March 19, 2013

After series of scandals, Citizens Insurance president defends company before Cabinet

Citizens Property Insurance President Barry Gilway went before the Florida Cabinet on Tuesday to praise his team for steering the state-run company in the right direction.

The company—which has come under fire from Gov. Rick Scott and lawmakers for management troubles  and lavish spending after a series of Herald/Times articles—is hoping to repair its public image.

Gilway praised the company for beginning to shrink in size and reducing the level of risk. He also batted down criticism about the level of expenses and spending at Citizens, saying that the company’s expenditures are lower than most competitors.

Still, after criticism from Scott and others about corporate expenses on everything from alcohol to strippers, Gilway acknowledged that changes were going to be made.

Some Cabinet members were clearly disturbed by the history of scandal at Citizens:

“This isn’t a fraternity, these are professionals,” said Attorney General Pam Bondi. “What part of reasonable and appropriate (spending) did they not understand?”

Bondi wanted to know what Gilway was doing to discipline the employees who had abused the corporate card.

“I can only focus on what is going forward,” said Gilway, who joined the company last June.

The questions continued.

Scott: “How many people have corporate cards? Why do you have them?”

Bondi: “Many of these employees (with troubled spending histories) are current employees, correct?”

Gilway said they are conducting a study and looking at potentially making changes for the corporate cards (nearly one in five Citizens employees have them). He told Bondi that he didn’t think it was appropriate to discipline employees for what they had done before strict guidelines were in place.

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July 01, 2011

How SunRail (approved) is a worse deal than high-speed rail (rejected)

Gov. Rick Scot cancelled high-speed rail earlier this year but just allowed SunRail to go forward.

The big differences between the two? Florida taxpayers are far more on the hook for SunRail.

And the ridership is smaller. And it's more expensive per mile. And SunRail carries the promise of fewer jobs.

And the lure of high-speed rail money from the feds was used to persuade fence-sitting legislators to approve SunRail at a special lawmaking session in 2009. But once SunRail was approved, high-speed rail was negged.

Bait and switch?

Anyway, here's side-by-side comparison from January.  Download Sun&HSR. What looks like a better deal to you?


Costs to State and Local Taxpayers for SunRail and High Speed Rail

30 Year Horizon



High Speed Rail


$2.66 billion


$2.65 billion


61.5 miles of existing freight rail to be shared by commuter passengers and heavy freight in Volusia, Seminole, Orange and Osceola Counties

17 stations


84 miles of new dedicated track exclusively for passengers on state-owned right-of-way of I-4 between Tampa and Orlando

5 stations

State taxpayer obligation over 7 years:


Minimum: $901 million

State taxpayer obligation over 30 years:         Minimum: ZERO

Maximum: $280 million


Local taxpayer obligation over 30 years (Volusia, Seminole, Orange 

and Osceola Counties):

Minimum: $526 million

Local taxpayer obligation over 30 years:



Federal funding

$684 million*


*Potential funding, not guaranteed– any shortfall will be split 50/50 by state and local taxpayers

Federal funding

(during  construction phase):

TOTAL: $2.39 billion guaranteed


Farebox: (determined by ridership and concessions)

$510 million estimated

(ANY shortfall will be paid by state taxpayers in the first 7 years and by local taxpayers in years 8-30)

Farebox: all risk of ridership, operations and maintenance are assumed by the private operator that is chosen through a Request for Proposal (RFP)


Construction Cost Overruns:

Split 50-50 by state and local taxpayers***

Construction Cost Overruns:

Assumed by the private operator that is chosen through a competitive RFP

Job creation:

8,000 direct jobs for construction of stations and upgrades to existing track.

Job creation:

23,000 direct jobs during the 3-4 year construction period

Private investment:


Private investment:

Potentially a $400 million cash investment

January 21, 2011

*** Note: this is a reprint of a Jan. 21 document. Today, FDOT Secretary Ananth Prasad said the locals have promised to cover all cost over-runs. Still waiting to see if that's in writing. 
****  Prasad said there would be private-sector investment in SunRail. However, the investments appear to be add-ons to the original SunRail project, and therefore don't go to the core of the costs of Central Florida commuter rail. Those investments are:

·         In exchange for the purchase of rail track, CSX has committed to investments in railways all over the state. These investments will support other infrastructure such as helping make Florida’s ports more accessible for trade.

·         Walt Disney World has committed to partially subsidize Commuter Bus Transit Service throughout Central Florida to its property.

·         Florida Hospital has committed to pay $3.5 million for its own rail stop and to market and subsidize ridership for all its 17,000 employees.

·         Tupperware Brands Corporation has committed to donate 10 acres of land to serve as the site for the proposed Osceola Parkway station and to establish a shuttle service to carry employees and others to encourage ridership.




June 24, 2011

Mike Haridopolos concerned re: SunRail. Rick Scott's new staff chief in a bind

The strange politics of rail continue in Florida. Now, it's SunRail, the Central Florida commuter line approved in late 2009 by the Legislature. Current Senate President Mike Haridopolos voted for the project then. He's now a U.S. Senate candidate and has decided to raise fresh concerns about the project in a letter that puts Gov. Rick Scott on the spot.

