Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Florida Turns Down Millions in Federal Aid; Accepts Abstinence Only Sex-Ed Money

After turning down millions of federal dollars for Florida related to the Afforadable Health Care Act, Governor Rick Scott and the Legislature have finally decided to accept one.

But now they've accepted a $2.5 million grant for abstinence only sex education, and some health care advocates are calling the move inconsistent.

According to Governor Scott's office that list so far includes $4.5 million in grants they've returned, and 11.9 million they have not persued.

Report: 40 states passed immigration legislation in 2011

Nearly 250 new immigration laws and resolutions were enacted in 40 states during the first half of 2011 indicating a growing frustration with the federal government's handling of the issue, according to a new report.

The laws range from hiring restrictions to voter identification and allowing in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, according to the report released Tuesday by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Jacksonville personal income rises 2.8% to $54B

Metro Jacksonville residents earned $53.8 billion last year, placing it 42nd among the nation’s 366 metros.

That marked a 2.8 percent rise over the area’s total personal income for 2009.

Volunteerism on the rise in Jacksonville area, study shows

Almost 28 percent of residents in Northeast Florida volunteered some time in 2010, according to the annual "Volunteering in America" report. The average rate since 2008 is 27.6 percent, and that number boosted the city from 33rd in the nation to 22nd.

Of the more than 332,000 people who did some volunteer work from 2008 to 2010, according to the study, about 33 percent said they volunteered with a religious organization.

New hires at Jacksonville City Hall must live in Duval starting July 1

The new rule will take effect July 1. People living outside the county could still be hired but would have to move within six months.

The changes don't affect existing employees who live outside the county, a group that Brown said early this year totaled more than 1,500. It would apply, though, to people who left the city payroll and were hired back.

IRS: 1,470 millionaires paid no income tax in '09

Not the best day to report this, but the IRS says 1,470 millionaires paid no federal income taxes in 2009.

More than 235,000 taxpayers earned $1 million or more in '09, with 8,274 making more than $10 million, the Internal Revenue Service said. All told, there were 140 million taxpayers.

The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center reported last month that 46% of American households (known as "units") actually will not pay federal income taxes for this year nor will receive refunds. That's because of low incomes, credits for children or other dependents, or exemptions.

UNF makes No. 19 on Forbes Best Buy Colleges list

UNF is the only Northeast Florida university to make the list and came in at No. 19 among best buy colleges in the country.

The three other Florida universities to make the top 20 are the University of Florida (No. 11), Florida State University (No. 13) and New College of Florida in Sarasota (No. 16).

Jacksonville City Council action

Issue: Enterprise zone boundaries

What it means: The council was asked to approve boundary changes to an enterprise zone at Imeson industrial park that would help Kaman Aerospace qualify for incentives if it adds 200 jobs there.

Bill No. 2011-383

Action: Approved

Issue: Pension study

What it means: The council was asked to delay until next year an actuarial study on the city's general employee pension system. The city has not budgeted for an additional multimillion-dollar payment the study could decide is needed, and advocates say the cost can be handled better with time to plan a funding source.

Bill No. 2011-377

Action: Postponed two weeks

Issue: Elections records

What it means: The Supervisor of Elections Office asked for an ordinance change requiring local candidates to file treasurer reports electronically.

Bill No. 2011-409

Action: Approved

Issue: Mothballing buildings

What is means: The council was asked to let homeowners in historic districts "mothball" properties that could be bulldozed for code violations. Owners would have to make the building structurally stable and watertight, then maintain the exterior in return for a three-year delay to make improvements.

Bill No. 2011-408

Action: Approved

Bad Economy Means Good News For Amtrak

The poor economy is making the train more attractive to travelers. Amtrak says it expects to exceed 30 million passengers for the first time this fiscal year. Amtrak says 2.6 million passengers rode its trains nationwide in June. In Jacksonville, 6,872 riders got on or off the train in June. That's a 14% increase compared to the same time last year.

Obama administration to offer No Child Left Behind waivers

The Obama administration will provide qualifying states a waiver from No Child Left Behind after Congressional inaction on reforming the program, the Department of Education said on Monday.

States that seek relief from certain provisions of NCLB must demonstrate commitment to education reform, Barnes said, adding that the President's process is "not a pass on accountability."

