November 09, 2015

'Bottom line' from Gov. Scott: Enough money for $1B in tax cuts

Gov. Rick Scott's budget director has sent a letter to executive branch agencies in which the administration details how it will make the case for $1 billion in tax cuts in the next legislative session in addition to a new $250 million fund to attract jobs.

In the memo, Cynthia Kelly suggests that all of this and more can be accomplished without having to make cuts in existing programs.

"Because of the state's robust surplus," Kelly writes, "the governor is also proud to accept many of your budget recommendations, especially those that provide a positive return on the state's investment."

Kelly writes that Florida will have $1.3 billion more in new general revenue next year. She said the projected surplus number often quoted by legislators and in news accounts of $635 million is actually the "ending balance" on the state's balance sheet after funding critical and high priority needs is taken into account. Kelly added that the state's long-range financial outlook, approved by the Legislative Budget Commission in September, includes additional discretionary spending of nearly $1 billion next year.

"Bottom line," Kelly writes, "there is more than sufficient revenue to fund all of the state's mandatory increases, as well as the governor's priorities for your agencies, the Florida Enterprise Fund and the proposed $1 billion in tax cuts."

Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, has directed senators to take a cautious approach on tax cuts, and suggested $250 million in tax cuts as a starting point, or one-fourth of what Scott is proposing. Gardiner also has noted that a sizable chunk of the projected surplus is one-time or non-recurring money that cannot be used to fund permanent programs.

The full text of Kelly's memorandum is below.

TO:                 Governor’s Agency Heads
FROM:          Cynthia Kelly, Director
                        Office of Policy & Budget
DATE:            November 9, 2015
RE:                  FY 2016-17 Budget Update
I wanted to take the opportunity to update you on the development of the Governor’s budget recommendations for FY 2016-17 and thank you for all of the hard work and assistance provided by you and your staff during this process.
As a result of Florida’s economic turnaround, including the addition of almost 1 million new jobs in less than five years, Florida will have a record $29.8 billion of General Revenue available next year – including $1.3 billion in NEW General Revenue.  Our revenue is continuing to grow while Governor Scott has cut taxes over 50 times, including $500 million in 2014 and over $400 million this year. 
This level of revenue exceeds this year’s recurring General Revenue budget by $3.4 billion.
Therefore, because of this historic level of revenue, Governor Scott is proposing to cut $1 billion in taxes and make a one-time investment of $250 million towards economic incentives at Enterprise Florida this year.  Because of the state’s robust surplus, the Governor is also proud to accept many of your budget recommendations, especially those that provide a positive return on the state’s investment.
You may have seen recent press reports that questioned the Governor’s ability to balance the proposed tax cuts and the new $250 million Florida Enterprise Fund, while funding the necessary expenditures of state government.
Let me clarify that the “surplus” often quoted is based on the Long Range Financial Outlook adopted by the Legislative Budget Commission (LBC), which reported a $635 million ending balance. That $635 million figure is the ending balance after funding not only critical needs such as mandatory estimating conference adjustments like the $600 million Medicaid increase, but also “other high priority” needs AND revenue adjustments -- including $250 million in tax cuts.  The “other high priority” needs include discretionary spending of almost $1 billion.  While the LBC includes this funding in the plan to reflect projected increased spending based on historical averages in previous budgets, the actual allocation of these funds is not yet determined, meaning these funds are available to fund specific agency requests and Governor priorities.
A more appropriate “surplus” is the amount of funds available after funding the mandatory increases only, which is reflected in the LBC plan for Tier 1 Critical needs – a total of almost $1.6 billion.
Bottom line, there is more than sufficient revenue to fund all of the state’s mandatory increases, as well as the Governor’s priorities for your agencies, the Florida Enterprise Fund and the proposed $1 billion in tax cuts.  I look forward to working with you over the next few weeks as we prepare to present these funding recommendations to the Legislature.

