Lawmakers, lobbyists and lookers-on chimed in Monday after Gov. Rick Scott signed the state’s $74.1 billion spending plan for the coming year. Some applauded the governor for making historic investments in education, ports and business development. Others, smarting after Scott vetoed $368 million in spending projects endorsed by the Legislature, were none too happy.
Here’s a roundup of some of the comments:
--Senate Minority Leader Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, said he and the Senate Democrats were “extremely disappointed” by Scott’s budget vetoes. He referred to Scott as a “newcomer” who “misses a critical understanding” about the Legislature’s role in crafting a spending plan.
Smith summed up his feelings in a tweet: “Gov. Scott fought hard to give 400 million tax break to manufacturers while cutting critical road and water projects for cities. SMH.”
--Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, kept a cordial tone, despite the fact that some of the major projects in his district were slashed by Scott’s veto pen. …
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nan Rich is campaigning in Pinellas County today, where she caught up with The Buzz at the Safety Harbor Library. It's time Democrats nominate a south Floridian for governor, she said, and whether Bill Nelson or Charlie Crist runs, she's staying in the race.
The former Florida Senate Democratic Leader also suggested that Democratic senators this year misplayed their hand on Medicaid expansion. Rather than immediately embracing the Senate GOP's proposed alternative to Medicaid expansion, Rich said, Democratic senator may have been better off calling for straight Medicaid Expansion. That could have helped persuade the Florida House to view the Senate Medicaid alternative as a more palatable compromise.
Sen. Marco Rubio issued a statement on a report that that Justice Department spied on a Fox News reporter in an attempt to find out a leak dealing with North Korea. The Washington Post story came after revelations that DOJ had tracking phone calls by The Associated Press.
“I am very concerned by reports the Obama Administration targeted a FOX News reporter for possible criminal prosecution for doing what appears to be normal news-gathering protected by the First Amendment," Rubio said. "The sort of reporting by James Rosen detailed in the report is the same sort of reporting that helped Mr. Rosen aggressively pursue questions about the Administration’s handling of Benghazi. National security leaks are criminal and put American lives on the line, and federal prosecutors should, of course, vigorously investigate. …
Lincoln Gabriel Diaz-Balart, son and namesake of a former congressman and nephew of a current U.S. representative, died Sunday at the age of 29.
The family has asked for privacy and time to grieve.
The Diaz-Balart family is, perhaps, the most-politically powerful in Miami's Cuban-exile community.
U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart is a sitting Republican representative. His brother, Lincoln Diaz-Balart retired from congress after the 2010 elections. Another brother, Jose Diaz-Balart is a Telemundo host. A cousin of theirs is son and namesake of Fidel Castro, a prior uncle by marriage. A longtime family friend and virtual sister, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, expressed her sorrow this morning in a radio interview during which she spoke of the toll of depression and suicide.
The family's statement:
It is with infinite sadness that we announce the passing, on May 19, 2013, of our beloved son and brother, Lincoln Gabriel Diaz-Balart.
For many years, Lincoln Gabriel struggled with depression.
Lincoln Gabriel was a kind and loving human being. His love and compassion touched many lives during his 29 years.
We will remember him with profound love and devotion for the rest of our lives. …
Gov. Rick Scott vetoed more than $368 million in spending from the state’s budget, using his line-item authority to strike out scores of projects ranging from a $50 million coast-to-coast bike trail to tens of millions in college and university tuition.
Scott’s extensive veto list is more than twice as large as his list last year, and his largest since his first year in office. It slashed state spending from $74.5 billion to $74.1 billion.
Even with the vetoes, the 2013-2014 budget is still the largest on record, and includes $480 million for teacher pay raises, $8.5 billion for transportation projects, $151.8 million for Everglades restoration and $273 million for ports.
“The Florida Families First budget helps families pursue their dreams by getting a great job and accessing a quality education,” Scott said in an emailed statement. “Teachers will get a pay raise and funds for their classroom supplies so they don’t have to pay out-of-pocket.”
This is Scott’s largest veto effort since his first year in office, when he slashed more than $615 million from the budget. Half of that came from a single-item: spending authority for the Florida Forever land conservation program. …
Winner of the week: Florida House members. Wouldn't it be grand to have taxpayers subsidize your health insurance so you only have to pay $8 a month for your insurance or $30 for your entire family? Even as the GOP majority thundered against $51 billion in federal money to insure more than 1 million low-income Floridians, no one suggested trimming the cushy plan that comes with their part-time jobs.
Loser of the week: Miami Dolphins. Florida legislators scuttled the team's hopes to renovate Sun Life Stadium, forcing the cancelation of a county referendum. But even with cooperation from state leaders, the idea may have been doomed. Among the more than 60,000 people who voted early before the referendum was canceled, 57 percent opposed the $350 million plan, the Miami Herald reported last week.
In his letter explaining the tuition veto, Scott will say Florida's low tuition is a point of pride and he doesn't want to saddle students and families with more debt, the AP said.
Scott has hinted all along that he would veto the tuition increase, which the House insisted on including in the budget. He never wavered from his standard response -- "I do not believe in any tuition increase" -- when asked about the possibility of striking it from the budget.
Universities never planned on receiving the additional tuition revenue in the budget, worth about $18 million. According to state law, tuition will now automatically rise 1.7 percent to keep in line with inflation, or about $10 million.
