Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, whose agency oversees state energy policy, told Rep. Mike Fasano (R-New Port Richey) today he does not have the resources to perform an economic analysis to determine whether a proposed nuclear power plant would end up costing electricity customers more than a new natural gas facility. Putnam’s refusal to conduct the requested economic analysis stands in stark contrast to his commissioning of an economic analysis of renewable energy last spring when his proposal for $100 million in subsidies to renewable energy companies faced a gubernatorial veto.
Fasano requested Putnam perform the economic analysis after a Tampa Bay Times analysis concluded construction of a proposed Duke Energy nuclear power plant in Levy County, west of Ocala, would force electricity customers to pay twice as much for electricity than would be the case if a natural gas power plant were built.
Taking Duke Energy’s projected construction, fuel and operations costs at face value, the Times found the nuclear power plant would be substantially more expensive than a natural gas power plant. The Times estimated electricity customers would pay at least twice as much for nuclear power than natural gas power.
“What building a new nuclear power plant does really well, the analysis showed, is fatten a utility’s bottom line. Duke Energy would pocket as much as 10 times the profit from the Levy project as it would from a natural gas facility,” Times reporter Ivan Penn noted.
Putnam’s Department of Agriculture oversees state energy policy, while the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) has authority to approve or decline particular electricity projects. Consumer groups frequently assert the PSC is in the pocket of utilities and simply rubber-stamps utility proposals without subjecting them to rigorous, objective economic analyses. Expressing a lack of trust in the PSC’s inclination to conduct a balanced economic analysis regarding the proposed Levy County nuclear power plant, Fasano asked Putnam to perform an economic analysis.
In a letter issued earlier today, Putnam told Fasano he does not have the resources to study the issue. He also claimed developing more nuclear power benefits Florida consumers.
“Your loss of confidence in the PSC’s ability to do their statutorily mandated job is a larger issue that only you and your colleagues in the Florida legislature are equipped to address,” Putnam wrote.
“As Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture, I have consistently made clear that I believe increasing diversity in Florida’s energy sources is critical to securing a stable, reliable and affordable supply of energy for Florida consumers.”
Putnam has repeatedly asserted Florida’s electricity mix has too much inexpensive natural gas and should include a larger share of electricity from other, more expensive electricity sources. Putnam claims electricity diversity trumps electricity affordability.
Although Putnam told Fasano he does not have the resources to perform Fasano’s requested economic study, he found the resources to conduct a similar study regarding renewable energy last spring. In April 2012, Gov. Rick Scott indicated he was planning to veto legislation handing over $100 million in taxpayer subsidies to renewable energy companies.
On the morning Scott planned to issue his veto, Putnam presented a study he commissioned from a renewable energy activist on the payroll of renewable energy associations claiming the $100 million renewable energy subsidies would actually save taxpayers money. Relying on the assertions contained in the last-minute analysis, Scott withheld his veto pen and allowed the legislation to become law.
To secure Scott’s tacit approval of the renewable power subsidies, Putnam agreed to produce an annual report documenting the economic costs and benefits of the subsidies. Putnam promised to produce the first report by March of 2013, but has yet to produce it. As Media Trackers Florida reported last fall, a study by objective, university-affiliated energy economists determined the subsidies will cause substantial net economic harm in the state. Media Trackers Florida also discovered that Putnam refused to disclose that the author of his study was on the payroll of the renewable energy industry and had irrefutable conflicts of interest.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s recent pandering to government workers, and the teachers’ union in particular, is unlikely to win Scott many votes, the Palm Beach Post reports.
The grassroots conservatives who carried Scott to victory in the 2010 Republican primary and then the 2010 general election are unhappy with Scott’s jump to the left on many issues in 2013. Scott’s political transformation appears designed to position the incumbent governor to win over non-conservative Democrats and independents. Nowhere is Scott’s recent political transformation more striking than his advocacy for higher pay for government-sector workers, including teachers.
