March 08, 2017

Fact-checking Gov. Rick Scott's claim about commercial lease tax


via @allisonbgraves

At his State of the State address, Gov. Rick Scott once again promised to cut the state's tax on commercial leases, something he says is unique only to Florida.

"Florida is now the only state in the nation to tax commercial leases," Scott said March 7.

Florida does levy a 6 percent sales tax on the total rent paid for any commercial property, including storefronts, offices and warehouses. But is that the only state-level tax of its kind?

Scott’s team sent over an October 2015 report from Florida TaxWatch, a group that takes a critical look at state spending with an eye toward long-term savings. The report says that Florida "is the only state to impose a standard, statewide sales tax on commercial real estate leases."

It cites as evidence a Nov. 24, 2014, research memorandum from the Florida Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability, which is nonpartisan.

Keep reading from PolitiFact Florida.

Tampa Bay Times photo of Senate President Joe Negron and Scott.

Gov. Scott loves D.C.

State of State Florida
via @learyreports

WASHINGTON - Gov. Rick Scott can't get enough of this town.

As the legislative sessions enters day two, the governor is on his way to Washington for a meeting with Rep. Neal Dunn, R-Panama City, and House Speaker Paul Ryan, according to his schedule.

Scott had made repeated trips in recent months, all around the Obamacare repeal. But it's obvious, too, that he's signaling interest to voters that he wants to be a player here.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Photo credit: Steve Cannon, Associated Press

Mason-Dixon poll: Nelson leads Scott in potential 2018 Florida Senate race


Sen. Bill Nelson leads Gov. Rick Scott in a potential 2018 U.S. Senate match-up, according to a new public-opinion poll that suggests next year's election will be defined by the presidency of Donald Trump.

Nelson is ahead of Scott by 46-41 percent in the survey released Wednesday by Jacksonville-based Mason-Dixon Polling & Research. That 5-percentage-point lead is similar to the 6-point advantage Nelson had over Scott in another poll released Monday by the University of North Florida. Scott has yet to declare his candidacy.

While favorable views of both candidates are almost identical -- 42 percent for Nelson and 41 for Scott, according to the poll -- more respondents viewed Scott unfavorably: 38 percent, compared to 25 percent for Nelson. President Trump is even more disliked: 43 percent hold a favorable opinion of him, compared to 48 percent who hold a negative one.

"This contrast in perception will be part of the dynamic of the race, as Scott stirs more passion and polarization (much like Trump), while Nelson is generally liked but perceived as a bland policy wonk," pollster Brad Coker wrote in a memo outlining the results. "The outcome of the race will likely be shaped by the political fortunes of President Donald Trump. The central question is how will the country feel about Trump in 2018?"

Florida appears just as divided in the poll as it did last November, when Trump won the state by about 1 percentage point. Asked about their preferred senate candidates, 47 percent said they'd back a Democrat who'd oppose Trump's agenda -- and 45 percent said they'd back a Republican who supports it. 

Historically in Florida, Republicans do better at getting their voters to the polls in midterm elections.

The poll of 625 registered voters was conducted by phone from Feb. 24-28. It has an error margin of plus-or-minus 4 percentage points.

Photo credit: Andrew Harrer, Bloomberg

March 07, 2017

Fact-checking Gov. Rick Scott's speech to Legislature



Gov. Rick Scott vigorously defended the state’s agencies for business incentives and tourism marketing in his State of the State address, delivered just steps away from the fellow Republican attacking the governor’s priorities.

Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran did not call each other out by name in separate opening-day speeches, but each man used pointed language to double down on his view of the fiery Enterprise Florida/Visit Florida debate.

"It’s easy to throw out catch phrases like ‘picking winners and losers’ and ‘corporate welfare," Scott said in reference to Corcoran’s attacks on Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida. "But that’s not what we are doing."

Corcoran warned that the House would not back down: "And for anyone waiting for us to slow down, to drop the big ideas, to stop trying to shake up the system, to cower in the face of attacks, or to cave to the demands of special interests; here’s our message to you: We will not."

From PolitiFact Florida, here’s a rundown of the governor’s remarks with context and a fact-check of a Democratic response.

Victory No. 2 for Richard Corcoran: Court orders Lottery to start over on ticket contract

In a stunning rebuke to Gov. Rick Scott and his Lottery secretary, a circuit court judge invalidated a contract the state signed with a ticket vendor IGT Global Solutions, saying the agency overstepped its budgetary authority when it committed to the 14-year deal and obligated the state to nearly $13 million more than the Legislature had authorized.

The 15-page ruling by Leon County Circuit Court Judge Karen Gievers said that Lottery Secretary Tom Delacenserie “lacked the legal authority to enter into the IGT contract” when it obligated the state to nearly $13 million more than the Legislature authorized.

She agreed with House lawyers that state law prohibits an agency from both soliciting and signing a contract that exceeds the amount of money authorized by the Legislature and declared the contract “void and unenforceable,” sending the agency back to the drawing board to sign a lease for the full-service vending machines that provide customers with Powerball and other game tickets.

