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Staff Reports

In op-ed, Rick Scott still swinging against GOP opposition to incentives

Gov. Rick Scott has released an opinion column on the “Florida House playing politics with Florida jobs” one day before a House panel discusses killing Enterprise Florida, VISIT FLORIDA and many business incentive programs.

Scott’s office emailed the op-ed to news media Monday afternoon. The House Appropriations Committee meets Tuesday to consider  a bill that would eliminate the agencies.

The email calls out by name Republican House members “who just last year supported Gov. Scott’s efforts to increase funding at Enterprise Florida,” including Jason Brodeur, Travis Cummings, Bill Hager, Larry Metz, Holly Raschein, and Charlie Stone.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran has called such use of public money “corporate welfare.”

The op-ed as released is below:


The Florida House of Representatives has decided to push legislation to undo economic development funding in Florida and defund our state’s tourism agency.  A House panel voted for this job killing legislation two weeks ago and the House Appropriations Committee will be voting on it tomorrow.

That’s correct, many of your elected members of the Florida House have decided their top priority this year is to eliminate funding for Florida’s economy.  They want to eliminate Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida.

They say that they don’t want government intrusion in the free market. Of course, there is government financing in the areas of healthcare, transportation, education, housing, and social services. But, they have decided to try to totally eliminate funding for the one area where we can easily show a major return on the investment of your tax dollars – jobs are being created by more companies moving to our state and our tourism industry has recruited a record-breaking number of visitors over the last few years.

Even more absurd, the politicians in the Florida House who already voted for this bill say they don’t necessarily want to abolish these programs but instead want to advance a “conversation” …meaning they voted for something they don’t support. This is hypocrisy at its best and these are the kind of games I came to Tallahassee to change.

I ran for Governor to fight this sort of politics and bring common sense from the business world to our government.  The plan has worked, as Florida has added more than 1.26 million new jobs.

Many politicians spend a lifetime in government and they simply don’t have any understanding of how business actually works. These are the facts that confirm the negligence of eliminating our jobs and tourism agencies generating jobs:

  • Before I came into office, state incentives were often awarded before goals, like job creation, were met.
  • But, today Florida companies only receive economic incentives after an independent third-party audit proves stringent requirements are met, including proven job growth and wage requirements to ensure a great return on investment for Florida families.
  • This means NO MONEY is given as “corporate welfare” because no money can be awarded until contract requirements like jobs are created.
  • Because of our economic development programs, several companies like Hertz, Northrup Grumman, and Blue Origin – to name a few – have located or expanded in our state to create thousands of jobs.

The Florida House likes to rely on inaccurate information to push their narrative of “corporate welfare,” by highlighting the failed deal of Digital Domain.

Let’s look at the facts: EFI recommended that the state not fund Digital Domain.  Ironically, politicians in the Florida Legislature chose to ignore EFI’s recommendation and circumvented EFI’s strict process in 2009 by funding the failed project FROM THE LEGISLATURE.

Both Visit Florida and EFI have made mistakes over the years.  In both cases, we have made changes to ensure transparency of taxpayer dollars and brought in new leadership.  That is what you do in business; you make changes and get it right.   But what you do not do is close up shop.

If the House were to succeed with ending economic development and tourism programs in Florida, the small and rural communities in our state would be hurt the most. Cancelling our statewide program would hurt those areas in Florida that would truly be revitalized by a new job creator in their community.

Just last week I travelled the state and met with business owners who are devastated that there is even talk of abolishing these programs.  Many job creators rely on EFI and Visit Florida and said they would not be able to keep their doors open if it weren’t for their help.  No job is expendable to the families they employ.

Coming into this job after a lifetime in business, I knew I would have to learn to tolerate some aspects of politics, and I would have to endure lectures from people who do not know the first thing about creating jobs. But, I cannot allow thousands of Floridians to be denied jobs and opportunities in our state just so a few in elected office can get headlines for their campaign for higher office.

Our economy is booming. Our economic development and tourism programs are some of the best in the nation when it comes to getting a positive return on investment. I will continue to set the record straight on the politics the Florida House is playing and fight for the Florida families who expect their government officials to bring them more opportunity, not less.

