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LAWSUIT LOOKS TO BLOCK RATE HIKE FOR TECO

In what could be another blow to Florida Power & Light and Progress Energy's quest to raise base rates, several lawyers representing customers of Tampa Electric Co. filed a lawsuit Monday challenging the $136.9 million increase awarded to the utility by the Florida Public Service Commission. The group is asking the Florida Supreme Court to halt the rate increase. The lawsuit was filed by the Office of Public Counsel, which represents utility customers, Attorney General Bill McCollum, the Florida Industrial Power Users' Group and the Florida Retail Federation. Their claim: The PSC erred when it approve a rate increase above and beyond that TECO had sought. "The commission went too far," said Public Counsel J.R. Kelly in a statement. In the final days of the hearing, TECO petitioned for a so-called step increase that allowed it to get $104 million rate increase effective May 7, 2009, and then another $32.9 million in 2010.

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Bank ratings paint unstable picture

The ranks of deeply troubled financial institutions in Florida are swelling dramatically based on second-quarter ratings by Bauer Financial Inc., but the Tampa Bay area remains in better shape than other parts of the state. Forty banks throughout Florida received zero stars (signifying deep distress) on Bauer's zero- to five-star rating system. That's almost double the number from the first quarter. Many were from Bradenton to Naples and South Florida. Only one zero-star was in the Tampa Bay area: First Commercial Bank of Tampa Bay, a previous zero-star which is working under a regulatory consent order to shore up its finances. Two other Tampa Bay area banks, Synovus Bank of Tampa Bay and Southern Commerce Bank, received one-star "troubled" ratings. Both had fallen from two-star banks in the first-quarter ratings. Florida had three zero-star credit unions and two with one stars, none of them in the Tampa Bay area. The data, which measures barometers such as capital and loan delinquencies, reflects second-quarter data as of June 30. To see how your bank or credit union fares, go to www.bauerfinancial.com.

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Corus Bank, a big condo lender, fails

As the nation's bank failures for 2009 hurtle towards triple digits, Chicago's Corus Bank, perhaps the country's poster child for excessive condo development lending in Florida, failed Friday. Corus, along with the failure of two smaller banks in Washington and Minnesota, brought the year's failure total to 92. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. estimates that the Corus failure will cost its deposit insurance fund $1.7 billion.

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