February 08, 2017

Gov. Scott: Confirm Gorsuch to Supreme Court

From a letter to the Miami Herald editor sent by Florida Gov. Rick Scott:

In business, people come together, certainly with their own objectives in mind, to make a deal. The goal is to arrive at a win-win where everyone leaves happy. Politics, on the other hand, too often is a game to make the other side lose at any cost.

We should demand better. The men and women who were elected to represent their districts and states have a duty to actually represent them. Working to obstruct progress at any price is why people hate politics and a large part of why voters elected President Trump to make major changes.

He has made some great appointments, and one of the greatest is his nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court. I believe this appointment follows my own standard for appointing judges here in Florida: Choose someone who wants to interpret the law, not write it.

More here.

February 07, 2017

Rick Scott lashes out at Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran



Gov. Rick Scott lashed out at fellow Republicans in the Florida House on Tuesday, accusing them of not caring about jobs and of trying to kill his beloved job incentives and tourism marketing programs just to help House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s political future.

During a nearly 15 minute venting with reporters in Tallahassee, Scott ripped House Republicans for “lecturing” him about job incentives and for proposing legislation that would kill Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida, two quasi-governmental agencies that are essential to Scott’s political agenda.

“When the House wants to stop Enterprise Florida, they are hurting our poorest communities. They’re hurting our rural communities,” Scott said. “When they want to say we don’t want to do any more marketing for Visit Florida what they are saying is that we don’t need any more jobs in tourism. Now what we’re seeing is, we’re seeing people that just want to run for higher office. They’re not concerned about what happens to other people.”

Scott was asked directly if he was saying the House was going after the programs because Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, might run for governor in 2018.

“It’s pretty clear, if you're not caring about people’s jobs you must be caring about something else,” he said. “I care about people’s jobs. What else can it be? How can anybody say they don’t want to help a poor family get a job. The only thing that would be is politics. You would never think this way in business.”

And there was more.

Continue reading "Rick Scott lashes out at Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran" »

February 06, 2017

Post-mass shootings, little changes in Florida on mental illness and access to guns

Florida Budget (1)

@michaelauslen @ByKristenMClark

In the days after five people were shot and killed in Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, some elected officials adopted a familiar routine.

As news spread that the suspected gunman told FBI agents in Alaska that he was hearing voices, Florida officials called for improvements to mental health care and tougher measures to keep guns away from people with severe psychological disorders.

The Jan. 6 mass shooting was just the latest to be followed by hand-wringing from politicians, particularly gun-rights supporters, who blamed shortcomings in the mental health system for the tragedy.

Despite years connecting mental illness and mass shootings, lawmakers in both parties have been reluctant to pass major legislation taking firearms out of the hands of people diagnosed with severe disorders.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott showed how quickly politicians can retreat after a call to action.

“One thing we have to think about is if someone is adjudicated mentally ill, it just doesn’t make any sense that they should have access to a gun,” he told reporters a week after the Fort Lauderdale shooting.

Scott and his spokespeople refused several requests by the Herald/Times to elaborate on what type of fix this would require. When pressed, he finally begged off further involvement.

“I support the Second Amendment, but I want to make sure that families in our state are safe,” Scott said when asked for details late last month in Tampa. “Whatever the Legislature wants to do — I’m not part of the legislative branch — I’ll review.”

Scott, who often lobbies the Legislature on priorities like tax cuts, could weigh in on guns if he wants, but he’s right that it’s ultimately up to lawmakers to act. And there’s much they can do.

More here.

Photo credit: Steve Cannon / AP

January 31, 2017

Governor uses budget to oppose Florida ports from doing business with Cuba


A week after threatening Florida ports with retaliation if they do business with Cuba, Florida Gov. Rick Scott is using his proposed state budget to further make the point.

Buried on page 222 of his 363 page state budget is a line prohibiting money from a pot of $176 million for various port improvements from going to any facilities the does business with the communist nation.

In the budget, Scott’s administration says no money can go to “infrastructure projects that result in the expansion of trade with the Cuban dictatorship because of their continued human rights abuses.”

Gov. Scott proposes $58M to recruit, retain top teachers

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To better recruit and retain quality teachers for Florida's K-12 public schools, Gov. Rick Scott wants the state to spend $58 million in the next budget year on a handful of initiatives -- and those don't include a controversial teacher bonus plan that lawmakers, with Scott's support, have advanced in recent years.

