June 21, 2017

Corcoran's Watchdog PAC pulls in $608,000 in first month -- including $100k from Norm Braman

Corcoran profile photo AP Steve CannonStraight off a controversial session, House Speaker Richard Corcoran ignited his month-old political committee this week with $608,000 in contributions -- half of it in the form of generous gifts from the political committees of his two top deputies, Reps. Jose Oliva and Carlos Trujillo. But the other generous check to the Watchdog PAC came in the form of a $100,000 contribution from Miami auto magnate Norman Braman.

The contribution of $250,000 from Oliva's political committee and the $100,000 from Trujillo's PAC, are noteworthy, but in the secret world of shape-shifting transfers between political allies in Florida, they are not all that meaningful.

The Braman gift, however, is telling as Corcoran is rumored to be using the PAC to position himself for higher office. Miami's business leaders were in a serious tizzy in late April, when it appeared that Miami Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, the House's lead negotiator on a gambling bill, presented an offer to the Senate that indicated House leadership was prepared to overcome years of resistance and agree to authorize a new gaming facility in Miami-Dade. 

Braman joined Healthcare executive Mike Fernandez, and Miami developer Armando Codina calling legislators enraged that they would move forward with the idea without understanding the impact it could have on the city, local businesses and the city's successful economic boom. In less than a week, talks collapsed and the bill was declared dead. 

Corcoran's report, posted on his Watchdog PAC site, indicates he raised another $183,000 in donations of between $100 and $1,000 before his much publicized fundraisers hosted by Orlando trial attorney John Morgan at the home of another Orlando trial attorney, Zander Clem. Reports show the fundraiser brought in about $17,450, mostly from attorneys, chiropractors and health care types -- likely many looking forward to the expanded application of medical marijuana. Absent from the contribution list was a check from Morgan. Clem gave $2,500 and former Democratic House Rep. Mike Clelland, who works for Morgan, gave $500. 

Another round of checks came in June 20 from mostly attorneys and health care folks raising $56,250. Corcoran's next fundraiser is set for June 28 in Miami, hosted by the speaker's many friends in the Miami delegation. 

Oliva's political committee, Conservative Principles for Florida, had $778,810 on hand after its last report on June 8. The June 6 donation to Corcoran's committee has not yet been recorded on the Division of Elections web site. Trujillo's political committee, Conservative and Principled Leadership for Florida, however, had only about $40,000 on hand on June 8 and reported the contribution to the Watchdog PAC on May 31. 

Photo: Steve Cannon, AP

 

June 13, 2017

With the governor's signature of HB 7069 expected, is a legal challenge coming?

Gary farmerWith Gov. Rick Scott expected to sign the controversial charter-school friendly bill -- that incited a groundswell of criticism -- at a press conference somewhere in Orlando on Thursday, opponents are mounting a last minute effort to lay the groundwork for a legal challenge or legislative retooling of HB 7069. 

In a letter to the governor on Tuesday, Sen. Gary Farmer, a freshman Democrat from Lighthouse Point, urged the governor to veto the bill because it would "dramatically reduce the ability of school districts across the state to devote resources towards improving our public education" as well as allowing private management companies to profit off taxpayer dollars, and local communities to be cut out of zoning decisions relating to schools.  Download SenatorFarmerLetterRe7069

But Farmer, a lawyer, also outlined his case -- for why he believes it could be challenged on the grounds that it passed illegally -- and in violation of the Senate rules and may be ripe for a legal challenge.

"I do intend to look into it,'' Farmer told the Herald/Times. "Process is supposed to matter. There are supposed to be boundaries and limitations so everybody is on equal footing. When we don't follow the rules, it erodes and denigrates the process."

For example, he said, HB 7069 morphed from a six-page bill "which dealt entirely with the Best and Brightest Scholarship Program" to a 278-page amendment" that included provisions that were the subject of 55 other bills "the vast majority of which either had been voted down in committee or had stalled."

