March 07, 2017

Fact-checking Gov. Rick Scott's speech to Legislature

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@amysherman1

Gov. Rick Scott vigorously defended the state’s agencies for business incentives and tourism marketing in his State of the State address, delivered just steps away from the fellow Republican attacking the governor’s priorities.

Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran did not call each other out by name in separate opening-day speeches, but each man used pointed language to double down on his view of the fiery Enterprise Florida/Visit Florida debate.

"It’s easy to throw out catch phrases like ‘picking winners and losers’ and ‘corporate welfare," Scott said in reference to Corcoran’s attacks on Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida. "But that’s not what we are doing."

Corcoran warned that the House would not back down: "And for anyone waiting for us to slow down, to drop the big ideas, to stop trying to shake up the system, to cower in the face of attacks, or to cave to the demands of special interests; here’s our message to you: We will not."

From PolitiFact Florida, here’s a rundown of the governor’s remarks with context and a fact-check of a Democratic response.

Victory No. 2 for Richard Corcoran: Court orders Lottery to start over on ticket contract

In a stunning rebuke to Gov. Rick Scott and his Lottery secretary, a circuit court judge invalidated a contract the state signed with a ticket vendor IGT Global Solutions, saying the agency overstepped its budgetary authority when it committed to the 14-year deal and obligated the state to nearly $13 million more than the Legislature had authorized.

The 15-page ruling by Leon County Circuit Court Judge Karen Gievers said that Lottery Secretary Tom Delacenserie “lacked the legal authority to enter into the IGT contract” when it obligated the state to nearly $13 million more than the Legislature authorized.

She agreed with House lawyers that state law prohibits an agency from both soliciting and signing a contract that exceeds the amount of money authorized by the Legislature and declared the contract “void and unenforceable,” sending the agency back to the drawing board to sign a lease for the full-service vending machines that provide customers with Powerball and other game tickets.

“Today's decision is a victory for the taxpayer and the rule of law,'' said Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, in a joint statement with Rules Chairman Jose Oliva, R-Miami, and Judiciary Chairman Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor.

"It reinforces the idea that respecting the separation of powers is not an arcane idea or an out of date philosophy. In truth it is one of the bedrock principles of our republican government and is essential to protecting the liberties and livelihoods of Floridians.  No branch of government is above the law and the people's House will use every power within our means – from the committee room to the courtroom – to ensure those liberties and livelihoods are protected.”

Gov. Rick Scott, whose office oversees the Lottery, issued a statement immediately saying he would challenge the ruling.

"The Florida Lottery continues to make record contributions to our public schools and today's ruling jeopardizes billions of dollars for Florida students,’’ he said in a statement. “I strongly disagree with today's decision and we will appeal."

It is the second victory for Corcoran, who sued the agency after his budget staff discovered it had inked the agreement in what appeared to be an attempt to get around the Legislature’s refusal to authorize the state to leasing more full-service vending machines.

In December, Corcoran also sued over a contract signed by Visit Florida, another one of the governor’s agencies, for refusing to disclose its $1 million contract with rapper Pitbull but he withdrew the lawsuit when the agency agreed to make the deal public.

During a hearing before Gievers on Monday, Barry Richard, the lawyer for the Florida Lottery defended the contract during a court hearing Monday, arguing that state law requires the agency to “maximize revenues” by operating as an “entrepreneurial enterprise” and said the House’s objection was an illegal attempt to “micromanage an individual contract.”

But House lawyer Adam Tanenbaum countered the agency acted first and planned to get permission from lawmakers later. 

On Tuesday, during his speech on the opening day of the legislative session, Corcoran was confident that the House would prevail.

"That trial was (Monday), and I can assure you, we will win," he predicted hours before the ruling came down.

The contract, which was signed in September 2016 to run until 2028, changed the way the state pays for leasing ticket sales machines by giving the company a fixed percentage of sales from each machine, rather than pay them with a flat $500 per machine fee.

Summer Silvestri, Lottery’s procurement director, testified that by agreeing to extend the contract to 2031, the agency was able to negotiate a lower percentage fee, saving the state an estimated $18 million over the life of the contract.

