Sunburn for 3/31 – 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.***

THE WEEK AHEAD

Florida lawmakers file hundreds of bills. They spend countless hours talking in committees and casting votes. But put aside all that. Each spring, they have one must-do job — pass a budget. The House and Senate during the coming week will take a major step toward carrying out that job when they approve their respective budget proposals. That will set the stage for negotiations during the second half of the legislative session on a final budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

FIVE QUESTIONS FOR THE WEEK AHEAD

1. Is the Rick Scott campaign done taking on water (for now)? It’s been 10 days since the emails from billionaire donor Mike Fernandez emerged, but Scottworld has not been able to tamp down interest by the media in the story.

2. As the month comes to an end, who will win the fundraising battles? Scott or Crist? Steve Southerland or Gwen Graham? Which legislative candidate will impress the smart money crowd?

3. Will the immigrant tuition bill make it to the Senate floor? The Senate Judiciary Committee will consider a proposal (SB 1400), filed by Sen. Jack Latvala, that would make changes in college and university tuition, including allowing undocumented immigrant students to qualify for in-state tuition rates.

4. What is the next phase in the debate over expanding vouchers? The ball is in your court, President Gaetz

5. Any budget hiccups? On Wednesday, the House will take up its proposed 2014-15 budget and consider amendments. On Friday, the Senate is expected to pass its roughly $75 billion budget proposal.

TALLYMADNESS PROGRAMMING NOTE

Voting in the first round of TallyMadness has been pushed back to Wednesday as the selection committee is still seeding the brackets. If you would like to submit a list of who you think are the top 64 lobbyists, email me at saintpeter4@gmail.com.

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FIRST LOOK — GOP 2016 POLL of 801 Republicans and lean-Rs, by WPA Opinion Research via Mike Allen of POLITICO – PREFER: Rand Paul 13 percent, Huck 13 percent, Jeb 11 percent, Christie 9 percent, Cruz 9 percent, Ryan 6 percent, Rubio 6 percent, Walker 5 percent, Jindal 3 percent, Santorum 3 percent, Perry 1 percent.

… BEST CHANCE OF BEATING HILLARY: Rand 13 percent, Christie 13 percent, Jeb 12 percent, Rubio 9 percent, Huck 8 percent, Cruz 8 percent, Ryan 4 percent, Walker 3 percent, Jindal 3 percent, Perry 2 percent, Santorum 1 percent. See the nine-page poll here.

INFLUENTIAL REPUBLICANS WORKING TO DRAFT JEB INTO 2016 PREZ RACE via Phillip Rucker and Robert Costa of the Washington Post

Many of the Republican Party’s most powerful insiders and financiers have begun a behind-the-scenes campaign to draft Bush into the 2016 presidential race, courting him and his intimates and starting talks on fundraising strategy.

Concerned that the George Washington Bridge traffic scandal has damaged New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s political standing and alarmed by the steady rise of Sen. Rand Paul, prominent donors, conservative leaders and longtime operatives say they consider Bush the GOP’s brightest hope to win back the White House.

Bush’s advisers insist that he is not actively exploring a candidacy and will not make a decision until at least the end of this year. But over the past few weeks, Bush has traveled the country delivering policy speeches, campaigning for Republicans ahead of the fall midterm elections, honing messages on income inequality and foreign policy, and cultivating ties with wealthy benefactors — all signals that he is considering a run.

Many if not most of 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s major donors are reaching out to Bush and his confidants with phone calls, emails and invitations to meet, according to interviews with 30 senior Republicans. One bundler estimated that the “vast majority” of Romney’s top 100 donors would back Bush in a competitive nomination fight.

But Bush, 61, would have serious vulnerabilities as a candidate. Out of public office for seven years, he has struggled in some appearances and has had difficulty navigating the Republican Party’s fault lines on immigration and other issues. A Bush candidacy also would test whether the nation still has a hangover from the George W. Bush administration.

JEB BUSH BLAMES OBAMA FOR ‘AMERICAN PACIFICITY’ via Zeke Miller of Time Magazine

Bush attacked President Barack Obama’s approach to world affairs and took a veiled shot at Sen. Paul at donor conference hosted by casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson in Las Vegas last week.

