September 26, 2015

Florida loses $400M in jobs fraud, feds offer grant to help, Scott admin won't apply


The U.S. Department of Labor divvied up $10 million worth of federal funding among 23 states to fight the problem of jobs fraud known as worker misclassification, but Florida didn’t get a penny.

That’s because the state didn’t apply for a grant — even though a yearlong Miami Herald and McClatchy Newspapers investigation found misclassification in Florida’s construction industry costs taxpayers $400 million per year in lost state and federal tax revenue.

Misclassification happens when employers claim that their workers are independent contractors instead of full-time employees. The scheme allows companies to evade payroll and unemployment taxes and then undercut law-abiding competitors on bids.

After the Herald series came out, Florida signed an agreement with the federal government to crack down on misclassification.

The office of Gov. Rick Scott did not say why the state had failed to apply for funding. Instead, it directed a reporter late Friday afternoon to contact the Department of Revenue, which did not respond.

More here


September 23, 2015

FEMA rejects Scott's appeal for federal disaster declaration

For the second time in a month, the federal government has rejected Gov. Rick Scott’s plea for a disaster declaration for flooding that swamped the Tampa Bay region in late July and early August.

Scott was already turned down for a disaster declaration on Sept. 3, but appealed the decision a week later to Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator W. Craig Fugate, who advises President Barack Obama on disaster declarations. However, what Scott got back on Wednesday was the same answer he received earlier: no.

“After a thorough review of all the information contained in your initial request and appeal, we reaffirm our original findings that the damage from this event is not of such severity and magnitude that warrants a major disaster declaration,” Fugate said in a letter sent to Scott on Wednesday.

In denying Scott's initial request made to Obama, Fugate had told Scott that the storms and subsequent flooding that blasted the region from July 25 to Aug. 3 were not of such severity and magnitude that state and local government officials could not cover the damage on their own.

Continue reading "FEMA rejects Scott's appeal for federal disaster declaration" »

Gov. Rick Scott meets with Papa John's CEO during Kentucky visit



"Papa John" himself had one hour of face time with Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott earlier today in Louisville, Ky., during the second day of Scott's two-day jobs trip to the Bluegrass State.

Scott's office released a revised itinerary for the governor after noon, specifying that Scott's previously advertised "business development meeting" at 11 a.m. was actually with John Schnatter, CEO and founder of the Papa John's pizza chain.

(Scott has two other vaguely described meetings on his schedule today, but no word yet on who those were with.)

Does this mean Schatter is delivering more jobs to Florida? Unclear.

Scott tweeted shortly after, commenting on a "great" visit and that he hopes Papa John's "continues their success in our state."

Scott is in Kentucky this week on an economic development trip to recruit jobs and business to Florida. Yesterday, he boasted about 40 new jobs that an aerospace company, 1st Source Aerospace, announced months ago were coming to its secondary location in Miramar. More on that here.

Schnatter, a Louisville resident, owns a condo near Naples in Collier County, where Scott also lives.

Photo credit: Reuters

September 22, 2015

Scott poaches 40 aerospace jobs from Kentucky -- or is it Ohio?

Gov. Rick Scott arrived in Kentucky Tuesday for two days of job promotion efforts and announced that a Kentucky company plans to expand in South Florida. Scott said 1st Choice Aerospace will add 40 jobs at its Miramar location in southwest Broward County. But the geography on this job poaching trip is tricky.

Scott claims he's poaching jobs from Kentucky in part because it has a personal income tax, but the company's own web site barely mentions Kentucky and lists its "Ohio location" as being in Cincinnati with a fine-print street address in Hebron, Ky., close to the Ohio border and the home of Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.

As an aerospace support company, 1st Choice needs to be near large airports. The airport designation for that airport is CVG, short for Covington, Ky., the nearest city when the airport was built in 1947, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Would Scott publicly boast about stealing jobs from Ohio? No. Why not? Because Ohio has a Republican governor, John Kasich, and Scott only targets jobs from states led by Democratic governors. Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat, last week ridiculed Scott's job-poaching trip and cites Florida's high property taxes.

