March 06, 2013

Atwater: Medicaid expansion probably won’t pass now, but may be ‘inevitable’ later

Speaking to the Florida Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater expressed many of the same concerns of other Cabinet members about Gov. Rick Scott’s proposal to accept federal funding and expand Medicaid: It would grow a government entitlement and be a new billion-dollar expense for the state.

But Atwater seemed to agree with other experts and commentators who believe that Florida and other states will eventually agree to some form of Medicaid expansion, and the billions of federal dollars it will bring. 

Atwater said that the state was in a “really tough spot” because expanding Medicaid will bring additional costs, but not accepting the federal money could have tough consequences as well. Florida’s safety net hospitals will see much of their federal funding evaporate under the Affordable Care Act, and the expansion of Medicaid was supposed to pick up the slack.  The state’s Low Income Pool (LIP) could also face new financial “stresses,” making it difficult for Florida's health care system, said Atwater.

“They may delay this—a ‘No’ is not a ‘No’ forever,” he said. “They can join anytime… I believe they’re going to pass [on the expansion]—that’s my take," he said. "And then I think, as the stresses begin to fall like, again, LIP being diminished, this is going to cause great stress to that choice. And, I don’t know, the inevitable, it may be, no matter what people think, happens.”

Atwater said that he believes the best option is for Florida and the federal government to come up with a more acceptable alternative. A spokesperson for the CFO's office said that Atwater remains opposed to Medicaid expansion.

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October 23, 2012

Scott leaves door open to new Citizens Insurance probe after 'integrity' firings

Gov. Rick Scott said Tuesday he was open to having an investigation into the recent firings of Citizens Insurance’s entire Office of Corporate Integrity, though he stopped short of calling for the immediate probe that some good governance groups have asked for.

Scott said he would wait for the completion of the current Inspector General investigation into Citizens—which focuses on corporate spending issues—before deciding whether or not to call for an investigation into the firings.

The Herald/Times reported last week that Citizens had disbanded its Office of Corporate Integrity—the four-person unit responsible for investigating growing complaints of fraud and abuse within the company.

Scott wrote a letter saying that he was “concerned” about the firings.

On Monday, Citizens CEO Barry Gilway defended the firings as a way to realign the company’s operations to focus more on forensic fraud. He said he regretted the way the firings were handled, and was open to having Scott’s inspector general look more closely at what happened.

Scott said he’d hold off on making that decision, and follow a “logical process” of letting the current investigation run its course before deciding on any additional probes.

“He’s not taking it off the table,” said Melissa Sellers, a spokesperson for Scott.

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April 23, 2012

Florida Senate-race drama exposes GOP jitters

Jeff Atwater’s just-ended flirtation with a U.S. Senate bid speaks volumes about the nervousness of Florida Republicans these days.

The GOP’s best hope, Congressman Connie Mack, hasn’t been running the type of campaign many Republicans want to unseat a beatable Democratic incumbent, Bill Nelson. Some wanted Atwater, Florida’s Chief Financial Officer, to run. Others approached House Speaker Dean Cannon, who declined as did a wealthy no-name.

But the drama is about more than just Mack or the Senate race.

It’s about a Republican Party grappling with ebbing fortunes compared to the red-wave of an election year in 2010. It’s about a movement nagged by a sense of perpetual disappointment that stretches to the top of the ticket.

And it’s about the potentially colliding political agendas of Atwater, Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Column here

February 20, 2012

House votes for new high school sports rules

High school students from larger, private schools could participate in public school scholastic and athletic programs under a bill that sailed through a House panel today.

Currently, participation is limited to private school students who attend a non-Florida High School Athletic Association School that does not offer sports programs and has 125 students or fewer. The proposed changes would allow private schools with up to 250 students to participate in public programs.

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November 18, 2011

Lopez Lukis responds to Herald report on investigation

Vicki Lopez Lukis, who is under investigation by the state for using her contracts with juvenile justice administrators for personal gain, offered the following response to today's story in the Miami Herald:

Dear Editor:

I am disappointed that the Miami Herald chose to publish an article today entitled Money for Delinquent Girls Misspent based on a "draft" report that was issued prematurely with full knowledge that neither GAP nor I had any opportunity to respond to the allegations contained in the draft, and, more importantly, knew that the draft contained serious errors and omissions.  Let me state clearly that neither I nor any member of the GAP's staff or board ever misspent state funds or falsified any document, period.  These allegations were sent to the Department of Financial Services (DFS) Office of Fiscal Integrity (OFI), which did not find that any evidence of criminal wrongdoing. 

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November 15, 2011

SBA chief asks bosses to hold off discussing his reappointment

Ash Williams' bosses were poised to discuss his annual reappointment as executive director of the State Board of Administration during this morning's Cabinet meeting. But Williams asked them to push it back to the next SBA quarterly meeting in December, and SBA trustees Gov. Rick Scott, CFO Jeff Atwater and Attorney General Pam Bondi agreed.

That way, Williams said, they could examine reports of recent meetings of the SBA audit committee and investment advisory council, which are reviewing the agency's investment policies and procedures for public records requests at the request of Atwater. Members of the council agreed in a joint Monday meeting that Williams did not act inappropriately in the agency's $125 million investment in a hedge fund.

