November 23, 2015

Putnam 'disappointed, not surprised' at Scott's lack of pay raises

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam immediately criticized Gov. Rick Scott's proposed budget, which has $1 billion in tax cuts but no pay raises for state forestry firefighters, who earn an average of about $27,000 a year. The full text of the statement Putnam issued Monday:

"I’m disappointed that the governor left Florida wildland firefighter salary increases out of his budget, but I’m not surprised after last year’s veto. With a starting salary of $24,000 per year, our firefighters are at least as deserving as those who got pay increases last year and those who have pay increases included in the budget this year. I look forward to working with the Legislature again to meet the needs of our wildland firefighters.”

Putnam was angry and disappointed that Scott vetoed $2,000 raises for firefighters after the Legislature approved them in June, and after ignoring Putnam's request that he be given a chance to make the case for them. Putnam is asking lawmakers to approve them again next year, as some firefighters have gone to the western U.S. to battle severe wildfires there to assist in public safety and to supplement their state pay.

At his budget announcement in Jacksonville, Scott said he opposes across-the-board pay raises to workers -- though last year he gave them to a select groups of state troopers and to driver's license examiners and next year would give them to FDLE crime lab workers.

"I think the right thing to do is what's in my budget," Scott said. "I've put in my budget a bonus plan for our state workers. It will be up to $1,500 and it will be tied to agencies hitting their goals, you hitting your goals and agencies continuing to find savings. We need to continue to focus on how do we make this state government more efficient."

Gov. Rick Scott pitches 'Florida First' budget of $79.3 billion

JACKSONVILLE -- Gov. Rick Scott on Monday proposed a $79.3 billion budget for next year that would spend more on schools, cut taxes by $1 billion and eliminate nearly 1,000 more full-time jobs from the state work force.

Scott rolled out his spending plan at Harbinger, a sign-making company on Jacksonville's south side where owner Roger Williams helped to promote Scott's proposal to permanently eliminate the sales tax on equipment used in manufacturing.

Scott's "Florida First" budget would be about $1 billion dollars more than current spending, after allowing for Scott's $461 million in line-item vetoes.

He citing a projected budget surplus of $1.3 billion, a figure disputed by state economists, along with a declining unemployment rate and continued population growth as positive indicators for Florida.

"We're clearly headed in the right direction," Scott told reporters. "Now we've got to invest that money well."

Scott's spending plans have already come in for criticism from some fellow Republicans in the Legislature. His proposed increase in public school spending would require higher property tax bills for businesses and homeowners.

Continue reading "Gov. Rick Scott pitches 'Florida First' budget of $79.3 billion " »

November 22, 2015

John Kerry defends 'thorough' Syrian refugee screening in letter to Rick Scott

via @learyreports

Secretary of State John Kerry sent a letter to Gov. Rick Scott that defends the vetting process for Syrian refugees as “extraordinarily thorough and comprehensive.”

“Bottom line—under the current system, if there is doubt about whether an applicant would pose a security risk, that individual will not be admitted to the United States as a refugee,” reads the letter, co-signed by Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.

Scott was one of more than two dozen Republican governors who have pledged to block more Syrian refugees and wrote to a letter to President Obama on Friday urging him to suspend the program.

"Our multi-agency system for vetting refugees is strong, and it has been significantly enhanced over the past few years. Indeed, applicants for refugee admission are screened more carefully than any other type of traveler to the United States, the letter reads.

"We have tremendous faith in this system's ability to detect, investigate, and disrupt terrorist plotting in this country, as it has done repeatedly. With these measures in place, we believe that we are able to both protect the American people and maintain this Nation's long standing position as the world's beacon of hope and freedom.

"Our highest priority is the protection of the American people. We look forward to continuing to work with you to ensure our Nation lives up to its humanitarian heritage while keeping the American people safe."

Read Kerry's letter here.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

November 20, 2015

Do the feds want to send 425 Syrians to Florida as Rick Scott says?

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has joined dozens of governors who say they don’t want to take Syrian refugees following the terrorist attacks in Paris.

