September 23, 2010

Jeff Atwater's 'Budd' still drawing $150k Senate salary

Outgoing Senate President Jeff Atwater is running almost full time for Chief Financial Officer, has cleaned out his office in Tallahassee and appears to have turned the reins of the Upper Chamber over to his successor, Mike Haridopolos, who has hired a few Senate staffers and fired many more.

Except for one: Budd Kneip, Atwater's longtime friend and Senate chief of staff who is continuing to draw his $150,000 annual salary at a rate of about $12,500 a month. That's more than Gov. Charlie Crist ($130,273) earns.

But there's another chief of staff doing all the staff chiefing these days: Steve MacNamara, hired by Haridopolos to be his right-hand administrator and part-time chief legal counsel for $175,008, or about $14,500 monthly.

So is Kneip working?

"Sen. Atwater has a district office and I was informed Mr. Kneip is working out of it," said Senate spokesman David Bishop.

We checked the district office in West Palm Beach and were told Kneip wasn't working out of there, but was "in the district." But then, when we noted this to Bishop, he clarified that Kneip was in the district office in the state Capitol. When we checked (c. 4 p.m.), Kneip wasn't there. Two aides were and insisted Kneip had been there earlier.

Bishop noted the Senate has saved a bottom line dollar figure of about $657,000 (including benefits) due to recent resignations and terminations.

The latest: Marta Hardy, a longtime health appropriations staffer who earned $109,356 and is one of the only Hispanic women in the Senate's upper management. Here's the tally from last week. Meantime, numerous staffers are preparing to get fired or are looking for work elsewhere because they feel they'll be in the unemployment line. Not Kneip. Assuming Atwater continues to cruise in his race, Kneip's a likely pick to be the top administrator for the CFO, where he stands a good chance of being paid more than his boss again.

September 22, 2010

September 16, 2010

Florida GOP hits Ausley on tax votes

RPOF is out with another update to its "Costly Ausley" website, hitting Loranne Ausley for six votes against three bills to reduce the so-called intangible personal property tax. The last bill finally eliminating the tax was approved in 2006. It cost $130 million in the first year and $160 million the next year.

"With a long record of raising taxes, increasing the size of government, and stifling Florida's economy, there is much more to reveal about Loranne Ausley," RPOF Executive Director Ronnie Whitaker. "Today is just the latest disturbing example of Ausley's job-killing tax hikes for Floridians to know about." (Of course, the vote was against cutting the tax, so "tax hike" isn't exactly correct -- she voted for keeping the tax rate the same.)

Ausley spokesman Kevin Cate sent out a pre-rebuttal to the attack: Senate President Jeff Atwater has raised more than $2 billion dollars in taxes and fees and accepted nearly $10 billion dollars in stimulus funding, but he seems to have amnesia about his own record. Atwater is hiding behind the disgraced Republican Party of Florida, whose own financial oversight was so poor that it has led to arrests, indictments and now potential law suits, to try and attack Loranne Ausley.

September 07, 2010

RPOF attacks Ausley for opposing TABOR-like bill

The attacks are stepping up in the CFO's race. The Republican Party has just set up a new website to attack Loranne Ausley for her record in the Legislature. First up is an attack on her 2004 vote against a TABOR-like measure or "smart cap" that would restrict state spending to the previous year's budget plus inflation. The party says that makes her "Costly Ausley." (An eagle-eyed reader notes that the site adds an extra "r" in Ausley's name.)

The proposal went nowhere in the House in 2002. It passed that chamber 74-43 in 2004. Her CFO opponent Jeff Atwater was in the Senate at the time, but he never got the chance to vote on it -- it died in committee in the waning days of session. (Another one of those "just ran out of time" bills?) The late Jim King was leading the Senate at the time.

Most Republicans are a big fan of the proposed constitutional amendment, but they just can't seem to get it passed in the Legislature, even with huge majorities. Whose fault is that? (Here's more on a similar proposal in 2009, during Atwater's tenure as president.)

Ausley spokesman Kevin Cate e-mails this in response to the site (without directly addressing the bill in question): "Senate President Jeff Atwater's latest attack is pathetic, and just shows Floridians how hard he is trying to hide from his tax-raising, big spending record. Floridians know that Jeff Atwater has a reputation for being weak, but for him to throw punches from behind the shelter of the scandal-riden Republican Party of Florida, tell us everything we need to know."

