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Scott OKs business tax cuts and rebrands unemployment comp

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation Wednesday that includes a host of tax cuts for businesses and rebrands the state’s financially strapped unemployment compensation system.

Scott said the four bills he signed, flanked by leaders of state business organizations, represents his “job creation and economic growth agenda.” One of the measures, (HB 7087), also doubles to $50,000 the state’s corporate income tax exemption — further shrinking a levy Scott has vowed to eliminate over the next five years.

“With this plan, our unemployment rate will continue to go down,” Scott said. “Job creators will experience tax relief. Job seekers will have a better chance to get back to work. Florida is clearly going to be the state that everyone has to compete with.”

Among the more controversial measures is the unemployment compensation bill (CS/HB 7027).  Scott and the Republican-led Legislature last year reduced the number of weeks jobless workers could receive benefits, and this year, rename the system the “reemployment assistance program.”

The legislation also cuts the tax businesses pay to cover employees in the system, saving companies an estimated $800 million over the next three years. Currently, employers were on track to pay $171-per-worker this year. The bill cuts that to $121 for each employee.

The legislation also delays Florida’s efforts to rebuild its unemployment compensation trust fund by reducing the base wage subject to the tax, and increasing the debt repayment schedule. The delay was pushed by such business groups as the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Associated Industries of Florida and the National Federation of Independent Business, which said prospects of an $817 million unemployment compensation tax increase would be tough to absorb in a still-fragile economy.

Scot acknowledged Wednesday that he was initially reluctant to embrace what amounts to the third consecutive year of delayed payments. But Scott said he eventually saw a benefit in slowing the debt payments.

“It made sense,” Scott said. “We want employers to hire more people. We have to think like they do. They’ve got to keep their costs as low as they can.”

 

 

Business lobbies launch dueling gambling ads

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Split business groups have upped the ante in the fight over a proposed gambling bill that would allow three mega-casinos in Florida.

The competing lobbies launched a pair of dueling television ads lauding and condemning the measure (SB 710), which cleared its first hurdle in the Senate Regulated Industries Committee yesterday.

Associated Industries of Florida, which favors the measure, unleashed an ad featuring pundit Ben Stein touting the casinos as a job creator and economic panacea.

On the other side, the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s “Bad Bet for Florida” condemned the proposal, which its leaders say would harm the state’s existing businesses and chase tourists away.

Small business group to stay out of gambling fight

Friday, January 6th, 2012 by John Kennedy

One of the state’s more influential business lobbies said Friday it plans to mostly stay out of the Legislature’s fight over casino gambling, saying there are issues more important to business owners.

A poll of National Federation of Independent Business members showed that by a 49-40 percent margin they support allowing for as many as three “destination resort” casinos to be built, most likely in South Florida.

But NFIB executive director Bill Herrle said the organization will not play an active role on either side of the casino fight, which begins in earnest Monday at a Senate committee hearing on the subject.

“We’d need a much strong number than that to become advocates for the issue,” Herrle said.

But he added, “coming through the poll loud and clear is…there are many more economic issues that the Legislature needs to deal with.”

The state’s big business organizations are dividing over gambling. 

Among the largest lobbies, Associated Industries of Florida is promoting the proposed expansion, while the Florida Chamber of Commerce has joined with Walt Disney Co., in fighting the proposal.

Herrle, however, called gambling a “frivolity,” compared with other issues facing businesses. Easing workers’ compensation rates, reducing unemployment compensation taxes, lowering the risk of lawsuits and promoting a ballot measure to create a new, $50,000 tax break on equipment owned by businesses tops NFIB’s agenda heading into the session,  Herrle said.

The NFIB membership poll, which surveyed 400 business owners the last week of December, was conducted by TelOpinion Research, and has a roughly 4 percent margin-of-error. It showed Republican Gov. Rick Scott with a 69 percent approval rating, with only 21 percent of respondents disapproving of the governor’s first year in office.

Scott clearly does far better with business owners than among Floridians, generally. A survey last month by Public Policy Polling gave Scott a 26 percent approval rating, his worst showing yet.  But that came after a Quinnipiac University poll in the fall showed Scott with 37 percent approval — his highest mark as governor.

Feeney the new chief at AIF

Thursday, December 15th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Feeney

Former Florida House speaker and ex-congressman Tom Feeney was named Thursday as president and CEO of Associated Industries of Florida, the big business lobby.

Feeney succeeds Barney Bishop, who left the post last summer after seven years on the job. AIF is expected to play a central role in the upcoming legislative session as an advocate for casino gambling — pushing a major ‘destinations resorts’ package targed for Miami and two other, still-to-be-named areas of the state.