Although Florida faces a $26 billion state debt and Florida teachers and other government workers earn substantially more than private sector workers in the state, Scott spent the 2013 legislative session pressuring legislators to give hefty pay raises for all government workers. Scott pushed for especially hefty raises for teachers, including teachers who are deemed “ineffective” in performance reviews. When Republicans in the Florida legislature proposed holding back pay raises for the relatively few Florida public school teachers deemed ineffective, Scott and the teacher’s union demanded full raises for all public school teachers.
Grassroots conservatives warned Scott that his dash to the political left would alienate more of his 2010 supporters than it would attract new voters. The Palm Beach Post added weight to conservatives’ warnings in a Sunday analysis.
“Despite making teacher pay his top priority of the legislative session, Scott, like every Republican governor before him, appears unlikely to break the Democratic Party’s powerful bond with the Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teacher’s union,” John Kennedy, the Post’s Capital Bureau reporter observed.
“Nobody knows what he’s thinking with this strategy,” Florida Education Association President Andy Ford told the Post. “It’s clearly all about 2014 and the governor’s race. Teachers welcome the raises. But that doesn’t buy forgiveness.”
“Even many Republican-leaning teachers remain wary of Scott, said Sandra Maldonado-Ross, a Central Florida high school teacher and president of the FEA’s Republican Educators’ Caucus,” the Post reported.
“They’re definitely appreciative of the raise. But I think there’s a lot of suspicions about, ‘Why now?’” Maldonado-Ross observed.
A spirited debate on a proposed tax hike in Manatee County drew a record crowd at the nonpartisan Tiger Bay Club. Tax hike advocates say the county should increase its sales tax a half percent to 7 percent to pay for health care for indigent people. The largest group of beneficiaries will likely be rural migrant workers, many of whom are in the country illegally.
In March of this year, the Manatee County Commission voted to put the proposed tax hike to a vote in a special election this June. The sales tax hike would cost each middle class family in the county an average of $64 each year, according to Manatee County officials.
More than 100 people attended the Tiger Bay Club debate at the Pier 22 restaurant in Bradenton. Tax hike proponents argued taxpayers should pay more each year because close to 20 percent of county residents do not have health care insurance. Proponents referred to the situation as a health care crisis and said the rural migrant workers depend on taxpayer assistance for basic health care services.
Tax hike opponents pointed out Obamacare is already raising healthcare costs for county taxpayers and the federal program is supposed to provide universal healthcare with its extra taxes and higher healthcare premiums. Tax hike proponents also noted the county already provides extensive health care services to indigent people, migrant workers, and illegal immigrants through programs such as Manatee County Rural Health Services and Manatee Healthcare Alliance.
Although proponents bill the program as necessary for indigent people to attain healthcare, the proposal would provide healthcare coverage to people making up to double the federal poverty level.
“When we read this plan, in bright, blinking letters it says: ‘Obamacare for the county,’” said Tea Pary Manatee president Steven Vernon. “This plan is much, much broader in scope than simply taking care of our indigent residents.”
On the Republican Party of Manatee County website, Chairwoman Kathleen King urged Republican voters to reject the tax hike. Media Trackers Florida could not find a statement of support or opposition on the Democratic Party of Manatee County website.
The Tallahassee Democrat falsely reported Friday that Republican leaders acknowledged purposefully suppressing Democratic voter turnout in a 2011 election reform bill.
In a news article titled “Elections bill heads to governor’s desk,” Tallahassee Democrat reporter Jennifer Portman wrote that Republican “party leaders” acknowledged the 2011 election reform bill was designed “as a way to dampen Democratic turnout.”
Prior to Portman’s article, there were no published reports of Republican party leaders saying the 2011 election reform bill was designed to dampen Democratic voter turnout. Contacted by Media Trackers Florida about the identity of the Republican Party leaders she referenced in her article, Portman responded via e-mail that she was referring to Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist and his long-time political confidant Jim Greer.
Crist, however, left the Republican Party in April of 2010 when he announced he would run for the U.S. Senate as an Independent. Crist’s change in party affiliation came long before Republican Party legislators drafted the 2011 election reform bill. Crist officially became a member of the Democratic party in December of 2012.
