Florida Governor Rick Scott just can't catch a break. As if asking for $1 billion more in education funding while trying to close a $2 billion budget gap today wasn't hard enough, a reporter with Comedy Central's "The Daily Show with John Stewart" asked him to pee in a cup while the governor was taking questions on his budget proposal.
In a nod to Scott's demand that drug tests be required for welfare recipients, reporter Aasif Mandvi stood up during questioning and tried to get a plastic cup passed up to Scott, so he could "prove to Florida taxpayers you're not on drugs."
"I've done it plenty of times," the governor responded, before cutting off Mandavi minutes later as he tried to ask a second question.
"You don't get to run this," Scott told the one-time Tampa resident and USF student.
Though he never did take the blue plastic cup, Scott's administration is still trying to push the law forward, appealing a federal judge's ruling that it may violate the Constitution's ban on unreasonable searches and seizures.
Florida Department of State communications director Chris Cate didn't find the prank funny, and said as much on Twitter.
@ChrisCate- Chris Cate
@aasif should have more respect. Wrong place. Upstaging @FLGovScott during his budget recs isn't funny to the millions a budget impacts.
To be fair, though, as the millions the budget affects are Floridians, and Floridians hate Rick Scott, they were probably crying with laughter.
Attorney General Pam Bondi was ready when Comedy Central reporter Aasif Mandvi approached her after her press conference on Thursday.
"You supported the TANF drug test bill and I am just wondering if today you would be willing to undergo a drug test of your own as somebody who receives taxpayer money?" asked the reporter for Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show," just as he had asked Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday. It's a reference to the bill legislators passed last year requiring all welfare recipients to pass a drug test but the measure was challenged by the Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and put on hold by an Orlando court. Gov. Rick Scott is appealing the ruling and Bondi's office is defending it.
Bondi pulled out a platic cup? "Well, that's very interesting that you should say that,'' she said. "Because as attorney general, I'm always prepared."
"You have a sample of your urine!,'' Mandvi exclaimed. "Is this really your urine?"
His cameras followed Bondi as she and her entourage walked away. "Thank you have a great day,'' Bondi said. "My name's on the top."
It was, scrawled in Sharpie pen. "How do we know it's your urine,'' Mandvi asked incredulously. "How do we know it's not apple juice. Alright we will test this in the lab."
BondicupAs his camera crew returned, he looked at the cup. "It says Pam Bondi. I don't know if it's really urine though.'' He smelled it. "It's apple juice." He tasted it. "It's apple juice."
His cameraman noted, "She's a pretty woman." Mandvi agreed. "She just has incredibly beautiful smelling urine."
Meanwhile, the Daily Show also asked several legislators, most of whom voted for the bill last year, to pee in a cup. Those who agreed: Rep. Joe Abruzzo, D-West Palm Beach, Rep. Jose Feliz Diaz, R-Miami, Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, and Rep. Scott Randolph, D-Orlando.
Apparently Gov. Rick Scott's positions on the state's higher-education system isn't impressing all of the students in Florida's public universities.
There's now a creative, albeit small, petition with signatures from Gainesville down to Broward of people who don't want the governor's signature printed on university diplomas.
Imagine that -- "The University of Florida has conferred on Joseph Schmo the degree Bachelor of Arts of Anthropology."
Signed, Rick Scott.
"We the undersigned, petition the Governor of Florida, Rick Scott, from signing Florida University diplomas, because of the Governor's repeated assaults on the Florida Education System," the petition states.
The petition says it will be sent to the governor once it reaches 50 signatures -- it's currently at 44 -- and appears as if it started at the University of Florida, since the first ten signatures came out of Gainesville.
Here's the explanation of the petition from its creator:
If you have just earned your degree from a Florida University, good job! But on that otherwise pristine diploma there will be a smear of ink that reads, "Rick Scott Governor." Yes, the same governor who works constantly to remove student's rights to higher education, has had the bad taste to put his ugly signature on that beautiful degree! Do you really want him to defile the student's testaments to hard work, intelligence, and dedication?
