September 27, 2013

Rick Scott not ready to push Marco Rubio to back House flood-insurance rate fix


Gov. Rick Scott doesn’t sound ready to ask U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio to change his position and back a U.S. House flood-insurance measure to temporarily halt hefty rate increases starting Oct. 1

Scott referenced the House measure in a letter last week to Rubio and Sen. Bill Nelson, who then proposed legislation to delay rate increases for a year. But Rubio didn’t go that far in a Thursday response, where he expressed his concerns, but faulted the House proposal.

When asked Friday about Rubio’s response, Scott said “my concern is for our economy, our families and our state.” He mentioned the issue was discussed this week at the Florida Cabinet meeting with St Petersburg’s mayor, Bill Foster.

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September 13, 2013

Atwater: Learn about the Affordable Care Act, but watch for scams

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater says he's committed to helping small business owners and other Floridians learn about the provisions of the health care law. But he also wants people to watch out for scammers who are using the law to trying to swindle personal information from people eager to sign up for coverage.

The bulletin Atwater put out today does not criticize the law and is free from the combative tone other Republican lawmakers have used when discussing the Affordable Care Act. Also, it comes at a time when Gov. Rick Scott is receiving growing pressure from Democrats to denounce a Department of Health policy keep enrollment advisors from helping patients at local health departments sign up for coverage. Scott continues to avoid the issue.

Affordable Care Act scams are a legitimate concern, as Atwater points out. Companies not affiliated with the federal health exchange that people will use to shop for insurance coverage are running ads on TV and radio and setting up websites that could confuse people, officials say.

The people actually being paid by the federal government to help Floridians sign up for coverage are being trained not to ask for personal information. They don't begin working until Oct. 1 and will be housed at government and non-profit agencies.

Here is the full statement from Atwater:

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August 15, 2013

Political newcomer, marine corps vet, announces challenge to Atwater


Allie braswellAllie Braswell, head of the Central Florida Urban League and former Disney official, is running to be the Democratic challenger to Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater.

"I’m not a politician. But what we’re getting out of politician Jeff Atwater is a go-along to get-along style that is hurting Floridians. Under his watch, billions in no-bid contracts have been given away and people with insider connections are getting rich off taxpayer money,” said Braswell, a Sanford native and son of a citrus truck driver and Marine Corps. veteran.

“We need a leader who will help protect taxpayers by cracking down on huge contracts that politicians are handing over to their supporters and political allies,'' he said. "I’ll be a fiscal watchdog who will hold our government and politicians accountable and fight to shift the focus of our leaders away from helping their friends and back to attracting good jobs to Florida."

As a first time candidate little known outside the Orlando area, Braswell is the clear underdog against Atwater, a formidable money-raiser who previously served as Florida Senate president and as a banking executive.

Braswell, after 13 years in the Marines, worked a senior technology officer and diversity manager at Walt Disney World, before taking the helm of the Metropolitcan Orlando Urban League in 2010 at the time the non-profit was struggling.

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August 12, 2013

Movers & Shakers

New chairman for Citizens Board of Governors

Chris Gardner, a veteran of the retail insurance brokerage business, has been named chairman of the Board of Governors for Citizens Property Insurance Florida CFO Jeff Atwater.

Gardner, a resident of Winter Park, has 20 years of experience in the retail insurance brokerage business with a specific focus in commercial property and casualty insurance. He has served as a member of the Citizens board since his appointment in July 2011.

“In his 20 years in the insurance industry, Chris has proved himself to be a person of high character and sound judgment who shares my high expectations for how a corporation such as Citizens should be managed,” Atwater said in a news release.

Gardner is the managing shareholder of Kuykendall Gardner, LLC, a Florida-based insurance broker doing business since 1953. Neither the firm collectively nor Gardner personally has any current business interests in Citizens, according to the release. He has been a past chairman of the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce and is a past vice chairman of the City of Orlando Municipal Planning Board.

Gardner succeeds Carlos Lacasa as chairman of the Citizen’s board.

