Sunshine State News Blogs

Gov. Rick Scott was in Jacksonville Friday to highlight increased funding for early childhood education in Florida.

As part of the governor's “It’s Your Money Tax Cut Budget” is a proposal of $1.1 billion in state funding for early childhood education and care. 

"Investing in early learning is an investment in the future of our children, our families and our state," said Scott. "Florida is a leader in early learning, and is ranked first in the nation with regard to prekindergarten access. ”

The additional $59 million proposed for early learning in the governor’s budget includes a $100 per child increase in the base student allocation for VPK (voluntary prekindergarten), a one-time $30 million increase in funding for the School Readiness Program, and money for teacher scholarships and training. More than 174,000 children were enrolled in VPK in 2012-13. The program is free for children who are Florida residents and will be 4 years old by Sept. 1 of the year they would enroll in the program. 

"We applaud Gov. Scott for his support of the VPK program," said Early Learning Coalition of Duval Board Chair Jennifer Chapman. "As the leader of our great state, it is important that he has acknowledged the public-private partnerships in early learning that help ensure our children enter school ready to succeed."

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Elected officials should be getting nervous about their re-election prospects -- according to a new Rasmussen Reports poll, support for congressional incumbents has fallen to an all-time low. 

The survey found that only 7 percent of likely U.S. voters think Congress is doing a good or excellent job, while 64 percent now rate Congress’s performance as poor. 

Even more disheartening for congressmen, only 22 percent think their representative is the best person for the job and only 29 percent believe he or she deserves re-election. Both are new lows in surveying going back to November 2009. Forty-six percent say their local member of Congress is not the best person for the job, while 32 percent are undecided.

Similarly, 43 percent think their representative does not deserve re-election. 

The survey of 1,000 likely voters was conducted March 18-19. The margin of sampling error is +/- 3 percentage points with a 95 percent level of confidence.
 
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On Friday the Republican National Committee (RNC) established the Florida Hispanic Advisory Council to reach out to Hispanic voters. Florida Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, will chair the new group

“The Republican Party is working to build genuine and permanent relationships with Hispanics across Florida, and our state advisory council will help make that a reality,” said RNC Chairman Reince Priebus on Friday. “Each council member brings a unique perspective and I look forward to working with them to grow the Republican Party in their communities.”

“Over the last year, the RNC has made an unprecedented effort to engage Hispanic communities across Florida and around the country,” said Flores. “The principles of the Republican Party resonate with the Hispanic community and are the natural home for those who share our values. I am proud to be part of the RNC’s state advisory council to ensure our party has a year-round engagement effort that effectively shares our message with Hispanics across the country.”

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While he is not running in 2014, former U.S. Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., plans to back 14 Republicans in the 2014 election cycle through his Allen West Guardian Fund PAC. West plans to back veterans and minorities running as conservative Republicans. While the PAC did not endorse Navy veteran Jorge Bonilla, who also served in the Marines Reserves, this week, West did showcase his campaign for the Republican nomination to challenge U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., in November. The PAC included Bonilla on its “Ones to Watch.”


"Jorge, like others, has come to realize that his oath to ‘support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and to bear true faith and allegiance to the same,’ has no statute of limitations,” West insisted this week. “He has therefore made the tough, personal, family decision to run for U.S. Congress in Florida’s 9th District.”


Noting that “running against Rep. Alan Grayson is an uphill climb,” West compared it to a famous World War II action. “So was Mt. Suribachi on Iwo Jima, but American Marines climbed it, inch by bloody inch, and raised our American flag above it in triumph,” West noted. “Jorge Bonilla represents that spirit -- a military and minority conservative who has seen the American dream through the eyes of his parents. He now wants to ensure the dream endures for his own sons, and others like them. Jorge Bonilla is a former Marine and sailor who has hit the black volcanic beaches of a congressional campaign, and armed with principle, determination, and love of country, will move forward, climb the heights of the seemingly insurmountable high ground, and raise the flag, the standard of liberty and freedom.”


