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Report: ALEC's influence in Florida broad

26 July 2012
A coalition of liberal groups issued a scathing report Thursday saying the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative organization for state lawmakers, has an inordinate amount of influence on the Florida Legislature.

Click here to read the report

ALEC's critics also charge it with pay-for-play lobbying on behalf of corporate backers. The council counters that its critics are nothing more than political opponents with an ax to grind.

The groups - which include Progress Florida, Florida Watch Action, the People for the American Way Foundation, Common Cause and ALEC Exposed - released the report as the council's annual meetings in Salt Lake City got underway. ALEC's critics say they are trying to call more attention to the organization now in part because documents they recently obtained reveal more about the inner workings of ALEC.

"Despite claims to the contrary, ALEC's agenda is not based primarily upon ideology, but mostly upon pecuniary rewards for its corporate funders," the report says. "The resulting ALEC 'model bills' that have been adopted by ALEC 'task forces' have been introduced in Florida by ALEC representatives and have amended Florida statutes for the worse, harming the rights and opportunities of everyday citizens in the process."

ALEC's ability to shape the agendas of state legislatures across the nation has increasingly drawn scrutiny from liberal and Democratic groups in recent months, though veterans of state capitols have often been aware of the organization for years.

"Unfortunately, what we found is that that influence is very strong here in Florida," said Damien Filer of Progress Florida.

But Doug Clopp of Common Cause also said the state isn't that unusual.

"Florida is no different than dozens of other states where ALEC has a very, very firm grip - if not stranglehold - on the legislative process," Clopp said.

The report paints ALEC as a secretive organization that, contrary to its repeated denials, lobbies for certain legislation. It includes emails to ALEC members in Florida saying the group supports the policies that comprise certain bills, though the messages do not say the organization supports the actual measures.

The report also details corporately-funded scholarships used by lawmakers in Florida and other states attending the organization's meetings. And it goes line-by-line to show how significant portions of some measures proposed in Florida virtually mirror model legislation published by ALEC.

But Rep. Jimmy Patronis, a Panama City Republican who is the public co-chair of ALEC for Florida, said all the money in the scholarship fund for Florida was raised before stricter ethics laws were approved. And Patronis said he doesn't believe ALEC is engaged in lobbying.

He knocked the report as a collection of conspiracy theories that stretch the truth.

"I think it's some of the most interesting and entertaining creative writing I've seen in a long time," Patronis said.

An ALEC spokeswoman said the organization is not unlike the National Council of State Legislatures, a bipartisan group for lawmakers, and that the final say on model legislation is left to a board of elected officials.

"ALEC members are participating in the democratic process and exercising their right to free speech just as groups like Progress Florida are," Kaitlyn Bus wrote in an email. "The difference is that we are effective and enjoy broad, bipartisan support across the country."

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FloridaWatch book jacket skewers Rubio as ‘Traitor’

2 July 2012

Traitor?

Is there a more contemptuous word in politics?

FloridaWatch, a pro-Democratic group that was passing out “Pink Slip Rick” and “Pink Slip Mitt” fliers earlier to protest Gov. Rick Scott and presidential candidate Mitt Romney, is going after Marco Rubio and his new memoirs book, “An American Son.”

The Orlando-based group is distributing copies of Rubio’s book to the press with pink book jackets renaming the book, “Marco Rubio: Traitor.”

Rubio is on a barn-storming book tour today and the next couple of days (see earlier post on Political Pulse.) He was in Orlando earlier today, headed for The Villages, Jacksonville and the Panhandle later, and then up the Atlantic Coast to Washington.

Along the way, journalists covering the tour are getting copies of the book with FloridaWatch’s “Traitor” jacket.

Following Democratic talking points, the jacket cites old news accounts of Rubio, calling them “reviews.” They declare Rubio a traitor to Hispanics for not supporting the Supreme Court nomination of Sonia Sotomayor (which took place before he entered the U.S. Senate;) a traitor to the middle class for his votes against education budgets in the Florida House of Representatives; a traitor to women for voting against the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act; and a traitor to seniors for stating, in a speech last summer, that Social Security and Medicare “weakened us as a people.”

