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Jobs report promising, Scott says, but plenty of work ahead

Friday, November 18th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott, in Jacksonville for a series of meetings, praised today’s jobs report, saying the work he and state lawmakers did earlier this year is helping to turn the state around.

The news is especially welcome as the holiday season approaches, Scott told reporters at The Jacksonville Landing overlooking the St. Johns River.

“With the holiday season starting, it’s nice to have some encouraging news. Our unemployment is continuing to drop,” Scott said.

Florida’s unemployment rate dropped slightly last month, down .3 from 10.6 percent in September to 10.3 percent and down from 12 percent in January. Palm Beach County’s jobless rate is the lowest in two years. Scott said the state has added 106,900 jobs since he took office this year.

“So it’s encouraging. It’s good it’s happening right now. We have to keep after it. We still have 900,000 people out of work but we’re headed in the right direction,” said Scott, whose pledge to bring 700,000 jobs to Florida in seven years was a cornerstone of his campaign for governor.

Floridians are more confident because the governor and legislature lowered taxes for small businesses and because Scott’s administration is more business-friendly, the governor said.

“The attitude has really changed. They know we’re going to balance their budget without raising taxes or borrowing more money. This is the first year in 20 years we didn’t borrow more money. This is the first year we paid down the debt in 20 years. We’ve been increasing the debt in this state by $1 billion a year for 20 years,” Scott said.

“I think they feel good that we’ve started the process of reducing the business tax for smaller companies. And the property tax for homeowners and for businesses. I think the other thing is the individuals I’ve appointed to these agencies…They have an attitude that they’re going to help business people solve problems if they can. If they can’t, they can’t. and they’re going to tell them quickly. Because what a business person wants, they want certainty. If you’re not going to approve something, don’t approve it. But say it up front. Don’t say it in two years or five years,” the former health care executive said.

As he often does when speaking of Florida’s job creation success, Scott mentioned his competitor-in-chief, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who apparently one-upped the Sunshine State again.

Although Florida created more jobs than Texas last month, the Lone Star State’s corporate climate was ranked top in the nation by executives. Florida ranked fourth, Scott said.

“I talked with him the other day and of course what he brings up…I told him how we beat him last month in job creation and there’s a site selector survey, did you see that, where they won that. We’re number four,” Scott said, adding that he asked his staff to find out what Florida’s ranking was last year.

As for taking credit for the state’s incremental unemployment turn-around, Scott wouldn’t bite.

“I’m always cautious about that,” he said with a grin.

Scott was supposed to have lunch with legislators from the region at the riverfront shopping plaza but the meeting was canceled, his staff said.

Florida in top 10 for another economic standard: Teen-age unemployment

Monday, June 13th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott touts how Florida’s unemployment rate has dropped since he took office in January, to where April’s latest reading puts it at 10.8 percent — the state’s lowest jobless level in two years.

But a report issued Monday by the Washington, D.C., research organization, Employment Policies Institute, paints a dark picture for teen-age employment in Florida, putting the Sunshine State in the top 10 for out-of-work youth.

 About 29 percent of Florida teens can’t find jobs — 5 percent higher than the national average, EPI said.

“Teens are missing out on summer jobs where they can learn valuable skills not taught in the classroom,” said Michael Saltsman, an EPI research fellow. “If policymakers at the state and federal level want to avoid a perpetual summer employment crisis for young adults, they should consider policies that create jobs—not destroy them.”

EPI blames the teen-age jobless levels on the rising minimum wage. In Florida, that went up 6 cents on June 1 to $7.31/hour.

For his part, Scott is no fan of the minimum wage. Legislation (HB 1425) pushed by Rep. John Tobia, R-Melbourne, would have changed the way the state calculates the standard, but the measure failed to win approval.

The June 1 increase came only after it was ordered by a Leon County judge. Workers and groups representing low-wage employees claimed Florida’s Agency for Workforce Innovation violated the state constitution by keeping minimum wage at the $7.25 federal rate, where it was last year, instead of raising it to account for inflation.

 Voters passed an amendment in 2004 that increases the state minimum wage with inflation.

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.

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…)

Scott loves teachers, but

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011 by John Kennedy

In his State of the State speech, Gov. Rick Scott made a passing reference to his push to eliminate teacher tenure and introduce performance-based pay over opposition from the state’s largest teachers’ union.

The Republican governor conceded, he loves teachers. But….

“Great educators are priceless. Every one of us has a teacher in our past who made a lifelong difference in our lives,” Scott said.

