November 23, 2015

Gov. Scott wants more staffing cuts in health, environment


For the fifth year in a row, Gov. Rick Scott is asking for big job cuts to state agencies responsible for health care and the environment.

In his budget priorities released Monday, Scott asks the Legislature to eliminate a net of 718 jobs in the Department of Health and 152 in the Department of Environmental Protection.

All told, if the Legislature honors Scott’s request, the Department of Health will have shrunk by a fifth — more than 3,400 jobs eliminated — since Scott’s first budget in 2011-2012. More than 1,500 of those are in the last two years.

By and large, the cuts are expected to be for positions funded by the Legislature that have not been filled by Scott's agencies. About 200 jobs are expected to be connected to the transitioning of a health care plan for kids to be run by private insurers. Many of those could be filled by state workers who could be reassigned into other open jobs.

That means few workers are expected to lose their jobs. But it also means jobs for which the Legislature has set aside money are not being filled.

Scott is asking to eliminate more than 500 jobs in county health departments, which are charged with serving low-income people across the state. Last year, the governor asked for 758 health department jobs to be cut. Lawmakers got rid of an additional 55.

Last year, Scott’s proposal asked to cut funding for nutritionists who advise poor families, health counselors and family support workers, among other jobs in clinics across the state.

A list of which specific positions are expected to be eliminated has not been made available.

In the Department of Environmental Protection, most of the job cuts are likely to be empty positions, as well. Under the governor’s plan, most of them come from the state parks.

It is important to note that the governor’s recommended budget is only a suggestion. State lawmakers negotiate the nearly $80 billion state budget, and Scott has the power to veto items.

Still, lawmakers often make changes prioritized by the governor and his agencies. Scott this year asked each state agency to identify 5 percent of their jobs that could be cut.

Continue reading "Gov. Scott wants more staffing cuts in health, environment" »

November 12, 2015

Gov. Rick Scott, Florida colleges team up to raise graduation rates - but no specifics attached


Rickscott111215Florida Gov. Rick Scott issued a challenge to the state's 28 colleges today: Graduate 100 percent of their full-time students to either attend a four-year university or land a job.

The colleges say they're unanimously on board -- but it'll be up to them to figure out how to more than double the current statewide average graduation rate of 43 percent.

The governor says they'll have his support, but he's offering no money or other specific resources behind his “Ready, Set, Work” College Challenge, which he announced Thursday.

Instead, Scott told reporters in Lynn Haven that he wants colleges to find an inexpensive solution, much like a business would be required to reach a goal without raising costs.

"We have record funding for our state college system, but I'm going to challenge all of them to do this less expensively," Scott said.

"My expectation in business was every customer had to succeed," he added. In this case, he said colleges need to look at students and the businesses wanting to hire them as their "customers."

He encouraged colleges to find out what businesses want from future employees and provide students with internships or other programs to fulfill those needs.

"Every child is important, so we need to have a program at every state college that they're focused on every, every, every student getting a degree or going on to university and finishing with a great job," Scott said.

He said he doesn't want colleges to increase their tuition or fees; "I want to make sure whatever capital dollars we put into the system get a return, and you know what the return should be? It should be good-paying jobs," he said.

Photo credit: The Florida Channel

June 21, 2015

Scott tours state on Monday to tout tax cuts


Florida Gov. Rick Scott is wasting no time celebrating more than $400 million in tax cuts the Florida Legislature gave him last week.

The Republican governor is planning a whirlwind tour of Florida on Monday, hitting seven cities in about 12 hours to hold press conferences to celebrate the tax cut package. It starts in Fort Myers at 8:30 a.m., and hits Miami, Greenacres, St. Petersburg, Winter Garden, Jacksonville and finally Pensacola.

Scott’s Miami event is set for 10:30 a.m. at Sergio’s Restaurant, 1640 NW 87th Ave..

The centerpiece of the tax cut plan is a reduction in the state’s communications tax charged on most cellular phone and cable television services. The 6.65 percent rate will drop to 4.92 percent, saving a consumer $20 a year on a $100 a month bill. While Scott is celebrating the cut, it’s about half of what he had sought from the Legislature in January, when he proposed a $40 a month cut.

