February 08, 2016

South Florida auto dealer Rick Case asked Gov. Rick Scott to increase funding to Boys & Girls Clubs

@ByKristenMClark

A few months before lawmakers began debating how best to fund after-school programs next year, one prominent South Florida businessman put a bug in Republican Gov. Rick Scott's ear to increase state funding for the Florida Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs.

In an email to Scott's office in early October -- obtained by the Herald/Times through a public records request -- auto dealer Rick Case asked Scott to recommend $20 million total next year for the state Boys & Girls Clubs, with $10 million each from the departments of Education and Juvenile Justice.

"I do have some community business that I need your help with leading into the 2016 Legislative Session in January," Case led his email, after noting how he was "looking forward" to seeing Scott at Case's daughter's upcoming wedding. 

Case pointed out that the Florida Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs took a 50 percent cut in its state funding this year, which meant the Broward County Boys & Girls Club -- with which Case said he is "deeply involved" -- also lost almost half of its state aid received by way of the alliance.

"We are working hard here in Broward to make up that shortfall, but I really need you (sic) help to make our kids a priority in your budget submission this year," Case wrote.

He added: "You have to agree with me that there are few organizations that have an ROI (return on investment) like Florida Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs in the State of Florida. Placing us in your budget will send a resounding signal for our efforts in every club working in their respective counties across the state."

It doesn't appear the plea had an effect on Scott, who recommended less funding for the alliance this year.

Scott's budget proposal kept education funding for the Florida Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs flat at $2.5 million for next year and recommended $600,000 in juvenile justice funding (down from $3 million this year).

Designated funding for after-school and mentoring programs are a point of contention in the Legislature's budget proposals for 2016-17.

The Senate wants to do away with line-item funding and replace it with a competitive grant program that more non-profit program providers can access. Senate education budget Chairman Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, said that deciding which aftercare programs are funded by individual line items each year is “so much a function of lobbying" that he wanted a more fair process. More here.

February 04, 2016

Capitol Buzz: Five things to watch today in Tallahassee

Legislative committees continue meeting in Tallahassee, while the state's top officials go to the fair. Here's what we're watching:

* They won't have an official cabinet meeting, but Republican Gov. Rick Scott, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Attorney General Pam Bondi will still be at the Florida State Fair in Tampa to help kick off the festivities. The governor will host a luncheon there at noon.

* At 9 a.m., the House Judiciary Committee will again take up the proposed "Pastor Protection Act," which allows clergy to turn away gay couples seeking to marry. The committee's vote was postponed last week.

* The House State Affairs Committee could vote to send to the House floor a proposal that changes the legal language of Florida's absentee voting to "vote-by-mail." That panel also meets at 9 a.m.

* The Senate Transportation Committee, also gathering at 9 a.m., will give a first hearing to a bill by Republican Sens. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg, and Anitere Flores of Miami, which aims to outlaw the use of red-light camera devices in Florida.

* A bill dealing with cremation fees that counties charge is set for its final committee hearing in the House. The Regulatory Affairs Committee meets at 1 p.m.

February 03, 2016

Bill addressing backyard gun ranges heads to Gov. Rick Scott

@ByKristenMClark

Perhaps the least controversial gun-related measure before the Legislature this session is on its way to Republican Gov. Rick Scott's desk for his signature.

SB 130 would make it a misdemeanor crime to fire a gun outdoors recreationally, including for target shooting, in a primarily residential area.

It's aimed at protecting public safety by prohibiting backyard gun ranges in densely populated areas. Rep. Neil Combee, R-Polk City, said the bill was prompted by the growing prominence of such ranges, which he said are set up "sometimes in a haphazard fashion."

The Senate passed it unanimously last week, and the House did the same Wednesday evening.