According to attendees at the closed-press function for $25,000-a-year donors to the Republican Jewish Coalition, Bush focused on economic policy in his remarks but also impressed the pro-Israel group with his defense of muscular American foreign policy.

As buzz increases about a potential presidential bid, Bush spoke to about five-dozen top Republican Party donors at an event that has become a cattle call for the party’s top leaders. In addition to Bush, Gov. Christie, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker are among those addressing the RJC this weekend.

The son and brother of presidents, Bush cautioned the Republican Party against “neo-isolationism,” according to sources, a line universally understood as a shot at Paul. Bush also pushed back on Democratic attacks that whenever a Republican calls for a more activist foreign policy that they are “warmongering,” Fleischer said. Fleisher’s account was confirmed by two other attendees. “It was one of the strongest parts of his speech.”

Bush didn’t reveal his thinking about 2016 when he was asked about his intentions, pivoting back to the policy challenges he believes face the country. According to a top donor close to Bush, while it could be quickly reactivated, his political operation remains “dormant.”

MARCO RUBIO: ‘WE CANNOT UNILATERALLY DISARM’ THE NSA, ‘IT MAKES THE COUNTRY LESS SAFE’ via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times

As President Obama moves to rein in NSA data collection, Sen. Rubio remains resolute.

“A lot of it’s been completely mischaracterized,” Rubio said in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times that seemed to take a jab at Sen. Paul, a potential 2016 GOP presidential primary rival, who is mounting a populist campaign on the issue.

“Some of this paranoia that’s being spun out there goes beyond the issue at hand,” Rubio said.

The Florida Republican and Senate Intelligence Committee member said: “There is no evidence that these programs have been systematically abused. And there are significant safeguards built in. You can’t just go after someone’s metadata. You have access to it, but you can only truly use it and gain access to a phone bill if they go through a judge. Then what you’re getting is a phone bill and the information contained therein. So really, the debate is why are they collecting it in the first place?

“Well, because you want to have quick access. Understand that when you’re dealing in the terrorist realm, as opposed to the law enforcement realm, sometimes you need to move quickly to prevent something. If it’s found that any individual is going after these records outside of the court, that person should be prosecuted and put in jail. But if you wipe out the program and we have the ability to deduce an attack is being planned … and we hamstring ourselves, I think that could one day lead to horrifying consequences.”

Paul has been especially vocal about the NSA, tapping into an issue that could broaden his appeal. He appeared this month before a receptive student audience in Berkeley, Calif., and said the surveillance agencies are “drunk with power.”

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DRIVING THE NAT’L DISCUSSION — GOP HAS BUILT-IN ADV. IN FIGHT FOR U.S. HOUSE via Stephen Phlemacher of the Associated Press

The Republicans’ advantage will fade as the decade wears on and the population changes. In the meantime, lopsided House districts are having a direct impact on the ability of Congress to tackle tough issues. House districts are drawn so that Democrats and Republicans often represent very different groups of people with different views on divisive issues.

The [GOP’s 2010] project was called REDMAP , which stood for Redistricting Majority Project. … Republicans spent more than $30 million through REDMAP to help elect legislative majorities … The strategy worked. Before the 2010 election, the GOP had majorities in 36 state legislative bodies. Afterward, the party controlled 56, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In almost half the states, Republicans won control of the entire redistricting process. … The Democrats’ statehouse losses in 2010 were ‘a catastrophe that is going to have a much bigger impact on Obama’s second term than the congressional elections that year did, because it’s much more durable,’ [said Third Way’s Matt] Bennett …

Six states illustrate the Republicans’ advantage in House elections: Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Wisconsin and Florida. Obama won all six in both the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections. But the House delegation for each state is overwhelmingly Republican. …

The divide is reflected in demographic differences, which can shape the debate on a variety of issues[:] Immigration. The average Democratic district has about twice as many Hispanic residents as the typical Republican district. … Minimum wage. Democrats represent the vast majority of districts with large pockets of low-income workers and families living in poverty. … Health care. Democrats represent the vast majority of districts with high concentrations of people who had no health insurance before Obama’s new health law.