"I am honored and humbled to receive the Guardian Fund's ‘Ones to Watch’ designation,” Bonilla said. “Lt. Col. West is a true American patriot, a friend and mentor whose wise counsel has been instrumental to my campaign."



Bonilla faces Carol Platt and Peter Vivaldi in the Aug. 26 primary. Grayson took 62.5 percent in 2012, beating out his Republican foe by 25 percent.

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Earlier this week, U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., kicked off his campaign for a second term in Congress with the help of U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. Yoho’s team released a video from Paul late on Thursday, with the senator endorsing the Florida congressman. With Paul thinking about running for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, Yoho hyped him up as the “presidential front-runner.”

 

“I am glad to endorse my friend and colleague Ted Yoho for re-election,” Paul said. “The thing about Congressman Yoho is that he has been unafraid, and I think why he has been unafraid to defend liberty, defend limited government and our Constitution is because he had a real life. He had a real job. As a veterinarian, he isn’t afraid to go back to his profession at any point and time, so he hasn’t been afraid to stand up to Republicans or Democrats who aren’t doing the right thing.


“In Washington, we are still borrowing more than $1 million a minute,” Paul continued. “We keep electing people but it’s not changing. It’s only going to change when people begin to follow the lead of people like Congressman Ted Yoho. So I am proud to stand with Congressman Ted Yoho. I am proud to endorse him and proud to support him. When you are looking for leadership, when Florida is looking for leadership, Ted Yoho is your man and I am proud to stand with him.


“I am extremely proud to kick off our 2014 campaign for Congress with the endorsement of presidential front-runner Sen. Rand Paul,” Yoho said. “His conservative leadership and tenacity in getting the conservative message out is admirable. We are going to continue to fight for the conservative principles that we were sent to Washington to uphold. I am honored and humbled to have his support and look forward to working with Sen. Paul on getting our country back.”

Earlier this week, Gainesville attorney Jake Rush launched a bid to challenge Yoho in the Republican primary.

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U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla., is one of 10 Florida Republican congressmen co-sponsoring U.S. Rep. Rod Woodall’s, R-Ga., “FairTax Act of 2013” (HR 25) and the Jacksonville congressman, who has backed the FairTax since 2006, explained his rationale on Thursday.


“Every year Americans negotiate 70,000 pages of costly and complex tax code and spend roughly $265 billion and 6.1 billion hours filling out tax forms,” Crenshaw said “This amount of time and money can be better spent on growing the economy and creating jobs. Implementing a FairTax would help.


“The easy-to-understand FairTax would rid us of thousands of pages of regulations and loopholes,” Crenshaw added. “In its place would remain a transparent national sales tax on goods and services administered primarily by the states. Federal income taxes as well as the FICA payroll tax would be eliminated, and the IRS would no longer be needed.


“The FairTax protects the poor and treats everyone equally: no exemptions, no exclusions, no advantages. People would be allowed to keep their entire paycheck and spend hard-earned dollars on ways that best suit them. On the business side of the equation, labor costs are lowered by eliminating payroll taxes, allowing companies to hire more workers,” Crenshaw continued.


“Americans deserve to keep more of their paycheck in their wallets and bank accounts,” Crenshaw concluded. They don’t need to be finding more dollars to send to Washington to fund big and costly government programs.”

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Gov. Rick Scott praised the availability of jobs in Florida on Thursday -- available job openings in Florida increased in February 2014 compared to the previous February by 9,727, or 3.6 percent, for a total of 278,717 openings.

According to a press release, these figures from Help Wanted Online are an all-time high in the data series, which began nearly a decade ago in May 2005.

Job postings in Florida also increased over the month compared to January 2014 by 8,204 openings or 3.0 percent.

“Another record month for job demand in Florida is great news for Florida families," said Scott. "Every job posting represents an opportunity for a Florida family and a chance to achieve their dreams. With an unemployment rate at 6.1 percent, the lowest unemployment rate in the state since June 2008, and the creation of 500,000 private sector jobs since December 2010, it is clear that our job creation efforts are working.”

