Rick Scott Archives - Page 2 of 224 - Florida Politics

Dan Raulerson and Dennis Baxley say ‘Let them eat steak’

In 10 years as head of the Florida Housing Finance Corporation (FHFC), Stephen Auger didn’t do much to solve the chronic, critical problems of people who work hard, play by the rules, and still can’t afford a decent place to live.

But he won the hearts and minds of millionaire senators like Dennis Baxley and Dan Raulerson, who think that buying steak dinners for people who do business with FHFC is a good use of taxpayer money.

Auger is among the casualties of Gov. Rick Scott‘s pre-session purge of agency heads caught in the act of frivolous, selfish, useless and stupid expenditures of public funds.

If government was really “run like a business,” Auger would have been gone years ago, when a Tampa Bay Times reporting team led by Susan Taylor Martin first began turning the rocks over at FHFC and finding an embarrassing pile of misfeasance and nonfeasance.  But Auger held on to his $183,000 job until December, when the legislature’s own auditors weighed in on FHFC’s miasma of mismanagement. Highlights include $443,000 in criteria-free staff bonus payments and a $52,000 “lender appreciation” dinner which featured broiled lobster tails, filet mignon and a nice “display” of tasty “imported and domestic cheeses.”

State audit manager and Master of Understatement Christi Alexander formally presented audit findings last week to the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee, noting that such expenses “did not appear to be clearly necessary” to FHFC’s affordable housing mission.  Raulerson tried to stick a fork in Auger’s critics by pointing out that the real cost of the Festival of Filet was “only” $36,000, thanks FHFC’s ability to attract corporate “sponsorships ” from folks who very, very much appreciate the money they make doing business with FHFC.

Raulerson has no problem with FHFC blowing more taxpayer money on one dinner than many of his constituents make in a year.

But he is upset that “[Auger] lost [his] job over this, and that’s not right. I don’t think (FHFC) did anything wrong … What they did was entirely within reason.”

Baxley dismissed the audit as so much “nitpicking” over “an opinion that they had too nice a dinner. “

“I feel like we overreact to things sometimes,” Baxley said. “I believe in hospitality; I believe in recognition ceremonies for my employees … An audit to me is, I want to know if they’re stealing money or wasting money. But if they’re doing a function they’re allowed to do, part of their authority is to decide how big a dinner to have.”

Raulerson and Baxley delivered a depressing and not terribly subtle warning.  It may be a cold day in Florida before we see another “nitpicking” audit of public officials like Auger who party like Marie Antoinette.

 

Subliminal message no help in Enterprise Florida fight

I was watching the fascinating video from the Florida House of Representatives in its escalating war with Gov. Rick Scott over state subsidies for private businesses and tourism when an image caught my eye as it streaked by quickly.

It was the logo for Enterprise Florida, the public-private partnership that is supposed to create jobs. Scott loves the concept so much he included $85 million in his budget request for the endeavor. Therein lies the battle line with House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who says it’s a waste of taxpayer money.

The House video makes that case emphatically.

Anyway, I rolled the video back to the logo and thought, hey, wait a minute. It looked familiar. One quick Google search later confirmed that EP’s logo looks suspiciously similar to Enron’s, and, well, need I say more?

That’s not a subliminal message an endeavor fighting for its life (and funding) wants to send.

Enron, as we remember, set the gold standard (so to speak) for getting into taxpayers’ wallets in the name of “job creation” and other such gibberish. The Libertarian-leaning Cato Institute in 2012 called Enron “a poster child for the harm of business subsidies,” reporting the company received $3.7 billion through various means through federal government agencies before it collapsed in December 2001.

No one is trying to place Enterprise Florida on the same level as Enron, but the principle Corcoran and his GOP-controlled House members believe is where the connection is valid. Corcoran strongly argues that government (meaning taxpayers) shouldn’t decide business winners and loser by funneling public money to private interests.