“Today's decision is a victory for the taxpayer and the rule of law,'' said Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, in a joint statement with Rules Chairman Jose Oliva, R-Miami, and Judiciary Chairman Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor.

"It reinforces the idea that respecting the separation of powers is not an arcane idea or an out of date philosophy. In truth it is one of the bedrock principles of our republican government and is essential to protecting the liberties and livelihoods of Floridians.  No branch of government is above the law and the people's House will use every power within our means – from the committee room to the courtroom – to ensure those liberties and livelihoods are protected.”

Gov. Rick Scott, whose office oversees the Lottery, issued a statement immediately saying he would challenge the ruling.

"The Florida Lottery continues to make record contributions to our public schools and today's ruling jeopardizes billions of dollars for Florida students,’’ he said in a statement. “I strongly disagree with today's decision and we will appeal."

It is the second victory for Corcoran, who sued the agency after his budget staff discovered it had inked the agreement in what appeared to be an attempt to get around the Legislature’s refusal to authorize the state to leasing more full-service vending machines.

In December, Corcoran also sued over a contract signed by Visit Florida, another one of the governor’s agencies, for refusing to disclose its $1 million contract with rapper Pitbull but he withdrew the lawsuit when the agency agreed to make the deal public.

During a hearing before Gievers on Monday, Barry Richard, the lawyer for the Florida Lottery defended the contract during a court hearing Monday, arguing that state law requires the agency to “maximize revenues” by operating as an “entrepreneurial enterprise” and said the House’s objection was an illegal attempt to “micromanage an individual contract.”

But House lawyer Adam Tanenbaum countered the agency acted first and planned to get permission from lawmakers later. 

On Tuesday, during his speech on the opening day of the legislative session, Corcoran was confident that the House would prevail.

"That trial was (Monday), and I can assure you, we will win," he predicted hours before the ruling came down.

The contract, which was signed in September 2016 to run until 2028, changed the way the state pays for leasing ticket sales machines by giving the company a fixed percentage of sales from each machine, rather than pay them with a flat $500 per machine fee.

Summer Silvestri, Lottery’s procurement director, testified that by agreeing to extend the contract to 2031, the agency was able to negotiate a lower percentage fee, saving the state an estimated $18 million over the life of the contract.

But under the new deal, IGT would have gotten a slice of the sales of tickets, machines and other services. Based on projected sales, that would increase the amount the Lottery must pay IGT by an estimated $12.9 million in the budget year that begins July 1, according to the House.

For Corcoran, the fight is more than a dispute over a contract. It goes to the heart of the budgetary power that Corcoran claims has been abused and corrupted in Florida, in part because state agencies and lawmakers have let special interests reign.

During the hearing, Gievers, a former lobbyist and child advocacy lawyer, seemed aware that her ruling on high-stakes issue would likely end up in appeals court. She repeatedly urged the lawyers to complete the record in the event the hearing would be reviwed on appeal.

Here's Giever's ruling.  Download Gievers order

Here's our story on the court hearing on Monday. 

Gov. Rick Scott's promise to repeal Obamacare is In The Works



Gov. Rick Scott's 2010 campaign promise to fight to repeal the Affordable Care Act stalled during the President Barack Obama years, especially after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law in 2015.

With the election of Republican Donald Trump, Scott is now getting a lot help on this promise from a friend.

Trump has also promised to repeal and replace Obamacare, the status of which is In the Works.

Repealing the law in Florida would affect a lot of people.

About 1.7 million Floridians signed up for 2017 plans through the federal health care marketplace — more than any other state.

Keep reading here from PolitiFact Florida's Scott-O-Meter.

March 06, 2017

Enterprise Florida leader quits after just 2 months on the job


Enterprise Florida CEO Chris Hart (left) speaks to State Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, after a committee meeting on Feb. 15. Hart suddenly resigned on Monday. (Photo by Jeremy Wallace/Times)


The leader of Gov. Rick Scott's most cherished agency abruptly resigned Monday, citing a "critical" difference of opinion with the governor over their vision of Enterprise Florida.

Chris Hart's sudden resignation comes on the eve of the Florida Legislature beginning its annual session. House leaders have vowed to kill the agency and have a bill ready to pass as soon as this week to eliminate the agency - and Hart's job - entirely.

But in his resignation later, Hart only citied differences of opinion with Scott as the reason he was leaving immediately. Hart started his position in January, but had been informally working with the agency and learning how to best move the agency forward during a tumultuous period.

"Unfortunately, during this same time period, I have come to realize that you and I do not share a common vision or understanding for how Enterprise Florida, Inc. can best provide value within your administration," Hart wrote in the letter dated today and first reported by Politico Florida. "This difference of opinion is of such a critical nature that I no longer believe I can be effective in my position.  Therefore, since we have been unable to reach consensus and have no formal agreement or contract in place, I tender my resignation from Enterprise Florida, Inc. effective immediately."

Scott's office said Hart never raised those points with the governor directly until his resignation letter.

