December 07, 2015

Senate wants Gov. Scott to personally make case for $1B tax cut

Gov. Rick Scott pulled off a surprise with his unexpected appearance last week before the House Finance & Tax Committee, which was already enthusiastic about his proposal to cut taxes by $1 billion next year.

For Scott, the House is friendly turf. The Republican governor faces a much tougher selling job in the Senate, and he's being asked to make his case there, too. Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, told the Times/Herald that the governor will be asked to testify next month before the Senate Finance & Tax Committee.

"I think that's good. I think that's healthy. Hopefully, he'll take us up on that," Gardiner said. "In the Senate, we have 40 very independent individuals ... There should be respect for that."

The panel's next meeting will be at 1:30 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 11, the day before the official opening of the 2016 legislative session.

As usual, Scott's priorities and the Senate's don't match up. For example, in his last session of a 15-year career, Gardiner said he wants to reduce the lengthy waiting list for services at the Agency for Persons with Disabilities.

"I want to see as many people taken off that list as I can before I leave," Gardiner said.

Scott's tax cut plan, largely targeted to help businesses, is in trouble in the Senate because all the tax cuts would be recurring rather than for one year, which means a chunk of state general tax revenue will disappear forever. Senate Appropriations Chairman Tom Lee, R-Brandon, who a decade ago insisted that the state's budgeting include a long-range outlook, warned about the perils of tax cuts at a hearing last week. 

"Our economy is not growing fast enough in the state to sustain the levels of tax cuts that we've had an appetite for," Lee said.

December 04, 2015

Senate budget panel preparing alternative ways to boost dollars for K-12 education

Don gaetz

@ByKristenMClark

The chairman in charge of crafting the Senate's education budget proposal signaled again Thursday that Florida Gov. Rick Scott's plan to increase K-12 education dollars primarily off the checkbooks of local taxpayers isn't going to fly.

Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, is preparing his fellow senators to consider other options including ones that would require a greater share of state support -- something that's not likely to be met well by Scott, who's also seeking a $1 billion tax cut in 2016-17.

The initial presentation by Gaetz came as no surprise. The former school board member and elected school superintendent in Okaloosa County has been critical of Scott's intentions dating back to September, when Department of Education officials first broached the idea with their legislative funding request.

Scott's proposed budget, released last week, goes farther than that original ask. As one of his core priorities, along with the tax cuts, Scott aims to boost funding for K-12 schools by more than $500 million.

But only $80 million of that is extra state dollars, while $427.3 million -- or 85 percent -- would come out of property taxes that homeowners and businesses pay, revenue that’s increasing thanks to rebounding property values.

Continue reading "Senate budget panel preparing alternative ways to boost dollars for K-12 education" »

December 02, 2015

Governor Scott to Florida Legislature: Follow Texas on economy

@JeremySWallace

Governor Rick Scott has never hid his affinity for his former home state of Texas.

Scott, who holds a law degree from Dallas-based SMU and practiced law in Texas in the 1970s and 1980s, frequently makes references to the Lone Star State during big speeches and playfully has ginned up a rivalry with former Texas Gov. Rick Perry over job creation.

So it was of little surprise to most when Scott spent the bulk of his first few minutes of his unexpected appearance before a key committee of the Florida Legislature on Tuesday talking about what he learned from watching the Texas economy up close during the 1970s and 1980s.

“I moved to Texas and lived there for a while,” Scott told the House Finance & Tax Committee on Tuesday. “And if you go back to the 70s, when oil and gas prices were high, there were a lot of jobs. When oil and gas prices were low, there were not a lot of jobs.”

Scott said Texas was stuck in a boom-bust economy that was devastating in the early 1980s.

“I can remember in ‘82 when there was an oil bust; the office buildings were just vacant,” he said. “Jobs just went away.” 

Continue reading "Governor Scott to Florida Legislature: Follow Texas on economy" »

December 01, 2015

Will Gov. Scott remember a small favor? Orlando's mayor hopes so

Orlando's Democratic mayor, Buddy Dyer, was in familiar territory Tuesday, walking the halls of the Florida Senate where he used to work. The mayor's mission is to get $15 million for the University of Central Florida's downtown Orlando campus in the next state budget.