Capitol Buzz: Five things to watch today in Tallahassee

Scott_cornhole

@ByKristenMClark

The governor plays cornhole at the Florida Capitol, lawmakers huddle for initial budget talks and controversial gun bills get a floor vote in the House. Here's what we're watching today:

* Proposed plans for the 2016-17 budget will go before the House's and Senate's full appropriations committees. Both chambers have scheduled daylong meetings to debate and revise their respective proposals, which were released Friday. (House Appropriations, 8 a.m., 212 Knott Building. Senate Appropriations, 9 a.m. 412 Knott Buiding)

* Gov. Rick Scott is elevating his efforts to persuade the Legislature to support his call for a $1 billion tax cut and $250 million in business incentives. In a rare move, he's hosting a rally at the Florida Capitol, starting at 11 a.m. It will feature "leaders from around the state" and a specialty cornhole set branded with Scott's slogan of "1st For Jobs."

* The House Finance and Tax Committee, led by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, plans to formally unveil its "bipartisan" tax cut package -- and "much anticipated" hashtag -- during a press conference after the committee's meeting, set for 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

* More than 100 employees of the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa plan to visit with House and Senate members to help draw support for a $3 billion gaming compact, which the Seminole tribe and the governor signed but which the Legislature is hesitant to back.

* The House convenes for session at 3. After heated debate yesterday evening, the chamber is expected to pass two controversial gun bills and consider a slew of other legislation on the table.

Photo credit: Gov. Rick Scott's office

January 29, 2016

Florida House wants $601M increase to K-12 education funding

@ByKristenMClark

The Florida House is also seeking a big boost in K-12 education funding next year, proposing an extra $601 million more for schools.

Both the House and Senate are seeking to increase K-12 education funding even more so than what Republican Gov. Rick Scott has proposed.

Scott called for $500 million in extra funding. The House would increase that by another $100 million, while the Senate has pitched an extra $650 million, or $150 million more than Scott's plan.

But the the point of contention continues to be how much of those new dollars will come from the state versus growing revenues from local property taxes.

Some Republicans in both chambers argue increasing the required local effort constitutes a "tax increase," and they're not on board with that -- especially in the Senate.

Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, who chairs the Senate budget subcommittee for education, said his panel would consider several alternatives early next week, including replacing local property taxes with state tax revenue. More here.

Some lawmakers would prefer scaling back the local dollars and counting that toward the $1 billion in tax cuts that Scott wants, or even just simply acknowledging that the increase in education spending would cut into the overall tax cuts.

"If we cut taxes here a billion dollars and raise them $500 million at home, we need to call it a $500 million tax decrease, not $1 billion," said Rep. Fred Costello, R-Ormond Beach, a member of the House education budget committee.

That chamber's plan uses Scott's method of predominantly relying on local property tax revenue -- which House Education Budget Committee Chairman Erik Fresen, R-Miami, describes as an "adjustment with no actual increase in the millage."

But even if the tax rate doesn't change, property owners' tax bills will likely still be higher because of improved property values statewide.

Fresen said the proportion of local taxes toward education declined from 2009 to 2013, "so during a time of declining tax rolls, it was essentially a tax cut," so he said this adjusts for that now that property values are rebounding.

Fresen rolled out the House proposal during a swift discussion on Thursday. The chamber unveiled its full budget plan this morning.

For K-12 education, the House recommends a total budget of $20.3 billion, with $7,232 in per-pupil funding. The current level is about $7,107 per student this year.

To fund the House's plan of an extra $601 million in K-12 education, about 78 percent of that -- or $505 million -- would come from required and discretionary local dollars. About $95 million would come from the state.

By comparison, Scott's budget proposal called for a $20.2 billion education budget with funding of $7,221 per student. He wants to increase K-12 dollars by $507.3 million in 2016-17. But only about $80 million of that would be extra state aide, while $427.3 million — 85 percent — would come from property taxes that homeowners and businesses pay

Meanwhile, the Senate's budget plan is about $50 million more than the House's and $150 million more than the governor's. It's roughly $20.3 billion, with $7,249 in per-pupil funding.

To fund its $650 million increase -- for now -- the Senate has penciled in similar proportions of local and state funding as the House and governor, but Gaetz expects that to change given his and his colleagues' discontent with that calculation.

