Sunday, February 28, 2010

On Health Care Reform

If Congress really wanted to fix the current health system, why couldn't they just vote on the issues that both parties agree on. This would, after all, be better than doing nothing.

Also, how does increasing the number of insured people actually lower costs? Especially if these people began to actually use medical care for which they were previously putting off.

Why do we even continue to want insurance companies to be in charge of health care in the first place. Couldn't we all just agree to pay individually with cash or through HSA's?

Book Review: Reading People

Title: Reading People
Author: Jo-Ellan Dimitrius and Mark Mazzarella
Year: 1999
Type: Non-Fiction
Genre: Psychology

Review: This was a decent book on human behavior. I just wasn't a huge fan of the dozens of stories she told. I would rather have read about studies regarding human behavior rather than experience (which almost anyone could write a book about if you just pay attention). Read the body language book by Pease instead.

Grade: C

Obama signs Patriot Act extensions

President Obama has signed a one-year extension of several provisions in the main U.S. counterterrorism law, the Patriot Act.

Provisions in the measure would have expired on Sunday without Obama's signature Saturday.

The act, which was adopted in the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, expands the government's ability to monitor Americans in the name of national security.

Three sections of the Patriot Act that stay in force will:

--Authorize court-approved roving wiretaps that permit surveillance on multiple phones.

--Allow court-approved seizure of records and property in anti-terrorism operations.

--Permit surveillance against a so-called lone wolf, a non-U.S. citizen engaged in terrorism who may not be part of a recognized terrorist group.

Obama's signature comes after the House voted 315 to 97 Thursday to extend the measure.

Report: Florida has insignificant offshore oil

Estimated reserves in Florida waters would provide the United States with less than a week’s worth of oil and have no discernible effect on prices at the pump or U.S. reliance on foreign oil, according to a report released Friday as part of a state Senate review of whether a ban on offshore drilling should be lifted.

Most of the total reserves east of Apalachicola also are gas. The oil estimated in state waters would boost U.S. supplies by less than 100 million barrels, or a small fraction of 1 percent.

“To put that in context, the total estimated amount of oil reserves in Florida would satisfy the U.S. demand for oil [approximately 20 million barrels a day] for less than a week,” according to the report.

Panel urges city to make several changes in governance

After eight months of analysis, the Jacksonville Charter Revision Commission approved its final list of recommendations Thursday. The commission's work will be formally presented to the City Council on March 9. Then council members will begin their own study of these recommendations.

Ethics code

Creates an ethics code in the city charter that applies to all officials and employees under the consolidated government, including independent agencies, constitutional officers and the school system. Would also give the Ethics Commission jurisdiction over these entities.

Charter Revision Commission

Gives the commission a full year to complete its once-a-decade review of the city charter. The current group's term was set at eight months, but it says it could have used more time to research the issues.

Mayor-appointed School Board

Allows the mayor to appoint School Board members, who are then confirmed by the City Council. Those members would not be paid. Board members are now elected by voters and are paid $37,300 annually.

Hybrid School Board

Keeps elected board members, but allows the mayor to appoint a majority of board members. All board members, both elected and appointed, would not be paid.

At-large School Board districts

School Board candidates would run countywide for at-large seats, though there would be residency restrictions on who can run for each seat. Under the current system, each board member represents a district and only voters living in the district can vote for those candidates.

City-controlled charter schools

Urges the city to establish new charter schools or a charter school district, where the city would operate several schools outside of much of the oversight and regulations imposed on other public schools.

Empowering principals

That the City Council and School Board work to change state law to create policies that give school principals greater autonomy to select staff and improve instruction.

Strategic plan

Requires Jacksonville's mayor to create a strategic plan outlining goals and fiscal priorities within six months of assuming office. The mayor would have to establish a four-year plan that includes a vision statement, mission statement, financial plan, goals and measurements for annual performance reviews.