He criticized the federal government’s plans to take 10,000 Syrian refugees during an interview with Fox News’ Stuart Varney on Nov. 17.

"This is something that they are making the decision, whether we like it or not, to send 425 refugees to our state without giving us any information."

Is Scott right that the feds have decided to send 425 Syrian refugees to Florida with no input from the state? PolitiFact Florida decided to check it out.

GOP lawmakers on Scott and higher taxes: 'This has got to stop'

When Gov. Rick Scott rolls out his budget proposal in Jacksonville next Monday, he will likely highlight tax cuts and more money for public education. But a spike in school spending will likely have to come from higher property taxes on small businesses and homeowners, and that has some Republican legislators angry.

"This has got to stop," says Republican Rep. Fred Costello of Ormond Beach.

Costello has decided it's time to force Scott and lawmakers to tell people the truth, that higher property taxes pay for schools. Costello wants to require a public notice of whether a state-imposed tax increase pays for a school budget increase, and that it be spelled out with a "clear and concise explanation" in newspaper ads, just as cities and counties do every year when they publish the roll-back rate.

"It's going to force us to say we're raising taxes," Costello said. "Nobody in Tallahassee wants to do that."

Scott's office sees it very differently. "Rising property values are good for the economy and homeowners. This bill seems to ignore that reality," spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said Friday.

As Florida's economy improves, the taxable values of homes and businesses go up. But what politicians don't talk about is that higher property values results in higher property taxes -- even if the tax rate doesn't go up. Every year, the governor and legislators pass a budget that requires school boards to impose a local property tax, known as required local effort.

Continue reading "GOP lawmakers on Scott and higher taxes: 'This has got to stop'" »

Rick Scott, GOP govs ask for no more Syrian refugees in letter to Obama

The 27 Republican governors who earlier this week opposed Syrian refugees settling in their states -- including Florida's Rick Scott -- are taking up a united front.

On Friday, they sent a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to suspend resettlement of refugees from Syria nationwide in light of attacks in France last week.

Other southern governors signed on the list, including Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Greg Abbot of Texas and Nathan Deal of Georgia. New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan, the only Democrat to join the anti-refugee talk, did not join.

States have no power to refuse refugees, legal experts say. PolitiFact has answered five key questions about Syrian refugees, including about the screening process they undergo before entering the couuntry.

Below is the full text of the letter from the governors. The list of governors is included on the full document here.

Continue reading "Rick Scott, GOP govs ask for no more Syrian refugees in letter to Obama" »

PolitiFact: 5 questions about Syrian refugees

Whether the United States should accept Syrian refugees has become an urgent debate in the days since the terror attacks in Paris. At least 30 governors have said they’re against letting refugees into their states because of fears that terrorists could hide among those seeking political asylum.

Civilians are fleeing Syria — where more than 200,000 people have been killed in the conflict — by the thousands. Some have called their migration the largest humanitarian crisis since World War II.

The unrest began in 2011 with protests against President Bashar al-Assad, in the wake of the pro-democracy Arab Spring. Assad’s regime responded with violence, and the country spiraled into a civil war. But it isn’t just pro-Assad vs. anti-Assad groups. There are several sects fighting one another, one of which is the terrorist group the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

Some have questioned whether one of the ISIS terrorists who participated in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks was a Syrian refugee who resettled in Europe. That fact remains unconfirmed; authorities are still investigating. The six Paris attackers identified so far were French and Belgian nationals. Nonetheless, many American politicians are concerned that allowing Syrian refugees to settle in the United States would leave the country vulnerable.

There are a lot of questions about Syrian refugees coming to the United States. Here are some answers from PolitiFact's Lauren Carroll and Linda Qiu

November 18, 2015

Despite calls for his ouster, DEP chief retains senators' support

Gov. Rick Scott's chief environmental regulator, Jon Steverson, won a vote of confidence Wednesday from senators who rejected calls from the Sierra Club, League of Women Voters and others that he be ousted from his $150,000-a-year job.