It looks like it's not just 44 anthropology majors either.
"I'm an engineering student, but I know all too well that other disciplines are just as important," a petitioner from Tallahassee writes. "We all deserve an equal chance."
Will it happen? No, but it's the thought that counts.
Palm Beach County Tax Collector Anne Gannon's office said Friday it was sent more than 12,000 spam email message by Gov. Rick Scott after corresponding with his office about a resident's issue.
Gannon's spokeswoman, Max Sonnenschein, said the office was sent 12,658 auto-response emails acknowledging a message that a tax collector employee sent to the governor's office on Thursday.
The auto-reply messages were sent to Gannon's "client advocate" email address. The account normally receives about 100 messages a day.
"It is kind of funny," Sonnenschein said. "Governor spams tax collector."
Gannon's staff said they contacted Scott's office about the computer glitch this morning after the automatic messages stopped.
Lane Wright, a Scott spokesman, said technical staff at the governor's office is trying to get to the bottom of the problem. But he conceded it may take time to resolve the cyberspace mystery.
"We're looking into it," Wright said. "But it may be Monday before we know what's happened."
-- Jennifer Sorentrue
Gov. Rick Scott will make his annual budget recommendations to the Legislature next Wednesday and he told Floridians Friday he's anticipating a "very tough" budget. Scott noted that the state is facing nearly a $2 billion shortfall -- the gap between the projected tax revenue available and projected cost of meeting the state's critical needs. The challenge, he said, is that Medicaid rolls continue to grow faster than state revenues, and public school enrollment is projected to increase by 30,000 more students next fall.
The uptick in K-12 enrollment is projected to carry a price tag of $191 million, Scott said. Local property taxes are projected to show a 3 percent decline, which he said equates to a loss of about $200 million, he said. Add in the loss of about $550-million in federal education stimulus money, Scott said, and he starts out $1.2 billion short.
"This is going to be a tough year to try to figure out how to do the right thing," Scott said. "Because we have to do the right thing for education, because it's the future of our state. If our kids can't get a great education, then we won't have the progress we've already had this year."
He chided the Obama administration for not acting on the state's request to create a Medicaid block grant program, which he claimed would be most cost-effective. "We can figure out how to spend the money better and take care of Floridians," he said. "And in the meantime, we have a Medicaid plan up there (in Washington) that they still haven't approved. That's disappointing."
Scott's message Friday was a lot different than it was a year ago, when he proposed a 10 percent reduction in public education funding, a proposal that led to a backlash from educators and some legislators. This time, the first-term Republican governor says he's searching for inventive ways to maintain the current level of school funding.
Another shift for Scott is more stylistic but still worth noting. Last February, he unveiled his first set of budget proposals before a crowd of about 800 people at a strongly Tea Party-flavored rally at First Baptist Church in Eustis, a small town north of Orlando. This time, Scott will utilize a more traditional approach, at a press conference in the state Capitol. But he said: "It's not to send a different message."
-- Steve Bousquet
60 Minutes aired a program this weekend shedding light on one of the little-discussed and truly heartbreaking aspects of the country's persistent economic woes: an epidemic of homeless schoolchildren. The subject of the program was Seminole County, Florida - a county with 1,100 homeless students.
Among the most staggering numbers highlighted during the program was "of all the families without shelter in America, one third are in Florida."
The state's foreclosure crisis, coupled with high unemployment and austere budget cuts, has resulted in countless homeless families in Florida living out of their cars - if they have them, 60 Minutes explains. Many families with small children are left hoping for a job or charity before food runs out. Caught in the crosshairs of this epidemic, the program shows, have been young schoolchildren.
According to this year's KIDS COUNT data, Florida was "the state with the 2nd highest percent of children impacted by foreclosure since 2007."
The deeply moving account of a handful of young children had a persistent theme: Most homeless families in the state had run out of options. Many saw their unemployment benefits dry up, and public services were too scarce and maxed out to provide any help.