A release from Scott's office said the company specializes in repairing pneumatics, crew seats, O2, fuel, cargo and waste systems for commercial, cargo and military aircraft. The release quoted 1st Choice owner Chris Yeazel as citing Florida's business-friendly atmosphere and aviation talent.

September 21, 2015

Scott budget will include $19 million for mental health

Gov. Rick Scott on Monday announced that he will ask for more than $19 million in his state budget proposal to address mental health and substance abuse in the state, his first announcement for next year's budget.

The money is intended to fund proposals to expand mental health care services across the state, which Scott laid out in an executive order in June that said "state funding for mental healthcare is too fragmented."

"It is critical that we do all we can to help individuals and families affected by mental illness and substance abuse in our state," Scott said in a written statement Monday.

Lapses in mental health care access has been targeted recently in reports by the Miami Herald and other news organizations about the Department of Children and Families and the Department of Corrections.

Scott's budget will include:

* $12.8 million for Community Behavioral Health Services that aim to help people with mental health needs without resorting to incarceration and to help mentally ill inmates rejoin the community.

* $3.7 million to create five Community Action Treatment teams to treat youth with unmet mental health needs.

* $2.8 million to expand Family Intensive Treatment teams in counties where abuse and neglect is rampant and closely tied to substance abuse.

September 18, 2015

Florida voters don't want to pay for Scott's Sunshine law violations & Gators are more popular than Seminoles

Florida voters overwhelmingly do not want to foot the bill to defend against allegations that Gov. Rick Scott has violated the state's Sunshine Laws according to a new robo-poll from the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling.

The poll of 814 voters from Sept. 11 to 14 covers a grab bag of issues from Donald Trump to the popularity of Florida sports teams. It found that 70 percent of those surveyed don't want taxpayers to cover Scott's legal bills, while only  20 percent support that use of taxpayer money. The results are pretty complete across party lines with 79 percent of Democrats agreeing, 67 percent of independents, and 62 percent of Republicans.

According to a Herald/Times analysis of the invoices and budget requests submitted to date, the governor's legal bills have topped $1.2 million as he has agreed to settle lawsuits with St. Petersburg attorney Matthew Weidner, and a group of public records watchdogs that included the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times, and a lawsuit with Tallahassee attorney Steven R. Andrews. 

The poll found that Floridians are supportive of a handful of issues that are likely to get zero traction with the governor or the Republican-controlled Legislature this upcoming session. From the PPP press release:

Continue reading "Florida voters don't want to pay for Scott's Sunshine law violations & Gators are more popular than Seminoles " »

September 16, 2015

AHCA communications director resigns


A top state health official is leaving the Agency for Health Care Administration.

Katherine Riviere, who has been communications director, is stepping down to move with her husband to another city, where he has a career opportunity.

"It's been a tough decision to make but one we feel is right for us at this time," she wrote in the letter.

Her resignation letter dated Aug. 21 predates by more than a week stories reported by Politico Florida, as well as by the Herald/Times, about Gov. Rick Scott and his staff's intimate involvement in AHCA investigations into Planned Parenthood.

The news was first reported by Politico Florida on Tuesday but was independently confirmed by the Herald/Times.

Governor Scott's job recruiting chief issues public apology to senators


Gov. Rick Scott’s top job recruitment chief publicly apologized to key members of the Florida Senate on Wednesday morning for his role in adding to an acrimonious summer with the Legislature over the governor’s signature campaign issue.

“I do know that some of my comments have offended,” Enterprise Florida President Bill Johnson said. “And I apologize for that.”

His apology came after State Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, told him that the tension around the topic of economic development traces back to earlier in the summer when Johnson publicly called the Legislature’s proposed budget for a specific job creation program “shameful” and suggested the amount was so low that it would put Enterprise Florida out of business. The Legislature refused to give Scott the $85 million he requested for Enterprise Florida including a portion for a “quick action closing fund” to make deals with businesses moving to Florida. Instead, the Legislature cut that amount in half, reasoning that past money allocated for the same fund had still not be given out.

Scott later publicly warned that Florida may not be able to get deals done going forward.

Latvala has bristled as the "sky is falling scenarios" that Scott and Johnson have been expressing.

