Thursday, January 10, 2013

Our digest of, and commentary on today's Florida political news and punditry.

Caught lying, Scott flip-flops

"What a difference a day and a few assumptions make."

On Tuesday, Gov. Rick Scott's office defended a questionable Dec. 17 report that Florida taxpayers would be on the hook for nearly $26 billion over 10 years to expand Medicaid as part of President Barack Obama's health care plan.

Late Wednesday, Scott's Agency for Health Care Administration released a revised estimate.

The new 10-year cost? $3 billion.

Why the enormous difference?

The new estimate includes the federal matching funds promised in the health care law to pay for the Medicaid expansion. It also excludes costs associated with people who are now eligible for Medicaid but for one reason or another have not enrolled. The revised estimate is more in line with costs estimated by outside groups, and could soften attacks that the expansion is too costly for Florida to afford. With some other changes, the estimate could climb to about $5 billion.

Scott had used the eye-popping $26 billion estimate to make a case against the health care law both on Sunday in a Tampa Bay Times guest column and again on Monday after a meeting with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

But the dollar-figure was quickly debunked as based on severely suspect assumptions and was panned by Democrats, health care advocates and even a prominent Republican lawmaker.

"State dramatically revises Medicaid expansion estimate amid criticism".

Automatic voter registration

Bill Cotterell: "A newly elected South Florida senator, contending Florida election laws were originally rigged against women and minority voters, introduced a bill Wednesday providing for automatic registration of eligible citizens when they sign up for driver licenses."

Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, said his bill is not aimed at increasing voter turnout. [Why not?] He said he just wants to make it easier for residents to sign up, if they want to, while getting their driving licenses.
"Senator wants automatic voter registration".

Implementing the federal Affordable Care Act

"Lawmakers and health-care industry representatives meet in Orlando this week for two-day conference. One of the issues they'll take on is how to implement the federal Affordable Care Act." "Committee chairs to discuss health care".

Enough is enough

"Gov. Rick Scott isn't giving up in his quest to cut corporate taxes . . . . Scott made the pitch in Jacksonville where he once again claimed that Florida is too taxing on companies doing business here." "Businesses in Florida need more tax breaks, Scott says". See also "Scott seeks elimination of sales tax for manufacturing equipment", "Local execs praise Gov. Scott's proposal to eliminate equipment tax", "Scott floats new tax break for manufacturers" and "Business Advocates Roll Out Support for Rick Scott's Call to Cut Taxes on Manufacturing Equipment".

These taxes they like

"Melissa Joiner brings nearly 12 years in government and lobbying to the Florida Retail Federation. Her top priorities are to keep the sales tax holiday and make progress toward extending the sales tax to Internet transactions." "Retail federation hires new lobbyist".

"A fast-track foreclosure bill"

"A fast-track foreclosure bill meant to hasten the legal process and reduce a mammoth court backlog will again be discussed by Florida lawmakers this year — the fourth consecutive session in which the issue has been up for legislative debate." "Quickie foreclosure bill on agenda again".

Florida to shortchange hospitals that serve neediest patients

"Hospitals that serve Florida’s neediest patients stand to lose the most under a new system for how the state doles out Medicaid dollars." "Hospitals that serve Florida’s neediest patients concerned about proposed change to Medicaid payments".

Nuthin' 4 nuthin'

Scott Maxwell: "Lawmakers shouldn't substitute lobbyists for brains".

Never mind the "student achievement" and "finance" parts

"Florida earned an overall grade of B-minus, while the national average was a C-plus."

This year, Florida earned A's in the categories of "standards, assessments and accountability" and "transitions and alignment." It also did well in the "teaching profession" category, getting a B.

But it got only a C-minus in student achievement and earned a D-plus in finance. Its education spending, as in years past, earned it an F.

"Florida regains top-10 ranking in education report".

For a more useful portrayal of Florida's "ranking", see the National Assessment of Educational Progress results, which have long been considered the "the nation’s gold standard in assessing academic attainment"; NAEP places Florida 35th on reading and 42nd on math. See "Rhee's StudentsFirst grades education on ideology, not results". More: "Descent into parody" (scroll down).

Gun nuts

"Teacher slain; two schools have grief counselors".

Bright Futures lawsuit

"Should students have to disclose highly personal details of their families' finances to the federal government as a precondition for receiving state scholarships based on academic merit? The Florida Legislature thinks so, but a new lawsuit insists it is unconstitutional." "Lawsuit Says Florida Bright Futures FAFSA Requirements Violate Right to Privacy".

Florida Democrats poised to deliver embarrassing snub to Wasserman Schultz

"Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz has the ear and the loyalty of President Barack Obama, and loads of influence among Democrats in Washington and across the country. Democratic activists in her home state of Florida, however, are poised to deliver an embarrassing snub to Wasserman Schultz later this month with the heated race to lead the state Democratic Party.""

The congresswoman from Weston recruited longtime friend Allison Tant of Tallahassee to run for chair of the state party, and in recent weeks has aggressively lobbied elected officials and party activists to get behind her anointed choice.

But it looks increasingly likely that those activists may ignore the entreaties by Wasserman Schultz and Sen. Bill Nelson and instead elect Tampa activist Alan Clendenin to succeed outgoing party chairman Rod Smith.

"Democratic state committee members from Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties on Monday night held a non-binding vote on the race for party chairman and unanimously backed Clendenin over Tant. The way the party weighs votes in such party elections, the votes from those three Democratic strongholds could all but ensure Clendenin is the next state party chairman."
Tant, a top Obama fundraiser and former lobbyist who had been little known outside of Tallahassee, noted that the Monday night South Florida vote was non-binding and that she is rapidly gaining support as she meets more and more people across the state.