WEALTHIEST CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICTS REPRESENTED BY DEMOCRATS via Stephen Ohlemacher of the Associated Press

Of the 10 richest House districts, only two have Republican congressmen. Democrats claim the top six, sprinkled along the East and West coasts. … The richest: New York’s 12th Congressional District, which includes Manhattan’s Upper East Side … Democrat Carolyn Maloney is in her 11th term representing the district. … Democratic House districts have an average per-capita income of $27,893. That’s about $1,000 higher than the average income in Republican districts. The difference is relatively small because Democrats also represent a lot of poor districts, putting the average in the middle.”

>>>The 10- richest House districts (based on per-capita income, according to the Census Bureau): 1) New York 12th, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, Democrat, $75,479 … 2) California 33rd, Rep. Henry Waxman, Democrat, $61,273 … 3)New York 10th, Rep. Jerry Nadler, Democrat, $56,138 … 4) California 18th, Rep. Anna Eshoo, Democrat, $54,182 … 5) Connecticut 4th, Rep. Jim Himes, Democrat, $50,732 … 6) Virginia 8th, Rep. Jim Moran, Democrat, $50,210 … 7)New Jersey 7th, Rep. Leonard Lance, Republican, $48,556 … 8) California 12th, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Democrat, $48,523 … 9) New York 3rd, Rep. Steve Israel, Democrat, $47,991 … 10) Virginia 10th, Rep. Frank Wolf, Republican, $47,281. 

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CD 19 SPECIAL ELECTION 

CURT CLAWSON: BUSINESSMAN’S LIFE HAS BEEN SERIES OF TURNAROUNDS via Heather Wysocki of the News-Press.com

Curt Clawson could have coined his “turnaround guy” tagline before he was tall enough to ride a roller coaster.

Now he’s hoping for another turnaround, this time from retired businessman and automotive CEO to U.S. congressman for Southwest Florida’s District 19.

Much of Clawson’s campaign has focused on that time at Hayes Lemmerz, an international maker of aluminum wheels. But his business career began earlier, working mostly at automotive companies until 2001.

That’s when Hayes Lemmerz’s board of directors started looking for new leadership.

At the time, the company was saddled with $2.2 million debt, according to federal filings.

Over the next few years the company came back, but plunged again with the auto downturn in 2008. It filed for a second bankruptcy in 2009.

Three years after the second bankruptcy exit, Hayes was sold to a Brazilian wheel company for $725 million, and Curt moved full time to Bonita Springs, where his parents, Jack and Cherie, moved in 1993.

LIZBETH BENACQUISTO: NEIGHBORLY FLORIDA DISTRICT 19 CANDIDATE VIEWED AS DRIVEN, YET NICE via Heather Wysocki of the News-Press.com

Lizbeth Benacquisto, 46, started her public career in the early 2000s when she was a leader of the committee that turned a lot into a tree-filled gathering space.

Since then, she has leaped from her role as a suburban mom in a small town to a Wellington village councilor and a state senator.

If she gets her way and wins the Republican primary for the 19th Congressional District special election, she’ll be poised to jump once again, this time into the national spotlight as one of just 20 Republican women in the U.S. House of Representatives.

But she’s also, simply, nice. And if she has any enemies, they’re not talking.

Benacquisto was first elected to the Wellington Village Council in 2002, joining because a group of her friends felt there was nobody on the board that represented the village’s median age of around 37.

In the years she was there, Wellington’s population and property values skyrocketed. It added new housing developments and the streets, schools and sewers inherent in that.

In her time as a senator, she’s helped the city of Fort Myers snag state funding for River District revitalization, arts initiatives and projects to help clean the Caloosahatchee River, he says.

Though the Senate is in session until May, Benacquisto returns every weekend to Southwest Florida and the campaign trail, where she becomes Lizbeth, that likable person who needs to sway not an entire Senate floor but simply one person’s mind, behind one door, as if that person’s the only vote she needs to win.

SUPER PACS, WITH MURKY REGULATIONS AND UNLIMITED MONEY, FIND DOWN-BALLOT RACES via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times

When Anthony Farhat set up a political committee backing Paige Kreegel, a congressional candidate in southwest Florida, he said he blocked Kreegel’s number from his phone “to be overly cautious.”

In the fast-evolving, big-money super PAC era, the airtight seal Farhat projects is generally accepted as rule of law. “My goodness, if we coordinate in any way whatsoever, we go to the Big House,” Mitt Romney once said.

Reality is quite different.

