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Florida GI Bill, with tuition breaks for vets, sent to Scott

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014 by John Kennedy

With senators saying they hoped it gives Florida prominence among military veterans, the state Senate approved Tuesday a new Florida GI Bill, which makes veterans eligible for in-state tuition and also provide scholarships for members of the state’s National Guard.

Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, an Army veteran who won a Bronze Star in Vietnam, said the legislation (CS/HB 7015) will help draw military retirees and keep freshly discharged veterans to Florida, bringing fresh skills to the state economy.

“We want to encourage them to make Florida their home over any other state,” Richter said.

Sen. Thad Altman, R-Merritt Island, said, “Let’s all continue…to meet the needs of those who serve our freedom.”

The legislation was unanimously approved last week in the House. The Senate followed suit Tuesday on a 38-0 vote, sending the measure to Gov. Rick Scott  who is expected to sign it into law.

The legislation carries a $21.7 million price tag for the coming year. Most of the cost, $12.5 million, is for renovating armories around the state. The remaining $7.5 million is for the state’s Department of Environmental Protection to acquire land needed near military bases around the state to prevent the encroachment of other businesses or industry.

The DEP dollars are largely aimed at maintaining Florida’s place as a prime state for military installations, supporters of the bill said.

The in-state tuition breaks granted veterans is expected to cost taxpayers $11.7 million in 2013-14.

More than 1.5 million veterans live in Florida, including 61,000 active duty personnel, state officials said. The Florida National Guard has 12,000 active members.

Florida’s military presence has a $73 billion annual economic impact, accounting for some 758,000 jobs and represents the third largest piece of the state’s economy, following agriculture and tourism, officials said.

 

Immigration tops Rick Scott’s legislative priority list

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Immigration is at the top of Gov. Rick Scott’s legislative priorities when lawmakers reconvene in January, the first-term governor told Northwest Florida conservative radio talk show host Burnie Thompson today.

Lawmakers failed to reach agreement on any immigration proposals during the session that ended in May.

“We should have done an immigration bill. The federal government should be securing our borders. They should have a logical, national immigration policy, a good work visa program policy. But if people are in our state illegally we should be able to ask them if they’re legal or not if they’re doing something wrong and violating our laws. That’s one thing we ought to be doing,” Scott told Thompson, a talk show host on Panama City Beach’s WYOO 101.1 FM.

Other Scott priorities include property and auto insurance reform and restricting how school districts spend money, he said.

Scott, who spends part of his days reaching out to corporate leaders and encouraging them to set up shop in the Sunshine State, challenged all Floridians to follow his lead. Scott has pledged to create 700,000 in seven years.

“I want everybody in this state to call somebody and say, ‘Look why don’t you move your company here?’ Any feelers they get give my office a call because I’ll make the phone call with them to make it happen. We have 19 million people in our state. If all of us get active on economic development, everybody in this state will have an opportunity for a job,” he said.

Read what Scott said about insurance and education after the jump.
(more…)

Florida’s unemployment rate dropping like the nation’s: Scott takes credit

Friday, April 15th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Florida’s unemployment rate dropped last month by its largest margin in more than eight years, and Gov. Rick Scott was ready Friday to take plenty of credit for the improving economy.

Florida’s March rate stands at 11.1 percent — down from 11.5 percent the month before. Scott also pointed out, “While that number is still too high, that is the lowest unemployment rate we’ve seen in more than a year. And it represents a nearly one percent decrease since I’ve become governor.”

“We’re seeing an encouraging trend…We’re clearly heading in the right direction. But we’ve got a long way to go,” Scott said.

He also used the findings to again push the Legislature to embrace his call for cutting state regulations, reducing the corporate income tax and consolidating job development agencies — and their millions of incentive dollars –under him.

Scott acknowledged that the national unemployment rate — at 8.8 percent, still well below Florida’s — had declined by only one-tenth of one percent since February.

But Scott failed to point out — as state economist Rebecca Rust did after Scott exited his news conference without taking any questions — that the national unemployment rate also has dropped by 1 percent over the past four months.

That basically mirrors Florida’s drop.

Some 43,800 jobs have been added in Florida since Scott took office in January. But have Scott’s policies helped spark that economy?

“We can’t say,” Rust conceded.

Rooney wants a mulligan

Friday, March 11th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Palm Beach Gardens Rep. Pat Rooney said Friday he’s dropping his House sponsorship of legislation that would have required at least five state parks to have Jack Nicklaus-designed golf courses.

Florida already has more than 1,000 golf courses –tops in the nation. And Rooney, a Republican, acknowledged he’s seeking a do-over after drawing heat from critics of the legislation.

Many say the proposal would prove a waste of dwindling state cash. Environmentalists filled websites and chatboards saying golf courses don’t belong in state parks.

“Floridians spoke very clearly over the past several days on this proposal and they are the reason I’m in office,” Rooney said. “I appreciate their concerns and hope this decision allays some of their fears.”

Rooney had insisted the bill was designed to promote tourism. It emerged from discussions between Rooney, Nicklaus, a longtime Palm Beach County resident, and Gov. Rick Scott.

 The only park specified in the bill to receive a Nicklaus golf course was Jonathan Dickinson State Park, not far from the golfer’s North Palm Beach home.

Would ‘payola’ go to Jobs Commish?

Friday, March 11th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Senators got their first look Friday at a massive overhaul of the state’s economic development efforts — a move that consolidates a handful of agencies and industry recruiters under one person: the Commissioner of Jobs.

“There will be differences of opinion on many of these issues,” conceded Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, whose budget subcommittee held a short workshop on the bill.

The legislation ropes in some of what Gov. Rick Scott wants — a jobs czar that reports directly to him. But senators balked at some of the governor’s wishes, now contained in the bill, but seemingly doomed.

Scott wants the new Commish to have a public salary that could be enhanced by contributions from private sector companies.

Senators wheeled on that one, noting that sets up a scheme where taxpayers’  economic incentive dollars, controlled by the Commish, could be given to the companies that help pay what the bill calls, his “bonuses.”

“There’s a word that describes this, and I can only think of ‘payola,’ like they had in the record industry,” said Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood.

House votes party line on jobless rewrite

Thursday, March 10th, 2011 by John Kennedy

The House approved overhauling the state’s unemployment compensation system, cutting benefits and reducing tax rates in a strict, party-line vote.

The 81-38 vote in the Republican-dominated House was designed as a first-week-of-the-session message that the GOP is looking to help businesses rebound — possibly at the expense of Florida’s jobless.

The move came even as the state’s Agency for Workforce Innovation reported Thursday that the state’s unemployment rate hit 11.9 percent in January, down slightly from December’s 12 percent level. The state lost 13,000 jobs in January, AWI said.

But Rep. Doug Holder, R-Sarasota, said the House bill (HB 7005) will help turnaround what he called a “capsized economy.”

“It sends a resounding message to the business community: Florida is the place to be,” Holder said.

But Democrats, who unanimously opposed the measure, said the measure would hurt out-of-work Floridians.

“I’m pro-business. But I’m also pro-people,” said Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee. (more…)

House takes aim at jobless

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011 by John Kennedy

The Republican-dominated House beat back Democratic attempts at weakening a tough new rewrite of Florida’s unemployment compensation laws.

The legislation (CS/HB 7005) cuts eligibility for Florida’s jobless and makes it tougher to claim benefits.

“It’s designed to balance the needs of the employer and the unemployed,” said Rep. Doug Holder, R-Sarasota, whose Economic Development and Tourism subcommittee crafted the bill.

But Democrats said the measure effectively is a handout to businesses that could hurt the economy by barring out-of-work Floridians from drawing needed cash, and might even spike the state’s already sky-high foreclosure rate.

“I’d suggest we strike the balance in favor of Floridians and not in favor of out-of-state corporations,” said Rep. Scott Randolph, D-Orlando.

(more…)

Springtime for Rick Scott

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott has sent tremors through Tallahassee with his plans for eliminating almost 8,700 state jobs, trimming employee benefits and cutting spending.

But the capital city is trying to make nice. Organizers have selected Scott as the first sitting governor to serve as the grand marshal of the annual Springtime Tallahassee festival on April 2.

“The decision was not politically motivated at all,” Richard Musgrove, Springtime’s president, told the Tallahassee Democrat today.”

Musgrove said Scott’s selection was in keeping with the 43rd annual event’s earlier themes. Springtime’s first parade was dubbed the “parade of governors,” Musgrove noted, although Scott will be the first Florida chief executive actually at the head of the line.

Scott gives DOT an attaboy

Monday, March 7th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott continued his tour of state agencies Monday — stopping at the Florida Department of Transportation and seeming to give a couple hundred tense employees some reason to believe they’ll keep their jobs a while longer.

Scott praised the performance and efficiency of DOT employees. And he said that during his campaign last fall, no voters complained about the agency, unlike — he named names — ridiculing the Department of Community Affairs.

“You’re helping to make sure that this state is going to be the jobs creator over the next 20 to 30 years,” Scott told the crowd gathered inside the agency’s auditorium.

The new boss acknowledged that if anyone was “a high-speed rail enthusiast, I’m not your best friend.” And he gave advocates of Central Florida’s SunRail commuter train little reason to gain confidence.

“That’s one project I’m looking at,” Scott said.