Most of the families interviewed by 60 Minutes said they were relying solely on the generosity of donations from their community.
What was not mentioned, however, was the state's missed opportunities to help.
One example was a line in the the state's 2011/2012 budget that allocated $12 million dollars from the state's general revenue fund to the National Veterans' Homeless Support Group for "homeless housing assistance grants." While this appropriation made it through the budget process, the item was one of the many vetoed by Gov. Rick Scott.
Scott spoke about the funds this weekend, the Naples Daily News reports:
"I care completely about all these programs," said Scott, whose budget cuts earlier this year slashed funding to some veteran and farm surplus programs that helped the homeless.
"All the programs are very important, but nobody wants their taxes to go up," Scott explained, noting that businesses also can help spur the economy. "They've got to grow. We've got to make this a place people can do well."
The state also reduced unemployment benefits, even though the state has yet to get a handle on its unemployment rate. A bill signed by Scott this year reduced the maximum number of weeks someone can receive state unemployment benefits. The limit went from 26 weeks to 23 - and if the state's unemployment rate continues to fall, benefits could be limited to as little as 12 weeks.
There are currently no assurances that legislators in the state are looking to beef up public assistance programs either. Already, there are warnings of deeper budget cuts as the state prepares for a $2 billion shortfall.
Florida had 91 mass layoff actions during the month of October, the second highest number in the nation, according to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics summary released Tuesday.
The Bureau summary also indicates that Florida had the second highest number (more than 6,500) of initial claimants for unemployment insurance in October, behind only California.
The summary shows that California recorded the highest number of mass layoff initial claims in October, "followed by Florida, Pennsylvania, New York, and Illinois." The Bureau of Labor Statistics explains that "each mass layoff involved at least 50 workers from a single employer."
Florida's total number of not seasonally adjusted mass layoff actions is up from 69 such actions during the month of September, and 78 during August. According to the Bureau, "seasonal adjustment eliminates the influence of recurring calendar-related events such as weather, holidays, and the opening and closing of schools."
The Bureau study shows that across the U.S. "employers took 1,353 mass layoff actions in October involving 118,689 workers, seasonally adjusted, as measured by new filings for unemployment insurance benefits." This number shows a drop compared to August and September of this year.
It also adds that 16 "of the 19 major industry sectors in the private economy reported over-the-year decreases in average weekly initial claims, with the largest decreases occurring in construction and manufacturing."
Associated General Contractors of America reported Tuesday that Florida lost almost 5,000 construction jobs over the month of October. The data also shows that Florida has lost almost 12,000 jobs, "the second-highest number of job losses," in the industry over the last 12 months.
Florida Department of Economic Opportunity data indicates that the number of jobs in the manufacturing industry rose less than 1 percent from October 2010 through October 2011.
The Department of Economic Opportunity (.pdf) numbers show that the state's unemployment rate fell to 10.3 percent in the month of October, a 0.3 precent drop compared with September. The state added 9,500 jobs in October; 7,900 of those jobs were added in the administrative and waste services sector, which is part of the professional and business services sector that added almost 11,000 jobs.
Unlike other high profile tea party governors like Rick Snyder of Michigan, Ohio's John Kasich and Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Florida Gov. Rick Scott has largely flown under the national media radar.
Scott has made some waves with some of his policies, which while popular with the tea party, have helped make him, along with Kasich and Walker, one of the country's most unpopular governors.
He turned down billions of federal dollars for high speed rail, angering Republicans and Democrats who had put the rail deal together over the course of nearly a decade. He has also pushed to privatize prisons (prompting a lawsuit and an ethics complaint); signed a bill barring doctors from talking to their patients about guns in the home (which was blocked by a federal judge in September) -- and he pushed for, then signed a law requiring welfare recipients to get drug tested, and pay for it (drawing yet another lawsuit.)
