With a brow-raising $89.3 billion for the 2018-2019 fiscal year, the state appropriated the largest budget in Florida history, a $4.36 billion increase from last year.
Those big numbers make Florida TaxWatch’s recently released Taxpayer’s Budget Guide all the more valuable.
Authored by the watchdog group’s vice president of research, Kurt Wenner, the interactive series takes a deep dive into the budget and additional appropriations that went into effect July 1, putting some key numbers into perspective.
The Legislature passed an $88.7 billion General Appropriations Act, and $600 million attached to other bills rounded out the state’s spending. The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act made up the bulk ($400 million) of the $600 million attached to bills this year. The higher education plan passed and signed into law covered nearly the rest of that tab with a $123.5 million price tag.
Taking up the largest portion of the budget is Health and Human Services spending at almost 42 percent, or $37.2 billion. Education is the next highest at around 29 percent, or roughly $25.8 billion.
More than $391 million was swept out of state trust funds this year, with the largest sweep ($182 million) coming out of the affordable housing trust funds.
And as Wenner notes, while much of this year’s budget talks circled around the concept that it was “a tight budget year,” 517-member projects worth more than $560 million made the cut regardless.
Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Danny McAuliffe, Drew Wilson, Jim Rosica, Michael Moline and Peter Schorsch.
But first, the “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:
Prosecutor will not charge Latvala — Former state Sen. Jack Latvala, a longtime Florida lawmaker who resigned from the chamber in December amid allegations of serial sexual harassment, will not be the subject of a criminal proceeding. State Attorney Jack Campbell announced this week that he would not seek charges against the Clearwater Republican. Campbell opted not to pursue the case after reviewing an investigation conducted by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Campbell decided he couldn’t bring a case that he could prove by the stringent criminal legal standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt” and said he’d “take no further action.” Latvala told the Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald, “I’m appreciative of serious law enforcement people who put political considerations aside to look at the law. They drew a conclusion based on the facts and the law, as opposed to the kangaroo court the Senate put forth.”
Department of Agriculture under audit — The state’s auditor general is conducting a review of operations at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The audit includes an examination of the agency’s concealed carry weapons permitting program, which has come under fire following media reports detailing lapses and top-down pressure to approve more permits. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam’s office, however, told The Associated Press the audit began before news broke of the agency’s trouble issuing concealed carry permits. Meanwhile, POLITICO Florida reported this week that two FDACS employees have received taxpayer-funded settlements for complaints regarding the permit-issuing program. In both cases, however, FDACS and Putnam have denied any wrongdoing.
Judge overturns early voting restriction — U.S. District Judge Mark Walker overturned the statewide practice of prohibiting early voting on college and university campuses. The injunction issued by Walker demands Gov. Rick Scott and Secretary of State Ken Detzner allow all 67 counties to use the campuses as early voting facilities this fall. Calling the practice a “stark pattern of discrimination,” Walker wrote in his ruling, “It is unexplainable on grounds other than age because it bears so heavily on younger voters than on all other voters.” Scott’s office issued the following: “Gov. Scott is proud to have signed the largest expansion of early voting in the state’s history. We will review this ruling.” The lawsuit was originally filed by students and backed by the Andrew Goodman Foundation and the League of Women Voters of Florida.
SunPass controversy continues — More elected officials are directing their ire toward SunPass, an electronic toll system that stopped billing customers during a June upgrade. The upgrade, carried out by vendor Conduent State & Local Solutions, lasted weeks longer than anticipated and resulted in 170 million backlogged transactions, according to the Florida Department of Transportation. Democratic lawmakers, including incoming Minority Leader Kionne McGhee, dubbed the problem “tollgate” this week during a news conference in Miami. McGhee also called on Gov. Scott to suspend all transactions until the system upgrades are completed and spawn an independent audit of FDOT. The state already has suspended late fees and penalties on the backlogged transactions and has halted payments to Conduent.