Besides the cover picture, recalling the famous artsy picture of Barack Obama from his 2008 presidential campaign, the inside of the book jacket also includes two very unflattering pictures Rubio, with hair blowing, and hugging Scott.

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Fla. governor's top aide resigns amid scrutiny

13 May 2012
Florida Gov. Rick Scott's chief of staff has abruptly resigned amid news stories examining his job performance and handling of contracts.

Steve MacNamara wrote in a resignation letter Saturday that he would step down July 1. He wrote that "recent media attention I have been receiving has begun to interfere with the day-to-day operations of this office."

The Associated Press recently reported that while working for the state Senate, MacNamara helped steer a $360,000 no-bid consulting contract to a friend who now leads a task force rooting out state government waste.

The Miami Herald and St. Petersburg Times reported about other contracts and how MacNamara clashed with one agency head over MacNamara's decision to let the state's film commissioner travel to the Sundance Film Festival in Utah.

MacNamara, who has been on unpaid leave from his job as a Florida State University professor, will be replaced by Adam Hollingsworth.

View this article in its original form here.

Thank you to all of our supporters who signed our petition to tell Pink Slip Rick to fire Steve MacNamara.

 

Broward Activists Gather for a “Tax Day Rally” in Sunrise

17 April 2012
Activists across Broward County met on the corner of University and Sunrise Boulevard for a “Three Stooges Tax Day Rally”. However, the stooges they were protesting had nothing to do with the current movie out in theaters. The stooges these teachers, parents, activists, labor groups, and concerned middle class Floridians were protesting about were: Rick Scott, Mitt Romney and Marco Rubio.

Organizations such as Florida Watch Action, Awake Broward, Broward AFL-CIO and Organize Now, let the afternoon commuters know how they feel about these three men and by coming out and holding them accountable for their extremist agendas.

Sean Phillippi and Amy Ritter both created the theme of the rally.  They knew they wanted to have something on tax day and thought it would be fitting to make it a Three Stooges Event.

Ritter, who is the Director of Research for Florida Watch Action, a statewide watchdog nonprofit organization, said that while Floridians struggle to turn in their taxes on time and pay their fair share, “These three stooges, Pink Slip Rick, Pink Slip Mitt, and Wrong Way Rubio, continue to be out-of-touch cheats who have proven time and time again that they are beholden to corporations and wealthy CEOs and not the middle class.”

Between Rick Scott’s false promise of $1 billion for public schools when he cut $1.3 billion from public education funding last year, to Mitt Romney obviously hiding something by not filing his taxes on time, to Marco Rubio’s betrayal of his own Hispanic community by not supporting the DREAM Act, these three stooges are clearly nothing to laugh about. It is important now more than ever that we hold them accountable for their disloyalty to the American people. – Amy Ritter of Florida Watch Action, Inc

Sean Phillippi, Facilitator of Awake Broward  and Lighthouse Point resident said , “It was abundantly clear today that the middle class will not fall for Pink Slip Rick Scott’s $1 billion trick when it comes to public education. The middle class showed up in force today, and they will continue to hold these job-killing, out of touch, anti-middle class crooks, cheaters, and traitors accountable.”

Coral Springs resident and FAU Student Stephanie Rosendorf thought the turnout was great.  ”I’m hoping to be involved in more rallies in the future.”

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Florida Group Emerges With Web Centric Anti-Romney Campaign

27 January 2012

A campaign attacking Florida Governor Rick Scott is serving as the template for a new online effort with Mitt Romney in its crosshairs. The year-long Pink Slip Rick initiative inspired Pink Slip Mitt, a campaign launched Wednesday by Florida Watch Action. So far the group has focused most of its campaign budget on online media, spending around $13,000 on anti-Romney websites and Facebook ads promoting them.