And Florida is the tip of the spear for conservatives' battle against the Affordable Care Act, which conservatives refer to as "Obamacare." Florida has taken the lead in a 14-state lawsuit against the federal government, seeking to void the individual mandate requiring all Americans to purchase health insurance or face a tax penalty -- Florida's case will be heard by the Supreme Court.
Scott, a former hospital executive whose company paid a record $1.7 billion fine for Medicare fraud in the 1990s, cut his political teeth as a health care opponent, founding the group Conservatives for Patients Rights to battle health care reform in 2009.
But it is Rick Scott's moves on the political front that could place Florida at center stage, yet again, in the national elections of 2012, with a potentially negative impact on young and minority voters -- and by extension, Democrats.
Florida, Florida, Florida
Florida's fourth in the nation primary on January 31st means the state will play a high profile role in determining which candidate runs against President Obama (and whether a Republican can be fielded who can beat Democratic Senator Bill Nelson.) Scott pushed for the date, which jumped ahead in the calendar from a mandated March 6th date.
The move threatens to deprive Florida of its convention delegates if the Republican Party chooses to sanction the state, and it will make it hard for candidates who can't afford to compete in four election contests in a single month. But Scott argued that Florida should go early, and have a date all to itself, because of its unique demographics.
Florida is home to a substantial share of seniors, and it will be the first primary state with a sizable Hispanic voting bloc. Hispanics make up 14 percent of the electorate in Florida, and nearly half are Republican-leaning Cuban-Americans in South Florida. Scott won half of Hispanic voters in 2010 thanks to that conservative voting bloc.
Better know a district
Florida's 27 electoral votes will be 29 in 2012, thanks to a population surge ahead of the 2010 Census. And redistricting in the state offers a rare opportunity for Democrats, since voters in 2010 passed a pair of constitutional amendments mandating that state and federal redistricting be done on the basis of geography, effectively outlawing political gerrymandering.
That could shake up the state that has one of the highest incumbency retention rates in the U.S. at 98 percent, and Democrats are hoping to pick up at least one of the two new House seats Florida will gain in 2012. Meanwhile, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is targeting a total pick-up of six U.S. House seats thanks to redistricting, and Scott's unpopularity.
Scott tried to slow the implementation of the redistricting amendments, withdrawing a request for federal approval as required under the Voting Rights Act, that had been submitted by the previous Republican governor, Charlie Crist. That prompted a lawsuit against Scott's administration in February -- one of several naming the governor this year.
The amendments ultimately were submitted to the Justice Department for approval by the state legislature this spring, though two members of Congress, Republican Mario Diaz Balart, who is Cuban-American, and Democrat Corinne Brown, who is African-American, have filed their own lawsuit to try and stop redistricting reform, saying it would reduce minority representation in Florida's congressional delegation.
Voting while black?
The end of political gerrymandering in Florida doesn't mean politics won't interfere with voting in Florida in 2012. In May, Scott signed one of the most restrictive voting laws in the U.S. -- reducing the early voting period from 14 days to eight, which is expected to affect black voters and churches, by taking the Sunday before Election Day off the calendar; imposing tough new restrictions and penalties on organizations that register people to vote, and forcing anyone who has to change their voter registration information on election day to cast a provisional ballot.
The restrictions caused some organizations, including the League of Women Voters, to stop registering voters in Florida, which could be a blow to the kinds of voters many of these groups target: young voters, women and minorities, all of whom tend to favor Democrats at the polls.
Scott and his supporters said the law was necessary to combat voter fraud, though Florida's secretary of state, Kurt Browning, couldn't name an instance of voter fraud in Florida the law would apply to. Opponents including the ACLU have filed suit over the law.
Scott's administration has filed a lawsuit of its own, going to federal court last month to ask that Voting Rights Act restrictions on five Florida counties be lifted, so those counties -- which are under VRA mandates due to past disenfranchisement of minority voters -- can implement the new law.
