For the first time in his brief and turbulent political career, Gov. Rick Scott needs a little help from Florida’s Democrats to turn one of his wishes into law.
Scott’s top legislative priority this year — a $141 million tax cut for manufacturers — comes with an asterisk: It has to garner ‘Yes’ votes from two-thirds of the Legislature to pass.
That means Democrats — whose gains in November breached the Republican supermajorities in Tallahassee — suddenly find themselves in an unfamiliar power position as they try to defeat Scott in 2014.
“I doubt that’ll be able to get a supermajority,” said Rep. Perry Thurston, a Plantation Democrat and minority leader in the Florida House. “It’s just another [business] incentive. We don’t know if it works.”
The bill seeks to eliminate sales taxes on all manufacturing equipment and machinery.
Scott has already put considerable political capital behind the tax cut, stating on numerous occasions that this was his top priority for 2013, along with a $1.2 billion boost in education funding.
“We need to build up manufacturing jobs in the great state of Florida,” he said in unveiling a $74.2 billion budget plan last month. Scott said the tax cut would create jobs and increase exports.
A failure on the measure would be politically embarrassing for Scott, who has staked his governorship on job creation and CEO-like efficacy.
Earlier this week, the Miami Dolphins succeeded in getting a committee of lawmakers from across the state to vote for a taxpayer deal written exclusively for the team’s $400 million stadium renovation.
“I’ve never done a bill that benefits one person, statutorily, so I have real concerns with that,” said Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, before laying aside her concerns and joining 10 other senators to cast a unanimous vote for the measure.
The legislative triumph appears to be short-lived for the Dolphins’ top brass.
The reason: The Miami-Dade delegation of lawmakers decided not to give the proposal its full endorsement.
The 24-member delegation finalized its list of legislative priorities Thursday, naming goals like fighting insurance price hikes, funding Jackson Memorial Hospital and building a memorial for Bay of Pigs veterans.
Conspicuously absent from the list: any mention of a proposal to provide the Dolphins as much as $200 million for a stadium makeover.
The Miami-Dade delegation of state lawmakers decided not to list the Miami Dolphins stadium deal among its legislative priorities for this year.
During a Wednesday meeting to plan out legislative goals for 2013, the Dolphins’ proposal was not even brought up, several members of the delegation said.
“The Dolphins bill is one of many member bills that was not discussed," said Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami. “Not one legislator moved to make the Dolphins bill one of our priorities.”
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens and Rep. Eddy Gonzalez, R-Hialeah, would provide the Dolphins with a multimillion-dollar tax deal to help fund a $400 million renovation of SunLife stadium.
The measure cleared its first hurdler earlier this week with a unanimous vote in the Senate Commerce and Tourism committee.
It’s not clear whether the delegation’s decision to not prioritize the Dolphins stadium will affect the bill's chances of making it through the Legislature. The Dolphins deal already faces long odds in the Miami community because of the much-maligned Marlins deal that left taxpayers on the hook for a new baseball stadium near Little Havana. Miami-Dade County commissioners and the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce have thrown their support behind the project.
Diaz said the delegation decided to focus on broader issues like education, property insurance rates and funding for Jackson Memorial hospital.
“These are the things that our constituents want us to concentrate on right now,” he said.@ToluseO
The setting was a private room at Shula's 347 Grill on Wednesday, arguably the swankiest venue in Tallahassee, and the dinner list included six senators and head of the optometric association and its lobbyist.
Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, sponsor of a bill to give optometrists the ability to prescribe oral medications, joined five of his Senate brethren for what they described as a social "thank you" dinner. The lobbyist: Dave Ramba. The client: Dr. Kenneth Lawson, a Bradenton optometrist and head of the Florida Optometric Association. The check? Paid for by the Republican Party of Florida.
Among the guests: Senate Majority Leader Lisbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, Sens. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, Anitere Flores, R-Miami, Aaron Bean, R-Ponte Vedra Beach and Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring.
"This is just a legislative thank you for their fundraising,'' Benacquisto said, when a reporter reminded her that any talk of legislative business would render it an open meeting.
The Senate Community Affairs Committee unanimously passed the high-priority Senate bill out of committee this morning, only after deflecting some controversy.