According to the Help Wanted OnLine data series, online job demand was highest in the state's large metro cities, led by Miami, Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville, and Ft. Lauderdale.

Among cities with the most openings, the highest percentage gain over the year was Sarasota with 36.4 percent growth.
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With President Barack Obama heading to the Sunshine State on Thursday, he is drawing fire from an old foe in Gov. Rick Scott.


Rising to political prominence by opposing Obama’s federal health-care law, Scott went after Obama for taking funds from Medicaid Advantage to fund the law.


"Today, President Obama is coming to Florida to raise money and do a campaign-style event,” Scott said. “No one knows specifically what he’s going to talk about, but it’s safe to say he won’t be addressing the 1.3 million Florida seniors who are in danger of losing their health care benefits, doctors and hospitals as Medicare Advantage plans are being raided to fund Obamacare. The president probably won’t tell the story of Floridians losing access to cancer centers. The president probably won’t bring on stage seniors whose co-pays and premiums have increased. Day-by-day, real Florida families are being affected by the president’s policies – and his administration has continued to change the rules and stick their heads in the sand. That’s not acceptable to families who are being impacted, and that’s why in the coming months I’m going to meet with families to hear their stories on what they had, and what they’ve lost. Hopefully, this administration will get the message that raiding Medicare Advantage is harming our seniors and change course. Stay tuned.”

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The Republican Governors Association (RGA) took aim at former Gov. Charlie Crist on Thursday for defending President Barack Obama’s federal health-care law. Despite being a Republican for most of his political career, Crist is the favorite for the Democratic nomination to challenge Gov. Rick Scott in November. The RGA pointed to former state CFO Alex Sink’s loss to Republican David Jolly in last week’s special congressional election in Pinellas County, insisting her defense of the health-care law helped lead to her defeat.
 

“Nearly four years to the day since Obamacare passed, Charlie Crist has fallen head-over-heels in love with Obamacare, going so far as to say ‘God bless’ President Barack Obama for this odious law,” said Gail Gitcho, a spokeswoman for the RGA on Thursday. “As Alex Sink just learned the hard way, Floridians do not like Obamacare. Families and single parents don’t like losing their insurance plans. The elderly don’t like being cut out of Medicare Advantage. And no Floridian wants to hear there will be less jobs available to them in the future. Sorry, Charlie, once again you are on the wrong side of the voters.

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Businessman Leo Govoni announced on Thursday that he was suspending his Republican primary challenge to state Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-St. Petersburg. Govoni had been running a conservative challenge and was raising impressive funds out of the gate.
 

"After much thought and deliberation, I have decided to suspend my campaign for state House District 69,” Govoni said on Thursday. "Suspending my campaign does not mean I am suspending my efforts to improve this wonderful community I call home. I will work each day, as I always have to continue to build a strong community built on personal responsibility, job growth, and education. These are goals we should all champion and advocate for.Thank you to all who showed their early and unequivocal support of my platform and campaign – I am profoundly humbled by your support, kindness and generosity."

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Gov. Rick Scott believes the University of Florida Gators basketball team will go all the way during this year's March Madness, according to an image posted on Twitter.

The governor also picked Florida State University to defeat Auburn in the BCS football championship game.

Scott's bracket has Florida beating Michigan 60-54 in the final game. In Scott's Final Four: the Gators, the Michigan Wolverines, Cincinnati Bearcats and Wisconsin Badgers. 

Scott also took to Instagram to show his support for the Gators.

"Florida is the No. 1 state for jobs, the No. 1 state for education, the No. 1 state for college football, and now we're the No. 1 state for college basketball," he said. "Go Gators!"

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The Tea Party Express announced on Wednesday it was backing businessman Curt Clawson in the Republican primary to replace former U.S. Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fla., in Congress. Clawson battles Florida Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto and fomer state Rep. Paige Kreegel in the April 22 primary.


