TALLAHASSEE — For the past decade, Florida law has required that tax money to aid victims of domestic violence be controlled by a single group.
But Gov. Rick Scott wants to end the relationship after his office discovered the group's president is paid more than $300,000 a year.
When Scott signed the new state budget, which includes $31 million for domestic violence programs, he told the Legislature he wants the law changed so that future money won't be steered directly to the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
"I do not believe it is appropriate to designate in statute a specific private entity as the recipient of state funds," Scott wrote in signing HB 7093, extending the state's alliance with the nonprofit coalition. "Such a practice restricts the competitive procurement process."
Scott's decision to target the coalition — which gives money, training, oversight and advocacy to 42 shelters — is a case study of how Tallahassee works.
The efficiency-minded Scott looks for cases of questionable spending, and Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, was eager to comply.
Bennett had copies of the coalition's Form 990 IRS filings that show president Tiffany Carr drew a salary of $316,104 in 2009, the latest filing available, plus $36,158 in benefits. That's three times what many state agency heads earn.
Bennett is a vocal critic of high salaries and member of a government efficiency task force, and his wife Dee is a board member of a Sarasota shelter. He gave the tax forms to Scott's chief of staff, Steve MacNamara.
"I delivered the merchandise," Bennett said. "I was so p----- off when I saw the salary Tiffany Carr was making. It's absolutely stone-a-- insane."
Speaking for the governor, MacNamara said: "He wants to make sure the money's actually getting to the people who need it, and not being spent on overhead."
Carr was surprised by Scott's action and said she's willing to take a pay cut if needed.
"I will tell you, this is my life's work. Everybody knows it," said Carr, 46, of Tallahassee. "And if there is a decision by my board or the Legislature ... they can decrease it. This is not why I do this work."
Carr said her salary is paid for partly with private donations and grants, and that she should not be singled out. She said her salary is set by the coalition's 11-member board, based on a study of salaries of CEOs of comparable nonprofits.
The study included Enterprise Florida, the state's public-private job-creator; the Ounce of Prevention Fund, for poor children; and Disc Village, a counseling program. Records show that Disc Village's president earned more than twice as much as Carr in 2010 but the other two earned slightly less.
Scott's decision to target the group is puzzling to some legislators because he insisted that the coalition be designated a recipient of state money when he submitted his first budget proposals in 2011.
"I'm kind of perplexed by his decision," said Rep. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee. She said the coalition "does an outstanding job."
As she crafted a $70 billion budget during the legislative session, Grimsley said nobody in Scott's office voiced concern about the coalition.
She said the group has a strong record of directing money to services and that the Department of Children and Families closely monitors all spending.
The coalition says 95 cents of every dollar goes to services.
New statewide violent crime statistics show domestic violence offenses declined by 1.5 percent from 2010 to 2011.
Grimsley added it's common for the state to steer money to nonprofits that serve a unique mission, such as the Ounce of Prevention Fund and Florida Healthy Kids Corp.
The Coalition Against Domestic Violence's latest annual report shows a photo of a beaming Scott and his wife, Ann, with congratulatory words.
The coalition owes its special status largely to former Gov. Jeb Bush, who signed the 2003 law designating it as the sole recipient of state domestic violence money.
Bush's former chief of staff, Kathleen Shanahan, said that for 19 years, Carr has "set a model for the nation" in combating domestic violence.
Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Steve Bousquet can be reached at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263.