« December 2012 | Main | February 2013 »

229 posts from January 2013

January 31, 2013

Thanks but no thanks on bonus, PBA tells governor

Even before Gov. Rick Scott publicly touts a new bonus plan for some state employees, a union representing some of those workers has in effect told the governor, "Thanks but no thanks."

The union is the Florida Police Benevolent Association (PBA), which represents officers in the Florida Highway Patrol and other agencies. The PBA said it would seek across-the-board raises for its members instead of what Scott is proposing, which is a one-time $1,200 lump-sum bonus for employees.

"We appreciate the governor's acknowledgement that the officers deserve an award for their outstanding accomplishments," PBA executive director Matt Puckett said in a statement. "But we believe base salary increases are long overdue. Some officers have gone six years without a wage increase due to state budget constraints."

Puckett said the PBA would seek pay increases "through the legislative budgeting process" and that the union is "hopeful that the governor will have a change of opinion." Public school teachers are the only group Scott is recommending receive an across-the-board pay raise, of $2,500 each.

The PBA and Scott have an interesting history. The union strongly supported Scott's Democratic opponent, Alex Sink, in the 2010 race for governor, and ran a memorable TV spot that accused Scott of endangering public safety with a plan to cut $1 billion from the state prison budget. After the election, Department of Corrections employees voted to replace the PBA as its bargaining unit with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

-- Steve Bousquet

WP: Jeb's foundation works to change laws that benefit funders

From the Washington Post's education blog reports: A nonprofit group released thousands of e-mails today and said they show how a foundation begun by Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor and national education reform leader, is working with public officials in states to write education laws that could benefit some of its corporate funders.

A call to the foundation has not been returned.

The e-mails are between the Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE) and a group Bush set up called Chiefs for Change, whose members are current and former state education commissioners who support Bush’s agenda of school reform, which includes school choice, online education, retention of third-graders who can’t read and school accountability systems based on standardized tests. That includes evaluating teachers based on student test scores and grading schools A-F based on test scores. John White of Louisiana is a current member, as is Tony Bennett, the new commissioner of Florida who got the job after Indiana voters rejected his Bush-style reforms last November and tossed him out of office.

Donald Cohen, chair of the nonprofit In the Public Interest, a resource center on privatization and responsible for contracting in the public sector, said the e-mails show how education companies that have been known to contribute to the foundation are using the organization “to move an education agenda that may or not be  in our interests but are in theirs.”

Here are the excerpts about Florida specifically: 

Continue reading "WP: Jeb's foundation works to change laws that benefit funders" »

Sex, a Senator, money and an FBI raid: The story of Menendez pal Sal Melgen

By most appearances, Dr. Salomon Melgen embodies the great American immigrant success story: A native of the Dominican Republic, Melgen has earned renown as one of South Florida’s leading eye surgeons. He owns a sprawling, waterfront home in North Palm Beach valued at about $3 million. He gives generously to charities and rubs elbows with prominent politicians.

“He’s a man that loves the limelight. He always has,’’ said Patricia Goodman, 70, a former office administrator and personal assistant to Melgen, who is now at the center of two FBI probes, one involving published allegations that he provided free trips to the Dominican Republic and prostitutes for U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat.

Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has called the allegations a politically motivated smear by a right-leaning website.

FBI agents raided Melgen’s West Palm Beach office Tuesday night, apparently seeking records related to the second investigation, one involving possible Medicare fraud. The feds continued to search the premises on Wednesday, joined by agents from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, suggesting that the raid was linked to Medicare.

Lawrence Duffy, a criminal defense attorney representing Melgen, said his client is unaware of the reason for the FBI raid.

“The government has not informed Dr. Melgen what its concerns are,’’ Duffy said in an email to The Miami Herald. “However, we are confident that Dr. Melgen has acted appropriately at all times.’’

Goodman said Melgen never hosted a fundraiser for Menendez during the time that she worked for the doctor from about 1989 to 1999. But she planned all of Melgen’s parties during those years, and said he helped raise millions for political campaigns — and had a blast doing it.

More here

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/01/30/3209385/complex-portrait-of-doctor-linked.html#storylink=cpy

January 30, 2013

FBI raid more about Medicare fraud than Sen. Bob Menendez.

The high-profile federal raid on a South Florida ophthalmologist’s office was more about potential Medicare fraud than about U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, a longtime friend of Dr. Salomon Melgen.