Meanwhile, Scott also rolled back former Gov. Crist's easing of restrictions on voting by former felons who have served their sentences -- a move also expected to hurt Democrats in 2012, since Florida's prison population is disproportionately black and brown. Florida is one of a handful of states -- all in the south or west -- that retain Reconstruction-era restrictions on voting by former felons. In Florida, people who have served their prison terms must wait at least five years to apply for the restoration of their rights. Critics likened Scott's return to those rules as a reinstution of Jim Crow.
How he won
Scott was elected in the GOP wave in 2010, defeating a weak Democratic opponent, former state CFO Alex Sink, whose lack of attention to the African-American vote cost her in a race where Scott's margin of victory was just 60,000 votes. Scott, who chose a black woman, Jennifer Carroll, as his running-mate, got just 3 percent of the black vote.
Scott ran as the kind of businessman-turned-politician the tea party base of the GOP tends to favor. And Scott ran on a simple message: "let's get to work," which is being echoed by the Mitt Romney presidential campaign; and a simple economic plan: "777" (which stood for "seven steps, seven years, 700,000 jobs) - which might sound familiar to anyone who has followed Herman Cain and his "9-9-9" plan.
Some of Scott's senior campaign team now work for the Rick Perry presidential campaign, which is fitting given Scott's Texas ties -- he was one of George W. Bush's partners as an owner of the Texas Rangers Major League Baseball team.
And Scott's winning formula: simple slogans, choking off press access to the candidate (Scott refused to sit down with a single newspaper editorial board during his gubernatorial run and remains an elusive interview in the state); and methodically dismantling his opponent via slick, expensive television ads paid for with $78 million of his own money -- could be a template for the GOP presidential nominee in 2012.
A week after including a new job training program for unemployed workers in a proposed committee bill, Gov. Rick Scott is giving up on the idea, at least for now.
Florida Works was to be based upon Georgia Works, a program that provides job training at a business and a stipend to people receiving unemployment compensation benefits, which is paid for by an assessment on businesses. In Scott's proposal, however, there would have been no stipend, no assessment and businesses would not have been required to hire the trainee as in existing job training programs.
Tom Klendenning, director of the division of workforce services for the Department of Economic Opportunity, presented the bill and the program to the House Business and Consumer Affairs Subcommittee the past week, but now the program is shelved.
"A Florida Works program was something explored as an option in legislative committees with our agencies. Due to federal restrictions and insufficient evidence that such a program would be successful in Florida, we are unlikely to pursue a Florida Works program this year," Scott spokeswoman Amy Graham stated in an email Tuesday. "Nowhere in the Governor's 2012 Jobs Agenda did we say we would be pursuing a Florida Works program."
Scott's jobs agenda, however, did call for "mandatory job training for underskilled job seekers collecting unemployment", according to the October press release announcing his priorities.
Members of the committee questioned the need and mode of funding for the program, which Klendenning said would cost $11.7 million and come from federal grants that now pay for existing job training programs at 24 regional workforce centers across the state. Those centers run job training programs that offer paid training and guarantee hires at the end of training, which Scott's plan would not have done.
"It sure seems in some areas we're borrowing from Peter to pay Paul," said Rep. Doug Holder, R-Sarasota, who chairs the subcommittee.
Though Florida Works is now scrapped, Graham said Scott would like to see some form of mandatory job training for claimants who score low on their skills assessment tests, a new requirement that was implemented by Scott and the Legislature this year in order to get benefits.
Calls and emails to the DEO were not returned Tuesday.
Scott will still pursue other changes to the unemployment compensation system, which he wants to rename the "re-employment assistance" program to help change the mentality of the state from one of simply paying out benefits to one of helping unemployed workers get back into the workforce.
Included in the draft committee bill is a provision that would also allow the state to skip a step in the legal process before garnishing the wages of a worker guilty of unemployment compensation fraud. Now a civil judgment is needed before the state can being garnishing wages, but Scott wants to do away with that requirement.
Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, asked whether that was a potential infringement on the claimants' right of due process.