"Teachers are key to preparing our future generations for great careers," Scott said Tuesday when rolling out priorities of his 2017-18 budget proposal during a news conference in Tallahassee. "We have to make investments to recruit and retain the best educators in our classrooms."

Specifically, Scott proposes:

-- $15 million to eliminate initial and renewal certification fees for teachers;

-- $10 million for "a one-time hiring bonus for teachers testing in the top 10 percent of the Subject Area Examination in the subject they are teaching in the 2017-2018 school year";

-- $5 million to "increase the diversity of teachers in critical shortage and high-need areas";

-- $5.9 million to "recruit Bright Futures scholars that major in education and commit to 4 years of teaching following graduation in the rural districts from which they graduate high school";

-- $16 million for school districts to "implement targeted recruitment and retention initiatives that meet the district’s need";

-- And, $6 million to "reward great teachers in low-performing schools."

Lawmakers will need to decide whether to include Scott's recommendations when they formally craft and vote on next year's budget in the upcoming legislative session, which begins in March.

Continue reading "Gov. Scott proposes $58M to recruit, retain top teachers" »

January 30, 2017

For the first time, Gov. Rick Scott proposes pay raise for corrections officers; will he get it?

After six years of refusing to recommend Florida corrections officers get a pay raise, Gov. Rick Scott is including $38 million in his proposed budget to boost pay for officers in Florida’s prison system — one of the nation’s most violent and troubled.

The proposal, to be unveiled when Scott releases his budget on Tuesday, would provide raises to officers up to and including the rank of captain, said Scott spokesman McKinley Lewis on Friday.

The governor will also propose including $5 million to provide $1,000 signing bonuses for officers at prisons understaffed by at least 10 percent, and $2.5 million to increase pay for officers assigned to prisons with mental health units, Lewis said. 

The proposal comes after years of news reports in the Miami Herald about corruption and brutality in the prison system, including the case of Darren Rainey, an inmate in Dade Correctional Institution’s mental health unit who was locked in a searing shower by corrections officers until he collapsed and died after nearly two hours.

It must next receive the approval of state legislators, who in the past 10 years have increased corrections agency salaries only once, with a one-time bonus for the lowest paid officers.

“The governor believes in investments that allow the Florida Department of Corrections to better retain officers and have an experienced workforce,” Lewis said.

Although Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones has repeatedly said that low salaries and poor working conditions have led to enormous turnover at the troubled agency, the governor last year refused to include a pay raise in his recommendation to lawmakers as he sought $1 billion in tax cuts. This year Scott is seeking $618 million in tax cutsRead more here.

January 26, 2017

Corcoran appoints two legislators to investigate 'water wars' legal bills

House Speaker Richard Corcoran said Thursday he has asked two legislators with finance backgrounds to investigate the $100 million in legal bills the state has received in the protracted lawsuit against Georgia over access to water in the Flint-Chathoochee-Apalachicola River basin.

Corcoran, R-Lake O'Lakes, said he has asked Rep. Bill Hager, R-Boca Raton, an attorney expert witness in insurance matters and Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach, a forensic auditor, to look at the bills. He said he supported the litigation but "the question is: what is the fair market cost."

"I think you're going to find really fast that defending the rights of Floridians, yes, it's an absolutely worthy expense,''Corcoran told reporters. "Spending $100 million in legal fees, we are getting gouged and that needs to be fixed."

Last week, the House budget staff determined that since 2001, the state has been billed $97.8 million on the water wars and has spent $71.9 million to date. Nearly $54.4 million of it was spent in the last two years after Florida asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene and the court appointed a special master to resolve the dispute.

After legislators started asking questions, Gov. Rick Scott withdrew a request asking the House and Senate Joint Legislative Budget Commission to approve another $13 million, bringing the the total cost for the year would be about $41 million.

According to a spreadsheet obtained by the Herald/Times, the numbers showed that the lead lawyers, Washington-based Latham Watkins, would be paid $35.9 million between 2015 and 2017.

Foley Lardner, the Florida firm where Steverson’s predecessor, Hershel Vinyard, works and where Steverson is now headed, would be paid $2.6 million over the same time. Two other firms also were paid lesser amounts: $1 million to Blankenau and $966,000 to Carlton.