Again.

It's a sore subject for Orlando's movers and shakers because of Gov. Rick Scott. With a boost from Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, the money was in the Legislature's budget last session, but Scott erased it with the stroke of his veto pen -- the biggest single-ticket item on his long list of $461 million in line-item vetoes. A ticked-off Gardiner went on Orlando TV to call Scott's veto "a shot at Orlando."

But the new year will bring a new session and new hope for UCF's campus. After all, as Dyer was quick to note Tuesday, he's a big-city mayor who two weeks ago endorsed one of Scott's top priorities: a bigger pot of incentive money for Enterprise Florida. It was an easy call, Dyer noted, because the ask came from "the man with the veto pen."

November 30, 2015

Gov. Rick Scott orders 2nd execution for 2016 in Glades County case

@MichaelAuslen

Gov. Rick Scott has ordered the execution of a man who has been on Florida's death row for two murders in 1983.

The execution of Michael Ray Lambrix, scheduled for 6 p.m. Feb. 11, 2016, is the second already planned in the new year. Oscar Ray Bolin is scheduled to be executed Jan. 7 for murders in Tampa Bay.

Lambrix was convicted in Glades County in 1984 for killing Aleisha Bryant and Clarence Moore, Jr.

According to information from the governor's office, Lambrix and his girlfriend met the victims at a bar and invited them back to the trailer where they lived for dinner. Lambrix then beat Moore to death with a tire iron and strangled Bryant. He stole a gold chain from Moore's body and buried them in a shallow grave before taking Moore's car.

Lambrix had escaped from work release in December 1982 while serving a two-year prison sentence for violoating probation.

But outside groups, including Amnesty International, have contested the narrative that led Lambrix to spend more than 30 years on death row.

Continue reading "Gov. Rick Scott orders 2nd execution for 2016 in Glades County case" »

White House sends Florida Gov. Rick Scott more details on Syrian refugees vetting

11302015_132738_let1_8colvia @learyreports

The White House sent a letter to Gov. Rick Scott on Monday defending the vetting process for Syrians and offering “more regular access to refugee resettlement information.”

“This proposal responds to governors’ input while protecting the privacy of refugee families,” Whitehouse Chief of Staff Denis McDonough wrote in the letter.

Scott has joined numerous other governors in opposing the resettlement of more refugees. Secretary of State John Kerry previously sent a letter to Scott explaining the vetting process as “extraordinarily thorough and comprehensive" -- language McDonough stood by Monday.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

November 24, 2015

Miami mayor endorses Scott's $250M proposed reform for Enterprise Florida

Tomas

@ByKristenMClark

Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado is among the latest in a string of local and county officials across Florida who have signed a fill-in-the-blank press release from Gov. Rick Scott's office, backing his plan for $250 million in economic incentives to better attract jobs and businesses to Florida.

Scott sent letters to all Florida mayors earlier this month -- and later, also local and county council and commission members -- asking them to support his proposal to reform Enterprise Florida with the new "Florida Enterprise Fund."

Scott's plan is expected to face some resistance among his fellow Republicans in the Senate. The $250 million request triples the $85 million he requested this year for Enterprise Florida -- which lawmakers sliced in half in the current budget.

In announcing his support of Scott's plan, Regalado cited Enterprise Florida's role in "creating jobs in our community, such as HBO Latin America, LAN Airlines and Univision Network."

"These reforms will continue to diversify our local economy, empower our small businesses and create even more great jobs," Regalado said, reciting a canned quote provided by Scott's office.

Regalado, like Scott, is a Republican.

The most high-profile Democratic mayor to endorse Scott's pitch is Tampa mayor Bob Buckhorn, who announced his support last week.

