December 05, 2012

Senate: transparency contract is under review but public access is not an option

Senate President Don Gaetz asked his legal counsel, George Levesque, to review the Senate's contract with the company that developed the software program that is the foundation for the Senate's budget transparency program, Transparency 2.0.

As the Herald/Times reported last month, the Senate tested the program and it was available for senators to use during the 2012 budget cycle but was kept on hold. A new report by the watchdog groups Integrity Florida and the First Amendment Foundation has concluded that the web site, developed by Spider Data systems and paid $4.5 million by the Senate, "would save millions of dollars" if legislators, and the public, were given access to it.

The contract with the company expires this month, however, and the Senate has no plan to take the program public nor to make it available for Senate staff to use.

Gaetz spokeswoman Katie Betta said in a statement late Wednesday that the Senate president is "planning to meet with the vendor to review the product and their proposal for a contract extension" and will determine whether the Senate will make the program available to senators and staff then. 

Here's Betta's full statement:

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Watchdog groups say stalled transparency program would save millions

 On the same day Senate leaders announced they would conduct an intensive review of the state budget, two government watchdog groups said a budget transparency program — put on hold by the Senate — could "save Florida millions of dollars” and revolutionize budget accountability.

The web site, Transparency 2.0, was developed and licensed by the Senate for $4.5 million. But it is scheduled to be shelved at the end of the month as the Senate and the governor’s office feud over which has responsibility for maintaining it and paying the $1 million annual license fee.

“Transparency 2.0 has the ability to help all Floridians and policy makers oversee their state government – and hold it accountable – with a businesslike, searchable and measurable web site,’’ wrote Integrity Florida, a non-profit, non-partisan organization, and the First Amendment Foundation, in a report released Wednesday.

The joint report was requested by Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and the office of Gov. Rick Scott after the Herald/Times reported that the program provides a searchable way to track spending on government contracts, salaries and budgets. It was funded by the Senate, but has been kept on hold for the past year. Story here.

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October 24, 2012

Little attention for $20 million business tax cut amendment

Tucked near the end of a lengthy ballot that features contentious issues like abortion and the Supreme Court is a little-discussed business tax cut amendment hoping to make it into the state Constitution.

Amendment 10 would provide an additional $25,000 tax exemption for small businesses that have less than $50,000 worth of furniture, computers and other so-called “tangible property.”

The amendment has received little attention in recent months because there is little organized opposition and business groups have focused their attention elsewhere. It would primarily affect smaller businesses and provide about $20 million in savings on a tax that generates $1.7 billion annually.

“I think it’s a really positive tax policy for our small businesses in Florida,” said David Hart, vice president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, which advocated this year for the constitutional change.

The amendment, one of 11 that lawmakers have placed on Florida’s lengthy 2012 ballot, could impact up to 40,000 small businesses next year if it gains the necessary 60 percent of the vote. A clause in the language would allow local governments to expand the savings to some larger businesses, or eliminate the tangible property tax altogether.

Read more here


October 02, 2012

State Board of Education wants $442 million for technology upgrades

The Florida Board of Education is putting finishing touches on the budget request that it will send to Gov. Rick Scott, and at the center of its plan for the upcoming fiscal year is a $442 million technology initiative.

That money would be used to increase the availability of wireless internet ($239 million), increase internet bandwith ($151 million) and purchase new technology or tools ($52 million).

The State Board of Education is scheduled to discuss the budget proposal during its meeting on Tuesday. In total, $891 million in new funding is being requested for 2013-2014.

Of that amount, $198 million reflects growth in enrollment among the state's prekindergarten, K-12 schools and state colleges. The total Department of Education budget request is $15.2 billion. The 2012-2013 budget is $14.6 billion.

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CNBC: Florida receives more in federal funds than any other state, $30k per person

The Sunshine State is Uncle Sam's favorite.

Florida receives more federal funds than any other state, both in total dollars and on a per capita basis. In fact, based on total volume, Florida's take is 50 percent higher than No. 2 Texas.

According to an analysis by, Florida received $577.8 billion in the 2011 fiscal year, or a whopping $30,318 per capita. Rounding out the top five in per-capita payouts were Louisiana, South Carolina, Hawaii and Virginia.

The analysis included federal money used for government operations — distributed both to government agencies and contractors — as well as money for entitlement programs like Social Security, unemployment compensation and food stamps.

Most of the biggest awards Florida received came through Homeland Security, the umbrella organization for everything from FEMA to port and airport security. Other large awards came through the Social Security Administration and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees Medicare and Medicaid, among other duties.

Among contractors in-state receiving large federal awards were telecommunications company Harris Corp. and several aerospace and defense companies, notably Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman.

With about 19 million residents, Florida is the fourth-largest state. The biggest state, California, has nearly twice as many residents but received only the third-highest amount of federal dollars.

Texas was No. 2 but trailed far behind Florida with a total take of $294 billion. With nearly 26 million residents in Texas, that translates to $11,452 per capita.

