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Business-backed Florida TaxWatch spots $107 million in budget turkeys

Thursday, May 16th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Florida TaxWatch, the business-backed non-profit that calls itself a “government watchdog,” has targeted $107 million “turkeys” they’re suggesting Gov. Rick Scott red-line as he ponders the state’s $74.5 billion spending plan.

The 107 projects add up to just one-half of one percent of the total budget, and about $60 million less than the group identified last year.

TaxWatch’s pinpointed $9,330,422 in Palm Beach County projects, including:
_ $450,000 of the $1 million lawmakers steered to Sheriff Ric Bradshaw’s violence intervention program;
_ $6.5 million for Palm Beach State College’s proposed Loxahatchee Groves campus;
_ $1,280,422 for Place of Hope at the Haven campus;
_ $100,000 for a nicotine addiction drug treatment program at Scripps Research Institute;
_ $1 million for Glades Area Street resurfacing in Belle Glade.

Two Treasure Coast projects also made TaxWatch’s hit list: $2 million for renovations at Indian River State College at the St. Lucie west campus and $200,000 for interior renovations of the Golden Gate building in Martin County.

The group also tagged a $14 million Gulf Coast State College project for a Panama City campus, something Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, wants built.

And Senate budget chief Joe Negron’s

TaxWatch identifies “turkeys” as items that were put into the budget at the last minute or without public vetting, which “circumvent lawfully established procedures,” or which steer money to special interests or local areas without going through the bidding process.

Scott has until May 24 to act on the budget. The Republican, who is running for reelection, slashed a whopping $181 million from the spending plan his first year on the job, and cut $63 million last year.

Teachers may not have to wait until 2014 for raises

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Teachers may not have to wait to get performance-based raises included in the state budget, according to Senate President Don Gaetz.

Gov. Rick Scott had wanted $2,500 across-the-board pay raises for teachers. House and Senate budget leaders this weekend agreed to $480 million for raises but with some limitations. Teachers graded “effective” will be eligible for a $2,500 pay raise, beginning in June 2014. Those rated “highly effective” would be eligible for $3,500.

Gaetz, R-Niceville, said Senate budget conforming bills due out later this week will make it clear that pay raises can be based on a “formative” teacher assessment instead of one based on student performance that won’t go into effect until 2014 and that would have held up the raises.

“In my experience as a school superintendent, we were able to evaluate students and evaluate effective teaching based not just on summative assessments at the end of a school year but based on formative assessments as we go along,” Gaetz, a former Okaloosa County superintendent, told reporters late Tuesday afternoon.

“As far as I’m concerned, teachers who earn their increases in pay ought to be able to get them as soon as school districts develop a plan to do so, collectively bargain that plan with their unions, submit the plan to the commissioner of education and have it confirmed,” he said.

Gaetz blamed Scott for the delay.

“We simply followed the governor’s proposal as to the timing of the pay increase…But I’m sure that the governor didn’t mean to unnecessarily delay the pay increase,” he said. “My hope is we ought to go forward and give Florida teachers the pay increase that they deserve especially because we have a pay increase…which is based on performance.”

Sheriff Bradshaw gets $1 million for violence prevention unit

Monday, April 29th, 2013 by Dara Kam

House and Senate budget leaders have awarded Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw $1 million for a new violence prevention unit aimed at preventing tragedies like Sandy Hook from occurring on his turf.

It’s just one-third of what Bradshaw had sought from the Legislature, but it’s a ten-fold bump from what was originally in the budget before House and Senate budget leaders finalized the state’s $74 billion budget this weekend.

Bradshaw wants to use the money for a 15-person “prevention intervention” unit made up of five deputies, five mental health professionals, five caseworkers and a 24-hour hotline where citizens can report neighbors, friends or family members they fear may harm themselves or others.

Bradshaw told lawmakers last month he hopes the hotline and the unit can stop potentially dangerous people before they act out.

Bradshaw’s proposal is a first-of-its-kind in the nation, and he hopes it will become a model for the rest of the state like his gang prevention and pill mill units.