“Representative Feeney is highly respected, both as an elected official and as a Florida businessman.  He is a proven leader and will be a tremendous asset to the association. Having dedicated much of the last 20 years to public service, Tom knows what it takes to be effective in the halls of the Florida capitol and on Capitol Hill,” said Erika Alba, Chair of the AIF Board of Directors.

Feeney was the state House speaker from 2000-2002, when he was elected to Congress from Central Florida. Feeney twice won re-election, but fell out of  favor after becoming a crony of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who paid for the congressman to play golf  in Scotland, along with other perqs.

Feeney, who as a state legislator called himself a “happy warrior” for conservative ideas, usually drew high marks from business associations, anti-tax advocates and social conservatives. But running a losing campaign against Democrat Suzanne Kosmas in 2008, Feeney also ran a TV spot apologizing for his “bad judgment” in the Abramoff case.

Back in Florida, Feeney has been running a business consulting and lobbying company called Liberty Team, based in Orlando.

“With the 2012 Legislative Session just around the corner, I will be immediately rolling up my sleeves and getting to work on AIF’s top priorities,” Feeney said.

AIF poll shows Obama in tight battle for Florida, with GOP helped by Rubio

Friday, August 19th, 2011 by John Kennedy

A new poll for the business lobby Associated Industries of Florida shows President Obama deadlocked with former Republican Mitt Romney but holding a 5 percentage point lead in the Sunshine State over newly minted contender, Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

The survey, by McLaughlin & Associates, was conducted Aug. 8-9, with 600 likely general election voters questioned in Florida. It has a margin-of-error of plus-or-minus 4 percent.

Ryan Tyson, AIF’s vice-president of political operations, pointed out that the poll showed 44 percent of Floridians are willing to re-elect Obama. But, Tyson said, that level of support represents “a bad sign for the president.”

The poll included a narrower survey of  223 likely Republican primary voters about their preference for a nominee. Romney topped Perry by 27 percent to 16 percent, with Minnesota U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachman third, with 10 percent support.

Twenty-two percent of Republican primary voters were unsure of a favorite, the poll showed. Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor who is running his national campaign out of his wife’s ex-hometown, Orlando, doesn’t appear to be getting any in-state bump – drawing support from a mere 3 percent of Floridians surveyed.

Home cooking can help, though. Thirty-three percent of those responding said they were more likely to support a Republican for president, if Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio was on the ticket as a vice-presidential candidate.

AIF prepares for life after Barney

Thursday, August 18th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Associated Industries of Florida on Tuesday named insurance lobbyist Cecil Pearce as interim managing director while assigning former legislator Trey Traviesa to oversee the search committee for a new president and CEO.

The big business lobby has been holding its annual conference at The Breakers in Palm Beach. Among the items on the agenda has been finding a replacement for outgoing President and CEO Barney Bishop, who earlier this month announced he’d be leaving by year’s end.

After seven years on the job — which pays more than $400,000 annually — Bishop’s decision to leave was at least partially inspired by rising discontent among the organization’s board of directors.

Bishop leaving AIF, with some questioning the future of the big corporate lobby

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011 by John Kennedy

One of the Capitol’s most potent business lobbies Wednesday was in search of a new leader.

Associated Industries of Florida President and CEO Barney Bishop resigned after seven years as the public face of the organization, effective at the end of the year. Bishop had been under rising pressure from AIF’s board of directors and his resignation precedes a scheduled meeting next week where his future with the organization was expected to be discussed.

“There are other things in life — other passions — that I wanted to pursue,” Bishop said. “Now is that time. I have always been a serial entrepreneur, having previously started two companies. I may start a third company or join another.”

Erika Alba, a Jacksonville lobbyist who chairs AIF’s board of directors, said, “Barney has accomplished great things at AIF by rebuilding our membership and enhancing our effectiveness in the halls of the Florida Capitol.”

Bishop, who earned more than $400,000 in the AIF post, drew some heat from board members in July, months after he caused a stir by declaring that the “number one job of our board (is) to defeat Bill Nelson.” 

AIF’s board is not publicly disclosed by the organization. But a member acknowledged that Bishop’s comment may have got him crossways with some influential corporate backers of Florida’s senior U.S. senator, a Democrat.

But AIF, whose membership is eclipsed by the Florida Chamber of Commerce as a business lobby, has always had outsized personalities at its helm. Preceding Bishop was Jon Shebel, a six-foot-six-inch, ex-Marine who led the organization for more than 30 years until his 2006 retirement.

