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April 07, 2014

Economists: If greyhound tracks decouple, state will see revenue dip for two years

GreyhoundsEven before the ink was dry on the proposed amendment to SB 742 to allow greyhound tracks to operate their poker room and slot machine operations without racing dogs, the state's economists were hard at work calculating the cost.

Economists estimate that by ending the requirement to run 100 live races a year, the state could lose between $78,000 to $336,000 in tax revenue the first year and $121,000 the second year. As tracks raise additional money from inter-track wagering operations, taxes from those operations would start to offset the lost revenue in the third year and that would continue to increase over time.

Economists came to these conclusions on Friday, before the amendment by Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, saw the light of day. But this is important: these numbers are not expected to be the net cost to the state if greyhound racing declines.  Download Sachs Decoupling amendment

There are 20 greyhound tracks operating in the state and economists estimate that at least seven will stop live racing if the bill were to pass. With fewer races, there will be a need for less regulation and, proponents say, that will produce a net savings. How much is still unknown but, according to the Spectrum Gaming study commissioned by lawmakers last year, the state spends about $4.1 million a year to regulate the industry and takes in $3.1 million in revenue -- a net loss of about $1 million, according to 2012 numbers.

The higher estimate produced by state economists is based on many assumptions: that seven of the 20 dog tracks stop racing completely, one reduces its races by 50 percent and another by 65 percent and the tax rate on intertrack wagering is fixed at 1.28 percent.

The economists assume that if legislators "de-couple" live racing from the other gambling operations, it won't mean the end to greyhound racing in Florida, just the reduction of it -- by an estimated 42 percent.

The Senate Gaming Committee is scheduled to take up a bill Tuesday by Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, to require all greyhound tracks to report their injuries. Sachs will be among many of the amendments proposed and it is expected to pass. It's fate remains uncertain in the House. 

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Despite CONNECT, DEO's Panuccio on verge of confirmation

The man who presided over the troubled launch of Florida's $63 million CONNECT unemployment system  is just one step away from getting confirmed so he can keep his $141,000 job as the executive director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

The Senate’s Ethics and Elections Committee on Monday recommended the confirmation of Jesse Panuccio 11-1, the fourth and last committee the 33-year-old former general counsel for Gov. Rick Scott needed to clear.

Next up is a vote by the entire 40-member Senate.

“I think he’s a class act,” Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon said after his vote. “He’s convinced a lot of us of that.”

Panuccio tried but failed to get confirmed last year. If Senators deny him again, he loses the job for good.

Consequently or not, Panuccio has been campaigning hard for the job, lobbying senators and providing access to sympathetic media outlets.

And, like he did in his three previous committee stops, Panuccio tried to talk up his record of heading the agency that was created in 2011 to serve as Scott’s touchstone agency responsible for economic development, broad social services and community planning.

“When I appeared before the senate last year for confirmation, I pledged transparency, accountability and efficiency would be the watchwords of my tenure at DEO,” Panuccio told senators. “I also noted that the agency was still in its infancy and that I would endeavor to realize the vision of the 2011 legislation that created DEO.. a year later, I’m pleased to report on the progress we have made.”  

Yet, again, Panuccio didn’t take any responsibility, either for himself or on behalf of mistakes made by the DEO and glossed over missteps the agency has made along the way.

Asked if he had learned anything, Panuccio answered in a ramble: "It reinforces how critical and careful the design of these systems were and despite the agency’s best efforts over four years, and really this goes back all the way to 2006 (when Panuccio wasn’t there) when the studies started, this system was very carefully designed and rigorously tested for nine months, we had an expert vendor build the system, we had Ernst and Young the nation’s leading auditor come in and make sure  the design and build was appropriate for a system of this size and scope, and it just reinforces that you have to be extra careful.”

Got that? He’ll be extra careful next time.

That explanation didn’t fly with the senator who asked the question, Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa.

“He never said that he’s ultimately responsible, that the buck stops with him,” Joyner said afterward when asked about her lone dissent. “I never got an answer to my questions, there was a lot of tap dancing. If he had just said, ‘I take responsibility,’ I might have voted yes. But he never did.”

It’s rare that senators flat out reject an appointment. It hasn’t happened since 2010 when the Senate rejected two of Gov. Charlie Crist’s appointments to the Public Service Commission, David Klement and Ben Stevens. A likelier scenario is senators never take it up, and the confirmation just dies.

But Lee said that’s not likely either because it’s an election year, where the Republican-controlled Legislature is trying to make Scott look good to voters. Confirming Panuccio is the only way to do that, he said.

“The publicity of what happened (with CONNECT) has really raised the issue’s profile,” Lee said. “And the governor has really made that agency an important part of his administration.”

Legg lone Republican holdout on "warning shot" bill

Sen. LeggJohn Legg, R-Trinity, did something quite rare last week.

The 38-year-old Republican actually opposed a bill that had heavy NRA backing.

Legg’s nay vote was the only Republican vote against HB 89, the so-called “warning shot” bill, which sailed through both chambers and is currently awaiting the signature of Gov. Rick Scott.

Why did Legg vote against a bill that all of the other 97 Republican lawmakers voted for, as did 27 Democrats?

“The bill creates more problems than it solves,” Legg said. “When you fire warning shots, bad things happen.”

That’s not a lawmaker who is critical of guns talking. The NRA gave him an A+ rating, after all.

Legg’s reservations on the bill came from his experience growing up in West Virginia and Florida, where his dad taught him how to shoot.

He said the bill violated one of his dad's core principles.

“When you shoot a gun, you shoot to hit the target," Legg said. "You don’t shoot to miss.”

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Today in Tallahassee: Five Things to Know

Monday marks the start of the sixth week of the nine-week Florida legislative session. Here are five things to watch:

* Gov. Rick Scott has suspended the commissions of dozens of notaries public in Florida over the past year for infractions such as failing to witness a notarized signature. Three notaries are challenging Scott's actions and their cases will be considered by the Senate Ethics & Elections Committee, chaired by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater.

* Attorney General Pam Bondi's office would create a new Sexual Predator and Sexual Offender Absconder Strike Force under legislation to be considered by the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. The bill (SB 1416) is by Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach.

* A fledgling professional soccer franchise in Orlando could qualify for stadium funding under a bill (SB 618) to be debated in the Senate Commerce & Tourism Committee. The bill sponsor is Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs.

* Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, is the featured speaker at a 9 a.m. rally to promote greater awareness of Florida's natural springs, to be held in the Capitol courtyard. April is Springs Awareness Month and Dean chairs the Senate committee that oversees environmental issues.

* Monday marks the start of Children's Week in the state Capitol, when numerous exhibits and displays are devoted to the young people who are Florida's future.

(Steve Bousquet, Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau)