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11 posts from September 12, 2013

September 12, 2013

Scott broadens his campaign theme: blame Florida's recession on Crist

Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday told a gathering of Florida business and political leaders that the recession that befell Florida under the watch of his predecessor “never should have happened.” 

“We never should have had that downturn,’’ Scott told the Sayfie Review Florida Leaders Summit in Orlando, suggesting that Florida’s economic troubles in the midst of the global recession that spiraled out of control in 2008 after the fall of the nation’s largest investment banks was the fault of his predecessor, former Gov. Charlie Crist. 

Crist, now a Democrat, is the governor’s likely challenger in 2014 but neither has officially announced a campaign.

Nonetheless, Scott’s comment to the crowd, unadorned by context or explanation, was the latest sign that the governor is broadening his campaign talking points even though he has not officially announced his re-election bid.

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Appeals court says challenge to HCA trauma centers should proceed

From the News Service of Florida:

A state appeals court Thursday sided with hospitals in the Tampa Bay and Jacksonville areas in part of a long-running battle aimed at shutting down new trauma centers approved by the Florida Department of Health.

The ruling by the 1st District Court of Appeal will clear the way for challenges to the continued operation of trauma centers that opened in 2011 at Blake Medical Center in Manatee County and Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point in Pasco County. Another disputed trauma center at Orange Park Medical Center in Clay County has already been shut down for another reason.

Tampa General Hospital, St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa, Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg and UF Health Jacksonville have fought the new trauma centers for more than two years. Those hospitals, which operate trauma centers, have argued they would be hurt by the new trauma facilities, which would siphon off patients and compete for specialists.

The dispute has led to a complex maze of legal actions. But Thursday's ruling was a second important victory for the Tampa Bay and Jacksonville-area hospitals as they seek to shut down the new facilities, which are at hospitals affiliated with the HCA health-care chain.

The ruling stemmed from petitions that the Tampa Bay and Jacksonville-area hospitals filed to challenge the Department of Health's approvals of the new trauma facilities. The department rejected the petitions, contending that the four hospitals didn't have legal "standing" to challenge the approvals.

But a three-judge panel of the appeals court disagreed and said the state Division of Administrative Hearings should take up the challenges.

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With $845 million surplus, Negron makes another bid for auto registration fee cut

As Gov. Rick Scott was on the road Thursday in Tampa promoting his proposal to cut $500 million in unspecified taxes and fees, the lawmakers who will actually vote on next year’s budget huddled during a conference call in Tallahassee.

A joint panel of House and Senate members discussed a projected $845 million surplus in the budget that covers spending from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015. Compared to the surplus of $71.3 million this year, it might sound like it’s time for a spending spree.

But hold on. As chief state economist Amy Baker told the Legislative Budget Commission on Thursday, more than half of the extra money is in one-time revenue. Spend it once, and it’s not going to be available the following year. So it might be a good idea not to spend that money on recurring expenses like salaries. (Baker said if lawmakers spent the entire surplus on recurring expenses, the budget would face a deficit of $264.7 million the following year).

Tax cuts certainly qualify as a dreaded recurring expense. So it’ll be interesting to see what Scott decides to propose. But already, Senate Appropriations Chair Joe Negron, R-Stuart, has staked a claim, once again, to reduce vehicle registration fee increases that lawmakers approved in 2009 by $230 million. He filed a SB 156 on Thursday that does just that.

Negron pushed for the same this year only to see the bill die. That effort would have paid for the fee reduction by eliminating a 15 percent tax credit for the insurance industry that was created in 1987 and was called outdated by Negron.

Negron’s new bill appropriates only general revenue for the cut. But he told reporters after the meeting that he wants to explore eliminating tax incentive programs that have “outlived their usefulness” to help pay for it. He said there are dozens of tax incentives that they'll be looking at.

“If we’re going to do several hundred million in fee and tax relief, I hope this one (vehicle registration fees) can make it to the top of the list,” Negron said. “It was an almost doubling of tag registration fees in 2009, and based on the input that I have gotten from my constituents, it’s one that affects them the most directly.”

Negron’s bill certainly has the support from Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville.

“I’m glad we’re giving tax breaks to businesses,” Gaetz said. “I was all for them. But it’s past time we help hard-working middle class families.”

U.S. Rep. Castor: Barring 'navigators' from county health departments is 'absurd'

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor joins the growing list of liberals blasting Gov. Rick Scott and his administration for a policy barring people paid to help the uninsured sign up for health coverage from doing that work at county health departments. The edict, first reported by Health News Florida, is the latest example of resistance to health care reform from Florida's Republican leaders.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, a national organization supporting implementation of the law, the Florida Democratic Party and Rep. Mia Jones have already released statements criticizing Scott and the state Department of Health for telling "navigators" they can't come onto state property.