Under Federal Election Commission rules, Kreegel can still interact with Farhat and he can help the super PAC raise money. Two of Kreegel’s friends donated more than $1 million, which is being used to attack his opponents in the Congressional District 19 GOP primary.

The maximum contribution had they given directly to Kreegel: $2,600.

If 2012 was the breakout for super PACs in the presidential campaign, 2014 marks their down-ballot arrival. More and more, committees are being established with the purpose of backing a single candidate. One usually spawns another. The pro-Kreegel group Values Are Vital has been matched with one supporting Lizbeth Benacquisto, another Republican in the special election that effectively will be decided in the April 22 primary.

The trend raises new questions about the murky regulations surrounding outside groups and the lax enforcement of those rules. It has injected unprecedented amounts of money into local elections.

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BILL NELSON SAYS HE WON’T RUN AGAINST RICK SCOTT via William March of the Tampa Tribune

In case anyone was still wondering, Sen. Nelson is taking himself out of contention as a possible candidate in the race for governor of Florida.

Nelson’s decision could free up money for likely Democratic nominee Charlie Crist. At least some of the state’s top Democratic fundraisers and donors, who have been loyal to Nelson for years while Crist was still a Republican, have been holding off on getting involved in the governor’s race because of the possibility that Nelson might enter.

Over the last year or so, Nelson has criticized numerous decisions by Gov. Scott, sometimes using uncharacteristically angry tones, making it clear he thinks Scott should be replaced.

In December, he confirmed to one reporter that he would consider entering the race if Crist appeared to be losing to Scott, though he later dismissed that as a “flip comment” made when he was off-guard.

Fort Lauderdale lawyer Mitchell Berger, a long-time Democratic fundraiser and early Crist supporter, said he’s seeing “some consolidation of traditional Democratic activists and donors, including some who had been hoping Bill Nelson would consider running. I see people willing to talk to Gov. Crist about his campaign who weren’t previously engaged.”

FLASHBACK to an April 11, 2013 column by Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times: “Hostility

CRIST SUPPORT SPANS PARTIES via Jeremy Wallace of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Siesta Key resident Gary Kompothecras has arguably been the most influential Republican campaign donor in the region over the last five years, giving more than $1 million to GOP causes and candidates.

And Sarasota resident Frank Brunckhorst may have been the most influential Democratic donor during the same period, with more than $1 million in contributions to that party’s priorities and candidates statewide.

But in an unusual political development, both now find themselves on the same side, underscoring the unique nature of Republican-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist’s latest campaign for governor.

Brunckhorst, former chairman of one of the nation’s leading distributors of deli products, and Kompothecras, founder of a medical referral business, were among more than a dozen key political players who helped organize a private event at a downtown Sarasota restaurant this week to help Crist raise money to run against Gov. Scott.

While the room was filled primarily with Democratic donors, it also included some key Republican contributors. Of the seven people listed as event chairs — meaning they had raised at least $5,000 for Crist as a Democrat — four have given to Republicans in the past. These included Palmer Ranch developer Hugh Culverhouse Jr., a Miami Republican.

At the Wednesday-night fundraiser, convened with more than 120 donors, Crist was at one point conversing with Kompothecras and former Democratic congressional candidate Christine Jennings. That’s a cocktail trio few would have expected to see just a few years ago.

Fitzgerald said other Republicans are backing Crist yet aren’t willing to go public, fearing a potential backlash within the GOP. He said Crist built GOP friendships over decades, and many of those allies feel they can still work with Crist, even in his Democratic iteration.

TWEET, TWEET: @JeremySWallace: I’ve covered politics in FL since 1996, never thought I’d see Kompothecras & Brunckhorst on same side of ANY issue

DETAILS ON CRIST’S FIRST FUNDRAISER WITH JOHN MORGAN, PLANNED FOR THIS WEEK: This Thursday at Church Street Station in Orlando. The event begins at 6:00 p.m. Suggested contribution is $3,000.

TWEET, TWEET: @ananavarro: Got Charlie Crist campaign fundraising email from Jared, a “frugal son of a gun”. Jared, if ur buying lists that include me, u r wasting $$.

QUESTIONS ABOUT CAMPAIGN TURMOIL DOG RICK SCOTT AT PHOTO-OP via Anthony Man of the South Florida SunSentinel

Gov. Scott had a lousy week, and it didn’t get much better.