Continue reading "Scott tours state on Monday to tout tax cuts" »

May 11, 2015

Florida Supreme Court throws out blind trust appeal

In an unanimous ruling, the Florida Supreme Court on Monday rejected an appeal to review a lower court decision upholding the state's blind trust law.

The former chief of staff to the late Gov. Reubin Askew, Jim Apthrop, filed the appeal after the First District Court of Appeal rejected his lawsuit as "speculative," since no official was currently using the 2013 blind trust.

Apthorp wanted the court to throw out the state's blind trust law, saying it violates the constitutional requirement that public officials fully disclose their financial assets. He argued that the appeals court improperly sidestepped the question of whether the law was unconstitutional.

The law allows public officials to to create a blind trust in lieu of revealing their assets on a financial disclosure form. Apthorp alleges the Florida Legislature violated the state’s financial disclosure law when it allowed public officials to shield their assets in a blind trust.

The only public official to use the law is Gov. Rick Scott, a multimillionaire former hospital chief executive. After the lawsuit was filed, however, Scott dissolved his blind trust and detailed his assets in his financial disclosure form filed in June when he announced his decision to seek re-election. He has since said he would re-establish the trust, thereby shielding his assets again for his second term.


April 06, 2015

Scott op-ed: Washington should follow Florida’s lead

In Washington Examiner op-ed today, Gov. Rick Scott has this to say to President Barack Obama:

“The federal government needs to follow our lead. President Obama needs to see this as an opportunity to change his ways; to stop spending money that we don't have and forcing our children and grandchildren to foot the bill.”

He’s talking about the budget, praising Republicans in the U.S. House and Senate for their proposals and saying the feds should have to pass a balanced budget, as Scott himself is required to do in Florida.

But he also brings up the biggest wedge in Florida’s budget right now — paying for health care.

As the House and Senate back home fight over Medicaid expansion and await a final verdict on millions of dollars in federal spending to support the Low Income Pool, the former hospital executive-turned governor calls out Obama and his signature Affordable Care Act for making it harder for Americans to pay for health care.

“Rising health care costs (a problem that Obamacare has only exacerbated), federal taxes higher than other developed nation's and an anti-business attitude by the Obama administration has caused stagnant wages and a diminishing workforce,” he writes. “House and Senate Republicans should be commended for seeking to address these systemic challenges that President Obama has either ignored or made worse.”

January 28, 2015

Harsh new criticism leveled at Gov. Rick Scott over FDLE firing

Top state officials in both political parties leveled harsh new criticism at Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday for his decision to oust the longtime Florida Department of Law Enforcement commissioner absent public discussion with the three Cabinet members who also oversee the agency.

In his strongest criticism yet, Republican Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said "we were misled" about Scott's true intentions to orchestrate Gerald Bailey's removal after a glowing three-decade FDLE career.

When asked whether he believed Scott's version of the truth or Bailey's, Putnam paused and did not give a direct answer.

"Jerry Bailey's a fine man. He served our state very well. The way he was treated at the end of his distinguished career was shabby," Putnam said.

Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, accused Scott of violating the Florida Constitution, which he is sworn to uphold, by not giving the Cabinet members any voice in the replacement of the FDLE commissioner.

"Hubris appears to be the organizing principle of our executive branch," Joyner said.

Developing story here.

January 06, 2015

First Lady Ann Scott hosts inaugural reception for military families

In her family's second term in the Governor's Mansion, First Lady Ann Scott plans to continue to prioritize the initiatives she did in the first term, she told the Times/Herald.

"I'm pretty much going to be focusing on the same things," she said. "Reading and literacy, healthy lifestyles for children, military families and foster children."

One of those priorities -- military families -- was the focus for the first lady's inaugural reception Tuesday after Gov. Rick Scott's swearing-in.

At the event at the Goodwood Museum and Gardens two miles from the state Capitol, the governor and first lady met and spoke with military families, paying special tribute to Gold Star families, the relatives of those who have been killed in battle.​

"Serving as your first lady has given me the opportunity to get to know many men, women and children who have made incredible sacrifices for our state and our country," she said. "As a mother and grandmother, I am inspired by the Gold Star families."

-- Michael Auslen, Tampa Bay Times

January 04, 2015

Florida's public records tradition in 2014 became the year of 'oops'

It was a dark year for sunshine in Florida in 2014.