Greer, a convicted felon who pleaded guilty to stealing funds from the Republican Party of Florida (RPOF), was arrested and indicted in June of 2010, long before Republican Party legislators drafted the 2011 election reform bill. Greer was fired from his job as RPOF chairman in April of 2010.
In December of 2012, nearly two weeks after he officially became a member of the Democratic party, Crist claimed in U.S. Senate hearings that the 2011 bill was “designed to encourage a certain partisan outcome.” Crist, however, was no longer governor when the 2011 bill was drafted, claimed no insider connections or information regarding the Republican bill drafting process, and offered his assessment merely as his own personal opinion.
Portman did not respond to follow-up questions asking about the accuracy of referring to Crist and Greer as Republican Party leaders in 2011, long after Republican Party leaders severed their ties with Crist and Greer.
Neither Portman nor the Tallahassee Democrat has issued a retraction or correction of the false assertion.
The liberal Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald blasted Florida lawmakers for passing a funding bill excluding ineffective teachers from receiving generous pay raises.
Earlier this year, the Florida Education Association, a statewide union of Florida teachers, applauded Gov. Rick Scott’s call for a $2,500 across-the-board pay increase for all Florida teachers. The Florida legislature passed compromise legislation this week tying teacher raises to performance standards.
Under the legislation, all teachers who receive an “effective” evaluation will receive at least a $2,500 pay increase. Teachers who receive a “highly effective” evaluation will receive a $3,500 pay increase. The vast majority of Florida teachers receive either an “effective” or “highly effective” evaluation. Teachers who grade out as ineffective will not receive a pay increase.
Blasting the legislation for excluding pay raises for ineffective teachers, Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald Tallahassee Bureau Chief Steve Bousquet urged Scott to veto the entire education budget, including the $3,500 raises for highly effective teachers.
Acknowledging the legislature’s 2013 budget provides $480 million for teacher pay raises, Bousquet nevertheless wrote, “The pay raise is tied to pay-for-performance plans not yet in effect in most school districts. That’s not the across-the-board increase Scott has sought for months.”
“What he should do is congratulate his fellow Republicans who wrote the budget on a good first try, then veto the entire education budget and tell lawmakers that he’s dead serious about an across-the-board raise for teachers,” wrote Bousquet.
“Republican lawmakers would be appalled by a Scott veto of the education budget, which is all the more reason why Scott should do it,” Bouquet argued.
Scott should “then invite hundreds of teachers to a rally on the steps of the Capitol,” Bousquet asserted.
The Florida Education Association (FEA), a statewide union of Florida teachers, criticized Florida lawmakers for passing an education budget providing $480 million in school employee raises but requiring teachers to share the raises with non-teaching school employees.
If signed by Gov. Rick Scott, the 2013 Florida education budget will be the largest in state history. School employees will receive $480 million in pay raises, which would set teacher and school employee salaries at their highest levels in state history. Nevertheless, the FEA issued a press release criticizing the plan for making teachers share the $480 million in pay raises with non-teaching school employees, such as guidance counselors, media resources specialists, and teachers’ assistants.
“We are also disappointed that the Legislature, without making additional funds available, has required that the money allocated must be distributed to school administrators in addition to the instructional personnel who actually deliver education to our students,” FEA argued in a press statement sent to Media Trackers Florida.
The education budget also includes $300 million in additional funding for retirement benefits for teachers and other education employees.
The website Teacher Salary Info reports Florida teachers make an average of more than $50,000 per year in salary, with benefits worth an additional $15,000 per year. The average salary for all jobs in Florida is $40,000, the South Florida Business Journal reports, citing Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
What a difference a year makes. That and the permission of Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.
The Florida Senate voted 33-1 Thursday to repeal a law requiring nearly all gasoline sold in the state to contain at least 10 percent ethanol. The Florida House passed the same bill by a 77-39 margin. The bill now moves to Gov. Rick Scott, who will likely sign the bill into law.
