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  1. Florida Politics

Steve Bousquet: Gov. Rick Scott can make amends with elections supervisors by approving pay raise

Gov. Rick Scott must decide soon whether to give nearly 20?percent raises to the state’s elections supervisors.
Gov. Rick Scott must decide soon whether to give nearly 20?percent raises to the state’s elections supervisors.
Published Mar. 29, 2016

If Gov. Rick Scott has ticked off one group of elected officials more than any other, it's the 67 county elections supervisors.

Scott once proposed a numbering system to judge their performances, but backed off after intense criticism.

He wanted them to "purge" the voter rolls of suspected noncitizens, which became a flop with national implications when supervisors lost faith in state data. His chief elections adviser tried to stonewall their goal of online voter registration by 2017, but later became a supporter.

Now, Scott can make amends with one stroke of his pen.

He must soon decide whether to approve pay raises of nearly 20 percent to supervisors, who are critical to the state's hopes of an efficient and trouble-free presidential election and who face unique challenges because district lines for congressional and state Senate seats have changed, creating potential confusion among voters.

One of the most hotly debated bills in the 2016 session was whether supervisors deserve raises of $18,000 to $20,000 a year, a politically touchy subject in a conservative Capitol.

Historically, supervisors have earned less than other countywide elected constitutional officers, such as sheriffs and tax collectors, under a complex formula tied to population that allows for raises year to year.That, however, hasn't changed since 1988. Moreover, because most supervisors traditionally have been women, supporters see a basic inequality that should be corrected.

"It's gender discrimination," says Rep. Frank Artiles, a Miami Republican who sponsored the pay raise in the House. "It's pay parity."

Take Pinellas County.

Sheriff Bob Gualtieri last year reported his salary was $163,000, and Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark reported a salary of $135,503.

Pasco Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley last year listed his salary at $107,099, much less than Sheriff Chris Nocco's salary of $153,923 or Tax Collector Mike Fasano's salary of $138,991.

Broward Supervisor Brenda Snipes last year reported a salary of $148,000, and Broward Sheriff Scott Israel listed a salary of $181,447.

The only county where the increase would not take effect is Miami-Dade, where the elections supervisor is appointed, not elected.

SB 514 passed the Senate with ease, but it nearly died in the House before passing 58-54, with many House Republican leaders voting against it.

"This is nothing more than politicians feeding politicians," protested Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach.

Statewide, the salary increases would cost $1.2 million the first year, a Senate analysis says. The average pay raise would be 18.7 percent, or $18,540 a year.

Secretary of State Ken Detzner supports the raise and said he urged Scott to approve it.

Scott has often opposed across-the-board pay increases for public employees — and last week he vetoed his first bill from the 2016 session for that very reason.

Scott, who invalidated a bill that would have let voters in Gainesville create a citywide utility authority, said he vetoed it because it would have given those board members starting salaries of $18,000 a year.

Scott noted that in most of Florida, similar appointees serve without pay.

The governor must act on SB 514 by Wednesday.

He could let the raises go into effect without his signature, but he has not decided any bill that way since 2012.

"We'll see what happens," said Artiles, who estimates that the bill's chance of survival is "55 to 45" — not exactly a ringing endorsement.

Contact Steve Bousquet at bousquet@tampabay.com. Follow @stevebousquet.