Saturday, February 14, 2009

CristWorld: Cut firefighters/teachers; Keep "political placeholder"

As far as I can tell, Charlie Crist has so far flopped as governor of Florida. The GOP governor has a supermajority in both houses, and for some reason is still popular with the masses. Yet Charlie hasn't made good on any campaign pledge, and our state now holds the record in home foreclosures and massive job losses.

So far, the biggest "accomplishments" for Charlie as been passage for his infamous Amendment 1-- which has cost the state billions and induced trauma on the already bleeding services many Floridians depend on, and his "foreign excursion" which cost the taxpayers about a half a million dollars. That's right, he blew that money vacationing in London, Paris, St. Petersburg and Madrid but laughably called it a "trade mission".

Meanwhile, we are stuck suffering from the worst budget crises in years. Everything to be cut is on the table--with one exception...

If you live in Florida, by now you have heard of the investigation by the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel concerning Lt. Governor Jeff Kottkamp. The Sentinel found that state planes flew to and from Fort Myers 248 times on trips that involved picking up or dropping off the lieutenant governor. Fort Myers is where Jeff Kottkamp and his wife own a $1.4 million house. 208 of those flights occurred before July 1, 2008, when it was against the law to use state aircraft for "commuting purposes".

(The GOP legislature inserted language in a massive budget bill that no longer makes it illegal for "top officials" to use state aircraft for commuting---nice.)

According to the paper, Jeff Kottkamp billed taxpayers $425,000 for 365 flights on state planes during his first two years in office. The majority of those flights involved getting Kottkamp to and from Fort Myers. According to the flight records, state planes flew empty one-way 70 times to pick him up or drop him off in his hometown.

That was last week. This week, the Orlando Sentinel had on its front page how little work the Lt. Governor actually does. For entire months, Kottkamp only had one or two items on his calendar. In fact, that is more than he is supposed to do. The only, and I mean ONLY designated purpose he serves, is to stay alive if something happens to the governor.

Then Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel tabulated how much he cost: the state pays about $725,000 for the office and staff this year alone. For that, we get seven staffers -- including a chief of staff (salary $120,000), a senior analyst ($62,000), a program analyst ($55,000) a special assistant ($50,000), an executive assistant ($45,000), a scheduler ($32,500) and the L.G. himself ($127,398) -- and office expenses of about $220,000. Throw in about $150,000 a year on security and bodyguards.

We have only had a Lt.Gov. since the sixties, when the post was brought back for some reason. Several other states have figured out it is a sensible thing to cut--especially since that money can go to save jobs that actually make a difference.

Our legislators aren't having any of it. Least of all Empty-Chair Charlie. They would much rather have a do-nothing post who doesn't do anything to earn his salary, while simultaneously wasting hundreds of thousands, than use that money to save police, teachers, and emergency medical personnel who will all face the budget ax this cycle.

This means it will take a citizen initiative, (as usual), to do the real work of the people. If there has ever been a need for Florida netroots--it's now.

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