Michael Moline - 6/29 - SaintPetersBlog

Michael Moline

Michael Moline is a former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal and managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal. Previously, he reported on politics and the courts in Tallahassee for United Press International. He is a graduate of Florida State University, where he served as editor of the Florida Flambeau. His family’s roots in Jackson County date back many generations.

Rick Scott’s demand for budget priorities leaves Carlos Trujillo unfazed

House Appropriations Chairman Carlos Trujillo did not appear especially intimidated by Gov. Rick Scott’s tough talk on the state budget Thursday evening.

That $200 million Scott seeks to repair the Herbert Hoover Dike, for example? Not likely.

“That showed up about a week ago, and we’d already gone a far way down the road as far as crafting our budget,” Trujillo told reporters.

“It’s something I wish had been included in the original budget, and its something I wish we would have had an opportunity to discuss and debate early on as we crafted our own budgets,” he said.

“I think there’s merit in doing it. I don’t there’s merit in ever lending the federal government $200 million that they should be responsible for.”

Trujillo sees no need to build a veto-proof majority.

“We just have to pass a budget. If he vetoes it or he doesn’t veto it, we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”

He believes House Democrats “have had a meaningful seat at the table the entire time,” and have supported key House spending priorities.

“You look at our House budget — in committee, only two Democrats voted against it. On the floor, we had a substantial amount of Democrats vote for it — much more than a veto-proof majority.”

House and Senate leaders finally reached agreement in principle Thursday on an $83 billion state budget for next fiscal year, and put conference committees to work on refining the deal.

Scott all but demanded his way on his own priorities — also including boosting Visit Florida’s funding to $100 million, and providing business incentives money for Enterprise Florida.

The House-Senate budget deal provides about $25 million for Visit Florida and no incentives money for Enterprise Florida, although that agency would be allowed to live.

Scott figures the Legislature can afford his projects because of the $1.5 billion in Low Income Pool, or LIP, money promised by the Trump administration to reimburse hospitals for charity care.

Neither of the House or Senate plan on spending close to that amount for the care. Still, Trujillo was reluctant to spend the federal money before it’s in hand.

“We’re still waiting for the terms and conditions before we can figure out how much we can actually use,” he said.

“We are including the money, but it’s outside of the budget. We will appropriate it depending on the terms and conditions” imposed by the Trump administration. He was still negotiating how to handle the matter with Senate budget chief Jack Latvala.

Regarding Lake Okeechobee, the House does plan to take up SB 10, Senate President Joe Negron’s $1.5 billion restoration plan, which would not pay for the repairs to the dike around the lake.

“We’re making a lot of progress in getting that passed in our chamber,” Trujillo said of the overall Lake O plan. “I don’t know if we’ve agreed to bond, but we’ve agreed in concept to the policy.”

Kevin Rader carries campaign against lobbyist into the Capitol’s lifts

If you entered an elevator in the Capitol Thursday, you might have spotted a piece of paper resembling a wanted poster bearing the pixelated photo of a smiling woman.

“Senator Kevin Rader would like to know… Where is ‘Concerned Citizen’ Mary Beth Wilson,” the letter-sized document announced.

Surrounding the photo were six red question marks — three per side. In the top left corner, the Senate seal.

The woman pictured looked an awful lot like Lisa Miller, a lobbyist with clients including Demotech Inc., a company that rates Florida insurance companies.

Rader, a Democrat from Boca Raton, asked Gov. Rick Scott in February to look into whether Miller had posed as “concerned citizen” Wilson during a conference call between Demotech and industry figures.

A number of Tallahassee lobbyists were certain they recognized Miller’s voice, as Jeff Grady, president and CEO of the Florida Association of Insurance Agents, reported on his blog (password protected).

Miller and Demotech president Joe Petrelli have strongly denied it.

Asked about the elevator sheet following the Senate’s session, Rader issued a non-denial denial.

“That wasn’t Lisa Miller. It was about Mary Beth Wilson,” he said.

But he acknowledged his hand in posting the fliers.

“It’s just a reminder that I would still like the governor to take a look into it,” Rader said.

“When you have, allegedly, a lobbyist impersonating a fictitious person on behalf of her client, I think that says really awful things about that profession,” he said.

Had he received any response from the governor?

“None,” he said.

“Remember, to file a Senate complaint with the Rules Committee, you have to have first-hand knowledge. Which means you would have had to be on the phone call. I wasn’t on it, so I don’t have the ability of filing a Senate complaint.”

How many elevators got tagged?

“I think it was 12 — I’m not 100 percent. We had someone who did it.”

Any reaction?

“I haven’t had any negative reaction. Obviously, people have seen them, and are curiously interested in how this person is still operating as a lobbyist.”

