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May 13, 2015

Say what? Scott stands by $8B surplus with no explanation

The savviest number-crunchers in state government are shaking their heads again.

Gov. Rick Scott's office said Wednesday that Scott stands by his statement on Fox News Monday that the state would have a surplus of $8 billion if the Legislature adopts what he calls a "continuation budget" with no tax cuts and no boost in per-pupil funding for schools.

"He meant to say $8 billion. It is $8 billion," spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said. She said that when she clarified the point Tuesday in response to questions and said the surplus was $1.8 billion, she misunderstood the reporter's question and that $8 billion is correct. (The $1.8 billion is the figure used by state economists).

Scott's office declined requests by the Times/Herald to document how it arrived at a number that legislators consider outlandishly high.

Scott's budget director, Cynthia Kelly, is an experienced and respected veteran of state budgeting. But no one -- no one -- in the legislative branch is suggesting that Florida has an $8 billion surplus. The most detailed and reliable revenue projections, detailed in a March financial outlook statement by state economists, suggest that the state could have $3.8 billion more general tax revenue to build next year's budget.

The outlook statement, produced by the Economic and Demographic Research unit, says that because of improved economic conditions, the projected amount of general tax revenue available for next year's budget would be $30.774.7 billion. That's $3.8 billion more than the current year but it includes a projected surplus of $1.8 billion that would be left unspent at the end of the fiscal year on June 30.

Florida GOP launches new website, logo

The 2016 general election is still months — okay, a year and a half — away, but the Republican Party of Florida put a target on Hillary Clinton in its big new digital initiative:

“LET’S STOP HILLARY IN 2016,” the site declares.

The new website and new logo are part of what Chairman Blaise Ingoglia calls “commitment to modernize the way we engage with voters across the state.”

And the digital launch is designed to leverage state and local party resources, as well as providing data to GOP activists, according to a release.

AFP opposes film incentive, stadium funding in special session

Film Florida put out a petition last week asking lawmakers to take up a film incentive overhaul during special session.

And now, conservative group Americans for Prosperity has published its own letter to Gov. Rick Scott, asking him to fight to keep film incentives and stadium funding off the agenda.

The special session to address the state budget has been scheduled for June 1-20, and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and President Andy Gardiner will craft the agenda. Scott’s role — unless he decides to call the Legislature back to special session himself — is to approve or veto the budget and any other bills they pass.

“Both industries are glamorous and exciting and their backers have been very effective in persuading state and local politicians to provide lucrative giveaways to their private enterprises,” the AFP letter says. “However, the core function of government is not to subsidize glamorous industries — which are competing with essential services like public safety, transportation and education for limited taxpayer resources.”

Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, the lead legislative advocate for film incentives, said she doesn’t expect an overhaul of the program to be taken up during special session. Her bill to do so did not pass before the House left town in April, cutting short the regular legislative session.

However, she said, the House and Senate could likely appropriate money into the existing film program’s budget.

Stadium funding could also be addressed as a budget item.

Florida congressional delegation joins efforts against oil drilling

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON - The Florida delegation is gearing up for another fight over drilling. A bipartisan group of House members today filed legislation to prevent seismic testing for oil drilling off the Atlantic coast.

“Seismic testing is the first step in an effort to begin offshore drilling along the coasts of Florida,” the group said in a release.

The legislation was introduced by Reps. Gwen GrahamPatrick MurphyBill PoseyAlcee Hastings, Lois Frankel and Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Sen. Bill Nelson has companion legislation.

“There are strong concerns that these seismic activities can be harmful to undersea mammals like dolphins, disrupting their ability to communicate and navigate. This legislation enacts a moratorium off Florida’s coast so we can study the effects of seismic testing on our sea life,” said Republican Posey.

The bill would reverse a July 2014 decision by the Obama Administration to open the Atlantic Ocean, from Virginia to Florida, for seismic testing for future drilling sites.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

A look at Marco Rubio's claims about foreign affairs and the military

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio gives a speech at the Council on Foreign Affairs 3:30 p.m. May 13. PolitiFact has fact-checked Rubio about 90 times including claims about nuclear weapons, defense spending, Cuba, Iran, and ISIS. Here is his full Truth-O-Meter record and here is a summary of some of his claims:

Nuclear weapons: The United States "is not modernizing its nuclear weapons." Most of the experts we interviewed disputed Rubio’s statement. While the United States has reduced the number of warheads, it has also been modernizing nuclear equipment and has plans to continue to do so. Comparing our arsenal with other countries is misleading since the U.S. and Russia own the majority of the nuclear weapons. We rated this claim False.

Cuba: In the negotiations with Cuba, "no commitment was made to allowing the establishment of political parties or to even begin the semblance of a transition to a democracy." He was largely correct. Cuba did promise to release 53 political prisoners, but the secret talks led to no measurable changes to a political system dominated for more than half a century by the Castro brothers. We rated Rubio’s statement Mostly True. (And here is our fact-check about his claim about the internet and Cuba.)

Iran: "The Iranians are now saying that what we're saying the deal is and what they understand it to be are two different things." Leaders in Iran and the United States both accused the other of distorting the framework agreement reached in April -- and there are some dramatic and significant differences in the way the two countries are describing aspects of the agreement. We rated Rubio’s claim True.

