Gov. Rick Scott Archives - Page 2 of 63 - Florida Politics

A cordial House reception for Scott’s budget, despite off-stage rancor

The House Appropriations Committee gave a respectful reception Tuesday to Gov. Rick Scott’s $83.5 billion state budget Tuesday, with chairman Carlos Trujillo praising the spending plan as “conservative.”

“It’s a very fair budget,” Trujillo told reporters following the meeting. “It was balanced. Some different priorities than we’ve expressed here in the House. But, overall, I think it was very fair, very reasonable, and very well put together.”

Of proposed legislation that would spike Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida — two of Scott’s top priorities — Trujillo said a hearing Wednesday before the Careers and Competition Subcommittee would be telling.

“If the bill goes down in flames tomorrow in committee, we know there’s probably not an appetite for the membership. But if that’s not the case, the appropriations will follow the policy,” Trujillo said.

“I’m assuming it will be reported favorably,” he said.

Asked whether he could recall a time when a proposed committee bill favored by a speaker did not pass, Trujillo had a quick reply.

“Stand your ground, last year in my criminal justice committee.”

The debate over those economic- and tourism-development programs has grown heated, with Scott Tuesday suggesting the bill was motivated by House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s desire to run for higher office.

Informed of the governor’s remarks, Trujillo said: “I would disagree with his comments.”

Regarding the overall budget, Cynthia Kelly, Scott’s top budget aide, briefed the committee on Scott’s plan and answered questions. Several members asked about Scott’s proposal to leave local property tax levels at existing levels, to capture rising property values for schools.

House leaders want to lower that tax rate, to keep tax levels more or less even.

“We do not consider that a tax increase,” Kelly said of the governor’s proposal. “If the rate had been adjusted, that would be different. But as long as the rate is held constant, it is not considered a tax increase.”

House budget subcommittees were to begin hammering out the House’s own spending plan during hearings scheduled for Wednesday.

Rick Scott, state Cabinet OK Ryan Matthews as interim DEP secretary

Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet on Wednesday formally approved Ryan Matthews as interim Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection.

Matthews will serve until Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam decide on a permanent replacement for outgoing Secretary Jon Steverson.

Until then, Matthews will be paid Steverson’s salary of $150,000. The panel deliberated via conference call, though Matthews was at the podium of the Capitol’s lower-level Cabinet meeting room.

Bondi said she was “impressed” with Matthews, adding “he cares deeply about our environment.”

Matthews, named deputy secretary last year, had been in charge of the department’s air, water, and waste pollution programs and for overseeing the agency’s regulatory districts.

The governor and Cabinet also decided to advertise the secretary opening until April 28, with an aim to agree on a full-time hire during the May 23 Cabinet meeting.

Steverson last month announced his resignation to join the legal-lobbying firm of Foley & Lardner.

 

Lobbying firms misreported income, ethics panel finds

Three Florida lobbying concerns are being reported to Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet for incorrectly tallying their income, the Florida Commission on Ethics said Wednesday.

In at least two of the cases, however, the errors were basic accounting mistakes. Lobbyists’ compensation is subject to random audits, some of which are reviewed by the commission.

In a press release, the commission said it found probable cause to believe Dean Mead, a law firm with a lobbying practice, “inaccurately reported compensation received from a principal for the first quarter of 2014.”

The firm also “inaccurately reported compensation received from two principals in the third quarter of 2014.” Probable cause means it is more likely than not that a violation has occurred but is usually not a definitive finding.

Firm shareholder Pete Dunbar in the Tallahassee office said the mistakes were “bookkeeping errors” that were “quickly corrected” before his firm’s audit was finalized. Dunbar’s long government service includes being former Gov. Bob Martinez’s general counsel and legislative affairs director, as well as serving as a member and chair of the ethics commission.

It also found probable cause that Buigas & Associates “overstated compensation received in the second quarter of 2014, as well as the third quarter of 2014.” A message seeking comment was left on an office voicemail.

And the commission found probable cause that D. Darling Consultants “overstated compensation received from a principal for the first period of 2014, and failed to report compensation received from a principal for the fourth period of 2014.”

Firm principal Doug Darling, a “sole shingle” lobbyist, represents only two clients: Accenture and Grant Thorton, both consulting companies. He said he uses the “cash accounting” method, used by most small businesses, instead of the “accrual” method.

“The cash method accounts for revenue only when the money is received,” Investopedia explains. “On the other hand, the accrual method accounts for revenue when it is earned.”