Education lawsuit awaits Supreme Court decision — A legal battle over a 1998 constitutional amendment that in part provided for a “high quality” system of public schools is beginning to brew in the capital city. On Thursday, reports the News Service of Florida, six Republican appointees of the 1997 Constitution Revision Commission filed a brief in response to a legal challenge filed by 10 of their Democratic counterparts, who are suing the state for allegedly failing to meet the “high quality” threshold for education. The Leon County Circuit Court and 1st District Court of Appeal already have ruled against the plaintiffs. The Supreme Court announced in April it would hear the case, and the state last week filed a 72-page brief asking the high court to uphold prior decisions.
‘Military-Friendly Guide’ now online
Gov. Scott this week released the 2018 Florida Military-Friendly Guide, an annual guide created by the Florida Defense Support Task Force that offers a summary of “laws, programs and services benefiting military service members and their families.”
It also highlights Florida’s low tax and financial advantages, educational benefits, professional licensure opportunities and fee waivers for servicemen, women and their families stationed in Florida.
“As a proud Navy veteran, and the son of a World War II veteran, I want to make sure our military and their families have access to the services they need,” Scott said in a statement. “Florida is the most military and veteran-friendly state in the nation, and since I took office, we’ve invested hundreds of millions in funding for services and benefits for our military and veterans.
“Our Florida Military-Friendly Guide is another great resource for our military members to learn more about these great benefits and everything Florida has to offer to those who serve.”
Florida is home to more than 1.5 million veterans, 20 major military installations, and three unified commands. A digital copy of the 2018 Florida Military-Friendly Guide is available here.
Scott highlights more than 88K businesses spawned during tenure
The jobs-focused Governor shared an impressive statistic this week: 88,245 new businesses have opened in Florida since December 2010, just a month before Scott took office.
That complements the job growth legacy Scott sought to leave from the start; it is an indication that more and more businesses are choosing to open up shop in the Sunshine State.
“When I took office, our economy was in freefall, taxes had skyrocketed and businesses across the state were forced to close their doors, causing unemployment to climb out of control,” Scott said. “Less than eight years later, Florida is not only back on track, but we are serving as the success and turnaround story for the entire nation to follow.”
Scott also discussed the 1.5 million new private-sector jobs his administration claims to have created, saying, “it is undeniable that our playbook of cutting taxes, eliminating burdensome regulations and building the country’s most business-friendly environment is working. I’m proud of our great businesses and we’ll never stop fighting to make sure Florida is the best place for families to succeed.”
Cissy Proctor, who oversees the Department of Economic Opportunity — often referred to as the ‘jobs agency’ — said, “We are excited that businesses are confident in our economy and choosing to make Florida their home. Our pro-business policies are supporting an environment where small, medium and large businesses can succeed and create opportunities for families across the state.”
Florida helps California battle blazes
The Florida Forest Service said this week it deployed 20 wildlands firefighters to help suppress the Ferguson fire in the Sierra National Forest in California. The 36,500-acre wildfire began July 13.
“Our wildland firefighters rise to the occasion time and again to assist wildfire suppression efforts not only in Florida but throughout the country,” said Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who oversees the service. “I applaud their dedication to help the brave men and women out West keep our fellow Americans safe.”
This year, the Florida Forest Service has deployed 127 wildland firefighters across the country. In addition to the 20-person crew deployed to California, there are currently 47 other resources deployed to assist with wildfire suppression in Texas, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, California, Oregon and Wyoming.
“There are currently 140 wildfires burning throughout the western United States, and our firefighters are ready to support suppression efforts in any way we can to help protect California’s residents, homes and wildlife,” Forest Service Director and State Forester Jim Karels said.
Patronis touts record-breaking unclaimed returns to Floridians
More than $321 million is back in the hands of Florida residents and businesses, according to Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis.
That sum, tallied from Patronis’ July 2017 assumption of the office, is a record. It exceeds the previously held record by more than $8 million, according to Patronis. The Division of Unclaimed Property, overseen by the CFO, returned the money by processing more than 635,000 claims.
“Since taking office, we not only broke the yearly record, but also set a new monthly record during April,” Patronis said. “Florida has remained a national leader with our proactive efforts to return unclaimed property, and we will continue working to raise the bar even higher.”