In a lengthy point of order on the Senate floor on May 8, Farmer noted that the conference committee on May 5, the last scheduled day of session, between House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron settled up the final budget package but the final wording of HB 7069 was rolled out two hours after they had met at the conference. At that meeting, Corcoran and Negron did not take a vote on the final budget agreement, except to announce that the agreement was made.

 

Although most of the bills’ provisions had been discussed at least conceptually by one of the chambers, not all of them had. The concept of the “Schools of Hope” was only discussed for only 90 minutes in the Senate prior to the final passage.

A Herald/Times analysis of HB 7069 also found that HB 7069 not only included language from 55 bills but also from bills never before discussed or considered publicly and — in one case — a bill that was defeated by a Senate committee.

For example, a new bonus scheme whereby all “highly effective” teachers would get $1,200 in each of the next three years and all “effective” teachers could get up to $800 as never discussed before in either chamber.

House Pre-K-12 Appropriations Chairman Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, acknowledged the language was new but defended it. “That’s new, granted,'' he told reporters on May 5. "But it’s within the context of teacher bonuses”  as part of the “Best & Brightest” program.

 

June 05, 2017

New economic development bill gives governor $85 million grant fund with few strings attached

Scott at MIA 60217

After spending the session peeling back what they deemed was taxpayer-financed “corporate welfare” in the name of jobs, the Florida House returns this week with a plan to replace those programs with a new $85 million economic development fund that gives Gov. Rick Scott exclusive control — and few strings attached.

The agreement, between House Speaker Richard Corcoran and the governor, and signed off on by Senate President Joe Negron last week, paved the way for Scott to sign the $83 billion budget on Friday and call for a three-day special session starting Wednesday.

In calling back legislators, the governor directed them to add $215 million in K-12 funding to the budget, restore $75 million to the tourism marketing agency, Visit Florida, and create an $85 million grant program within the Department of Economic Opportunity. If they pass the bills, many expect the governor to sign Corcoran’s priority legislation, HB 7069, a controversial public education bill intended to expand charter schools by giving them control of the state’s struggling schools.

READ MORE: “Another backroom deal stokes distrust in Florida’s Legislature”

The economic development bill proposed by the House, HB 1a, will regulate how taxpayer money is used for economic development. It creates the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund within the Department of Economic Opportunity to finance projects that fit broad criteria to help targeted industries: rural infrastructure, transportation projects for local governments and individual training programs at state colleges and technical schools.

The bill says that DEO and Enterprise Florida will “identify projects, solicit proposals, and make funding recommendations to the Governor, who is authorized to approve” them.

There are no restrictions on how the grant money is dispersed except that it “shall not be used for the exclusive benefit of any single company, corporation, or business entity.” Nothing in the legislation requires an audit. There are no application requirements, no job metrics and no mandate that the project show it is developing jobs.

After feuding with the governor all session, many lawmakers were surprised that the House was willing to turn over unfettered control for economic development spending to Scott, and Senate leaders say they may not be ready to accept the House bill entirely. Story here. 

 

June 03, 2017

Second backroom budget deal is sowing seeds of distrust

Scott at MIA 60217@MaryEllenKlas and @Steve Bousquet

Another backroom deal, this time involving the governor who has blasted the Legislature for secrecy, is leaving a trail of frustration and distrust in the state capital as elected lawmakers are being called back for a special session this week to rubber stamp a budget they were excluded from negotiating.

After stoking rumors that he might veto the Legislature’s budget and an accompanying controversial public school reform bill because they were negotiated behind closed doors, Gov. Rick Scott emerged this week with House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron in Miami with an announcement. He would sign the budget, veto $409 million in local projects, and order lawmakers back June 7-9 to add $215 million to the public education budget.

The announcement caught most legislators off guard, even ranking Republicans who were left out of the deal-making.

“Other than a seeing a press release, I haven’t talked to anyone about any of it,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, who chairs the Senate budget panel on tourism and economic development.

“Is this how the process is supposed to work?” he asked. “There has to be a better way.” Story here. 