Darling also said the commission’s press release is in error, explaining that the reporting periods in question are fourth period of 2013 and first period of 2014.

Under state law, “probable cause findings … of this nature are forwarded to the Governor and Cabinet,” the commission’s release says, referring to Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam

“The firms have 14 days to submit a written request for hearing to the Governor and Cabinet.” it says. “However, the Governor and Cabinet may, on (their) own motion, require a public hearing and may conduct such further investigation as deemed necessary.”

Adam Putnam agrees: Business experience essential for governor’s job

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam agrees with Gov. Rick Scott that Florida’s next governor should have “business experience.”

“I think someone having business experience that they bring to public life is very helpful,” said Putnam, who spoke to reporters after a speech at Tuesday’s Associated Press annual Legislative Session planning session at the Capitol.

In a recent interview, Scott – who is term limited in 2018 – said the next governor needs to have experience in the business world.

Some took that as a slight to Putnam, long rumored to be eyeing a run for governor in 2018.

The 42-year-old Republican was first elected state agriculture commissioner in 2010 after serving 10 years in Congress. The Putnam family owns Putnam Groves in Bartow.

“As a guy who is part of a small business, I get it,” he said. “You have a better feel for what regulations mean, what the paperwork translates to, and things that often sound like a good idea in Tallahassee, by the time they get to Main Street businesses, they’re a hot mess. It’s helpful to know what it means to create jobs in this state.”

Putnam’s political committee, Florida Grown, has raised funds at an impressive clip, logging nearly $6.8 million in contributions since March 2015, state records show.

This January, it collected $392,500, including a $250,000 contribution from Florida Power & Light, according to its website. It now has cash on hand of almost $4.5 million.

Though Putnam Tuesday continued to decline comment on his future political plans, the latter part of his remarks at the AP event veered into ‘stump speech’ territory, mentioning how the state needs to bolster workforce development, education and rural economic development.

Above being a retirement destination, Florida “needs to be the kind of place that attracts people four decades sooner,” he said, “so that they raise their families here, and they start their businesses here and grow those businesses here, because that’s a very different emotional investment for the long-term good of Florida.”

That sounds strikingly familiar to remarks he made at his political committee’s “Friends of Florida Agriculture Barbecue” in April at Peace River Valley Ranch in Zolfo Springs.

“I want Florida to be the place where people come as a young person, graduate from our universities, raise their families here — start, build and grow their businesses here, so that they are passionately, emotionally invested in the long-term good of Florida, where Florida’s going, how Florida got to be what it is, and what makes Florida special,” Putnam said at that event.

Rick Scott budget proposing cutting $156 million from Tri-Rail over contract

Gov. Rick Scott is proposing cutting $156 million in state funding for Tri-Rail development unless the South Florida Regional Transit Authority reverses its decision to award a controversial half-billion contract to a lone qualified bidder.

Scott’s proposed 2017 state budget now includes an item calling for “no funding” until the authority withdraws, cancels or otherwise terminates the authority’s Notice of Intent for awarding its operating contract to Herzog Transit Services.

On the line is $156 million the state had programmed for Tri-Rail’s capital outlay from the Florida Transportation Trust Fund.

A transit authority spokeswoman said Tuesday the authority was aware of the governor’s action, but said the authority is declining comment right now.

The authority’s board of directors approved the Herzog contract by a 6-2 vote last Friday against objections from the Florida Department of Transportation and state Sen. Jeff Brandes, who chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Transportation.

The Herzog contract is worth $344 million for seven years and has annual extension options that could take it out to 10 years for $511 million. It was awarded after the transit authority’s staff unilaterally rejected five other proposals for the service on technical grounds. Some of the proposals asked far less money, as low as $396 million for ten years.

The other companies bidding on the contract, including the current operations contractor Transdev Services of Maryland, have challenged the staff rulings that there were technical issues with their proposals. Specifically, the staff had cited language that the staff interpreted as meaning the bid prices were conditional. The companies have since responded that is not the case.

The governor’s budget item also declares that before the SFRTA can obtain a new contract for operations and maintenance services, it will have to “obtain the department’s written approval of all items and conditions of the new procurement and contract for the services that were the subject of such request for proposal to ensure the authority has sufficient revenues to fund the contract.

“Further, no funds shall be provided to the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority by the department without the prior review and written approval by the department of the authority’s proposed expenditures.”

 

Rick Scott’s $83.5 billion state budget goes heavy on tax holidays

Gov. Rick Scott proposed an $83.5 billion state budget Tuesday that would include $618 million in tax cuts, $85 million in economic incentives, nearly $4 billion for environmental protection, and more than $5.1 billion for public safety.

