July 14, 2017

Gov. Scott says the Senate health care rewrite continues to punish Florida

Rick Scott 2015 APWhat exactly does Gov. Rick Scott want in return for repeal of Obamacare?

That's an answer that's been rather difficult to discern judging by the governor's public pronouncements. On Friday, the governor's office released an op-ed that gave us a hint that the governor's not happy about the Medicaid reimbursement rates in the Senate's rewrite of the Better Care Reconciliation Act. He says, the bill is "rewarding inefficient states" like New York and punishing what he considers more efficient states like Florida.

Here's what the governor said he doesn't like about the rewrite:

  • The Medicaid reimbursement rates "lock in past federal spending" that gives Florida only $15 billion in Medicaid funds while New York gets $33 billion. Scott argues that both the proposed House and Senate bills "would make this inequity permanent."
  • He wants to see a cut in federal "income taxes for Floridians by 30 percent" if those provisions remain -- to put the state on par with states like New York that took advantage of the federal offer under Obamacare to expand Medicaid.

The revamped Senate plan released this week continues to cut $772 billion in Medicaid spending over the next decade, with hundreds of billions in additional cuts in the 10 years after that. The cuts include a four-year phase-out of Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion with a new restriction on the program's growth rate that begins in 2020.

Sen. Marco Rubio, who said Thursday he will vote to bring up a vote on the new Senate plan, wants to see changes to those cuts, however. He said he will introduce an amendment that ensures Florida, which chose not to expand Medicaid, isn't locked into a baseline "that puts us at a disadvantageous position." 

Here is what the governor's letter appears to support:

  • "incremental changes to get rid of the taxes and mandates and roll back the federal welfare state"
  • immediate repeal of Obamacare.

Scott spokesperson McKinley Lewis added these priorities of the governor's: 

  • Every state receives the same amount per capita for every Medicaid recipient.
  • Every American, regardless of pre-existing condition, has the right to purchase insurance coverage that fits their needs.
  • Every state gets the flexibility to set benefits and reimbursement rates under their Medicaid program that best fit the needs of their citizens.

There are so many more questions left unanswered about where the governor stands. 

Does he support the Senate rewrite that removed two significant tax cuts for the wealthy to add $45 billion to combat opioid addiction and billions to offset  higher insurance costs for low-income people and to stabilize the individual markets?

Does he support the additional $182 billion that goes to states to help drive down the cost of premiums? How much more does he think Florida should be getting in Medicaid money? How much less should states like New York get? 

Does the governor agree with Rubio that the new draft includes some positive improvements for Florida -- like steering more Medicaid DSH money to hospitals that serve the uninsured in Florida?

Does the governor like the piece that includes catastrophic coverage in the scaled down insurance coverage options? 

When the governor talks about efficiency, it is efficient if people can't afford insurance and have to rely on emergency rooms for primary care? If Obamacare is repealed, how quickly will Florida have a plan in place to make sure the uninsured get the preventive care they need to keep them out of hospital ERs? What would that plan look like?

These questions were posed to the governor's office Friday. Instead of answering, Lewis asked that we print this statement which makes clear one thing -- the governor may know what he wants Congress to do, but he's not ready to be pinned down by a statement that tells the public what it is.

"We are carefully reviewing the bill,'' Lewis said. "While it’s better than Obamacare, the governor wants to continue to find ways to make it better for Florida." 

Here's the text of the governor's op-ed:

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Critical audit of Suwannee River water district exposes downside of deep cuts

Suwanee RiverOfficials in charge of the smallest water management district in Florida were making a big mistake: they appeared to be keeping millions of dollars acquired from land sales instead of returning it to the state’s general fund — and they had no paper trail.

The Suwannee River Water Management District, which oversees land and water resources in a 15-county rural swath of north-central Florida, failed to properly account for more than $26 million, according to a critical audit recently released by the Florida Auditor General.

