Legislative Lovefests Lost

Just back from Tallahassee where, once again, Gov. Charlie Crist got to proclaim victory at the close of another special session, saying his throat was raw from phone calls to lawmakers in support of a tax-cutting Constitutional Amendment. Not surprising that a Gov with approval ratings tickling 80% has some pull with other politicians, but this special session ended without one of the Crist-led lovefests of sessions past.
When lawmakers “cured” insurance and tackled prop tax reform (unsuccessfully) in June, the Gov gathered leaders from both chambers and both parties and praised their can-do spirit and cooperation. Muted strains of “Kumbaya” were only in my imagination, I think, but that was the tone Crist took.
This time, the Governor’s tone was the same, but it was jarringly out of sync with the mood of the day. He strode into his briefing room to meet the press and deliver hugs and backslaps with a small group of lawmakers– all Republicans, and all Senators, save for one Rep.
The Lauder-in-Chief did make sure to compliment Senate Democratic leader Steve Geller of Cooper City for casting a vote in support of the tax-cut plan.
But his remarks about House leaders were more restrained. Crist acknowledged the “passion” House Speaker Marco Rubio of Miami brought to the issue of tax cuts, neglecting to mention that Rubio had spent the day blasting the tax-cut plan as a “missed opportunity” to jump-start Florida’s economy with real and meaningful tax cuts. Rubio wound up supporting the tax amendment the Governor was celebrating, and did not criticize him directly.
The ever-effusive Governor even came close to actually saying something negative about House Democratic Leader Dan Gelber of Miami Beach, questioning some of Gelber’s claims in floor debate. The Gov quickly added, “but I love him”.
And Crist couldn’t help but try to hug the House of Representatives a little, though its leaders were absent and most of its members had blasted the tax-cut plan as weak tea, passed it while holding their noses, and left the capitol quickly and in disgust. The Gov called a startled freshman Rep. who’d wandered in, Hialeah’s Eddy Gonzalez, to the mike.
Gonzalez mumbled something about the amendment being a “great start for Florida”, though when I’d talked to him in Tally’s airport that morning, he’d said pretty clearly he wasn’t wild about what the Senate was forcing him to vote on.
The big question for the future– is the Legislature done with tax-cutting now? Leaders in the House certainly hope not, but there are indications that Senate leaders have no stomach for further hand-to-hand combat over tax cuts.
And the Governor who recently said, as a former college football QB he understood the value of moving down the field 10 yards at a time, implied he might be ready to punt.
A reporter asked whether the Gov felt property taxes had “dropped like a rock”, as he’d pledged they would. Crist said, taxes had been cut $15 billion (over 5 years) in June, with voters able to deliver another $12-billion cut in January. “$27-billion sounds like a rock to me”, said the Gov.
A lot of House members complain– it still feels pretty much like a pebble. The strains of “Kumbaya” may be fading on this subject.


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