Another change: Sen. President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, has appointed Freddie Schinz to the Citizens Board of Governors.

Schinz has more than 40 years of experience as a statewide commercial builder. He replaces Carol Everhart.

Gaetz picks

Gaetz has appointed Sen. Anitere Flores (R-Miami) to the Southern States Energy Board, Sen. John Legg (R-Lutz) to the Education Commission of the States, Sen. Bill Montford (D-Tallahassee) to the Workforce Florida, Inc., Board of Directors, and Sen. Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland) to the Florida High School Athletic Association Public Liaison Advisory Committee.

Flores, 36, is an attorney and CEO of Doral College. Legg, 38, is a long-time Pasco County educator and the Senate Education Committee Chair. Montford, 65, is the CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents. Stargel, 47, is an investment property manager in Lakeland.

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August 07, 2013

Atwater wants answer: why aren't property insurance rates dropping?

Property insurance imageIn a letter to Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater asks why it is that as re-insurance costs for property insurers are dropping, they are not lowering premiums for Florida customers. 

He doesn't ask McCarty to do anything about it. He doesn't suggest he is going to do anything about it, but he is raising the point. Here's his letter:  Download 8.7.2013 Letter to Commissioner McCarty

August 06, 2013

Scott, Cabinet OK health care forms despite claims they 'mislead'

An excerpt from a story in Wednesday's paper:

Gov. Rick Scott and the three-member Florida Cabinet have signed off on a controversial new disclosure form that critics say is intended to poison Floridians against the health care law.

The Florida Legislature passed a law requiring the form after Republicans argued that policyholders need to know how federal reforms will affect their premiums. Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater — all Republicans — on Tuesday approved the disclosure forms unanimously and with no debate.

In recent weeks, critics have said the forms are useless and any efforts to compare policies that comply with the health care law to those that don't is "fuzzy math."

"It's totally about politics, and, probably more importantly, it's an incredible waste of money," said Bill Newton, executive director of Florida Consumer Action Network, which supports the federal health care law.

Prior to a vote, Putnam referred to the Office of Insurance Regulation's report that said individual plans would have an average increase of 30 to 40 percent under the federal law. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has questioned those estimates.

"Across the country we have seen press announcements by state insurance commissioners that consistently indicate substantial increases in premiums to the consumer, especially in that individual market," Putnam said after the meeting.

Read more here.

July 01, 2013

Movers & Shakers

New Duke Energy CEO takes charge

Lynn Good takes over on Monday as the new CEO, president and vice chairman of Duke Energy, which serves 1.6 million customers in Florida. Good, 54, has been the utility’s executive vice president and CFO since July 2009.

She succeeds Jim Rogers, who will continue as chairman of the board until his retirement on Dec. 31. The North Carolina-based Duke Energy merged with Progress Energy last year to become the nation’s largest electric-power holding company in the United States, with more than $110 billion in assets

Florida Supreme Court picks new clerk

Technologically savvy attorney John A. Tomasino has been selected as the Court’s next clerk. He’ll replace Thomas D. Hall, who will retire in October after being in the job for more than 13 years. Tomasino, who is administrative director of the Public Defender's Office in the Second Judicial Circuit, starts his new job on Nov. 1.

CFO names new communications director

Chris Cate has been named the communications director for Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, starting on July 8th.

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May 29, 2013

CFO Jeff Atwater also raises questions about $52 million deal for Heritage Insurance

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater has weighed in on Citizens Property Insurance’s $52 million deal with an upstart St. Petersburg firm, suggesting that the transfer was “not thoroughly vetted.”

Atwater joins several other top Florida officials in questioning Citizens over the deal, which benefits nine-month-old Heritage Property and Casualty Insurance. The proposal was unveiled and approved last week  in a quickly scheduled 3-2 vote by Citizens’ board. Two board members could not make it to the meeting and another abstained from voting, allowing the proposal to carry with support of only three of Citizens' eight board members. 

“Citizens must recognize that making significant financial decisions on behalf of Floridians deserves full and complete transparency,” Atwater said in a statement provided by a spokesperson.