And EP certainly has received more than a little bit of public dough since it was founded in 2005. As the Orlando Sentinel reported in December, “A prime example of Florida’s political favoritism is Enterprise Florida, a public-private partnership that promised to create 200,000 jobs by 2005. After $1.7 billion in incentives, it had reached only half its goal. And while the program was intended to be funded equally between public and private funds, an estimated 90 percent of its funding came from the taxpayers.”

Scott is on a public relations offensive to keep the public tap open for Enterprise Florida, since job creation seems to be the sole focus of his administration. He was just in Palm Beach, warning that cutbacks to EP and Visit Florida, the tourism arm that also receives generous taxpayer money, could result in job losses.

WPTV in West Palm Beach reported that Discover the Palm Beaches President and CEO Jorge Pesquera said that eliminating Visit Florida could result in the loss of 3 million tourists to his area. He said that could cause 10 hotels to close with a loss of 31,000 jobs.

Well …

All that taxpayer money didn’t save Enron jobs, did it?

To be fair, it makes sense for the state to market tourism, given its obvious huge impact. But Enterprise Florida is another matter, and the showdown between a governor hungry to create jobs and a House Speaker equally determined to protect the public purse is in full swing.

While that plays out, the folks at Enterprise Florida might want to commission someone to create a new logo. It’s just a thought.

Pro-Trump super PAC chaired by Rick Scott dealing with FEC on reporting issues

Rebuilding America Now, Governor Rick Scott’s Super PAC that was established to elect Donald Trump, is being scrutinized by the Federal Elections Commission for inadequate reporting in the third quarter of last year.

On January 11, the FEC sent a Request for Additional Information (RFAI) regarding two items for that October quarterly report.

One of the items noted is the listing of a negative entry for $10,800 for return of a list rental fee to Castleblack, Ltd in Alexandria, Virginia.

“This method of reporting would clarify for the public record the total amount of receipts and more accurately disclose the cash-on-hand amount,” reads the letter written by the FEC’s Kaitlin Seufert, Sr. Campaign Finance & Reviewing Analyst in theReports Analysis Division.

The other item noted by the FEC was an expenditure of $1,344,000 to Multi Media Services Corporation,  a political media planning and buying agency in Alexandria, Virginia.

The FEC letter notes that a political committee must file a report with the Federal Election Commission within 48 hours of any independent expenditures aggregating $10,000 or more with respect to a given election, made any time during the calendar year up to and including the 20th day before an election.

Ryan Call, the treasurer for Rebuilding America Now, responded in a letter sent on Wednesday to the FEC that the October quarterly report “will be reviewed and amended to properly reflect the receipt of offsets to operating expenditures on Schedule A supporting Line 15 of the Detailed Summary Page to clarify for the public record the total amount of receipts and accurately disclose the cash-on-hand amounts.”

Regarding the expenditure to Multi Media Services Corporation, Call writes that “The October Quarterly Report and subsequent reports will be reviewed and amended to ensure that disbursements in the required 48-hour reports, which were voluntarily filed as soon as the inadvertent filing omissions were identified, have been properly reported and fully itemized to clarify for the public record the total amount of independent expenditures and to accurately disclose the Committee’s cash-on-hand amounts.”

Rebuilding America Now spent $22,763,915 to get Trump elected in 2016, the second most of any pro Super PAC for Trump. Only the Great America PAC raised more.

Trump’s campaign committee directly raised $247 million in the campaign.

House advances bill pulling Florida out of refugee assistance program

A bill that would remove Florida from the federal refugee resettlement advanced in the Florida House after a party-line vote Thursday.

The legislation sponsored by Deltona Republican David Santiago would direct the state’s refugee coordinator to provide notice to the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement by June 30 that it intends to withdraw from the federal program by year’s end. The House Children, Families and Seniors subcommittee voted to take the first steps in separating the state from the federal program. However, the bill is highly symbolic in nature, since the resettling of refugees into Florida will continue, but with the federal funds that currently flow into the state for the program instead going directly to the social service and nonprofit groups that work with the refugees.

