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7 posts from July 1, 2013

July 01, 2013

Movers & Shakers

New Duke Energy CEO takes charge

Lynn Good takes over on Monday as the new CEO, president and vice chairman of Duke Energy, which serves 1.6 million customers in Florida. Good, 54, has been the utility’s executive vice president and CFO since July 2009.

She succeeds Jim Rogers, who will continue as chairman of the board until his retirement on Dec. 31. The North Carolina-based Duke Energy merged with Progress Energy last year to become the nation’s largest electric-power holding company in the United States, with more than $110 billion in assets

Florida Supreme Court picks new clerk

Technologically savvy attorney John A. Tomasino has been selected as the Court’s next clerk. He’ll replace Thomas D. Hall, who will retire in October after being in the job for more than 13 years. Tomasino, who is administrative director of the Public Defender's Office in the Second Judicial Circuit, starts his new job on Nov. 1.

CFO names new communications director

Chris Cate has been named the communications director for Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, starting on July 8th.

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Moody's proclaims 'Florida is back on track'

With a headline that reads “Florida Back on Track,’’ Moody’s Investors Service gives Florida an Aa1 rating and a stable outlook in a report issued last week, proclaiming that “the state’s recovery is well under way.”

The report gives the state good marks for its fiscal discipline, helped by the constitutionally required budget stabilization fund that requires legislators to sock away money to offset a decline in revenues.

But analyst Nicole Johnson warns that the state’s dependence on volatile documentary stamp tax and sales tax mean revenue fluctuation is higher than average in Florida and the potential for insurance premium assessment in the wake of a hurricane “are tax-like in nature” and that poses a credit challenge that weakens the rating.

Here are the good news/bad news excerpts from the report.  Download Florida-Back-on-Track-June-2013 

The good news:

  • Florida’s financial strength is underscored by efforts to replenish its reserves even though the state’s economic recovery has been slower than originally expected, as in many states.
  • Even at reduced levels, Florida’s reserve levels are impressive given the magnitude of the revenue deterioration that the state experienced during the recession.
  • Florida has a constitutional mandate to fund the BSF at no less than 5% of prior year revenues, up to 10%, and the obligation to restore any draws in five equal annual installments from general revenues, commencing in the third fiscal year after the withdrawal, unless the legislature establishes a different schedule….The demonstrated willingness of lawmakers to restore the BSF as well as other reserves during a prolonged recovery underscores the state’s strong governance attributes.
  • At the end of fiscal 2013, the state expects the BSF balance to grow to $710.5 million (from $496 million the prior year) and projects a general revenue fund balance of approximately $2.4 billion in combined surplus plus unspent General Revenue funds. In addition, total trust fund reserve balances are projected to be  $1.7 billion at the end of fiscal 2013.
  • Since residential permits bottomed out at about 35,300 in 2010, they are expected to double in 2013 and reach 97,200 in 2014. Foreclosures have slowed considerably and the state’s housing market appears to be stabilizing (see Figure 5). Increased affordability and foreign investment are boosting demand, which could limit house price declines.
  • As the economic recovery takes hold, education, healthcare, and tourism sector jobs are driving employment gains. According to Moody’s Analytics, Florida’s 2013 employment growth is expected to increase 1.9%, surpassing the national rate of 1.3%, and remain higher than the nation over the forecast period through 2017.
  • Over the long term, Florida’s economic performance is expected to be strong due to robust population growth and solid economic fundamentals.
  • The state's unemployment rate has declined slowly but steadily from a peak of 11.4% in early 2010 to 7.1% as of May 2013, below the national rate of 7.6% the same month.
  • Over the long term, Florida’s pace of growth is expected to outpace the nation due to thestate’s favorable climate and low cost of living as well as strong demographic and economic fundamentals, driven by the tourism, healthcare, and education sectors (see Figure 7). Those positive attributes are also expected to make Florida an attractive location for baby boomers as they start to retire.

 The bad news:

  • Annual revenue growth of 4.5% is projected for fiscal 2014 and 4.3% for fiscal 2015, but Florida is not expected to reach prerecession (fiscal 2006) peak revenue levels until fiscal 2015 reflecting the magnitude of the downturnin the state.
  • Housing permits have increased modestly in recent years although the forecast for 2016 shows both single and multi-family permits at least 30% below peak levels in 2005. During the recession, Florida’s median home prices declined significantly and state foreclosure rates were among the highest in the nation.
  • Periodic fluctuations in economic indicators and revenue trends highlight Florida’s above average exposure to boom-bust cycles… The magnitude of Florida’s volatility is underscored by the fact that the state is still recovering from the impact of the recent housing crisis on employment and the sales tax revenues that drive the state’s budget. Like the rest of the country, Florida could be vulnerable to a new housing bubble if national and international investors continue to drive home prices up.
  • The state’s significant tourism industry is another economic driver that is subject to national as well as international fluctuations, as reflected in the fall-off in sales tax related revenues during the recent recession.
  • Assessments levied to pay bond debt service are tax-like in nature because the assessment base includes nearly all property and casualty insurance written in Florida, except for insurance pertaining to medical malpractice, workers’ compensation, and accident and health. That is an important distinction from most other states: in Florida following a hurricane, taxpayers ultimately will bear much of the claims paying burden that elsewhere would be paid through private insurance.

Rematch on: Ken Keechl files against Co Comm Chip LaMarca

This race could be the hottest re-match in Broward: former Broward County Mayor Ken Keechl, a Democrat, said today he filed his paperwork to run against County Commissioner Chip LaMarca, the commission's lone Republican.