The administration proposes to reform NCLB by a more flexible and targeted accountability system based on measuring annual student growth on college- and career-ready standards, focusing on data and quality of teachers and principles.

Standard & Poor’s downgrades Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac

On the heels of its surprise downgrade of U.S. long-term debt from AAA to AA+, Standard & Poor’s has downgraded the credit ratings of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

S&P lowered its credit rating on both Fannie (OTCBB: FNMA) and Freddie (OTCBB: FMCC) one level from AAA to AA+.

Dow plunges 634 points; Nasdaq, S&P fall almost 7%

Final numbers: Dow closed at 10,809.85, a loss of 634.76 points, or 5.55%.

The S$P 500 ended at 1,119.46, a drop of 79.92 points, or 6.66%. (Uh-oh, the "devil's number" ...)

The Nasdaq finished at 2,357.89, a daily loss of 174.72 points, or 6.9%.

Mayor Alvin Brown releases transition reports

The eighteen transition committees set up by Mayor Alvin Brown released reports today that included about 300 recommendations for changing city government.

They're available on the city's website here.

The reports examine city government procedures and look for ways to make them more efficient.

"It is an absolute treasure trove of work," said Peter Rummell, a co-chair of the transition effort. He said the ideas grew from 3,800 hours of meetings that involved 217 volunteers and about 125 city staff and subject experts.

IRS will not go after airline fare hikes

The government does not plan to go after more than $400 million in airline revenue from fare increases that were facilitated by a two-week ticket-tax holiday resulting from a congressional dispute over aviation funding.

The ticket tax, which amounts to about $30 million per day in receipts, funds a federal trust account the FAA uses to help pay its bills.

Postal Service posts $3B loss, warns of default

For the nine months that ended June 30, the Postal Service lost a total of $5.7 billion. Mail volume continued to decline, led by first-class services, as more consumers relied on e-mail and electronic bill-paying. Total volume fell to 39.8 billion pieces, a drop of 2.6% from the same period a year ago.

Though regulated by Congress, the USPS does not receive taxpayer funding. The default threat has raised the specter of a bailout.

FAA Goes Back to Work

After two weeks of finger pointing and blame game in Congress, the Senate on Friday approved a short term extension of the underlying law that authorizes the Federal Aviation Administration, getting 4,000 furloughed workers back to their jobs, along with thousands of workers on construction projects at various airports.

S&P downgrades U.S. credit rating from AAA for the first time since 1917

The back and forth came after Standard & Poor’s, one of the world’s three major credit rating agencies, cited “difficulties in bridging the gulf between political parties” as a major reason for the downgrade from U.S.’s top shelf AAA status to AA+, the next level down. The rating agency has essentially lost faith in Washington’s ability to work together to address its debt.

The downgrade, hours after markets closed on Friday, is a first for the U.S. since it was granted an AAA rating in 1917. S&P warned about a downgrade as far back as April. Its decision came just four days after fractious debate over raising the nation’s debt ceiling ended in a compromise that would reduce the country’s debt by more than $2 trillion (euro1.41 trillion). S&P said Friday the cuts did not go far enough.

Study: Healthier eating means higher grocery bill

But the study found introducing more potassium in a diet is likely to add $380 per year to the average consumer’s food costs, said lead researcher Pablo Monsivais, an assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology and the School of Public Health at the University of Washington.

“Almost 15 percent of households in America say they don’t have enough money to eat the way they want to eat,” she said. Recent estimates show 49 million Americans make food decisions based on cost, she added.

The 19 most hated companies in America

It's interesting to note that so many of the 19 are monopolies or regulated utilities. Companies like that don't have normal worries about the marketplace, or they are in an industry with limited competition and don't do a hot job as a result.

The worst company in America is Pepco, an electric service provider in Washington, D.C., and Montgomery and Prince George's counties in Maryland. I used to pay a monthly bill to them when I lived in Maryland.

Rounding out the Top 5 are Delta (No. 2), Time Warner Cable (No. 3), Comcast (No. 4) and Charter (No. 5). Note again that four of the first five worst companies face limited competition because they were granted monopolies.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Richer minorities seen living in poorer neighborhoods

The most successful blacks and Hispanics are more likely to have poor neighbors than are whites, according to a new analysis of Census data.