The anti-Romney campaign is the first the group has run in conjunction with the 2012 presidential race. "It's an outgrowth of our Pink Slip Rick campaign," said Susannah Randolph, executive director of Florida Watch Action. The progressive group has painted Scott, a Republican, as a job killer, and has now extended that message to attack Romney as "the job killing candidate" who "likes to fire people."

"The Internet is a great leveraging tool these days," said Randolph. "We pair it with on the ground action."

The group is promoting a "Pink Slip Mitt protest" to be held today at an Orlando paint store on its Defeating Mitt Romney Facebook page. "Mitt Romney is a job-killer who cannibalized American companies and middle class jobs while making investors wealthy during his years at Bain Capital," states the event page. "Let's give Mitt HIS pink slip on behalf of the middle class on Friday!"

Florida Watch spent $5,000 on Facebook ads targeting Florida Democrats and people who oppose Romney. "We're trying to utilize Facebook advertising and email outreach and video production that we hope goes viral," she said. In a video featured on PinkSlipMitt.com, Florida Watch Action captured an attempt by one of its supporters to hand Romney a pink slip after an event in Orlando. He ignored the activist.

In addition to raising awareness about Romney and what Florida Watch Action believes to be his history of "vulture capitalism," the group hopes the online campaign helps to "strengthen our strategies in reaching out to people...and get as many people on our list as possible," said Randolph.

Florida Watch plans to run more Facebook ads to promote the site and video, according to Randolph, who said the Defeat Mitt Romney Facebook page has been viewed by around 3,000 people.

Another new site from the group, HowMuchHasRomneyMadeSoFar.com, presents a dynamic national debt-style display of the estimated amount of money Romney has earned since he began running for president. The idea is to contrast Romney's earnings - now under increased scrutiny since he revealed his tax documents - with that of the typical middle-income family.

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Governor Rick Scott made 57 promises on the campaign trail, how many of those did he keep?

9 January 2012

ST. PETERSBURG, Florida - As Governor Rick Scott puts the finishing touches on his second state of the state address, how did he do in his first year in office? He made a lot of promises on the campaign trail, so along with PolitiFact Florida, 10 News is checking to see if Scott is keeping those 57 promises, including the most important one: creating jobs.

While running for office, Governor Rick Scott made some very specific promises, making it easy for Aaron Sharockman and fact checkers at PolitiFact to keep tabs.

"We're going to track him over the course of his first term, how he lives up to the promises he made on the campaign trail versus how he's now governing it now in the governor's mansion," says Sharockman.

Scott's being ranked on PolitiFact's "Scott-O-Meter," and for his first year, he's kept 1/3 of those promises. He's not taken a governor's salary, he's sold the state planes, and said he would fight amnesty.

Of the 57 promises, 19 are what PolitiFact Florida considers a "promise kept."

"It shows his successes and he did try to...he has tried to govern on the platform that he campaigned," says Sharockman.

But what about that big promise, the one to create 700,000 jobs over seven years? When Scott campaigned, he said he'd create those jobs over what economists predicted would naturally occur, which is about one million jobs over those same seven years.

Sharockman says he was very specific in how he would do it. "I'm going to get 100's of 1,000's of jobs by reducing state's corporate income tax, I'm going to get 100's of 1000's of jobs by reforming the regulatory climate in this state."

Sharockman says that's now changed. He says the governor is taking credit for any and every job that comes into this state, which in 2011 was 100,000.

"At PolitiFact, we look at that and say,'That's not what you campaigned on.' Two things: one, that it'd be on top of what economists already projected and it'd be because of specific other promises that you made," says Sharockman.

He says those specific promises aren't really happening yet, therefore PolitiFact rates Scott: Stalled.

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New poll: Voters say casinos could be economic boost, still very down on Gov. Scott

10 January 2012

A day after a Senate committee grudgingly passed a bill to bring destination resort casinos to Florida, the first independent statewide poll on the issue shows that Florida voters narrowly support the idea but an overwhelming majoritymbelieves that casinos would be "good for Florida's economy."