Rader hadn’t heard from Miller, either.

Was plastering someone’s face around the Capitol perhaps a little extreme?

“I didn’t plaster her face. When you look it — I showed several people — most people thought it was a young boy, actually.”

But it was Lisa Miller?

“I’m not sure how it was created, but it was created.”

He added: “I don’t think any person who’s related to this process is shedding a tear on what I’m doing.”

Miller hadn’t responded to a voicemail message seeking comment as of this posting.

Budget conference committee gets down to work, with time running short

The House-Senate budget conference committee convened Thursday, exchanged pleasantries, and dispersed to begin working toward a compromise $83 billion spending plan for next fiscal year.

“Let the games begin,” said Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, who’ll serve as chairman of the conference.

“We look forward to making quick and aggressive counter-offers, and we look forward to passing a budget on time,” said Carlos Trujillo, the House budget chairman and vice-chairman of the conference.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron attended the gathering. They’d appointed the members earlier in the day.

Members of the committee, including various subcommittees, were scheduled to work through the weekend to place a compromise budget before the House and Senate and adjourn on time on May 5.

“It’s Thursday, and so we’re hoping that the committees will move quickly with offers and counteroffers. But I think we have plenty of time for all the members to be engaged,” Negron said.

Getting here required resolving competing priorities, Negron told reporters. He mentioned House proposals to boost charter schools and Best and Brightest scholarships, and his own ambitions for higher education.

The House even accepted Negron’s Lake Okeechobee restoration plan, which would require floating bonds.

Under aggressive questioning by reporters, the presiding officers resisted giving a line-by-line account of the trade-offs.

“There are other issues that both sides care about, and I think it’s incumbent on me as the presiding officer in the Senate to make sure that priorities both of us share get passed in the last week,” he said.

“You’ve seen it all in the open, including amendments. We’ve traveled the state and talked about all those things that are priorities of the Senate and priorities of the House,” Corcoran said.

“I know all of you wrote that it was going to be a train wreck, we were going to go into 18 special sessions, we’re never going to get done. But now that we have come together, we’ve worked out our differences, and now we’re having a conference, I think it’s going to be a spectacular session,” Corcoran said.

“There’ll be no crashes, despite your reporting. And I think it’s going to be a good day for the state of Florida.”

Latvala spelled out some of the details. The Senate got a commitment for $50 million for beach restoration — “the magic number we’ve been looking for,” he said.

Visit Florida would receive $25 million, and Enterprise Florida would be kept alive with operating money but none for incentives. “That’s a long way from where the House was when they wanted to do away with both of them,” Latvala said.

He said he has been in contact with Gov. Rick Scott, who has pressed for his economic incentives programs this week via press releases. Scott has been meeting with House members and senators since returning from a trade mission to Argentina.

“The governor is very committed to the economy of the state of Florida. He’s committed to economic development. He’s committed to jobs. There’s nobody I know who pays more attention and focuses more on those issues than the governor,” Latvala said.

The Senate wins an across-the-board pay raise for state employees, with extra money earmarked for police and corrections officers, but has agreed to steer state workers — except for high-risk employees — who don’t express a preference into private-market retirement-savings plan rather than the traditional state pensions. They’d have nine months to choose.

The House gets its way with the required local effort — the minimum property tax rate for schools. The rate will be rolled back so that the amount paid will stay the same as it is now, notwithstanding rising property values.

House and Senate settle budget allotments, appoint conference committees

The House and Senate agreed upon the outlines of a state budget Thursday and appointed conferees to work out the details, beginning that afternoon.

Senate President Joe Negron said the deal would provide an across-the-board raise for state workers — their first in about nine years, according to Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, for whom the raise was a priority.

“This has not been the least difficult negotiation that either of us has ever been in,” Latvala told Negron from the floor.

“It’s been a long negotiation. We’ve had a lot of reports that we were done when we weren’t really done. But we’re here now to start the conference process,” Latvala said.

Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran together settled the major points of contention between the two chambers, Latvala said.

Conference subcommittees have until noon Saturday to complete their negotiations, he said. Anything they can’t settle will go to the full committee. Any controversies still unresolved will go to the presiding officers by noon Sunday.

The House-Senate budget conference has nearly $83 billion to spend. Hereis how the allocations break down.

The biggest pot is for health care — $34.2 billion. Next come PreK-12 education, at $15 billion; transportation, tourism, and economic development, at nearly $13 billion; higher education, at $7.8 billion; civil and criminal justice, at $5 billion; agriculture, environment and natural resources, $3.6 billion; and general government, at $2 billion.

There’s about $1.7 billion for “administered funds/statewide issues.”