But under the new deal, IGT would have gotten a slice of the sales of tickets, machines and other services. Based on projected sales, that would increase the amount the Lottery must pay IGT by an estimated $12.9 million in the budget year that begins July 1, according to the House.

For Corcoran, the fight is more than a dispute over a contract. It goes to the heart of the budgetary power that Corcoran claims has been abused and corrupted in Florida, in part because state agencies and lawmakers have let special interests reign.

During the hearing, Gievers, a former lobbyist and child advocacy lawyer, seemed aware that her ruling on high-stakes issue would likely end up in appeals court. She repeatedly urged the lawyers to complete the record in the event the hearing would be reviwed on appeal.

Here's Giever's ruling.  Download Gievers order

Here's our story on the court hearing on Monday. 

All eyes on Corcoran as Florida session begins

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via @stevebousquet

LAND O'LAKES -- Richard Corcoran puffed on his cigar, picked up a shotgun and blasted a clay pigeon out of the sky, and then another.

As the orange discs broke apart, the speaker of the Florida House reached for another favorite weapon — his iPhone. In the woods of Pasco County, he spoke in hushed tones about his ongoing battle with Gov. Rick Scott over Enterprise Florida’s use of taxpayer money.

Riding a golf cart with two of his six kids on a Friday afternoon, he was helping local Republicans raise money while sharpening his aim.

Corcoran is the most unpredictable force in Florida politics in decades. He’s a fearless political marksman who uses laws, rules, tweets, videos, lawsuits and sheer nerve to lay waste to what he calls “a culture of corruption” in Tallahassee.

Senators, judges, lobbyists, college presidents, teachers and business owners are all among his targets — with none bigger than Scott.

Some can’t stand him, but they can’t ignore him. None should be surprised about his agenda.

Six years ago, Corcoran and his allies wrote it down in a plan called Blueprint Florida.

Years before Donald Trump crashed the scene with his anti-establishment rhetoric, Blueprint Florida promised to overhaul a system fixated on personal advancement.

That manifesto lives on with Corcoran, who is outraged by the system that shaped him and now wants to tear it down as he considers a populist campaign for governor.

The irony is not lost on his opponents. Ridiculed as a “career politician” by the governor of his own party, he forges ahead.

Corcoran finds his prey in his war room — the speaker’s office at the Capitol in Tallahassee. On a recent afternoon, he marked up a Senate proposal for flaws, shouting and underlining. He sipped a Diet Coke, popping an Andes mint in his mouth and tossed an F-bomb at an enemy.

“I’m the most disruptive person,” Corcoran said.

At least on this point, both his friends and enemies agree.

More here.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler, Tampa Bay Times

March 06, 2017

'Dramatic' reforms in play for all levels of public education

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@ByKristenMClark

Every level of Florida’s public education system — affecting kindergarten to university students — faces some measure of drastic reform in the upcoming legislative session that begins Tuesday.

Just some of what’s on the table:

▪ “Dramatic” expansions of school choice alternatives in K-12 public schools and the state’s voucher-like scholarship programs are a top priority of Republican House Speaker Richard Corcoran. His education chairmen also have grand goals of narrowing the achievement gap for the state’s lowest-performing schools by attracting and expanding innovative educational options.

▪ The operations of Florida’s 28 public colleges could be reined in over what some senators see as unnecessary competition with the state’s public universities, sparking a need for more oversight.

▪ And the State University System itself faces a changed future as Republican Senate President Joe Negron seeks to make Florida’s 12 public universities globally competitive with the likes of the University of Virginia or the University of Michigan.

It’s a bold, sweeping agenda for both the House and Senate — intentionally so, Republican leaders say.

More here.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

February 28, 2017

Fact-checking the war between Rick Scott and Richard Corcoran over Enterprise Florida

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@amysherman1

Gov. Rick Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran are locked in battle over the future of Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida ahead of the legislative session.

Scott sees the agencies for tourism and business development as essential to his jobs agenda, but Corcoran says they're a waste of money. The House plan would abolish Enterprise Florida and dramatically reduce Visit Florida's spending.

Is the state wasting money? The truth is somewhere in between.

Both leaders have released videos to make their case. Each side misses context and misrepresents the facts.

