February 18, 2013

As insurance premiums rise, Citizens execs get big pay hikes

When the president of Citizens Property Insurance Corp. learned that his chief financial officer had used corporate funds to finance a luxurious weekend at a $633-a-night resort in Bermuda, he initially described the expenses as “absolutely appropriate.”

But President Barry Gilway changed his tune after a Herald/Times story and a subsequent inspector general report documented evidence that executives regularly ran up huge expenses on the company credit card, traveling and dining at four-star locations across the globe.

“As guardians of public funds, we must hold ourselves to a more rigorous standard,” he said.

It was a full-throated mea culpa, following sharp rebukes from Gov. Rick Scott, state Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and top lawmakers. But behind the scenes, Gilway was quietly handing out huge salary raises for the well-traveled CFO, Sharon Binnun, and several other executives who run the state-backed company.


Read more here

 


February 12, 2013

For the first time, Gov. Rick Scott needs votes from Democrats

For the first time in his brief and turbulent political career, Gov. Rick Scott needs a little help from Florida’s Democrats to turn one of his wishes into law.

Scott’s top legislative priority this year — a $141 million tax cut for manufacturers — comes with an asterisk: It has to garner ‘Yes’ votes from two-thirds of the Legislature to pass.

That means Democrats — whose gains in November breached the Republican supermajorities in Tallahassee — suddenly find themselves in an unfamiliar power position as they try to defeat Scott in 2014.

“I doubt that’ll be able to get a supermajority,” said Rep. Perry Thurston, a Plantation Democrat and minority leader in the Florida House. “It’s just another [business] incentive. We don’t know if it works.”

The bill seeks to eliminate sales taxes on all manufacturing equipment and machinery.

Scott has already put considerable political capital behind the tax cut, stating on numerous occasions that this was his top priority for 2013, along with a $1.2 billion boost in education funding.

“We need to build up manufacturing jobs in the great state of Florida,” he said in unveiling a $74.2 billion budget plan last month. Scott said the tax cut would create jobs and increase exports.

A failure on the measure would be politically embarrassing for Scott, who has staked his governorship on job creation and CEO-like efficacy.

Read more here

 

February 05, 2013

Alex Sink: Florida's new male-centric business brand is 'terrible'

FloridaClimateforBiz_LogoFormer CFO Alex Sink is weighing in on the state’s new proposal to rebrand itself for business, calling it “terrible” and joining a growing list of critics who are slamming the orange-tie imagery as sexist.

Here’s what Sink posted on Facebook this afternoon:

Did you see this? http://bit.ly/YB9rnx What a terrible way to brand our state. We are diverse. We are modern. And we won't stand for our state to be portrayed as having a stuffy, outdated climate for business. Share this photo if you agree and let your friends and family know that we are the state of innovators and entrepreneurs. Ditch the tie and join us. DitchTheTie_AlexSink

Sink, who fell 60,000 votes short of becoming the state’s first female governor in 2010, was defeated by Gov. Rick Scott.

Last week Scott hailed the orange tie image as “a brand that will solidify our reputation to the nation and the world.”

Enterprise Florida is standing by the brand, even as it deals with a barrage of controversy in recent days, starting with its decision to outsource a $200,000 Florida branding contract to a Tennessee-based company. When the new business brand was unveiled, several businesswomen slammed it as sexist, because it was anchored on the image of a necktie. On Tuesday, a watchdog group blasted EFI for engaging in “pay-to-play” cronyism and “corporate welfare” through its multimillion-dollar incentives program. Lawmakers are also looking to crack down on incentives, and EFI has been defending them as proven investments in economic development.

Sink is one of a handful of potential 2014 challengers to Scott, who is facing dangerously low poll numbers.

 @ToluseO

February 01, 2013

Fla. House Republicans release football-themed "Jobs Playbook"

Florida House Republicans are taking some inspiration from the Super Bowl to produce their plan for creating jobs in the state. The plan, called the “Jobs Playbook,” features many of the trademark GOP proposals—lower taxes, less debt and some old-fashioned bashing of the federal government to boot.

