Weekly Roundup: Don't Spend It All in One Place

By: Brandon Larrabee News Service of Florida | Posted: September 14, 2013 3:55 AM

Rick Scott

In recent years, when they would hear the reports of lagging revenue and growing expenses, lawmakers would send a warning to agencies, special interests and anyone else listening: Don't ask for more money. It isn't there.

The warnings aren't quite as dire this time, but the House and Senate budget chairs are still sending a similar message despite an $845.7 million projected surplus. The money might be there, but it's not time to go on a spending spree.

That would at least seem to indicate that something is going to have to pay for the $500 million tax cut that Gov. Rick Scott is pitching across the state on a campaign-style swing less than a year ahead of the real thing, when he would presumably talk again about the $500 million tax cut.

Meanwhile, the campaign trail proved to be tricky for Attorney General Pam Bondi after she admitted asking the governor's office to move an execution that conflicted with her campaign kickoff. And the state said goodbye to a man all too familiar with walking the trail.


Scott spent much of his week zigzagging the state to push for a tax whose details he doesn't yet know. The governor has already said he will devote $500 million to reducing taxes and fees in his budget for the year that begins July 1, but has said he will solicit advice on how to get to that number.

That meant a four-day, five-city swing that took Scott to West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Jacksonville, Tampa and Orlando. The "It's Your Money" Tax Cut Tour coincided with the week when lawmakers heard a presentation on how much extra money they will have for the next budget.

Right now, the number sits at $845.7 million, when high-priority items and a $1 billion reserve are factored in. But despite the extra funding -- much of which is one-time money -- legislative leaders are urging caution when it comes to big-spending items.

Like $500 million tax cuts.

"Obviously the widely reported surplus is good news for Florida," House Budget Chairman Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland, said in a statement. "But despite our healthy surplus, it is not cause for dancing in the streets. The Florida Legislature has made fiscally responsible decisions that have helped to improve Florida's bottom line and I suggest that we not lose sight of our fiscal principles as we move forward."

Senate Budget Chairman Joe Negron, R-Stuart, sounded the same notes.

"In order to fund new priorities, initiatives, things that our constituents feel are important in 2013 and 2014, we're going to continue to have the discipline to review previous expenditures that were important to legislators who were duly elected in the 1990s and in 2000 and 2010," Negron said.

But the GOP was likely to go along with Scott's idea in the end, particularly in an election-year session, which means the concept will probably make it into next year's budget. Democrats are already savaging the proposal, saying that it amounts to taking money that could be used on education and funneling it to the well-off.

"Instead of touting taxpayer giveaways that favor wealthy special interests and the politically connected, Governor Rick Scott and Republican legislative leaders should focus on the needs of working families,'' said House Minority Leader Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale. "Rather than gimmicks, it’s time that Florida’s leaders get serious about better funding for public schools, community colleges and universities."


Attorney General Pam Bondi, meanwhile, found herself in a controversy that made it all the way to the Rachel Maddow Show the week after it was revealed that she asked Scott to change the date of an execution because of a scheduling conflict with her campaign kickoff.

On Sept. 6, the News Service of Florida reported that the execution of death row inmate Marshall Lee Gore had been rescheduled from Tuesday, Sept. 10 to Oct. 1 because of Bondi's campaign event.

By Monday, Bondi was already forced to say that she was wrong to ask Scott to push the date back to accommodate the event.

"As a prosecutor, there was nothing more important than seeing justice done, especially when it came to the unconscionable act of murder," Bondi said in a release. "I personally put two people on death row and, as attorney general, have already participated in eight executions since I took office, a role I take very seriously.

"The planned execution of Marshall Lee Gore had already been stayed twice by the courts, and we should not have requested that the date of the execution be moved," Bondi added.

For his part, Scott said he wasn't aware of why the attorney general had asked for Gore's death to be delayed

"We set the date, the attorney general's office asked for a postponement, so we went along with that," Scott responded when asked Monday if he thought the reason for the delay was proper. "We try to comply with when other Cabinet members ask for something. We try to work with them."

Gore, whose sanity has been the focus of efforts to block the execution, was convicted of killing two women in 1988 in Miami-Dade and Columbia counties.

Gore's death warrant is for the murder of Robyn Novick, whose body was found in March 1988 in a rural area of Miami-Dade.

By the end of the week, Democrats -- who have yet to round up an official challenger for Bondi -- were already using the event to try to slam both the attorney general and the governor.

The Florida Democratic Party said it has submitted an open-records request for Scott, Bondi and several of Scott's top aides to turn over anything dealing with the delay in the execution.

"Pam Bondi has demonstrated astoundingly bad judgment, putting partisan politics ahead of the most serious duty she has as attorney general. But we know that's not the full story," said Joshua Karp, a party spokesman, in a press release. "Governor Rick Scott has refused to answer questions about his office's involvement in this gross breach of the public trust, directing all inquiries back to Pam Bondi."

Also on the hot seat this week was Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, who is in line to become the next Democratic leader in the House -- but is facing some calls to step aside. Rouson, who already wasn't unanimously supported by the caucus, ran into trouble most recently when two Democratic Party staffers were fired for helping him set up a separate fundraising arm for House Democrats. Top party officials worried about a lack of fundraising coordination, and Rouson backed down. But on Friday, the current House Democratic leader, Rep. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, called a caucus meeting for later this month to clear the air -- and let Rouson try to make his case for remaining leader-designate.


There were also some notable comings and goings in the world of Florida politics, including the death of longtime congressman Clay Shaw.

Shaw, a Republican who served a mostly moderate coastal district from 1981 to 2007, died Tuesday at the age of 74 after a battle with lung cancer. Shaw won in 1980, as President Ronald Reagan easily defeated the incumbent Jimmy Carter, and was also a part of the GOP's Contract with America that powered a congressional takeover in 1994.

Shaw, whose accomplishments included efforts to implement the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, work on the 1996 Welfare Reform Act and introducing the Missing Children's Act of 1982, was mourned by Republicans and Democrats.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who served six years in the House with Shaw, called him "a great advocate and public servant" whose "greatest love was always his family."

And U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Fla., also praised Shaw.

"I will always fondly remember Clay Shaw from my time as mayor of West Palm Beach, as someone who you could work with in a bipartisan manner and as a true gentleman," she said.

Shaw was unseated in 2006 by Democrat Ron Klein as part of a Democratic wave that temporarily ended GOP control of the House.

Also this week, Jerry McDaniel announced he would retire Dec. 31 from his position as budget director, which he held under both Gov. Rick Scott and former Gov. Charlie Crist. He will be replaced by Cynthia Kelly, a former top House and Senate budget staff member who has since 2010 worked as director of the Division of Administrative Services at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

And Jan Ignash, vice chancellor and chief academic officer for the State University System, was officially tapped Thursday to be interim chancellor until the Board of Governors can find a permanent replacement for Frank Brogan. Ignash is not expected to apply for the permanent position.

STORY OF THE WEEK: Legislative leaders called for caution about an $845.7 million surplus as Gov. Rick Scott toured the state touting his proposed $500 million tax cut.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "I'm asking, before a person be judged and convicted in a rush to judgment, for the opportunity to appear in front of the caucus and lay out the strategy." -- Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, on calls for him to step aside from House minority leader-designate.


Tags: News, Politics

Comments (1)

1:54PM SEP 14TH 2013
hundreds of millions in tax cuts for the wealthy again ? ricky could care less what the people of florida think. the money will go to anyone willing to make a sizable campaign contribution to him.

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