Legal fights by Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican Party of Florida kept crucial documents under wraps long enough to dilute their impact once they were released. The governor took the state’s public records tradition a new direction as he used taxpayer money to defend his attempts to shift the burden for holding the public records from the state to individual employees, and his lawyers opened a new legal vein with his interpretation of the blind trust law.

A lawsuit over the state’s congressional redistricting was fought without the aid of emails that showed GOP political consultants conspired to manipulate the process with false witnesses and gerrymandered maps. A legislatively commissioned report to make the state’s budgeting process more transparent was ignored by legislators.

Scott continued to be the first governor in modern history to shield all record of his travel from public view, and his office defended efforts to erase events from calendars before turning them over as public records.

The Department of Children & Families, under orders from the Legislature following a Herald serieson the state’s failure to protect vulnerable children from abusive parents, unveiled a website listing all child deaths. At the same time, Scott’s Department of Health stopped posting critical child death data on its website and excluded from its annual report on child deaths detailed analysis of the causes of death and the state’s role leading up to the fatalities.

And although the Department of Corrections introduced a “transparency database” listing prison deaths after a spate of critical news reports, it continued to embrace a policy that makes it difficult to fully examine the circumstances of in-custody deaths.

“What you’re seeing is a CEO mentality in which everything is viewed as a trade secret,’’ said Paula Dockery, a former Republican senator from Lakeland and former Scott supporter. “While that has served Rick Scott well, it has not served the people of Florida well and is not abiding by the spirit of the open government laws.” Story here. 

Here's a timeline of only some of the issues:

Continue reading "Florida's public records tradition in 2014 became the year of 'oops' " »

November 04, 2014

Ken Detzner: So far, no hitches at the polls on Election Day


Voting is going "very smoothly" this morning, with all polls opening on time in the state's 6,222 precincts, Secretary of State Ken Detzner said at an elections briefing in Tallahassee.

While millions are expected to vote today, the number of early votes cast could be a record, he said. As of last night, 1.7 million Floridians voted by absentee ballot and 1.3 million voted in-person at the polls. By party, 655,020 Democrats and 791,324 Republicans voted by absentee ballot and 555,473 Democrats and 518,476 Republicans voted early in-person at the polls.

"Voters are very pleased to get out early and vote absentee," he said. "I think we might actually see some records in regards to the number of absentee ballots that were mailed and that we're seeing returned.

"By the time the polls close this evening, we should have a sizeable number of votes already counted because of legislative changes made in 2013," Detzner said, referring to fixes restoring more early voting after Florida's flawed 2012 election process.

The U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division is monitoring polling locations in four Florida counties -- Duval, Hillsborough, Lee and Orange -- to ensure federal voting laws are followed. Detzner said these "observers" are present in 17 states, but stressed his confidence that the voting process has improved.

Given a governor's race too tight to predict, the state is ready for a recount, Detzner said. But the contest between Gov. Rick Scott and former Gov. Charlie Cristisn't the only challenge supervisors face this evening.

Several other tight races could require a recount, including the 2nd Congressional District race between Republican Steve Southerland and Democrat Gwen Grahamand the District 26 race where Miami Democrat Joe Garcia is battling Republican challenger Carlos Curbelo.

Continue reading "Ken Detzner: So far, no hitches at the polls on Election Day" »

October 12, 2014

Crist, Scott split on Medicaid expansion

As he gains momentum in the race for governor, Charlie Crist is driving a conversation on Medicaid expansion.

The Republican-turned-Democrat has become such a fervent supporter of the policy that he said he would consider using an executive order to get it done.

"A million Floridians are not getting the healthcare they need because of Rick Scott's lack of effort," Crist told the Herald/Times. "Florida deserves to have a governor who understands that this is affecting people’s lives."

Republican Gov. Rick Scott — who went from opposing Medicaid expansion to supporting it, albeit without ever really lobbying for it — hasn’t talked about the issue on the campaign trail.

But Scott said he was not surprised Crist would consider a using an executive order, drawing a comparison to the president.

"That is what President Obama does — refuses to work with legislators and just goes his own way and issues decrees," he said in a statement.

Observers say the issue may be key in the final weeks of the campaign. Read more here.