The two are expected to face off in Broward's District 4 which spans parts of several cities in northeast Broward including Fort Lauderdale. (A little-known Democrat has filed but he has had some past troubles.)

The District 4 will draw interest throughout the county and beyond: LaMarca is a former Broward GOP chair and Keechl was Broward's first openly gay county commissioner. In 2010, Keechl far outspent LaMarca but was criticized for some of his campaign spending and lost

But the swing seat now leans more left and LaMarca won't have the benefit of sharing the ballot of U.S. Rep. Allen West who won in the same 2010 election in an overlapping district. It will benefit Keechl to emphasize party affiliation while LaMarca will focus on nonpartisan issues such as beach renourishment and libraries.

Currently Keechl lives in nearby District 7.

"Yes, I'm planning to move back to District 4," Keechl said in an email. "I'm looking for a home in Ft. Lauderdale right now."

Keechl recently left the KO law firm and opened his own firm in Wilton Manors.  He says having his own firm will give him more time to campaign.



Lawyers file lawsuits challenging change in medmal law that takes effect today

Florida doctors won a big legislative victory this year with the passage of a top priority bill for Senate President Don Gaetz that would allow the attorneys for doctors in medical malpractice claims to collect information on the private conversations between patients and other doctors without the patient's permission. 

But the victory will be short-lived if a group of high powered attorneys have their way. In five separate complaints filed in federal and state court today, the lawyers claim that the so-called "ex parte" provisions of SB 1972 is an unconstitutional violation of the state's privacy laws and also violates the federal privacy protections in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountabilty Act, HIPAA.

The bill, which takes effect today, allows for lawyers to to learn about a patient's medical condition by talking to other treating doctors without the patient or his lawyer being present. The legal challenge was coordinated by the Florida Justice Association, the trade association for the state's trial lawyers.

"With everything that is happening in the federal government right now involving the invasion of privacy of U.S. Citizens by their government, it is appalling to know that in Florida, our Legislature and governor have authorized doctors to divulge their patients’ personal, private medical history to complete strangers,” said Debra Henley, executive director of the Florida Justice Association. 

Continue reading "Lawyers file lawsuits challenging change in medmal law that takes effect today" »

Patronis drops out of Senate race against Matt Gaetz

Rep. Matt Gaetz's plan to suceed his father, Senate President Don Gaetz, just got a little easier. The Fort Walton Beach Republican's main competition is dropping out of the race.

Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City, said he wants to spend more time with his family and will not run against Gaetz in 2016, according to this report from the Panama City News Herald:

State Rep. Jimmy Patronis has announced he is withdrawing from the 2016 state Senate race.

Patronis, R-Panama City, declared himself as a candidate in December but now says he wants to spend more time with his family. He isn’t ruling out future runs at public office, but for now he wants to focus on those he loves the most and finish out his final year in the Florida House of Representatives.

“Trying to serve three different causes — my family, my business that pays the bills and the Legislature — was just more than I could really do well in,” Patronis said. “I knew, first and foremost, being a good dad and a good husband needs to be my priorities.”

Patronis said eight years of commitment to public office is “enough at this time.”

Read more here.

Continue reading "Patronis drops out of Senate race against Matt Gaetz" »

AG Pam Bondi files for re-election

From the News Service of Florida:

Attorney General Pam Bondi said Monday she filed papers to seek re-election in 2014, joining fellow Republican Cabinet members Jeff Atwater and Adam Putnam in taking formal steps to run again.

"Officially filed for re-elect this morning - looking forward to continuing working hard and serving the people of Florida!" Bondi said in a Twitter message.

Bondi's move was not a surprise, and it remains unclear who might challenge her from the Democratic Party.

Atwater, the state's chief financial officer, filed papers in 2011 indicating he would run again; Putnam, the agriculture commissioner, did so in April 2013. Gov. Rick Scott has not taken the formal step, though he has already made clear he will seek another term in 2014.

Bondi defeated Democrat Dan Gelber in 2010, receiving nearly 55 percent of the vote.

UPDATED Aide to Miami Congressman Joe Garcia embroiled in absentee-ballot fraud investigation resigns


Giancarlo Sopo, Congressman Joe Garcia’s communications director who has been ensnared in an ongoing criminal investigation into fraudulent absentee-ballot requests, has resigned.

Sopo informed Garcia, a Miami Democrat, of his resignation Friday, Garcia’s office confirmed Monday.

“I thanked him for his service to our office,” Garcia said. “I understand that he is cooperating with investigators and hope that this will give him an opportunity to resolve this matter.”

Sopo declined to comment. His attorney, Gus Lage, said Sopo resigned “for personal and financial reasons, and also because he didn’t want to be a further distraction to the congressman’s work.”

Sopo had been placed on unpaid administrative leave last month, days after Miami-Dade prosecutors and police raided his cousin’s home in connection with the scheme to request ballots online for nearly 500 unsuspecting voters in the Aug. 14 Democratic primary. Garcia said at the time that he did not immediately fire Sopo — opening the congressman to criticism from Republicans — because Sopo told Garcia he wasn’t involved in the plot.

Sopo recruited his friends or family to assist, Lage said — presumably either to compile or submit the ballot requests.

“If there was any illegality to what was done, Mr. Sopo did not appreciate that at the time,” Lage said, adding that he has met with prosecutors investigating the case. “If there was, he wouldn’t have had his cousin, sister and friends of his do this.”

Garcia swiftly dismissed former chief of staff and top political adviser Jeffrey Garcia, no relation, when he admitted to his boss that he orchestrated the attempt to manipulate the election.

More here.

This post has been updated with comments from Joe Garcia and Gus Lage.