This is no time to stand still.  In business you are either moving forward or you are moving backward.  The Florida House is currently planning to take our state backward.  I will fight to stop them, and so should you.

FPL to build 8 new Florida solar energy plants, add 2.5M panels by 2018

Florida Power & Light Co. is doubling down on solar power, announcing Monday a significant expansion of renewable energy production through next year.

FPL, currently the largest generator of solar energy in Florida, will build eight new universal solar power plants by early 2018 – boosting its production with more than 2.5 million solar panels.

“We have been working hard to drive down the costs of adding solar,” said FPL President/CEO Eric Silagy, “so we can deliver even more zero-emissions energy to all of our customers.”

FPL was the first company to build cost-effective solar power generation in Florida, Silagy added, promising to lead the advancement of an infrastructure for affordable, clean energy.

“We have proven that it’s possible to cut emissions and deliver reliable service while keeping electric bills low for our customers,” he said during an event Monday morning at the Manatee Solar Energy Center.

The Manatee facility is one of FPL’s three most recently completed solar power plants, along with its Citrus Solar Energy Center and Babcock Ranch Solar Energy Center. Each plant began powering FPL customers Dec. 31, 2016.

A subsidiary of Juno Beach-based NextEra Energy, FPL is consistently ranked as one of the nation’s cleanest, most reliable energy providers, as well as one of the most affordable. FPL’s typical 1,000-kilowatt-hour residential customer pays less than 10 years ago, and rates are well below the current national average. The company believes the new solar centers will remain cost-effective over time, with millions of dollars in long-term savings for FPL customers.

Each of the planned eight new solar plants – located throughout Florida — will have a capacity of74.5 megawatts, producing nearly 600 megawatts total – enough to power nearly120,000 homes. The additional facilities will be in addition to the three previously announced locations in Alachua, Putnam and DeSoto counties.

Building is expected to commence this spring, Silagy said, and could create from 200 to 250 jobs during peak construction.

“A year ago, I stood here as FPL broke ground on this solar site, marking the start of the installation of 1 million solar panels that are now producing zero-emissions energy,” said Audubon Florida executive director Eric Draper, who also attended the announcement. “An additional eight new solar energy centers is a major step toward reducing carbon emissions and saving water, benefiting the earth and all Floridians.”

As Florida’s largest rate-regulated electric utility, FPL has more than 4.8 million consumer accounts statewide, making it the third-largest customer base in the United States.

Busy week for fundraising ahead of 2017 Legislative Session

There’s one committee week left until the start of the 2017 Legislative Session, and you can bet lawmakers will be doing more than just debating the merits of their bills during their time in the capital city this week.

House Majority, the campaign arm of the Florida GOP, will host fundraisers for several House Republicans, all of which are running for re-election, this week.

On Feb. 21, there is a fundraiser for Reps. Chuck Clemons and Bobby Payne at noon at The Governor’s Inn, 209 S. Adams Street in Tallahassee.

That same day, there is a fundraiser for Reps. Danny BurgessBob Rommel, and Erin Grall at 5 p.m. at The Edison, 470 Suwannee Street in Tallahassee. Across town, there will be a fundraiser for Rep. MaryLynn Magar at 5:30 p.m. at The Florida Realtors, 200 S. Monroe Street.

On Feb. 22, there is a fundraising reception for Reps. Alex MillerGrallCyndi StevensonAmber Mariano, and Jackie Toledo. The event is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. at the Governors Club, 202 S. Adams Street in Tallahassee.

Miller and Toledo will be back at the Governors Club for a 5 p.m. fundraiser on Feb. 22. A few blocks away, there is a fundraiser for Rep. Jay Fant at The Florida Realtors starting at 5:30 p.m. It is also scheduled to host an event for Rep. Jay Trumbull at The Governor’s Inn at the same time.

House Majority is scheduled to hold a fundraiser for Burgess and Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen at 11:30 a.m. on Feb. 23 at Clyde’s and Costello’s, 210 South Adams St. in Tallahassee.

All of the events are hosted by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, Rep. Jose Oliva, and Rep. Chris Sprowls.

