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17 posts from January 29, 2014

January 29, 2014

Scott and Crist use budget rollout to snipe at each others' records

Florida’s race for governor hit full throttle Wednesday as Gov. Rick Scott seeded his budget announcement with attacks on his opponent and predecessor Charlie Crist, while the former governor used the event to bash Scott’s policies and ethics.

Speaking to reporters and editors at the annual legislative planning meeting sponsored by the Associated Press, Crist lashed into Scott’s past at a fraud-riddled hospital chain, blasted his previous budgets for cutting education spending and accused him of reversing course because an election is approaching.

“He’s trying to make up for it in an election year transformation, but the people of Florida are smart,” Crist said. “I don’t believe Florida is going to get fooled a second time.”

It was an unusual ending to what is a traditionally tame budget rollout as the two men compete in what is expected to be one of the most bitterly fought races for governor in decades.

Scott was the first to start swinging. The Republican governor announced his $74.2 billion budget plan early Wednesday, then declared that his fiscal record “represents a sharp contrast to the four budgets before we took office.” Story here. 

Bondi fundraising draws fire from Democratic challengers

@mikevansickler

Do we have a real race for Attorney General?

It’s early, but according to a Jan. 16-24 Public Policy Voting survey of 591 voters, Attorney General Pam Bondi is running 37 percent to 34 percent against George Sheldon, and 37 percent to 35 percent against Perry Thurston.

Despite those numbers, Bondi has one insurmountable edge: a huge and largely untapped campaign warchest of about $2 million. Sheldon, a former secretary for the Florida Department of Children and Families, and Thurston, who is House Minority Leader, D-Fort Lauderdale, have raised a mere fraction of that, some of which will be diverted in the contest for the Democratic nomination between the two of them.

But during Wednesday’s annual AP Legislative Planning Session in Tallahassee before editors and reporters, Sheldon and Thurston attacked Bondi's strength by strongly criticizing her campaign fundraising.

In answering a question about what he would do different than Bondi, Sheldon said he would focus his attention on white collar crime.

“I’m very concerned, for instance, about the open investigation on a cyber university involving Donald Trump and that investigation kind of evaporated after a $25,000 contribution was made,” Sheldon said. “We have to be very careful not to adopt a pay-for-play mindset. If you open an investigation, I think an attorney general should not accept any contributions from that company even if you close it with no findings because it taints the appearance of the action the attorney general takes.”

 

Continue reading "Bondi fundraising draws fire from Democratic challengers" »

Putnam wraps up trip to Panama

While Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and lawmakers addressed reporters during the annual AP Legislative Planning Session on Wednesday, state Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam was wrapping up a four-day trip to Panama.

His traveling companions: PortMiami Director Bill Johnson; Plant City strawberry grower Gary Wishnatzki; Robert Behr and Joel Sellers, of Florida’s Natural Growers; and Richard Gaskalla of the state agriculture department.

The purpose of the trip was twofold, Putnam explained before leaving on Sunday.

For one, Putnam wants to help Florida growers expand their footprint in the Panamanian retail market.

"We think that because of our proximity [to Latin America] and our quality product, we can be on the leading edge of opening up these Latin American markets," he said.

The delegation also intended to explore ways Florida could capitalize on the expansion of the Panama Canal.

Said Putnam: "Florida is betting big on being the first stop for these giants ships after the Panama Canal has doubled in size."

The group was scheduled to meet with Panama Canal Administrator Jorge Quijano and Minister of Agriculture Oscar Osorio, among others. 

The trip was Putnam's first trip abroad as agriculture commissioner.

Andy Tuck *officially* appointed to state education board

Gov. Rick Scott has made his next pick for the state Board of Education: citrus grower and former Highlands County School Board Chairman Andy Tuck.

The formal announcement came Wednesday, one week after state Board of Education Chairman Gary Chartrand jumped the gun and broke the news during a public meeting. 

"It's only appropriate that on the Florida Board of Education we have a citrus grower," Chartrand said.

Tuck served as a member of the Florida School Boards Association from 2012 to 2013.

He replaces former state Board of Education member Sally Bradshaw, who resigned in October. 

His term begins Wednesday and runs through Dec. 31, 2017.

