June 25, 2015

UF says Fort Pierce lab may close because of Gov. Scott's veto

The University of Florida said Thursday that its state-of-the-art laboratory in Fort Pierce is "likely" to close, and its 12 positions eliminated, because of Gov. Rick Scott's line-item veto.

The joint projecst by UF and IFAS, the Institute for Food and Agricultural Sciences, controls invasive plants and insects. The university said that the lab's future is in question because Scott vetoed its funding, including a $180,000 increase that the Legislature appropriated in the new state budget. Jack Payne, a UF senior vice president for agricultural and natural resources, said the lab has been open since 2004 at the Indian River Research and Education Center.

UF said Florida has the largest invasive infestations of any state, and that the center was poised to release the first control agent to control the Brazilian peppertree, which has infested nearly 700,000 acres in central and south Florida and has been particularly abundant in the Everglades.

Scott withdraws lawsuit on LIP, says it was 'essential' to getting feds to continue subsidy

UPDATE: Gov. Rick Scott announced Thursday he was dropping the lawsuit filed in federal court in April, accusing the federal government of attempting to use the Low Income Pool funding to "coerce" the state into expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

The cost to taxpayers for the legal challenge: $175,000, according a contract completed Thursday with the Washington, D.C., law firm Bancroft Associates, which represented Scott in Florida's challenge to the Affordable Care Act.  Download EXD053 - Bancroft_For Legal (3)

Scott all but conceded the lawsuit was moot on Tuesday when he signed the budget and accepted the terms of the LIP funding model developed by legislators and his agency staff.

But he waited until Thursay to announce he officially dropping the lawsuit -- an hour after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in King v. Burwell to uphold subsidies for the uninsured in states like Florida that have established a federal insurance exchange. Scott had supported the King lawsuit and wants to see the Affordable Care Act repealed. 

In a statement, Scott said his lawsuit challenging LIP "was essential to making Obama continue LIP funding," but he cited no facts to back up that claim. 

The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid told the state last year that the funding for LIP was going to decline as it was phasing out subsidies to states that reimburse hospitals for charity care, but it never claimed it would eliminate all funding.

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Governor Scott ducks question on Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush

@JeremySWallace

If Florida Gov. Rick Scott has a favorite in the Republican presidential primary, he sure is not ready to share it with the media.

During an appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Thursday morning, Scott was asked directly if he is with former Gov. Jeb Bush or Sen. Marco Rubio – the two Florida Republicans that seem to be dividing loyalties in the Sunshine State among the GOP.

“Let me ask you, Jeb or Marco,” Host Joe Scarborough, a former Florida congressman, asked. “Who is it? Jeb or Marco.”

Scott did not answer, instead, pointing out other candidates who have ties to Florida.

“You know, we’ve got Donald Trump in our state, Ben Carson in our state, Mike Huckabee,” Scott said.

Pressed again, Scott wasn’t budging.

“I like all the Republican candidates,” Scott said. “How is that?”

June 23, 2015

Florida Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera's role (or lack thereof) in budget vetoes

@PatriciaMazzei

Florida Gov. Rick Scott vetoed so many projects in the state budget Tuesday -- and so quickly -- that it made some political insiders wonder: Did he get recommendations from anyone outside his office?

That question was making the rounds in Miami in particular, as the hometown of Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, whom some lobbyists privately hoped would intercede for local projects.

No such luck.

Lopez-Cantera, a likely 2016 U.S. Senate candidate, said Monday before celebrating the budget's tax cuts with Scott that he left the budget review to the governor.

"There's always room to make government more efficient, and I trust the governor and his judgement in his review of the budget, which I know is already under way," Lopez-Cantera said  before the event with Scott in Doral.

Did he make any veto suggestions to Scott? "I have not made any recommendations to the governor, no. Not yet."

Would he? "Wait and see," Lopez-Cantera said. "I'm not sure."

The budget, and vetoes, were signed 22 hours later.

Andy Gardiner: budget vetoes are 'dreams shattered' for disabled

As lawmakers react to a whopping $461 million in budget vetoes today by Gov. Rick Scott, one very powerful senator is irate.

That's President Andy Gardiner, who issued an uncharacteristically harsh statement criticizing the governor's vetoes of programs meant to help children with special needs, the president's top priority.

“While Governor Scott will undoubtedly spend the next several weeks traveling the state touting his record number of vetoes as win for Florida’s families, there are many families across Florida who have seen their dreams shattered by his decisions today," Gardiner said in the statement.

“Families who had hoped their children born with unique abilities would have the opportunity to attend a post-secondary program, receive specialized job training and take part in the college experience, will see that dream postponed another year," it continues.

But Gardiner didn't stop there. Bringing back up the debate over health care funding that led to the budget being finished this late in the first place, he lambasts the governor for refusing to take federal Medicaid expansion dollars but then cutting health programs in the state budget.

This, said Gardiner, was an instance of Scott, "again depriving these families of the chance for proactive primary care and pushing more and more Floridians without health insurance towards hospital emergency rooms when they are at their sickest and most vulnerable."

And he chalks it all up to politicking by the governor's office.

