Friday, May 29, 2009

Charlie Crist's Dilemma-- Which Audience Is He Playing To?

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Yesterday we talked about how Charlie Crist's theoretical vote on Sonia Sotomayor's nomination would impact the election campaign for the Florida Senate seat. If Crist takes a mainstream position supporting the nomination it could help him with non-Cuban Hispanic voters, women voters and moderate voters. On the other hand, that position could hurt him against far right extremist Marco Rubio in the GOP primary. Wednesday, however, Crist navigated similar shoals-- and not theoretically. He probably helped himself for a general election campaign but helped Rubio primary-wise. Yesterday's St. Petersburg Times made the point: Crist broke a pledge to not raise taxes, a mortal offense to many Republicans. He signed a $66.5 billion budget and only vetoed two small items, one of which will further infuriate the anti-government right-wing zealots: a small pay cut for some state workers. He also referred to state workers, in his signing speech, as "hard working," which is anathema to Republican Party ideology.
By not vetoing the new taxes, Crist violated a no-new-taxes pledge he made on the campaign trail in 2006. He also has signed an antitax pledge geared toward governors, written by the conservative Washington group Americans for Tax Reform. Earlier this month, the Republican governor signed a similar no-new-taxes pledge for federal candidates now that he's running for the U.S. Senate... Crist's decision to cancel the 2 percent pay cut on state workers earning more than $45,000 was met with cheers from Democratic Senate leader Al Lawson of Tallahassee. He said Crist would look like "a hero." Crist said the veto would protect the economy by ensuring the 28,000 state workers who faced a pay cut would have more money to spend. To make up for the loss of the $56 million pay cut, Crist directed all state agencies to trim their budgets. Salaries could still be among the cuts.

...[T]he budget includes $2.2 billion in new fees and taxes. Much of the new revenue comes from a $1-a-pack cigarette tax and higher fees on driving licenses and motor vehicle tags. Those who use the court system, visit state parks and even those who fish from beaches and bridges will pay more in fees... Crist, who had repeatedly promised not to raise taxes, said Wednesday that the budget does not include "broad-based tax increases''-- even though fees for the 15.6 million Florida driver licenses and 18.8 million registered vehicles will rise.

Democrats, particularly in the House, assailed the tax hikes. They said Republicans did too little to close tax loopholes and made too many cuts to programs helping seniors and foster kids. "This budget was balanced on the backs of the middle class, the working men and women of our state," said Rep. Martin Kiar, D-Davie.

Democrats crowed that next year's budget will be propped up with $5.3 billion in federal stimulus money made available by a Democratic Congress and president. Without it, the state's $6 billion budget hole would have been far harder to fill. The current year budget is $69.5 billion, including $4 billion in stimulus money.

Crist and Republican legislators acknowledged that the federal money was a must. But they said they needed to raise other revenues, trim about $1 billion in spending and beef up savings to $1.7 billion to protect the state's bond rating and ensure there's enough cash in the bank if times toughen.

This is probably why Rubio doesn't have to play the closet queen card on Crist. He may be building himself up among more sensible mainstream voters but he's absolutely killing himself among the kinds of lunatic fringe sociopaths who still identify as Republicans. And these are the only people who would care that he's care-- and probably the least likely to care he's a hypocrite.

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