A football-themed infographic pits House Republicans’ strategy for winning up against the policies of the federal government—“higher debt, more deficits, economic uncertainty.” The release states, “Republicans have the playbook for economic success.”

This year, jobs and economic development have not played a starting role in legislative rhetoric, as in years past. Instead, legislative leaders are huddling up for some internal soul searching, hoping to clean up many of the problems created by the Legislature and the political class—ethics loopholes, campaign finance issues, elections problems, etc. Education and federal health reform are also top issues the Legislature must tackle.

Looking to show that job-creation has not been sidelined, lawmakers are pitching a playbook for economic development.

“Republicans have the playbook for economic success and we are dedicated to getting Florida over the goal line,” said House Majority Leader Steve Precourt, R-Orlando, in a statement.

JobsBowlp1
House Speaker Will Weatherford, a former college football player, is quarterbacking the Florida House’s Republican majority as it prepares to take on a growing and more confident Democratic caucus with a very different playbook.

Despite boasts of an improving economy, the jury is still out on whether policies listed in the report and pushed by Florida lawmakers are the best way to boost the state’s economy.

Continue reading "Fla. House Republicans release football-themed "Jobs Playbook" " »

January 30, 2013

House Democratic leader blasts decade of GOP governance, pushes for Medicaid expansion

Rep. Perry Thurston, the House Democratic leader, said voters in Florida are not impressed with Republican-led governance, and said even GOP leaders are beginning to feel the same way.

In a 30-minute talk that covered issues ranging from Florida’s elections debacle to implementing federal healthcare to investing in education, Thurston blamed his Republican counterparts for problems facing the state. He said reform efforts currently being pushed by Republican officials—election reform, ethics reform, education financing, healthcare implementation—all seek to deal with problems caused by the GOP-led Legislature.

Thurston said the ruling party had been “foot dragging” when it comes to implementing the federal healthcare reform. He pointed to a letter from former House Speaker Dean Cannon in 2010 that effectively kept state agencies from planning for reform. The state is now trying to figure out how to conform to the law and facing several deadlines. The decision about whether or not to expand Medicaid is a critical one for the state, and Thurston supports the expansion.

 “We’re going to save lives.  We’re not talking about turning down money fro a rail system; we’re talking about saving lives,” said Thurston. “Not to do this would be morally reprehensible.”

Continue reading "House Democratic leader blasts decade of GOP governance, pushes for Medicaid expansion" »

January 27, 2013

Despite dismal poll numbers, Rick Scott still a challenge for Democrats

by MarcACaputo

Rick Scott’s poll numbers look dismal. His finances don’t.

"One number should worry you: $70 million. That’s how much Rick Scott spent in 2010," Annette Taddeo-Goldstein, Miami-Dade’s new Democratic chairwoman, told Democrats this weekend.

To be clear, she was referring to Scott’s personal money. And it was actually closer to $75.1 million.

Include the Republican Party, and Scott probably spent just under $100 million. He was worth at least $218 million at the time, but reports he lost net worth after becoming governor. His wife has millions more.

Scott is prepared to spend as much or more in 2014.

The money race is on. And Democrats are losing it. But they know it.

Continue reading "Despite dismal poll numbers, Rick Scott still a challenge for Democrats" »

January 23, 2013

Year of the Pay Raise? Gaetz backs raises for teachers, state workers

A brightening budget picture could mean salary hikes for tens of thousands of teachers and state employees if Senate President Don Gaetz gets his way.

“I think that teachers are some govenment workers who deserve to have better compensation,” Gaetz, R-Niceville, said. “But I know corrections officers, I know highway patrolmen…. who deserve a raise. And six years is a long time to wait.”

Gov. Rick Scott has announced support for across-the-board pay hikes for Florida teachers, but the hard part will be making the numbers work in an uncertain budgeting environment.