Gov. Rick Scott to speak -- but just briefly -- at GOP Sunshine Summit for presidential candidates

Gov. Rick Scott will give brief opening and closing remarks at the state’s GOP Sunshine Summit with presidential candidates Friday.

Other than U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, Scott is the state’s most prominent Republican elected official but he has a small role in the event in the country’s largest swing state. Scott held his own “Economic Growth Summit” for the presidential candidates in June while the event this weekend has been organized by the Republican Party of Florida.

Scott had no role in organizing this summit but the party asked him to speak, said Brecht Heuchan, spokesman for Scott’s political committee Let’s Get to Work.

During brief remarks, Scott will welcome the crowd to Florida and “kick off the event so to speak,” Heuchan said.

The fact that Scott and the party separately organized summits shows the rocky relationship the governor has had with RPOF in recent months since the party group elected a chairman, Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, rather than Scott’s preferred candidate.

Scott will not attend the dinner Thursday night where former Vice President Dick Cheney and Rubio will speak. On Friday, the speakers include Rubio, former Gov. Jeb Bush, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, businessman Donald Trump, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. The rest of the candidates speak Saturday.

November 06, 2015

Building the Scott brand with a new 'tax cut tour' (in Miami, too)

A new web site with a new slogan and a new "tax cut tour." Gov. Rick Scott returns to the tax-cut campaign trail Monday when he'll visit every major media market in the state to promote his call for $1 billion in tax cuts in the legislative session that starts in January. This will be Scott's second tax cut tour in five months. He took a seven-city swing last June after he signed the budget into law and vetoed $461 million in line-item spending by legislators.

Scott plans stops in Melbourne, Tampa, Miami, West Palm Beach, Fort Myers, Jacksonville and Panama City on Monday.

The slogan is "1st for Jobs" and the website is an official state site featuring the familiar red and blue "Let's Get to Work" campaign color scheme. The branding can be seen at, where the fine print urges visitors to call their senator and representative to urge support for his tax cuts.

Here's a look back at how an earlier Scott tax cut tour went in 2013 as he was gearing up for a re-election campaign.

November 05, 2015

Scott wants $1 billion in tax cuts from election-year Legislature

Gov. Rick Scott will ask the Florida Legislature for $1 billion in tax cuts in 2016, which is nearly double the projected $635 million surplus from growth in tax collections. Scott last year asked lawmakers for $673 million in tax relief, which lawmakers trimmed to about $400 million. 

Scott's tax cut proposals, first reported Thursday by AP, would include permanent repeal of the sales tax on manufacturing equipment, other business-friendly tax cuts and two separate sales tax holidays, one for back-to-school items and one for hurricane supplies.

Scott has previously advocated a "record" increase in public school spending, which relies heavily on higher property tax bills for Florida homeowners and businesses, and he has called for a $250 million fund, spread over a three-year period, to increase spending on incentives to attract employers to Florida.

The governor's call for a hefty package of tax cuts could collide with renewed demands for spending increases in state agencies. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, Department of Children and Families and Department of Corrections have all experienced widely-publicized problems of high turnover blamed on low pay, crumbling equipment and key staff shortages. Rank-and-file state workers have not had an across-the-board pay increase in Florida for the past seven years.

November 03, 2015

Gov. Scott's Texas-sized job incentive fund gets first airing

Gov. Rick Scott's ambitious plan to expand Florida's incentive program to attract new jobs unabashedly copies Texas, the state Scott uses as a benchmark for his economic development efforts.

Scott called for a Texas-sized $250 million "enterprise fund" in a speech two weeks ago, and on Tuesday his job creation team got a polite but noncommittal hearing in a Senate budget subcommittee.

"Texas is our No. 1 competitor," Enterprise Florida executive vice president Crystal Sircy testified. "I'm tired of losing to Texas."

Sircy's slide show used the term "like Texas" 10 times, but she said New York, Georgia and South Carolina all spend more money on incentives than Florida does ($43 million this year). She said one reason Mercedes-Benz chose to locate in Georgia was because that state offered $23 million incentives compared to Florida's $10 million.