WASHINGTON — Huber David Hernandez got a surprising phone call from a friend a few months ago. Congress is working on immigration reform, she said, and it would benefit both of us.
"It was great news," said Hernandez, who is from Colombia and arrived in Orlando in May 2012 on a three-month travel visa and never left, eager "to secure a better future, to achieve what they call the American Dream."
Then his friend called back. "She told me she had heard that only those who entered through 2011 would be covered. It's incredible that just because of one year we're not covered."
A wide-ranging immigration bill being debated in the Senate provides a pathway to citizenship for some 11 million undocumented immigrants but excludes people who arrived in the United States illegally after Dec. 31, 2011.
Sympathy for late arrivals such as Hernandez, 45, is scarce on Capitol Hill, but immigrant advocates and some lawmakers are working to move the cutoff date, saying it undermines the objective of wiping the slate clean by legalizing millions of undocumented residents and fixing a broken immigration system. …
TAMPA — Sen. Marco Rubio's efforts to reform immigration may be drawing skepticism from many conservatives. But scandals facing the White House have allowed him to shift his message back to the one that made him a star in the first place: The threat to America posed by excessive government.
Rubio captivated more than 700 people at the Hillsborough GOP's annual Lincoln Day Dinner on Saturday night with a familiar speech that resonated more strongly than ever amid revelations that the Internal Revenue Service targeted conservative groups, the U.S. Department of Justice spied on Associated Press reporters, and administration staff carefully calibrated their explanations of the Benghazi attack.
"What we've seen in the last seven or eight days have really shaken me," Rubio said. "History teaches us that when government is too large and too powerful, no matter who's in charge, it will lead to abuses." …
House Republicans supported Speaker Will Weatherford's attempt to overhaul the pension system, closing it to new members in 2014. Many of these lawmakers are enrolled in the pension, choosing not to select an alternative option that is more similar to a 401(k).
That puts lawmakers in the awkward position of lobbying to close a program to new employees that they currently enjoy.
Here is an excerpt of a story in Saturday's paper that digs into the issue:
Florida House Republicans tried to close the state's pension system to new employees this year, saying it's a ticking time bomb that could cripple the state's budget for years to come.
But many of those same GOP lawmakers are members of the state pension system themselves, according to aTimes/Herald review.
In fact, more than half of House Republicans could see the perks of the pension when they retire, forgoing the riskier 401(k)-style plans they wanted to force upon new state employees.
Several of those same Republicans debated in favor of closing the pension system when it came up for a vote in March. Most of them did not respond to interview requests Friday. …
Gov. Rick Scott has all but guaranteed a veto of the three-percent tuition increase in the state budget and he recently reached out to an unlikely group to aid his cause.
All 12 state university presidents were asked to sign a letter initiated by the governor’s office that says they do not want more tuition revenue. In the process, they would have rejected an automatic 1.7 percent increase to cover the cost of inflation.
“As a result of this [year’s] historical support for state universities, we are pleased to report that we will not be seeking any tuition increases for the upcoming school year and intend to maintain tuition at current levels,” reads a draft of the letter, which is signed “INSERT PRESIDENT SIGNATURE” and addressed to Scott.
Scott’s office did not respond to a request for comment about the origin of the letter. University system Chancellor Frank Brogan and several school presidents also declined interview requests.
University presidents participated in a hastily organized private conference call Friday afternoon to discuss the letter. Their reactions ranged from concern to outrage, according to those familiar with the conference call discussion
A signing ceremony for the texting while driving bill (SB 52) has been set for 2-3 p.m. May 28th in Miami, according to an email listed on Project Sunburst, a website that displays executive staff emails in the Governor’s office, but Jackie Schutz, a spokesman for Gov. Rick Scott, wouldn't confirm the information.
She said the governor hasn’t yet received the bill and he is still "reviewing the legislation.
"There’s nothing to announce,” Schutz said.
Other emails on Sunburst noted signings for a few other bills, including HB 705 relating to economic development on June 3 in West Palm Beach and HB 1129, requiring care of infants born alive during a failed abortion, on June 5th somewhere in the Panhandle. …
UPDATE Sunday evening: Ehrlich statement: "I welcome Congressman Bill Young's active engagement in the race for the FL-13 congressional district and I look forward to a spirited and candid debate of the issues facing the people of Pinellas County for the first time in twenty years. ... The voters of Pinellas deserve better. That is why I invite Congressman Young to a series of debates whenever and wherever over the course of the campaign to make sure we both directly answer the questions and concerns of the voters of Pinellas and share our visions for the future."
Already bombarded with Democratic attacks, including a robocall this week, Young is prepping for another campaign. And Pinellas County Republican says he's ready for a fight.
"I'm getting older. I'm getting more aggressive and I'll probably be more political than I've ever been," Young said Friday afternoon outside the House chamber. "I'm going to respond where I need to respond." …
For Florida political news today, the Buzz is your can't-miss-it source. Tampa Bay Times writers offer the latest in Florida politics, the Florida Legislature and the Rick Scott administration. Keep in mind: This is a public forum sponsored and maintained by the Tampa Bay Times. When you post comments here, what you say becomes public and could appear in the newspaper. You are not engaging in private communication with candidates or Times staffers.