Some tea party folks hate SunRail, and want Scott to block the project, just as he did with a high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando. The difference between the two projects: SunRail puts Florida taxpayers far more directly on the hook than high-speed rail.

But House Speaker Dean Cannon and the Central Florida power structure want SunRail desperately. And Scott's decision to cancel the project would be a political bombshell. So, in a perfect tea-party world, Scott would cancel it. But this isn't a perfect tea party world.

That's especially true for Haridopolos' former chief of staff, Steve MacNamara. As Haridopolos top exec, he would have approved the letter that highlights Scott's tough position. The letter was delivered yesterday. Today is MacNamara's first day on the job -- working as Scott's chief of staff. So now he has to explain to his new boss why he helped usher in this spot of controversy that the governor's office has to deal with.

Then there's Cannon. He has endorsed Haridopolos, but on the last day of session he put the Senate President through the ringer. Now, as Haridopolos moves a little to the right on the rail issue and takes the mantle of fiscal watchdog from Scott, he can enjoy a little incidental gigging of his counterpart in the Legislature. That's likely not Haridopolos' motivation, but it's a bit of a political-paybacks plus.

Here's the letter Download Sunrail_eog:

Continue reading "Mike Haridopolos concerned re: SunRail. Rick Scott's new staff chief in a bind" »

March 12, 2011

Dean Cannon: Rick Scott's SunRail freeze won't 'leverage' me

Sounds like House Speaker Dean Cannon' is confident Gov. Rick Scott will ultimately approve of SunRail. Could Scott leverage Cannon by freezing some SunRail projects in the meantime? No way, says Cannon. He trusts the governor. His written statement:

"It is true that I support the SunRail project.  The economics of the project, the degree of specific direction from legislature, the carefulness in planning and the potential benefits to Florida differ substantially from the recently canceled high speed rail project.

It is also true that I have a great deal of faith in the integrity and business judgment of our Governor.  I do not believe he will play political games with a project that could serve such an important role in Central Florida's economic recovery.

However, if anyone expects SunRail to serve as 'leverage' with the House, he or she will be sorely disappointed.  While I support the project, I will not abandon responsible, conservative public policy for any infrastructure project."

Rick Scott's SunRail delay puts Speaker Dean Cannon et al on notice

Work to open the SunRail commuter train will be delayed as Gov. Rick Scott studies whether the central Florida line will cost taxpayers money. Scott froze $235 million in contracts in January and on Friday announced on Facebook that he's extending the freeze while he conducts a financial review of the $1.2 billion project.

So reads an AP brief into the matter. It's big news in the Orlando-area, and has big political implications in the state Capitol. House Speaker Dean Cannon, a Winter Park Republican and de facto political leader of the Central Florida political elite, was a major but quiet force behind the train.

With SunRail approved in December of 09, it looked as if Cannon had everything he wanted before he became speaker. The apparent desirelessness was Cannon's greatest strength because the more you want in the state Capitol, the weaker you can be as a leader. Now Scott has leverage over Cannon, just as he has over Senate President Mike Haridopolos, who's running for U.S. Senate.

Scott certainly wants headlines, and he gets them in spades with moves like this. He can't lose right now. If he rejects SunRail, he's a hero to the anti-train tea partiers. If he lets it go, he has the gratitude of the Central Florida power structure -- and the tacit agreement of all its pro-Sunrail legislators to get in line, starting with Cannon.

Scott's office announced he'll delay the SunRail contracts until July -- that just happens to be the start of the new budget year and comes well after the end of the legislative session in May. All aboard?

March 01, 2011

Rick Scott sued by Senators Joyner, Altman in Florida Supreme Court

Two Florida senators just sued Gov. Rick Scott in the Florida Supreme Court to stop him from killing a Tampa-Orlando bullet train.

Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, and Republican Thad Altman of Melbourne said Scott had over-stepped his authority by rejecting the project, which received a green light after a December 2009 special legislative session about passenger rail. The lawsuit would force Scott to accept about $2.4 billion in federal transit money for the high-speed rail plan.

Joyner said Scott’s decision two weeks ago to kill the rail project would cost the state jobs.

"Its all about jobs and getting Florida back to work," Joyner said, echoing Scott's campaign motto.

The suit wants the court to order Scott to "expeditiously accept" the federal money. It also suit seeks an injunction if necessary. Altman said they may need more time from U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to ensure that Florida gets the money it was promised.

Details of the suit are sketchy at the moment because the court action was just filed. Altman and Joyner plan to have a press conference later today.

The lawsuit caps a mad two weeks of political posturing in which Scott unexpected declared he wouldn’t take the federal money because he worried the state would ultimately “be on the hook” for project cost over-runs and the cost of operating the train.

Senate President Mike Haridopolos, a Republican U.S. Senate candidate who voted for the rail legislation, belatedly joined Scott in condemning the federal spending for the bullet train.

Cheered on by tea-party conservatives, Scott also said he worried the state would have to pay back $2.4 billion in rail money to the feds.

