Greetings from Sunny Florida where the governor’s airplane is literally the governor’s (more on that later…).
Things have definitely ratcheted up since my last letter now that legislators, the media, and gadflies have descended upon our little Southern Georgia, er, Northern Florida town of Tallahassee for the 2011 Legislative Session. The major news this week has been the passage of a teacher merit pay bill that passed on a partisan vote in both the House and Senate. The measure, a top priority of newly-elected Governor Rick Scott, implements a merit pay system and eliminates tenure for teachers hired subsequent to the bill’s effective date. Current teachers have the option of switching to the new system under which they are eligible for merit pay increases, or they can remain under the current system of tenure.
The measure is the first bill the Republican-led Legislature has sent to Governor Scott for his signature. A similar measure was vetoed last year by then-Republican-turned-Independent Governor Charlie Crist despite expressing support for it as it moved through the legislative process. Needless to say, Teachers Unions are angered by provisions in the bill that they claim largely strip bargaining rights away from future teachers.
Last week, an unusual coalition of conservatives, consumer advocates, tea party activists and environmentalists came together to support a provision that is slated to be added to a Citizens Property Insurance Corporation reform bill. The provision requires Citizens to change its eligibility guidelines to prohibit covering any structures built after June 2012 in any area that lies seaward of the state-designated Coastal Construction Control Line and areas federally designated under the Coastal Barriers Resources Act (CBRA).
The groups represented in the coalition, which usually do not agree on just about any public policy issue, believe that the current practice of Citizens providing builders’ risk and property insurance coverage to environmentally-sensitive and extremely hazardous areas due to hurricane risk encourage development in those areas. Members of the coalition believe if such property owners desire to build in those areas, they should do so at their own cost and at their own risk, not on taxpayer risk. The bill, SB 1714, is expected to be taken up next week at the Senate Banking & Insurance Committee, and the bill’s sponsor, Senator Alan Hays (R-Umatilla) has indicated he will add the coastal preservation language to the bill at that time.
A few weeks ago, Governor Rick Scott officially notified the U.S. Department of Transportation of his decision to reject over $2 billion in federal funds intended for the development of a high-speed rail line between the metropolitan areas of Tampa and Orlando. Lawmakers angry with Governor Scott’s decision challenged his decision in court, claiming that he did not have the unilateral authority to reject the federal funds and that he needed approval from the Legislature. The lawsuit was fastracked to the Florida Supreme Court, which unanimously sided with the governor and upheld his authority to reject the federal funds.
A few days later after many thought the issue was put to rest by the court decision, transportation Secretary Ray LaHood resurrected it by declaring that local governments could compete against other states for the high-speed rail money that Governor Scott rejected on behalf of the state. Several cities, including those in the proposed path of the rail have indicated that they would seriously consider applying for the grant money. A tiny problem: the right-of-way that the proposed track would have used is owned by the state and thus falls under the purview of Governor Scott. I will provide updates as the issue continues to unfold…
One of Rick Scott’s first acts as governor was to sell off the fleet of airplanes that the state of Florida owned and maintained for use by statewide elected officials. As part of his plan to reduce government spending and waste, the governor not only sold the airplane that previous governors used to get around the state, but also rejected to accept his own salary as governor. He now gets around the state using his very own private airplane at his own cost.
While the governor leading by example and cutting his own costs is ok with just about everyone, selling off the planes has turned out to be a bit of a problem for some state legislators, including Republican State Senator JD Alexander, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. Senator Alexander, among others, feel that the governor overstepped his authority by selling the airplanes without legislative approval and have said that it is not fair to the next governor who may not be independently wealthy enough to fly around in his own jet. We’ll see where this goes, but in the meantime, the other statewide elected officials are having to settle with driving, flying commercial, or begging to hitch a ride on the governor’s plane. And that’s fine by me.
Until next time!
Christian R. Cámara, Director of Florida Insurance Project