Florida has added more than 1.2 million jobs during his tenure “because of our continued focus on cutting taxes, reducing burdensome regulations and fostering an environment where job creators can grow and succeed,” Scott said in unveiling his spending priorities in Tallahassee.

“Because our economy continues to grow, we are able to make these investments while also paying down debt and setting aside $5 billion in reserves,” he said during The Associated Press Legislative Planning Session at the Capitol.

“There are always people who say we can’t afford to cut taxes, make strategic investments in areas that are important to families, and provide savings to taxpayers. But they are absolutely wrong.”

Scott is sure to face resistance to elements of his proposals in the Legislature, where House Speaker Richard Corcoran has denounced economic incentives as “corporate welfare.” Click here for Corcoran’s remarks later in the day, and here for more about Scott’s economic development plans.

Scott defended such initiatives — including Visit Florida, the state’s tourism promotion agency, and Enterprise Florida, which provides incentives to businesses.

“I’m confident that every House and Senate member realizes the importance of funding economic incentive programs — especially the way we do it, where taxpayers actually get a return,” Scott said.

“We don’t put the money up until we know we’re going to get the jobs. If we get the jobs, we know we’re going to get tax revenues.”

Scott’s budget would include cuts to business taxes and rents; a one-year sales tax exemption for college textbooks; and a 10-day back-to-school sales tax holiday. Back-to-school fairs would enjoy a tax exemption.

There would be a nine-day disaster-preparedness tax holiday; a three-day veterans’ sales tax holiday; and a one-day camping and fishing sales tax holiday.

Scott’s “Fighting for Florida’s Future” budget would cut $8.1 million in fees for seniors, teachers, veterans and businesses.

The budget would provide nearly $21 billion for K-12 education and $6.6 billion for higher education, including for the Bright Futures Scholarship program.

There would be no tuition increase for college students.

Scott wants the state to leave the required local property tax rates for schools alone, to capture receipts attributable to rising property values. House leaders want to scale back the tax rate to keep tax receipts about the same.

Scott noted that the state’s share of education spending has grown over the years about local contributions.

“Anybody that understand that’s not a tax increase, I’d be surprised,” Scott said.

“I would assume those same people, then, are going to propose reducing sales taxes when they see a consumer good go up in price also. Under their scenario, that would be a tax increase, I presume.”

Scott would provide $65 million to protect Florida’s springs; $60 million to clean up Indian River Lagoon and the Caloosahatchee River; and $225 million for Everglades Cleanup.

He does not share Senate President Joe Negron’s interest in buying land around Lake Okeechobee for water storage. Still, “I like the fact that I’ve got a Senate president that cares about Okeechobee” and other environmental problems, Scott said.

Scott’s budget would include $14.6 million to give law enforcement officers a 5 percent pay raise. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement would get $5.8 million to hire 46 counterterrorism agents. There would be $45 million to hike pay for corrections officers.

The budget would provide $1 billion for mental health and substance abuse efforts, and a record $632 million for Florida’s child welfare system. He would spend more than $7.4 million to clear the Agency for Persons with Disabilities’ critical-needs waiting list.

The budget would represent a modest increase over current spending, which is $82.3 billion. Taxpayers would save $800 million, according to a FAQ report Scott’s aides provided during a background briefing. Additional details here; actual budget here.

Those savings include $581 million by trimming Medicaid reimbursements to hospitals, and $298 million in supplemental money for for-profit hospitals that stint on charity and uncompensated Medicaid care.

The budget does not assume the Trump administration will convert Medicaid into a block grant program, even though Scott supports such a move.

The plan assumes the Legislature will have $7.5 million after paying for “critical” needs including Medicaid and education, plus additional high-priority needs.

It would eliminate 266 state worker positions through streamlining and consolidating jobs. But it would add 327 jobs at the Department of Corrections; 90 at the Department of Children and Families mental health treatment facilities; and the additional counterterrorism jobs.

State workers would pay $50 per month for their health insurance, and $180 for family coverage, to save $21.8 million. An audit of dependent eligibility would save an estimated $45 million per year.

The plan calls for $5 billion in reserves, including $1.3 billion in unspent general revenues and $1.4 billion in the budget stabilization fund.

The only debt Scott envisions is for Department of Transportation infrastructure. But only if the department needs the money, aides said. Total transportation spending would hit $10.8 billion. Click here for details about Scott’s proposed cuts to South Florida’s Tri-Rail project.