“It doesn’t get more ‘outsider’ than to have the Tea Party Express get behind our effort here in Southwest Florida,” Clawson said. “Today our campaign has became a movement for change and gives the voters of the 19th District an ability to add their voice to the growing caucus for major change in Washington. I will be honored to serve alongside those individuals like our own Sen. Marco Rubio and Sen. Rand Paul who were backed by the tea party. The tea party is passionate, like me, to grow our economy and cut federal spending and I am the only candidate in this race who has presented an economic plan to bring our country back from financial ruin.”

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Former U.S. Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., went after President Barack Obama and the Democrats on Tuesday. West painted the Democrats as a “party of defeatists” in an email sent out on Tuesday night.


“I call it as I see it,” West insisted. “Obama is the weakest American president since Jimmy Carter or maybe even in our entire history. He's just plain scared to fight for America.”


Despite losing to Patrick Murphy in 2012, West has left the door open to a political comeback though he is not running for office in 2014. Later this week, West will be hosting the “Allen West Black Tie Boot Camp” which features Donald Trump and Republican state legislators including Florida Rep. Mike Hill, R-Pensacola.


“I'm prepared to lead America back to strength – no matter what it takes,” West proclaimed on Tuesday.

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U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., took aim at Nicolas Maduro and the Venezuelan regime and called for congressional support of the Venezuelan Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act which was introduced by U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla.


“Maduro and his cronies have unleashed a wave of severe oppression and frequent acts of violence against the Venezuelan people as they have peacefully taken to the streets to protest their legitimate grievances against their government,” Diaz-Balart said. “The brave Venezuelan people have been protesting rampant corruption, rising inflation rates, soaring unemployment, shortages of everyday products, increasing crime rates, and the erosion of human rights and political dissent. It is time for the United States to hold Maduro and his complicit thugs accountable for their gross violation of human rights, repression, and media censorship. This legislation demands a variety of substantial actions that names and shames these cowardly perpetrators. HR 4229 reaffirms Congress’s solidarity with the people of Venezuela as they struggle to seek a better future.”

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Florida TaxWatch released a report on Wednesday which insists that paying assistant state attorneys and assistant public defenders more would actually save taxpayers. The report shows that the current pay leads to high turnover and costs more than $15 million each year. Currently new lawyers starting in those positions make around $41,700, about $20,000 below the national average for states with as much crime as Florida.


"If Florida expects our criminal justice system to deliver timely and effective justice, we must wisely invest in those who are responsible for carrying it out," said Dominic Calabro, the president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch. "Paying our assistant state attorneys and assistant public defenders closer to the rest of the nation will ensure our tax dollars are not wasted on high turnover costs and lower productivity, and that our criminal justice system is in the best hands our state can find."


"Increasing the starting pay for Florida's assistant state attorneys and assistant public defenders is essential if we hope to attract and retain talented lawyers to administer the criminal justice system," said Dan McCarthy, the director of the TaxWatch Center for Smart Justice. "Paying the lowest wages in the nation creates high staff turnover, which in turn delays justice and impacts public safety. Justice delayed is often justice denied."


The report can be read here.

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The Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) lodged a complaint with the Florida Elections Commission on Tuesday regarding how trial attorney Morgan & Morgan are running billboards across the state featuring former Gov. Charlie Crist. Despite spending most of his political career as a Republican, Crist is the favorite for the Democratic nomination to challenge Gov. Rick Scott in November. Crist worked for Morgan when he left office after the 2010 elections.

The RPOF insisted the billboards are an “unreported in-kind contribution that far exceeds the statutory contribution limit of $3,000 per person.”

Juston Johnson, executive director of the RPOF, offered his take after filing the complaint.

"I guess it should be no surprise that trial lawyer Charlie Crist is being helped by his trial lawyer partners at Morgan & Morgan, but his campaign's failure to report their help is a violation of the law,” Johnson insisted Tuesday. “Morgan & Morgan billboards, with Charlie Crist's face on them while he was a declared candidate, qualified as a reportable contribution. Failing to report the billboards is a clear breach of the law and a promise to work 'for the people.'"