January 28, 2016

Scott: Don't count Jeb out

@jamesmartinrose

Gov. Rick Scott hasn't written off one of his famous predecessor's chances of becoming president.

Scott, in Washington to deliver an address on reforming hospital pricing practices at the American Enterprise Institute, put on his politics hat after the talk.

Scott, governor since 2011, said it's too soon to give up on former Gov. Jeb Bush despite his failure to gain traction in polls.

 "I still think it's early," Scott told the Miami Herald. "I mean, we haven't even done the first primary yet."

Scott said that Bush "was a very successful governor" when he headed the state from 1999 to 2007, noting in particular his education reforms.

"We're at a 12-year high in our K-12 graduation rate," Scott said.

Adding that "Jeb is working hard," Scott said, "The person that works the hardest generally wins."

Despite praising Bush's record in Florida, Scott declined to endorse him. Neither is he endorsing -- yet -- fellow Floridian Marco Rubio, the first-term U.S. senator, nor any of the other Republican presidential hopefuls.

"Like a lot of voters in Florida, I'm watching the candidates," the governor said.

Four days before the Feb.1 Iowa caucuses, Bush tallied just 4 percent in a NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll of that state's Republican voters released Thursday. He was far behind businessman Donald Trump and U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio of Florida, while also trailing neurosurgeon Ben Carson.

Bush is faring better in New Hampshire, which will hold its primary Feb. 9, according to a poll released Thursday by Suffolk University. Bush broke out of the single digits with 11 percent, putting him in a second-place tie with Cruz, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Rubio, with all four men well behind Trump's 27 percent standing.

In addition to Bush, Scott said he has personal relationships with Rubio, along with Kasich and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie through the Republican Governors Association.

Scott criticized the Republican National Committee for having scheduled just nine presidential debates this year.

"I wish the national party hadn't limited the number of debates and limited the locations," he said.

The RNC is weighing three additional possible Republican presidential debates.

The March 10 GOP debate will be at the University of Miami, nine days after Super Tuesday, when 14 states will hold Republican primaries or caucuses. Florida will hold its primary on March 15.

Scott declined to comment directly on Trump's decision to skip Thursday night's Fox News debate because of his ongoing feud with Megyn Kelly, one of its moderators.

"Every candidate's got to think about what's the best forum for them to get their message out, whether it's debates, whether it's town halls," Scott said.

 

January 25, 2016

Rick Scott nominates former DEO head to judicial nominating commission

Panuccio@ByKristenMClark

Less than a month after leaving the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, former agency director Jesse Panuccio has been nominated by Republican Gov. Rick Scott to fill a seat on the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission.

Panuccio will succeed Rutledge Liles for a term that ends in July 2019, according to a news release by Scott's office this afternoon announcing 42 other appointments to judicial nominating commissions for courts across the state.

Tallahassee lobbyist Jason Unger, 47, of GrayRobinson, P.A. was also reappointed to the Supreme Court commission.

The commissions nominate judges for trial and appellate courts, as well as the Supreme Court justices, and present them to the governor for his selection.

Scott has made a point of putting close associates on these commissions. The next commission will have the ability to name the candidates for replacement James E.C. Perry, who must retire in 2017 because of a mandatory retirement rule.

Panuccio, 35, announced his resignation from the DEO in early December. Panuccio led the agency through controversy over technical problems with the online filing system for unemployment benefits and had been one of Scott's top advisers in jobs and economic development. He was appointed executive director in 2013 but faced a tough confirmation vote in the Senate. He left the job Jan. 8.

January 21, 2016

Gov. Rick Scott signs first laws of 2016: water policy, special needs bills into law

@MichaelAuslen

IMG_3499Surrounded by members of the House and Senate -- and President Andy Gardiner's entire family -- Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday signed the first three new laws of 2016.

Together, the legislation represents a joint agenda set out by Gardiner, R-Orlando and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, after they took office in 2014: a comprehensive re-write of state water policy and an expansion of resources available to help people with special needs get an education and career training.

