The latest news from Tallahassee
May 18 - Gov. Rick Scott must have dreamed of a day like Friday.
Not only could Scott tout an unemployment rate at its lowest level since September 2008, but the jobs, jobs, jobs governor also signed a tax-break bill for manufacturers that was one of his top legislative priorities.
“It’s a great day for our state,” Scott said. “I feel great for all the families that are getting jobs in our state.”
Scott will never be known for riveting sound bites. But to punch up Friday’s news about the 7.2 percent unemployment rate, his office sent out a link to a slick, campaign-style video featuring background music, graphics and Scott recounting steady job growth during his two-plus years in office.
Make no mistake, Scott’s 2014 re-election campaign is well underway. Remember Scott’s “Let’s Get to Work” ads that seemed to be on an endless TV loop in 2010? Get ready for a barrage of ads during the next 18 months with the theme, “It’s Working.”
Democrats, of course, won’t give Scott a pass. In a recent email invitation to the party’s upcoming Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, state Democratic Chairwoman Allison Tant said it is important for Democrats to “come together to celebrate the historic gains we made last year and to turn our efforts to defeat the most unpopular Governor in the nation — Rick Scott!”
But at least for now, Scott has the field virtually to himself. The will-he-or-won’t-he speculation about former Gov. Charlie Crist’s possible entrance into the race dominates discussions about Democrats.
Meanwhile, Scott spent Monday and Tuesday of this week traveling to businesses across the state to celebrate passage of the bill that includes a sales-tax exemption for manufacturing equipment. That came after a similar victory tour last week to celebrate passage of a plan to increase teacher pay, another one of Scott’s legislative priorities.
And by the way, Scott took some time Thursday to champion the addition of $36 million to provide services to people with disabilities who have been stuck on a waiting list. Put all of the pieces together, and it looks like a campaign.
A round-up via the News Service of Florida.
The biggest issue facing Scott is next Friday’s deadline for signing the state budget and issuing vetoes. With the governor and an entourage leaving late Monday for a trade mission to Chile, it remains unclear when he will make his decisions.
But Florida TaxWatch, a group that makes recommendations each year about vetoes, issued a report this week that came up with nearly $107 million in budget “turkeys” — the Tallahassee term for pork-barrel spending.
TaxWatch’s biggest gobbler, weighing in at $14 million, was a budget item for a science, technology, engineering and math building at Gulf Coast State College, which is in the district of Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville. In all, TaxWatch targeted 107 items in the proposed $74.5 billion budget for the fiscal year starting July 1.
“We don’t give the leaders a pass, we don’t hold them to a higher standard or a lower standard,” TaxWatch researcher Kurt Wenner said.
The TaxWatch list, which takes into account issues such as whether lawmakers stuck projects in the budget during final negotiations and whether projects were recommended by agencies, is an annual staple in Tallahassee. But the report released Thursday drew harsh criticism from Gaetz and Senate Appropriations Chairman Joe Negron, R-Stuart.
Gaetz issued a statement that seemed to almost border on apoplexy. Here’s the first paragraph:
“The TaxWatch list is built on the unconstitutional perversion that if an appropriation isn’t recommended by unelected agency officials it shouldn’t be considered in conference by elected legislators,” Gaetz said. “This is an arrogance of the elite who spend too much time in Tallahassee and Washington listening to the echoes of their own invented wisdom and thinking they’re hearing the voice of God.”
And that was just the start. Here’s another snippet:
“If our founders had shared the slavish devotion of TaxWatch to unchallenged decisions and dictates of faraway bureaucrats, we’d all be drinking English tea and singing God Save the Queen. A good song. But not an American song,” Gaetz said. “The Constitution obligates and empowers elected legislators, who come from communities and go home to communities, to write the state’s budget. If TaxWatch staffers want to test their budget theories in the public square, let them stand up in front of conference committees and testify in public.”
It remains to be seen what projects Scott will veto — or whether he will draw a similar reaction from legislative leaders. He shed little light Friday about his plans.
“My job is to make sure I represent the taxpayers of the state, I don’t want to waste any of their dollars,” Scott said. “I want to make sure we go through every line. Make sure the dollars are spent well.”
While Scott talks about jobs for Florida families, he might not have to worry about two groups of people who sometimes cross paths in the Capitol — lobbyists and state-college presidents.
At least that’s the take-away from numbers released this week.
Five lobbying firms collected at least $1 million in legislative lobbying fees during the first three months of the year, while 11 others collected between $500,000 and $999,999, according to reports filed by a Wednesday night deadline.
Meanwhile, a report issued by Scott’s chief inspector general, Melinda Miguel, found that presidents at the 28 state colleges are making between $143,866 and $630,157 during the current fiscal year. Miguel said it was sometimes difficult to figure out how much the presidents make and called for changes.
“Therefore, we recommend that the boards of trustees, in consultation with the Division (of Florida Colleges), jointly establish the parameters upon which the presidents’ total compensation is determined, document the factors upon which compensation is based and standardize the methodology across state colleges,” Miguel said.
But that idea drew pushback from some college officials.
“With a system as diverse as ours in terms of size, geography, community demographics and businesses, which leads to varying mix of programs to meet those local needs, it is difficult to imagine that a ‘one size fits all’ formula for presidential compensation would be very effective,” wrote Lake Sumter State College Board Chairman Timothy Morris in a response. “If, for example, size were a limiting factor, colleges like ours would become training grounds for new presidents who would soon move on to the next opening at a larger school. Such a model would be destabilizing for our college and others like us.”
STORY OF THE WEEK: Florida’s unemployment rate dropped to 7.2 percent in April.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “It is little wonder that TaxWatch is irrelevant 364 days a year.” — Senate President Don Gaetz, in a statement railing on TaxWatch’s annual budget “turkey” list.