Currently, roughly $2 billion remains unclaimed across more than 14 million accounts. Per the CFO’s office, “This unclaimed property comes from dormant accounts in financial institutions, insurance and utility companies, securities and trust holdings. In addition to money and securities, unclaimed property includes tangible property such as watches, jewelry, coins, currency, stamps, historical items and other miscellaneous articles from abandoned safe deposit boxes.”
Business owners and Floridians are encouraged to visit www.fltreasurehunt.gov to check for accounts that could be tied to them.
Instagram of the Week
The Week in Appointments
Florida State College at Jacksonville District Board of Trustees
Palmer Clarkson, 61, of Jacksonville, is the chief executive officer and president of Bridgestone HosePower. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of South Carolina. Clarkson succeeds Randy DeFoor and is appointed for a term beginning July 20 and ending May 31, 2022. The appointment is subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.
Greater Orlando Aviation Authority
Steven “Dean” Asher, 50, of Orlando, is the Vice President of Don Asher and Associates, LLC and Asher Maintenance Services, LLC. He received his bachelor’s degree from Mercer University. Asher is reappointed for a term ending April 16, 2020. Julian Fouche, 70, of Windermere, was the former Senior Vice President of Disney Destinations. He received his bachelor’s degree from Georgia Southwestern University and is a member of the Florida Council of Tourism Leaders. Fouche is reappointed for a term ending April 16, 2022. These appointments are subject to Senate confirmation.
District Medical Examiners
Dr. Riazul Imami, 84, of Port Charlotte, is the chief medical examiner of District 22. He is reappointed for a term ending July 1, 2020.
Lake Shore Hospital Authority
Joseph Brooks, 34, of Lake City, is the chief financial officer for Haven. He fills a vacant seat and is appointed for a term ending July 20, 2022.
Union County Housing Authority
Vanzetta Thomas, 46, of Lake Butler, is a supervisor with the Tacachalee Center. She fills a vacant seat and is appointed for a term ending August 7, 2020.
Jackson County Hospital District
Michael Nuccio, 55, of Marianna, is a physician assistant at Tallahassee Orthopedic Clinic at Marianna. He succeeds James Ward and is appointed for a term ending August 27, 2019. Chuck Hudson, 49, of Marianna, is a market executive for First Commerce Credit Union. He succeeds Dr. Bob Hoff and is appointed for a term ending July 19, 2022. Dr. Joe Gay, 69, of Marianna, is a general internist at Chipola Medical Associates, LLC. He is reappointed for a term ending June 23, 2021. Sarah Clemmons, 65, of Marianna, is the president of Chipola College. She is reappointed for a term ending June 23, 2020.
19th Circuit Court
Michael J. Linn, 39, of Port St. Lucie, is an Assistant State Attorney for the 19th Circuit. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of West Florida and his law degree from University of Florida College of Law. Linn fills the judicial vacancy created by the resignation of Judge Paul B. Kanarek.
5th District Court of Appeal
Judge Jamie R. Grosshans, 39, of Winter Garden, is a county judge for Orange County, and previously served as an Assistant State Attorney for the 9th Judicial Circuit. She received her bachelor’s degree from Thomas Edison State College and her law degree from the University of Mississippi School of Law. Grosshans fills the vacancy created by the resignation of Judge William D. Palmer. Judge John M. Harris, 51, of Mims, is a circuit judge for the 18th Judicial Circuit, and previously served as county judge for Brevard County Court. He received his bachelor’s degree from Oklahoma University and his law degree from Florida State University College of Law. Harris fills the vacancy created by the resignation of Judge Thomas D. Sawaya.
Septic-to-sewer project gets $2.4M
The Department of Environmental Protection this week announced a partnership with the St. Johns River Water Management District, Indian River County and the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program to provide $2.4 million for the West Wabasso septic-to-sewer project.
The project, which will work to improve water quality, includes the construction of a centralized gravity sewer system in the Whitfield subdivision and conversion of approximately 54 properties currently on septic to the new sewer system.