Scott must still appoint one member to the state education board.

Former member Barbara Feingold asked not to be reappointed when her term ended last month. Personal reasons drove the decision, she said.

Weatherford, Gaetz propose lower cap on tuition hikes; Scott outlines higher ed budget

@tbtia

Calling it an effort to reduce the burden on the state's prepaid tuition program, House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz have proposed limits on future tuition increases.

They would accomplish this by capping the tuition differential that state universities are allowed to request from the Florida Board of Governors. Under current law, the universities can requested additional tuition increases beyond whatever is approved by the Legislature as long as the total net increase does not exceed 15 percent.

During the economic downturn, many universities requested and were approved for tuition differential up to the 15-percent cap.

With Gov. Rick Scott's opposition to tuition increases well known, that has become less of an issue in recent years. Last year, tuition was held flat and no universities asked for any differential. A few also went so far as to reject a 1.7 percent tuition increase tied to inflation per state law, but most did not.

This morning, Scott also outlined his higher education budget proposal for 2014-2015. It reflect far less money than what the Board of Governors requested, and state universities are likely to continue lobbying the Legislature for more money.

Continue reading "Weatherford, Gaetz propose lower cap on tuition hikes; Scott outlines higher ed budget" »

House, Senate leaders outline education priorities

Expect debates on vouchers, school grades and charter schools this year. 

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said his priorities for the upcoming legislative session would include "restoring trust and integrity into the school grading system."

Parent groups (as well as some policy experts and superintendents) have called for an overhaul of Florida's A-F school grading system, saying the formula has become overly complicated and essentially meaningless.

Weatherford said he would also push for a "massive expansion of choice for families."

Step one, he said: expanding the Tax Credit Scholarship program, potentially to thousands of students, while considering new accountability measures.

What's more, Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz said they would prioritize expanding access to industry certification programs.

Gaetz, a Niceville Republican, noted that enrollment in industry certification programs had jumped from 954 students in 2008 to 61,730 students in 2013. He said he wants to remove the funding limit on Career and Professional Education classes, so that CAPE funding would be on par with Advanced Placement funding. 

Charter schools may also be on the agenda, especially if Sen. Bill Montford has anything to do with it.

Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat and CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, raised concerns about charter schools involuntarily withdrawing students for poor academic performance and behavioral problems.

"Charter schools are public schools and I believe they should be held to the same standards," he said. 

 

 

Bondi says she'll intervene in gay marriage lawsuit, if asked

Attorney General Pam Bondi said Wednesday that she is prepared to enter into one of the most divisive issues of the election year by joining in opposing a lawsuit that is asking a judge to throw out the state's ban on gay marriage. 

"If I am asked, yes (she will intervene) because it is my obligation as attorney general,'' she told reporters at the annual Associated Press Legislative Planning Summit in Tallahassee. "This is a constitutional amendment that voters passed by 60-something percent. My job is to defend that."

Six same-sex couples last week sued the Miami Dade County clerk of court seeking the right to marry, saying the 2008 ban violates their right to equal rights under the law. Voters amended the state Constitution by a vote of 62 percent to ban gay marriage and reject the recognition of legal same-sex marriages performed in other states. 

She compared it to opposing the proposed constitutional amendment on medical marijuana. If it were to become law, she said, "I have said I'll not vote for it but I'll defend it as attorney general,'' she said. 

Although Bondi campaigned on the promise that she would "vigorously defend Florida’s law banning gay adoption in our state,'' she did not revive the issue after she was elected since the state had lost its lawsuit attempting to stop gay couples from adopting children. The policy had been vigorously fought by her predecessor Republican Attorney General Bill McCollum and the time period on appeal expired before Bondi took office, her office said.

"Gay adoption is fully legal in Florida,'' she said. 

If Bondi joins the lawsuit, she would enter into one of the most polarizing issues of this election season. A March 2013 survey by Public Policy Polling found 75 percent of Florida voters favor allowing gay people either to marry (38 percent) or to have civil unions (37 percent).

Gov. Rick Scott has indicated he supports the gay-marriage ban. Democratic challenger and former state Sen. Nan Rich repeated her support for gay marriage at the reporters forum on Wednesday.

