Sunburn for 1/30 – A morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics

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A morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.

***Sunburn is sponsored by Tucker/Hall – one of Florida’s leading public affairs and public relations firms.***

AFFORDABLE HEALTHCARE SUMMIT KICKS OFF

The 2014 Florida Health Care Affordability Summit continues today through Friday at the Rosen Shingle Creek in Orlando. I will be on location to live-blog the conference.

The event is the second from the Foundation of Associated Industries of Florida (FAIF) to bring together health care policymakers, leaders and providers to discuss Florida’s health care system, as well as ways for improving access and lowering health care cost for Floridians. Keynote addresses will be by Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Florida Surgeon General Dr. John Armstrong.

“Health Care Workforce Innovation: Meeting the Workforce Demands of Providing Health Care to all Floridians,” features Valdes and is moderated by Rep. Jose Oliva, chair of the House Select Committee on Health Care Workforce Innovation.

Other panelists will include Rep. Cary Pigman, vice chair of the House Select Committee on Health Care Workforce Innovation; Jeenu Philip, pharmacy supervisor for Walgreen Family of Companies; and, Taynin Kopanos, vice president of State Government Affairs for the American Association of Nurse Practitioners.

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NEW Q-POLL Poll results should be available here after 6:30 a.m.

Quinnipiac University today will release updated polling numbers in Florida’s gubernatorial race.

The Connecticut-based university’s polling institute, which frequently conducts polls in Florida and other states, released its last report on the governor’s race in November. That poll showed Democrat Charlie Crist leading Republican incumbent Rick Scott by a margin of 47 percent to 40 percent.

SCOTT AND CRIST USE BUDGET ROLLOUT TO SNIPE AT EACH OTHER’S RECORDS via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald

Florida’s race for governor hit full throttle Wednesday as Gov. Rick Scott seeded his budget announcement with attacks on his opponent and predecessor Charlie Crist, while the former governor used the event to bash Scott’s policies and ethics.

Speaking to reporters and editors at the annual legislative planning meeting sponsored by the Associated Press, Crist lashed into Scott’s past at a fraud-riddled hospital chain, blasted his previous budgets for cutting education spending and accused him of reversing course because an election is approaching.

“He’s trying to make up for it in an election year transformation, but the people of Florida are smart,” Crist said. “I don’t believe Florida is going to get fooled a second time.”

It was an unusual ending to what is a traditionally tame budget rollout as the two men compete in what is expected to be one of the most bitterly fought races for governor in decades.

Scott was the first to start swinging. The Republican governor announced his $74.2 billion budget plan early Wednesday, then declared that his fiscal record “represents a sharp contrast to the four budgets before we took office.”

CRIST FINDS HIS CAMPAIGN MANAGER via Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times

This is not officially confirmed yet, but we hear that Charlie Crist is poised to hire veteran political operative Omar Khan as campaign manager for his Demoocratic campaign for Florida governor, Who?, some of you may ask.

Khan is not an A-list campaign campaign manager that one might expect for a marquee race like Florida’s gubernatorial campaign. Not sure he’s ever run a campaign, for that matter.

But he certainly knows Florida.  Buzz has known Khan at least since he helped Pinellas state Rep. Charlie Jusice win a highly competitive state senate race and since has run into him in state after state covering the Obama campaign in 2008 and 2012.

Still, we suspect this could be his toughest gig yet: Managing a candidate who prefers to call his own shots, answer mainly to his own gut, and take advice from a vast array of advisers.

Khan currently works at EPA as Director of Public Engagement (whatever that means), and we don’t know when he formally starts with Crist. Previously he was director of Congressional and Intergovermental relations for Obama’s Hurricane Sandy Task Force.

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WITH BUDGET PROPOSAL, SCOTT SAYS HE’S HELPING FLORIDA PULL OUT A HOLE via John Kennedy of the Palm Beach Post

Scott rolled out his full $74.2 billion state budget proposal Wednesday, saying it meets Florida’s needs in education, environment and other areas while reducing debt and giving plenty back to taxpayers.

Florida was in a hole and for four years, there was just more digging,” Scott said in unveiling the proposal at the Associated Press’ annual media gathering at the state Capitol. “In 2011, I brought together economic development experts who said that not only was Florida not competitive for big projects, but we were often not even considered.

“Today, that has all changed,” he concluded.