The budget counts on $123.7 million in gambling proceeds from the Seminole Compact.

Scott would spend $1.9 million to add 21 epidemiologists to county health departments, to combat emerging health threats including Zika virus.

Joe Negron resigns from Gunster law firm

Senate President Joe Negron has resigned from the Gunster law firm, four days after Gov. Rick Scott suggested ethics reforms affecting lawyer-legislators.

Negron’s resignation was announced Monday by H. William ‘Bill’ Perry, Gunster’s managing shareholder.

Negron, a Stuart Republican, had been “of counsel” with the firm, usually referring to an attorney who works on a case-to-case basis for a firm, not as an associate or partner.

“Joe has been a great colleague and a valuable member of our litigation team,” Perry said in a statement. “We have accepted Joe’s resignation with both regret and the knowledge he will continue to dedicate his time and talents to the people of Florida as the leader of the Florida Senate.”

Last week, Scott had proposed a series of additional ethics measures to House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who has focused on heightening ethical standards and government transparency this year.

One provision would ban lawmakers from working for companies, including law firms, that lobby the Legislature. Gunster has a “Government Affairs Law & Lobbying” practice in Tallahassee.

And Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, is of counsel in the Tampa office of Broad and Cassel, practicing commercial litigation. That firm too has a government relations practice, including members who lobby in Tallahassee.

Negron’s webpage on the Gunster website, still active as of late Monday morning, showed that he practiced “business litigation” and “corporate law” for the firm, including “the defense of commercial law claims involving millions of dollars at stake.”

His “experience includes claims involving contract law, real estate and construction matters (including construction lien litigation), and insurance coverage,” the site said. “Of particular note, Joe defends litigation claims involving nautical and maritime law matters. He has also represented both for-profit and non-profit corporate directors and officers sued for breach of fiduciary duty.”

In a separate statement Monday, Negron said the “notion of a citizen legislature – people from all walks of life, business, and industry combining their experience and perspectives to form a government of, by, and for the people – has been a guiding principle of our country since its inception.”

“Florida’s part-time legislature, where elected officials, bound by term limits, live and work in the communities they serve, produces results for the people of this state that are far better than we could hope to see from full-time career politicians and bureaucrats,” he said. “Throughout my legislative service, I have carefully scrutinized my legal and legislative work to ensure I fully uphold the highest ethical standards.

“For the first time, I have reached a crossroads where my firmly held conviction to promote legislation that would benefit my constituents, community, and state has the potential to result in a possible perception of a conflict with my professional employment,” Negron added. “In the abundance of caution, to avoid even the possible appearance of such a difference, and to make certain I can continue to effectively advocate for my community, I have made the decision to step away from my position with the Gunster Law Firm.

“Practicing law at Gunster, a large statewide law firm, has been a tremendous opportunity to work with a very talented team of accomplished professionals. I will continue to practice law for the remainder of my time in the Senate and look forward to continuing to represent the citizens who elected me to serve in the Florida Senate.”

Scott’s move was seen by some as retaliation for Corcoran’s attacks on Scott’s agency heads, including deposed VISIT FLORIDA head Will Seccombe and DEP Secretary Jon Steverson, who quit to go work for a law firm to which he had steered millions in fees for outside legal work.

When asked last week whether Scott was being retaliatory “in any way, shape or form,” Corcoran said, “I always try to impute the best motive.”

Richard Corcoran: Rick Scott’s ethics proposals not personal

House Speaker Richard Corcoran Thursday told reporters he took no personal offense at ethics suggestions sent by Gov. Rick Scott.

Scott’s office earlier in the day sent Corcoran, who is on an ethics reform tear this year, more ideas, including a provision that would ban lawmakers from working for companies, including law firms, that lobby the Legislature.

Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, is of counsel in the Tampa office of Broad and Cassel, practicing commercial litigation. The firm also has a government relations practice, including members who lobby in Tallahassee.

Scott also wants a ban on lawmakers working for companies that sue the state.

“I read the letter,” Corcoran said in an afternoon media availability. “Clearly, they have somebody in mind, it seems like. Somebody’s suing somebody; to my knowledge, it’s not me … but if that kind of behavior is taking the process in a place it shouldn’t be, then let’s have at it.”

Scott’s letter, sent from chief of staff Kim McDougal to Corcoran chief of staff Matt Bahl, outlines four suggestions:

— Immediately disclosing “all contracts legislators advocate for between state agencies, businesses, not for profit organizations, and/or any other entity that receives tax dollars.”