Democrats are also getting in on the fundraising action, Sen. Vic Torres and Reps Richard Stark, Joe Geller and Amy Mercado hosting a fundraiser at 5:30 p.m. at the Florida Realtors Association on Feb. 22.

House members aren’t the only ones raising cash before the 2017 Legislative Session kicks off next month. Sen. Greg Steube will hold a fundraiser, hosted by Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, at 6 p.m. on Feb. 21 at the Governor’s Inn Boardroom. Sen. Debbie Mayfield is scheduled to hold a fundraiser for her Senate District 17 re-election campaign at 5 p.m. on Feb. 23 at the Governors Club Boardroom, 202 ½ S. Adams Street in Tallahassee.

And Rep. Manny Diaz will hold a fundraiser for his upcoming state Senate campaign at 6 p.m. at the Governor’s Inn Boardroom on Feb. 22. The fundraiser is hosted by Simpson, and Sens. Bill Galvano, Dennis Baxley, Anitere Flores, Doug Broxson, and Rene Garcia.

 

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Personnel note: AT&T names Dan Pollock Regional Director of External Affairs

Dan Pollock joins AT&T as regional director of External Affairs for Central Florida.

In his new role, Pollock will work closely with leaders in Orange, Brevard, Seminole, Lake, Sumter and Marion counties on AT&T legislative and community efforts. He will be based in Orlando.

“Dan’s addition to our team is a big win for AT&T,” said Joe York, AT&T Florida president. “His proven track record in public affairs will help AT&T promote a business-friendly environment in Florida.”

Before joining AT&T, Pollock was president of Pollock & Associates, a Florida public affairs firm. His previous experience includes: Co-founder of TargetVote.com, executive director of the Florida Greyhound Tracks Association and chief Senate aide to former Sen. Tom Rossin.

Pollock is a graduate of Florida Atlantic University, receiving a bachelor’s in political science. He is a volunteer at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Florida. Pollock has also donated time to the Chillum Adelphi Volunteer Fire Department and the Orlando Citizens Police Review Board.

House video

Florida House slams Enterprise Florida, VISIT FLORIDA in video

In a new three-and-a-half minute video, the Florida House of Representatives scorches the state’s beleaguered public-private economic development and tourism organizations.

Phrases like “no more corruption” and “no more taking taxpayers for granted” run in between clips of what the House criticizes as failed recipients of business incentives, or what House Speaker Richard Corcoran has called “corporate welfare.”

The video, officially released Thursday, starts by highlighting the Sanford Burnham debacle, in which the Orlando medical-research institute did not meet job goals despite receiving more than $350 million in incentives.

It goes on to highlight the Digital Domain failure, in which the film-effects company got $20 million in state incentive money only to file for bankruptcy in 2012, lay off 346 employees and shutter its Port St. Lucie facility.

Then it hits VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s public-private tourism marketing agency, that struck a secret deal worth up to $1 million to Miami rapper Pitbull for him to promote state tourism. Corcoran sued the agency to open up the deal to public disclosure; Pitbull mooted the action by releasing his contract on social media.

The video also lambastes the high salaries, bonuses and lavish expenses ushered in by former Enterprise Florida CEO Bill Johnson, who resigned last year.

It ends with a clip of President Ronald Reagan addressing Congress in 1981:

“There are a number of subsidies to business … that I believe are unnecessary, not because the activities being subsidized aren’t of value, but because the marketplace contains incentives enough to warrant continuing these activities without a government subsidy.”

House spokesman Fred Piccolo said the video was produced by the House Majority Office, with the only cost being staff members’ time.

Click on the image below to watch the video.

House Speaker: ‘Zero’ chance Bucs get state money for stadium

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers shouldn’t hold their breath for any state subsidy to renovate Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran told WTSP’s Noah Pransky in an interview there was “zero” chance his chamber will fund the pro football team’s $10 million subsidy request – and didn’t think the Senate would go along either.

The Bucs “applied under a statutory scheme put in place” that may be eliminated, he said. The team is the only professional team seeking money from the state this year.

