Saturday, March 30, 2013

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

Being There

Rick Scott is reveling in a severe case of merely "being there": "Florida's unemployment rate slipped to 7.7 percent in February – the 31st straight month of declining joblessness – signaling the state's ongoing recovery from recession as the private sector created nearly 140,000 jobs over the past 12 months, the state said Friday. Led by hiring in the hotel, retail and health care sectors, the February unemployment rate fell two-tenths of a percentage point from the revised rate of 7.9 percent in January, according to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity." "Florida jobless rate dips again to 7.7%". See also "Florida's jobless rate dips to 7.7 percent in February".

"Up in Smoke"

"Marijuana Bills Going Up in Smoke ... This Year".

Rick Scott is now demanding federal stim dollars

"Scott to Obama: Reimburse Florida for PortMiami dredging project". Related: "Obama highlights Port of Miami tunnel project in urging more infrastructure spending".

Teachers mobilizing

"Florida teachers say they are mobilizing against a proposal in the state Legislature to close the Florida Retirement System to new employees and move them into 401(k)-type plans. The speaker of the House, meanwhile, claims the teachers' argument is untenable."

Echoing Koch Brothers/ALEC talking points, and ignoring the fact that the system is a "solid performer," and according to Florida House of Representatives itself is "one of the top-three funded public plans in the country," 33 year old pension expert

House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, argues Florida’s pension program is broken and costs too much to sustain. He says it’s time to bring government in line with the private sector and use 401(k)-type plans.
"Teachers Will Fight New Pensions for New Public Employees".

Musta been those tax cuts

"Financial picture brighter for Florida universities, but tuition hikes still on table".

"More than six years"

"State workers and teachers are the big winners in budgets advanced Friday by a Legislature eager to spend $4 billion in new money generated by a revived Florida economy."

After four years of cutting spending during tough times, legislators are loosening the state's purse strings again. They want to boost public school spending by at least $1 billion, restore last year's $300 million cut to state universities, set aside at least $500 million to shore up the pension fund and sprinkle millions around the state for popular hometown projects such as a rowing center, an aquarium and museums.

For the first time in more than six years, state employees would get across-the-board pay hikes of $1,400 a year as part of the House proposal. The Senate offers state workers a 3 percent raise. Both options are more generous than Gov. Rick Scott's plan to give one-time cash bonuses to workers.

"State workers, teachers are big winners in legislative budgets". See also "State workers in line for a raise".

More on the budget: "More money for teachers, state workers in House, Senate budget plans" and "Senate, House budgets pump cash into education".


"Florida legislators plan on keeping the cost of health insurance low for state leaders." "Fla. legislators: Keep health insurance perk".

"Florida teachers make $10,000 less than the national average"

The Palm Beach Post editors: "The best argument for the raises is that Florida teachers make $10,000 less than the national average." "The $2,500 raise is Scott’s attempt to placate teachers". Related: "Policy Note: Higher Education Budget".

'Ya reckon?

"Florida Would Shortchange 1 Million Uninsured without Medicaid Expansion: Prof". Related: "Policy Note: Federal Health Care Reform".

Week in Review

"The Week in Review for March 29". See also "Weekly Roundup".

Under pressure

"Florida U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is getting pressure from the liberal side of his party as the only Democrat in the state’s congressional delegation, and one of the few in the Senate, who opposes gay marriage." "Nelson under pressure on gay marriage".

"Feel free to blame Charlie Crist"

"Crist personally pushed failed Digital Domain deal".

Nancy Smith writes that "Scott and everybody else who wants to should feel free to blame Charlie Crist for the Digital Domain debacle. It happened on his watch and by his hand." "Who Cares What John Textor Thinks?"

Ms. Smith exceeds herself, however, when she calls the Miami Herald, of all things, a "leftstream newspaper". You know, the same newspaper that had the current policy director of The James Madison Institute write its editorials for 16 years.

Murphy disappoints

"House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, a 32-year veteran of Congress, wanted to have a word with 29-year-old freshman Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter. Hoyer was not pleased to hear that Murphy was planning to break with Democratic leadership and join Republicans in voting for an extension of federal borrowing authority that included a 'no budget, no pay' provision." "Youngest U.S. Rep. Murphy sticks with campaign vows, ‘gets on with’ compromise".

"Political 'gotcha'"

The Miami Herald editors on the "classroom misunderstanding that morphed into a political 'gotcha.'" "Misunderstanding over FAU “Jesus stomping” assignment morphs into political gotcha".

"Letting the fox guard the henhouse"

The Tampa Bay Times editorial board: "There is a reason everyone kept quiet about the federal government handing the state the power to grant development permits that could hurt Florida panthers, gopher tortoises and other endangered species. It's letting the fox guard the henhouse, and it's indefensible." "Deck stacked for developers".

GOP sugar daddy rakes in government contract cash, stiffs unemployed

"As Gov. Rick Scott was touting the state’s drop in unemployment last summer, his top jobs agency made a curious prediction: the number of people applying for jobless benefits would increase sharply over the next year. The prediction — which was not made publicly — found its way onto a quietly amended contract with a private company. Though it belied the state’s economic trends, it was worth hundreds of thousands of dollars for Worldwide Interactive Networks."

Also known as WIN, the Tennessee-based firm has a state contract to run the online skills assessment that critics say has acted as a barrier to thousands of people seeking jobless benefits.

The company, a major contributor to Florida politicians, saw its annual contract increase from $2 million to $2.7 million last June, even as the number of people it was serving was plummeting. . . .

WIN has five registered lobbyists in Florida and has contributed more than $170,000 to the Republican Party of Florida in recent years, according to state lobbying and campaign finance records. The company did not return calls seeking comment.

"Company gets bigger state contract even as unemployment rate falls".

Guns, guns ... guns on the roof

The Tampa Bay Times editors: "The answer to gun violence in schools is not more guns in schools." "More guns in schools isn't the answer". The Sarasota Herald Tribune editors: "Arming teachers isn't the answer".

Brodeur mixed up in corporate welfare scheme?

"Jamie Grant was two years out of law school and a [Republican] freshman member of the state House when he made a bold claim. His startup company [which included as part of the management team, one Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford] could design a mobile application that would link medical, insurance and legal records for family and first responders. Sales would net $26 million by 2014, Grant said. He just needed $2.5 million in seed money."

"The pitch worked. The Hardee County Industrial Development Authority approved the deal in September 2011 and, by the next month, Grant got his first check. Now, 18 months later, it's not clear what happened to the money. It's all spent, but state auditors say there's no product, few jobs and no economic growth."

The State Attorney's Office in Bartow opened a criminal investigation. It closed it in October concluding there was no evidence of criminal misconduct.

But a second investigation by state auditors raised red flags. According to their report, concerns included:

• The Hardee IDA awarded the money to Grant's company even though it didn't exist at the time of the application, violating state law.

• Although the agreement stated Grant's company would develop a product to be marketed and supported by Hardee personnel, there was no evidence the company delivered.

• There was no oversight of the money. Disbursements weren't supported by detailed invoices or other documentation.

The chair of the state legislative auditing committee said he is alarmed by the audit.

"Audit questions $2.4M government grant to Tampa lawmaker".