— Immediately banning lawmakers and staff involved in the state budget, “including the law firms they may work for or own, from suing state agencies…”

— Banning lawmakers from riding in airplanes “paid for by political committees and party executive committees.” A new House rule already prohibits House members from flying in lobbyists’ planes.

—”Shutting the revolving door to prohibit the employment of legislators by entities, including law firms, that employ lobbyists.”

“The power of the Legislature to appropriate funds allows individual legislators great influence over the actions of state agencies and other entities,” the letter says. “Therefore, the public deserves safeguards … to ensure that all funding decisions are made free of any undue influence, real or perceived.”

The House Public Integrity and Ethics Committee on Tuesday cleared two measures as part of Corcoran’s new “culture of transparency.”

One would increase the ban on former lawmakers and statewide officers lobbying their colleagues after leaving office from two years to six years by way of a constitutional amendment. The other “extend(s) the prohibition on legislators lobbying the executive branch” from two to six years after leaving office.

When asked whether Scott was being retaliatory “in any way, shape or form,” Corcoran said, “I always try to impute the best motive.”

water

DEP withdraws request to pay lawyers in ‘water war’

The Department of Environmental Protection has withdrawn a request to lawmakers for more money to pay lawyers waging a water use fight against Georgia, its spokeswoman says.

The department had planned to ask lawmakers for an additional $13 million to pay expected legal bills from the still-unresolved case. The Joint Legislative Budget Commission was scheduled to take up the request, among several others, at a 5 p.m. Tuesday meeting.

The litigation already has cost the state tens of millions of dollars—with no end in sight. A federal court official recently ordered attorneys for the two states to try again to settle the disagreement.

“DEP is working with members to provide more information on the costs associated with this litigation,” spokeswoman Lauren Engel said in a statement.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran on Monday night said his chamber wouldn’t entertain the request without a detailed audit of how DEP officials spent legal money already appropriated.

“We remain committed to being good stewards of taxpayer dollars,” she said. “The state of Florida has been fighting for nearly two decades to protect the historic flows of the Apalachicola River, and we will continue to protect Florida from the environmental and economic harms caused by Georgia’s overconsumption of water.”

DEP Secretary Jon Steverson quit last Friday, reportedly for a job at the Foley & Lardner law firm, according to a Scott spokesman. The firm still has not publicly confirmed the hire.

Foley & Lardner also is one of the firms representing the state in the 16-year long court fight over river water.

The dispute centers around upstream water use from the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers in Georgia. They meet at the Florida border to form the Apalachicola River, which empties into the Apalachicola Bay.

 

Rick Scott not bothered by Jon Steverson’s departure

Gov. Rick Scott suggested he wasn’t bothered by one of his agency heads overseeing the flow of millions of dollars to a law firm that he’s now going to work for.

Scott spoke to reporters after Tuesday’s Florida Cabinet meeting.

“We have people that come to work for the state and they work hard,” Scott told reporters. “And (then) they find opportunities. That’s just part of the process.”

Jon Steverson, secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, quit last Friday, reportedly for a job at the Foley & Lardner law firm, according to a Scott spokesman. The firm still has not publicly confirmed the hire.

Foley & Lardner also is one of the firms representing the state in a nearly two-decades-old court fight with Georgia over river water use.

The dispute centers around upstream water use from the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers in Georgia. They meet at the Florida border to form the Apalachicola River, which empties into the Apalachicola Bay.

Steverson’s department is asking the Legislature for $13 million more to pay expected legal bills from the still-unresolved case. A joint committee is scheduled to take up the request later Tuesday.

But House Speaker Richard Corcoran on Monday night said his chamber won’t entertain the request without a detailed audit of how DEP officials spent legal money already appropriated.

The governor said he’s “appreciative of the people that are willing to come work with me … I know they work really hard. But when they have opportunities, they ought to go pursue them.”

Scott also defended the costs of the litigation, now approaching $100 million.

As The Associated Press has explained: “Florida blames rapid growth in metropolitan Atlanta and agriculture in south Georgia for causing low river flows that have imperiled fisheries dependent on fresh water entering the area. Georgia has argued that Florida didn’t prove its water use is to blame for the low flows and says a cap will damage the state’s economy.”

“The flow of water into our state is very important,” Scott said. “Now, we have to do everything we can to keep the cost of that issue as low as we can. But it’s important to make sure Florida gets the water it deserves.”

Added Scott on Steverson: “It’s hard to be an agency head. Sometimes the media isn’t very nice to them. One thing that surprises a lot of them is how much media attention they get.”

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