Weak budgetary controls led to $22.5 million in “questionable costs,” auditors found. Officials had transferred $13.3 million of it into the district’s operating account without proper authority. They may have overspent some areas of the budget and directed money to other areas to make up for shortfalls. They set aside $3.8 million “in the event of an economic crisis” without authorization, and they steered $1.7 million “to cover routinely anticipated budget shortfalls” without explanation.

Auditors concluded that accounts were “misclassified because district personnel misunderstood” standard accounting requirements and budget staff members were “somewhat new to the process” so they couldn’t explain how and why it happened.

Why is this a problem? In plain language, if you don’t know how to track the taxpayers’ money, you risk spending too much of it, the auditors said.

“Absent effective budgetary controls, including budgetary monitoring controls, there is an increased risk that district expenditures will exceed established budgeted amounts and available resources,” the report concluded. Read more here:  Auditors find millions in ‘questionable costs’ at water district

Photo: This is a view of the Suwannee River near White Springs from 2010. Susan Cocking Miami Herald file photo

July 10, 2017

Gov. Rick Scott promises to crackdown on Venezuela



Gov. Rick Scott, appearing in Doral on Monday at a rally against the government of Venezuela, said he plans to move ahead with a proposal that would ban any organization that does business with the Nicolás Maduro regime from doing business with the state of Florida.

The governor did not explain how such a ban would work or what companies it would affect. His press office said they could not release specifics about the proposal.

Over the past two weeks, Scott has repeatedly said he is pushing for the Florida Retirement System Pension Plan to keep finance companies that do business in Venezuela from managing state funds, in hopes this will choke the flow of money to Maduro’s regime. The governor said he will ask the Florida State Board of Administration, which oversees the pension system, to vote in favor of the proposal during the Aug. 16 Cabinet meeting.

“This cannot keep going on, we will no longer stand idly by and allow business in the U.S. to fund Maduro’s regime anymore,” Scott told a crowd of hundreds of people, some of whom were waving Venezuelan flags and banners, outside El Arepazo restaurant in Doral.

State Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, praised Scott for the proposal. Rodriguez said last week that he will file legislation next session calling for the state to divest any of its investments in all companies that are helping finance the Maduro regime.

Keep reading here.


July 05, 2017

Rick Scott, Jose Javier Rodríguez want to ban Florida from doing business with Maduro in Venezuela

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Florida Gov. Rick Scott announced Wednesday his plan to ban the State of Florida from doing business with any entity that supports embattled Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. 

“During the next meeting of the Florida Cabinet in August, I will bring forward a proposal that will prohibit the State of Florida from doing business with any organization that supports the oppressive Maduro dictatorship," Scott said in a statement. "Floridians stand with the people of Venezuela as they fight for their freedom, and as a state, we must not provide any support for Maduro and his thugs." 

Scott's announcement comes hours after Democratic State Sen. José Javier Rodríguez said he will file legislation seeking divestment by the State of Florida from businesses who work with the Maduro regime. He also encouraged state agencies not to wait for legislation to divest. 

"Venezuelan Independence Day is a fitting time to propose a response by the State of Florida to Goldman Sachs' callous decision to turn a profit at the expense of the Venezuelan people -- I call on state agencies to immediately initiate divestment from Goldman Sachs and I call on my colleagues to support legislation I intend to introduce during the 2018 Legislative Session that would prevent future business ties between the State of Florida and the Maduro regime," Rodríguez said in a statement. 

Rodríguez is vying for Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's open congressional seat in 2018 while Scott is likely to challenge Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson in 2018. 

July 5 marks Venezuelan Independence Day, and pro-government militias attacked Venezuelan lawmakers during a special session that coincided with the holiday. 


July 03, 2017

UPDATED: Lawmakers react to Miami judge's ruling deeming Stand Your Ground change unconstitutional

Florida Legislature (21)


Several lawmakers took to Twitter on Monday to weigh in on a Miami judge's ruling that new changes the Legislature made to Florida's Stand Your Ground law were unconstitutional and beyond the purview of their law-making duties.