"It's a great start to session," Scott said. "I know we're going to have a great finish to session, and I'm sure we'll have a lot of fun along the way."

That made the assembled lawmakers laugh. Both Crisafulli's water bill and the Gardiner Scholarship -- which senators named the expansion of Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts for children with special needs -- failed to pass last session, held hostage in the budget blowup.

Lawmakers passed them last week as a sign of good faith for cooperation this session.

That doesn't mean there aren't detractors, however. While some environmental groups endorsed the new water policy, others have been outspoken against it. This week, former Gov. Bob Graham wrote a letter opposing the legislation on behalf of the Florida Conservation Coalition.

"This 134-page bill represents a purposeful effort to weaken protection and management of Florida’s water resources," he wrote. "It will result in further corrosion of what was once hailed as the water management standard of the Nation."

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam gave lawmakers and the governor a nod of support.

"In order to accommodate our explosive growth and ensure that our state, residents and visitors thrive, we need this long-term, science-based and comprehensive approach to water policy," he said in a statement. "This legislation will help provide the resources to meet the needs of our growing population, while protecting our environment."

The Gardiner Scholarships legislation includes what Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, called a "giveaway to the school uniform industry": $14 million in incentives for school districts and charter schools that require students to wear uniforms.

But Gardiner, Crisafulli and Scott hailed the day as significant. It's especially so for Gardiner, whose son Andrew has Down syndrome and who has focused on the issue for years.

"To see the Gardiner Scholarship now officially done, that's very special for us," Gardiner said. "But it's also important for the families around the state."

Photo by Michael Auslen, Times/Herald

With budget 'allocations' done, Senate is ready to spend $250M on economic development

The Florida House and Senate are reviving their traditional budget schedule and this week gave "allocations" to their budget subcommittee chairs that set the parameters for their chamber's proposed budget.

As happens most years -- except last year when budget negotiations broke down over health care spending -- this means that the chambers will have budget details available from subcommittees in the third week of session, in full committee in the fourth week and on the floor in the fifth week. 

"We're in a very, very conventional budget calendar,'' said Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, chairman of the Senate Appropriations committee. 

Neither Lee nor Senate President Andy Gardiner would disclose what their allocation numbers are for the decisions that are made behind closed doors. 

"We don't have an allocation document,'' Lee acknowledged "because if we had an allocation document, somebody is going to ask for it."

Both Gardiner, R-Orlando, and Lee said the decision on tax cuts will come later but Gardiner acknowledged that they are prepared to give the governor his full request for economic development funds -- $250 million -- for Enterprise Florida. 

Continue reading "With budget 'allocations' done, Senate is ready to spend $250M on economic development" »

University presidents aim to meet governor's call for post-grad job placement

@ByKristenMClark

Presidents and administrators from Florida’s 12 public universities and one private one presented their ideas Thursday to Republican Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet on how they plan to meet Scott's call to increase job placement of graduates in the universities' most popular programs.

The most common ideas proposed include offering career counseling services as soon as freshmen enroll and continuing that effort during the students' time on campus through dedicated advisers, internship placement programs and job-skill training activities.

Some of the more unique solutions mentioned range from free passports for Florida A&M University students in Tallahassee who study abroad to prepare themselves for a global workforce, to a freshman-year tuition rebate for students at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, who use campus career services, stay enrolled for four years and secure a job within six months of graduation.

FGCU president Wilson Bradshaw told the governor and cabinet that he expects that initiative will cost $1.5 million, which the university plans to fund through private donors.

"This will save them (the students) money and provide them with some much-needed start-up funds as they start on the path to a successful career," he said.

Each of the university presidents expressed emphatic support for Scott's "Ready, Set, Work" challenge, which he issued in December. He wants 100 percent of the students graduating from each university's two most popular programs to secure jobs within one year.

Continue reading "University presidents aim to meet governor's call for post-grad job placement" »