Net worth of Florida legislators is on the rise, new reporting shows

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Florida lawmakers — of both parties — had a good year financially in 2013, but it was Republicans who did especially well.

For the most part, legislators with interests in the housing and stock markets had the best bottom lines, reports Jim Turner of the News Service of Florida.

The deadline for filing revised 2013 financial-disclosure reports was July 1, and they were online as of Thursday.

In the Senate, average net worth reached just under $3.77 million; in the House, it is a little more than $1.4 million.

Outgoing Senate President Don Gaetz tops the list $26 million, with Rep. Darryl Rouson at a negative $127,138. The St. Petersburg Democrat still owes on a couple of home loans.

Gaetz, who is serving his final two years in the Senate, co-founded VITAS Healthcare Corp. In 2013, the Niceville Republican slipped in new worth slightly from last year, by about $140,000.

“The decline in my net worth is forcing me to make economies,” Gaetz joked in an email to the News Service of Florida. “I’m afraid I will have to cancel some newspaper subscriptions.”

Out of the 156 lawmakers with available reports who served in both the 2012 and 2013 sessions, 119 reported increases in net worth, 35 dropped in value and two had no change.

Reports noted net worth as of Dec. 31, 2013. Although reports are due July 1, lawmakers face fines if they do not file reports by Sept. 2.

Average net worth for all 40 Florida Senators is $3.34 million as of Dec. 31, 2012. For the 120 House members, the average stands at $1.27 million.

Each legislator makes about $30,000 annually in state salaries.

In the latest reports, Senate Republicans are worth an average of $4.3 million, while House GOP members are at $865,224.

All averages are all up from 2012.

Integrity Florida executive director Dan Krassner said lawmakers deserve praise for ethics reforms in 2013, which require online financial-disclosure reports.

Nevertheless, he added that the information falls short of providing a full picture of individual wealth.

“Many lawmakers receive significant income from special interests who lobby the Legislature,” Krassner told Turner in an email. “The Legislature has created disclosure loopholes so conflicts of interest are easily hidden or just made legal.”

Integrity Florida, the government watchdog group, sees a problem with unaudited self-reporting, where assets can transfer under a spouse’s name. Lawmakers are not under any requirement to reveal if the firms they own or work for have business with either the Legislature or state government.

Krassner contends that the numbers could be a single-day snapshot, instead of a full-year report, so lawmakers can “secretly engage in major transactions throughout the year undetected.”

Of 40 Senators, 18 report being millionaires, one more than the year before.

Democrat Arthenia Joyner, a longtime Tampa attorney, entered the seven-figure club last year with a net worth of $1,009,588, up from $908,422.

Out of 120 House members, 35 are millionaires, just as many as the previous year, although some of the names have changed.

Outgoing House Speaker Will Weatherford did not make the list as a seven-figure lawmaker as his net worth dropped somewhat, from $288,075 to $285,259.

The Wesley Chapel Republican reported $39,585 in his House salary last year, drawing another $16,000 from the Breckenridge Enterprises in Dallas and $102,785 from Red Eagle Group, which contracts with Simpson Environmental Services, headed by Trilby Sen. Wilton Simpson.

Simpson is the second-wealthiest state senator, with a net worth of $18.1 million.

Republican Rep. Steve Crisafulli, a real estate broker and part of a prominent citrus family, is replacing Weatherford as House speaker. Crisafulli reported a net worth of $453,989, up from $375,127 last year.

Orlando Republican Sen. Andy Gardiner, slated to replace Gaetz as Senate president, is vice president of Orlando Health. Gardiner reported his net worth as $585,023 in 2011 to $681,653 in 2012. In 2013, it was $751,353.

Rep. Michael Bileca, a Miami Republican, led the House in net worth with $14.2 million. Bileca co-founded Towncare Dental Partnership, with locations throughout Central and South Florida.

The only senator reporting a negative net worth is Sen. Darren Soto, the Orlando Democratic attorney who has more than $300,000 in liabilities — primarily home loans. Soto is underwater by $6,663, better than the negative $32,351 he reported last year.

An even dozen House members — two less than a year before – owe more than they are worth, often due to a combination of home, student and auto loans.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.