He couldn’t even get a TGIF moment from a ceremonial ribbon-cutting to mark the opening of the new Interstate 595 express lanes, something that normally would be a feel-good photo opportunity.

A contingent of political reporters converged on the ceremony — not for the express lanes, a project that started under former Gov. Crist’s administration and which opened two days earlier to extensive media coverage — but to ask about problems in the campaign.

Scott didn’t oblige. He took questions for 81 seconds and avoided direct answers.

Among the questions: “How badly do you think you’ve been damaged by what happened this week?” Scott responded by talking about job creation and positive statistics about Florida schools. “We’re doing really well. We’re on a roll,” he said.

After three questions about his political situation, Scott said, “Thanks everybody. Have a nice day.”

LOSERS OF THE WEEK via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times

Gov. Scott. He lost co-finance chairman Mike Fernandez, who in resigning dumped a pile of dirty laundry about the internal operations of the campaign, while leveling the charge that campaign staffers faked Mexican accents on route to Chipotle. What Hispanic vote? The campaign denied that, but the damage was done; Democrats feasted all week. …  Lt. Gov. Carlos López-Cantera. This is not what he signed up for: having to deflect questions about what a powerful Cuban-American businessman had to say about the alleged Mexican accent incident. “There’s no validity that we can find to any of those comments, or what was written,” he said. Even if that were the case, it’s highly awkward for López-Cantera, who is supposed to help Scott with Hispanics.

RUTH: SCOTT’S KEYSTONE KOPS CAMPAIGN via Daniel Ruth of the Tampa Bay Times

This may be a highly technical political science concept for the ordinary person unfamiliar with the nuances of campaigns, but it appears that Gov. Scott’s re-election campaign is being managed by doofuses.

But now Scott has managed to offend not only the state’s Hispanic voters but one of his most important connections to the Hispanic community,  Mike Fernandez.

Fernandez complained to the governor’s political apparatchiks that election workers on the way to a Miami-area fundraiser — in the presence of a Fernandez associate — engaged in making “culturally insensitive remarks” while mocking Mexican accents.

But instead of firing whoever made the comments or at least apologizing, the Scott camp went into denial mode. This, pardon the arcane political science jargon, is stupid.

Rather than attempt damage control, Curt Anderson, another Scott campaign flunky, fanned the flames by noting the governor cannot be held responsible for “every bizarre email” a supporter with little more than an “honorary title” sends, referring to Fernandez as a “renegade donor making news.”

Fernandez hardly held an “honorary title” with the Scott campaign. Before stepping down in disgust as the campaign’s top fundraiser, Fernandez donated $1 million of his own money to the governor’s re-election bid and has helped raise an additional $35 million.

At the risk of getting too deep into the weeds of campaign minutiae, let us return to Political Science 101. When someone is capable of raising eight-figure sums of campaign cash, it is not smart to write them off as a renegade dilettante.

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WHAT THE GOV’S OFFICE IS READING — FLORIDA RANKS LOW FOR TAX BURDEN, REPORT SAYS via Lloyd Dunkelberger in the Ocala Star Banner

Gov. Scott and state lawmakers want to cut some $500 million in taxes and fees in the coming year. They say it will provide needed financial relief to Florida families.

But a new report shows that state government taxes are not terribly onerous to start with. In fact, Florida’s per-capita taxation rate has fallen to 47th out of the 50 states, according to a new survey.

It also shows that Florida state government revenue has dropped 17.6 percent from 2006 to 2012, the largest decrease in the nation.

After the Great Recession, Florida state government taxes and revenues plummeted. The TaxWatch report showed the state burden per resident has fallen to 47th out of the 50 states, and its per-resident revenue has fallen to 48th — both the lowest rankings since the nonpartisan governmental watchdog group has been measuring them.

State taxation on a per-resident basis fell to $1,708 in 2012, compared with a national average of $2,536.

Combining state and local government taxation, Florida ranks 37th in the nation in per-resident taxation or 33rd in combined state and local government revenue.

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CHANGES MAY BE COMING TO STATE EMPLOYEE HEALTH INSURANCE PLANS via Jeff Burlew of the Tallahassee Democrat

State workers may have to decide next year whether they want a health-insurance plan with more benefits and higher monthly premiums or a cheaper one with fewer benefits and more take-home pay.