With his spending proposals helped by a second straight year of budget surplus — this time, at least $1.1 billion in extra cash — Scott is recommending ongoing tax and fee cuts topping $560 million annually.

The biggest reduction is a $401 million rollback of motorist fee increases approved in 2009, when Crist was governor and the state needed dollars to plug a recession-gouged budget.

But not everything in Scott’s proposal is a return to the good-old-days.

While Scott is seeking a $542 million boost in public school dollars, per-pupil spending would remain below the state’s historic high of 2007-08. Scott’s proposal would bring per-pupil spending to $6,949, about $177 below the pre-recession level.

In other areas, Scott holds the line on college and university tuition, recommending no increase. The budget would eliminate 1,233 state jobs, 1,160 of them currently vacant. He calls for adding about 400 child-abuse investigators in the Department of Children & Families, which has been staggered by a series of children deaths over the past year.

For the state’s 114,000 employees, Scott also is recommending bonus plans of $5,000 and $2,500, but no across-the-board salary hikes. Although he targeted the state’s pension plan for a dramatic overhaul his first year as governor, Scott leaves the Florida Retirement System alone this year, dropping his earlier complaints about a lingering potential liability.

HOW SCOTT’S BUDGET ROLLOUT PLAYED

Tampa Bay Times, “Florida Gov. Rick Scott proposes $74 billion budget with new money going into tax relief – The budget proposal includes his wish-list of priorities, from more tax breaks for businesses to replumbing the Everglades and lowering the state’s debt ratio” … Associated Press, “Gov. Rick Scott proposes $74 billion budget for 2014 – rolled out an election-year budget that calls for increased spending on schools, the environment, and child protection while at the same time cutting nearly $600 million in taxes”…  Lakeland Ledger, “Scott uses $74.2 billion budget plan to slam Crist – Scott’s message was blunt: he has cut more taxes, reduced more debt and created more jobs than the prior Crist administration, which faced the brunt of the Great Recession” … Orlando Sentinel, Gov. Rick Scott’s $74 billion election-year budget has something for everyone – The spending plan eliminates 1,243 government jobs — although only 68 are currently filled. But it also adds back 1,197 of them in for child abuse investigations and to handle increased prison populations” … Florida Times Union, “$25-per-driver relief, 15-day tax holiday in Scott’s $74 billion budget plan – Overall, the $18.8 billion education budget would be largest in Florida history, but comes up just short of the record per-pupil funding levels, which was set in 2007-2008″ … News-Press, “Proposed state budget gives dollars to struggling child protection agencies – giving an extra $31 million to the Department of Children and Families, in an effort to reduce caseloads for child protective investigators, and allow for the creation of two-person teams to investigate high risk-cases” … Tampa Bay Times, Gov. Rick Scott unveils full Florida education budget proposal – For higher education, Scott proposes increased funding for colleges and universities, while insisting that tuition rates remain flat.”

STANDARD REAX

“I appreciate Governor Scott’s thoughtful budget proposal and look forward to reviewing it in more detail. He has provided great leadership on reducing taxes and improving Florida’s job creation climate. As always, the House will take the Governor’s proposal into careful consideration as we work to develop a responsible budget that maximizes every dollar and prioritizes funding in the best interest of all Floridians without raising taxes on our hardworking families.” — House Appropriations Chair Seth McKeel

DEMOCRATS CALL SCOTT’S BUDGET A SHELL GAME

lorida Democratic Party Chair Allison Tant says Scott “fails to invest in education,” while falsely claiming to deliver higher levels of funding.

“Fully two-thirds of his new education funding comes from rising property taxes,” Tant adds, saying that the governor promised to lower property taxes during the campaign, but now is “just playing a shell game with the public.”

“You simply can’t trust Rick Scott,” Tant says. “The real fact behind his education budget is that as Florida’s public education system grows every year and our investment in our children has not kept pace … but the facts are the facts.”

Tant also blasted Scott for not restoring funding to the Bright Futures Scholarship program, instead giving tax dollars to “corporate, for-profit charter schools.”

KEY SCOTT PROMISE IN LIMBO via Gary Fineout of the Associated Press

Scott’s maverick bid for the governor in 2010 centered on his pledge to revive the state’s moribund economy through a mixture of tough medicine that included deep spending cuts and large-scale tax cuts to help the state’s businesses. That message propelled him through a Republican primary where he defeated the candidate backed by party leaders and helped him narrowly beat the Democratic nominee.