The records also show that Latham Watkins charged the state for 32 to 35 full-time legal staff for 40 hours a week over four months. The firm also charged significantly more than the other firms for lawyers of comparable experience.

Two days after the inquiry, Department of Environmental Secretary Jon Steverson announced that he was resigning his post effective Feb. 3 and would be going to work for Foley Lardner. The Florida firm not only has represented DEP in the water wars litigation but also represents the department in litigation over the Everglades. 

Key Florida Senate budget writer not ready to back Rick Scott's tax cut plan



Add the chairman of the Florida Senate's budget writing committee to the list of those not quite ready to jump on board Gov. Rick Scott's plan to hand out $618 million in tax cuts primarily to businesses next year.

Senate Appropriations chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, didn't give a flat no to the Republican governor's tax plan. But when asked about it on Thursday, Latvala took a wait-and see approach and listed out other important areas of state government that need to be addressed.

"We're 50th in mental health funding," Latvala said. "We're 49th in infrastructure. We have a lot of challenges with our prisons. And our state employees haven't had a raise in 9 years."

Latvala said the specifics of Scott's plan will take a review by the Legislature. But lawmakers are already facing a tighter budget situation this year than last year when they cut taxes by $129 million.

"We’re just going to wait and see," Latvala said. "I support the governor's efforts to lower taxes. I think he's done a wonderful job on that. I've been here and voted for everyone of them."

Latvala's voice is important because Scott can propose a budget and ask the Legislature for funding, but it is up to the House and Senate to craft a state budget. Latvala's committee is the primary budget writing committee in the Senate.

Scott on Thursday continued to fly around the state to promote his tax cut plan. The centerpiece of Scott's plan is a $454 million cut in the state's sales taxes charged to businesses that lease commercial space. Florida is the only state in the country with the 6 percent tax. Scott wants to roll that back to 4.5 percent. Doing so, he said, will put more hands in the pocket of private businesses, which will then hire more people.

Scott also wants to exempt more businesses from having to pay corporate income taxes. Combined with the commercial lease tax, three quarters of Scott's plan would directly benefit businesses.

His plan also includes:

- A 10-day back-to-school shopping period with no sales taxes.

- A nine-day disaster preparedness sales tax shopping period.

- A three-day sales tax-free shopping period for military veterans.

- A one-year tax break on book sales at school book fairs.

 - Eliminating sales taxes on college textbooks for one year.

The tax cut that history shows Rick Scott is most likely to get from the Legislature



As Gov. Rick Scott spends his second day on the road touting his proposed $618 million tax cut plan, one of his less controversial ideas is already getting support in the Legislature.

State Sen. Keith Perry, R-Alachua, has already filed a bill to exempt school supplies and clothing from sales taxes in early August, a key back-to-school shopping period. In Senate Bill 490, Perry calls for a 10-day sales tax break period, just as Scott did on Wednesday during stops in Jacksonville, Tampa and Fort Lauderdale. Last year, a similar tax break was only 3-days.

Scott was scheduled to be in Riviera Beach and Orlando Thursday to continue to highlight his tax cut plan that already is getting a chilly reception from the Legislature.

The bulk of Scott's tax cut plan is aimed at business. Scott's plan would cut a 6 percent sales tax that businesses pay on leasing property to 4.5 percent in 2018. That would cut taxes by $454 million for businesses, but lawmakers say economic forecast show that would lead to budget deficits without big cuts or more revenue elsewhere.

Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, who chaired the Senate budget committee for the past two years, said Scott's level of tax cuts is not likely without a major change in the state revenue picture or substantial cuts in programs.

"Without some good (revenue) news or substantial cuts elsewhere in the budget, that's going to be difficult," Lee told the Times/Herald Wednesday. "The Legislature's going to basically have to change its historic spending patterns if it's going to come up with that kind of money."

The Legislature has refused to cut the tax on commercial leases twice in the last three years when Scott has made similar requests to cut the tax.

Meanwhile, the back-to-school shopping tax has traditionally more acceptable to state lawmakers, though in various forms. Since 1998, the state has had a sales tax free shopping week in all but 4 years. It's been as long as 10-days and as short as three.