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manatee

Manatee

Tim Chastain, who told Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers he had to detour his kayak eco-tours of the Indian River Lagoon to avoid bloated manatee carcasses and dead pelicans, has filed a lawsuit in federal court against state permitting of hundreds of thousands of private septic systems.

The septic systems are blamed for leaching nitrogen that contributes to algae growth in the lagoon.

A growing body of evidence on the degradation of the Indian River Lagoon and St. Lucie Estuary in particular points to leaching septic tanks as a "major" contributing factor, Sunshine State News reported in September 2013. How major is still a matter of conjecture. Harbor Branch scientist Brian LaPointe, who has studied the river for more than 30 years, thinks it's considerable. “One septic tank on 4 acres -- that’s enough to create a nutrient problem,” he says.

Chastain explained that septic systems were left out of the conversation last year when calls to action were being answered to reduce stormwater runoff, fertilizer use and discharges from Lake Okeechobee. Chastain and his attorneys say the septic tank problem can be solved with affordable steps, and not all homes in the five-county Indian River watershed have to be hooked up to an expensive central system.

green sea turtle

Green Sea Turtle

“We urge DOH to address this crisis with an open mind,” attorneys Lesley Blackner of Palm Beach and Christopher T. Byrd of Orlando wrote in the notice to Florida Surgeon General John H. Armstrong and federal officials. “There are alternative methods for disposing of human waste that are cost-effective, create economic opportunities [and] embrace real sustainability.”

See a copy of the lawsuit here.

Chastain is an environmental activist who founded a local Surfrider Foundation chapter. He now owns Fin Expeditions and his Cocoa Beach home is connected to a $20 million sewage treatment system, the newspaper reported.

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Gov. Rick Scott cheered the news that the Florida Senate passed his call to roll back almost $400 million in vehicle registration fees without opposition on Tuesday. The proposal is one of Scott’s chief legislative goals this session.
 

“I want to thank Senate President Don Gaetz, Sen. Joe Negron and members of the Florida Senate for their unanimous support to roll back the 2009 tax increase on vehicle registrations,” Scott said. “This tax cut will let families keep nearly $400 million of their hard-earned money in their own pockets. It’s critical to our ‘It’s Your Money Tax Cut Budget,’ which cuts taxes, pays down debt, and cuts government waste. Today’s vote is great news, and we’ll continue working with the Legislature to let families keep more of their hard-earned dollars.”

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The Florida Senate passed a tax cut of nearly $400 million on Tuesday. The tax cut will roll back motorist fee increases approved by the Legislature in 2009.

It passed the Senate with a unanimous vote of 40-0. Gov. Rick Scott has pushed for the $395 million in tax cuts as a top priority as part of his $600 million tax cut pitch for Florida families. 

Should the Florida House concur with the Senate, average motorist fees would be reduced by about $25 per vehicle. 

The fee will kick in in September, with most motorists getting the break in 2015.

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U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla., is handing some of his office budget back to the federal government. Ross announced on Tuesday that he was sending $87,789 from his office budget back to the U.S. Treasury.
 

"I am constantly striving to do more with less while continuing to provide Central Floridians with the best constituent services," said Ross. "I work for the people and using their money wisely is of utmost importance. Ever since I was elected to serve in Congress, I have kept my promise to promote a financially responsible government -- both in how I vote as well as how I run my office. I have worked hard to ensure that every dollar counts and I have returned more than a quarter-million taxpayer dollars to the Treasury throughout the past three years."

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Gwen Graham, the daughter of former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., has won national attention from Democrats as she offers a major challenge to U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Fla. But, on Monday, Graham garnered the notice of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC).


The NRCC released a letter asking President Barack Obama to campaign in the North Florida district for Graham and supporting his signature health-care law.