The Senate has responded by questioning how Enterprise Florida has used past funding the Legislature has given it for job creation. Since Scott took office in 2011, Florida Senate president Andy Gardiner said nearly all of the $264 million approved for the quick action fund is either in escrow or was returned, unspent, to the state treasury. Last week he questioned if how the governor was managing the fund was even legal, given the Legislature had not authorized what amounts to an escrow account that draws little interest. The interest rate is one-quarter of 1 percent.

Latvala said the heated rhetoric Johnson started is making it harder to work out a solution to legitimate issues at play on economic development.

“The rhetoric started recently and really goes back to you,” Latvala told Johnson. “The rhetoric on this issue needs to be lower.”

Continue reading "Governor Scott's job recruiting chief issues public apology to senators" »

September 15, 2015

Creaky bureaucracy sends long budget wish list to Gov. Scott

The Florida Lottery wants to offer cash bonuses to its sales staff. The Department of Environmental Protection needs to replace trucks that are unsafe to drive. The Department of Corrections wants new software to track down emails and respond faster to "prepare for lawsuits and investigations."

These are among hundreds of requests by state agencies to Gov. Rick Scott. The agencies faced an earlier-than-usual deadline of Tuesday to submit their annual LBRs or legislative budget requests, which Scott will consider as he prepares his budget recommendations to the Legislature in advance of the next regular session in January 2016.

Scott faces a fiscal balancing act as he weighs his agencies' requests against his 2014 campaign promise to cut taxes by $1 billion over a two-year period (he got almost to the halfway point in the 2015 session). 

In a likely preview of another battle between Scott and the Senate, the Department of Economic Opportunity wants $75 million for an array of incentive programs to lure jobs to the state. It's highly doubtful the Senate would agree to that after the Legislature gave Scott $43 million of the $85 million he asked for in the current year's budget.

"If this request is not funded, the department will not be able to meet contractually obligated state of Florida payments and Enterprise Florida will not be able to compete for new competitive projects," DEO writes.

The reams of budget requests portray a creaky bureaucracy where equipment failures are common. For example, the Department of Juvenile Justice wants $700,000 to replace 200 aging computer switches in juvenile detention centers, assessment centers and probation offices that are prone to breakdowns, resulting in a lack of communication with families and providers. "At this point the devices become a security risk," the agency says.

The prison system wants $950,000 in next year's budget to move all of its archived email to one searchable repository. The agency says all emails prior to January 2015 are archived separately, and searches can take up to six months.

The prison system is being sued by The Miami Herald for withholding information on investigations of suspicious deaths and possible physical and sexual assaults of inmates.

"Public record requests and internal requests for information related to litigation and investigations are a significant requirement in the day-to-day operations of the department," says the agency, which has up to 46 pending public records requests at any given time.

Putnam makes new push for Florida forestry firefighter pay raises


Three months after Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a plan to give the state forestry firefighters a $2,000 pay increase, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is making a new pitch to get those raises.

In a new budget request for 2016 released on Tuesday, Putnam is asking the Legislature to give him $2.3 million to help him hand out $2,000 per-person pay raises to the state’s 959 forest fighters and support teams.  

“If additional funding for the firefighter positions is not available, the turnover rate will continue to increase,” the Florida Department of Agriculture’s annual budget request states. “The Florida Forest Service will lose critical expertise in its firefighter and fire management/support ranks, which increases the potential for fire suppression accidents because of lack of experience.”

The average annual pay for the state's 606 forestry firefighters is just over $27,000. Starting firefighters make just $24,000. And since 2006, they have had only one pay increase. In June, the state Legislature approved a $2,000 pay hike for them, but it was vetoed by Scott.

In vetoing the funds, Scott maintained that pay raises for state employees should be addressed on a statewide level, and not just for the forestry firefighters. The only other employees budgeted for a pay hike were workers for the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Scott did not veto those raises.

The low pay has been one of the reasons why hundreds of the state's firefighters voluntarily travel west to fight fires in places like California, Oregon and Washington. Working out west after Florida's fire season dies down allows firefighters to supplement their incomes in overtime pay subsidized by other states and the federal government.