Pension reform

That the City Council amend city law to require a financial impact statement any time pension or retirement benefits are tweaked. That information, created by the Council Auditor's Office, would have to be shared with the Mayor's Office, council members and representatives of the affected employees.

Veto override

Makes it harder for the City Council to override a mayoral veto of financial issues by requiring a two-thirds supermajority, or 13 of 19 council members. Currently, the council only needs a simple majority, 10 of 19, to override vetoes of budget or appropriation matters, although a two-thirds majority is required for other veto overrides.

City elections

Move city elections to coincide with the fall gubernatorial elections. This would save $3 million every four years. The City Council has decided to take a different route by moving elections to fall 2011, which doesn't save money but does allow newly elected mayors and council members more time to transition before budget talks begin. Currently, city elections are scheduled for spring 2011.

Fannie Loses $16.3 Billion and Asks Treasury for Aid

Fannie Mae, the nation’s largest provider of residential mortgage funds, reported a loss of $16.3 billion for the fourth quarter on Friday and said it had requested $15.3 billion from the Treasury to maintain a positive net worth.

The government-controlled company said it would need additional taxpayer funds in the future to continue operations.

Fannie Mae said rising defaults kept credit-related expenses elevated at $11.9 billion, though expenses were almost half the third-quarter level of $22.0 billion.

Fannie Mae’s quarterly loss was $15.2 billion before a $1.2 billion dividend payment on senior preferred stock owned by the Treasury, putting total 2009 losses at $74.4 billion, compared with $59.8 billion in 2008.

Serious delinquencies on mortgages guaranteed by Fannie Mae on single-family homes rose to 5.38 percent as of Dec. 31, compared with 4.72 percent on Sept. 30, and 2.42 percent at the end of 2008.

State officials: More than 1,000 gangs in Florida

More than 1,000 gangs with nearly 49,000 members and associates are roaming through virtually every corner of the state.

Officials say the report released Wednesday by Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum and the Coordinating Council on Gang Reduction Strategies will help authorities gauge the growing problem and identify solutions.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Study: 1 in 5 kids don't see dentist each year

At least one in five U.S. children go without annual dental care and most states lack key policies to ensure access to cost-saving preventive treatments, according to a study released Tuesday by the Pew Center on the States.

Six states received an "A" grade from the non-profit policy analysis group for their dental health policies. But even children in those states have problems accessing care, the report said.

"Americans will be spending $106 billion on dental care this year," said Shelly Gehshan, director of the Pew Children's Dental Campaign. Much of that care pays for costly treatments such as fillings and root canals, which have their origins in poor childhood dental care, she said.

"F" states: Met only one or two policy benchmarks

  • Florida

U.S. Afghan death toll hits 1,000

A website which tracks casualties,, said 54 U.S. troops have been killed in Afghanistan this year, raising the total to 1,000 since the Taliban's fall. This compares with eight this year in Iraq, where 4,378 have been killed since 2003.

Report: Wall Streeters Got $20B in Bonuses in 2009

Employees at Wall Street financial firms collected more than $20 billion in bonuses in 2009, the year after taxpayers bailed out the financial sector amid the economic meltdown, New York state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said Tuesday. The payouts were about 17 percent higher than the previous year's bonuses.

Total compensation at the largest securities firms grew beyond that figure and profits could surpass what he calls an unprecedented $55 billion last year, DiNapoli said. That's nearly three times Wall Street's record increase, a rate of growth that is boosted in part by the record losses in 2008 of nearly $43 billion, the Democrat said.

Study: JIA fourth in passenger satisfaction

Jacksonville International Airport ranked fourth among U.S. airports with fewer than 10 million annual passengers in the 2010 J.D. Power & Associates passenger satisfaction study.

JIA reported it also ranked fourth best airport in North America for customer service in a survey of participating airports by Airports Council International. JIA ranked first in the ACI survey last year.

A Study Finds Jacksonville Has the 49th Most Congested Roads

Atlantic, Blanding, San Jose, Beach, 103rd...the very mention of these words to drivers throughout the city evokes images of gridlock.