“After supporting an unpopular president and his even more unpopular law, Gwen Graham will need a lot more than just luck to win this November,” said Andrea Bozek, a spokeswoman for the NRCC. “If she is committed to running on President Obama’s agenda, she should ask him to join her in the district.”

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Newly elected U.S. Rep. David Jolly, R-Fla., unveiled a Web video on Monday night showcasing his win over former state CFO Alex Sink in last week’s special election to replace the late U.S. Rep. Bill Young, R-Fla., in Congress.


“Last week, I had the incredible honor of being sworn in to become the newest member of the people's House of Representatives and I wanted to thank you again for giving me the opportunity to serve you in Congress,” Jolly emailed supporters before highlighting the video. “When I first watched this, I could not believe how far we had come together and what we have accomplished for the people of Pinellas County."


Jolly urged his supporters to “hold me accountable as I work each day for you” in his new congressional service.

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On Monday, Gov. Rick Scott and Lt. Gov. Lopez-Cantera held a round-table in Miami Gardens to talk about the costs of higher education. Scott stressed the importance of clamping down on tuition increases.


“We have to make college tuition more affordable,” Scott said. “This year we are working to not only make higher education accessible, but to also make it affordable for every family that dreams of sending their children to college. I want to get rid of the 15 percent annual increase and inflationary increase on tuition, so that more Floridians can afford to go to college and live the American dream. My goal for tuition is simple: we must hold the line.”

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Anti-Common Core groups across Florida will be holding a statewide event in Orlando on Saturday opposing the national education standards. 

The free event will feature speakers David Barton of WallBuilders, Laura Caruso of Florida Family Policy Council and Stephen Guschov of Liberty Council. 

Rep. Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach, and Rep. Charles Van Zant, R-Keystone Heights, will also be present at the event. Sen. Greg Evers R-Baker, has been invited to the event, but has not yet confirmed if he's attending. 

"Current education 'reforms' are already impacting Florida students – public, private and home schooled," reads the event website. "We’re at a crucial juncture as the Florida Legislature is meeting NOW and there are several lawmakers in a true 'David and Goliath' fight to stop this in Florida. You’ll  hear from them as well.  Parents, no matter where you have your kids, you are ultimately responsible for – and must have authority over – your child’s education." 
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Former state Rep. Paige Kreegel responded to attacks from Republican congressional primary foe Curt Clawson on Monday. A super-PAC backing Kreegel is running attack ads against Clawson and the Clawson camp, after a phone call from Kreegel last week, insists there are “questions about how involved Kreegel is in the operations of the Values are Vital super-PAC.”


“A recent phone call I made, and message I left on Curt Clawson's voice mail is generating a lot of speculation,” Kreegel said on Monday. “Everyday my campaign manager does a routine search of expenditures by the various political action committees (PACs) involved in the CD19 special election. This information is publicly available on the Federal Election Commission website, and is the same method used to reveal that ‘outsider’ Clawson contributed $2,500 to the campaign of Michigan Democrat Debbie Stabenow and $10,000 to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.



“When notified by my staff on Friday of an FEC filing by a Super-PAC, indicating that they were to spend money in opposition of Curt Clawson, I called Curt personally to express my displeasure with a process over which I have no control,” Kreegel added. “Apparently no good deed goes unpunished, and Clawson and his high priced Washington, D.C. consultants made the decision to use my act of civility against me. It's abundantly clear that Curt would like to make an issue out of it since he has taken a recent beating in the press and in the polls.”

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Florida TaxWatch released a report on how the Sunshine State compared to other states when it comes to taxes and finds it ranks 33rd between local and state governments.

"One specific tax ranking cannot tell the whole story," said Dominic Calabro, the president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch. "It is our hope that this more comprehensive report will help taxpayers and policymakers better understand how states fund their governments and demonstrate that low taxes in one area often means higher taxes in another area."

The study finds local governments are far more burdensome with taxes than Tallahassee. Florida ranked 47th in 2012 when it came to per capita state taxes and 48th on state per capita revenue. But Florida is seventh in local per capita revenue and 22nd when it came to local taxes among the states.