Lahood had a simple reply to that statement from Florida’s governor: “It’s baloney.”

February 25, 2011

Sen. Dockery wants Rick Scott's rail guy to cough up his bullet-train emails

The last time Sen. Paula Dockery requested passenger rail-related emails from the Florida Department of Transportation it led to a bizarro investigation involving breakfast-food-name-emails that were sent and received by DOT official Kevin Thibault. (The probe, concerning whether public records were hidden, determined there was no wrongdoing).

Now Dockery's back. And again she wants documents about rail from Thibault, who despite his high position as DOT's rail guru couldn't tell us last week about basic ridership numbers for Central Florida's proposed commuter rail line and high-speed rail.

Here's the records request:

Continue reading "Sen. Dockery wants Rick Scott's rail guy to cough up his bullet-train emails" »

February 24, 2011

Will a Republican senator sue to stop Rick Scott from killing bullet train?

The high-speed rail drama is showing little sign of abating. Now, it could become more than just a tale of flip-floppery by some pols, or an intense debate over Florida's future transportation and its financial health.

Word in the halls of the Legislature is that some Republican lawmakers are thinking of filing a court action to stop Gov. Rick Scott from killing the bullet train. Just what the action would be is unclear. The man at the center of the talk: Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, who's known as the "legal brains" of the Senate.

So what does Simmons say? Nothing. When asked if he were considering a lawsuit, here was his response: "I think it’s premature to talk about that. I really can’t talk right now. I really appreciate you calling."

But you realize that if you say no comment, it suggests you're considering a suit?

"Well, I'm not saying that," Simmons said. "But I can't comment."

A majority of the Florida Senate has already penned a letter to the USDOT asking it to sidestep Scott's order. Some members are being pressured to strip their names from the letter.

The fact that a Republican senator wouldn't pour cold water on the idea of suing a Republican governor speaks volumes about Scott's relationship with the Legislature. Add to that Sen. J.D. Alexander's displeasure over Scott's handling the sale of the state plane, and it's going to be quite a lawmaking session.


February 21, 2011

Sen. Evers revokes bullet-train letter signature. Wants SunRail killed

Another day, another rail flip flop. This one comes courtesy of Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, who joined 25 other senators in signing a letter of protest after Gov. Rick Scott said he'd refuse $2.4 billion in high-speed rail money. (More here on that letter)

Evers pointed out he voted against the original legislation in 2009 that allowed for high-speed rail. So Evers has flipped back on his flop. Not so Senate President Mike Haridopolos, who's now saying that he didn't think the bill he voted for was a bullet-train bill, but was more of a SunRail bill for commuter rail in Central Florida.

Well, Evers thinks that's a "boondoggle," too.

Here's a side-by-side of the two. You be the judge. Download Sun&HSR

Anyway, here's the text of the letters to Scott and Ray Lahood of UDOT.

Dear Secretary LaHood,
As a representative of the people of Florida Senate District 2, I do hereby remove my signature on the letter you received on Thursday, February 17, 2011, regarding funding for High Speed Rail. I appreciate the voices of concern that have been raised and I am resolved to reduce the size of government in every arena possible.

Let me be very clear. I do not want to spend one dime on High Speed Rail and I absolutely support Governor Scott sending the money back. I regret signing the letter as I believe it misconstrued my position on High Speed Rail. I was trying to send a message to Governor Scott to bring to the forefront my firm belief that we should not fund any rail projects with state or federal money.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


 Attached please find a copy of a letter sent today to Secretary Ray LaHood revoking my signature from the letter sent to him last week.

I like you and so many conservatives in our state, strongly oppose High Speed Rail. In fact, I was one of a small minority of members who voted against it when it was up for the original vote in the 2009 Special Session. However, I am also against another project I think is just as much, if not more of a boondoggle, SunRail.

I fully support your decision to send back the money earmarked for High Speed Rail and implore you to revisit your budget proposal as it pertains to SunRail. We should not fund any rail projects with Florida taxpayer dollars. Thank you for your time and consideration.

February 18, 2011

Haridopolos on why he also rejected rail money

We caught up with Senate President Mike Haridopolos in Dade City tonight, where he was speaking to Pasco County Republicans about why he's the best person to challenge U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in 2012. He got a welcome party from about 30 tea partiers thanking him supporting Gov. Rick Scott's move to reject the $2.4 billion in federal high speed rail cash.

"When Gov. Scott had the courage to stand up, I wanted to stand beside him and make sure we don't borrow money we can't afford," he said.

Haridopolos, of course, voted for a 2009 rail package intended -- in part -- to attract the federal cash Scott just rejected. As recently as January, he was keen on the plan, if the private sector took on the risk. So what gives?

"What we voted for in '09 was a different project," he said, referring to the Sunrail portion of the deal where he said locals decided to give up some of their state road money to build a commuter rail line. Regarding the private bids for the high-speed rail line, he said: "We started to look at that option, but (U.S. Transportation Secretary) Ray LaHood told us if we accepted those private sector bids and that private sector company failed, it's not like a normal private sector company. The state would be on the hook for $2.4 billion they'd have to pay back or start operating and maintenance on that area."

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