March 20, 2015

A Tallahassee taboo, talk of gas tax hike silenced by Scott

Florida's transportation system operates at a deficit with coffers so barren it will borrow to pay for almost all of its $9.1 billion in road and bridge obligations over the next year.

Making matters worse is that Florida could lose about $2 billion next year if a key federal transportation funding program isn't extended this year. Even if it is renewed, the program's long term prospects look bleak.

One possible remedy? Hiking the federal gas tax for the first time in 22 years to send additional money to the states, a long-dormant idea that has shown faint signs of life as gas prices have dropped to record lows.

Increasing the tax from its current 18.4 cents a gallon would raise billions more for the federal Highway Trust Fund, which is set to go broke on June 1.

"Our infrastructure's on life support," Ray Lahood, the former Republican U.S. transportation secretary in President Obama's first term, said in November. "It's falling apart because we haven't made the investments. We haven't got the money."

But talking taxes is the conversation no one wants to have. Not in Washington, D.C., where anti-tax sentiments prevail. And definitely not in Florida, where a Republican-controlled legislative and executive branch dismiss the idea.

"I strongly urge Congress not to raise the federal gas tax or any tax and instead come up with innovative solutions to fund priorities as we have done in Florida," Gov. Rick Scott said in January as he urged the nation to follow Florida's lead in financing a "world class" system while cutting taxes.

Left unmentioned in Scott's statement is that his state relies heavily on a federal trust fund that is nearly insolvent.

More here.

March 18, 2015

No opinion yet from Florida Gov. Rick Scott on transgender bathroom bill

@PatriciaMazzei

Visiting Miami on Wednesday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott wouldn't say if he would support legislation banning transgender men and women from using public restrooms of their choice.

The law, proposed by Republican state Rep. Frank Artiles of Miami, is aimed at Miami-Dade County, which has prohibited discrimination against transgender people -- including in public restroom.

But Scott told reporters at the BBVA Compass bank on Brickell, where he was touting the company's Florida expansion, that he hasn't seen the proposal yet.

"If it gets through, I'll review and see," Scott said, "but I don't believe in any discrimination."

Scott also declared himself against discrimination last year when Florida was fighting same-sex marriage legalization in court.

The governor often doesn't weigh in on proposed bills until they get closer to his desk. Artiles' proposal has cleared two Florida House of Representatives committees, but similar legislation in the Senate has yet to move forward.

--with Carol Rosenberg

Broward Sen. Chris Smith seeks Gov. Scott's help for project

Gov. Rick Scott regularly holds one-on-one meetings with members of the Legislature, and they're usually Republicans. But Scott has agreed to meet Wednesday with Democratic Sen. Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale, who wants to head off potential Scott opposition to his plan to secure state money for a project to increase the number of African-American police officers in Florida.

"I want to deal with him on the front end," Smith said.

Smith is sponsoring a bill (SB 772) that would place a Northeast Florida police training academy under the direction of historically black Edward Waters College in Jacksonville. He said he has the Republican Senate leadership's support for a $1 million appropriation for the project. The president of Edward Waters College, Nat Glover, was elected sheriff of Duval County in 1995 -- the first elected black sheriff in Florida in more than 100 years.

Smith and other black legislators have criticized Scott for not hiring more African-Americans in his administration and not appointing more minority candidates to judgeships in Florida.

Smith was active in mobilizing black voters to vote for Charlie Crist in the 2014 race for governor, and he was quoted last October in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel as saying: "I get more motivation from people wanting to get rid of Rick Scott than people wanting to vote for Charlie Crist."

Florida Gov. Rick Scott thinking of U.S. Senate run

via @adamsmithtimes

But don't panic Jeff Atwater or Carlos Lopez Cantera. Gov. Rick Scott has told top fundraisers he's interested in running in 2018 - when Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson's third term ends - not 2016, when Scott will still be in the middle of his second term.

As uncomfortable as Scott often seems in the political world, the U.S. Senate makes sense given that Scott initially seemed far more interested in federal issues than Florida issues. He started his political career with a committee attacking the Affordable Care Act and by the time he turned his attention to running for office in Florida Marco Rubio was well on his way to trouncing Charlie Crist in the Republican U.S. Senate primary.

Running in an off-year with lower Democratic turnout also makes more sense for Landslide Rick, who barely won his two gubernatorial races despite a GOP turnout advantage and dramatically outspending his opponents, Alex Sink and Crist.

Team Scott had been worried about Bill Nelson jumping into last year's governor's race, but it's no sure thing Nelson will seek a fourth term. Florida's senior senator is acting like he intends to, but he will be 76 in 2018.

--ADAM C. SMITH, Tampa Bay Times

March 17, 2015

Ousted FDLE chief Gerald Bailey met with federal prosecutors

Ousted FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey on Tuesday confirmed a report that he met with the U.S. attorney’s office in Tallahassee this month.