“Educators, like other professionals, should be rewarded based on the effectiveness of their work, not the length of their professional life. That’s why Florida needs to pay the best educators more and end the practice of guaranteeing educators a job for life regardless of their performance.”

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.

Worst budget year and ideology drives GOP cuts

Sunday, March 6th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Facing the worst budget year in memory, new Republican Gov. Rick Scott and the GOP-packed Florida Legislature begin the 2011 session this week, pledging to slash spending and make good on campaign pledges that powered them last fall.

With the approach of the opening day Tuesday, unions, teachers and scores of groups in the cross hairs of budget cuts have been rallying against Scott and fellow Republican leaders who, in turn, are pulling support from tea party loyalists eager to shrink government.

Though it hasn’t commanded the national attention of Wisconsin and other partisan battlegrounds, purple state Florida is in for a bruising spring, with lawmakers looking to close a $3.6 billion budget hole and revive an economy flat-lined by an almost 12 percent jobless rate.

“Priority number one is the budget,” said House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park. “Everything else is number two.”

But it’s not a simple numbers game.

Political ideology is shading most of the exchanges between Republicans in power and Democrats pushed to Florida’s fringe by the November elections.

Read full story here:



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…)

Mr. Sunshine casts more clouds on rail

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott made an early morning stop Wednesday at Fox & Friends’ New York studios and — again– said he’s not interested in $2.4 billion in federal cash for high-speed rail.

“The federal government gives you all this money, and you have to pay for it down the road,” Scott said, adding that he disputed ridership and job-creation statistics touted by rail promoters.

South Florida’s Tri-Rail doesn’t help convince him. Scott said Tri-Rail costs about $65 million annually to operate, but pulls in only about $10 million from fares.

A high-speed train linking Tampa to Orlando, “just doesn’t make sense for the taxpayers,” he concluded.


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.

Scott on stagnant double-digit unemployment: ‘Unacceptable’

Friday, January 21st, 2011 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick “Let’s Get to Work” Scott, who pledged to bring 700,000 jobs to Florida in seven years, is not pleased with the state’s most recent unemployment figures showing Florida’s unemployment rate at a stagnant 12 percent.

“Today’s report of a 12 percent unemployment rate for Florida in December means that more than 1.1 million Floridians are jobless. This is not acceptable. The numbers reaffirm my commitment to getting Florida back to work, and prove that we must put job creation first by making Florida the best place to do business,” Scott said in a statement.

In contrast to the statewide average, the employment picture brightened in Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast last month.

More Floridians out of work

Friday, September 17th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Florida’s unemployment rate for August is 11.7 percent, a .2 percent jump from July, according to figures released by the state Agency for Workforce Innovation this morning. Another 16,000 jobs disappeared during the month.

The news isn’t all bad, however.

Although 1,084,000 Floridians don’t have a job – and those numbers don’t include those who’ve given up looking for work – the state’s annual job growth rate is up 0.4 percent, representing an increase of 29,800 jobs from last August.

Crist issues executive order allowing out-of-work Floridians to get extended unemployment benefits

Friday, July 23rd, 2010 by Dara Kam

With a stroke of his pen, Gov. Charlie Crist just accomplished what lawmakers refused to do earlier this year – give long-time jobless Floridians the ability to get extended unemployment compensation benefits approved by Congress yesterday.

Democratic lawmakers, including Palm Beach County’s Sen. Dave Aronberg of Greenacres and Rep. Kevin Rader of Boyton Beach, were among those who pushed their colleagues to extend the June 5 deadline for the benefits during the regular session that ended in May. That didn’t happen.

Sen. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, worked behind-the-scenes with Crist on the executive order granting the benefits to about 100,000 Floridians whose unemployment benefits have run out and others whose benefits will dry up before Congress’ reauthorization ends.

“Unemployed Floridians are struggling in this challenging economic climate, trying to figure out how to pay their bills and support their families. We simply cannot desert the 250,000 Floridians who qualify for the extended federal assistance signed into law yesterday. I am committed to exercising my Constitutional duty to authorize the use of available federal funds to help out-of-work Floridians who qualify for this help,” Crist wrote in a release this afternoon.

Congress initially established the extended benefits program in 2008 to provide federal funds for jobless workers who exhausted their state unemployment benefits. Congress has since reauthorized the program several times.

Gelber asks Crist for executive order to expand unemployment benefits

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist could grant long-term out-of-work Floridians relief with the stroke of his pen, according Sen. Dan Gelber, a Miami Beach Democrat running for attorney general.