Said Drew Bartlett, DEP’s deputy secretary for ecosystems restoration: “The Indian River Lagoon is one of Florida’s most iconic natural treasures and projects like this help us improve water quality in this ecosystem and protect Florida’s environment.”
Nutrients, specifically nitrogen and phosphorous, are naturally present in the water, but too much can harm water quality. Excess nutrients can come from insufficient treatment at wastewater treatment facilities, stormwater runoff, densely clustered septic systems and fertilizer use.
Septic systems can contribute to nitrogen pollution of surface waters, especially in areas in Florida with highly permeable (sandy) soils, like the Indian River Lagoon basin. This makes addressing septic tanks an important component in water quality restoration.
Sheriffs association brings in new board
The Florida Sheriffs Association, one of the largest law enforcement associations in the country, announced this week its new leadership team for the 2018-2019 year.
Topping the list is Columbia County Sheriff Mark Hunter, who will be responsible for presiding over the association.
Hunter is a Columbia County native with 24 years of dedicated law enforcement service. He’s been elected to sheriff three consecutive times.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to fill the role as President,” Hunter said. “I am honored to serve in this position and make the association and our community proud.”
Walton County Sheriff Mike Adkinson, the outgoing FSA president, is optimistic of his successor.
“The Florida Sheriffs Association could not have a more appropriate leader taking charge,” said Adkinson. “Sheriff Hunter will represent the association, his county, his state, his country and fellow sheriffs well. I am honored to pass the reigns onto and help transition him into the position.”
Other changes include: Vice President Sheriff Bob Gualtieri of Pinellas, Secretary Sheriff Bobby Schultz of Gilchrist; Treasurer Sheriff Tom Knight of Sarasota; Chair Sheriff Bobby McCallum of Levy; and Vice-Chair Sheriff Al Nienhuis of Hernando. Adkinson will serve as Immediate Past President.
$3M algae-targeting grant launched
The state Department of Environmental Protection launched a $3 million grant program this week to help local governments clean up waterways affected by increasingly problematic algal blooms.
News of the grant follows Gov. Scott’s issuing an executive order earlier in June that declared the algae crisis a state emergency.
“As our state once again faces harmful algal blooms from federal water releases, we continue to take a multifaceted approach to protect families and ensure Florida’s pristine environment and natural treasures are protected,” Scott said in announcing the grant.
The funding will help affected communities clean up algae in marinas, boat ramps and other public access areas. According to Scott’s office, “Funding from this grant program can be used for services including containment, removal, cleanup, elimination, transportation and disposal of harmful algal blooms in key areas identified by Florida’s local counties.”
DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein said his agency is committed to partnering with local governments to help mitigate the toxic blooms. “We encourage local counties to work with DEP to take advantage of this grant program and to help us move forward with these longer-term solutions,” he added.
Health Dep’t promotes Hep testing
The Florida Department of Health recognizes today (July 28) as World Hepatitis Day.
“Every year, this day is set aside to raise awareness about the global burden of viral hepatitis and promote influential prevention strategies,” the department said in a news release.
Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver, which processes nutrients, filters the blood and fights infections.
“If left undetected, viral hepatitis can cause serious health consequences or even death, but a large portion of people living with hepatitis B and C are unaware of their status,” said State Surgeon General and Secretary Dr. Celeste Philip. “I encourage everyone to be sure of their status by knowing their risk factors for contracting viral hepatitis and getting tested.”
For more information about hepatitis vaccine and testing availability, contact your local health department through the county health department locator, or refer to the department’s Florida Hepatitis Resource Guide.
Amberjack, triggerfish fishing starts Aug. 1
The recreational harvest of greater amberjack and gray triggerfish will reopen in Gulf state and federal waters Aug. 1, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission said in a news release.
The amberjack season will remain open through Oct. 31 in state waters. The triggerfish season will remain open through Dec. 31 in state waters.