Bailey said he met with prosecutors at their request for more than an hour on March 5. He declined further comment.

A spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Patricia Marsh has declined to confirm that the agency is investigating the circumstances of Bailey’s removal from office or his subsequent allegations of repeated political interference in FDLE’s operations by Gov. Rick Scott’s office and his campaign.

A spokeswoman for Marsh, Amy Alexander, confirmed that Marsh received a letter from Integrity Florida, a self-appointed watchdog group, asking federal prosecutors to open a review of Bailey’s case.

Bailey’s dismissal is the subject of a lawsuit by more than two dozen news organizations accusing Scott and Florida’s three elected Cabinet members of violating the Sunshine Law by forcing Bailey to retire with no public discussion or vote.

The attorney for the media outlets, Andrea Flynn Mogensen of Sarasota, says she plans to take Bailey’s videotaped deposition on April 22 in Tallahassee.

--STEVE BOUSQUET, Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

March 16, 2015

Grade inflation at DEO? CONNECT gets a B+

Despite harsh reviews by the state’s auditor general, the state’s $77 million unemployment website is working just fine according to agency officials in charge of the troubled project.

“Many of the audit findings are now stale,” said Tom Clendenning, director of the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity workforce services. “The overwhelming majority of all the issues identified in the findings have been corrected.”

Clendenning addressed a critical audit’s findings during Monday’s joint legislative auditing committee. Asked to grade the new CONNECT website, Clendenning gave it a B+.

But claimants like Eddie Batista, an unemployed sales representative in West Palm Beach, said CONNECT still gets a failing grade with him.

“I’m disgusted,” Batista said after the meeting when told about Clendenning’s comments. “It still doesn’t work. I don’t know what we’re going to do when the next bill comes in. We’re broke. A B+? No way, it’s an F.”

Putting a happy face on the project is nothing new for Clendenning, his boss, Jesse Panuccio, or Gov. Rick Scott.

Continue reading "Grade inflation at DEO? CONNECT gets a B+" »

March 12, 2015

How one Florida congressman reacted to state's distaste for using 'climate change'

@PatriciaMazzei

U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, a Boca Raton Democrat, took to Twitter on Thursday to jab Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott over his administration's aversion to using the terms "climate change" and "global warming" in writing. (The state says it's not true.)

John Kerry takes on Rick Scott over avoiding 'climate change'

From the Associated Press:

WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday that elected officials who ban the words "climate change" are unwilling to face the facts, a non-so-subtle dig at Florida Gov. Rick Scott's administration.

Kerry, a longtime champion of combatting climate change, said the officials were ignoring the scientific facts.

"Now folks, we literally do not have the time to waste debating whether we can say 'climate change,'" Kerry said during a speech at The Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank. "Because no matter how much people want to bury their heads in the sand, it will not alter the fact that 97 percent of peer-reviewed climate studies confirm that climate change is happening and that human activity is largely responsible."

Kerry did not refer to Scott by name but said that he had read in the last "couple of days" reports about the ban.

More here.

March 11, 2015

Fact-checking Rick Scott on environment, sea level rise claims

Gov. Rick Scott’s record on the environment has faced renewed scrutiny after a news report stated that administrators in his Department of Environmental Protection were banned from using the terms "global warming" or "climate change."

Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, which broke the story, cited former DEP officials who said they had been told verbally to avoid such phrases.

"We were told not to use the terms ‘climate change,’ ‘global warming’ or ‘sustainability,’ " said Christopher Byrd, an attorney with the state’s Department of Environmental Protection from 2008 until 2013. "That message was communicated to me and my colleagues by our superiors in the Office of General Counsel."

After the report appeared, FCIR responded to critics who noted that the phrase "climate change" can be found on DEP’s website. FCIR explained that the majority of the documents predated Scott and that DEP’s servers host reports from other agencies and that the unofficial censorship system is porous.

The Washington Post then reported that a DEP official underlined the phrase "climate change" in a scientist’s paper multiple times, and she was told to remove it.

In the past, Scott has largely dodged questions about climate change using the refrain "I'm not a scientist." (Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has also used that phrase.)

Scott and his administration have denied that any such policy existed.

"It's not true," Scott told reporters in Hialeah March 9, without going into specifics.

Instead, Scott repeated familiar broad talking points about his environmental accomplishments without addressing whether any of them would address climate change.

"Let's look at what we've accomplished," he said. "We've had significant investments in beach renourishment, in flood mitigation. Look at what we've done with the Everglades: We settled a lawsuit over the Everglades. That litigation had been going on for decades. We put money in the Tamiami Trail, to raise that, to push water south. We've had - I think we've had record investments in our springs."

Here’s a look at some of PolitiFact Florida's previous fact-checks of Scott’s claims about the environment and his progress on environmental-related promises.