The Department of Health told the Herald/Times today that it will not back down from its policy of keeping outside groups away from county health departments, including the "navigators."

"Consistent with normal departmental practice, we do not allow outside organizations to access Department of Health office space and information technology systems to conduct activities," communications director Nathan Dunn said via email. "We are treating the request for Navigators' space as any other organization that has sought to establish a physical presence in a county health department. Protecting personal health information is a high priority for the Florida Department of Health."

In addition to Castor's letter, two more Democrat lawmakers also have weighed in. Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, called the policy a "moral outrage" and Rep. Victor Torres, D-Orlando, said Latinos were being negatively affected by the decision to restrict access to "navigators." Scroll down to read the full comments from all three.

Here is the letter from Kastor:

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DCCC mailers boosted faux Miami Tea Party candidate now under FBI investigation


Roly Arrojo, a phony former Tea Party congressional candidate now under federal investigation, barely received any votes in 2010, but it wasn’t for lack of trying by Democrats quietly propping him up.

A top former advisor of current U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia secretly orchestrated an Arrojo mailer during the campaign, a consultant recently told the FBI and Miami Herald. Garcia said he had no knowledge of the potentially unlawful activity to fraudulently disguise campaign spending.

Beyond Garcia’s campaign, Arrojo received even more help from the national Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which sent two more batches of mailers. Unlike the 18,000 mailers linked to Garcia’s campaign, the DCCC mailers might not have been illegal.

The point of the three mailers – whose combined costs could have exceeded $30,000 -- was clear: siphon votes from Republican David Rivera to help Garcia.

A DCCC spokesman said the organization did nothing improper and broke no laws forbidding coordination between federal campaigns and outside groups.

Arrojo2“We were not involved in the Arrojo campaign in any way,” spokesman David Bergstein said, who wouldn’t elaborate.

The mailers related to Arrojo, who once filed to run for office as a Democrat, all went to Republican voters and portrayed him as a real conservative.

"Roly Arrojo: Is he too conservative?" the mailers asked. Another pointed out that he wanted to "dramatically" reduce federal spending or is a "complete outsider," all in an effort to get conservatives to waste their vote on Arrojo and not support Rivera.

But Rivera won with 52.1 percent of the vote to Garcia’s 42.6 percent. Arrojo gained just 3 percent of the vote, which could equate to about $6.96 spent on his behalf for every vote he gained. Arrojo has refused to comment for years.

Arrojo3In a Garcia-Rivera rematch last year, the congressional lines were redrawn into the new Miami-Key West District 26 and Garcia won by more than 10 percentage points.

Rivera lost amid an investigation linking him to a political newcomer who received more than $81,486 in illegal help and contributions to fund his mailers in the Democratic primary race against Garcia.

That candidate, Justin Lamar Sternad, pleaded guilty in the fraud and is now helping federal prosecutors.

Republicans and Sternad’s lawyer, Rick Yabor, complained that Arrojo might have perpetrated the same scheme two years before.

Unlike Sternad’s campaign, Arrojo reported no expenditures at all, had fewer mailers but was rapped by the Federal Elections Commission for failing to disclose his finances.

After The Miami Herald this year reported that Arrojo’s campaign used the same printing house as Garcia, the FBI checked it out.

The printing company referred the FBI to a Coral Springs consultant, Michael Kaplan, who said he told investigators and The Herald that Joe Garcia’s political advisor, Jeffrey Garcia, had him take care of the mailers.

Jeffrey Garcia, no relation to the congressman, is under a separate and unrelated state investigation concerning fraudulent absentee ballot requests made during the 2012 Democratic primary. When that investigation was announced, the congressman fired the long-time advisor and chief of staff.

Jeffrey Garcia, who will no longer comment, was a friend and former business partner of Arrojo.

Rep. Garcia said he had no idea about either scandal, is cooperating with state prosecutors and will do the same with the FBI.

For former Republican candidate Marili Cancio, who ran unsuccessfully against Rivera in the 2010 primary, the investigation is a longtime coming.

Cancio, in a written statement, criticized the DCCC mailers and the ones linked to Jeffrey Garcia as “unethical and clearly designed to capture conservative votes from the Republican nominee at the time.”

But, she said, the DCCC mailers probably weren’t illegal. But the one linked to the Garcia campaign probably was, she said.

“I have no doubt that Joe Garcia's campaign had knowledge of these shenanigans and I hope Joe Garcia takes responsibility,” she said.


Universities say good-bye to Frank Brogan, welcome interim chancellor

Chancellor Frank Brogan attended his final board meeting today before leaving for Pennsylvania at the end of this month.

He choked up during a brief good-bye speech, telling the people attending the Board of Governors meeting, "You have all made me a better man."