September 01, 2010

Ausley hits Atwater for SB 6 support

Ah, it seems so long ago -- Gov. Charlie Crist was a Republican and he spurned his party by vetoing the teacher merit pay bill, SB 6. Afterward, he was showered in support from teachers and many in the education community.

Well, Loranne Ausley, the Democratic candidate in the down-ticket CFO race, is trying to catch lightning in a bottle again. She called out her opponent, Senate President Jeff Atwater, for allowing the bill to go through on his watch and for supporting efforts to bring it back next year. (Education isn't a central role of the chief financial officer, but the issue is a distinction between the candidates.)

"“We’ve heard Jeff Atwater and others say that SB 6 is coming back,” Ausley said. “There is no discussion of coming to the table and having a discussion. Everything we’ve heard is shoving it down our throats again. That is not acceptable."

Flanked by about 10 PTA members, principals and the VP of the state's largest teacher union, Ausley said she is not opposed to accountability or reform, but "we want reform that we all are at the table discussing."

August 26, 2010

RPOF, Atwater respond to Ausley's video

The Republican Party of Florida hit back on Loranne Ausley's attack of Jeff Atwater -- by changing the subject to Alex Sink. The party notes that the Democratic nominee for governor has a long history in banking, too, and oversaw a big merger where many jobs got cut. Of course, Sink's bank didn't get shut down by the FDIC.

Atwater's campaign also decried the fact that Ausley is immediately going negative in the CFO race: "Liberal Loranne Ausley has launched a mudslinging attack on the Web that lies about Jeff Atwater's professional experience."

Full quotes from RPOF and Atwater spokesman Brian Hughes below.

Continue reading "RPOF, Atwater respond to Ausley's video" »

August 25, 2010

Ausley hits Atwater on banking ties in new web ad

Loranne Ausley's campaign says it has put "significant" funding behind this new web ad -- so it won't be showing up every commercial break like Rick Scott's spots, but it might pop up if you're googling the chief financial officer campaign or browsing on Facebook.

The ad hits Senate President Jeff Atwater for his past tenure of Riverside National Bank in Palm Beach, though Atwater told the Buzz that he left the bank last February.

August 19, 2010

Atwater: We need a special session at 'earliest possible date'

Senate President Jeff Atwater, now facing some heat in his general election battle for CFO, sent a letter to legislators today sort of explaining why he wants to call a special session. The most succinct piece: " I will be disappointed if we do not return in a Special Session at the earliest possible date.''

Atwater has come under fire from his Democratic opponent for CFO, Loranne Ausley, for dragging his feet in not announcing a special session. He said he's awaiting word from the very reluctant Florida House.

Ausley's spokesman Kevin CAte called Atwater's called his frustration "feigned" and said his response was "weak, vague, and devoid of any meaningful relief proposals for small business owners."

Here's Atwater's lengthy letter:

Continue reading "Atwater: We need a special session at 'earliest possible date'" »

August 13, 2010

Ausley wants Crist to set oil session date

Democratic CFO candidate Loranne Ausley -- looking to score political points -- called on Gov. Charlie Crist to set a date for a special session to provide relief to businesses hurt by the oil spill.

Ausley is trying to make it look like Republican Senate President Jeff Atwater is dragging his feet. But he called for a second special session for the same thing last month. It is the House that is taking its time, as it holds teleconference study group meetings. Legislative leaders suggested in July that an oil relief session could come in September, but no date is set yet.

Continue reading "Ausley wants Crist to set oil session date" »

August 10, 2010

Ausley kicks off CFO bid by bashing 'Taj Mahal'

Loranne Ausley, the Democrat in the so-far-sleepy race for CFO, today unofficially kicked off her campaign by decrying the new $48 million courthouse for the First DCA. (This isn't bizarro world. It's a Democrat criticizing Republicans for wasteful spending. Wasteful spending on government offices.)

"This is the type of thing people are fed up with, and so am I," she said, calling the building a "routine abuse of the system." Besides the regular duties such as overseeing the SBA, heading up insurance fraud and monitoring the state's bank account, Ausley essentially said she will be an elected thorn in the side of the Legislature.

A former lawmaker herself, Ausley promised to push for more openness in the budget process, require state vendors to post their political contributions and make legislators "own their pork barrel spending." If Ausley were CFO at the time, she likely couldn't have stopped the legislatively approved courthouse, but the post would have given her a more prominent platform to criticize it.

Ausley made her remarks shortly after the woman she is seeking to replace, Alex Sink: "It's disgusting. You have a politician who became a judge and worked with his cronies in the legislature to spend our taxpayer money in a time of great distress for our court system."