Joining FBI agents on the two-day raid at the doctor’s West Palm Beach eye center: a team of investigators from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which investigates Medicare wrongdoing.

The FBI is separately examining the ties between Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, and Melgen in a parallel corruption investigation launched last year, The Miami Herald has learned.

FBI agents are investigating the allegations of a shadowy tipster who claimed the doctor flew Menendez on his plane to the Dominican Republic.

Earlier this month, Menendez quietly sent a $58,500 personal check to Melgen’s company to reimburse the cost of two flights to and from the Dominican Republic, the senator’s office confirmed Wednesday.

Continue reading "FBI raid more about Medicare fraud than Sen. Bob Menendez." »

Weatherford unveils campaign finance plan: no CCEs and $10,000 limits

Florida House leaders unveiled what they believe will be behavior-changing campaign finance reform Wednesday, phasing out candidate-controlled political committees and ushering in stricter reporting deadlines, more contribution accountability and campaign contribution caps of $10,000 per election.

 “It’s a way to start the conversation,’’ said House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, who has made reforming what he considers a “messed up” campaign finance system a top priority.  “We are keeping the baby and throwing out the bath water.’’ 

The most dramatic proposal of the 47-page bill filed by House Rules Chairman Rob Schenck is targeting the elimination of nearly 700 Committees of Continuing Existence, political committees that can collect unlimited campaign checks but may not expressly advocate for candidates. The CCEs have been increasingly used as personal slush funds by candidates who can legally spend the unrestricted money on travel, entertainment and meals as well as steer money to other candidates and causes.

The bill requires all CCEs to be shut down by Nov. 1, giving time for organizers to allow them to become traditional political committees. Traditional political committees will remain in law to be used to advocate for a candidate or an issue and would be allowed to accept unlimited contributions from donors.

The proposal also raises the 20-year-old cap on campaign contributions from $500 to $10,000 per election, and from $1,000 to $20,000 per election cycle. See chart here:  Download House Campaign Finance

Continue reading "Weatherford unveils campaign finance plan: no CCEs and $10,000 limits" »

Scott recommending that state civil service workers get bonuses

School teachers aren’t the only ones Gov. Rick Scott wants to pay more.

When Scott unveils his $74 billion budget on Thursday – the highest dollar figure in state history – it will include bonuses of $1,200 for each of the state’s civil service employees in non-supervisory roles.

The chief negotiator for the union representing the employees said he was surprised by Scott’s offer, which he received late Wednesday.

Previously, Scott had told the union he would propose bonuses only for up to 35 percent of workers. “It’s better than expected,” said Doug Martin. “This is a significant financial commitment to the employees, and we appreciate that.”

Scott’s proposal applies to the state’s civil service workers in agencies like the Department of Revenue and the Department of Transportation and non-sworn employees at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, covering jobs that range from research scientists who studied the oil spill to support personnel in prisons.

Along with the bonus of $1,200 for each employee, Scott is offering additional bonuses of either $5,000 or $2,500 for employees who are reviewed favorably by supervisors. Martin said he’d like assurances that those additional raises aren’t doled out strictly to favorites but to those who deserve them.

Despite the offer, which Martin called “generous”, he said his group still prefers cost of living pay increases of five percent. The downside to Scott’s offer, he said, is that bonuses are for only one year and they aren’t figured into an employee’s retirement payouts. A salary increase would be.

Martin said his union, AFSCME Florida Council 79, will continue to negotiate with Scott’s office. If negotiations reach an impasse, where neither side can resolve it, lawmakers will decide the outcome in next year’s budget.

Although Martin said he won’t accept Scott’s offer, he said it’s a good one that he respects. “We’re certainly glad the governor has recognized that all employees are deserving of raises,” Martin said. “It’s been a long, long tough haul.”

Weatherford opens door to revising nuclear cost recovery law

House Speaker Will Weatherford told reporters on Wednesday that he is open to revising the the 2006 law that allowed Florida Power & Light and Progress Energy of Florida to collect money for nuclear power plants before building them.

Speaker to reporters at the annual pre-session gathering for reporters and editors hosted by the Associated Press, Weatherford said he will leave it up to lawmakers on the various committe to decide whether to alter or repeal the law that has allowed the two utility companies to collect nearly $2 billion from customers with no guarantees they will build the plants.