The $250 million would be a one-time appropriation for three years, and Enterprise Florida would no longer keep money in escrow to be paid out in future years as companies hit job-creation goals -- a practice that senators have criticized. Other changes, pushed by lawmakers in the 2015 session, would dedicate all money so it doesn't revert to the treasury, end waivers or exceptions to project terms, limit incentive deals to a maximum of 10 years and require legislative leaders to sign off on incentive packages more than $1 million.

"We took to heart all the issues and concerns that have been raised," Sircy told senators, describing the plan as a "delicate balance" between flexibility and accountability.

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, told Sircy that $250 million is three times as much money as the total allocation his committee got for all projects in the current budget to be paid for with one-time, or non-recurring money. Another senator, Republican Nancy Detert of Venice, said she's more concerned about why Florida keeps losing out to Georgia, a state with a personal income tax.

"I really don't want to hear about Texas," Detert said. "I hate Texas."

October 31, 2015

Seminole Tribe keeps dealing black jack despite lawsuit, and why the state predicted this in 2012


A day after the state of Florida filed the expected lawsuit against the Seminole Tribe on Friday, the tribe continued to deal cards at its Hard Rock casinos in Tampa and Hollywood as it became clear that both sides had blown the Oct. 31 negotiations deadline.

The state filed a lawsuit in Tampa federal court alleging that the tribe was violating state and federal law by operating the blackjack, chemin de fer and baccarat at five of its seven casinos in Florida at the end of the 90-day grace period given when the 2010 compact with the state expired in July.

But the tribe contends that it is entitled to continue playing the games because the state's Division of Parimutuel Wagering has authorized look alike black jack to be played using slot machine software at slots casinos in South Florida. They say that's a direct violation of the Tribe's exclusive right to operate the games in Florida, under the 2010 compact agreement. 

Although the tribe contends that talks with the state to re-negotiate the table games provision are going well, and agreement with Florida legislators is getting close, it nonetheless filed a lawsuit on Monday in federal court making their claim, and including some boilerplate language about the state not negotiating in good faith.

Continue reading "Seminole Tribe keeps dealing black jack despite lawsuit, and why the state predicted this in 2012" »

October 30, 2015

Gov. Rick Scott signs death warrant for Oscar Ray Bolin Jr., schedules execution for January


Less than 24 hours after Florida's most recent execution of a death row inmate, Republican Gov. Rick Scott has signed another death warrant.

Oscar Ray Bolin, Jr. killed three women in the Tampa Bay area in 1986. He was sentenced to death for two of them and is serving a life sentence on the third.

Scott's office sent a letter and signed death warrant today to Warden John Palmer at the Florida State Prison. Bolin's execution is scheduled for 6 p.m. Jan. 7. Download Bolin Warrant

Bolin is being put to death for the 1986 murder of Teri Lynn Matthews, whom he abducted from the Land O' Lakes Post Office in the early morning hours of Dec. 5, 1986.

As Scott's office recounted: Bolin brought Matthews' severely beaten body to the home of his 13-year-old half-brother, who reported that he saw the body wrapped in a sheet outside the home and heard moaning. Bolin bludgeoned Matthews with a wooden club, sprayed the her with a water hose and loaded her into a truck to dispose of her body. She was found wrapped in the sheet on the side of the road in Pasco County later that day with severe head injuries and stab wounds in her neck and body.

Bolin appealed his case to federal court but his petition was denied in 2013, and the 11th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals also denied to review the case.

Bolin has been convicted of two other murders in Hillsborough County. He is currently sentenced to death for the 1986 murder of Stephanie Collins and is serving a life sentence for the 1986 murder of Natalie Holley.

Last night, at 7:36 p.m., the state of Florida put Jerry Correll to death for stabbing and killing his daughter, ex-wife, and her mother and sister in Orlando.

Correll’s execution was the 22nd to take place in the death chamber at Florida State Prison since Scott took office in 2011 -- more than any other governor since the death penalty was reinstated in Florida in 1976.