A key part of Scott’s “7-7-7” plan to create 700,000 jobs was a promise to completely eliminate within seven years the corporate income tax or the “business tax” as Scott repeatedly called it.

But this year – even as the economy has improved and state revenues are up – Scott is turning away from the tax cut that he once made a centerpiece.

… Scott’s decision to recalibrate his tax cut proposals comes after he encountered firm resistance from the Republican-controlled Legislature the last three years. Scott has also been confronted by lackluster poll numbers where a majority of Floridians have disapproved of the job he has been doing.

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GAETZ AND WEATHERFORD VOW TO PUSH PENSION REFORM AGAIN via John Kennedy of the Palm Beach Post

Speaker Weatherford said changes are still needed to the plan used by more than 600,000 teachers, police, firefighters and other public employees.

“We have to protect ourselves from the future,” Weatherford said.

Senate President Gaetz joined Weatherford in saying that the Republican-led Legislature will work toward enacting changes that would shifting new workers joining the statewide pension system into a so-called cash balance pension plan. Both the state and the employee would contribute to the account and some level of retirement benefits would be guaranteed.

Police employees, firefighters and other emergency responders would be exempt from the change, under the Weather and Gaetz concept floated Wednesday. That could blunt some of the toughest opposition that has derailed earlier efforts to rework the FRS.

Lawmakers are worried about the rising cost of the plan, which costs the state more than $500 million a year to finance.

A cash balance approach is being advanced by Republican leaders and is portrayed as a “hybrid” plan. It would meld the best qualities of the state’s traditional pension, which provides set benefits based on salary and years of service, and a 401(k) styled investment plan, also offered within the Florida Retirement System, but subject to stock market volatility.

LEGISLATIVE LEADERS BACKPEDAL ON TACKLING BIG GAMBLING BILL THIS YEAR via James Rosica of the Tampa Tribune

Observers have been expecting lawmakers to debate opening up Florida to more gambling, including Las Vegas-style destination casino-resorts, with a bill to be rolled out this year.

Maybe not, said Gaetz.

“There are some issues that are forced on us … gaming is an issue that is forced to the stage, either this year or next year, by the Seminole compact being up for some renegotiation,” he said.

WEATHERFORD: MEDICAID EXPANSION NOT DEAD BUT “UNLIKELY” via James Rosica of the Tampa Tribune

Weatherford on Wednesday said Medicaid expansion wasn’t a dead issue for the upcoming legislative session, but also didn’t say he’d back down from his refusal to accept federal money to do it.

Weatherford told reporters … that his chamber has been “very clear” in their position.

“Our chambers have not been able to negotiate to a place where everyone is happy,” he said, gesturing to Senate President Gaetz.

… Weatherford referred to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, saying “the ball is in her court.”

State leaders have asked if the state could roll out a partial expansion, for instance.

She said “all or nothing,” according to Gaetz.

The federal government “has done a terrible job of giving states flexibility,” Weatherford said. “They need to come to Florida and offer us a better deal.”

Did that mean Weatherford could get to a place where he’d be OK with taking federal Obamacare money?

“Under the current circumstances, we don’t think Medicaid expansion is good for Florida,” he said. “I would defer to the Senate President.”

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MORE HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE AP’S 2014 PLANNING SESSION… via The Associated Press and The Florida Current

BONDI TARGETS HUMAN TRAFFICKING; OPPOSES MEDICAL MARIJUANA

Attorney General Pam Bondi said she will continue pushing during the upcoming legislative session to fight human trafficking. Bondi said she wants to create a prototype program that could involve such things as education, counseling and drug treatment to trafficking victims. “It’s modern-day slavery,” Bondi said. “It’s real. It’s happening.”

During her appearance, Bondi also said she will vote against a proposed constitutional amendment that would legalize medical marijuana. The Florida Supreme Court this week rejected an attempt by Bondi to keep the measure off the ballot. She raised concerns Wednesday that unscrupulous doctors could be involved in prescribing medical marijuana, similar to the unscrupulous doctors who prescribed painkillers in pill mills. “If this passes, I hope that all the doctors who are prescribing this marijuana are ethical,” Bondi said. “I pray that they are ethical.”

RICH POINTS TO HER ‘PRINCIPLES’ IN GOVERNOR’S RACE

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nan Rich on Wednesday acknowledged she will not be able to match the campaign cash of rivals Rick Scott and Charlie Crist but said she will rely on a grass-roots campaign.

