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Thanks for visiting. On a semi-daily basis we scan Florida's major daily newspapers for significant Florida political news and punditry. We also review the editorial pages and political columnists/pundits for Florida political commentary. The papers we review include: the Miami Herald, Sun-Sentinel, Palm Beach Post, Naples News, Sarasota Herald Tribune, St Pete Times, Tampa Tribune, Orlando Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal, Tallahassee Democrat, and, occasionally, the Florida Times Union; we also review the political news blogs associated with these newspapers.

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The Blog for Monday, July 20, 2009

RPOFer Pay to Play scam exposed

    Bill Cotterell does yeoman's work this morning: "If the policy-driven purpose of privatization is to deliver public services that are both better and cheaper, why should employees of companies contracting with the state get pay raises when state employees aren't?"
    That's the question posed by an ambitious young state senator from South Florida. An ambitious senior senator from North Florida would also like to know if, in fact, companies contracting with the state are passing "cost of living" money along to their employees, not just padding their profits.

    State Sen. David Aronberg, D-Greenacres, is running for attorney general. Senate Minority Leader Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee, is running for Congress. Both men have tried to stick up for state employees in the Legislature, as Democrats do reflexively, if not effectively.

    Lawson, who has been in the House or Senate since 1982, fought privatization efforts from the years of Bob Martinez through Jeb Bush. It wasn't just Republicans, either. Gov. Lawton Chiles did his share of "right-sizing" and reorganization, though there was never a three-year run (and counting) without a general pay raise.
    This could and should be a huge scandal, if only there were a political reporting class up to the task of researching and reporting on it. Cotterell continues:
    When the 2009 Legislature was considering pay cuts for state workers, Lawson got to work with some Senate staff on contracts for state agencies. He said he learned it was common for negotiators to include a 3-percent "cost of living" increase in privatization deals and, after all his decades in the Legislature, this was news to him.

    "It started when I was trying to determine how not to cut salaries," Lawson said. "When we looked at a lot of these private contracts, I asked why they were increasing every year, but nobody had a good answer for why we had to do this."

    Aronberg, vice chairman of the Senate Governmental Operations Committee, last week asked the Department of Transportation and Department of Environmental Protection for lists of their contracts. He said "hundreds of millions of dollars" are involved in the contracts, including a "standard" pay bump for employees.

    "If this is accurate, it is troubling that state agencies have routinely increased the salaries of private contractors despite the Legislature's repeated policy decision to freeze the salaries of state workers," Aronberg wrote to DEP Secretary Michael Sole. "Needless to say, as Florida's recession has deepened, rank-and-file state employees — from Highway Patrol officers to nurses in our state hospitals — have become targets for pay cuts to offset state revenue losses." ...

    [S]tate employees deserve raises, too. It's always easier for legislators to stiff them — what are they going to do, take their labor to another government? — while taking care of the companies that generate campaign contributions.[*]

    Besides the always iffy proposition that privatization provides service that is both better and cheaper, not just one or the other, there's also a lack of openness in privatization.
    Here's the kicker:
    State employee salaries are public record, but we've got to pretty much take private companies at their word if they say salaries are rising 3 percent annually.

    And where did they get 3 percent? State employees haven't seen a raise like that in years.

    "Without disclosure of these private contractors' spending arrangements, there is no feasible way for legislators to fulfill our proper legislative oversight obligation," Aronberg wrote to Sole. "As a result, untold amounts of tax dollars that could have been used to stave off cuts to law enforcement or other critical public service personnel are being transferred from the state's coffers into the pockets of private contractors."
    Much more here: "Want a raise? Get privatized".

    - - - - - - - - - -
    *Paul Krugman explained the RPOF's scam in a 2002 piece "Victors and Spoils", wherein he wrote:
    Jeb Bush has already blazed the trail. Florida's governor has been an aggressive privatizer, and as The Miami Herald put it after a careful study of state records,
    "his bold experiment has been a success — at least for him and the Republican Party, records show. The policy has spawned a network of contractors who have given him, other Republican politicians and the Florida G.O.P. millions of dollars in campaign donations.
    What's interesting about this network of contractors isn't just the way that big contributions are linked to big contracts; it's the end of the traditional practice in which businesses hedge their bets by giving to both parties. The big winners in Mr. Bush's Florida are companies that give little or nothing to Democrats. Strange, isn't it? It's as if firms seeking business with the state of Florida are subject to a loyalty test.

    So am I saying that we are going back to the days of Boss Tweed and Mark Hanna? Gosh, no — those guys were pikers. One-party control of today's government offers opportunities to reward friends and punish enemies that the old machine politicians never dreamed of.
    Let's hope (but not expect) there's further investigation into this massive pay to play scam.

    Ain't he one of those "trial lawyer" types ...

    ... the RPOFers hate so much?

    "Ending months of speculation, Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp has confirmed that he will run for state Attorney General in 2010."

    While Democrats are already crowding the race – Sens. Dave Aronberg and Dan Gelber are both running, and former Sen. Rod Smith is reportedly considering it – Kottkamp is the only high-profile Republican candidate so far. Several GOP House members, including Bill Galvano of Bradenton, have considered running for the Cabinet post in recent months but decided against it.
    "Kottkamp to run for Florida attorney general". See also "Kottkamp enters race for attorney general".

    Another fine Jebacy

    More embarrassing statistics:

    • The uninsured: Florida has a higher uninsured rate than average and ranks high among states and the District of Columbia for the number of people who couldn’t see a doctor in the past year because of cost.

    • There are 3.7 million Floridians without health insurance.

    • Fifty-three percent of Floridians ages 19-64 who are living in poverty do not have health insurance, compared with 45 percent nationally.

    • Percentage of Florida residents uninsured, 2007: 20.7 percent.