Heritage, which donated $110,000 to Gov. Rick Scott’s reelection campaign in March, will receive up to $52 million from Citizens’ $6.4 billion surplus, part of a unique retroactive reinsurance deal. The company will take over as many as 60,000 policies from the state-run insurer.

The deal has sparked criticism from House Speaker Will Weatherford, Rep. Mike Fasano (R-New Port Richey), Rep. Frank Artiles (R-Miami) and former state senator Dan Gelber (D-Miami Beach). Weatherford pledged to have his Regulatory Affairs chair conduct a thorough review of Citizens. Scott’s chief of staff called the board “tone-deaf” and the governor’s office said Scott did not influence the board to act on behalf of his political contributor. A board member appointed by Scott made the motion to approve the deal.

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March 27, 2013

Digital Domain CEO hits back at damning IG report, blames Scott-Crist politics

Digital Domain debacle, take two.

The former CEO of Digital Domain is hitting back with an alternative script after an Inspector General report slammed the process that helped the now-defunct Port St. Lucie film studio get $20 million in taxpayer grants. 

John Textor said the claim by Gov. Rick Scott and Enterprise Florida that the Digital Domain deal was some kind of widely discredited proposal that had been blacklisted by Enterprise Florida, only to be slipped into the budget later by aggressive lawmakers and Gov. Charlie Crist—is complete fiction.

In fact, Textor said, Enterprise Florida actually recommended that Florida taxpayers chip in about $11.4 million to help Digital Domain bring jobs to the state.

An email Textor provided to the Herald/Times shows that an Enterprise Florida representative wrote Textor on March 18, 2009, saying that the organization would “present to [the Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development] relative to a one-time award of $6.1 million” and other awards for a “total potential FL economic incentive package” of $11.4 million. The email, not included in the IG report, said Digital Domain would be required to create 300 jobs. 

EFI never went through with a recommendation to OTTED (which is required for  economic incentives grants to be awarded), but Textor has a very different explanation for why that did not happen.

According to Enterprise Florida’s account, the organization refused to support funding because Digital Domain’s finances were “extremely weak” and its business model was suspect.  Textor has a different story, and questions Enterprise Florida’s credibility by pointing out that the organization believed Digital Domain’s business plan was strong enough to receive an $11.4 million incentives package. 

Textor believes that he and others are being thrown under the bus as a way for Gov. Rick Scott to attack the Crist administration, which was in charge when Digital Domain received funding by getting special language tacked onto the state's budget.

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IG Report: Many said 'Yes' to ill-fated Digital Domain tax grant

Senate President Don Gaetz has grown fond of saying, about the legislative process, “It takes three ‘Yeses’ to get to ‘Yes’ and only one ‘No’ to get to ‘No’.”

When it comes to the ill-fated $20 million grant to a now-bankrupt Port St. Lucie film studio, several legislative power players said ‘Yes’ to a deal that later cost taxpayers dearly.

The long list of abettors, unveiled in a recently released Chief Inspector General report, includes former Gov. Charlie Crist, former economic development head Dale Brill, current Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, former House Speaker Larry Cretul, former U.S. Representative David Rivera, former Rep. Kevin Ambler and former Lieutenant Gov. Jennifer Carroll.  

In a process that Brill said involved taking great energy to “deliberately and intentionally sidestep the process,” Digital Domain was able to corral enough support from Tallahassee power players to get $20 million in taxpayer grants over the objections of the organization responsible for vetting such awards.

According to the report, Enterprise Florida advised against giving Digital Domain such a large grant in 2009, raising questions about its financial stability.

But there were several other power players who said ‘Yes,’ allowing the company to circumvent the vetting process and gain access to a large pot of taxpayer cash.

Last year, Digital Domain went bust in a high-profile bankruptcy.

Gov. Rick Scott ordered his Chief Inspector General Melinda Miguel to investigate how the deal came together.

According to Miguel’s report, here’s a timeline of how the ill-fated deal came into existence:

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