It’s part of the magical budget conference process where House and Senate budget negotiators hash out their differences that items can get increased. In Bradshaw’s case, both the House and Senate had included $100,000 in the criminal justice budget. But over the weekend, Senate budget chief Joe Negron, R-Stuart, added another $450,000 in the Senate’s “supplemental budget” list and his House counterpart Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland, added the same amount.

The proposal still needs the blessing of Gov. Rick Scott, who has a line-item veto authority.

Budget chiefs sign off on state worker pay raises

Saturday, April 27th, 2013 by Dara Kam

After six years without a raise, state workers will have a little more money in their pockets under salary increases signed off on by House and Senate leaders Saturday evening.

Under the plan, state employees who earn less than $40,000 will get a $1,400-a-year pay hike. Those earning more than $40,000 will see $1,000 increases. The average state worker salary in 2010 was about $48,000, but that includes highly paid employees such as university presidents and agency heads.

Senate budget chief Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said the $1,400 raises, about 3 percent, will go to the bulk of the state’s nearly 100,000 workers, who he said earn less than $40,000 a year.

The deal also includes one-time bonuses based on merit and performance of between $500 and $600 for about 35 percent of state workers, Negron said.

“Both sides wanted to recognize the fact that our coworkers in state government not only here in the Capitol but all throughout Florida work hard every day. We appreciate their contribution to state government to our fellow citizens,” Negron said at a Saturday evening meeting with his House counterpart Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland.

State workers last got a pay bump in 2007 with $1,000 bonuses. Their last salary increase was a 3 percent hike the previous year.

The latest deal inched lawmakers closer towards closing out negotiations over the $74 billion budget before the session ends on Friday. Gov. Rick Scott’s spending plan had included merit-based raises only. And lawmakers still haven’t conceded to his demand for $2,500 across-the-board hikes for teachers.

Negron also did a turn-around on what was considered to be a settled item regarding license tags. Last night, the House and Senate agreed to put out to bid a contract for the tags which have been manufactured by PRIDE, a private company that uses inmates, for the past three decades. The House had wanted Prison Rehabilitative Industries and Diversified Enterprises Inc. to keep the contract.

But Saturday morning, Negron said the Senate changed its mind thanks to intense lobbying by some of his colleagues.

“One of the benefits of the conference process is it enables all of us to take a final look at each of these issues and get input from members of the conference both from those who are able to be here in person and also those who are able to talk to us by phone,” Negron said.

He said “a number of senators” called to say that PRIDE has “a long and distinguished track record of working with inmates helping them to gain employment skills, life skills and other things they will need when they complete their sentence to become productive members of society who can get and keep jobs.”

Negron didn’t elaborate about the availability of post-incarceration license tag-producing jobs.

Negron and McKeel were expected to meet late Saturday evening to discuss water and beach renourishment projects.

House health insurance vote deepens deadlock with Senate, Scott

Friday, April 26th, 2013 by John Kennedy

The House approved its state-financed plan Friday to extend health insurance to more than 100,000 Floridians, shunning billions of dollars available from the federal government for a more ambitious effort backed by Gov. Rick Scott and the state Senate.

The House 71-45 vote broke along party lines, with Democrats opposing the measure (CS/HB 7169) as unworkable and driven by ideological opposition to President Obama’s federal health care overhaul.

The House debated the measure for six hours over two days, with many Republicans ridiculing the promise of federal dollars as unreliable. But Democrats said the House plan was useless.

“This bill is wrapped in a beautiful box,” said Rep. Mia Jones, D-Jacksonville. “But when you open the box…it’s filled with empty promises.”

Still, Republicans said those criticizing the legislation were missing their best chance to help low-income Floridians. With the Legislature entering its final seven days, the House and Senate have deadlocked over relying on federal Medicaid dollars to cover uninsured.

“If you vote no on this bill, you are voting to deny Floridians the opportunity to buy health insurance,” said Rep. John Wood, R-Winter Haven.

The House proposal would extend health coverage to 115,000 parents, children and disabled Floridians living below the federal poverty line and cost state taxpayers $237 million annually.

Called Health Choices Plus, the House plan would cost low-income Floridians $300 a year, letting them choose from a variety of insurance options supplemented by $2,000 annually in taxpayer contributions.