Currently, Career Service state employees pay the same in monthly premiums — $50 a month for individuals and $180 a month for families — regardless of whether they enroll in a standard health maintenance organization (HMO) plan or a standard preferred provider organization (PPO) plan, though the HMO plan offers richer benefits. The state also contributes the same amount each month to career-service employees — $591.52 for individuals and $1,264.06 for families — for both the HMO and PPO plans.

A bill moving through the House (HB 7157) would require the Department of Management Services to set employee contribution rates in 2015 based on the difference in the level of benefits between the two plans.

Under the bill, the employee contributions to the standard PPO plan would be required to drop below the current level. In theory, employee contributions to the HMO plan would go up, said Rep. Jason Brodeur and the bill’s co-sponsor, though he added it’s too early to know for certain.

The bill would usher in other major changes to Florida’s State Group Insurance Program, including setting health-care plans beginning in 2017 at four different benefit levels. It also would launch a three-year price-transparency pilot project in which the state would set reference prices for common procedures, like MRIs and joint replacements; workers who spent less than the reference prices on procedures would split the savings with the state.

CONSERVATION LAND MONEY FALLS SHORT via Lloyd Dunkelberger of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune

If lawmakers were planning to undermine the appeal for a new constitutional amendment requiring the state to spend more money on land conservation and other environmental initiatives, the House and Senate budget bills may fall short of that goal.

The House and Senate budget committees this week approved $75 billion budget bills that will increase spending on land conservation, springs restoration, the Everglades, water projects and other environmental initiatives.

At the top is the state’s landmark Florida Forever land-buying program, which from 1990 to 2008 had an annual budget in the range of $300 million. It has fallen to less than 10 percent of that mark in actual cash in recent years — with only $20 million in the current year, with an additional $50 million from land sales that never materialized.

The Florida Forever coalition of environmental advocates came into the 2014 session asking lawmakers for $100 million for Florida Forever as well as $25 million for the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program that allows the state to buy conservation easements on ranches and other large rural properties. The coalition also asked for $55 million for the restoration of some of Florida’s iconic freshwater springs.

The House budget may have come closest to winning the highest praise from the environmentalists as it calls for spending $70 million on land-conservation, including $15 million that would be earmarked for the rural lands conservation easements.

The Senate budget calls for $40 million in land conservation.

FLORIDA WOOS PRIVATE FLOOD INSURANCE, BUT TRICKLE LIKELY via Charles Elmore in the Palm Beach Post

The Florida Senate passed a bill that puts the state at the forefront of efforts to encourage private flood insurance, its sponsor says. “It is time for Floridians to control our own destiny and lead the nation with a free-market flood insurance program,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes.

But even if the House agrees, a few awkward points threaten to rain on any imagined parade of private insurers marching in with low-priced relief from the federal government’s 46-year-old National Flood Insurance Program.

While individual insurers might dip a toe in the market, premiums would need to rise 200 percent to 400 percent generally to get private insurers interested on a large scale, a leading industry group says. After public outcry, this month Congress capped federal increases at 18 percent a year for primary homes.

Many people don’t realize it, but private industry already pockets one in three government flood premium dollars to sign up people and administer policies — while assuming no risk.

Watchdogs including Congress’ General Accounting Office have questioned about $10 billion in fees since the 1980s to private insurance companies, agents and other middlemen as overly generous, considering the federal government is the one on the hook to pay claims. Fees run about double those for crop insurance, GAO found, but federal managers lacked the data even to say whether the flood costs made sense.

Private insurers can already write flood coverage on their own and few choose to do so.

LEGISLATURE MAY REJECT CONSUMER PROTECTIONS via Gary Fineout of the Associated Press 

Florida’s chief financial officer went to the Legislature this spring with a simple request: grant additional protections to customers dealing with property insurance companies.

But the push by Jeff Atwater is in serious jeopardy. That’s because insurers, such as State Farm Florida, are only willing to accept the added protections if they come with other changes that could help keep their costs down.

The House and Senate are now divided over the issue and are advancing very different versions of the bill. It’s a sign that nearly halfway through the Legislature’s 60-day session that the bill could easily die.