He only had to field two questions from DOT employees. But one came from Florida Democratic Party activist Jon Ausman, also a DOT staffer, who quizzed the Republican governor about how cutting benefits and reducing state agency payrolls helps Florida’s economy.

“We have to make sure we treat taxpayers and government workers fairly. Both,” Scott said.

Rallies from left to right mark session opening

Friday, March 4th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Organizers across the political spectrum Friday began taking aim at the state Capitol for next week’s opening of the two-month legislative session.

The Facebook-drive Awake The State protest has about 30 rallies planned Tuesday from Key West to Pensacola — with critics of Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican-led Legislature’s budget-cutting the focus.

 Teachers, government employees, cops and firefighters form the core of those pushing back against proposed pension overhauls, but expected reductions in schools and health-care programs are drawing more opponents, said Damien Filer of Progress Florida.

“I’ve heard from a lot of people who say, `this is going to be my first rally of any kind,’” Filer said. “I’ll be interested to see what kind of momentum remains among people after next week.”

A West Palm Beach rally is planned from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., Tuesday, in the 100 block of Clematis Street.

Tea Party activists expect to counter-punch, with several thousand Scott supporters expected in Tallahassee. (more…)

Cannon gets to work — jobless watch out!

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011 by John Kennedy

In the ‘let’s get to work’ House, Speaker Dean Cannon told lawmakers in a memo Thursday that one of the first bills slated for action next week will dramatically change the playing field for Florida’s jobless.

Cannon, R-Winter Park, said the House’s rewrite of state unemployment compensation laws will be poised for final approval the opening week of the session.

CS/HB 7005 would cut the maximum weeks of state benefits from 26 to 20, and make it easier for employers to challenge those seeking unemployment benefits.

Business organizations have been clamoring for the changes — warning that a sharp hike in the unemployment tax rate paid by employers will lead to more job losses. Florida has 1.1 million people out-of-work, almost 12 percent of the population.

The legislation poised for House action also ties the length of benefits to the state unemployment rate. Benefits would last 20 weeks if the unemployment rate is 9 percent or higher, but would fall to as low as 12 weeks as the economy improves. (more…)

Pension fund gets some love from analysts

Monday, February 28th, 2011 by John Kennedy

The state’s pension fund has consistently met its investment goals – fairly average compared to other states– but also is “financially sound,”  a report released Monday shows.

The state’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA) gave the $114 billion Florida Retirement System generally satisfactory marks in its review of the fund, which covers almost 1 million government workers and retirees. 

 The pension fund is a big target for lawmakers this spring, with Gov. Rick Scott proposing that employees contribute 5 percent of their paychecks to help finance their retirement benefits — saving the state $1.3 billion.

 The money could help lawmakers patch a budget shortfall of at least $3.6 billion. But it also could help Scott make good on his campaign promise to reduce property taxes by $1.4 billion, something the GOP governor says he’ll do over the next two years.

As part of his push for changing the fund, Scott warns that the pension fund is on shaky financial footing.

 OPPAGA disputes that. Anaysts acknowledge  the FRS has a so-called funding ratio of 87.9 percent and currently does not have ”sufficient assets to pay current and future expected benefits for participants and their beneficiaries.”

But, OPPAGA points out, “experts generally consider public pension plans with funding ratios at or above 80 percent to be fiscally sound.”  

 

Survey: Floridians want dollars for Everglades

Monday, February 28th, 2011 by John Kennedy

With environmental spending under fire in Tallahassee and Washington, a survey Monday showed two-thirds of Floridians support Everglades restoration, with a majority also opposed to reducing dollars flowing to the effort.

The Everglades Foundation released the survey, saying it supports the organization’s push for state lawmakers to steer clear of Gov. Rick Scott’s proposal to reduce restoration funding from $50 million to $17 million. Scott also wants water managers, including the South Florida Water Management District, to reduce property taxes by 25 percent, which environmentalists say could further drain dollars needed for Everglades work.

“Our message to the governor is that he can partner with the conservation community to create jobs and protect our water supply at the same time,” said Kirk Fordham, the foundation’s chief executive officer. “If we want to grow that supply of fresh water, the only solution out there is Everglades restoration.”

President Obama’s budget blueprint increases spending on restoration. But the Republican-led U.S. House has proposed sharp cuts in environmental programs and funding for the Army Corps of Engineers, which is responsible for much of the Everglades work.

The Everglades survey was conducted by the Tarrance Group, which does polling for Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, other Republican senators, and GOP members of the Florida congressional delegation.

The survey showed that 84 percent of voters rank maintaining Florida’s fresh water drinking supply as “very important.”  Seventy-nine percent agreed that to attract new business and industries to the state, access to a stable water supply is necessary.

The survey of 607 voters was taken Feb. 13-14. It has a 4.1 percent margin-of-error.