"Our legal counsel has advised us it is not," Klendenning replied.
The move comes at a time when unemployment insurance taxes for businesses are skyrocketing. A jump in the unemployment rate brought on by the recession and prolonged by the weak recovery meant Florida drained the $2 billion in the unemployment compensation trust fund - paid for entirely by businesses - and since 2009 has required $2.4 billion in loans from the federal government . Now businesses are paying back interest payments on those loans in the form of special assessments.
Business groups asked lawmakers for - and received - a temporary freeze on the tax in the hope that the economy would turn around quickly. The slow recovery, though, means the minimum unemployment tax rate will rise to $170 per employee next year - more than seven times the rate in 2010. The maximum rate will increase from $378 to $459 per employee next year.
Lawmakers already have significantly altered Florida's unemployment compensation system this year, requiring online applications, mandating skills assessments and a minimum of five employer contacts per week to remain eligible for benefits.
One of those changes, however, is yet to take effect. Starting Jan. 1, those applying for benefits will be eligible for 23 weeks of state benefits instead of the maximum 26 weeks claimants can now receive, although federal benefits will still be available. The maximum weekly payout of unemployment benefits is $275.
High-speed rail funding rejected by Florida Gov. Rick Scott officially became California's gain Tuesday as the Department of Transportation granted nearly $1 billion to the California High-Speed Rail Authority.
In February, Scott rejected about $2.4 billion from DOT for a $2.6 billion high-speed train line from Tampa to Orlando, declaring in April that the money should go back to taxpayers or be used for deficit reduction.
Instead, Florida's portion of the money was returned to DOT and has been awarded to other states' projects. About $214 million of that spurned money went to California on Tuesday as part of a $928 million Department of Transportation grant for the state's high-speed rail project.
"What was a cardboard check is now a real check we can cash," said CHSRA spokeswoman Rachel Wall.
It's not the first time California has profited from a Republican governor's decisions to reject rail funding. After Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Ohio Gov. John Kasich tossed back a combined $1.2 billion in 2010, more than $610 million of that money was redirected to California's high-speed rail.
The total federal commitment to California's high-speed rail projects is now about $3.9 billion, $3.5 billion of which is specifically for an initial 130-mile segment in the sparsely populated Central Valley. Combined with about $2.6 billion in state funds, CHSRA says it has enough money to design and complete the Central Valley portion, which is projected to create about 100,000 jobs over five years on the way to producing a rail system that can achieve 220 mph train speeds.
A pair of Michigan Amtrak services also received money Tuesday from Secretary Ray LaHood for travel between Detroit and Chicago. Those funds will help raise top speeds on most of the route to 110 mph.
The official awarding of the money comes at a precarious time for high-speed rail, both in California and nationwide. The Golden State has seen initial cost estimates for its statewide high-speed rail program balloon to nearly $100 billion and its completion date pushed back to 2033. Critics have also panned the decision to begin the route's construction away from the state's population centers. Wall said the Central Valley is the only region in the state where a large chunk of completely new rail infrastructure can be built, as opposed to trying to shoehorn high-speed tracks around existing infrastructure.
An appropriations bill passed by Congress last week and signed into law by President Barack Obama contained none of the $8 billion in high-speed rail funding requested by the president for 2012. Wall said "we don't envision needing additional federal money until after 2015" for California's high-speed projects because "we don't think there will be any" federal funds to get.
Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) said the denial of funds "marks the end to President Obama's misguided high-speed rail program," which Shuster said spread money too thinly across the country and was "bungled from start." Both Shuster and Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) have said they intend to refocus on improving train service projects in the Northeast Corridor.
A Federal Railroad Association official said large portions of the $10.1 billion total awarded to high-speed rail programs nationwide since 2009 are just beginning to kick in, including $1.1 billion in rail projects that plan to begin construction in early 2012. So although the GOP has celebrated stuffing Obama's funding request, projects currently in the pipeline will not be affected.