“I stand here today not on platitudes or a pile of money but on…Democratic principles,” said Rich,

Rich also indicated she could support rolling back an increase in vehicle-registration fees that lawmakers and former Gov. Crist approved in 2009. Scott and Republican legislative leaders have made such a rollback a priority of the upcoming legislative session. “I do support reversing that, because those are fees levied on working-class and middle-class families in our state,” Rich said.

SHELDON BACKS MEDICAL MARIJUANA, GAY MARRIAGE

Democratic attorney-general candidate George Sheldon drew contrasts Wednesday with Bondi, backing the legalization of medical marijuana and saying he would not defend a state law that bans same-sex marriage. “I think that the time has come when we stop discriminating against people because of their sexual orientation,” Sheldon said.

THURSTON SAYS HE WANTS TO BE ‘PEOPLE’S ATTORNEY’

Sounding a little like former Crist, Democratic attorney-general candidate Perry Thurston said Wednesday he wants to be the “people’s attorney” and criticized Bondi. Thurston said he would look to protect people’s rights and also blasted Bondi for requesting a change in an execution date this summer because it conflicted with a campaign fund-raiser. Bondi later apologized for the request, but Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat who also is the House minority leader, called her actions “wholly unacceptable and indefensible.” He added, “We can do better, and we must do better. Florida deserves better.”

***Representatives from Florida’s aerospace industry will visit Tallahassee on March 12, 2014, to participate in Florida Space Day and share with legislators the opportunities the industry brings to Florida and the nation’s space program. During Space Day, industry leaders and other aerospace supporters will meet with House and Senate members and Governor Scott, to discuss  growing areas of the state’s $8 billion dollar space industry, and determine the best strategies for leveraging these markets for Florida’s benefit in the years ahead.***

APPOINTED: Andy Tuck to the State Board of Education.

APPOINTED: Dr. Robert Hayling, James Johnson, and Asa Randolph to the Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame.

APPOINTED: Jack Johnson, Jr. and Robert D. Halman and Fred Thomas, Jr. (reappointed) to the Immokalee Water and Sewer District.

MUST-READ COLUMN – IMMIGRATION POLICY WOULD HEAD OFF BRAIN DRAIN via Tom Jackson of the Tampa Tribune

Policymaking by anecdote may not be the worst way to accomplish the public’s business, but it has to be in the bottom three, and I have no idea what the other two are. So it is through a lens of skepticism that we should view the tale of would-be brain scientist Mariana Castro.

Castro, a native of Peru who entered the United States with her parents illegally when she was 10, applied herself to the opportunity mandated by federal law — public schools must accept youngsters whatever their residency status — and now has been accepted into the University of Florida’s top-notch neurobiological science program.

Alas, under current law, UF must consider Castro an out-of-state student, putting an annual $28,548 sticker on her education, more than four times that of qualifying Florida residents.

Inevitably, discussion about immigration reform gets around to “brain drain,” that stultifying phenomenon that sends bright foreign nationals, stoked with U.S. training and education, back home the moment they graduate from our best universities, lest they elbow native-born Americans aside in the competition for jobs.

But there’s another brain-drain going on. A 2010 study put the number of foreign-born children of illegal immigrants in Florida schools at more than 60,000, costing the state about $700 million a year. Can’t do anything about it. Federal law says school-age youngsters are welcome to an education, whatever their residency status.

After 13 years and more than $100,000, Will Weatherford figures it’s dumb and fiscally wasteful — neither condition prized by conservatives — to then deny high school graduates additional in-state opportunities simply over residency status they were powerless to influence.

This isn’t policymaking by anecdote. It’s seizing opportunity. It’s stretching Florida’s precious education dollars. It’s maximizing our homegrown talent.

And for those reasons alone, it’s the smart course of action.

SEN. DAVID SIMMONS PONDERING 2018 AG RUN via David Damron of the Orlando Sentinel

It’s an election cycle away, but state Sen. David Simmons said Wednesday that he’s pondering a run for Florida attorney general in 2018.

The 2014 race is set on the GOP side, with incumbent Pam Bondi likely to face a Democrat that emerges from that party’s primary. So far, former state Department of Children and Families Secretary George Sheldon and House Minority Leaders Perry Thurston are in the race.

But even if Bondi eventually wins, she faces term limits. So Simmons or some other Republican could make a more viable run for the powerful post in 2018.