Others in South Florida who have backed Scott's $250 million funding request include Miami Commission Chairman Wifredo Gort, Miami-Dade County Commissioner Rebeca Sosa, North Miami Beach Mayor George Vallejo and Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez (whom Scott's office two weeks ago originally misidentified as Miami's mayor before issuing a correct version of the press release).

Photo credit: Hector Gabino / El Nuevo Herald

November 23, 2015

Gov. Scott calls for no new staff at Florida hospitals

@MichaelAuslen

Gov. Rick Scott is asking for no new staff to address reports of violence and abuse in the state’s mental hospitals.

In his annual budget request to the state Legislature, released Monday, the governor doesn’t provide for any new workers in the state hospitals where one employee can supervise as many as 15 mentally ill people.

It’s an issue that has recently been in the public eye after an investigation by the Tampa Bay Times and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune highlighted deaths and neglect in the hospitals. The reporting showed an increase in violence corresponding with more than $100 million in budget cuts over the last five years.

In the budget request, Scott addresses safety, as well as overcrowding and limited capacity at the hospitals, which include “forensic” patients who have been deemed unfit to stand trial for a crime or unable to be incarcerated in a state prison, as well as people who have been civilly committed.

But staffing — which the Times and Herald-Tribune reporting found to be central to the problem and which some state lawmakers have called to increase — is not part of it.

Continue reading "Gov. Scott calls for no new staff at Florida hospitals" »

Gov. Scott wants more staffing cuts in health, environment

@MichaelAuslen

For the fifth year in a row, Gov. Rick Scott is asking for big job cuts to state agencies responsible for health care and the environment.

In his budget priorities released Monday, Scott asks the Legislature to eliminate a net of 718 jobs in the Department of Health and 152 in the Department of Environmental Protection.

All told, if the Legislature honors Scott’s request, the Department of Health will have shrunk by a fifth — more than 3,400 jobs eliminated — since Scott’s first budget in 2011-2012. More than 1,500 of those are in the last two years.

By and large, the cuts are expected to be for positions funded by the Legislature that have not been filled by Scott's agencies. About 200 jobs are expected to be connected to the transitioning of a health care plan for kids to be run by private insurers. Many of those could be filled by state workers who could be reassigned into other open jobs.

That means few workers are expected to lose their jobs. But it also means jobs for which the Legislature has set aside money are not being filled.

Scott is asking to eliminate more than 500 jobs in county health departments, which are charged with serving low-income people across the state. Last year, the governor asked for 758 health department jobs to be cut. Lawmakers got rid of an additional 55.

Last year, Scott’s proposal asked to cut funding for nutritionists who advise poor families, health counselors and family support workers, among other jobs in clinics across the state.

A list of which specific positions are expected to be eliminated has not been made available.

In the Department of Environmental Protection, most of the job cuts are likely to be empty positions, as well. Under the governor’s plan, most of them come from the state parks.

It is important to note that the governor’s recommended budget is only a suggestion. State lawmakers negotiate the nearly $80 billion state budget, and Scott has the power to veto items.

Still, lawmakers often make changes prioritized by the governor and his agencies. Scott this year asked each state agency to identify 5 percent of their jobs that could be cut.

Continue reading "Gov. Scott wants more staffing cuts in health, environment" »

Gov. Scott appoints new lottery secretary

@MichaelAuslen

Tom Delacenserie has been appointed secretary of the Florida Lottery, Gov. Rick Scott announced Monday.

He’s been serving as the interim secretary since October, when Cynthia O'Connell resigned from the job amidst reports of questionable travel and excessive vacation.

Delacenserie will face confirmation by the Florida Senate. He earns a $141,000 salary.

Delacenserie is a longtime lottery executive, who was a deputy secretary in charge of the department’s sales and marketing from 2013 until taking over the top job and before that was director of sales for eight years.

He has a degree from University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and worked in sales prior to joining the lottery in 2000.

“Tom has demonstrated his knowledge of this important agency and his commitment to serving Floridians,” Scott said in a written statement announcing Delacenserie’s appointment. “We look forward to his continued success as Secretary, and the continued investment in Florida’s education system."