Senate sends Groveland Four resolution to the governor and Cabinet

The Senate voted unanimously Tuesday to apologize to survivors of the Groveland Four — African-American men who were brutalized in 1949 following a false accusation of rape.

The senators first voted, 36-0, to sign on as cosponsors, then approved the resolution on a voice vote.

“This is a great miscarriage of justice,” sponsor Gary Farmer said.

“This is Florida’s version of the Scotsboro Boys. This is our To Kill a Mockingbird. We cannot change the hands of time. We cannot go back to this terrible event and undo it. But we can acknowledge our wrongs. And we can bring peace, and healing, and closure to the families who have suffered so long.”

Those family members traveled to Tallahassee to watch the House approve the resolution on April 18 and could not return for the Senate vote, Farmer said.

“But I have met with the survivors, and they have told me of the years of dealing with this, and the years of shame and injustice that they have had to endure.”

He credited former Sen. Geraldine Thomspon, who sponsored the apology legislation in past years. “I only picked up the torch that she lit,” he said.

The resolution, CS/HCR 631 declares that injustice was done toward Charles GreenleeWalter IrvinSamuel Shepherd, and Ernest Thomas, offers an official apology on behalf of the state of Florida, and urges Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet to exonerate them.

It urges Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet to pardon Irvin and Greenlee, the two who lived long enough to be convicted and imprisoned.

“(W)e hereby acknowledge that Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd, and Ernest Thomas, who came to be known as ‘the Groveland Four,’ were the victims of gross injustices and that their abhorrent treatment by the criminal justice system is a shameful chapter in this state’s history,” the resolution reads.

tourism

Continuing sales pitch for Visit Florida, Rick Scott warns of hit to state revenues

Gov. Rick Scott has issued another missive urging full financial support for Visit Florida.

This one is a memo written to Scott by Christian Weiss, in-house economist to the governor, who warns that cutting the tourism-development program by $50 million — as House and Senate budget negotiators are considering doing — would result in a $210 million decline in state revenues.

Two thirds of that would comprise sales tax receipts to the state, Weiss wrote; the rest, sales tax distributions to local governments and gas, rental car, and other taxes.

Earlier in the day, Scott issued a statement in support of economic incentives programs including Visit Florida. On Tuesday, his office distributed a letter from Division of Bond Finance director Ben Watkins to the House and Senate budget chairmen, warning that cutting Visit Florida could damage the state’s credit rating.

Nearly 113 million tourists visited the state in 2016, Weiss notes — a nearly 6 percent increase over 2015, and the sixth straight record-setting year. They spent $109 billion here.

“These expenditures are felt throughout the state economy, spurring economic growth and employment in all areas of the state,” Weiss wrote. “Promoting and marketing the Florida brand to potential visitors is crucial to not only maintaining but also increasing the number of visitors.”

More than of those visitors were lured by the state’s marketing, he wrote.

“Consequently, any decrease in advertising will negatively affect the state economy.”

State economists have estimated that Visit Florida’s efforts help create nearly 20,000 jobs annually.

Florida Senate votes apology for abuse at Dozier School for Boys

The Senate voted, 35-0, Wednesday to apologize for decades of abuse at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys and Florida Schools for Boys at Okeechobee.

Addressing 14 middle-aged and elderly survivors viewing from the Senate gallery, Sen. Daryl Rouson said: “We say to you, we apologize. We are sorry.”

The House voted to apologize on April 18.

CS/SR 1440 details the history of physical, mental, and sexual abuse by school staff from the 1940s through the 1960s. A forensic examination conducted between 2013 and 2016 uncovered at least 55 burial sites at Dozier, 24 more than records indicated.

“(T)he Senate apologizes to the boys who were confined to Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys and the Okeechobee School and their family members for the wrongs committed against them by employees of the State of Florida,” the resolution reads.

“Be it further resolved that the Senate expresses its commitment to ensuring that children who have been placed in the State of Florida’s care are protected from abuse and violations of fundamental human decency.”

Dozier, in Marianna, closed in 2011.

Budget deal would include Lake O plan, lower property taxes for schools

House and Senate negotiators have agreed on the broad outlines of a new state budget, and were haggling over the details before appointing members to conference committees, Senate President Joe Negron said Wednesday.

“We’ve reached an agreement on the substance of the budget, and we’ve also reached agreement on a way that we can get to conference,” Negron told reporters.

“These are complicated issues, and so we’re in the process of completing a document that sets forth all of the terms and conditions. I feel very optimistic that we can, hopefully, start conference today.”

As of 6 p.m., that had yet to happen.

Negron indicated the bottom line would be $83 billion — more than the House had hoped to spend, and less than the Senate planned.