AIF is also renowned for its annual pre-legislative session cocktail party, which draws thousands to the organization’s Georgian-styled headquarters a block from the Governor’s Mansion. But in an age of business consolidation, some lobbyists have questioned how long the Chamber and AIF, which have many overlapping members, issues and candidate endorsements, can endure as separate entities.

No successor to Bishop has been named.

 

 

 

 

 

AIF pushes back, slowly, on Glades study

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011 by John Kennedy

One of Florida’s biggest business lobbies fired back Wednesday at the Everglades Foundation — disputing a four-month-old report by the environmental group which touted the economic benefits of restoring its namesake, fabled swamp.

“This report is nothing more than wishful thinking with no credible basis for the claims made by the foundation,” said Barney Bishop, president and CEO of AIF. “It is impossible to support the foundation’s assertion that the state will see $4 for every $1 invested in Everglades restoration. Further, it is impossible to even prove the economic benefits will ever cover the costs of the federal Everglades Restoration Plan.”

The foundation in October released a report by Mather Economics which said construction, hydrology and other environmental work tied to the Everglades project was creating jobs and would continue to add value to the South Florida region for years to come.

The foundation aired a similar theme Monday when it released results of a statewide poll showing most Floridians want Everglades restoration to continue, despite Gov. Rick Scott’s recommendation to reduce this year’s funding form $50 million to $17 million.

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Under pressure, GOP lawmakers drop two bills from special session

Monday, November 15th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Senate President-designate Mike Haridopolos and House Speaker-designate Dean Cannon dropped two suddenly contentious bills from their veto override list after objections from Gov.-elect Rick Scott and GOP donors.

One of the measures (HB 5611) would have taken power away from the governor by removing the Department of Management Services from the executive branch and putting the agency under the governor and Cabinet.

Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed the bill this summer saying it was an encroachment of executive powers. Lawmakers gave the bill received near-unanimous consent this spring.

Cannon and Haridopolos said as late as last week that it was not a power-grab by the legislature, but Haridopolos said Scott asked him this weekend to drop the override.

The other measure would have imposed new restrictions on doctors’ repackaging of prescriptions and would have lowered workers’ comp costs for the state and private companies.

But Automated Healthcare Solutions, a Miramar company headed by two South Florida doctors, supported the veto and spent $1 million on political committees headed by Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, and Cannon, R-Orlando, this summer.

Associated Industries of Florida, which supported the override and is also a major contributor to GOP campaigns, was one of the many business groups opposed to the legislation.

PSC won’t investigate Commish Argenziano

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009 by Dara Kam

The Public Service Commission’s inspector general won’t investigate Commissioner Nancy Argenziano, turning down a request from a business group backing Florida Power & Light Co.’s proposed $1.3 billion rate hike.

PSC Inspector General Steven Stolting told Associated Industries of Florida lawyer Tamela Perdue in a letter that he won’t investigate allegations of impropriety and impartiality revealed in BlackBerry PIN messages exchanged between Argenziano and former aide Larry Harris.

AIF should file an ethics complaint instead, Stolting advised.

Stolting’s office is restricted to “conduct oversight activities within the Commission,” he wrote.

Argenziano called AIF’s accusations “baseless” and “stupid.”

Read here about FPL’s connection to AIF’s press release demanding the investigation.

$1.3 billion FPL rate hike hearing goes on and on and on…

Monday, October 19th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Utility regulators have added an extra day to hear testimony in the $1.3 billion Florida Power & Light Co. rate hike case.

The base rate case is already into overtime and is running long past the original two weeks scheduled for early August, including several back-to-back 12-plus hour days of testimony.

The Public Service Commission was slated to finish the hearings on Wednesday and Thursday but this morning added Friday to the schedule.

Only four commissioners remain on the regulatory panel – former Commissioner Katrina McMurrian walked off the $133,000 a year job recently after Gov. Charlie Crist effectively fired her and Chairman Matthew Carter and appointed two new members who will take over on Jan. 1.

The Juno Beach-based utility’s rate case and Progress Energy Florida’s proposed $500 million base rate increase is shining an unwelcome spotlight on the agency that heretofore operated with little public interest.
(more…)

Utility reg chairman Carter: “Just leave us alone.”

Friday, October 16th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Public Service Commission Chairman Matthew Carter wants everyone to leave him and his colleagues alone so they can get on with their jobs and has no plans to ask for an internal investigation into charges of possible conflicts of interest or bias against Commissioner Nancy Argenziano, he said today.

“Right now I plan on getting through this hearing,” Carter told reporters during a break in a nuclear cost recovery meeting now ongoing.