Steverson, secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, is one of several state agency heads who was not confirmed by the full Senate in 2015. If he's not confirmed in the 2016 session, he'll have to resign, but it appears that won't be a problem, despite an ongoing controversy over Steverson's plans to study expanding commercial activity in state parks, such as hunting and timber harvesting. Scott and the Cabinet confirmed Steverson's reappointment in August.

"I'm here to tell you unequivocally today that (state parks) are not for sale," Steverson told senators, testifying under oath. "I'm not looking to surplus parks. I'm not looking to commercialize parks. And I'm not looking to ruin the park visitor experience."

He said he wants to improve management practices in state parks and use the private sector to do that, and he noted that commercial timber practices have been going on in more than 34 state parks since 2005, "long before I got here."  He vowed that any change to existing park plans will be throughly vetted through a public planning process.

"I can assure you, no one will be firing high-powered rifles on Honeymoon Island," Steverson said. The popular state park in the North Pinellas County city of Dunedin is in the district of Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who said recently that allowing hunting in state parks is a "disaster waiting to happen."

David Cullen of the Sierra Club of Florida urged the Senate to deny Steverson's confirmation, saying: "He would subvert the fundamental purpose of managing our state parks for the enjoyment of all citizens to one of economic development for the few. Floridians do not want hunting, cattle grazing or timber harvesting in their state parks."

Debra Harrison Rumberger of the League of Women Voters told senators that "our parks are not for profit. Not for plunder." She testified that "the morale of park volunteers is almost as low as that of DEP employees."

The Republican-controlled Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee confirmed Steverson on a 7 to 1 vote, with Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, voting no. Another Democrat, Sen. Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale, voted to confirm Steverson.

Gov. Rick Scott proposes funding increase for state crime laboratory system

@JeremySWallace

Florida Gov. Rick Scott said on Wednesday that he will propose a new state budget that will include more funding to the state’s crime lab to address a backlog that has doubled the time to process some types offorensic evidence.

Scott said his proposed budget for 2016-2017 will include an $8.5 million increase for the FloridaDepartment of Law Enforcement to fund a “variety of enhancements” for the state’s crime laboratory system. But how specifically that money would be applied in his plan will not be known until Scott releases his detailed proposed budget by the end of the year.

“The $8.5 million investment we are announcing today is critical to giving innocent victims the answers they rightfully deserve, including the thousands of women who have been victims to absolutely horrific, violent crimes,” Scott said in a statement to the media.

Scott’s statement didn’t include any indication about whether he will fund the agency’s top priority: pay raises for crime lab workers.

FDLE commissioner Richard Swearingen earlier this fall called for pay increases for crime lab workers to keep them from leaving for other jobs. Swearingen told Scott and the elected Florida Cabinet that the lab has been beset by turnover problems partly because of the low pay in comparison to other labs run by local governments and other states. In the last 5 years, the FDLE crime lab has lost 107 of its 297 crime lab analysts and supervisors.

Continue reading "Gov. Rick Scott proposes funding increase for state crime laboratory system" »

Gov. Rick Scott not persuaded to accept refugees after White House call

@JeremySWallace

Gov. Rick Scott was among a group of 34 governors who were on a conference call with the White House on Tuesday to talk about accepting Syrian refugees, but it did little to persuade Scott to end his objection to more refugees coming to Florida.

“The conference call with the White House yesterday didn’t help me at all,” Scott told Brian Kilmeade, a host of Fox & Friends, this morning. “It made me even more concerned.”

Scott said the administration officials told them they were doing thorough background checks but were not willing to share those checks with Florida law enforcement.

“They couldn’t explain to me how the U.S. vetting process is any better than the French vetting process, even though we know one of the terrorists posed as a Syrian refugee,” Scott said.

His comments follow a letter he sent U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell urging them to stop the administration from settling more Syrian refugees in Florida. Florida is set to receive another 425 refugees, Scott said.

The Associated Press reported that 34-governors participated in the 90-minute call with the White House, which included President Barack Obama’s chief of staff Denis McDonough and representatives from the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department, Health and Human Services, the FBI and the National Counterterrorism Center.