The relative ease with which the bill sailed through the legislature highlights the quiet power of Republican Agriculture Commissioner Putnam. During the 2012 legislative session, Putnam gave a stamp of disapproval to a similar bill. Putnam said repealing Florida’s ethanol mandate “sends the wrong message for Florida about our commitment to renewable energy.” With Putnam opposing the 2012 bill, neither the Florida House nor Senate came close to passing the bill.
Prior to the 2013 legislative session, however, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fort Walton Beach) obtained a pledge from Putnam, a likely future gubernatorial candidate, not to oppose legislation to repeal the mandate. With legislators free to repeal the mandate without contradicting the public wishes of a powerful party leader, Gaetz’s bill built momentum throughout the 2013 legislative session.
Even if Scott signs the bill, federal ethanol mandates remain in place. As a result, Floridians are unlikely to see much real-world relief any time in the near future. Nevertheless, ethanol lobbyists and other renewable power apologists harshly criticized the bipartisan legislation.
“We should debate the merits of a bill that says Florida is closed for biotech business. This bill sends the message that investment in bioenergy and biofuels and even biotech is not needed,” Florida BioEnergy Association board member Honey Rand wrote in the April 26 Sunshine State News.
Rand did not mention that other segments of the energy industry, such as oil, natural gas and coal, do not seek laws requiring consumers to purchase their products, nor do they claim the state legislature is shutting down the state for their businesses simply because the legislature does not pass laws requiring consumers to purchase their products.
Prior to the Florida House passing the ethanol repeal legislation, Rep. Debbie Mayfield (R-Vero Beach) voiced a similar attack against the legislation.
“I would urge you to please vote down this repeal bill,” said Mayfield. “It does nothing except hurt the businesses that are here in the state of Florida and it hurts an industry that we are wanting to move to the state of Florida.”
Gaetz answered Mayfield’s attack.
“Any business model that is contingent upon the government forcing people to buy their product is a flawed business model,” said Gaetz. “Any of us in any of our businesses would probably love it if the government mandated that we have customers.”
Planned Parenthood held a rally on the steps of the Florida State Capitol opposing legislation that would make it a crime to commit a violent act against a pregnant woman that harms her unborn child.
More than 100 Planned Parenthood activists rallied as the Senate Criminal Justice Committee held hearings on the bill. The Criminal Justice Committee approved the bill by a 4-2 vote and advanced the bill to the Senate Judiciary Committee .
Democratic Senate Leader Christopher Smith (D-Oakland Park) voted against the bill, claiming it jeopardizes the rights of pregnant mothers.
“So does the state attorney now go to the victim’s medical records, even without her permission, to see, was she pregnant? Is she pregnant? Could she possibly be pregnant? When was her last menstrual cycle? I mean, we’re going into some murky water here,” said Smith.
Smith also said the legislation jeopardizes the rights of people committing violent acts against women.
“That’s a dangerous step … to now charge people with things they couldn’t possibly have known,” argued Smith. “This is murky waters … where we could possibly be charging a person with a crime that they could have no idea or reason or knowledge of … I would ask that we tread lightly.”
“My argument would be I suggest you don’t do violence against a woman,” countered Sen. Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland), the bill’s sponsor.
“Whether they’re going to drive drunk or do a violent act against somebody, they can choose not to do that violent act and therefore not have the risk of being charged with this violent crime of killing the baby as well,” Stargel (R-Lakeland) added.
Planned Parenthood’s rally against laws protecting unborn children follows its lobbyist, Alisa LaPolt Snow, asserting in Florida legislative hearings that a woman and her abortion doctor should have the right to kill an infant child if it survives a botched abortion and is subsequently born.
“It is just really hard for me to even ask you this question because I’m almost in disbelief,” said Florida Rep. Jim Boyd (R-Bradenton). “If a baby is born on a table as a result of a botched abortion, what would Planned Parenthood want to have happen to that child that is struggling for life?”
“We believe that any decision that’s made should be left up to the woman, her family, and the physician,” Snow answered.