Lawmakers ended the special session on oil drilling early, making it impossible for them to pass a bill that would have allowed jobless Floridians to take advantage of an unemployment benefits extension Congress is expected to authorize as early as tomorrow.

But Crist could do by executive order what GOP lawmakers refused to do earlier this year, Gelber said.

“On behalf of the voiceless, the hard working people of this state who are about to be cut off from benefits which they have rightfully earned and to which they are rightfully entitled, I urge the Governor to act in all due haste,” Gelber wrote in a letter to Crist.

Dems want special session to include unemployment benefits

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Two Palm Beach County lawmakers are pushing a measure to implement an expansion of unemployment compensation benefits Congress is expected to pass as early as today. The bill could bring about $270 million in unemployment benefits for about 200,000 long-term unemployed Floridians whose extended benefits dried up on June 5.

But there’s little chance GOP leaders will expand the special session on oil drilling that kicked off at noon and is already coming to a close in the House.

Gov. Charlie Crist called lawmakers into town to pass a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow voters to decide if offshore oil drilling in Florida should be banned.

The Senate wants to pass the measure but the House is expected to convene briefly and adjourn without even voting on it.

Congress appears to have settled its own impasse over unemployment benefits and is expected today to approve another expansion for the long-term unemployed.

But Floridians won’t be able to get the additional funds unless state lawmakers sign off.

Rep. Kevin Rader, D-Boynton Beach, filed a bill that would extend the state’s June 5 expiration date for the long-term unemployed benefits and wrote a letter yesterday asking Crist to expand the session.

More than 35,000 Floridians a week are losing out on the extended benefits, Rader said.

“These are families who need this money because of the economic crisis in our state,” said Rader, who failed to convince lawmakers to pass a similar measure during the regular session to avoid having to come back during a special session to extend the deadline for the benefits.

Jobless workers spend $1.70 for each $1 in unemployment fund they receive, according to some estimates.

“It’s outrageous we would not act so that Floridians get the funds that they are entitled to,” said Sen. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, one of the bill’s co-sponsors. Gelber’s Democratic attorney general opponent, Sen. Dave Aronberg of Greenacres, is also backing the measure. “It’s money for people who need it the most and who will spend it immediately.”

Rader acknowledged it is highly unlikely the session will be expanded but that “I am always hopeful that common sense and reason will prevail.”

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.

Crist asks Obama for $50 million to cover oil spill

Thursday, May 6th, 2010 by Dara Kam

cristobama_090210Gov. Charlie Crist asked President Barack Obama for a $50 million emergency grant to offset costs related to the oil spill threatening Florida’s Gulf Coast.

Crist asked the president to essentially put his money where his mouth is and keep true to his promise to go all-out to help the Gulf states with the disaster.

“Encouraged by your pledge to ‘spare no effort to respond to this crisis for as long as it continues…And we will spare no resource to clean up whatever damage is caused,‘ we ask that you seek ways to help bring about an application of disaster provisions of the Stafford Act that would permit disaster National Emergency Grants and the payment of Disaster Unemployment Assistance,” Crist wrote in a letter to Obama today.

Crist’s request is the latest in a string of high-ranking officials’ efforts to ensure the state’s emergency needs are met despite an initial $25 million block grant from BP to cover rapidly mounting costs to prepare for the anticipated impact of the massive oil spill.

No word yet if the newly-independent U.S. Senate candidate Crist will hug Obama if the president gives the green light for the dough.

Special session for unemployment benefits?

Thursday, April 29th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Lawmakers have agreed to extend unemployment benefits for Floridians by 14 weeks but those benefits will run out on June 1 unless they take action before the end of the day tomorrow.

House GOP lawmakers signed off on approximately $128 million in extra unemployment benefits for about 100,000 out-of-work Floridians until June 1.

Delray Beach Democrat Kevin Rader tried but failed to amend the bill, now on its way to Gov. Charlie Crist, to allow an automatic extension of the benefits if Congress passes another extension which it has done at least four times recently.

“By stating a specific date for participation in statute the Florida Legislature is jeopardizing our ability to participate in future extensions of unemployment benefits should they be granted by Congress when the Legislature is not in Session,” Rader said.

The Senate sponsor of the unemployment measure (SB 1736) said it will take a special session to deal with the issue because GOP House leaders balked at putting the prospective extension into law.

“Unless we have a special session, we will not be able to extend the benefits beyond the June date,” said Sen. Rudy Garcia, R-Hialeah.


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