It also has put Jacksonville among the top in the nation in congestion. A study published today, shows Los Angeles leading the nation in the dubious category.

Jacksonville, with 4 percent of L.A.'s congestion, ranks 49th. Not surprisingly, California and Florida are very well represented in the top 100.

Trail Ridge lawsuit could cost Jacksonville $1.2 million

The cost of the using a private law firm to defend Jacksonville in the Trail Ridge landfill lawsuit is expected to surpass $1 million in taxpayer dollars, city attorneys say.

City General Counsel Rick Mullaney said the city has already paid its outside help — the law firm of Tanner Bishop — $450,000 to defend the suit filed in May in federal court by Waste Management. Now the City Council is being asked to approve an additional $750,000, which should be enough to pay for the costs of seeing the matter through trial, Mullaney said.

The lawsuit is the result of the City Council’s decision to allow companies to bid on the right to operate the landfill instead of approving the Mayor John Peyton’s proposed contract extension with Waste Management, worth an estimated $750 million over 35 years.

Waste Management vowed to file suit, arguing all along that the original contract gives it the right to operate the entire 978-acre site. A jury trial is scheduled for December, and thus far attempts at mediation have been unsuccessful.

Council President Richard Clark supported the decision to put Trail Ridge operations out to bid but said he is not convinced that it would be a wise decision to spend more money fighting the lawsuit.

“I do have concerns that we went through $450,000 in such a short amount of time,” he said.

Duval survey finds one of 12 armed in high school

Nearly one out of 12 Duval County high schoolers reported bringing a weapon to school and about 40 percent of students said they had at least one drink — both in the past 30 days, according to a survey conducted last year.

Those are some of the more dire findings from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, part of a national project that focuses on teenagers’ attitudes and experience with violence, sex, alcohol, drugs and suicide. Eating habits were also questioned.

More than 5,600 middle and high school students in 46 schools participated in the survey, part of a larger effort by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to collect information on teen behavior.

Other key findings from the survey:

• Thirty-four percent of students said they’ve never consumed alcohol.

• Forty-six percent of high schoolers reported never having had sexual intercourse.

• Thirty-seven percent of high schoolers described themselves as sexually active.

• Of those, 58 percent reported having sex with a condom, compared to 65 percent statewide.

Jacksonville Housing Offers Financial Assistance to Families in Need

Families in need of financial assistance to buy homes may now be eligible for $15 million in Single Family Mortgage Revenue bonds issued by the Jacksonville Housing Finance Authority.

The bonds will be used to provide low-interest mortgage financing and possible funding assistance with down payments or closing costs to Jacksonville families.

To qualify for this program, you must meet specific income guidelines and standard credit underwriting requirements. The home must be a primary residence and located in Duval County, and the buyer must be a first-time home buyer (has not owned a principal residence in the past three years), an honorably-discharged veteran (First Key Home Loan Program only) or persons refinancing a predatory loan product.

Florida No. 1 in mortgages past due

Florida is first in the nation with 26 percent of mortgages one or more payments past due as of Dec. 31, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association's National Delinquency Survey.

The survey finds 20.4 percent of Florida mortgages are 90 days late or already in the process of foreclosure.

Nevada comes in second, with 24.7 percent one payment or more past due and 19 percent 90 days or more late or in the process of foreclosure.

Nationwide, the delinquency rate fell to a seasonally adjusted rate of 9.47 percent of all loans outstanding as of the end of the fourth quarter. That’s down 17 basis points from the third quarter, but up 159 basis points from a year ago. A basis point is one-hundredth of a percentage point.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Key Vote: Confirm Craig Becker

Cloture Motion, Nomination of Craig Becker to the National Labor Relations Board
- Vote Rejected (52-33, 15 Not Voting)

The Senate rejected this motion to move forward on the nomination of Craig Becker to the National Labor Relations Board.