Keep reading from PolitiFact Florida.

February 23, 2017

Conciliatory Corcoran announces 'we'll get there' on a joint rule with Senate on budget process

Richard CorcoranHouse Speaker Richard Corcoran said Wednesday that he is open to compromise with the state Senate on his hardline new rules aimed at increasing transparency and accountability in the budget process. 
 
Senate President Joe Negron has resisted Corcoran's rules, last week even threatening to sue the House over what he considers an unconstitutional attempt to control the Senate, an independent co-equal branch of government. 
 
Negron defused the potential legal battle when he said the Senate would not sue but instead would work out their differences over the House rules in closed-door negotiations in an attempt to come up with a joint rule. 
 
Corcoran said Wednesday he believes the rules, which have the support of both the Democrat and Republican caucuses in the House, "have revolutionized the budget process." Although he taunted the Senate last week, urging them to "sue us,'' he sounded more conciliatory this week. 
 
"The concepts of transparency and accountability and not hiding things in the budget, if we could get that in a joint rule, absolutely we'll compromise," Corcoran told the Herald/Times in a pre-session interview.
 
Corcoran said he has been in discussions with Negron, Sens. Bill Galvano and Wilton Simpson, each designated Senate presidents, and is optimistic they will come to a resolution. 
 
"They're very, very zealous that we maintain as much control with the Senate as possible,'' he said. "If they're doing that and there is good outcomes, great. Where they believe we are doing transparency stuff that doesn't hurt them, great. I think we'll get there." 

February 16, 2017

Senate keeps DC law firm hired to fight redistricting -- to fight the Florida House

Joe Negron Richard CorcoranWhy would Florida's Senate president spend $71,600 on a Washington D.C.-based legal firm with no offices in Florida to represent them in legal battles over the Florida Constitution, and with the Florida House?

That's the obvious question for Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, who has signed two contracts, and assumed a third, from former Senate President Andy Gardiner, with Sidley Austin, a mega-firm in D.C. with offices across the globe -- except Florida.

Negron signed the third contract with the firm on Nov. 18, shortly after House Speaker Richard Corcoran disclosed rules that will bind the Senate to an unprecedented budget protocol, complete with disclosure requirements and prohibitions on recurring line items.

"This is a very unique area of the law given that it is unprecedented for one chamber to promulgate rules that would purportedly control the actions of another chamber,'' Negron told the Herald/Times said. "Those are issues we can look to precedence from the United State Supreme Court and to Florida courts."

He said he has authorized Sidley Austin to advise the Senate on the House rule relating to the appropriations process and it is "looking at the legal relationship and separation of powers."

"I believe their firm has expertise not only that is beneficial to us but has also done work in other states and brings a national perspective that brings significant value to the Senate and how we navigate the matter,''

The firm recently drafted a brief to challenge the House rules in court. Negron has refrained from filing that action, saying instead negotiations are ongoing.

"The House and the Senate are negotiating to work out quickly a joint budget rule that promotes transparency and a good process,'' he said. "We are continuing to talk."

Unlike the House, whose lawyers do not believe that a draft lawsuit is shielded from Florida public records law, the Senate refuses to release a draft copy of its work.

Continue reading "Senate keeps DC law firm hired to fight redistricting -- to fight the Florida House" »

Senate keeps DC law firm hired to fight redistricting -- to fight the Florida House

Joe Negron Richard CorcoranWhy would Florida's Senate president spend $71,600 on a Washington D.C.-based legal firm with no offices in Florida to represent them in legal battles with the Florida House?

That's the obvious question for Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, who has signed two contracts, and assumed a third, from former Senate President Andy Gardiner, with Sidley Austin, a mega-firm in D.C. with offices across the globe -- except Florida.

Negron signed the third contract with the firm on Nov. 18, shortly after House Speaker Richard Corcoran disclosed rules that will bind the Senate to an unprecedented budget protocol, complete with disclosure requirements and prohibitions on recurring line items.

"This is a very unique area of the law given that it is unprecedented for one chamber to promulgate rules that would purportedly control the actions of another chamber,'' Negron told the Herald/Times said. "Those are issues we can look to precedence from the United State Supreme Court and to Florida courts."