The vote comes after House Speaker Richard Corcoran praised President Donald Trump for his “bold action” in temporarily banning refugees from entering the United States (that decision was reversed by the U.S. 9th Circuit of Appeals last week).

The issue of resettling Syrian refugees in Florida has been a hot topic for Governor Rick Scott and other Republicans in the Legislator for going back to late in 2015, when he joined more than 30 other governors around the nation in telling the Obama administration that it was time for a pause in bringing any more Syrian refugees to the U.S.

“The bill doesn’t actually do anything to improve the security situation for refugees that are settled here,” said Scott Duncan with the Southern Poverty Law Center on Thursday.”It doesn’t stop refugees from being resettled here. It doesn’t stop refugees from other states from coming here. What it does say is that Florida is going to wash its hands and close its eyes.”

But Venice Republican Julio Gonzalez says the federal government’s failure to provide more information to the state regarding the refugees makes it a bad deal for the state.

“This is not a partnership,” said Gonzalez. “This is not is a negotiation between two equal standing parties for mutual benefit. There is no mutual consideration.”

Dover Republican Ross Spano agreed. “Don’t tell us to like it or lump it,” he said of the federal government’s stance on the issue.

According to The Cato Institute, between 1975 and 2015 only 20 refugees were involved in terrorism or planning attacks – and none of those attacks played out in Florida or were planned in the state.

‘Not that he’s running for anything’: Andrew Gillum visits Jacksonville

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum drove east on I-10 for a hastily arranged a Jacksonville roundtable event on Wednesday.

But, as an organizer said, it’s “not that he’s running for anything.”

Of course not.

And Gillum echoed that point.

“I ain’t here to make news today,” Gillum said, about “what comes next.”

Of course not.

Why would anything come next?

****

In all seriousness though, Gillum is traveling like a candidate. Walking like a candidate. And talking like a candidate.

But he’s not a candidate.

And when we asked the 38-year-old Democrat, one who was first elected to office soon after her graduated from FAMU (Go Rattlers!), if he had a timetable for deciding whether or not to throw his hat into a ring that could include Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, and former Tallahassee Rep. Gwen Graham, he said he had “no clue” about when or if he would decide to run.

Gillum has been linked to other bigger-stage candidacies before: there was talk of him getting into the 2016 primary race against Corrine Brown in Florida’s 5th Congressional District, but nothing came of it.

If Gillum is to get into the race for Florida Governor, though, he hinted during his remarks Wednesday to a few dozen Jacksonville Young Democrats what his timetable might be.

Gillum discussed an “18 month view of engagement,” one that would be central to his strategy of going beyond supervoters to reach those voters who may have participated in one out of the last eight election.

We’ve seen this before on the national level.

Former President Barack Obama brought Hope and Change to a set of those voters in 2008.

Current President Donald Trump ran up margins with “silent majority” blue-collar white voters with his own change persona, expanding the voter universe even as Trump’s Democratic, Green, and Libertarian opponents were unable to make their own cases as change agents.

On the state level, however, it’s tougher.

****

For one thing, midterm elections see an enthusiasm gap for Democrats.

Gillum noted that “black and brown” voters – key to any viable Democratic campaign – are especially prone to turnout attrition.

For another thing, Democrats have lately fielded underwhelming statewide candidates.

If you asked most people in Northeast Florida about Alex Sink, for example, they’d wonder why someone named a plumbing fixture.

Charlie Crist, when he ran for governor in 2014, had no campaign at all in Northeast Florida … except for some fans given out at churches that showed his picture next to that of President Obama.

Gillum, should he become a candidate, has a model to change that – but whether he has the time or the resources to do so is a completely open question.

Visiting young Democrats at this point in the cycle is essentially de facto recruitment of energized volunteers.