"I think the trustees should have the benefit of getting the final minutes and motions and a report directly from those advisory bodies before acting upon this reappointment," Williams said after his Cabinet update.

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State orders Goldman Sachs to repay investors for misleading sales tactics

Florida's securities regulators announced a settlement agreement with Goldman, Sach & Co. that has required the investment firm to back back an estimate $20 million in so-called "auction rate securities" because the company claimed they were liquid and secure when they were not.

From the OFR press release:

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January 31, 2011

Communicators, money-managers among this week's Movers and Shakers

Department of Management Services hires spokesman
Before joining DMS, Kristopher Purcell served as deputy director of communications for the Florida inaugural committee and associate director of communications for former President George W. Bush.

DOE spokeswoman moves to House
Erin Rock has left her job as the Department of Education's communications director for the Florida House. Her last day at DOE was Jan. 27. Rock is the new staff director of the House's Office of Public Information.

Moore Consulting Group announces MCG Advocacy
The communications firm's new public affairs arm will offer services such as coalition mobilization, media relations, message development and special event planning, among other tools. The team includes CEO Karen Moore; senior vice president Terrie Ard; managing director Nanette Schimpf; and directors Kirsten Borman, Shannon Colavecchio and Liz Shawen.

Jeff Atwater appoints staffers at Financial Services
Christina Smith, a Florida State University accounting grad, received a promotion. She moves from assistant director of Division of Accounting and Auditing to director. Terry Kester, former chief information officer at the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, retains the title but moves to Atwater's agency. Kester had worked for the Republican Party of Florida from November 2003 to January 2007 as director of party development. And former Senate Majority Office staff director Allison Carter is the Department of Financial Service's new director of program management. Carter is expected to assess programs and find improvements.

Jennifer Green, owner of Liberty Partners of Tallahassee, LLC, was named chairwoman of the board of the Florida Association of Professional Lobbyists. Her term is up January 2013.

David Browning joined Southern Strategy Group after raising millions for campaigns, including Scott's, during last year's elections. Previous employers include House Speaker Dean Cannon, Senate President Mike Haridopolos, Senate Majority Leader Andy Gardiner and Sen. John Thrasher.

Scott transition team member Jon Bussey joined Tallahassee's National Strategies LLC as its vice president. The new gig follows stints as chief of staff for the Florida Department of Lottery and Department of Transportation.

So it's not Tallahassee, but ...
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio hired Cesar Conda as his chief of staff. Conda comes with conservative credentials, having previously worked for former Vice President Dick Cheney, 2008 presidential candidate Mitt Romney and Rubio's campaign.

News Service of Florida reports were used in this week's round-up. Don't forget to send your personnel news to Times/Herald reporter Katie Sanders at ksanders@sptimes.com.

October 25, 2010

Ausley to bike to West Palm to promote CFO bid

Loranne Ausley, the Democratic candidate for chief financial officer, will put her campaign on two wheels this week as she bikes from Tallahassee to West Palm Beach. Ausley, a triathlete, plans stops in Gainesville, Apopka and Lakeland before ending up in West Palm, near the hometown of opponent Jeff Atwater.

Ausley will begin the ride tomorrow and finish up Friday. (UPDATE: The campaign had earlier planned a break during the trip, but Ausley decided to ride four days straight.)

Ausley, who has been down in recent polls and outgunned roughly 3 to 1 on TV, has relied largely on a message of cleaning up corruption in state government. Some might deride the bike ride as a campaign stunt, but it surely is a grueling stunt. (You'll remember that at the time, some criticized Lawton Chiles' legendary 1,000-mile walk across Florida as a stunt as well.)

October 21, 2010

GOP issues landslide alert: We're beating Dems in early vote

Florida Democrats had been proudly touting the fact that they were doing better in absentee voting requests then they had in 2006, but the Republican Party of Florida has its own stats that could spell doom for every Democrat on a statewide ballot this year.

RPOF says that, for the first time ever, they've won the first two days of early voting. And compared to 2008 (the year of Obama, when Dems outperformed Reps), Republicans are doing far better in absentee voting requests and returns. If true and the trend continues, Democrats have a dim future. Maybe governor candidate Alex Sink could squeak by Republican Rick Scott, in large part because she'd not running as a Democrat and she's at times running away from President Obama. But the numbers suggest the Obama millstone will weigh her down as the red wave swamps Florida.

From RPOF:

Requested absentee ballots: Republicans lead by 228,930 – a 13.21% lead over Democrats. In 2008, Republicans had an 8.89% lead by Election Day. Then, President Obama only won by 2.8 percentage points after a massive ad blitz.

Voted absentee ballots: Republicans lead by 112,534 absentee votes – a 21.88% lead. In 2008, Republicans had a 10.8% lead on Election Day.

Early Voted: Republicans lead by 15,281 votes – a 11.32% lead (Monday and Tuesday). In 2008, Republicans were losing by 73,384 votes at this point in 2008. By Election Day, Republicans had lost the Early Vote by 23.97%.

"We don’t expect to win early voting, but any lead at all is shocking at this point and a testament to the incredible enthusiasm amongst Republicans," RPOF spokesman Dan Conston said.