“Based upon the suggestions of numerous friends and colleagues, I am considering running for Florida Attorney General in 2018,” Simmons wrote in an email.

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IS LOBBYING EXTORTION? via POLITICO Influence

Karen Hinton says the legal maneuvering between Chevron and the litigants of a lawsuit on behalf of a group of Ecuadorian indigenous peoples is premised on a dangerous legal theory.

The attorneys, who head up this ‘criminal enterprise’ and are to be paid on a contingency basis, filed a fraudulent lawsuit with the sole purpose of enriching themselves. Publicists for the Ecuadorians (I’m one), lobbyists and unpaid environmental advocates, recruited by the attorneys, colluded with them and the Ecuadorians to pressure Chevron to pay a judgment or settle – a violation of the RICO statute, according to Chevron and Kaplan. In other words, Chevron’s theory is that hard-hitting press releases and lobbying before Congress and government agencies to draw attention to the U.S.-based company’s actions in Ecuador equal economic extortion and are part of a grand conspiracy to pressure them to pay. Put another way, hard-hitting press releases and lobbying before Congress and government agencies by (insert you and your client) against (insert your client’s competitors or opponents) about (insert issue that financially benefits your client) could equal extortion and be a violation of the RICO statute. Plaintiffs who win civil RICO cases are entitled to treble damages, which could bankrupt many companies or trade associations if they were to be so targeted.” 

NOT THE HEADLINE YOU WANT TO SEE WHEN YOU HIRE A LOBBYIST

The Dixie County School Board has hired former appeals court judge Paul Hawkes to lobby the Florida Legislature for money for a new high school.

The headline in the Dixie County Advocate, which reads “School board hires disgraced ex-judge to lobby Capitol for new school,” is probably not what the school board had in mind when it decided to hire Hawkes.

My sources in Dixie County — yes I have sources in that neck of the woods — tells me that the school board was basically unaware of Hawkes’ past scandals.

Hawkes, a former member of the Florida House of Representatives, was appointed to Florida’s 1st District Court of Appeal by then governor Jeb Bush in 2003.

Hawkes later resigned rather than face an ethics trial before the Judicial Qualifications Commission for his abuses in masterminding the construction of a $50 million courthouse.

Tampa Bay Times senior correspondent Lucy Morgan reported how Hawkes abused his office to quietly persuade the Legislature to borrow money, intimidated state employees involved in the construction, sought a trip from a furniture vendor and ordered the destruction of public documents.

Jeez, I wonder if there will be any scrutiny of an appropriations project if Hawkes is lobbying for it. You think?

PERSONNEL NOTE: CHRIS CHANEY JOINS CARDENAS PARTNERS

Chris Chaney, former Legislative Affairs Director at the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, has joined The Advocacy Group at Cardenas Partners.

“Florida, like many states, is facing budgetary challenges along with difficult decisions on health care policy,” said senior partner Al Cardenas. “We are confident that Chris will be a major contributor to the health care debate in our state.”

During his time at AHCA, Chaney oversaw point on policy and appropriation issues, the licensure and regulation of Florida health care facilities and the operation the state’s Medicaid program. He also drafted legislation and developed the agency’s legislative agenda.

Chaney had a role in the passage of several major reform initiatives, including Statewide Medicaid Managed Care Program. Chaney also served as acting chief of staff, helping to manage AHCA’s 1,600 employees and $24 billion operating budget.

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CONTEXT FLORIDA: REPUBLICANS AND THE RICH, PETE SEEGER, WAR ON WOMEN AND THE MORAL HIGH GROUND

On Context FloridaMartin Dyckman begins with a short history quiz, illustrating a time (over a century ago) when Republicans tried to get a handle on the rich. Upon hearing of the passing of legendary folk singer Pete Seeger, Daniel Tilson remembers the personal, inspirational memories Seeger inspired. Catherine Robinson gives evidence that the war on women continues. Conservative leaders take advantage of voters’ lack of education and awareness, she writes. When the GOP appeals to women by holding Bill Clinton up as the “poster boy for exploitative behavior,” says Steve Kurlander, they are missing the point.

Visit Context Florida to dig in.

BRONCOS OUTSCORE SEAHAWKS … IN POLITICAL DONATIONS via USA Today

The Denver Broncos aren’t just the NFL’s highest-scoring team; its employees also have given more money to politicians than have their rivals in Sunday’s Super Bowl.

ROCKING THE GOOGLE GLASSES is my friend David Johnson.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.