Sen. Tom Lee, a Tampa Bay-area Republican, last month filed legislation to do away with a 2014 state program to provide revenue toward constructing or improving professional sports franchise facilities.

“The Sports Development Program was ill-conceived,” he said. “Professional teams are vying for taxpayer funds to pay for largely superficial facility upgrades, many of which are already in progress or completed. History has shown that team owners will make these investments without hardworking families having to foot the bill.”

Corcoran, an enemy of what he calls “corporate welfare,” agrees. This year, he’s looking to eliminate the public-private Enterprise Florida economic development organization and VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s tourism marketing agency.

“We shouldn’t be building stadiums or subsidizing billionaire owners of professional sports franchises,” he said. “It’s a multibillion-dollar industry. That’s just insane.”

The $10 million asked for Raymond James Stadium breaks down to $1 million a year for at least 10 years. And that’s just a fraction of the projected total costs for the renovations, pegged at a minimum of $120 million.

“We have an education system that needs improvement,” said Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican. “We have seniors who need a greater safety net. We have law enforcement and its needs. Those are the things we should be engaged in.

“Or just returning (money) back to taxpayers,” Corcoran added. “…Giving subsidies to billionaires and picking winners and losers is horrible public policy.”

Marco Rubio to chair commission on China

Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio announced Wednesday that he has been appointed chair of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China.

The commission was created in 2000 to monitor human rights and legal issues in China and submit an annual report to the president and Congress.

Rubio previously served as chair of the 23-member body, which includes nine senators, nine representatives and five senior administration officials appointed by the president.

“I am honored to continue leading the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, and I remain committed to exposing the brutality of the Chinese government and the heroic efforts of brave Chinese dissidents,” Rubio said in a news release.

Rubio said the CECC’s political prisoner database contains more than 1,400 active cases of political and religious prisoners and that “the commission will shine a bright light on these abuses and press the Chinese government to change its behavior.”

Also Wednesday, the second-term Florida senator joined Sens. Bob Menendez, Lisa Murkowski and Amy Klobuchar in reintroducing a bill to create a national registry for firefighters diagnosed with cancer

“Firefighters put their lives on the line each and every time they are called on to protect civilians from dangerous fires, making them susceptible to multiple health complications, including cancer,” the Miami Republican said. “I am proud to support a bill that aims to prevent and protect firefighters from deadly diseases.”

The registry, which failed to pass through the last Congress, would create a database of information submitted by health care providers on cancer incidence rates among firefighters and make that de-identified information available to researchers developing safeguards and safety protocols for firefighters.

In addition to the four senators announcing their support for the bill Wednesday, the Firefighter Cancer Registry Act is co-sponsored by Republican Sens. Steve Daines and John McCain, as well as Democrats Ed Markey, Richard Blumenthal, Cory Booker, Al Franken, Charles Schumer, Kirsten Gillibrand and Jon Tester.

Drive for assignment of benefits reform picks up steam

The prospect that a national rating firm might downgrade Florida insurance companies because of rising costs linked to assignment of benefits agreements has lit a fire under advocates of reforming those contracts.

“This issue is having a real effect on the pocketbooks of working Floridians and it’s time we take steps to clean up the process,” state Rep. Ben Diamond said in a written statement Wednesday.

“Homeowners deserve a real, consumer-driven solution that ensures that legitimate claims are paid while putting a stop to the bad actors who are driving up the cost of property insurance for all Floridians,” the St. Peterburg Democrat said.

He pointed to a report in the Miami Herald that Demotech Inc. was about to downgrade as many of 15 of the 57 Florida insurers it rates from “A” to “B” on financial stability.

The move could put mortgages at risk for thousand of homeowner because Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac require “A” ratings on insurance carried by its borrowers, the Herald reported.

Diamond sits on the Civil Justice & Claims Subcommittee, which is debating restricting the ability to use AOBs to file lawsuits against insurers to policyholders, as opposed to contractors to whom they might assign insurance benefits.

Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier has endorsed this approach.

Earlier this week, the Florida Justice Reform Institute issued a report finding that the number of AOB-related lawsuits grew by nearly 300 percent between 2010 and 2016, and comprised 54 percent of all lawsuits filed last year.

