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6 posts from July 5, 2013

July 05, 2013

Legislative leaders spread the love this session, giving select staff pay raises

When Florida legislators this year broke the freeze on employee pay and offered state workers salary increases for the first time in seven years, legislative leaders made sure to give some of their own employees pay raises, too.

Using criteria based on performance and promotions, the increases amounted to about three to five percent for most workers but as much as 20 percent for others.

House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz took different approaches. Gaetz provided bonuses and salary increases to 35 staff members, beginning last month. Weatherford gave raises to 71 full-time employees, starting this month.  Download Senate - Promotions Salary Increases - 2013 Session

Weatherford attempted to keep the House annual budget the same by reorganizing, and using retirements and departures of some staff members, said Ryan Duffy, spokesman for Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel. The net cost of the raises to taxpayers was about $27,000, he said.  Download House Salary Review Summer 2013 Press Request (1)

The Senate bonuses, by contrast, cost taxpayers an additional $105,848, said Katie Betta, Senate spokeswoman. More here. 

Did state regulators rubber stamp 'phony horse racing'? PolitiFact weighs in


A masked thief fanning $100 bills is the backdrop for an ad blasting “phony horse racing.”

You’re probably thinking, “Phony horse racing? Huh?” It’s okay — we thought it, too.

A coalition of horse breeders and owners used the phrase for races they deem improper at a rural racino west of Tallahassee. Expansion of parimutuel rodeo-style racing has dramatic consequences for the quarter horse industry and parimutuels, opponents say.

“Florida outlawed Internet cafes, but rubber-stamped phony horse racing,” begins the United Florida Horsemen ad. “Gov. Scott, can you tell us why?”

Is the ad’s message hyperbole or on point? PolitiFact says the ad is...half true.  


Audio: Sea level rise and South Florida -- are doomsayers right or wrong?

Rolling Stone magazine says Miami - and much of South Florida - is doomed to drown.  You wouldn’t know it based on what you hear from state leaders.  While county and local officials say they are working on solutions, are they pursuing the right ones? 

A depiction of our area with a 5 ft. rise in sea level, which by some estimates could happen in 100-300 years. 

Restoring the Everglades could help prevent salt-water intrusion, which sea-level rise exacerbates. Legislation passed this year sets standards for the run-off flowing into the Everglades, but it doesn’t increase one of the most important necessities for that ecosystem - water.

Host Phil Latzman speaks with Curtis Morgan of The Miami HeraldChristine Stapleton of the Palm Beach Post and Ashley Lopez of WGCU in Fort Myers. Listen here. 

Rep. Fasano is possible replacement for late Pasco tax collector

Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, has emerged as a possible replacement for Mike Olson, the long-time Pasco County tax collector who died last week.

Olson's death after more than three decades in office requires Gov. Rick Scott to appoint a successor through the 2014 general election. Scott's chief of staff, Adam Hollingsworth, has had conversations with several Pasco legislators, and with Fasano himself.

"I have spoken with Adam Hollingsworth and I have told him I'm interested," Fasano said. House Speaker Will Weatherford, Sen. Wilton Simpson and Rep. Richard Corcoran also have weighed in with Scott or his people on the prospects of a Fasano appointment. Hollingsworth could not immediately be reached Friday.

Fasano is a very popular local political figure, but at first glance seems an unlikely choice because he's no fan of Scott. He's a very popular local political figure, but he has been outspoken in his criticism of Scott on a range of issues, once observing that any other politician with Scott's weak poll numbers would not consider running for a second term.

In a February Times/Herald story, Fasano described Scott as "hanging by a thread" politically. Viewed another way, however, appointing Fasano would allow Scott to rid the Capitol of one of his toughest critics. 

Fasano also has made clear to Scott aides that he's strongly considering running for the post, which means if Scott were to appoint someone else, that person would have their hands full with Fasano as an opponent. Olson was the only county-wide elected Democrat in Pasco County.

Fasano, 55, returned to the House last year after a decade in the Senate and eight years before that in the House. He has a reputation for being highly attentive to his constituents' needs, and the job of tax collector is chiefly a customer-service job.

By law, Fasano would have to resign from the House to become tax collector. If he were appointed, Scott would have to then call a special election for Fasano's District 36 House seat.

In his legislative office Friday, Fasano was reading constituents' emails -- much of it, as always, about property insurance. He said he felt as though he would be letting people down if he left the Legislature. "I just don't want to disappoint them," he said.

-- Steve Bousquet

State agencies, insurers prepare for health exchange launch

The federal government surprised big employers by delaying a key provision of the health care law, but that doesn't mean the law is going away entirely.

A nationwide marketing blitz aimed to help millions of people understand the coming changes and sign up for health care is already underway. The increased demand for information is likely to trickle down to state agencies and local insurance companies.

"This is complicated stuff, and there could be a lot of confusion out there," said Craig Thomas, chief strategy marketing officer at Florida Blue. "So we feel like anything we can do to help consumers understand their choices and actually enroll and get coverage is helpful."

Florida Blue will offer a variety of plans on the health exchange that the federal government will operate in Florida. Starting Oct. 1, people will be able to go online, apply for tax subsidies and purchase insurance policies.

Until then, the federal government is working on educating people about the options and their responsibilities. Individuals who don't purchase insurance in 2014 could face a $95 tax penalty.

Read more here.

Has sea level risen 9 inches in South Florida since the 1920s? PolitiFact gets answer

Not long after President Barack Obama gave a speech outlining his plan for attacking climate change, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, appeared on Fox News to discuss the future of energy and the environment.

"We’ve had nine inches of sea-level rise since the 1920s," said Wasserman Schultz in the June 28 interview with Tucker Carlson. "What that means is that communities like mine in South Florida and coastal communities all across the country are facing dangerous sea-level rise, which will ultimately cause homes to be under water in just a few short years."

In this item, we won’t analyze her projections for future sea-level rises; such estimates are based on a variety of theoretical models and come with lots of uncertainty attached. However, we did wonder whether Wasserman Schultz was correct about past changes — specifically, whether South Florida has "had nine inches of sea-level rise since the 1920s."

The ruling: Her claim essentially matches the data collected by the National Oceantic and Atmospheric Administration. While there is considerable uncertainty about the future course of sea-level rises, Wasserman Schultz’s estimate of the historical rise appears to be on target.

We rate this claim: True. More here from Louis Jacobson.