A family of three earning less than $19,530 would qualify for coverage. But critics say out-of-pocket costs would prohibit many poor from taking part.

Unlike the Senate proposal, Health Choices Plus wouldn’t cover childless adults.

The Senate’s Healthy Florida would cover families with income up to 138 percent of the poverty level, or $26,300 for a family of three, along with single adults earning as much as $15,586. Like the House plan, it also would require those in the program to pay modest monthly fees and co-payments.

The Senate proposal positions Florida to receive $51 billion in federal aid over the next decade, while costing state taxpayers $3.5 billion. The House plan would cost Florida taxpayers more than $2 billion in the same period, while covering one-tenth of those without coverage.

Florida has almost 4 million uninsured residents, one of the largest populations in the nation.

The Senate plan has been praised by supporters for helping cover many low-income workers in the state’s tourism, health care and service industries who currently have no health insurance.

Scott this week began hinting to lawmakers that he may wield his veto pen heavily — killed coveted spending priorities, if they fail to embrace his legislative agenda.  Scott’s salesmanship on the health insurance plan, however, has been low-key.

But Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek, said the Republican governor should retaliate if he is sent the House health insurance proposal.

“Gov. Scott, this Legislature has failed you,” Waldman said Friday. “This House of Representatives has failed you.”

Waldman said, “You need to veto this budget and send us back here to do our job.”

State money lines up for Palm Beach County Sheriff Bradshaw’s ‘prevention intervention’

Thursday, March 28th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw convinced state lawmakers that his “prevention intervention” plan is worth funding, at least for now.

The Florida House has included $100,000 for Bradshaw’s plan to identify potentially dangerous people before they cause harm. The state Senate has allocated $50,000 as the two chambers get to work on Florida’s $74 billion budget.

In either case, it’s just a fraction of the $3 million Bradshaw is seeking for a 15-person unit that would include five deputies, five mental health professionals and five caseworkers. He also wants to set up a 24-hour hotline so neighbors and friends can report on those they suspect may be dangerous.

“I believe very strongly this program will become a statewide model for violence prevention and intervention, and I am honored our state leaders in Tallahassee share our vision for this innovative approach to prevent violent acts and protect our citizens,” Bradshaw said in a statement.

Senate Criminal Justice Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said he put the $50,000 in his budget as a “place holder” but he still has some questions about Bradshaw’s plan.

It’s too soon to know whether the money will actually end up in the budget, or if it will grow.

Senate prez, budget chief to House: This isn’t a ploy

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Senate President Mike Haridopolos and his budget chief JD Alexander aren’t playing games by refusing to sign off on a $200 million permanent cut to higher education, the pair told reporters this morning.

The blow-up over a fraction of the state’s approximately $70 billion spending plan could put lawmakers into overtime and a possible reprise of last year’s ugly session finale.

The final budget agreement must land on legislators’ desks by Tuesday because of a 72-hour “cooling off” period required before a vote.

Alexander said gave his House counterpart Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, an offer at 7 p.m. last night but had not heard back as of about noon.

Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, said the Senate had made a concession to the House by backing off on health and human services cuts and expects reciprocation on the higher ed issue.

“We are equal chambers. I have gone out of my way the last couple years, walking over to the House last year, working with the House to say ‘This isn’t the old, arrogant Senate,” Haridopolos a former House member, said, growing heated. “This is an accommodating Senate that is always working together with people. There’s always been this thing that the Senate is arrogant and so forth. We’re not going to do that. But we’re not going to sit here and disrespect the members of this chamber who worked hard on this budget and not have some give and take.”

In the otherwise fractured Senate, GOP leaders now have the backing on holding firm on the higher ed issue from both Democrats and rogue Republicans.

Alexander, R-Lake Wales, said the permanent cuts to colleges and universities would cause a “dramatic loss of programs”and force lay-offs in an education system already struggling to manage shrunken budgets.

Once that issue is resolved, Alexander said it would take “maybe 10 minutes” to clear up the rest of the budget. But time to get started to finish on time is getting “razor-thin,” he said.

“I’m fearful that they think this is a ploy. But it’s not a ploy,” Alexander said.