He said he has authorized Sidley Austin to advise the Senate on the House rule relating to the appropriations process and it is "looking at the legal relationship and separation of powers."

"I believe their firm has expertise not only that is beneficial to us but has also done work in other states and brings a national perspective that brings significant value to the Senate and how we navigate the matter,''

The firm recently drafted a brief to challenge the House rules in court. Negron has refrained from filing that action, saying instead negotiations are ongoing.

"The House and the Senate are negotiating to work out quickly a joint budget rule that promotes transparency and a good process,'' he said. "We are continuing to talk."

Unlike the House, whose lawyers do not believe that a draft lawsuit is shielded from Florida public records law, the Senate refuses to release a draft copy of its work.

Continue reading "Senate keeps DC law firm hired to fight redistricting -- to fight the Florida House" »

February 14, 2017

Gov. Rick Scott getting help from Democratic mayors on job incentives

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Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn met with Gov. Rick Scott in Tallahassee on Tuesday to strategize over how he can help save Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida from Republican critics in the Florida House. (Jeremy Wallace/Tampa Bay Times)

@JeremySWallace

A day after attending a rally with Gov. Rick Scott, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn was in Tallahassee on Tuesday meeting with the governor yet again.

Buckhorn and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, both Democrats, said they met with the governor to offer their help in protecting Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida - two agencies that some state lawmakers have vowed to eliminate.

“I’d be more than happy to go anywhere and speak to anyone about the importance of these incentives for us to be able to grow our economy,” Buckhorn said after his meeting with Scott.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, has called the incentive programs forms of corporate welfare that put too much government influence in the marketplace. Last week a House subcommittee voted to kill both agencies. The bill still has a long way to go, but supporters of the two agencies are pulling out all the stops to protect both.

Buckhorn said on Tuesday that if Florida doesn’t have job incentive money to offer companies, other cities and states will have a competitive advantage in convincing them to go elsewhere.

Buckhorn acknowledged he’ll take some heat from Democrats who question him being on the same side as the Republican governor and even sounding a little like him in defending the programs.

“There will be people who are mad at me because I stand up there with the governor, but ultimately it’s to the benefit of my city and it’s what I was hired to do - what I was elected to do,” Buckhorn said.

On Monday, Buckhorn attended a meeting with Scott in Tampa that had all the feel of a pep rally for Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida. At that event, Buckhorn told the crowd the incentives have benefited Tampa and need to continue.

February 09, 2017

Gov. Scott's job incentive programs get yet more scrutiny today

LatvalaTimes

@JeremySWallace

For the second straight day, one of Gov. Rick Scott’s biggest priorities will be under scrutiny at the hands of the Legislature today but with a big difference.

When Enterprise Florida goes before the before the Senate Appropriations Committee later today, it will be doing so in a committee that is lead by Sen. Jack Latvala, who has called the House Republican’s idea of killing that agency and Visit Florida the “dumbest idea.”

Cissy Proctor, the director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, is expected to testify that economic incentive programs under Enterprise Florida can “tip the scales” in the state’s favor when it comes to convincing companies to move to Florida.

Scott has argued that the incentive programs have been critical to the state adding more than 1.2 million private sector jobs since 2010.

Still, House Republicans yesterday took their first step toward killing Enterprise Florida. The House Careers & Competition Subcommittee voted 10-5 in favor of a bill pushed by Rep. Paul Renner, R-Jacksonville, which would eliminate Enterprise Florida completely and put all other economic development programs under the Department of Economic Opportunity.

“The problem with economic incentives is that they are selective and they absolutely pick winners and losers,” Renner told the committee yesterday.

Renner said the government shouldn’t be in the business of picking winners and losers in a free market.

Renner’s legislation comes as House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, has called the idea of giving tax credits to businesses to relocate or grow their operations in Florida a form of “corporate welfare.” He said other factors like improving education and infrastructure has the potential of attracting businesses more than tax credits.

Scott has warned Legislators that killing Enterprise Florida will damage the state’s economic momentum over the last 6 years.

Latvala’s Senate Appropriations Committee meets at 1 p.m. today.