The Miami Herald's David Ovalle has more on the ruling here.

SB 128 passed the Legislature along partylines with Democrats opposed, and Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed it into law last month. Scott's office had no immediate reaction to Monday's news other than acknowledging they were "reviewing the ruling."

Here's what some lawmakers had to say: 

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes:

Sen. Rob Bradley, the Fleming Island Republican who, for two years, sponsored the legislation to change Florida's Stand Your Ground law:

Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford...

... with a responses from Reps. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, Bob Cortes, R-Altamonte Springs, and David Richardson, D-Miami Beach:

Rep. Julio Gonzalez, R-Venice:

Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando:

Rep. Cord Byrd, R-Jacksonville Beach...

... with agreement from Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa:

 Rep. Kionne McGhee, D-Miami...

 ... which drew this brief exchange with Rep. Jason Fischer, R-Jacksonville:

Photo credit: Mark Wallheiser / AP

June 30, 2017

Rick Scott's net worth soars $30 million in 2016 as the value of his Florida mansion drops

Rick Scott APFlorida Gov. Rick Scott saw his net worth increase by more than $30 million last year as his blind trust rose in value, a reversal of fortunes that had seen him lose $27 million the year before.

Scott, a two-term Republican and former businessman, filed his annual financial disclosure form Friday showing that his net worth was more than $149 million at the end of 2016, a 25 percent increase from the previous year.

Scott, a former hospital executive, has maintained most of his assets in the Gov. Richard L. Scott 2014 Qualified Blind Trust. The law allows public officials to create a blind trust in lieu of revealing their assets on a financial disclosure form. But by shielding the investments from the governor’s direct control, it also shields from the public any information about how the governor increased his wealth.

The governor’s blind trust is managed by a third party — a company that includes the governor’s former personal advisor. The governor reported that in 2016 his blind trust rose in value from $100 million to $130 million, but the governor also drew less income from the trust last year than he did in 2014.

Scott reported $4.3 million in income from his trust in 2016 — down from the $16.5 million in income he reported from the trust in 2015. The law does not require Scott to report how he spent the income from his trust. The governor does not take a salary from the state.

Questions have followed Scott since he first created the blind trust when he was elected in 2010. When Scott ran for re-election in 2014, he briefly dissolved his first trust and released information about the individual holdings in it. He also released his tax returns for 2013.

The tax returns showed that the Scott family earns millions more than the governor reported individually on his financial disclosure form. It also raised questions about whether Scott may have control over assets held by his wife, Ann Scott.

An investigation by the Herald/Times into those investments found that filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission indicated the governor had substantially larger holdings in several companies than what he reported to the state. A lawsuit was filed by George Sheldon, a 2014 Democrat candidate for attorney general, but a court ruled that the governor could not be compelled to disclose more information.

Tallahassee attorney Jim Apthorp appealed the decision, arguing that the blind trust law violated the constitutional provisions of the state’s public records law, but the Florida Supreme Court rejected that argument in 2015.

Both Scott and his wife maintain the blind trust. Florida law does not require spouses of elected officials to reveal their financial holdings.

The governor's 2016 disclosure shows that he saw the value of his home in Naples dropped from $15.4 million to $15 million, but saw a $20,000 increase in the value of an adjacent $144,000 boathouse. His 60-acre Montana residence, however, was listed at the same value the governor has listed it as for the last three years.

The governor continues to report payments due from four individuals or entities, including S. Scott, P. Phillips, Luther Oaks, and Roland Alonzo.

The governor's IRA through Pershing Advisor Solutions increased in value by $20,000 to $571,764. His Wells Fargo bank account was down $5,000 from 2015 to $52,312, and his Mutual of Omaha bank account was down $1 from 2015 to $91,477.

Under the law, the governor could withdraw money from his blind trust at the end of December 2016, use it to make an investment in 2017, and not have to disclose that investment until June 30, 2018, the next reporting year. That report is expected to show another spike in the governor’s net worth as a result of the multi-million sale of a Michigan-based plastics company in which the governor’s firm was a principal owner.