June 02, 2017

Budget deal includes $200M more for schools, $165M for economic development

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@stevebousquet @maryellenklas @michaelauslen @ByKristenMClark

Gov. Rick Scott has agreed to sign the budget and a controversial House public education plan and come back in special session next week to inject more than $165 million into the governor’s top economic development priorities, as well as put about $200 million in additional funding for public schools.

The agreement, which will be announced at a 10 a.m. news conference at Miami International Airport, was finalized late Thursday night after several days of backstage negotiations mostly involving House Speaker Richard Corcoran, Scott and their top staff members.

Lawmakers have agreed to boost public school spending by $210 million, bringing the total increase in this year’s state budget to $100 per student, Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, told the Herald/Times. That’s still less than half as much as Scott and the Senate originally sought earlier this year to boost school funding but it’s a significant increase from the extra $24.49 per student that the Legislature had in its approved budget — which critics had described as “starvation-level.”

They also will fund Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing program that was gutted in the Legislature’s original budget, at its current level of $76 million. And they will put $85 million into a new job-creation fund at the Department of Economic Opportunity, which would be used for infrastructure and other economic development costs, rather than to pay companies for bringing workers to Florida, which Corcoran has decried as “corporate welfare.”

All of that would be funded by more than $300 million in vetoes of member projects tucked into the state budget passed overwhelmingly by the House and Senate in early May.

Full details here.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

May 24, 2017

Corcoron has a new political committee, ahead of possible run for governor

via @adamsmithtimes

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran has opened a new political committee, Watchdog PAC, that may or may not bankroll his campaign for governor in 2018. The Land O'Lakes Republican says he will remain speaker of the Florida House through the 2018 session and decide after that whether or not he will run for governor.

In the meantime, it apears virtually every special interest wanting something done or not done in the legislature can bankroll the ironically named Watchdog PAC to curry favor with Corcoran. We haven't heard back from Corcoran yet, but this new committee fits exactly what he said he intended to do.

"If I can't raise the money, I can't raise the money, and if I raise the money and I don't want to run for governor, I don't run for governor. I'll use it for constitutional amendments, I'll use it for helping real conservatives, or I'll turn it over to the (Republican) party," Corcoran told the Tampa Bay Times earlier this month.

Adam Putnam already has north of $8 million for his gubernatorial campaign, and state Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater seems increasingly likely to get into the race as well. U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of northeast Florida is also a prospect.

--ADAM C. SMITH, Tampa Bay Times

May 18, 2017

Corcoran responds to superintendents: Focus on 'building beautiful minds,' not 'beautiful buildings'

SP_410741_KEEL_16_FLGOV (1)

via @martindvassolo

Two days after Gov. Rick Scott hinted at vetoing a controversial $419 million, 278-page education bill that narrowly passed the Legislature a week ago, Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran visited the Miami-Dade Legislative Delegation and said he was hopeful the bill will survive Scott’s veto pen.

“I haven’t spoken to him, but I don’t know, there’s still a lot of time,” said Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, after a meeting at Florida International University on Wednesday morning. “Hopefully it’ll go well.”

The massive K-12 public schools bill, which drew sharp criticism from the Florida Association of District School Superintendents on Tuesday, is part of the 2017-18 budget. It includes a $234 million bonus package for most teachers and some top principals and a $140 million “Schools of Hope” program to help struggling traditional public schools and bring in private charter schools to give parents in these areas an alternative.

It also requires school districts to share some capital funding with charter schools, which the association said would take much-needed money away from traditional public schools.

RELATED: "In Liberty City, Corcoran praises Miami Democrat for supporting schools bill"

The association’s president called on Scott to veto the education funding bill, HB 7069, along with $23.7 billion in primary funding for K-12 schools, arguing the approved 0.34 percent increase in spending per student was not acceptable.

The bill, which passed the Senate on May 8 by a vote of 20-18 after passing the House 73-36, was a top priority for Corcoran, who called it “the most transformative, accountable, beneficial K-12 public education bill in the history of the state.”

“I know a lot of these superintendents, they’re good guys, but I wish they would focus more on not building $20- and $40 million Taj Mahal buildings,” Corcoran said. “What’s more important than beautiful buildings is beautiful minds, and this bill is about building beautiful minds.