Sen. Bill Nelson voted YES......send e-mail
or see bio

Sen. George LeMieux voted NO......send e-mail
or see bio

US states face $1,000bn retirement gap

US states face a funding gap of at least $1,000bn for the retirement benefits they have promised teachers, firefighters and other public sector employees, threatening already strained budgets, according to research released on Thursday.

The Pew Center on the States found that, at the end of fiscal year 2008, states and localities had set aside $2,350bn to pay for pension, healthcare and other non-pension benefits, such as life assurance, that were estimated to cost $3,350bn.

Crist endorses Fla. space funding bills

Gov. Charlie Crist has endorsed legislation to assist new and expanding space businesses in Florida.

Crist threw his support Thursday to a pair of bills (HB 696, SB 1776) that would expand the types of projects funded with sales taxes generated mainly by Kennedy Space Center visitor complexes.

Current law earmarks $14.5 million for improvements at a single launch complex. The bills would allow the state's space agency, Space Florida, to also use that money for other projects that would attract new business to Florida.

Jacksonville poll: City should do more for ailing schools, downtown

The survey of 400 likely Jacksonville voters was conducted in early February by the Washington, D.C.-area pollster American Viewpoint. It carries a margin of error of 4.9 percentage points.

When asked whether taxes should be kept low or increased to provide city services, the poll found 57 percent of Republicans wanted no tax increase while 63 percent of Democrats were comfortable with a higher tax bill.

Asked if city government should fund cultural and economic programs for the city, the pollsters got a “yes” response from 70 percent of Southside/Mandarin voters, 79 percent of urban core voters, 71 percent of Westside voters and 74 percent of Beaches voters.

Sweeping majorities of voters representing all neighborhoods, political philosophies and income levels said they believe the Jaguars are important to the city’s economy. More on the Jaguars' role in the study here.

Asked if City Hall should spend money improving downtown, 65 percent of liberals were in favor, as were 52 percent of conservatives. More on downtown's role in the study here.

$7.7 billion in stimulus spent in Florida so far

The White House says about half of $14.9 billion in stimulus available to Florida has been spent in the past year.

Figures released Wednesday to coincide with the program's anniversary show $7.7 billion has been spent in Florida with an estimated 112,000 jobs saved or created.

Other Florida numbers:

- 612 transportation projects obligated totaling $1.6 billion.

- 1,947 small business loans given totaling $1 billion.

- 7.1 million working families getting $3.5 billion in tax relief.

- 1 million jobless workers getting extended unemployment benefits.

- 3.7 million high-need residents getting $250 relief payments totaling $924 million.

- $2.4 billion in additional Medicaid funding spent.

Sink: Cut Out Middle Managers to Save Money

Democrat CFO Alex Sink says the state has far too many middle managers.

She says that when these people move on they should not be replaced.

"We're not just going to replace them with another manager. Instead we're going to re-engineer better ways to provide more efficient services to Floridians without hiring more middle managers".

She believes that could save the state as much as $300 million, if it dropped $4,600 middle managers.

Book Review: Monster

Title: Monster: The Autobiography of an L.A. Gang Member
Author: Sanyika Shakur
Year: 1993
Type: Non-Fiction
Genre: Crime/Gangs

Review: This is an excellent memoir about a Crips gang member. Easy to read and well worth the time.

Grade: B+

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Please Vote For Me

I recently watched "Please Vote for Me," a movie about a third grade classroom democratic election in China.

This movie shows how democracy doesn't always work. Incumbents can win regardless of past actions. People continuously change their mind based on what they can get, instead of what really matters.

Definitely a movie worth watching.

Book Review: Beggars and Theives

Title: Beggars and Thieves: Lives of Urban Street Criminals
Author: Mark Fleisher
Year: 1995
Type: Non-Fiction
Genre: Crime

Review: An excellent study regarding the cycle of crime.

Grade: B+

Book Review: Tactical Advantage: A Definitive Stufy of Personal Small Arms Tactics

Title: Tactical Advantage: A Definitive Study Of Personal Small-Arms Tactics
Author: Gabriel Suarez

Year: 1998
Type: Non-Fiction
Genre: Police

Review: An easy to read book (w/pics) regarding arms tactics.

