House seeks to end controversial state employee charity program - Florida Politics

House seeks to end controversial state employee charity program

Florida lawmakers are looking to shut down a charitable program funded for decades by state employees.

A bill to end the Florida State Employees’ Charitable Campaign comes after a yearslong slump due partly to a drop in participation and controversy surrounding its management, according to a new bill proposed by a House lawmaker and unanimously favored in committee Thursday.

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The bill, CS/HB 1141, is sponsored by Rep. Clay Yarborough through the House Government Accountability Committee.

The measure would end the FSECC, which offers a way for employees on Florida’s payroll to give to charities of their choice. If they choose to take part in the program, they are encouraged to authorize payroll deductions divided incrementally from their annual salary.

The FSECC is the only authorized form of workplace solicitation of state employees permitted during work hours, according to the of the Florida Department of Management Services (DMS), which administers and channels the funds collected from employees to a third party for distribution to the actual charities.

Participation in the program is voluntary.

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“At its peak in 2005 the program raised $4.9 million,” Yarborough told the House Government Accountability Committee Thursday. “However, since then … the campaign has experienced an ongoing and significant decline in employee contributions — so much so that in 2016 employees pledged a historic low of $282,000, which was a decrease of more than 94 percent.”

The FSECC was enacted by the legislature in 1980 and allows workers to choose among a wide range of “eligible charitable organizations that meet human or environmental needs,” and are inclusive of domestic or international causes.

Channeling the money through the FSECC reduces the expense and effort that arise from multiple charity drives cropping up throughout a calendar year that had the potential to disrupt workplace efficiency.

“The bill basically removes government as the middleman and supports state employees giving directly to the charity of their choice, and we all know that with today’s ability to donate to charities — from computers to and hand-held devices — direct giving is easier than ever,” Rep. Yarborough said.

During its 36-year history, the FSECC raised more than $94 million, according to a house House of Representatives staff analysis of the campaign.

The FSECC was run by the United Way for years and took in roughly $4 million a year from 1999 to 2009, when donations began to dip.

However, in 2013 the fund took a nose-dive after the state outsourced the charitable drive in 2012 “to Solix, Inc., a New-Jersey-based company with close ties to Gov. Rick Scott through its well-connected lobbyists,” according to a 2015 article in The Tallahassee Democrat newspaper.

The newspaper further noted a partisan investigation by Statehouse Democrats found Solix took 47 percent of the campaign’s proceeds in 2013 and more than half last year to cover its overhead. This year — in part because donations continued to tank — Solix could walk away with a bigger chunk, nearly two-thirds of the contributions.

DMS renewed the contract with Solix last year even though there were grumblings from state employees once the Democrats’ investigation was made public and there was a dispute in the percentages taken in for overhead between numbers given by DMS and United Way, the previous steward of the campaign, and the percentages taken in by Solix for overhead.

Florida statutes dictating the rules and ethics for the FSECC do not allow the agency to do business with a third party if the overhead exceeds 25 percent, except in rare circumstances.

Turns out the New Jersey company was getting $0.71 for every dollar Florida state employees were contributing to the FSECC. Still, DMS defended their choice of Solix.

Lawmakers apparently do not agree with the FSECC. The governor’s been mum on the issue, but in a hint of the fracas behind the scenes, DMS Secretary Chad Poppell resigned Thursday.

Mentioning nothing of HB 1141, Scott said, “Chad Poppell has done an outstanding job as Secretary of DMS and I want to thank him for his hard work to improve efficiency and foster innovation in state government. Under his leadership, Florida has remained a leader in government efficiency and provided the critical support to our state agencies to ensure Florida families and businesses receive the services and support they need.”

The Thursday introduction of the bill Thursday was its second hearing. The House Oversight, Transparency and Administration Committee also voted unanimously in favor Monday.

 

Les Neuhaus is an all-platform journalist, with specialties in print reporting and writing. In addition to Florida Politics, he freelances as a general-assignment and breaking-news reporter for most of the major national daily newspapers, along with a host of digital media, and a human rights group. A former foreign correspondent across Africa and Asia, including the Middle East, Les covered a multitude of high-profile events in chronically-unstable nations. He’s a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, in which he served as a Security Policeman, and graduated from the University of Tennessee with a B.A. in political science. He is a proud father to his daughter and enjoys spending time with his family.
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