The panel is scheduled to vote later today on requests from Florida Power & Light Co. to charge customers $63 million for what the utility’s expenses on nuclear power plant construction and a similar $236 million request from Progress Energy Florida.

Yesterday, Associated Industries of Florida President Barney Bishop asked that PSC’s inspector general look into thousands of BlackBerry messages exchanged between Argenziano and her aide Larry Williams over the past two years. Bishop accused Argenziano of potentially breaking laws barring ex parte communications between regulators and the utilities and of breaking her oath of office in unflattering comments aimed at her colleagues.

Read about FPL’s link with AIF’s press release here.

AIF’s demand is yet another distraction for the panel also poised to vote on about $2 billion in base rate increases – $1.3 billion sought by FPL and $500 million by Progress.

Ten days ago, the panel turned down a $1.6 billion request from FPL to build a natural gas pipeline through 14 counties.

State Attorney Willie Meggs said recently that his investigators have found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing at the agency. And several internal investigations resulted in similar findings.
(more…)

FPL linked to biz group’s demand for investigation of utility regulator Argenziano

Friday, October 16th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Associated Industries of Florida sent a press release demanding an investigation of Public Service Commissioner Nancy Argenziano to Florida Power & Light Co. for review yesterday, officials for both groups said.

A version of the release posted on The Sayfie Review shows the author of the release as “FPL_User” last saved by “Lisa Garcia” and the company as “Florida Power & Light.”

Lisa Garcia works for Ron Sachs Communications, the Tallahassee-based PR agency handling media for AIF on the issue.

AIF has joined FPL in support of its requested $1.3 billion base rate hike.

FPL is a member of the business backed association that refuses to reveal its membership or how much they pay to belong to the group.

The latest bit of drama in the FPL/Argenziano/PSC serial unfolds as the regulatory panel is scheduled to vote on the Juno Beach-based utility proposed $200 million rate increase to cover the costs of nuclear plants not yet built.

Sachs executive Alia Faraj, a former spokeswoman for Gov. Jeb Bush, said that her shop crafted the press release and gave it to FPL.
(more…)

Argenziano: AIF accusations “baseless” and “stupid”

Thursday, October 15th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Public Service Commissioner Nancy Argenziano dismissed a business-backed group’s demand for an investigation into her BlackBerry messages with her former aide as ridiculous and an attempt to intimidate her.

“It’s highly suspicious and rather stinky at this point,” Argenziano said.

Associated Industries of Florida President Barney Bishop today asked for a PSC inspector general investigation into thousands of messages exchanged between Argenziano and Larry Williams, a former aide whom Argenziano fired for giving his secret BlackBerry personal identification number to a Florida Power & Light Co. attorney.

(more…)

Lopez-Cantera joins AIF demand for utility reg investigation

Thursday, October 15th, 2009 by Dara Kam

State Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera joined the call for an internal investigation into BlackBerry messages sent by utility regulators.

Lopez-Cantera, R-Miami, serves on the Public Service Commission Nominating Council that selects who gets to serve on the regulatory panel. The governor makes the final picks.

“The PIN messages sent and received by Commissioner Nancy Argenziano and released by the PSC, coupled with their discussion of private emails so far unreleased and sent to non-public accounts in an attempt to evade public scrutiny, raise serious questions about Commissioner Argenziano’s impartiality and her ability to give a fair hearing to those appearing before her,” Lopez-Cantera wrote in a statement distributed to the media.

Earlier today, Associated Industries of Florida President Barney Bishop demanded the PSC’s inspector general check out Commissioner Nancy Argenziano’s BlackBerry PIN messages.

Bishop said Argenziano may have broken rules restricting communications between the regulators and the utilities and may have acted in a manner unbecoming a commissioner, a violation of her oath of office.

It’s no surprise that Lopez-Cantera has jumped on the Argeziano attack wagon.
(more…)

AIF takes attack against utility regulator to the Internet

Thursday, October 15th, 2009 by Dara Kam

AIF President Barney Bishop

AIF President Barney Bishop

Associated Industries of Florida president Barney Bishop took media matters into his own hands this morning after being fed up with a lack of attention to a utility regulator’s BlackBerry messages.

Bishop is demanding that the Public Service Commission inspector general conduct an investigation into messages exchanged by Commissioner Nancy Argenziano and her former aide Larry Williams that he said raises questions about her impartiality on an impending $1.3 billion Florida Power & Light Co. rate hike request.

AIF is supporting FPL, one of its business association members, in the rate case.

Bishop has put the thousands of messages – made available through public records requests by news agencies – on AIF’s website, but singled out Argenziano’s in a press conference this morning.

(more…)

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