And Democrat Charlie Crist — who as the Republican governor in 2008 supported the ban — now sides with Rich and wants the constitutional amendment repealed.

"No one would want to be told they can’t marry the person they love. It’s an issue of fairness and I’m proud to support it," Crist said in a statement issued after the suit was announced.

 

Charlie Crist might have to raise $165,000/day to stay competitive with Rick Scott

@MarcACaputo

Charlie Crist faces the most-daunting of challenges in the governor's race: keeping at least half-way behind Gov. Rick Scott's money-spending rain-making juggernaut of a campaign effort.

Leading in the polls and better-liked, the former governor knows that the current governor has to greatly outspend Crist to redefine him successfully. So Crist likely needs to hold Scott to no more than a 2:1 advantage.

And since Rick Scott plans to spend as much as $100 million (through his committee, his campaign and the Republican Party of Florida), Crist wants to spend as much as $50 million.

Total cash on hand for Crist, between his campaign and political committee accounts: $3.9 million. Let's call that $4 million. That leaves a mere $46 million for him and Democrats to raise in the 278 days until the Nov. 4 Election Day (assuming he wins the Aug. 26 Democratic primary against Nan Rich, running since early 2012, who has only about $75,000 cash on hand in her campaign account as of the last reporting period that ended Dec. 31.)

So Crist and the Democrats need to start hauling in an average of about $165,467.63 daily. That includes weekends and holidays. 

The flip side to all the challenges Democrats face: Scott's goal looks even more daunting at first. 

Scott has about $24.6 million in his political committee’s bank. So he'd have to raise about $75 million more to hit $100 million. But Scott has the state Republican Party, which controls the Legislature and therefore the special interests seeking to curry favor, cranking up fundraising like never before. And, perhaps more importantly, Scott's independently wealthy.

After all, Scott spent $75.1 million of his own money in 2010.

So what's another $75 million -- especially if special interests pick up more of the tab than ever?

Most of Scott's proposed boost to education spending would come from property taxes

Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday gave new details about his proposed $18.84 billion education budget.

The proposal includes a $542 million boost to K-12 funding.

Some of the boost -- about $54 million -- is needed because 12,529 new students are expected to enroll in Florida schools. But the proposal would also push Florida's average per-student funding to $6,949, an increase of $169 over the current level.

(Per-pupil spending would still fall short of the record high: $7,126 in 2007-08.)

Democrats were critical of the plan Wednesday, in part because two-thirds of the overall increase would be funded by property taxes. Scott has not recommended increasing the millage rate local school districts must levy, but property values are expected to rise, meaning tax collection will also increase.

Only about $167 million of the proposed boost would come from state funding.

“After cutting education by more than $1 billion in his first year of office, this year’s spending plan appears to be another education shell game that relies on property tax increases," House Minority Leader Perry Thurston said in a statement.

But Senate President Don Gaetz, a former Okaloosa County schools superintendent, said school districts would not differentiate between the two sources of funding.

"All of the dollars matter," he said.

The details of Scott's proposal for facilities funding also came under fire.

Scott has recommended $81.3 million in funding for charter school maintenance from the Public Education Capital Outlay, or PECO, fund.

The governor proposed using $80 million in lottery funds to support maintenance in traditional public schools, and $72.1 million to support projects in seven small school districts.

Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, said he was disappointed that no PECO dollars had been earmarked for traditional public schools.

"Let the governor explain to the children in crumbling public schools across Florida why they don't count, too," he said.

Joe Garcia: I raised $412k last quarter, $1.8m for campaign

From a press release:

Congressman Joe Garcia raised more than $412,000 in the fourth quarter of last year, bringing the total raised for his reelection campaign to more than $1.8 million and putting Rep. Garcia among the top congressional fundraisers in the country.

“I am humbled by the faith shown in me by the people of South Florida who have given to our campaign,” Garcia said. “I work every day on issues that matter, like flood insurance reform, and it is gratifying to receive such strong support.”

Garcia is a top-five fundraiser among incumbents in competitive House races and receives 82 percent of his financial support from in-state donors, according to OpenSecrets.org. He is 2nd among all congressional Democrats for money raised from in-state donors.