The committee adopted an amendment that Ethics Committee chairman Sen. Jack Latvala said was intended to provide more flexibility to city and county officials who want to take a job on the public payroll after being elected to office. One size doesn't fit all, was the argument, and Latvala said the so-called revolving door provision in the sweeping ethics reform was the one issue he's heard the most heat about.
Officials in small cities and counties argued that they often need to take jobs in other branches of government and opposed the blanket ban on post-election employment in a new public job.
Remember the tweet that roared -- the one that prompted Attorney General Pam Bondi to appear at a Senate committee meeting? The issue will return. State Sen. Darren Soto has filed an amendment to the Senate ethics reform package to be voted on in the Senate Community Affairs Committee Wednesday that would revive his proposal to end the revolving door of lawyers and investigators who leave the attorney general's office and go to work for the companies they had investigated. Download 02.05.13 amendmentdraft35850 - Integrity of Investigations in CA (1)
Soto, D-Orlando, and two other Democrats filed the proposal last year but it never got a hearing. The proposal is aimed at stopping the practice that came to light after attorneys working for former Attorney General Bill McCollum went to work for companies that specialized in foreclosure law and services that were the subject of an attorney general's investigation.
"Right now, the attorney general doesn't have the authority to stop those folks because of Florida Bar rules,'' Soto said.
The Miami Dolphins started off the legislative season 1-and-0 in their attempt to get lawmakers to approve a multi-million dollar deal to upgrade its 25-year-old stadium.
Lawmakers in the Florida Senate Commerce Committee gave unanimous support to a bill that would clear the way for higher hotel bed taxes and a new sales tax rebate to help fund a $400 million renovation of the Fins’ digs.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, has cleared its first hurdle, but it still faces an uphill climb. There will be several more committee stops and the bill also has to clear the Florida House, where Braynon acknowledged that there’s still some heavy lifting to do.
“In the Senate, I don’t think that we’re going to have as many problems as we’re going to have in the House,” he said.
The bill would allow the Dolphins to collect an annual $3 million in sales tax rebates from the state for 30 years, as well as millions more in new bed taxes.
Several stakeholders came up to Tallahassee to support the bill at its first committee hearing, including Miami Gardens mayor Oliver Gilbert, SunLife stadium CEO Mike Dee and Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce President Bill Diggs.
All supporters pitched the same message: This tax deal is a smart economic move for the state, and would lead to Super Bowls, college championships and other major tourism events.
Update: Florida Legislators write the laws but they also write the exemptions. Until now, those exemptions have included providing the public the list of legislative salaries and their contracts.
The Herald/Times has been reporting about this distinction since we first began writing about the controversy following the botched $5 million Transparency 2.0 web site, in which the Senate spent taxpayers money on a web site to increase access to Senate budget documents but then let the web site sit idle until the contract ran out.
This fall, the Herald/Times requested the salaries of all legislative staffers of the House and Senate through a public records request because, unlike the governor's FloridaHasARighttoKnow.com, the legislative salaries were not available for the public to see. We wrote a story.
We also had to submit a public records request for all contracts, because they also are not included on any of the state's transparency web sites. We included those details in our stories.
Now, quietly, and without fanfare, the House and Senate have posted the salaries and contracts for all to see on Jan. 30, less than two weeks after the IT staff was assigned the duty, said Ryan Duffy, House spokesman. It was also after we noted yet again that while lawmakers write the rules, they also write the exceptions.
We commend them both for this development. Here is the link to the Senate salaries, the Senate contracts. The House's tool is not nearly as easy to use as the Senate's. To get the list of salaries, leave the fields blank and click search and then download the file to excel. We've done if for you here: Download House contracts 2413 Download House salaries 20413
Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford told a gathering of reporters and editors Wednesday that they aren’t waiting on Gov. Rick Scott to steer them on the controversial issue of whether to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
"We'll know early in the session,'' Weatherford told reporters after he and Gaetz spoke at the annual Associated Press planning session in Tallahassee, after noting that lawmakers are not expecting the governor to guide them when he announces his budget on Thursday.
But the presiding officers made it clear that they’re not too happy with the all-or-nothing approach to covering everyone in Florida who qualifies for Medicaid under the federal health care reform.
“The federal government gave us an all or nothing proposal,’’ Weatherford said. “They said you have to expand for all populations or you can’t do any of this. That’s put all legislatures and all governments in a pretty good box.”