The bill would create a “homeowner claims bill of rights” that requires insurers to spell out to homeowners what they can expect when they file a claim.

The legislation also would prohibit insurance companies from using credit information to deny a claim or cancel a policy if the policy has been in effect for more than 90 days. This provision came out of a dispute between regulators and one of Florida’s largest insurance companies.

But some insurers want a separate provision that would place limits on when a homeowner can sign over to a contractor the right to collect payments directly from an insurance company. They contend that this is a looming problem and that some companies hired to fix roofs and repair water damage have inflated the costs. Without the change the fear it is could drive up homeowner insurance rates once again.

PIC DU JOUR — “The future of the Tampa Bay legislative delegation”: Shawn Harrison, Richard DeNapoli, Bill Young II, Chris Sprowls and Chris Latvala here.

SENATE AND HOUSE BUDGETS CLOSE ON EVERGLADES AND LAKE OKEECHOBEE SPENDING, NEGRON SAYS via Bruce Ritchie of the Florida Current

The Senate’s proposed Fiscal Year 2014-15 state budget includes $157.8 million for Everglades restoration and modifications to the Lake Okeechobee flow system. That compares to $125 million in the House budget.

Sen. Joe Negron, chair of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, said the differences are small compared to the size of the project.

Negron was chair last year of the Select Committee on Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee Basin, which recommended $224 million in projects over three years. Nearly all of the first year recommended $164 million in projects was in the Senate proposed budget.

Both the House and Senate have $40 million for the C-44 stormwater treatment area along the St. Lucie River, $32 million for Gov. Scott’s water quality treatment plan, $30 million for the Tamiami Trail, $5 million for the C-111 South Dade Project and $5 million for Kissimmee River restoration.

The additional projects in the Senate proposal include $15 million for the C-43 reservoir along the Caloosahatchee River along with $2 million each for Picayune Strand and Lake Worth Lagoon restoration projects.

LEGISLATURE BUDGET APPROVAL PROCESS STARTS THIS WEEK Full blog post here

Apart from hundreds of proposals for new legislation, starting this week both chambers in Tallahassee will work on what many see as the Legislature’s most essential responsibility — approving budgets for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Once each chamber approves their own budget, the second half of the legislative session begins in earnest — negotiations for the state’s final spending plan.

Before that occurs, Monday will be filled with House committee meetings to consider such issues as regulating boxing matches, drug abuse recovery residences, what to include (or exclude) in public records, as well as environmental and natural springs protections.

In addition, the Senate Ethics & Elections Committee will also consider an online voter registration system.

***Florida should stand up for innovation and consumer choice as the State considers a future that fosters highly-efficient, technology-enabled transportation solutions for consumers and drivers. Uber is a technology platform that operates in over 80 cities in 31 countries. Through a smartphone app, Uber allows riders to seamlessly connect with drivers, making cities more accessible and creating more business opportunities for drivers. Hundreds of thousands of Florida residents and visitors have opened the Uber app in search of efficient, reliable transportation options, but anti-competitive regulations are leaving cities like Miami, Orlando and Tampa behind, at Floridians’ expense. #MoveFLForward***

AS SPORTS-TOURISM FEVER SPREADS, WILL INVESTMENTS PAY OFF? via Michael Sasso of the Tampa Tribune

Whether taxpayers really benefit from paying big bucks for ballparks has stumped communities and economists for decades, and the debate continues with the Tampa Bay Rays stadium talks.

However, the same cost-benefit analysis is playing out in some surprisingly small venues: youth baseball diamonds and basketball arenas.

Developers and government leaders in the Tampa area are pitching at least four such proposals that together could cost up to $80 million.

Meanwhile, community leaders nationwide are building $15 million to $25 million youth parks in hopes of luring traveling baseball, soccer and volleyball teams, their parents and ultimately jobs.

But, to paraphrase a line from “Field of Dreams,” what happens if you build it and no one comes?

A year after opening, Nations Park has hosted only two major tournaments and is preparing for a third. The mayor charges that the developer misled the city, and City Commission candidates use it as a campaign talking point.

When asked how many communities in Florida are considering building sports facilities to lure tournaments, Clearwater-based sports marketing consultant Dev Pathik said, “I can’t think of anyone that’s not.”