The poll of 1,412 registered voters by Quinnipiac University was conducted Jan. 4-8 and has a margin of error of 2.6 percentage points. The casinos numbers: voters support the creation of "non-Indian casinos similar to those in Atlantic City and Las Vegas" by a slim 48-43 margin. A larger 61 - 33 percent margin believe casinos would improve state's economy and voters do not think that gambling is morally wrong by a 73-22 percent margin.

The poll also asked voters how they felt about the job being done by Gov. Rick Scott and the state legislature. Scott, who is scheduled to give his second state-of-the-state speech today, remains overwhelmingly unpopular a year after his inauguration with only 38 percent of voters approving of the way he is doing his job and 50 percent disapproving, up five percentage points since December. A similar majority disagree with his policies and are unhappy with the way he is handling the state budget.

The governor "has a long way to go to get into the voters' good graes and the high 40s percent range in job approval which is the minimum generally needed for re-election -- and less than three years to get there,'' said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. "Scott needs to bring home more of his own party members and improve his standing among independents."

Pollsters also offered a glimpse into what voters think of Scott's suggestions for shearing $1 billion from Medicaid and local hospitals in order to free up money for education, opposing it by an overwhelming 67-24 percent. Voters, however, support the decision by the Legislative leaders to cut another $2 billion from the budget rather than increase taxesas they open their 60-day session today.

Legislators, however, are even more unpopular than the governor with only 30 percent of voters approving of the job they are doing and 54 percent unhappy about it. Voters believe by a 48-39 percent margin that the state budget written by lawmakers is unfair to themand 56 percent of those surveyed are dissatisfied "with the way things are going in Florida today" while 42 percent are somewhat satisfied or satisfied.

The governor has never had an approval rating of over 38 percent since the Connecticut university began polling about him in May last year and he retains one of the lowest job approval ratings of any governor in the seven states in which Quinnipiac University conducts surveys, pollsters said.

Despite national number showing support for President Barack Obama wavering, however, 34 percent of Florida voters believe that the economy has gotten worse since Scott took office, 45 percent think it has stayed the same and 16 percent say it is better. They blame the governor, not Obama, by a 65 to 19 percent margin for the decline.

Voters, however, are bit warmer about Scott, a first-time politician, on a personal level - with 39 percent saying they like the governor as a person regardless of his policies, 34 percent saying they dislike him and 27 percent who say they don't know.

U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson, however, seem to be escape the blame for the electorate's disposition. A majority of voters approves of the way each of them is handling his job: Rubio by a 50-29 percent margin and Nelson by a 47-30 percent margin.

Brown noted that while voters narrowly support creating Las Vegas style casinos in Florida there are interesting partisan, gender and educational and age differences.

Republicans split 46 - 48 percent on casinos, while support is 51 - 40 percent among Democrats and 53 - 39 percent among independent voters. Women are divided 44 - 45 percent, while men favor casinos 53 - 40 percent.

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Labor rally hosted on eve of legislative session

10 January 2012

MIAMI (WSVN) -- A South Florida labor rally sent a united message to lawmakers on the eve of Florida's annual legislative session.

Hundreds of labor leaders, union workers and community members rallied inside the Miami-Dade County Auditorium, Monday night.

Among the many issues brought up at the rally included providing more support for working families. "With everything going up and our pay has been stagnant, it makes a difference," said single mom and school board employee Peggy Bule. "To stand up for what is right, which is being able to provide for our families."

"I'm in foreclosure," said Seth Skalrey of the International Union of Painters/Allied Trades. "I only work part-time. It's terrible. My income was in half of what it was."

United Teachers of Dade president Karen Aronowitz hosted the event and was clear about the outcome many at the rally hope to achieve. "What we want: appropriate funding for our schools, for public safety, for our public hospital," she said. "We want Miami-Dade County to receive its fair share."

Leaders representing teachers, health care workers and various other professions urged their members with similar experiences and interests to speak with one voice during this session and election year. "You have to organize like you've never organized before," said Andy Madtes of the South Florida AFL-CIO.

Attendees participated in a mass call-in to legislators as a small step toward possible change.