In the governor's final year in office, 2018, he will not have to make any financial disclosure.

June 28, 2017

Good news for Bill Nelson? Floridians elect senators from the president's party just 29 percent of the time

Bill Nelson


Floridians have voted for senators that align with the incumbent president's party just 29 percent of the time since 1966, potentially good news for Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson ahead of the 2018 election since Republican Donald Trump occupies the White House. 

The senate election data was crunched by the University of Minnesota's Smart Politics, and it shows that the 10 Democratic senators defending seats in states won by Trump might have an easier time beating the GOP in 2018. On average, voters in Florida, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Wisconsin elected a senator that aligned with the incumbent president's party just 38 percent of the time.

But Nelson has already bucked the trend twice. He won reelection in 2000 and 2012 when Democrats controlled the presidency. 

Nelson is likely to face a challenge from Gov. Rick Scott, a Trump ally. 

Nevada and Arizona, the two states occupied by potentially vulnerable Senate Republicans in 2018, voted for a senator from the president's party just 41 percent of the time since 1966.

Read more here. 

June 27, 2017

Rubio and Scott crisscross the Capitol as Obamacare repeal bill stalls in Senate

Marco Rubio 2


Minutes after he delayed a vote on a bill to repeal Obamacare when a number of Republican senators said they could not support it as written, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell retreated to his office.

Rick Scott and Marco Rubio were waiting for him.

The pair met with McConnell for half an hour, and after the meeting Rubio said the vote delay was “helpful to us.” 

“I’m going to view this entirely through the lens of what this means for Florida,” Rubio said. “The one unique advantage that we have being from Florida is that we have done what this law is going to... encourage other states to do.”

Rubio and Scott never publicly opposed the bill, which stalled after a number of senators told McConnell said they could not vote for the legislation in its current shape. But their tepid response, with Rubio summoning health care staffers from Tallahassee to review the bill and Scott declining to say he would vote for it if he could, is evidence of the work Senate leaders need to do to get a bill passed.

“Look, legislation of this complexity almost always takes longer than anybody else would hope,” McConnell said. “But we are going to press on. We think the status quo is unsustainable for all the obvious reasons we have discussed over and over and over again. And we are optimistic we are going to get to a result that’s better than the status quo.”

Scott, an ally of President Donald Trump and former health care executive, packed his day in the capital with meetings and television appearances, with the goal of stressing to Republican senators that the bill to repeal Obamacare must not penalize states like Florida that chose not to expand Medicaid.

“We're not treated the same way as a state like New York,” Scott said, arguing that New York gets $23 billion in federal dollars for health insurance while Florida gets $14 billion, despite Florida having more people to cover than New York.

“Our federal tax rates aren’t lower, so why should we get paid less?”

But Florida gets paid less because it declined to expand Medicaid under Obamacare. The state left as much as $66 billion in federal dollars on the table over 10 years after it decided not to expand Medicaid. Scott countered that expanding Medicaid would cost Florida $1.9 billion a year, but the actual cost to the state would have been closer to $500 million and wouldn’t kick in for a few years.

Read more here.

Rick Scott declines to say if he thinks Marco Rubio should vote for the health care bill as written



Florida Gov. Rick Scott is crisscrossing Capitol Hill on Tuesday as the Senate wrestles with a bill that would repeal parts of Obamacare. He's meeting with top Republicans Vice President Mike Pence, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and senior Republicans like Sen. Orrin Hatch.

But Scott, a Republican and ally of Donald Trump, demurred when asked if Sen. Marco Rubio should vote for the bill as written. Scott will meet with Rubio later on Tuesday afternoon. 

"There's constant conversations and it's changing, so you can't say where it is right now," Scott said. "Let's all focus on the biggest here, and the biggest issue here is cost reduction. What I'm talking about to him right now are the things that are important to our families and our taxpayers." 