Grade: B-

Obama Says Safe Nuclear Power Plants are a Necessary Investment

President Obama today said that safe, new nuclear power plants are a "necessity" as he announced more than $8 billion in federal loan guarantees to build the first nuclear power plant in three decades.

“Investing in nuclear energy remains a necessary step,” the president said today at the IBEW Local Headquarters in Lanham, Maryland, “What I hope is that, with this announcement, we're underscoring both our seriousness in meeting the energy challenge and our willingness to look at this challenge, not as a partisan issue , but as a matter that's far more important than politics because the choices we make will affect not just the next generation but many generations to come.”

Mr. Obama’s announced plans to break ground on two new nuclear reactors at a Southern Company plant in Burke, Georgia – which he said will create thousands of construction jobs in the next year – with 800 permanent, well-paying jobs in years to come.

State: Number of Florida visitors dropped only slightly in 2009

An estimated 80.3 million people visited Florida in 2009, according to preliminary figures, representing a 0.8 percent decline from the year before. It's a sign that visitation has held up "extraordinarily well" in the economic downturn, but Visit Florida said that travelers are spending less.

"The good news is that total visitation was relatively steady and more than 80 million travelers chose Florida as their destination last year," said Will Seccombe, Visit Florida's chief marketing officer. "The challenge is that we have increased competition as a destination and travelers are spending less."

Florida Executes Prisoner

Florida has executed 45-year-old Martin Edward Grossman, who was convicted of killing a state wildlife officer during the 1980s.

Governor Charlie Crist's office said Grossman died at 6:17 p.m. today at Florida State Prison.

He was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of Margaret ``Peggy'' Park, a Florida wildlife officer who was shot with her own gun in 1984. Grossman was the 69th person executed in Florida since the death penalty was reinstated here in 1979.

He was the 25th to die by lethal injection, the fifth executed under Florida Governor Charlie Crist and the first in 2010. Park's family traveled from Ohio to witness the execution.

Crist Appoints Art Graham to Vacant Council Seat

Late Friday, Crist appointed former councilman Art Graham to fill the District 13 seat.

Graham held the same seat until he stepped down to run for the late Sen. Jim King's seat in the state senate. John Thrasher won that election. Meserve won the special election to take his place.

Graham's experience is a key reason Crist selected him.

"Art is a knowledgeable entrepreneur and public servant who is well-suited to serve on the Jacksonville City Council," said Crist. "His previous experiences serving the people of Jacksonville will benefit the city, and I am confident he will be a welcome voice on the council."

The 44-year-old was elected to the Jacksonville City Council in 2003. He had previously been a Jacksonville Beach city councilman.

OT Payout Draws Swift Reaction from City of Jacksonville

In the 2009 budget year, the city of Jacksonville paid $31 million in overtime - an increase from the previous year- and city officials are saying that's a problem.

"We would like to cut down on the overtime and we have made a concerted effort to do so," said city councilman Stephen Joost.

Joost chairs the city council's finance committee. "The big area seems to be in corrections," he said.

The councilman, reacting to a First Coast News report Monday on Jacksonville's overtime said the problem needs to be reviewed.

"Last year was a tough year; in some cases we may have cut too many jobs. We replaced 80 positions last year and this year added positions for 44 new corrections officers," said Joost.

The city's Corrections Department and the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department spent the most in overtime. Other city council members said the problem is spiraling out of control.

"I think it is something we will have to keep our eye on the ball continuously. I know as a small-business owner I cannot afford overtime," said Councilman John Crescimbeni.

Councilman Reginald Brown shared his concern. "I definitely believe we will have to deal with it because it is costing us more money in the long run. We need to tackle the problem right now."

The city has earmarked $22 million for overtime spending in the 2010 budget year, said Poppell.