“What happens in a situation where a baby is alive, breathing on a table, moving. What do your physicians do at that point?” asked Rep. Daniel Davis (R-Jacksonville).
“I do not have that information,” Snow replied. “I am not a physician, I am not an abortion provider. So I do not have that information.”
“You stated that a baby born alive on a table as a result of a botched abortion that that decision should be left to the doctor and the family. Is that what you’re saying?” asked Rep. Jose Oliva (R-Miami Lakes).
“That decision should be between the patient and the health care provider,” Snow answered.
Manatee County Commissioner Michael Gallen backtracked yesterday on his recent vote for a referendum to raise sales taxes in Manatee County. Gallen provided the deciding margin last month in a 4-3 County Commission vote to advance a half-cent sales tax hike to a June 2013 countywide voter referendum. In an editorial published yesterday in the Bradenton Herald, however, Gallen called for delaying the countywide referendum until August of 2014.
The proposed sales tax hike would not enhance the county’s general revenues. Instead, all of the money would fund health programs for indigent people. The sales tax hike would cost middle class families approximately $64 each year, according to Manatee County officials.
Tax hike opponents point out that Obamacare is supposed to provide health care for indigent people. The same people who advocated the expensive expansion of federal health care via Obamacare, claiming it would provide health care for all, now push for additional taxes at the local level by claiming health care is not available for all under Obamacare.
Gallen explained his new position calling for a delay in the sales tax referendum by pointing out the costs of a special election and the uncertainties in Obamacare.
“Estimates are that a special election this year will cost between a quarter- to one-half million dollars from property tax payers. If the referendum is held during the primary election next year, in 2014, there would be no additional cost,” wrote Gallen.
“Within a year the county will know the impact of The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the state legislation involving Medicaid,” Gallen asserted.
County Commissioner Larry Bustle, who also voted for the tax hike, claimed the tax hike will create jobs.
“Providing for the less fortunate is an important reason for local government to be involved, but so is the need to support the health care industry which comprises one quarter of all jobs,” Bustle wrote in an April 7 Bradenton Herald editorial.
Bustle argued the County should tax first and find out later if the tax hike is actually needed.
“If Obamacare is implemented and Florida’s participation in Medicaid is sorted out, we might not need the sales tax, in which case we’d simply rescind it,” Bustle claimed.
The Miami-Dade Republican and Democratic Parties each claim to oppose taxpayer subsidies for Miami Dolphins multi-billionaire owner Stephen Ross to renovate his stadium, yet county lawmakers approved the subsidies late last night. If approved in a special election by county voters, Miami-Dade taxpayers will hand over approximately $200 million to Ross. Ross would refund between $110 million and $120 million to the county after 30 years.
Last week the Miami-Dade Republican Executive Committee issued a resolution opposing the subsidies. The resolution called the subsidies “corporate welfare for billionaires” and pointed out Miami Dolphins CEO Mike Dee admitted the proposed renovations would be an “unwise” investment for Ross.
“Corporate welfare picks winners and losers,” the resolution states.
“Taxpayers should never be the source of corporate welfare for billionaires,” the resolution explains (emphasis in the original).
Yesterday the Miami-Dade Democratic Party issued a similar press statement criticizing the proposed subsidies.
“Ross should not be able to pressure our elected leaders to hold a special county-wide referendum in May, especially when there is such a large sum of public money at stake,” said Annette Taddeo-Goldstein, Miami-Dade Democratic Party chairwoman, in the press statement.
“And at a time when we are cutting funding from much-needed programs, I find it appalling that our taxpayers — after our recent experience with the Marlins — are once again being asked to foot the bill for a billionaire sports team owner,” said Taddeo-Goldstein.
County commissioners propose to raise hotel taxes throughout the county to pay for the subsidies. County voters still must approve the subsidies. County officials plan a special countywide vote next month.
Media Trackers Florida called and emailed the headquarters of the Miami-Dade Republican Party and Miami-Dade Democratic Party to ask how the county commissioners could have approved the subsidies if both parties opposed them. Neither party headquarters responded to our request for comment as this story went to press.