The Senate would accept the House position on K-12, including lowering the required local effort on property taxes for schools, letting homeowners rather than school districts pocket any rise in property values.

The House had wanted to spend roughly $7,224 per student — a modest increase over existing spending.

However, the House would accept Senate’s position on higher education spending. And Negron would get his $1.5 billion, multi-year Lake Okeechobee restoration plan, including $800 billion in bonding authority.

“The House would agree to accept SB 10 in exchange for some other House priorities that we’re in the process of delineating. That would include the House position on RLE and some of the other issues that are important to the speaker and to the House,” Negron said.

“Most importantly, we’re at a point where we are close to the final decisions on allocations in the seven subcommittees so we can start the process of conferencing.”

The budget is a competition between competing priorities, he said.

“I also think the House, and what they’ve done with the $200 for Best and Brightest, the $200 million for Schools of Hope, that directly benefits education. It would be a mistake to only count in the education budget what comes directly through the FEFP.

The deal didn’t involve project-for-project horse-trading, Negron said – say, Lake Okeechobee for school tax rates.

“There are a lot of House priorities that the Senate is prepared to agree to, and there are Senate priorities that the House has agreed to. They’re part of an overall package. It wouldn’t be exchanging one for the other.”

A reporter asked whether differences over proviso language was holding up a deal. “There are complicated issues related to many aspects of putting together an $83 billion budget, and all of the policy that comes with it. But it’s come down to just a few issues where we’re trying to clarify some language to the satisfaction of the House and Senate,” Negron said.

“Issues related to whether language is included in a bill; whether it’s included in a conforming bill. There are simple issues that we can work through — but they’re complicated.”

Top Senate Democrat says chambers will split the difference on state budget

There were competing accounts Wednesday of negotiations over the next state budget, with the Senate’s top Democrat saying a deal’s been struck.

The chambers have agreed to meet in the middle on the $4 billion that separates their respective proposed budgets, taking $2 billion from the Senate plan and adding $2 billion to the House version, Senate Democratic leader Oscar Braynon told his caucus Wednesday morning.

“There’s been a deal struck,” Braynon said.

“Remember, a deal struck is nothing final,” he cautioned. “My first year here, there was a deal struck and none of the things that were struck in the deal passed. That’s always a possibility.”

There still was no formal announcement from House or Senate leaders, although House Speaker Richard Corcoran announced to the House Tuesday that a deal was close.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala tweeted Wednesday morning that there was no deal yet — and that “when an agreement is reached on the budget it will be announced by the President and Speaker.”

Katie Betta, spokeswoman to Senate President Joe Negron, said she was not aware of any deal.

Braynon expected the leadership to name conferees during Wednesday’s floor session and for negotiations to begin that evening.

“The only thing that really is struck and that is set in stone is the allocations,” Braynon said.

“The Senate and the House have come to an agreement on the total number of our budget. Our budget was $4 billion bigger than theirs, so I think we met in the middle, so our budget is $2 billon more than the House had.”

Democrats have more clout in the Senate than in the House, he reminded his caucus — especially since the resignation of Hialeah Republican Frank Artiles.

“This isn’t like the House. There ain’t enough of us for them to not put people on the conference committee. Every single one of us will be on a conference committee of one of the Appropriations (sub)committees that you’re on,” he said.

“We have juice that we haven’t always had in the past,” Sen. Jeff Clemens said.

Braynon cautioned:

“There’s going to have to be $2 billion worth of cuts that they’re going to have to find as they move through the next week. Everybody watch out for everybody else’s projects, depending on where you get assigned.”

Rick Scott enlists state bonds chief in fight for Visit Florida funding

Gov. Rick Scott has distributed a letter by Ben Watkins, director of the Division of Bond Finance, to the House and Senate budget chairmen, warning that cutting Visit Florida could damage the state’s credit rating.

The letter, dated Tuesday, addressed to Jack Latvala in the Senate and Carlos Trujillo in the House, warns that cutting back on tourism promotion has harmed the economies of states that have attempted it, including Colorado and Pennsylvania.

“Even a 2 percent reduction in visitors would result in a loss of $2.2 billion in travel spending and $225 million in tax revenue,” Watkins wrote.

“If funding for Visit Florida is reduced as much as the Florida House has proposed, the credit rating on our cities and counties could be negatively impacted, especially for communities that rely heavily on tourism and tourist-related revenues,” he wrote.

“I believe it is important for policymakers to be informed about the important spending decisions and their financial and economic consequences,” he said.

The proposed House budget would provide $25 million for Visit Florida, and the Senate would provide $76 million. Scott has asked for $100 million.

The warning came as House and Senate negotiators worked toward a framework to resolve nearly $4 billion in differences on spending for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

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