The Consumer Protection Coalition, representing the Florida Chamber of Commerce, insurance companies, and other business interests, pointed to the institute’s report to underline the need for reform.

“For most Floridians, their home is their biggest investment. But AOB fraud and abuse – and the high insurance rate increases it is causing – is quickly making home ownership more expensive for many working families,” coalition spokeswoman Carolyn Johnson said.

“For some low-income families, AOB abuse may even put home ownership out of reach. This report clearly documents that state legislators must reign in the AOB lawsuits, and fix the problem with the one-way attorney fee statute.”

That law allows policyholders to sue their insurers without winding up liable for defense attorney fees, but contractors with AOBs have also used it.

“It is imperative that we work to address the cost-drivers plaguing the system head on this session so hardworking Floridians can have some relief. Now is the time to protect our Florida homeowners from AOB abuse,” said Logan McFaddin, of the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America.

“Florida’s consumers are paying more while AOB abuse goes unchecked,” said Michael Carlson, president of the Personal Insurance Federation of Florida.

“We’re seeing that the same kind of AOB abuse that drives up costs and threatens home ownership is also a growing issue in replacing auto glass that is alleged to be cracked or damaged. We need reforms that keep policyholders in control of the policies they bought and paid for. The time for legislative action to protect consumers is now.”

Rick Scott chooses trial attorneys to replace four judges

Gov. Rick Scott has chosen litigators to fill four vacancies on the state trial bench.

James T. Ferrara will replace Moses Baker Jr. on the 15th Judicial Circuit Court in West Palm Beach.

Ferrara is a shareholder at Shraiberg, Ferrara, Landau & Page who practices commercial litigation. He holds a J.D. from Samford University’s Cumberland School of Law.

Peter Matthew Brigham will replace Richard Tombrink Jr. in the 5th Judicial Circuit in Centrral Florida. He has been an assistant state attorney in the circuit since 2002. He holds a law degree from the University of Florida.

Fabienne Fahnestock and Yael Gamm will serve in the 17th Judicial Circuit in Fort Lauderdale.

Fahnestock is a shareholder at Gunster, Yoakley & Stewart who litigates business, employment, health care, probate, trust, and appellate cases. She holds a J.D. from the University of Florida, and replaces Thomas M. Lynch IV.

Gamm is an assistant state attorney in the circuit. She holds a law degree from Nova Southeastern University, and replaces Arthur M. Birken.

New educational coalition seeks to make Florida global ‘innovation capital’

Launch Florida, a new and inclusive statewide innovation coalition, officially launched Tuesday with a mission to foster collaboration between entrepreneurs, policymakers, business leaders, venture capitalists, philanthropists, and other stakeholders to make Florida the worldwide capital for innovation in the 21st century.

Launch Florida represents 51 different organizations from coding schools to universities, technology associations to startup accelerators. The coalition approach has built a network benefiting the state by increasing grassroots mobilization and knowledge sharing.

“Launch Florida represents the 21st-century economy,” said Joe Russo, Executive Director of the Palm Beach Tech Association and Launch Florida co-chair. “We will be the go-to resource for elected officials to help guide policy efforts supporting an innovation economy.”

“Florida is the 3rd largest state in the union but ranks 34th in innovation,” said Lucas Lindsey, Executive Director of Tallahassee’s Domi Station and Launch Florida co-chair. “As the 19th largest economy in the world, we must support our next generation of industry.”

“Launch Florida’s structure allows anyone representing high-tech, high-wage organizations and initiatives to meet on a recurring basis, having an equal opportunity to share best practices and ideas about growing and diversifying our state’s economy,” said Ed Schons, president of the Florida High Tech Corridor Council.

“Launch Florida is all about working smarter, not harder,” said Dr. Thomas O’Neal, associate vice president at the University of Central Florida. “To the extent that we can share best practices and resources, we can collectively move faster to accelerate the growth of Florida’s innovation economy — something we all support.”

The organization will gather during the Launch Florida Summit on May 18 and 19 in Orlando, coinciding with the Florida Venture Forum’s Early Stage Capital Conference.

Learn more at LaunchFlorida.org.

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