For greater amberjack in the Gulf, the minimum size limit is 34 inches fork length and the daily bag limit is one fish per person. For gray triggerfish in the Gulf, the minimum size limit is 15 inches fork length and the daily bag limit is one fish per person.
Call for Volunteer Generation Fund proposals
Volunteer Florida’s Volunteer Generation Fund (VGF) grant funding enables nonprofits to recruit and retain skills-based volunteers, using their education and experience to serve Florida students, families and communities.
Volunteer Florida will distribute $360,000; each grantee will receive $15,000. Proposals must be submitted before 5 p.m. (Eastern time) Tuesday, Aug. 7.
— Click here to listen to a recording of the 2018-2019 VGF Technical Assistance Call.
— Click here to view the slides from the 2018-2019 VGF Technical Assistance Call.
— Click here to view the 2018-2019 VGF FAQs.
— For more information, including the Request for Proposal, click here.
Volunteer Florida is Florida’s lead agency for volunteerism and national service, administering more than $32 million in federal, state and local funding to deliver high-impact national service and volunteer programs in Florida.
It promotes and encourages volunteerism to meet critical needs across the state. The organization also serves as Florida’s lead agency for volunteers and donations before, during and after disasters.
FSU summer commencements set
Florida State University will host two summer commencement ceremonies featuring FSU trustee Jorge Gonzalez, president and CEO of The St. Joe Company.
Gonzalez, who has led the real estate operating and development company since 2015, will deliver the keynote address at the Friday evening and Saturday morning ceremonies at the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center.
Florida State will award degrees to 2,454 students this summer, including 1,639 bachelor’s degrees, 613 master’s and specialist’s degrees and 202 doctorates. About 1,500 students are expected to participate in the two ceremonies.
The events will take place Friday, Aug. 3, at 7:30 p.m., and Saturday, Aug. 4, at 9 a.m.
The civic center is at 505 W. Pensacola St. in Tallahassee.
If you can’t make it, the ceremonies will be live-streamed at learningforlife.fsu.edu/fsu-graduation/.
Etiquette class coming to Tallahassee
The National League of Junior Cotillions (NLJC), a program of “etiquette, character education and social dance training for middle school students,” says it is re-establishing its program in Leon County.
“We will be selecting a director for a local chapter who will receive complete training and an exclusive territory for expansion,” said Charles Winters, the league’s president. “This program is making a positive impact on students across the nation and we are delighted to know that more young people in this area will have the opportunity for this vital training.”
The purpose of the program is to “give students instruction and practice in the courtesies that make life more pleasant for them and those around them,” a news release said.
“Students actively learn courtesies through a creative method employing role playing, skits and games. Standard ballroom and line dancing is taught using nationally approved top 40 music.
“Character instruction is also provided regarding the following: honor, respect, ethics, sportsmanship, acknowledgments of gifts, behavior at cultural and civic events, correspondence, interaction in groups, introductions, paying and receiving compliments, receiving lines, table manners, instructional dinners, electronic etiquette, cellphone courtesy, and many other areas of social conduct.”
The organization currently has directors operating hundreds of chapters in 30 states. To apply or nominate someone for Leon County director, call (800) 633-7947, visit www.nljc.com, or email.
TPD, homeless man story goes viral
An act of kindness in the capital city took the internet by storm this week, and the fallout of positivity has even involved U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.
The story starts with Tallahassee police officer Tony Carlson, who noticed a homeless man attempting to shave outside of a nearby Circle K gas station.
The man, who has only identified himself as Phil, did not have a mirror and told Carlson he needed to shave to get a job at a local McDonalds. Carlson then shaved Phil’s beard for him on location.
A video capturing the touching moment quickly went viral, with media publications like Fox News, CBS and MSNBC republishing the snippet.
On Facebook, Carlson said he contacted Rubio’s Tallahassee office to help Phil get his Social Security card. Rubio’s local staff was willing and able to get the ball rolling.
“Phil was in my Tallahassee office today to fill out paperwork so we can help get his ID and Social Security cards for employment,” Rubio tweeted this week. “ … We’re rooting for you, Phil!”