"It is unfortunate that the messaging strategy needed to achieve the Governor’s political agenda comes at the expense of the most vulnerable people in our state.”

Looks like this rift between the Senate Republicans and Gov. Scott won't be endign anytime soon...

Putnam 'profoundly disappointed' in Scott's veto of firefighter pay raise

@JeremySWallace

Firefighters who battle forest fires in Florida will not be getting pay raises because of Gov. Rick Scott’s vetoes.

The Legislature has set aside $1.6 million in the state budget to give the state’s 606 Forest Service firefighters each a $2,000 a year pay raise.

“I am profoundly disappointed,” Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said on Tuesday after learning of the veto. “Our forest firefighters put their lives on the line. They are demonstratively underpaid relative to peers.”

The vetoes come as Florida fire fighters are battling an unusually high number of fires. On Friday the state was fighting 90 active wildfires, Putnam said. And since January the state has dealt with 1,440 fires on over 30,000 acres. The Florida Panhandle, North Florida and Florida Atlantic Coast are all facing a high wildfire threat.

 Putnam questioned the lack of consistency in the vetoes, noting other government employees in less dangerous jobs will get raises, but not the fire fighters.

“I’m even more disappointed that it wasn’t applied consistently,”  Putnam said. The helpful people who take your drivers license photo were allowed to receive a pay raise. And our forest firefighters who put their lives on the line were not.”

Latvala rails: The governor has declared war on the Legislature

With the ink barely dry on Gov. Rick Scott's veto of $461 million in legislatively approved projects, Sen. Jack Latvala railed against it in an interview Tuesday saying, "the governor has declared war on the Legislature." He predicted Scott will face continued deterioration of relations with the Republican-controlled body. 

"There’s stuff in there that he has approved in the past,'' said Latvala, R-Clearwater, chairman of the Senate budget committe on transporation and economic development. He cited the Miami project on paralysis research and the pay raise for forestry firefighters as examples of projects Scott has recommended in his budgets in the past but are now on the lengthy veto list. 

Latvala directed the blame directly at the governor's staff and, primarily, his chief of staff, Melissa Sellers, who formerly worked for Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana.

"The governor is not being well served by these kids from Louisiana,'' Latvala told the Herald/Times. "I don't recall a governor's office as unresponsive as that one is. They’ve got him totally isolated. You can’t have a meeting without Melissa sitting there. She totally controls the agenda but what are her credentials to do that? She won a campaign."

Latvala criticized the governor for delegating to staff who have little understanding of the budget, the legislative process and make little effort to understand the details.

"The advice is dead wrong,'' he said. "There are so many inconsistencies in the ways those things are applied. They don’t even know what he asked for before."

He noted that at the advice of staff he is "in campaign mode all the time.'' He accused the governor of "rushing" the budget announcement. (It was announced on the same day that Scott and the Cabinet approved using more than $228,000 in taxpayer money to end a lawsuit against them for violating the state's open meetings law.)

"Some times you have to be in a public service mode,'' Latvala huffed. "Some times you have to be in a governing mode. That's what Charlie Crist's problem was. The campaign is over and you have to start governing."

He predicted Scott "is going to have problems with the Legislature now, worse than he’s had in the past, and these people will go off and take jobs in presidential campaigns and he’ll be left holding the bag."

Read the full list of what Gov. Scott vetoed from the budget

Gov. Rick Scott issued $461.4 million in vetoes for next year's state budget.

On the list of axed items are local turkeys like $2 million for IMG Academy, a private, for-profit sports academy associated with some NFL stars.

But he's also nixing more than a third of the local water infrastructure projects (read: sewers and drainage) lawmakers included. And South Florida will be hit particularly hard, as 82 percent of water project funding for Miami-Dade and Broward counties is cut.

In Tampa Bay, a Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Pinellas County will lose out on $240,956 for renovations.

Download Final-Veto-List

June 22, 2015

As Scott and Cabinet end one Sunshine lawsuit, governor negotiates settling another

For the second time in a month, Gov. Rick Scott is negotiating a settlement to use taxpayer dollars to end a lawsuit alleging he violated state Sunshine laws.

According to documents filed in First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee this month, the governor is negotiating with Tallahassee attorney Steve Andrews over a lawsuit accusing Scott of skirting state public records laws by using private email accounts to conduct public business. The negotiations began after a California judge ordered Google to turn over information that could reveal whether Scott’s top staff set up the private email accounts to allow the governor to circumvent the state public records law.

How much taxpayers will be on the hook under the settlement has not been disclosed, but it comes on the heels of another settlement in a Sunshine law violation case expected to be approved by the governor and Cabinet on Tuesday. Records show that fees in that case will cost taxpayers in excess of $228,000.

The lawsuit was brought by St. Petersburg lawyer Matthew Weidner and several media organizations, including the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times, who accused Scott and the Cabinet of violating the state’s open meeting laws when they allowed staff to use back channels to oust former FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey with no public discussion or vote.

In that settlement announced last week, Scott and the three members of the state Cabinet – Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam – would agree to pay $55,000 to the lawyer representing the plaintiffs, Andrea Mogensen. They would also agree to revise their policies to operate with more transparency, including turning over their private emails promptly when they conduct public business.

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