"It’s an interesting discussion,'' said Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel. "Obviously, no one can be happy with the way we find ourselves today with regard to nuclear cost recovery. There have been some unexpected things that took place. The cost of natural gas has plummeted -- not a bad thing. We had the situation in Japan. We also had an economic downturn. So what looked like a great idea in 2006, in hindsight, may not have been. 

“We can’t go back and rewrite time and history but I know there are people interested in this area and if the committee decides to take it up we certainly will be supportive of their efforts.” 

Reps. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, and Michelle Rehwinkel Vasinlina have proposed bills over the last several legislative session that would repeal the law but, amid intense pressure from FPL and Progress Energy, the measures have never received a hearing. 

The 2006 law is now being challenged by the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, an alliance of clean energy advocates who argue that the measure amounts to Florida taxpayers socializing the risk but privatizing the profits. 

Florida universities could get $300 million restored, Brogan says

Florida University System Chancellor Frank Brogan said he’s been assured by Gov. Rick Scott’s office and legislative leaders that the $300 million eliminated from the state system last year will be restored this year.

 "This year we have asked for the restoration of the $300 million that was cut last year," Brogan said during a 30-minute talk with reporters. "We've been committed to by the leadership of the House, the Senate, the Governor, they all want the same thing."

Later, Brogan repeated the claim.
"We asked for our $300 million back and we have that commitment.”
That claim comes a week after the Joe Negron, the Senate’s appropriations chair, said no such restoration has been decided yet, saying instead that it is “on the table.”

 Brogan, who as chancellor oversees the state’s 12 universities, said in addition to getting the $300 million restored, he is also seeking an additional $100 million to be distributed among the universities to improve access and keep up with enrollment growth.

“The return will dwarf that investment,” Brogan said. “We guarantee that.”

Brogan said that Florida has relied for too long on a three-legged stool for the economy: agriculture, tourism and growth. Now is the time to invest in higher education to diversity the economy, he said.

“Why can’t Florida spawn innovation and creation?” Brogan said. “Why can’t we drive job creation by harnessing the power of higher education?”

He provided no better explanation as to how one key legislative priority championed by House Speaker Will Weatherford, an investment of $30 million to $70 million for online education, could develop. He said some universities will put their brand on the education, and that the on-line courses now provided will have to be better organized statewide. Earlier this week, Weatherford had to clarify that his wish for virtual education does not mean a 13th university. 

UPDATE: Randy Goin, Brogan's chief of staff, said that Brogan doesn't know if Scott has committed to restoring the $300 million. But Goin did say that Brogan's office has been encouraged by good discussions with Scott about next year's budget. "We are feeling very good about what they may be recommending for higher eduction," Goin said in an e-mail. 


After FBI raid on South FL eye doc office, NJ Sen. Bob Menendez maintains innocence

From a press release:

WASHINGTON – The following statement was release by the Office of U.S. Senator Robert Menendez today.

“Dr. Melgen has been a friend and political supporter of Senator Menendez for many years. Senator Menendez has traveled on Dr. Melgen’s plane on three occasions, all of which have been paid for and reported appropriately. Any allegations of engaging with prostitutes are manufactured by a politically-motivated right-wing blog and are false.”

Here's our story

Marco Rubio to RedState's "Erick:" Current law "is no way to run a nation of immigrants.”

After pitching the Gang of Eight's immigration plan in virtually every conservative forum, it's not much of a surprise that U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio is responding in a lengthy post to the criticisms of RedState's Erick Erickson.

It underscores how, despite Rubio's talk about how the unions are a big threat to the proposal (which isn't yet a bill), the problem is in the Republican Party. And it shows Rubio is the salesman-in-chief to conservatives, and therefore the linchpin of getting the plan passed in the Senate and, ultimately. the House.

So far, the reception has been mostly positive and even gushing when it comes to pundits like Rush Limbaugh, Lou Dobbs and Sean Hannity. Like them, Erickson comes across as hesitant to criticize Rubio, who they built into a conservative hero. Unlike the other guys, Erickson remains intellectually honest, but with a touch of nervousness.

Consider Erickson's headline opening sentence: "I don't like Marco Rubio's immigration plan. There. I said it." His post is here. Rubio's response is here. It's long. The most-intriguing part is the kicker:

 I understand there are those who will not support any effort. Some raise valid points and I respect their views. But in the end, to leave things the way they are now is de facto amnesty and a barrier to accomplishing important government reforms in other areas. It is no way to run a nation of immigrants.