There were also laughs during Brogan's farewell. The university presidents and board members made video tributes, and Brogan's spokeswoman dug up a hilarious Press Skits video from his tenure as lieutenant governor.

In the video, Brogan and running mate Jeb Bush made a parody of the intro to late '70s/early '80s sitcom "Laverne & Shirley." The men danced hand-in-hand and rode tandem on a bicycle in the Captiol courtyard.

After Brogan said farewell, the board quickly approved naming his replacement: Vice Chancellor Jan Ignash. In addition to serving indefinitely as interim chancellor, Ignash will remain the system's chief academic officer. She did not address the board after the vote. She did not address the board after the vote but provided the Herald/Times a statement via email after the meeting.

"The Board of Governors has been hard at work on a number of important initiatives for the system, as evidenced by our jam-packed meeting today. I'm gratified the board has confidence in me to ensure that our forward momentum continues both during the transition and beyond," she said.

Bernie Machen was also reappointed president at University of Florida, a procedural vote needed since Machen decided to postpone retirement, until at least Dec. 31, 2014.

Alex Sink, woman of Florida political mystery


Will she or won’t she run?

Don’t ask Alex Sink. She sounds utterly unsure about whether she’ll run for governor. But the 2010 Democratic candidate and prior state CFO at least sounds sincere about it.

Sink acknowledges she's “tempted.”

“I go back and forth,” she said, adding she’ll decide by Oct. 25, when the state Democratic Party kicks off its state convention. “I really don’t know.”

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Task force takes shape to study mandatory paid-sick-leave

UPDATE: House Speaker Will Weatherford sent over his list of appointees to the task force.

  • -Florida State University economics professor Randall Holcombe, filling the slot set aside for a business economist.
  • -Rep. John Wood, R-Winter Haven.
  • -Walter Carpenter, an Orlando real estate appraiser representing Florida business owners with less than 50 employees.
  • -Gregory Riehle of Wesley Chapel, the owner of Saddlebrook Resorts representing Florida business owners with more than 50 employees.
  • -Marcia Gonzalez, Political Director of the Florida Carpenters Regional Council, a labor union.


Senate President Don Gaetz has announced the first four members of a task force that will study how state law affects the benefits companies can offer employees. The group will eventually grow to 11 people to bring recommendations to the Legislature next year in hopes of creating one statewide standard regarding mandatory paid-sick-leave.

Earlier this year, Gov. Rick Scott signed House 655 into law a bill, which temporarily banned cities and counties from requiring local employers to offer paid-sick-leave. Companies like Disney and Darden Restaurants, as well as the Florida Chamber of Commerce, argued the ban was needed to avoid having to deal with a patchwork of different rules.

The outcome of the law was to block efforts pushed by liberal organizations and labor unions in Orange County to enact mandatory paid-sick-time there. The issue was scheduled to be included on the county's ballot in August 2014 after supporters collected 50,000 signatures to trigger the referendum.

Gaetz, who says his fifth pick will be a doctor, and House Speaker Will Weatherford will appoint a total of 10 people to the task force. The president of Workforce Florida, Chris Hart, will serve as the 11th member and chairman.

Here is the full press release from Gaetz: 

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RIP: Hilda Caballero Diaz-Balart, mother of two congressmen and TV anchor

From a press release:

Hilda Caballero Diaz-Balart passed away the afternoon of September 11, 2013 in Miami. She was born in the Stewart Sugar Mill in the province of Camaguey, Cuba on November 18, 1924.

Hilda was the mother of Rafael, Lincoln, Jose and Mario Diaz-Balart and the grandmother of Anna Maria, Rafael Jr., Lincoln Gabriel, Daniel, Katrina, Cristian and Sabrina Diaz-Balart.

A Mass of the Resurrection will be held in her memory on Friday, September 13 at 2:00PM at St. Peter & Paul Church, located at 900 SW 26 Road in Miami, Florida.


BOG doling out $20 million in performance funding to universities

For the first time, the governing board for state universities is allocating money tied to schools' performance and not just the size of their enrollment or according to project requests.

The new performance funding is based on a point system for three categories, which the Board of Governors hopes will increase in future years. Under each of the metrics, a school received two points for meeting the system-wide average, one point for falling slighty short of the average and zero points if they are way behind. There was an opportunity to receive three points for going far above average, but no schools met that threshold for any of the categories.

Two schools earned six points and will share the biggest portion of the funding. University of South Florida and University of Central Florida will each receive $2.6 million.

Earning $2.2 million for five points: Florida International University, Florida State University, Florida Gulf Coast University and University of North Florida.

University of Florida and Florida Atlantic University will receive $1.7 million for four points. University of West Florida will receive $1.3 million for three points.

Florida A&M University will receive $869,565 for earning two points and New College of Florida will receive $434,783 after receiving one point.

Click here to view the whole performance funding breakdown.

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