"It’s very close and it will be a robust primary," said Tant, 51, who on Wednesday announced endorsements from most Democrats in the Florida congressional delegation (U.S. Reps. Frederica Wilson and Joe Garcia of Miami-Dade; Alcee Hastings of Broward; Lois Frankel, Ted Deutch and Patrick Murphy of Palm Beach; Alan Grayson of Orange County; and Corrine Brown of Duval County) as well as seven local party officials.

"Democrats at odds over future Florida Democratic Party chair".

DEP management positions filled with people who worked for industries it regulates

The Palm Beach Post editorial board: "For the last two weeks, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has been sending out “setting the record straight” news releases in response to critical newspaper editorials. The talking points, though, mostly talk past the facts."

The editorials followed a Christmas Day story in the Tampa Bay Times that the the DEP had laid off 58 employees, some of whom were veteran, effective environmental regulators. One had prevented severe damage to Tampa Bay from a phosphate plant. Also, since Gov. Rick Scott named defense contracting executive Herschel Vinyard DEP secretary two years ago, the department has filled top management positions with people who had worked for industries the department regulates.

The DEP release says the layoffs came from “reorganizations…after months-long assessments of procedures and processes as well as staffing and workload levels.” OK, but why did all those “assessments” result in these particular employees being laid off? A DEP spokesman said it was part of a “changed management structure” that placed 50 regulators under one supervisor in the agency’s Tampa office. . . .

Which brings us to those fresh-from-industry hires. The DEP’s deputy secretary for regulatory programs is Jeff Littlejohn. He had worked for the North Palm Beach engineering firm of Isiminger & Stubbs. The firm’s job is to obtain environmental permits for its clients. Mr. Littlejohn is the son of Charles Littlejohn, a Tallahassee lobbyist whose clients include large landowners that seek DEP permits. An engineer who worked for developers oversees water resource management for the DEP. Air pollution regulation belongs to a lawyer whose former firm regularly seeks permits for polluters.

"Florida has at least a two-decades history of sometimes conflicted people serving as the top environmental regulator. Similarly, a man who had aggressively lobbied for developers wound up running Florida’s growth-management agency."
Gov. Scott, though, has made clear that he considers regulation a burden to business. We would argue that a healthy environment helps to attract business, by raising the quality of life and increasing property values. Judging by its news releases, the DEP seems more concerned with trying to make bad publicity go away rather than make a persuasive case for controversial decisions. Which doesn’t set the record straight about the DEP’s commitment to protect Florida’s environment.
" "Regulating Florida’s environment or easing environment regulation?".

Scott to pick a judge

"4 Palm Beach County circuit judges among those Gov. Scott will choose from to fill 4th DCA vacancy".

Never mind

"The Florida Conservation Coalition says it is requesting $100 million for Florida Forever -- without the sale of state lands. A coalition representative withdrew an earlier statement that the group was supporting DEP's request to include $50 million from the sale of state lands." "Coalition corrects statement on selling land to pay for buying land".

"FMA won't be just a silent partner"

Nancy Smith: "The general counsel for the Florida Medical Association made it clear Wednesday that the FMA won't be just a silent partner in the 2013 legislative fight to keep workers' comp doctors dispensing medicine in their offices." "FMA Makes Its Presence Felt in Round 1 of Session's Drug Dispensing Battle". Related: "Fight resumes over drug repackaging".

Rick Scott's "veil of uncertainty"

"A 'veil of uncertainty' among consumers and investors is crushing economic recovery statewide and in Palm Beach County, Florida economist Henry Fishkind said Wednesday." "Lack of consumer confidence holds back recovery statewide and in Palm Beach County, says Florida economist".

"She embraced her inner cretin"

Fred Grimm: "Dummies everywhere should celebrate Patte Atkins-Grad’s ignominious return to Tamarac city hall this week. Atkins-Grad ought to be their hero. She embraced her inner cretin. She took her own bumbling incompetence and transformed it into a splendid criminal defense strategy."

We now have a new template for other politicians trapped in the sump of their own corruption. (Are you paying attention, David Rivera?) Don’t bother contesting all those inconvenient, incriminating facts. Just transform yourself into a chucklehead.

“There’s a quantum leap between being incompetent and being corrupt,” Kenneth Malnik, her lawyer, told jurors last month. That was apparently enough to allow Atkins-Grad to slither out from under eight felony charges.

It was stunning defense work. Malnik somehow convinced the jurors that Atkins-Grad never quite grasped the unsavory implications when sleazy developers put up $2,300 toward the lease on her new BMW along with $4,000 in other gratuities. She must have assumed it was just coincidence that they were also in desperate need of her vote and commission approval for a controversial project to plop 728 townhouses onto two local golf courses.”

"A dimwit returns to Tamarac city hall".

Kiss of death

"Rick Scott Asks Bernie Machen to Remain Gators' President".

Citizens bills

"Bills aim to block uncapped Citizens rates, but other changes trim coverage, boost bills".

"Domestic partnerships" bill filed

"A bill that would allow Floridians to enter into 'domestic partnerships' resembling marriages was filed Wednesday by Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, in an apparent effort to extend at least some marital benefits to same-sex couples."

While the legislation specifically states it is not an attempt to do an end-run around a provision in the Florida Constitution defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman, it would allow gay Floridians to get some rights approaching marriage. Any two people who are at least 18 years old would be allowed to establish a domestic partnership under the law.
"Domestic Partnership Bill Filed in Senate".