Haridopolos: ‘There’s still some work to do’ before budget talks can begin

Monday, February 27th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Differences about spending on road-building projects and whether to sweep state universities’ savings are the main sticking points in GOP House and Senate leaders’ budget talks, quietly going on before the conference committees begin to meet.

The House wants to take $120 million from the state transportation trust fund and put it into general revenue while the Senate is sweeping $400 million from state universities. And the Senate agreed to create a 12th state university by allowing the University of South Florida Polytechnic to split from its mother school, a priority of Senate budget chief JD Alexander.

Senate President Mike Haridopolos said those are the main kinks in the budget talks thus far.

Haridopolos and Alexander worked with their House counterparts throughout the weekend to try to get to a preliminary agreement, Alexander, R-Lake Wales, said on the floor this morning.

Haridopolos said he and Cannon did not meet in person, and that the talks are “moving us in the right direction” but gave no indication when the budget conference meetings would officially begin. House budget chairwoman Denise Grimsley told her chamber talks are progressing.

“There’s still some work to do,” Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, told reporters after the morning session. “I expect that to be ironed out hopefully today, maybe over the next few days, but we’re going to get it right…The Senate has some priorities. And we want to make sure those priorities are met.”

Talks are “moving at a good pace,” Haridopolos said, but opened the door for doubt when he added “I’m looking forward to our last couple weeks up here in Tallahassee and if we can get out here on time.”

When pressed, Haridopolos said: “I’d love to get out on time. But we’re going to do it right.”

Adding to the session complexity is what the Florida Supreme Court will do with redrawn legislative maps and another court case over the 3 percent state workers must now contribute to their pensions.

The Supreme Court has scheduled until the last day of session to rule on the maps, and a Tallahassee judge was supposed to issue a ruling in the pension case on Friday but delayed that.

Senate budget chief: Everglades money coming

Thursday, February 9th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Everglades lovers should probably chill out over the lack of funding for river of grass clean-up in the Senate budget.

Senate budget chief JD Alexander said this morning he’s “seriously considering” matching the House’s $35 million line-item for Everglades restoration. Gov. Rick Scott tucked away $40 million for the clean-up, and the money will almost certainly show up late in negotiations between the two chambers over their spending plans.

“We’re looking at it. We’re trying to figure out if we can afford it this year,” Alexander, R-Lake Wales, said, adding that he’s supported that and the Florida Forever land-buying program for his 14 years in the legislature soon coming to an end. “So it’s something I’d love to see us be able to do.
I would hope we’d be able to eventually get there…If we can do something it won’t be a lot, but we’d certainly like to provide some funding for preservation of Florida’s ecological needs.”

Alexander said he doesn’t foresee much trouble reconciling the two spending plans. The Senate’s proposal includes deeper health and human services, more spending on schools and road projects and dips into state universities’ reserves.

“There aren’t a lot of differences. It should be fairly easy to get to something we both can agree to,” Alexander said.

No money for Everglades clean-up in Senate budget – yet

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012 by Dara Kam

The Florida Senate hasn’t included any money for Everglades restoration in its spending plan, but the money may soon flow to the “River of Grass.”

Sen. Oscar Braynon, a Miami Democrat, questioned Senate General Government Appropriations Committee Chairman Alan Hays about the absence of the money during a meeting late Wednesday afternoon.

“It’s definitely in play,” Hays, R-Umatilla, assured him. “It’s an open issue.”

Gov. Rick Scott included $40 million for Everglades restoration in his budget proposal, and the House wants to spend $30 million on clean-up and another $5 million for northern Everglades projects.

The Senate’s plan prompted an outcry from Everglades Foundation CEO Kirk Fordham, who urged the Senate to go along with Scott’s $40 million allocation.

“We are disappointed that the Florida Senate has decided to risk the future of Florida’s water supply by refusing to provide any funding for Everglades restoration,” Fordham said in a press release. “This is not the time to delay the vital work that needs to be done. More than 7 million Floridians depend on the Everglades for fresh water. Any delay threatens the welfare of 1 in 3 Floridians and the economic well-being of our state.”