As the youngest candidate in the field, Gillum would – if he wants to run and win – have to engage the kinds of grassroots canvassers that helped him get elected to city commission in his 20s, then mayor.

He was able to pull that off in Tallahassee: he won his first race for city commission with little more than a budget for t-shirts.

However, on the state level, the effort would have to look more like Obama for America – disciplined, well-budgeted, and unrelenting.

****

Can Gillum do that?

It remains to be seen.

The Tallahassee mayor’s remarks in Jacksonville pivoted between taking Rick Scott to task for his positions, and making an appeal to young voters – a tough demographic to turn out en masse.

Gillum described Democratic values being “under attack” in Florida for a long time, framing the 2018 election as a “real pivotal moment not only in the country but in the state.”

“My hope,” Gillum said, “is that after 20 years of turning the state over to the Republican Party,” that Democrats have a “fighting chance.”

Gillum also took the lobbyist culture to task, saying they were “buzzing all over the place” in Tallahassee, with legislators doing their bidding.

****

The parallels between Gillum and a young Barack Obama are hard to miss.

In fact, they seem consciously cultivated, with Gillum telling those assembled in Jacksonville not to “fall for the okey doke” – a line that President Obama used to project authenticity to crowds over the years.

Does Gillum have what Obama had, though?

Key to Obama’s rise: his willingness to go to out-of-the-way places and make his pitch to rural populations, which helped keep John McCain’s margins down in those areas.

Can Gillum do that? That remains to be seen.

The appeal to “our generation of folks,” on issues ranging from LGBT rights to the Syrian refugee order, may not play as well in Jasper as it did to Democratic activists in Jacksonville.

While Gillum noted that appealing to “working class” voters does not mean “exclusion” of the white working class, he also seems willing to not bother attempting to appeal to a certain swath of the electorate.

“It may be too much to wrestle away the Fox News person who believes Obama is from Pakistan,” Gillum said, noting that a better use of activists’ time would be to cultivate voters who, were they “activated,” would vote Democrat.

Gillum, during a conversation after his remarks, noted his belief that the race for governor won’t come down to who has the biggest regional base of voters, but “what the candidate is saying” and “energy.”

That may be the case.

But, as is the case with many of the would-be candidates in the field, a delayed rollout may mean a lost political opportunity – if not for the party, then at least for the candidate.

Sunshine State has another banner year for tourism

Florida had another record-setting year for tourism despite natural disasters, a virus outbreak and a tragic attack on an Orlando nightclub.

Gov. Rick Scott will announce Thursday at the Brevard Zoo that nearly 113 million tourists visited the state last year. This is the sixth year in a row that the numbers have climbed. Nearly 107 million tourists visited in 2015.

Scott will hail the continued growth during a time when the agency that promotes tourism is coming under fire. House Republicans are backing a proposal to shut down Visit Florida amid questionable contracts, such as one that paid rap star Pitbull $1 million to promote the state.

The governor in a statement noted that Florida still attracted record numbers despite the Zika virus outbreak, two hurricanes and the attack at the Pulse Nightclub that left 49 dead.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

 

Randy Fine letter warns Rick Scott to stop badmouthing his incentives vote

Freshman Republican Rep. Randy Fine warned Gov. Rick Scott not to badmouth him in his district in a sternly written letter sent Wednesday.

The letter comes after Fine and eight other Republicans on the House Careers and Competition Committee voted for a bill that would dismantle Enterprise Florida, the state’s economic development arm, and Visit Florida, the agency responsible for promoting tourism in the Sunshine state.

Since then, Scott has made stops in the districts of lawmakers who voted for the bill to publicly call them out for not killing the bill in its infancy.

Fine, however, said he wouldn’t bite after Scott sent him an invite to a “hurriedly-arranged event” in Brevard County.

“Based on media reports I have read, I assume you are visiting to make your case for Enterprise Florida, Visit Florida and incentive programs,” Fine said in the letter. “I appreciate you recognizing how important my part of the state is to the Florida Economy. That said, while I won’t be able to be there and meet with you in person due to being in committee meetings in Tallahassee, I would welcome an invitation to meet one-on-one to discuss your position on economic development.”