"It is odd that Chris Hart never shared any differences of opinion or vision with the Governor until we first read that he had them in his resignation letter," said Jackie Schutz, communications director for Scott. ""It is odd that Chris Hart never shared any differences of opinion or vision with the Governor until we first read that he had them in his resignation letter." 

It's a shocking turn of events and drama given the assault Enterprise Florida has been under. For the last month, Hart has been a regular at committee meetings in Tallahassee trying to convince House and Senate leaders to give him a chance to right the battered ship at Enterprise Florida. The agency has struggled to regain it's footing after the last leader Bill Johnson left amid turmoil. An audit of the agency showed it was top heavy with management, spent too much on office space and travel, and has poor financial proceedures that made the agency ripe for fraud, though none had been found.

In losing Hart, Scott loses a key ally who had experience within his administration and one who also had ties to the Legislature. Hart, 48, had run the state’s job training development agency, CareerSource Florida, under Scott and prior to that he was the interim director of the Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development under former Gov. Charlie Crist from Jan. 2010 to early 2011. A Republican, he was in the Florida Legislature from 1998 to 2002.

Last month during a Senate committee hearing, Hart gave no indications that his days as CEO were numbered. He pleaded with State Senators to give him time to help implement transparency measures and get the agency functioning better.

“I think this is worth saving,” Hart said then.


Bill Nelson leads Rick Scott in U.S. Senate race in Florida, poll finds

via @learyreports

Bill Nelson leads Rick Scott in a hypothetical U.S. Senate matchup, a new University of North Florida poll shows.

Democratic Sen. Nelson takes 44 percent of the vote vs. Republican Gov. Scott’s 38 percent, with 12 percent undecided. Scott has not officially entered the race but has made clear he intends to.

“Even though it’s very early in the 2018 election season, Nelson’s six-point lead is meaningful,” said Michael Binder, UNF Public Opinion Research Laboratory faculty director. “This race is going to get national attention and Rick Scott’s alliance with Donald Trump will likely factor into this election’s outcome next year.”

The poll was conducted Feb. 13-Feb 26 via phone, with 973 completed surveys. The margin of error is +/- 3.14 percentage points. It found 51 percent of voters disapprove of Trump while 44 percent approve the job he is doing.

“Trump’s soft job-approval numbers could have huge implications during the midterm races, just ask all the Democrats that lost in 2010 when Obama’s numbers were the lowest they had been to that point, and Republicans that ran in 2006, when Bush’s popularity was plummeting,” Binder said.

Keep reading here.

March 03, 2017

Trump returns to Mar-A-Lago Friday



President Donald Trump returns to South Florida again today and will stay at his Mar-A-Lago estate in Palm Beach.

Trump will arrive in Orlando in the afternoon and tour Saint Andrew Catholic School and participate in a parent-teacher listening session. Gov. Rick Scott will join Trump at the school.

Trump arrives in West Palm Beach at 4 p.m. and speaks at the Republican National Committee spring retreat at the Four Seasons Resort. His speech is not open to the media. The White House has not released Trump's schedule for the remainder of the weekend.

Gov. Rick Scott and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio will speak to the RNC Saturday, the Palm Beach Post reported.


March 01, 2017

Social conservatives oppose Lenny Curry for CFO job over LGBTQ protection



One of Florida's loudest social conservative groups is entering the fight over the state's next chief financial officer.

The Florida Family Policy Council on Wednesday told its members to call Gov. Rick Scott and demand he stop considering Jacksonville Republican Mayor Lenny Curry for the CFO's job. The current CFO, Republican Jeff Atwater, announced in February he would resign after the legislative session.

Their opposition has nothing to do with financial experience. The council has advocated loudly against rights and protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Florida, and that's why they oppose Curry's possible appointment.

As mayor, Curry last month allowed an anti-discrimination ordinance protecting LGBTQ residents to go into effect in Jacksonville. But there's more to the story than just that.

"Lenny’s refusal to veto the deceptive and unconstitutional “Human Rights Ordinance” (HRO) in Jacksonville puts women and children in danger by allowing men to use women’s showers, locker rooms, and bathrooms in domestic violence shelters and in other non-profit charities with residential facilities," the council, headed by attorney John Stemberger, wrote in a call to action for its members.

After the Jacksonville City Council passed the ordinance with a 12-6 supermajority, Curry announced he would not veto it because the council had given it enough support to override his veto. He allowed it to become law but did not sign it.

He issued a statement at the time: "As your mayor, I promised to convene community conversations about discrimination. At the conclusion of those conversations, I exercised an executive action to implement a clear policy for city of Jacksonville employees and contractors. I said then and continue to believe additional legislation was unnecessary. But this evening, a supermajority of the City Council decided otherwise. This supermajority, representatives of the people from both parties and every corner of the city, made their will clear."

Scott has broad authority to replace Atwater. While he has not publicly stated who is in the running, Curry, also the former chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, is considered a top candidate.

This post has been updated with additional details about why Curry did not veto Jacksonville's human rights ordinance.

Photo: Associated Press.