Senate prez Haridopolos: Time to put egos aside

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Senate President Mike Haridopolos, feeling a bit more upbeat about Florida’s economic outlook, said his chamber will likely pass its spending plan late next week, setting the stage for negotiations between the two chambers over the $69.2 billion spending plan.

“If we can find allocation agreements between the House and Senate, we’ll get done on time. If we don’t, we’ll be here for a while,” Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, said. “We’re not too far apart. This is about putting egos aside and doing what’s right and not playing games.”

Because session started two months early this year due to redistricting, Haridopolos originally floated the idea of holding off on the budget until state economists had more certainty about the state’s financial health.

But Haridopolos said today he’s feeling a little more confident in part because the state’s unemployment rate has continued to drop and is now at its lowest in three years.

“I think we all have to feel a little bit better about it with the unemployment rate where it is,” Haridopolos said, adding that the Senate budget provides “flexibility” by setting aside $1 billion in reserves along with money from the tobacco settlement and state universities’ reserves.

But Haridopolos remained cautious.

“Anyone who says that they’re confident about the economy I think is living in a dream world. But we’re all encouraged that the stock market’s up. We’re all encouraged that the unemployment rate has dipped a bit. But we still have a heck of a long way to go,” he said.

Haridopolos fast-tracks privatization bills

Thursday, January 19th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Senate President Mike Haridopolos has fast-tracked two privatization bills, referring them to a single committee before they head to the floor for a full vote.

Haridopolos sent the bills to the Rules Committee that yesterday agreed to allow the measures to get a full vetting.

One of the measures (SB 2038) resurrects a prison privatization plan shot down by a Tallahassee judge last year because of the manner in which lawmakers ordered the outsourcing of the 18-county region of southern Florida’s corrections operations.

The other proposal (SB 2036) deals with Tallahassee Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford’s ruling in the prison privatization case. Under that bill, lawmakers would be able to privatize any state functions by including the outsourcing in the budget state and without having public input until after the deals are done.

Although the privatization effort was not heard in any committees last year, the budget committee debated the proposal after it appeared one of the spending bills, Thrasher pointed out. He said he’s scheduled his next meeting, when the bills will be heard, to run for nearly four hours.

“It will get a full hearing,” Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, said. “We will take those bills up first and we will take whatever time is necessary.”

Lawmakers have not, however, before taken time to debate the measure giving them the ability to include privatization directly in the budget.

“Because we hadn’t had the court decision. Now we’ve got the court decision,” Thrasher said.

Scott enlists aid of public school chiefs to get his budget passed

Wednesday, December 14th, 2011 by Dara Kam

After slashing education spending by $1.3 billion earlier this year, Gov. Rick Scott is now asking school superintendents to help get his $1 billion budget boost for public schools passed. And he reiterated his vow to veto any budget that “does not significantly increase state funding for education” in a letter to school superintendents sent today.

Scott included the $1 billion education increase in his $66.4 billion election-year budget proposal after hearing from Floridians that they want more spent on schools, he said. Scott also said that education is the cornerstone of his plan to bring more jobs to the state.

“If you support the budget I am proposing, please let your legislators know. Now that I have presented my budget recommendations, it’s their turn to listen, just as I have done. Please join me in advocating for the children of our state and Florida’s economic future,” Scott wrote.

More than 30,000 new students will enroll in Florida public schools, requiring an additional $200 million over current spending, Scott wrote. And school districts are facing a $220 million reduction in ad valorem taxes, meaning lawmakers will have to pump nearly $500 million more into education to break even.

His plan would bring average per-pupil spending in Florida to $6,372, a $142 increase over the current year but still well below the $7,126 high in 2008.

“As I have listened to the challenges described by teachers, parents and administrators during the past few months, all have urged me to increase the state’s commitment to education. That is my plan, and I ask for your help in making that plan a reality for Florida’s students,” Scott wrote.

The governor once again threw down the gauntlet to lawmakers, many of whom have balked at his plan to beef up education spending by squeezing $2 billion out of Medicaid payments to hospitals.

“Every educator, student, parent and business leader should know: I will not sign a budget from the Legislature that does not significantly increase state funding for education,” Scott wrote.