Fine went on to say economic development “is not a concept to me, it’s something I’ve spent my career doing.”

The Brevard County businessman also pushed his own legislation, HB 17, which would pre-empt local regulations on businesses, a move Fine said would allow “businesses to grow, thrive and prosper.”

Funding for Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida has been high on Scott’s priority list throughout his tenure as governor, and in the lead up to each Legislative Session, he routinely asks lawmakers to approve large budgets for each.

Last year, Scott asked for $250 million in incentives money as part of his proposed “Florida Enterprise Fund,” but lawmakers only approved $23.5 million for Enterprise Florida. This year, the governor has asked lawmakers for $85 million in incentives money.

 

Bill to repeal Certificate of Need program advances in Florida House

Despite heavy opposition from much of the hospital and hospice industry, a bill that would repeal Florida’s Certificate of Need (CON) program advanced in a House subcommittee on Wednesday.

Currently, health care providers require a certificate of need prior before building or converting hospitals, nursing homes, and hospices. The proposal  (HB 7) sponsored by Sarasota freshman Republican Alex Miller, would eliminate that need.

Certificate of Need was initially created by the federal government in 1973 as a method to control costs, but it was repealed at the federal level in 1987. Since then, 14 states have discontinued their own CON programs, while 34 currently maintain some form of a CON program.

In advocating for its repeal, Miller told the House Health Innovation Subcommittee that it hasn’t been very effective at anything – not at cutting costs, improving outcomes or for improving access. Under the bill (sponsored in the Senate by Orange Park Republican Rob Bradley), the Agency for Health Care Administration would develop licensure rules for new providers, and sets guidelines for the licensure of hospitals and hospice facilities.

“We can either stand in the way of progress and innovation, or we can be bold and fearless and remove these antiquated and market restrictive regulations that even our own federal government says is anti-competitive and ineffective at controlling costs,” Miller said in introducing the legislation.

Democrats on the committee said they feared that repealing CON laws would create conditions in which new hospitals are built in affluent areas, while older, safety-net facilities would be left to care for the majority of low-income and uninsured patients.

“Good hospitals are going to become worse hospitals, because everybody is going to leave and move to the good hospital that has money and their going to lose their employees, too, “said Kissimmee Democrat John Cortes, adding “how do we correct that if that does happen?”

Miller said that “cherry picking” question is the one critics invariably go to. She replied that in her experience as a board member at Sarasota Memorial, she saw how nonprofits can compete and even thrive against for profit institutions. They also receive LIP funding and specialty taxing funding as well, she said.

“It’s like a very expensive invitation to a dance, with like no guarantee that you’re going to be asked to dance,” Miller told Miami Democrat Daisy Baez.

The public comment portion of the hearing was dominated by executives from hospital, hospice and nursing home industry, all opposing the repeal legislation.

“We believe (this) will cause declines in average occupancy, that would devalue Florida nursing homes, discourage capital investment in the industry…and more importantly result in increase cost of care for residents,” said Jeff Marshall, senior VP of operations for Omega Healthcare Investors.

But his and other complaints from industry officials did not win the day, with the bill advancing in committee.

Among the supporters of the legislation is Governor Rick Scott,

 

Senate may balk at Rick Scott’s plan to hit hospitals over charity care

Gov. Rick Scott‘s proposal to cut Medicaid reimbursement payments to profitable hospitals that stint on charity care may run into trouble in the Senate.

During hearings Wednesday before the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services, members including Chairwoman Anitere Flores raised objections.

“The governor’s office has made some assumptions, based on the fact that some hospitals are very profitable, that they can afford a cut,” Flores said following the meeting.

“I’m hearing very different things from our local hospitals,” she said. “I think you heard from other members that they have some concerns, as well.”