Mich. Boy, 13, Accused of Point Blank Killing

The murder arrest rate in 2008 was 3.8 arrests per 100,000 juveniles ages 10 through 17. This was 17 percent more than the 2004 low of 3.3 and three-quarters less than the 1993 peak of 14.4, according the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

In the most comprehensive survey to date, "Children's Exposure to Violence," the U.S. Justice Department suggests that most U.S. children are exposed to violence in their daily lives, with more than 60 percent reporting exposure within the past year.

"These kids have been either abused or seen abuse or they have been exposed to violence somewhere in their life," said psychologist Herbert Nieburg, associate professor of justice and political studies at Mitchell College in New London, Conn. "And some are just angry kids who want to get even."

Floridians protest offshore oil drilling

Thousands of Floridians demonstrated against moves to allow offshore oil drilling on Saturday along the east and west coasts of the state in a protest dubbed "Hands Across the Sand."

Organizer David Rauschkolb said about 80 demonstrations took place at beaches from Pensacola on the northwest coast of Florida to Key West in the south and Jacksonville in the north.

Fla. program diverts troubled kids from court

The $29 million program served about 15,000 children between the ages of 10 and 17 during the 2008-09 fiscal year, with about 6,400 of those spending time in a shelter. Juveniles charged with a crime are not eligible.

About 85 percent of those who spend time at a CINS/FINS shelter - typically two weeks - do not commit a crime within six months of being released, according to the state.

For those with less severe issues who receive nonresidential counseling, usually with their parents, the program's success rate is about 95 percent. There is one caveat - the state only tracks the first six months after the child leaves the program.

Florida TaxWatch, a private, nonpartisan budget watchdog group, says the program saves the state millions by keeping the teens out of the court system and prison.

The state contracts with the nonprofit, Tallahassee-based Florida Network of Youth and Family Services to run the program. It subcontracts with 31 public and private community organizations and 28 shelters for counseling and residential services.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Key Vote: Statutory Pay-As-You-Go Act

Statutory Pay-As-You-Go Act
- Vote Passed (233-187, 14 Not Voting)

The House passed this bill that would raise the federal debt limit to $13.029 trillion and enact pay-as-you-go budget enforcement rules aimed at cutting the government's deficit. It now goes to the president for his signature.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted NO......send e-mail
or see bio

Key Vote: Confirm Labor Solicitor

M. Patricia Smith, of New York, to be Solicitor for the Department of Labor
- Vote Confirmed (60-37, 3 Not Voting)

The Senate confirmed Patricia Smith to be the Labor Department's solicitor, despite concerns that she gave contradictory statements during her confirmation hearing.

Sen. Bill Nelson voted YES......send e-mail
or see bio

Sen. George LeMieux voted NO......send e-mail
or see bio

Key Vote: Castle Nugent National Historic Site Establishment Act of 2010

Castle Nugent National Historic Site Establishment Act of 2010
- Vote Passed (240-175, 18 Not Voting)

The House passed this bill that would establish the Castle Nugent national historic site in St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands and authorize the Interior Department to purchase land for the site with appropriated funds. It now goes to the Senate.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted Not Voting......send e-mail
or see bio

Key Vote: Confirming Bernanke

Confirmation of Ben S. Bernanke to be Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System
- Vote Confirmed (70-30)

The Senate confirmed Ben Bernanke for a second four year term as the Fed Chairman.

Sen. Bill Nelson voted YES......send e-mail
or see bio

Sen. George LeMieux voted NO......send e-mail
or see bio

Key Vote: Raise the debt ceiling

Debt Limit Extension
- Vote Agreed to (60-39, 1 Not Voting)

The Senate passed this resolution that would raise the federal debt limit to $13.029 trillion. It now goes to the House for approval.

Sen. Bill Nelson voted YES......send e-mail
or see bio

Sen. George LeMieux voted NO......send e-mail
or see bio

Watchdog: Florida Politicos Better, But Still Fly On Your Dime

Fewer politicians are flying on your dime in Florida. Charges for flights on state planes have dropped 63 percent over two years.