The Florida legislative session, set to commence on Tuesday, will discuss budgets for Florida's public schools, safety and health services. "And we need each and every one of you to be with us and stand with us for the next 60 days, at least the next 60 days," said Frederick Ingram of the United Teachers of Dade.

Those who spoke at the rally were short on specific solutions but clearly criticized Governor Rick Scott. "He gets up there and promises us that he's going to get us 700,000 additional jobs, 700,000 of them. Where are they?" said Richard Lydecker of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party.

Governor Scott will give his State of the State address on Tuesday.

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Fla. legislators likely to cut budget again

27 December 2011

It's almost becoming an annual rite each year in Tallahassee: Another year, another billion-dollar plus budget shortfall.

Florida lawmakers head into their annual session in January confronted by a nearly $2 billion gap. This time around it is primarily caused by an unenviable combination of growing expenses in safety net programs such as Medicaid at the same a sluggish economic recovery is expected to keep tax dollars from growing significantly.

In the last several years, as the recession has taken its toll on the state's battered real estate market and unemployment soared into double digits, the Republican-controlled Legislature has tried nearly every way to balance the state budget. They've cut spending, they've eliminated state workers, they've relied on billions in federal stimulus dollars and one year they even raised taxes.

This coming session legislative leaders and Gov. Rick Scott have already ruled out one option: Raising taxes or fees as a way to help balance the budget. That means lawmakers will instead have to come up with another round of cuts.

"There's no easy choices in this budget year," said House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park. "It's a tough budget year and there's no magic bullet."

The governor has already given lawmakers his own recommendations that will likely be used as a building block for the final budget.

Despite the shortfall Scott has come up with own $66.4 billion spending plan that would significantly boost spending on schools by making steep cuts in what the state spends reimbursing hospitals to take care of patients enrolled in Medicaid. He also wants to shut down a handful of state prisons and eliminate some 4,500 state jobs.

The governor's second set of budget proposals are dramatically different from the one he offered shortly after was he first sworn into governor.

Scott in early 2011 called for a 10 percent cut for education, as part of a "jobs budget" that also called for nearly $2 billion worth of tax cuts as part of his push to jumpstart the state's economy.

Scott now says he's heard from Floridians that they want more money spent on education so he is pushing a budget that would boost public school spending by roughly $1 billion. His tax cut proposals, meanwhile, have been dramatically scaled back. This year Scott is calling for a modest change in the state's corporate income tax and a tax break for companies purchasing machinery and equipment that together would cost roughly $30 million.

Scott also hinted that he was willing to veto the entire budget -- and force lawmakers to do it over -- if they approve a budget that did not include a significant increase for schools.

Initially the governor was unwilling to say what a "significant" increase is, but he also says he likes what he recommended.

"I think the right number is a billion dollars," Scott said.

Scott's budget proposal drew a sharp response from Democratic legislators who accused the governor of pitting seniors and prison guards against teachers. The move also drew fire because the Medicaid cuts would fall hardest on not-for-profit hospitals. Scott led the nation's largest chain of for-profit hospitals in the 1990s until he was forced out amid a probe into Medicare fraud.

But Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, has called Scott's overall budget "very much reflective of what the Senate will be pursuing this year."

State employees could also find themselves getting targeted for budget cuts once again.

Last spring legislators forced public employees to start paying for a portion of their pension costs as a way to cover a nearly $4 billion shortfall.

Now legislators may go after state worker health care benefits as a potential source of savings. The state is spending nearly $1.9 billion on health care benefits for state workers, with about $1.45 billion coming from taxpayers.

The Scott administration earlier this year already negotiated new contracts with health maintenance organizations that limited the number of HMOs available for state workers and is expected to save the state more than $350 million over the next two years.

The governor, who currently pays $30 a month to cover himself and his wife, also has recommended that all state employees pay the same for health insurance. That's a move that would affect roughly 30,000 state workers, including Scott, his agency heads, managers and state legislators.