Scott’s $83.4 billion spending plan would save $298 million “by eliminating arbitrary and inconsistent supplemental payments for hospitals that provide less charity,” according to a summary available here (scroll down to page 27.)

Aides to the governor briefed committee members on his asks for the agencies for Health Care Administration and Persons with Disabilities; and the departments of Children and Families. Elder Affairs, Health, and Veterans’ Affairs.

Also Wednesday, the panel began hearing from advocates seeking state support for local projects. House Speaker Richard Corcoran started insisting on full hearings for member projects in the budget this year, but Flores said the Senate began such hearings last year.

Projects presented include programs for older Floridians, veterans, people suffering drug addiction and mental problems, and children.

For example, The Arc Nature Coast sought $425,000 to replaced a 58-year-old farm house with a new center to house and serve 75 former Sunland residents from Hernando and Pasco counties; and Tallahassee’s Apalachee Center sought $1 million to provide forensic mental health services people in eight counties, rather than send them to the Florida State Hospital in Chattahoochee.

Flores said the exercise was a way for programs to “make their case to the Legislature.”

Smith Gaetz

Don Gaetz, Chris Smith among Joe Negron’s constitutional review panel picks

Former Florida Senate President Don Gaetz and former Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith are among those tapped by current Senate President Joe Negron to sit on the state’s Constitution Revision Commission.

Negron, a Stuart Republican, announced his list Wednesday in a press release.

Gaetz, a Niceville Republican in the Senate 2006-16, and Smith, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat who served 2008-16, were selected along with seven others. Under the constitution, Negron gets nine picks as the president of the state Senate.

“Florida is fortunate to have so many private citizens willing to take time away from their families and careers to serve the public in this important capacity,” Negron said in a statement.

“My goal in selecting the nine Senate appointees was to choose individuals who represent a diverse cross-section of our state in terms of their personal, professional, and political life experiences,” he added. “The most serious and important issue for me, and a common thread among our Senate appointees, is a fervent commitment to individual liberty and personal freedom guaranteed by our state and federal constitutions.

“The Senate appointees are all women and men of good judgment.” Besides Gaetz and Smith, they are:

Anna Marie Hernandez Gamez, a Miami lawyer who practices real estate and commercial litigation, and a past president of the Cuban American Bar Association.

 Patricia Levesque, CEO of the Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd), the school choice organization founded by former Gov. Jeb Bush.

 Sherry Plymale, a past chair of the State Board of Community Colleges, chief of staff to state Education Commissioner Frank Brogan, a trustee of Florida Atlantic University and St. Leo University.

 William “Bill” Schifino Jr., the 2016-17 president of The Florida Bar.

— Bob Solari, an Indian River County Commissioner, former Vero Beach City Council member and retired businessman.

— Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, a former teacher “with years of classroom experience instructing middle and high school students” who also was mayor of Sewall’s Point.

— Carolyn Timmann, the Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller for Martin County. She also has been a legislative assistant to former state Rep. Tom Warner, worked in the Governor’s Office, and was a judicial assistant.

They now join former Florida Bar president Hank Coxe of Jacksonville; former state Sen. Arthenia Joyner, a Tampa Democrat; and former federal prosecutor Roberto Martinez of Miami, who are Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga‘s three picks to the commission.

The commission is supposed to hold its first meeting in the 30-day period before the start of the 2017 Legislative Session on March 7.

Representatives for Gov. Rick Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran have not yet announced their decisions.

As governor, Scott will choose 15 of the 37 commissioners, and he also selects its chairperson. Corcoran also gets nine picks. Republican Pam Bondi is automatically a member as the state’s Attorney General.

The commission has met twice before, in 1977-78 and 1997-98, but this will be the first to be selected by a majority of Republicans, virtually ensuring it will propose more conservative changes to the state’s governing document than previous panels.

Any changes the commission proposes would be in the form of constitutional amendments, which would have to be approved by 60 percent of voters on a statewide ballot.

 

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