Gaetz said he was not familiar with the details of Scott’s teacher pay raise, but pointed out a still-tight budget may force Scott to “reduce funding for some of his other priorities in order to fund this most recent priority.”

That could mean Scott’s push for lower business taxes and more cash for economic incentives could be tempered by the plan to provide teachers raises.

Early estimates of the pay raise come in at about $480 million, Scott said.

Gaetz said he’s in favor performance-based approaches to the pay raises, which would be determined by local school boards.

“My preference always has been to provide local school boards with more funding than they can use based on plans they develop locally to recognize and reward effective teaching,” he said.

Continue reading "Year of the Pay Raise? Gaetz backs raises for teachers, state workers" »

December 27, 2012

Scott warns of devastating ports shutdown; Dems pivot to Obamacare, education

Gov. Rick Scott called for Pres. Obama to take emergency measures to halt an impending shut down of the nation’s ports stemming from a labor dispute.

Joined by the state’s ports directors on a conference call on Thursday, Scott said the shut down of ports throughout the state of Florida would lead to unacceptable job losses and economic turmoil.

“We are together on this call today for one reason – we must help the Florida families whose jobs and livelihoods depend on our Florida ports,” Scott said. “A shut down of Florida ports is simply not an option for Florida families.”

Scott wrote a letter to Obama last week asking for the president to invoke presidential powers to halt a strike by the International Longshoremen’s Association. He said he “hoped” the president had read the letter, indicating that Obama had not yet responded.

The national strike is scheduled to go forward on Saturday if there is no agreement for a new contract. It could have a multimillion-dollar impact in Florida, where the massive port of Miami is located.

A top Democrat in the Florida Legislature was quick to react to Scott’s mention of “families,” pivoting to other state issues that affect families—namely, healthcare and education.

House Minority Leader Perry Thurston, D-Plantation, blasted the governor’s move to intervene in the labor dispute while other state issues linger.

“President Obama will determine what is best regarding the looming strike at the nation’s East Coast ports,” said Thurston, in a statement that asked Scott to focus on implementing healthcare reform and addressing education issues. “Governor Scott can turn his attention to Florida and begin correcting all that he has managed to dismantle.” 

Scott’s press release and the response release from Thurston are below:

Continue reading "Scott warns of devastating ports shutdown; Dems pivot to Obamacare, education" »

December 19, 2012

Flop-flop alert: Charlie Crist reverses course on gun control, now backs it

Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who throughout his long political career has been staunchly pro-gun rights, said Wednesday that after the Connecticut school slayings, he now backs controls.

He expressed support for a renewed assault weapons ban, a size limit on ammunition clips and tougher background checks.

“We need to have some restrictions, that’s pretty obvious to most people,” Crist told the Tampa Bay Times prior to testifying before a Senate panel on voting laws. “What do you need a 30-clip magazine for?

“Not to go hunting deer. I can tell you that because I hunt deer.”

Crist recently became a Democrat and is considering a challenge to Gov. Rick Scott, who long has favored gun rights. Scott has refused to comment on gun measures after the Connecticut shootings, saying it is too early to debate.

More here

Charlie Crist trashes Rick Scott in Sen. hearing for vote suppression, turning FL into a ‘late-night TV joke”

Former Gov. Charlie Crist bashed Gov. Rick Scott twice by name during a U.S. Senate hearing on Wednesday for signing an election law that helped suppress the vote and turn Florida into a “late-night TV joke.”

Crist’s Senate Judiciary Committee testimony came just hours after the release of a new poll showing he’s more popular than the current governor, who is preparing to face his predecessor – a Republican-turned Democrat -- in the 2014 elections.

Scott earlier Wednesday acknowledged on CNN that some fixes might be needed for the election law he signed in 2011. That law cut back the days of in-person early voting and helped make the ballot longer, which led to long lines.

More here