The average affluent black and Hispanic household — defined in the study as earning more than $75,000 a year — lives in a poorer neighborhood than the average lower-income non-Hispanic white household that makes less than $40,000 a year.

"Separate translates to unequal even for the most successful black and Hispanic minorities," says sociologist John Logan, director of US2010 Project at Brown University, which studies trends in American society.

"Blacks are segregated and even affluent blacks are pretty segregated," says Logan, who analyzed 2005-09 data for the nation's 384 metropolitan areas. "African Americans who really succeeded live in neighborhoods where people around them have not succeeded to the same extent."

How many district administrators does Duval County Public Schools have?

Do you know how many district administrators Duval County Public Schools has? Go ahead, take a guess.

The number is 288.

Some readers may say this is too high, but consultant group Education Resource Strategies says the district spends significantly less on administrators than other districts.

U.S. says insurers must fully cover birth control

U.S. health insurance companies must fully cover women's birth control and other preventive health care services under Obama administration rules released on Monday.

The mandate from the Health and Human Services Department represents a landmark decision in a decades-long debate on women's health issues that has pitted family planning groups against conservative organizations.

"Under the law, we're making it illegal to charge women more just because of their gender," HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said on Monday.

UNF grads score well in teacher ratings

About 78 percent of the teachers with education degrees from UNF saw at least half of their students improve on the FCAT, according to the study. Only Miami-Dade College and three private colleges - Barry University, University of Miami and University of Tampa - saw a higher percentage of its teachers with student growth.

U.S. Report Finds Security Deteriorating in Iraq

Over the past year, security in Iraq has deteriorated and electricity shortages and corruption have continued unabated, according to a report released Saturday by a special inspector appointed by Congress to oversee Iraq’s reconstruction.

Obama Reveals Details of Gas Mileage Rules

President Obama announced new automobile fuel-efficiency standards on Friday that require an average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.

Administration officials said Friday that the new fuel rules also contained an intricate set of “credits” for auto companies to achieve the new target of 54.5 miles per gallon for their fleets in 14 years.

Anthony Trial Cost Almost $700,000

The Casey Anthony murder investigation and trial cost taxpayers almost $700,000, based on new tallies on Friday from the major agencies involved in the case.

How the U.S. Racked Up $14 Trillion in Debt

Click on the title to view a few important charts relating to the "debt crisis."

Florida No. 5 for government job growth

Florida has added 21,400 government jobs since 2006, one of 35 states that saw an increase, according to new On Numbers analysis.

Texas led the way with 168,600 new federal, state and local government workers added between the midpoints of 2006 and 2011, according to seasonally adjusted data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Key Vote: Budget Control Act of 2011

Budget Control Act of 2011
- Vote Passed (269-161, 3 Not Voting)

The House passed this bill that raises the debt limit, caps discretionary spending for ten years, establishes a bipartisan committee to identify additional spending cuts, and requires a vote on a balanced budget amendment to the constitution. The Senate gave final approval to the bill the next day, clearing it for the president.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted YES

Key Vote: North American-Made Energy Security Act

North American-Made Energy Security Act
- Vote Passed (279-147, 1 Present, 5 Not Voting)

This House bill would require the White House to decide by November 1 whether to allow construction of a 1,700 mile oil pipeline running from Canada to U.S. refineries in the Midwest and Gulf Coast. The application to build the pipeline was made nearly three years ago. The White House said the State Department is committed to completing its review by the end of the year and called the bill "unnecessary."

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted YES

Key Vote: Budget Control Act of 2011

Budget Control Act of 2011
- Vote Agreed to (74-26)

The Senate gave final approval to this bill to raise the debt limit by at least $2.1 trillion and cut spending by as much as $2.4 trillion over the next ten years. President Obama signed the bill into law a short time later.

Sen. Bill Nelson voted YES
Sen. Marco Rubio voted NO

Key Vote: Confirmation of Robert S. Mueller III to be Director of the FBI

Confirmation of Robert S. Mueller III to be Director of the FBI
- Vote Confirmed (100-0)

The Senate agreed to extend the term of Federal Bureau of Investigation director Robert S. Mueller III through September 4, 2013. The FBI director is limited to one 10-year term and Mueller’s term began in August 2001. The president signed legislation earlier in the week to allow Mueller to serve an additional two years.

Sen. Bill Nelson voted YES
Sen. Marco Rubio voted YES