Scott agrees with judge: Lawmakers should keep policy out of the budget

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Although he supports prison privatization and is committed to a broad expansion of it in Florida, Gov. Rick Scott said he disapproves of the legislature’s use of the state budget to establish policy – exactly how lawmakers ordered the privatization this spring.

“I should have the power to veto things that are major policy changes. I got elected as governor to mamke decisions on behalf of all the citizens of the state and to watch how all the money was spent. I ran a whole campaign on accountability,” Scott told reporters after Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting.

Scott appeared to be siding with a Tallahassee judge who ruled last week that the legilsature’s inclusion of the prison privatization effort in the state budget was unconstitutional.

In her ruling against Scott’s administration last week, Tallahassee Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford wrote that, if the legislature wanted to expand the prison privatization, it “must do so by general law, rather than ‘using the hidden recesses of the General Appropriations Act.’”

Scott said he hasn’t decided yet whether to appeal Fulford’s ruling, but was confident the 18-county region privatization of 29 prisons ordered by lawmakers would eventually take place.

“We’re going to do prison privatization in the state as long as we save money. I believe that we’re going to save a lot of money,” he said. During his campaign for governor, Scott said he wanted to slash prison spending by $1 billion – about half of DOC’s total budget.

Still, Scott said he’d like it if lawmakers restrict the budget to spending matters.

“That would be nice,” he said.

Progressives protest Rick Scott in St. Pete

Friday, July 1st, 2011 by Dara Kam

Chanting “Pink Slip Rick,” dozens of left-leaning activists staged a protest as Gov. Rick Scott addressed a gathering of the media in St. Petersburg.

Florida Watch Action, Progress Florida and Awake the State organized the protest to coincide with Scott’s speech and more than a hundred new laws went into effect today.

As of today, teachers, firemen, police officers and other state workers will have to contribute 3 percent of their salaries to their pensions. And more than 4,500 state workers will lose their jobs under the new $69.1 billion budget that also goes into effect today. Lawmakers also slashed education spending, all part of an effort to fill a $3.62 billion budget gap.

Wearing a “Governor Scott Enemy of the State” T-shirt, Madeira Beach teacher Mary Niemeyer held a sign decrying the state’s education cuts. “Our future is at stake,” she said.

Middle school teacher Steve Adams and his wife Mary drove from Lakeland to participate in the protest across the street from the waterfront Renaissance Vinoy Hotel where the Florida Press Association and the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors held their annual meeting.

“I object to the way teachers and public employees have been the ones forced to pay for Florida’s deficit,” Adams, 67, said.

While the protest may have little – if any – impact on Scott, Adams, who said he did not vote for the first-term governor, said it and similar events have worked.

“The tea party made a difference and this is how they started. So we should take a lesson,” Adams said.

Watch Scott whack the budget live

Thursday, May 26th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott‘s got the $69.7 billion budget to sign today, but the state’s spending plan will likely be considerably leaner after the first-year governor is done.

Scott is expected to make history by red-lining in excess of Gov. Charlie Crist‘s record-setting $459.2 million in vetoes in 2007, also the governor’s first year as state CEO.

Scott’s turned the budget signing ceremony into a public spectacle in The Villages, a favorite stumping ground for the conservative Republican, where he’ll be surrounded by tea party supporters. Previous governors have held more subdued signing events inside the Capitol.

Those who can’t make it to Central Florida can watch Scott wield his veto pen via the internet.

Log onto http://www.rickscottforflorida.com/livestream/ shortly before 1 p.m. to join in.

Negron blasts TaxWatch ‘hackneyed’ turkey list

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Sen. Joe Negron slammed Florida TaxWatch’s annual budget “turkey” list, calling it a “media gimmick” based on the “mistaken rationale that budget decisions originating from the executive branch come clothed with a presumption of correctness while ideas from the elected representatives of the people should be viewed with suspicion.”

TaxWatch released the list to help Gov. Rick Scott with his veto pen. Scott is expected to sign the budget and red-line items of his choice Thursday afternoon.

Negron, a Stuart Republican who chairs the Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Committee and was once the House’s budget chief, called out TaxWatch staff for the manner in which they arrived at $203 million in pork.