"Because Florida relies more on local governments to fund public services than all but one state and uses nontax revenues more than most states, it is imperative to look at the whole picture of revenue collection when comparing the cost of government," said Kurt Wenner, the vice president of tax research at Florida TaxWatch. "When you consider combined state and local revenue, Florida becomes more of a moderate tax state than a low tax state."

"Florida TaxWatch pioneered the inclusion of the taxpayers' rights and responsibilities in our state laws through the adoption of the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights,” Callabro said. “It is our hope that the report will help taxpayers and policymakers understand how those responsibilities serve their government, how they compare to those in other states, and how important our tax and revenue structure is to making Florida a great place to live and work."


The report can be read here.

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Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart has selected the American Institutes for Research (AIR) assessment test to replace the FCAT, according to documents released by the Florida Department of Education on Monday.

The nonprofit beat out several large testing companies like Pearson and CTB-McGraw Hill for the contract.

"I am confident that this is the best choice for Florida’s students," Stewart wrote in a letter to superintendents. "This assessment will measure their progress and achievement on Florida Standards, which, along with high-quality instruction, will give every student the opportunity to be college and career ready."

The new test will assess student achievement based on the new Florida Standards, which were adopted by the State Board of Education in February. According to a release from the department, the new test will provide a more “authentic” assessment of the Florida Standards, because it will include more than multiple choice questions. Students will also be required to create graphs and respond in different ways than they would on traditional tests.

The test will be first administered in the spring of 2015.

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With Florida’s state unemployment rate dropping to 6.1 percent in January, the Republican Governors Association (RGA) sent out Gov. Brian Sandoval, R-Nev., to praise Gov. Rick Scott’s record.

"Rick Scott and I were elected in the midst of the Great Recession in 2010 when each of our states faced some of the most challenging economic times they have ever known,” Sandoval said on Monday. “Unprecedented unemployment, budget deficits and foreclosures were issues that both Floridians and Nevadans confronted with hard work, sacrifice and optimism.

“Today, Nevada and Florida lead the nation with the largest improvement in unemployment,” Sandoval added. “I congratulate my friend Rick Scott as he leads Florida's economic comeback."

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Businessman Curt Clawson is taking aim at former state Rep. Paige Kreegel in the increasingly contentious Republican primary to replace former U.S. Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fla., in Congress.

Clawson’s team pointed to a voice mail they say is from Kreegel. A super-PAC backing Kreegel is running attack ads against Clawson and the Clawson camp insists there are “questions about how involved Kreegel is in the operations of the Values are Vital super-PAC.”

“While this is for sure a shocker, and may mark the first time a candidate for federal office has so blatantly spoken for a super-PAC, the threatening message is in keeping with Paige Kreegel’s checkered past,” said David James, a spokesman for Clawson. “Sadly, Paige Kreegel thinks the laws he would be elected to make don’t apply to him and indeed so-called ‘values’ aren’t so vital to him. The people of Southwest Florida are fed up with insider politicians like Kreegel and deserve an outsider like Curt Clawson.”

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While Gov. Rick Scott cheered the news that Florida’s unemployment rate dropped to 6.1 percent for January, his Libertarian rival isn’t buying it.

Adrian Wyllie went on the attack on Monday, insisting the lower unemployment rate means nothing.

“The number of working Floridians has decreased dramatically on his (Gov. Scott’s) watch, and his lackluster policies have directly resulted in thousands of lost jobs in Florida,” Wyllie insisted on Monday. “Florida’s labor participation rate has fallen from the 25-year average of 62.4 percent, down to 59.6 percent, according to the Florida Legislature Office of Economic and Demographic Research.

“It’s easy to tout positive unemployment numbers when you stop counting the 441,859 Floridians who have given up hope of finding work,” Wyllie added. “Take a stand for putting people back to work -- not taking them out of the equation!”

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