    • Florida is third among all states and the District of Columbia for its uninsured rate.

    • Employer-provided health insurance: Just fewer than half, 47.1 percent, of all Floridians get insurance through an employer. Premiums for employer-provided coverage in Florida were among the most expensive in the country in 2006. Only Maine had higher-costing premiums, per average family, for an employer-based health plan. ...

    • Florida ranked 46th among all states and the District of Columbia in the percentage of residents with employer-provided insurance.

    • Increasing cost: The cost of employer-provided family coverage has increased 72 percent in Florida since 2000. That’s more than 31⁄2 times the percentage growth in median earnings in Florida during the same period.
    "Health care stakes high in Florida".


    "Despite approving severe budget cuts, Florida legislators in droves have hung on to a major perk of power: Taxpayer-funded promotional pieces, blanketing mailboxes across the state. About 50 House members and six senators spent state money to design, print and mail newsletters starring themselves, spinning the action from the spring legislative session." "Florida legislators continue to spend tax dollars on promotional mailings despite budget cuts".

    Thank you, Mr. Obama

    "[C]ritics warn that Florida's day of financial reckoning may be coming in the next few years when the $15 billion in federal stimulus money that the state is expected to receive evaporates while at the same time Florida's population growth remains relatively weak - not providing the economic boost that the state has historically relied upon. In its analysis, Moody's pointed out Florida's high 10.6 percent unemployment rate - which exceeds the national average - its weak housing market and the projections for 'minimal population growth' through 2010." "Fla. avoids budget crisis".

    And so it begins ...

    Florida's editorial boards start climbing aboard the Chamber of Commerce bandwagon - The Miami Herald editorial board: "Healthcare 'fix' hurts small business" ("House Democrats' reform places undue burden on entrepreneurs").

    "Salary cuts, furloughs, fewer services ..."

    The Miami Herald editorial board: " Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez says that in his decades of government service he has never had to make the tough budget choices he has faced this year. Same goes for Broward County officials and South Florida cities and school boards. These are indeed extraordinary times that call for exceptional belt-tightening." "Tough choices ahead for South Florida".

    Never mind the oversight

    Daytona Beach News Journal editors: "When's the last time you looked your boss in the eye and said "'You're wrong?'"

    And how candid would you be after you saw a few other people tell their bosses they were wrong -- only to lose their jobs?

    That's the plight most of Florida's top government watchdogs face. They're hired to keep tabs on agencies and institutions that spend hundreds of millions of dollars in state money. Yet they report to the same people they're supposed to monitor. And those people are often political appointees chosen as much for clout as for competency.

    Take the case of Linda Keen, inspector general for the state Agency for Health Care Administration . . . actually, make that ex-inspector general. A few years ago, Keen circulated a draft report critical of a pilot privatization project with the state's Medicaid system. Shortly after being appointed by Gov. Charlie Crist, AHCA Secretary Holly Benson -- who listed the Medicaid-privatization project as one of her key achievements as a member of the House of Representatives -- asked Keen to resign. Keen's dismissal looked very much like payback from a disgruntled politician, and Benson has never given a good reason for dismissing Keen.

    The same thing happened to Fred Schuknecht when Florida State Prison warden James Crosby became secretary of the Department of Corrections.
    Read on: "Government needs independent watchdogs".

    "Campaign frenzy"

    "The Panhandle will join the campaign frenzy of an unprecedented 2010 political season with wide-open state legislative races. A state Senate seat and three House spots representing Northwest Florida are open next year because of term limits. " "Senate race wide open".

    Only in Florida

    "After decades apart, woman finds mom -- homeless in Orlando".

    Even the Kathleen Parkers of the world see it

    "Hearings confirm it: Women are subject to double standard".

    "Hold on ...

    The Saint Petersburg Times editorial board: "For more than one in three voters in St. Petersburg, the Sept. 1 city election arrived last week by mail. Pinellas Elections Supervisor Deborah Clark sent nearly 58,400 ballots to voters who had requested a mail ballot or succumbed to her mail ballot push during last November's election." "Hold on to that ballot".

    "He thought it was safe"

    "A political candidate was attacked and seriously injured, allegedly by four teens. He had moved to Key West from New York because he thought it was safe." "Candidate didn't see brutal attack coming".

    "Poor safety habits and dangerous driving"

    The Tampa Tribune editors argue that "the state has the duty to adopt new traffic laws to clamp down on poor safety habits and dangerous driving. This summer we've seen two good examples of the Legislature and Gov. Charlie Crist doing that." "State gets in gear on safer driving".

    "Between lies and timidity"

    Pierre Tristam "was digging up old newspaper clips about the Moon landing the other day and there, on the back of a July 17, 1994 New York Times commemoration of the landing,"

    was a special report on the "advertising blitzkrieg" over Bill Clinton's attempt to reform health care. The report quoted a television ad opposing the plan. "Announcer: A lot of politicians promise health reform. What would it mean to you and your family? What most politicians are promising would mean a big bureaucracy. Loss of jobs. Waiting lines. Limiting your right to choose doctors. Rationed medical care."

    The same scripts, the same old lies, are being recycled today. Dollar for dollar, the best insurance systems are government-run -- Medicare, Medicaid, S-Chip (the children's insurance program). With some state exceptions (Florida's Medicaid system is particularly stingy) they provide more access and better care at lower costs than most private and employee-provided insurance, mine included. The models are in place to establish a fantastic universal care system.

    Between lies and timidity, that's not where we're headed. As vision goes, the Democrats' version of reform is the equivalent of the International Space Station -- a low-orbit clunker imprisoned by old-world gravity and make-work objectives. Health care's moon shot still awaits.
    "Universal health care closer than a moon shot for U.S.".

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