TaxWatch’s turkey criteria include items – more than half the total turkey list – that landed in the budget during or after conferences where budget negotiators from the House and Senate resolve differences between their two spending plans. Many of the items that eventually wound their way into the budget that way had never previously been discussed or proposed by either chamber.

TaxWatch’s “added in conference” category is “a flimsy basis to disparage a budget expenditure,” Negron said in a statement.

“The conference process is a meaningful and significant component of the appropriations enterprise. Conference provides an open and transparent opportunity for the House and Senate to negotiate an agreed upon budget and to take a concluding look at the Appropriations Act to determine final priorities. Many proposed funding items are reduced or eliminated during this review process,” he wrote.

TaxWatch finds $203 million in pork in budget

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Florida TaxWatch, the business-backed government spending watchdog, spotted $203 million in “turkeys” in the $69.7 billion budget awaiting Gov. Rick Scott’s signature – and line-item vetoes.

That’s the most pork in the budget the group, which conducts the exercise annually, found since 2007, according to a press release.

Unfortunately for Palm Beach County, included in the pork projects is $7.3 million for a Wellington-area campus of Palm Beach State College. Gov. Charlie Crist last year vetoed $19 million – the total cost of the project – for the new campus.

Also on the list: $1.4 million for the Glades Senior Community Center. The county wants to convert the existing senior center to a homeless resource center.

Both projects are Palm Beach County priorities.

Here’s the full list.

Scott puts TX guv Perry on notice

Thursday, May 19th, 2011 by Dara Kam

No. 1

Being No. 3 isn’t good enough for Gov. Rick Scott. He wants to be the top dog.

No. 3

Chief Executive magazine recently ranked Florida the third best in the nation for doing business, behind second-place winner North Carolina and top-ranked Texas. The survey of CEOs has placed the Lone Star state above all others for the seventh year in a row, prompting a challenge from Scott to Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Scott frequently tips his hat to Perry and looks to reforms in his state as models for what Florida should do.

Scott today wrote Perry a letter telling him to watch his back.

“Not only have you achieved this top ranking this year, you have achieved it seven years in a row. Like everything else Texas does, you have done it in a BIG way,” Scott wrote. “However, I must tell you: Seven years is long enough.”

Scott neglects to mention that among the big things Texas has is a budget deficit of as much as $27 billion – more than seven times greater than the $3.6 billion spending gap Florida lawmakers struggled to close this year. The Texas legislature is facing a potential special session to deal with their budget mess.

Back in the Sunshine State, however, Florida is “eliminating job killing regulation, reducing the size and cost of government, and making sure we have the best educated workforce,” Scott boasts.

“We have no personal income tax and are phasing out the business tax, starting with eliminating it entirely for half the business that paid it. Florida is definitely on the road to be number one. Thank you for giving us the motivation we needed.”

Scott upbeat after shuttle launch

Monday, May 16th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott remained upbeat on FoxNews this morning despite the final launch of the Endeavor shuttle, taking with it 7,500 jobs in the Space Coast.

Scott said the imminent shrinking of the Kennedy Space Center presents an opening for his “seven steps to 700,000 jobs” plan.

“We’ve got a great opportunity because of all the talent in that part of the state. There’s a lot of defense manufacturers that we’re talking to. There’s companies all over the world that are talking about coming to Florida, in particular the Space Coast because of the talent of all the employees,” he said.

The state’s cheerleader-in-chief took ownership of the nearly $70 billion budget lawmakers finalized last weekend and kept on message despite repeatedly dour reminders of the state’s high unemployment rate and foreclosures among the highest in the nation.

“I just finished the session where we reduced our taxes, our business taxes, our property taxes, the size of government.
We’re making this the place where people want to do business. And we’re going to get that part of the state back to work,” Scott said from Orlando. We’re coming back. Our tourism business is up. Our ag business is doing very well. We’ve got the shipping coming from the extension of the Panama Canal…Our state is getting back to work. And my plan – seven steps to 700,000 jobs – is getting implemented through our budget, through our session, so we’re headed in the right direction.”

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