More here.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

In Liberty City, Richard Corcoran lauds rogue Democrat for supporting 'Schools of Hope'

Liberty_Square_Groundbreaking_MJO_15

@ByKristenMClark

Miami Democratic Rep. Roy Hardemon had an unlikely and influential ally showering him with praise in his legislative district Wednesday: House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

“[Hardemon] doesn’t care who’s got power. He doesn’t care what the status quo is. He doesn’t care whether he gets elected,” Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, said in brief remarks on stage for the groundbreaking of the Liberty Square redevelopment project, with Hardemon at his side.

Hardemon, a freshman lawmaker, secured himself in Corcoran’s good graces last week, when he broke from the House Democratic caucus to support a controversial $419 million K-12 public schools bill that Corcoran and House Republicans unveiled and successfully pushed through in the final days of session.

Hardemon was the only Democrat in either the House or Senate to vote in favor of HB 7069.

“He doesn’t fear. What he cares about is his community,” Corcoran said, before touting a key provision of HB 7069 that’s meant to help neighborhoods like Liberty City.

Full story here.

Photo credit: Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, left, R-Land O’Lakes, sits with Rep. Roy Hardemon, D-Miami, while they attend the groundbreaking ceremony to for the Liberty Square Rising project in Liberty City on Wednesday, May 17, 2017. Matias J. Ocner / For the Miami Herald

May 17, 2017

Fact-checking Richard Corcoran's misleading tweet about education bill negotiations

Corcorannegronpic

@amysherman1 @bykristenmclark

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran says his critics are wrong that the main education bill was hammered out behind closed doors.

"Time to end the myth of ‘legislation negotiated in secret.’  #transparency #HB7069#PutKidsFirst," Corcoran tweeted May 12.

Corcoran tweeted that it is "fiction" to say that the "best and brightest teachers and principals provision in HB 7069 was NOT made public."

"Fact: these provisions were contained in HB 7069 which was filed on March 10, 2017 passed two committees and the House 79-38 on April 13th, 2017."

We found the original legislation about teacher bonuses for the "best and brightest" was unveiled and voted on in public; however, the final version of the bill and important details were negotiated out of the public eye.

Keep reading from PolitiFact Florida.

Braynon to governor: We'll work with you to block override

Oscar Braynon by Keeler

@MaryEllenKlas

Senate Democrats are prepared to work with Gov. Rick Scott to block an override of a veto if he rejects the sweeping education reform bill pushed by House leaders in the final days of session and sold as a take-it or leave-it budget deal, Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon told the Herald/Times.

Pressure is mounting for the governor to veto HB 7069, and potentially the entire K-12 budget, and the 15-member Senate Democratic caucus will play a key role in making sure the Republican-controlled Legislature doesn't override that veto.

"We have to have a reason to override,'' Braynon of Miami Gardens said, referring to his Democratic colleagues. "It would depend on what the veto message looks like and if his vetoes include a bunch of things that matter to Democrats, then we're not going to override. We're willing to come back and work."

The Senate would need 26 votes to override the governor's veto and, with Senate Appropriations Chair Jack Latvala openly suggesting he would support a veto, plus the three Republican senators who voted against the bill, the numbers won't add up if the Senate Democrats hold most of their 15 members.

"We want to see a change in RLE and FEFP,'' Braynon said. "We're not against funding Visit Florida. If the Republicans ask for an override of 7069, we're not going to do it. If they want an override of the whole budget, we will withhold our judgment on overriding until we see what happens." 

He said that the opportunity presents the governor with a rare opportunity to work with Democrats and Democrat-aligned groups, such as the teachers union. He noted that after former Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed SB 6 in 2010, a bill that would have linked teacher pay to student test scores, the Florida Education Association endorsed him for U.S. Senate over Kendrick Meek, the father of the class-size amendment. 

"This sets up an opportunity for him," Braynon said, adding. "I haven't always agreed with the governor but I'm willing to keep trying. I can find common ground with anybody."

Photo credit: Scott Keeler, Tampa Bay Times