Rubio hasn't given any indication that he plans to block the bill's path to the Senate floor, although he's brought three staffers from Tallahassee to Washington to review the bill. 

The staffers are Allen Brown, health care adviser to Senate President Joe Negron; Carol Gormley, health care adviser to House Speaker Richard Corcoran; and Justin Senior, secretary of the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration.

Scott said a big priority for him is to make sure that states who didn't expand Medicaid, like Florida, receive the same per capita funding for Medicaid as a state that chose to expand the program under Obamacare. 

"We're not treated the same way as a state like New York," Scott said, arguing that New York gets $23 billion in federal dollars for health insurance while Florida gets $14 billion, despite Florida having more people to cover than New York. 

"Our federal tax rates aren't lower so why should we get paid less?"

Senate leadership is urging a vote on the health care bill this week, saying that a further delay will make it harder for a majority to support the bill. But a  

"Whoever is paying for it, the Obamacare costs have skyrocketed, people can't afford their health care, employers can't afford their health care and the government can't afford their health care.  

Four Republican senators, including moderates Susan Collins of Maine and Dean Heller of Nevada along with conservatives Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, said they will not allow the legislation to proceed in its current form. The GOP enjoys a four seat majority in the Senate, meaning three Republican dissenters can kill the bill. 

Even if the bill passes the Senate, it could be a tough road to make it through the House. A group of conservative lawmakers dubbed the Freedom Caucus are expected to oppose the Senate bill in its current form. 

"I don't have a vote," Scott said. "But it's very important to repeal and replace Obamacare." 


Gov. Scott signs school funding, economic development bills


From the News Service of Florida:

Gov. Rick Scott signed 29 bills late Monday, including measures boosting spending on education, tourism marketing and economic development.

By signing the bills, and vetoing five more, Scott essentially closed the books on this year’s regular and special legislative sessions.

The bills Scott approved included perhaps one of the hardest-fought wins of his time as governor: a measure (HB 1A) that provided $76 million for the tourism-marketing agency Visit Florida; established an $85 million fund to pay for infrastructure improvements and job training to help draw businesses; and set aside $50 million in repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike along Lake Okeechobee.

That legislation was approved in this month’s special session after the House refused to approve direct business incentives that Scott prefers and gave far less for Visit Florida than he had requested during the regular session, which ended in May.

“With this legislation, we can promote public infrastructure projects and job-training projects to continue to grow jobs for families in every community of our state,” Scott said in a statement issued by his office. “We know that for Florida to be competitive in domestic and international markets, we need as many tools as possible to attract growing businesses to our state.”

Scott also signed another bill from the special session (HB 3A) boosting per-student spending in the state’s main formula for funding public education by $100. The budget for public schools had originally only increased spending by $24 a student, leading to charges from critics that it was too stingy and prompting a rare veto by Scott.

The governor hailed the increase Monday.

“Our students are the future of our state, and I’m incredibly proud to sign legislation today to ensure they have every opportunity for success,” he said.

During the special session, some Democrats had complained that the increase wouldn’t offset what they said would be the negative impact of HB 7069, a controversial and wide-ranging education bill Scott approved shortly after the special session as part of a rumored deal with House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes.

“It’s an increase — but at what cost?” asked Rep. Cynthia Stafford, a Miami Democrat who pointed out that funding for education is still short of pre-recession levels when inflation is factored in. “The state has recovered, but education funding has not.”

Scott also signed several other education bills Monday, including a measure (HB 15) expanding eligibility for a program that helps pay for educational services for students with disabilities and boosting the size of voucher-like tax credit scholarships that help parents pay for private school tuition.

In addition, the governor approved HB 989, which overhauls the state’s policy on instructional materials to allow any county resident — not just parents — to challenge materials used at schools.

In all, Scott signed 230 of the bills that lawmakers approved during this year’s regular legislative session while vetoing 11. He signed all four bills that passed during the special session.

Photo credit: AP