered the Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee to conduct a “detailed and comprehensive review of the implications of offshore drilling.” Sen. Atwater stated that while the initial findings of the review might be available before the start of the 2010 legislative session in March 2010, “this analysis will be driven by the need for a dispassionate review, not timelines or schedules.”

Participating in the review will be the Century Commission for a Sustainable Florida, the Legislature’s Division of Economic and Demographic Research, and the Institute for Energy Systems, Economics, and Sustainability at Florida State University.

Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee Chair Lee Constantine (R-Altamonte Springs) is known for his strong commitment to environmental issues. He said that the decision to assign the review to his committee sends “a serious message,” adding that the review “will be primarily about how best we can protect Florida’s resources, not about how much we can drill for and how fast ….Oil drilling is far from being definite in Florida.”

Business interests, including Associated Industries of Florida and Florida Energy Associates, a consortium of independent oil producers, have supported efforts to put drilling on the agenda for the next legislative session, which begins in March 2010. State House leadership has generally supported those efforts, but Sen. Constantine denied that the purpose of the review was to delay legislative action on offshore drilling. 

Public Policy 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 these topics 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

Marnie George of The George Group assists Foley on a variety of government and public policy matters as a consultant.

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