Total federal spending for fiscal year 2011 is estimated to be $3.6 trillion, according to the Office of Management and Budget's 2012 Mid-Session Review. CNBC's report used data from, an Office of Management and Budget website.

-- Jeff Harrington, Tampa Bay Times

April 18, 2012

[VIDEO] Rick Scott signs $70 billion budget

Gov. Rick Scott signed a $70 billion budget Tuesday, hailing the spending plan as an "education budget" and striking out more than $140 million in individual projects.

Here's a story detailing the winners and losers in the 2012-2013 budget.

We caught up with Scott at Cunningham Creek Elementary School in Fruit Cove, where he signed the budget.

Here's the video:



April 17, 2012

One of Gov. Rick Scott's line-item vetoes: $250,000 for security at presidential debate at Lynn University

Among $142.7 million in line-item vetoes in the state budget, Gov. Rick Scott nixed $250,000 for security at the final presidential debate, scheduled at Boca Raton's Lynn University on Oct. 22.

Lynn University spokesman Joshua Glanzer said the event will be safe no matter how security is funded.

"We know we have our state support, we know we'll have our community support," he said.

Wellington Democratic Rep. Joseph Abruzzo, who was once student body president at Lynn, said he's disappointed by the veto. The money would have helped protect the candidates and citizens, he said.

"You have a smaller scale university that's going to have the eyes of the entire world on it. It's going to cost hundreds of thousands in security,"
he said. "This is such a major event, it should have shared responsibility throughout the state."

The Commision on Presidential Debates has three planned for the general election. The other two are Oct. 3 at the University of Denver and Oct. 16 at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. A vice presidential debate is planned for Oct. 11 at Centre College in Danville, Ky.

Brittany Alana Davis, Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

March 28, 2012

Florida lawmakers release county-by-county budget data

Florida lawmakers released a county-by-county allocations list for the 2012 budget Wednesday, offering a breakdown of how taxpayer funds will be sent around the state.

The budget includes money for road repair projects, funds for elderly services, universities – and a lot of so-called “turkeys,” pet projects for specific cities or counties.

Each of those member projects must survive Gov. Rick Scott’s ominous veto pen, which showed a strong aversion to pet projects last year.

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March 20, 2012

State will buy 2 mansion-area lots, despite lawsuit

Gov. Rick Scott and a unanimous Cabinet voted Tuesday to spend $580,000 for two lots adjacent to The Grove, a historic site near the Governor's Mansion that was once the home of territorial Governor Richard Keith Call.

But this is no ordinary real estate transaction. One of the lots is also home to the law office of Steven Andrews, who sued Scott during the 2010 governor's race and once issued a subpoena on candidate Scott just before he held a press conference.

The state has had the right of first refusal on the two lots since 1986. Anticipating the vote, Andrews filed a lawsuit last week in state court in which he said he agreed to buy one of the lots last fall, and that then-Secretary of State Kurt Browning expressed no interest in the state acquiring it last December. "You have to question what the motivation is," Andrews told The Florida Current

Scott said there's "no correlation" between Andrews' past criticism of him and Tuesday's decision. Rather, he said, obtaining the lots will address a serious parking problem around the mansion and honor the legacy of former Gov. LeRoy Collins and his wife, Mary Call Collins, who lived in the Grove in their later years.   

"He (Collins) and his wife Mary kept that property up, and they made sure that the state owned it. I think it's important for the history of the state, and for Tallahassee, to continue to improve that piece of property," Scott said after the 4-0 vote at a Cabinet meeting. "I think having access to Monroe (Street) will be a real benefit." State officials envision a day when the stately mansion is visible to passing motorists on Monroe Street, the major north-south route through downtown Tallahassee.

Secretary of State Ken Detzner told reporters the state is interested in acquiring even more property in the area, including lots occupied by a tire repair store and a pawn shop. Detzner says the state's long-term goal is to make the Grove an interactive visitors' center celebrating the state's history. The budget awaiting Scott's approval has $2.5 million for "The Grove -- purchase of adjacent properties and development.

-- Steve Bousquet

March 14, 2012

Clock ticking for governor to sign controversial Medicaid legislation

A controversial measure that would shift $300 million in disputed Medicaid bills to counties has been received by Gov. Rick Scott's office, triggering the 15-day window for him to either sign or veto the legislation. If Scott does neither by the March 29 deadline, it becomes law automatically.

Counties are lobbying the governor to veto HB 5301, arguing that it will put an undue burden on local governments for Medicaid bills they don't believe they owe. Under the plan outlined in the legislation, the state would withhold revenue sharing dollars to cover both the backlog and future Medicaid payments.

Now that the clock is ticking, Scott's office is sure to hear from many of the counties and advocacy organizations like the Florida Tea Party Network and Florida Association of Counties, which have both spoken against HB 5301. Flagler, Indian River and Martin county commissions have already written the governor letters requesting a veto.

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