Former Citizens interim president, known for personal spending, appointed by Gov. Scott to State Board of Education


Republican Gov. Rick Scott has appointed his close friend, former state lawmaker and head of the Office of Financial Regulation, to fill a vacancy on the State Board of Education.

Tom Grady, 57, is a wealthy securities lawyer from Naples, who's perhaps best known though for his questionable travel spending during his brief tenure in 2012 as interim president of Citizens Property Insurance.

In less than two months overseeing the state-run provider, he spent nearly $10,000 on expensive hotel rooms, airplane trips, a limo ride and a three-night stay in Bermuda. Grady defended the spending, saying he was actually "very frugal." More here. He lost the permanent job to a Maryland insurance executive and returned to the private sector.

Before that, during his tenure running OFR, Grady also projected a stark contrast in leadership philosophy: a fiscal conservative who cut costs but also racked up hefty personal travel expenses on taxpayers' dime. More here.

Scott appointed Grady on Friday for a term that ends in December 2018. The appointment is subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

October 29, 2015

Nursing home company joins list of Rick Scott's $100K donors


The biggest nursing home company in Florida has become one of the top donors to Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s political action committee, new campaign records show.

Consulate Health Care, a Tampa-based company, sent Scott’s Let’s Get to Work Committee a $100,000 check two weeks ago, becoming among an elite set of 11 donors who have given Scott at least at least $100,000 this year.

Consulate runs more than 200 centers in 21 states, including 80 in Florida, according to its website.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce, Walt Disney World Parks and Resorts, Associated Industries of Florida and Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeffrey Vinik are the only donors to give more to Scott’s committee this year.

All told, Scott has now raised $3.8 million in his Let’s Get to Work Committee in 2015, even though he is term limited and cannot seek re-election. Though there is speculation Scott is building up for a run for the U.S. Senate in 2018, he has refused to discuss his future election plans.

Here’s a list of Scott’s donors who have given at least $100,000 this year:

Florida Chamber of Commerce - $500,000

Walt Disney World Parks and Resorts - $252,500

Jeffrey Vinik, Tampa Bay Lightning owner - $200,000

Associated Industries of Florida - $150,000

Voice of Florida Business, a PAC with ties to AIF – $130,000

Florida Jobs PAC, a PAC with ties to the Florida Chamber - $110,000

Consulate Health Care, Florida’s largest nursing home provider - $100,000

Lawrence DeGeorge, runs a charitible trust in Jupiter, FL - $100,000

Floridians for a Stronger Democracy, a political committee with ties to AIF - $100,000

Daniel Doyle Jr., Tampa Bay resident and CEO of DEX Imaging Inc - $100,000

Intervest Construction, homebuilder based in Daytona Beach - $100,000

October 27, 2015

Back to school: Gov. Scott and Cabinet get 'sunshine' refresher

State business came to a halt Tuesday as Gov. Rick Scott and the three elected Cabinet members got an unprecedented 90-minute public refresher course on Florida's open meeting and public records laws.

Their teacher was Florida's acknowledged expert on the subject, Assistant Attorney General Pat Gleason. It was not strictly academic, but political, as a result of the secret ouster of a top state police official and Scott's role in it. The four state officials agreed eight months ago that the course was necessary.

Gleason's seminar, held in a nearly-deserted Cabinet room, stemmed from a controversy that erupted last December when Scott directed his then-counsel, Pete Antonacci, to force FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey to resign. By law, Bailey reported to the governor and Cabinet, but he never received a public discussion or vote on his job status.

Scott later said his Cabinet aides privately sent word to aides to all three Cabinet members that he wanted "new leadership" at FDLE, and that "Cabinet staff raised no objection." Two dozen Florida news outlets sued Scott and the Cabinet, alleging the sunshine law was violated, but the case was settled out of court with requirements for new sunshine safeguards and no findings of wrongdoing.

Continue reading "Back to school: Gov. Scott and Cabinet get 'sunshine' refresher" »