ISIS: ISIS is "now the predominant Islamist group in Benghazi." While there are myriad militias, radical militants, armed groups and even multiple governments in Libya, Islamic State’s footprint is still relatively small. Besides some activity in pockets across the country, the group holds sway in Derna, but not so much in Benghazi, experts say. We rated his claim Mostly False.

Scott asks federal health officials for guidance

Gov. Rick Scott floated a few broad ideas for expanding health care coverage in a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell on Tuesday.

The letter, first reported by Politico, asked several questions intended to guide the governor's new Commission on Hospital and Healthcare Funding. Among them: Would the federal government be willing to give Florida a block grant to expand coverage? 

HHS has yet to respond.

Scott's letter came one day after he compared the Obama Administration to the Sopranos for allegedly coercing Florida into expanding Medicaid. Scott has also filed a lawsuit seeking to prevent the feds from linking expansion to the continuation of a federal-state hospital funding program known as the Low Income Pool.

Read the full text of the letter to Burwell here.

Jeb Bush, Hillary Clinton and authorizing the war in Iraq

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s comments on Fox News about the Iraq War brought up more questions than answers.

Did Bush fully understood the question posed by Megyn Kelly on May 10? We’ll go straight to the transcript.

Kelly: "On the subject of Iraq, very controversial, knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion?"

Bush: "I would have, and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody, and so would almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got."

Kelly: "You don't think it was a mistake?"

Bush: "In retrospect, the intelligence that everybody saw, that the world saw, not just the United States, was faulty. And in retrospect, once we invaded and took out Saddam Hussein, we didn't focus on security first, and the Iraqis in this incredibly insecure environment turned on the United States military because there was no security for themselves and their families. By the way, guess who thinks that those mistakes took place as well? George W. Bush."

His remarks drew considerable attention: Was Bush saying that even knowing the intelligence was faulty, even he and Clinton would have gone to war anyway?

See what PolitiFact found and here are the Truth-O-Meter records for Bush and Clinton.

In key New York address, Marco Rubio to lay out three-prong foreign policy doctrine


In a speech before an influential foreign policy group Wednesday afternoon, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida plans to lay out the principles that should govern the exercise of U.S. power.

“The 21st century requires a president who will answer that question with clarity and consistency – one who will set forth a doctrine for the exercise of American influence in the world – and who will adhere to that doctrine with the principled devotion that has marked the bipartisan tradition of presidential leadership from Truman to Kennedy to Reagan,” the senator plans to say, according to excerpts of his speech made available in advance of the event.

Rubio is appearing in New York Wednesday afternoon before the Council on Foreign Relations, an influential, nonpartisan think tank. It’s being billed as the senator’s first policy speech since announcing his run for the presidency last month, and it will be before heavyweights of foreign policy and political circles.

With the spotlight on him, political analysts say Rubio needs to articulate a broad foreign policy vision. He’s generally considered among the most hawkish of the Republicans seeking the presidency, and analysts say he has displayed an aggressive enthusiasm for intervention abroad.

He has urged military action or support in Libya and Syria, for example, and supported giving authorization to the president to take the military steps necessary to destroy Islamic State terrorists in Iraq. He has also been supportive of foreign aid – something often targeted by conservative deficit hawks – and has said U.S. leadership in the world doesn’t have to be just through its military.

Continue reading "In key New York address, Marco Rubio to lay out three-prong foreign policy doctrine" »

Marco Rubio to lay out 'Rubio doctrine' on foreign policy


Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio will speak at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York on Thursday to detail his approach to foreign policy -- a hawkish doctrine centered on funding the military, protecting global commerce and advancing U.S. values through aid.

Here are excerpts from his prepared remarks, provided by the Florida senator's campaign:

What principles should govern the exercise of our power? The 21st century requires a president who will answer that question with clarity and consistency – one who will set forth a doctrine for the exercise of American influence in the world – and who will adhere to that doctrine with the principled devotion that has marked the bipartisan tradition of presidential leadership from Truman to Kennedy to Reagan.

Today, I intend to offer such a doctrine. And in the coming years, I intend to be such a president. My foreign policy doctrine consists of three pillars:

The first is American Strength. … To ensure our strength never falters, we must always plan ahead. It takes forethought to design and many years to build the capabilities we may need at a moment’s notice. So to restore American Strength, my first priority will be to adequately fund our military. This would be a priority even in times of peace and stability, though the world today is neither. 

The second pillar of my doctrine … is the protection of the American economy in a globalized world.  … As president, I will use American power to oppose any violations of international waters, airspace, cyberspace, or outer space. This includes the economic disruption caused when one country invades another, as well as the chaos caused by disruptions in chokepoints such as the South China Sea or the Strait of Hormuz.

Russia, China, Iran, or any other nation that attempts to block global commerce will know to expect a response from my administration. Gone will be the days of debating where a ship is flagged or whether it is our place to criticize territorial expansionism. In this century, businesses must have the freedom to operate around the world with confidence.

The third pillar of my doctrine is moral clarity regarding America’s core values. We must recognize that our nation is a global leader not just because it has superior arms, but because it has superior aims. … 

As president, I will support the spread of economic and political freedom, reinforce our alliances, resist efforts by large powers to subjugate their smaller neighbors, maintain a robust commitment to transparent and effective foreign assistance programs, and advance the rights of the vulnerable, including women and the religious minorities that are so often persecuted, so that the afflicted peoples of the world know the truth: the American people hear their cries, see their suffering, and most of all, desire their freedom.