In 2007, nearly $1.1 million was spent, compared to $407,420 in 2009.

Governor Charlie Crist, who is running for U.S. Senate, spent almost twice as much time on the planes his first year in office than his third.

Flights charged to the senate were down 99 percent last year compared to 2007.

Crist Touts State's Adoption Record

In 2009, there were a record 3,777 adoptions statewide, breaking the previous record set the year before.

At the same time, Florida's foster care system is responsible for a third fewer children than just two years ago, totaling 19,797 as of July.

"Across Florida, communities are getting involved in raising awareness about adoption and helping children in foster care find their forever families," said Gov. Charlie Crist. "We must continue to maintain Florida's successful adoption track-record so that wonderful foster children in state care can find permanent and loving adoptive families."

In May, 2008, Crist launched "Explore Adoption," a statewide initiative to find families for Florida's kids.

Jacksonville Symposium: Dropout Rate High Amongst Black Males

The research shows dropouts from the class of 2008 represented a $1.2 billion-dollar loss to Northeast Florida's economy over the course of their lifetime.

Marco Rubio, Charlie Crist clash on who should be counted in Census

U.S. Senate candidate Marco Rubio backtracked Thursday from his statement that the U.S. Census should count only ``legal American citizens,'' temporarily shifting his surging campaign into damage control.

Rubio still favors excluding illegal immigrants from the formulas that dole out $400 billion in federal aid and seats in Congress. His position puts him at odds with his campaign opponent, Gov. Charlie Crist, and many other elected officials who say leaving out illegal immigrants would keep the state from getting its fair share.

``It would be pretty damaging to Florida,'' Republican U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart said at a Capitol Hill press conference Wednesday promoting a thorough count. ``The reality is, whether you like it or not, there are undocumented, illegal people in the state. Pretending they're not there, not counting them, doesn't make them go away.''

Mayor, Council President Launch Budget Talks

Hoping to teach Jacksonville taxpayers more about how the city's billion dollar spending plan is crafted, Mayor John Peyton and City Council President Richard Clark have scheduled a series of town hall style budget workshops and launched a new website aimed at lifting the veil of uncertainty from the city budget.

"We need this conversation, we need this platform for early discussions," Peyton said at the launch of

The Mayor predicts a $40-60 million budget shortfall when he presents a billion dollar spending plan to City Council in mid-July.

In addition to the website, educating taxpayers on how the city collects revenue and where that money goes, Peyton and Clark have scheduled a series of budget workshops, an attempt to help taxpayers understand city departments, functions and current budget priorities.

"From these workshops, we will publish reports on what the conclusions were from the individual workshop tables," Peyton said, when asked how these community meetings will help him shape a budget. "They will provide a ranking of what functions they think are critical and which ones are not. I think it gives us good input."

A total of six budget workshops are scheduled, each limited to just 88 participants.

Gov: Fla. to be reimbursed for Haiti victim costs

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist said Monday the federal government has agreed to reimburse the state for treating victims of Haiti's earthquake.

The governor also said he never requested emergency medical evacuations be halted, only that the state receive help in responding to them. The flights were suspended for several days last week but restarted Sunday after the White House said it was told hospitals in Florida and elsewhere have enough space for the victims. One such flight was expected to arrive in Florida Monday night.

"Florida never said we wanted to stop taking Haitians. All we said was that we would appreciate help continuing to help our friends from the island," the governor said. "And that's exactly what has happened."

The governor said he did not know what triggered the suspension of military medical evacuation flights.

Crist told reporters, aid volunteers and staff at Miami International Airport Monday that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told him the department has designated the state for National Medical Disaster System assistance. That will cover the estimated $25 million the state expects to spend on the repatriation and medical care of Haitian-Americans and other earthquake victims in critical condition.

Hansell said so far more than 20,000 U.S. citizens have been repatriated, with nearly all landing in Florida.