State economists seeing some blue skies

Monday, February 28th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Florida economists have released new data showing individual income rebounded slightly last year after enduring a rare, recession-driven drop of almost 2.5 percent in 2009.

Per-capita income hit $38,929 in 2010 — up .55 percent from a year earlier, when the $38,715 earned by the average Floridian represented the first income decline in at least 20 years.

 The state’s Economic and Demographic Research Office, in a new report also forecast that individual income levels will top $40,000 this year for the first time — a 3.8 percent rise that would be the sharpest spike in four years.

The bullish EDR economists also apparently sees nothing but blue skies in the decade ahead, with annual income gains ranging from 2.7 percent to 4.7 percent through 2020. 

Republican Gov. Rick Scott won election over Democrat Alex Sink last fall by running on a campaign theme of creating jobs. And as the state’s chief executive, Scott has proposed overhauling state agencies and cutting regulations to make Florida more business friendly.

Meanwhile, state analysts also have unveiled findings from a new survey of economic incentives offered by cities and counties to businesses looking to re-locate or expand. The average giveaway by the 37 counties that responded to the state survey: $279,611 per-business, in tax incentives, fee-reductions, below-market leases, grants or loans.

Palm Beach County reported $2.1 billion in incentives — well below the $32 billion claimed by state-leading Orange County — but generally in line with other South Florida counties.  Miami-Dade County reported $3.2 billion in business incentives, and Broward County just under $1 billion in business handouts.

Scott turns into Mr. Sunshine

Monday, February 28th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott will lead a two-day tour of  ‘Sunshine Ambassadors,’ barnstorming across five cities in two days this week to prod tourists toward visiting Florida.

Scott, a relatively recent transplant to Florida, himself, regularly punctuates his speeches with praise for the state’s weather. But beginning in Orlando on Tuesday, Scott will lead an entourage of Visit Florida officials touting Florida’s vacation potential during planned stops in Washington, D.C., New York, Philadelphia and Chicago.

“We know that every 85 visitors create one Florida job, so I urge all Floridians to join with me in supporting this effort to increase jobs and grow the state’s economy,” Scott said Monday.

During the two-day tour, the Floridians will be giving away prizes and vacation packages to the state during promotional events. The trip’s last stop will be at Chicago’s Midway Airport, where Scott will board a charter flight with 120 prize winners en route to a four-day stay in Orlando.

Scott may seem an unlikely sunshine ambassador these days in his home state.

 His $65.9 billion budget proposal cuts $4.6 billion in state spending and 8,681 jobs. Scott’s rejection of $2.4 billion in federal money for high-speed rail also prompted Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich of Weston to claim that instead of being on path to create 700,000 new jobs, the new Republican governor was imposing more damage on Florida’s economy in his first weeks in office.

Feds send economic development teams to Florida to help oil spill recovery

Monday, August 16th, 2010 by Dara Kam

President Barack Obama’s administration has dispatched two teams to Florida to help the state recovery from the economic downturn caused by BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Gary Locke today announced he is spending $600,000 on 21 economic development teams to the Gulf Coast states, including Florida, impacted by the spill.

The teams, made up of business leaders, government officials and economists, will “conduct in-depth analyses of critical issues” faced by communities like those in the Pensacola region that have seen tourism drop by up to 40 percent in the aftermath of the spill.

The teams will offer recommendations for how to help revive the economy, according to a press release issued by the White House.

Information about where the Florida teams will be located was not available.

One University of Central Florida economist estimated that the oil spill may cost Florida up to $22 billion in lost tourism revenues.

At an economic roundtable in Metairie, La., Locke announced $31.3 million total in coastal restoration and economic development grants for Louisiana and the Gulf Coast.

“These grants are another sign of this administration’s commitment to help the Gulf Coast’s economy and environment recover in the wake of the BP oil spill,” Locke said.

Locke also announced a $30.7 million restoration grant to the Louisiana Office of Coastal Protection and Restoration by the Department of Commerce’s NOAA to fund the restoration of a critical barrier headland near Port Fourchon, La.

Crist to BP: I want your claims data. Now.

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist wants BP officials to hand over every claims file processed or submitted to the oil giant for reparations from economic losses caused by the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

Crist today sent BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles, who visited Pensacola earlier today, a letter demanding the that BP cooperate with his legal and budget staff and the Department of Revenue “to provide us the data we need to evaluate the claims process and measure the economic impact of the losses to our state as a whole.”

Crist wants “a complete electronic file of every business, individual and government claim throughout Florida, to be updated weekly, with indications whether the claim has been approved, denied, or is still pending a decision.”

One economist estimates the oil disaster could cost Florida $11 billion in lost revenues and nearly 200,000 jobs.

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