LOCKHEED ADDS 200 JOBS IN ORLANDO

Lockheed Martin is adding 200 jobs to its Orlando operations.

The company announced this week it was adding the jobs to its Mission Systems and Training facility in Orlando. The company already employs about 7,000 workers in central Florida.

The new jobs will focus on training and logistics advancements for three fighter jet programs.

PUBLIX VP CELEBRATES RETIREMENT BAGGING GROCERIES 

Publix’s vice president climbed his way to the top, starting as a bag boy at a South Florida grocery store. So when Bill Fauerbach retired this week, he decided he wanted to spend his last day on the job the same way he spent his first day — bagging groceries.

Fauerbach retired after 47 years with Publix. He started bagging groceries as a high school student at a Publix in Lighthouse Point. He returned to the store Friday, happily chatting with customers and making sure their bread didn’t get crushed by heavier items.

Publix surprised him by rolling out a green carpet where all the store’s district managers, along with Fauerbach’s sons, lined up to cheer him on as he escorted the final customer to their car.

UF TO PAY COMPANY $186 MILLION FOR ONLINE PROGRAM

 The University of Florida will pay the company Pearson Embanet an estimated $186 million over the life of its 11-year contract to help launch and manage the state’s first fully online, four-year degree program.

The Gainesville Sun reports that it pieced together what UF could wind up paying Pearson based on a business plan presented to the Florida Board of Governors in September, two months before UF Provost Joe Glover and Chief Financial Officer Matt Fajack signed a contract with Pearson Embanet CEO and President David Daniels.

Gov. Scott signed a bill last year tapping UF to create an online university that would offer a full, four-year degree program at 75 percent of the tuition that residential students pay.

***Capital City Consulting, LLC is a full-service government and public affairs firm located in Tallahassee, Florida. At Capital City Consulting, our team of professionals specialize in developing unique government relations and public affairs strategies and delivering unrivaled results for our clients before the Florida Legislature and Executive Branch Agencies. Capital City Consulting has the experience, contacts and winning strategies to help our clients stand out in the capital city. Learn more at www.capcityconsult.com.***

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS…

Integrity Florida will release a research report titled “Power Play: Political influence of Florida’s top energy corporations.” The report will examine the political influence of the state’s four largest electric utility companies: Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy, TECO Energy and Gulf Power. Integrity Florida will post the report online on Monday at 10 a.m. here.

>>> “It’s not a report by Integrity Florida, it’s a report by SACE. Integrity Florida was bought out by SACE.” — Mark Bubriski,

NEW LOBBYING REGISTRATIONS

Brian Ballard, Christopher Hansen, Joe McCann, Ballard Partners: Bayer Corporation

Travis Blanton, Jon Johnson, Johnson & Blanton: American Federation for Children

Bo Bohannon, Marty Fiorentino, Joe Mobley, Mark Pinto, The Fiorentino Group: BHK Capital, LLC

Herbert Fillyaw: Kyra Info Tech, Inc.

Jason Gonzalez, Shutts & Bowen LLP: Protective Life Insurance Company

Lila Jaber, Gunster Yoakley & Stewart PA: tw telecom holdings, inc.

Denise Lasher, Lasher Consulting: American Federation for Children

Emily Nance, Foyt Ralston, Cari Roth, Bryant Miller Olive: CanDo Tech Consulting, INC

Amrita Singh: Americans United for Separation of Church and State

***CoreMessage is a full-service communications and issues advocacy firm with the experience, relationships and expertise to help you get your message out. Connected at the state capitol and throughout Florida, the CoreMessage team unites issues with advocates, messages with media and innovative solutions with traditional tactics to get results. Follow CoreMessage on Twitter and visit them on the Web at www.coremessage.com***

CONGRATULATIONS to Adams Street Advocates’ Chelsea Lauren D’Hemecourt and BG Murphy on their engagement.

CONGRATULATIONS also to Dan Dawson, former Senate Majority Office communications director — surgeon-to-be Virginia Rose says “Yes!”

FACEBOOK STATUS OF THE DAY via Rep. Clay Ingram — “Leslie and I are excited to announce that Madi will become a big sister in August when we welcome baby girl #2!”

HAPPY BIRTHDAY belatedly to GOP activist and our friend, Dywan Washington.

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.