Rank-and-file state workers pay $50 a month for individual coverage and $180 a month for family coverage. Scott's push to require everyone to pay that rate would increase health insurance premiums for some employees by $1,800 a year for family coverage.

This would save close to $50 million.

But Sen. J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales and the Senate budget chief, has been looking at whether the state should revamp the types of coverage it offers state workers as both a way to save money -- and as a way to encourage state workers to stay healthier.

"When you go out and make a $5 copay, it's real easy to be out of sight and out of mind what the real bill is," Alexander said.

Alexander added "if we are going to spend $2 billion, I want to spend that $2 billion to get the best possible deal we can for the people."

State legislators normally pass their budget during their annual 60-day session, which usually starts in March. But this year's session begins Jan. 10 because the Legislature must also pass new maps for legislative and Congressional districts.

Haridopolos, citing fears of a "topsy-turvy" economy, has thrown out the idea of delaying a final vote on the budget until later in the year. The state's fiscal year doesn't start until July 1. He says that by waiting, legislators will have a better idea of knowing if the economy is truly recovering. That could change how much money lawmakers have to cut.

"I am very reluctant to pass a budget with numbers that are uncertain," Haridopolos said.

Cannon, however, doesn't want to come back in a special session later in the year and doesn't think there will be large enough swings to justify waiting.

"I find it highly unlikely that in two-months' difference we would see some massive increase in revenues," Cannon said.

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Gov. Rick Scott's proposed budget includes $2.1 billion cut in Medicaid

12 December 2011
Jobs, as well as dollars, will be lost, hospital lobbying group says.

TALLAHASSEE - When Gov. Rick Scott unveiled his proposed $66.4 billion budget last week, many people in the capital and around the state cast it as schools versus hospitals.

Scott's spending plan injected public education with a roughly $1 billion increase but cut $2.1 billion in reimbursements for Medicaid. The cut prompted a fast pushback from the Safety Net Alliance of Florida, a lobbying group that represents 15 of the state's biggest hospitals.

It estimates the cuts would cost its members $1.4 billion.

"That kind of cut is going to cost jobs in the community," said Tony Carvalho, the group's president. The budget reduction, he said, would among other services hurt trauma centers and graduate medical education.

Medicaid is a federal-state hybrid program that provides health care to low-income people and families.

The group estimated that Shands Jacksonville would face a $13.6 million cut in Medicaid reimbursements under Scott's proposed budget. Shands Gainesville would face a $63.5 million reduction. The biggest overall cut: $152.7 million at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami.

In a statement, Shands said it is still "working to understand the full impact of the budget proposal."

Scott, during his budget presentation, said the impact on the state was clear: Medicaid costs were out of control and not cutting them would put Florida in danger.

"No program has grown as fast and as much as Medicaid, and we must find ways to control the cost," he said. "If we do nothing, this program will bankrupt our state."

Total Medicaid expenditures in Florida were $21.5 billion last year. Scott's proposed budget has those expenditures at $19.4 million. Those savings will come from lowering the rate that hospitals are reimbursed for Medicaid services.

Of the cuts, $385 million is money from Florida taxpayers. The rest is from federal money the administration will give up in order to save the state dollars. The loss in matching funds, Carvalho said, further supports his argument.

"We are putting Florida's communities at risk by giving up the federal share of the money," he said. "This is not like deciding to build a road or bridge. These people are going to get sick anyway."

State Rep. Reggie Fullwood, D-Jacksonville, whose district includes Shands Jacksonville, says he would rather see a more "balanced" approach.

"Times are tough, but I think we need to make more incremental cuts across the board," he said. "These cuts are going to cripple hospitals."

He said the cuts are particularly tough because Shands Jacksonville serves low-income areas.

"It's really going to have an impact on my constituents," Fullwood said.

Scott said Florida is not unique and that needed Medicaid cuts extend beyond state boundaries and political parties.

"I was at the Republican Governors Association meeting last week, and every state is dealing with the same issue," he said. "It's not partisan. Republicans and Democrats are dealing with this issue."

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