Will he or won't he...fly away to Paris?
State legislators this week began a 20-day special session in an effort to pass a new state budget to avoid a possible partial government shutdown at the end of the month.
The timing of the session, however, is coming at a bad time for Gov. Rick Scott.
Scott has been planning to attend this year's Paris Air Show. It will be his 11th trade mission since he became governor - and the first one since he was re-elected last November.
But the air show is scheduled to run from June 15 to June 21 _ or exactly when the special session could be running into crunch time. (Not to mention that Scott will only have a handful of days to sign the budget into law once it is adopted.)
Last week during a meeting of Enterprise Florida a business leader told Scott that he was looking forward to joining him in Paris. Scott didn't say anything in response.
But when asked if the governor would actually leave town, the Scott administration said "it's a game day decision."
The rationale for the trip is that Florida is home to a lot of aviation and aerospace companies. But Scott _ who has had a limited presence during the special session so far _ could risk being out of the country at a critical moment for state government.
"I hope we can get him out of here in time," quipped Sen. Tom Lee, the Senate budget chief when asked whether or not the governor should attend the event.
What Jeb's allies want
While the fate of Florida's safety net hospitals, tax cuts and the fate of Scott's boost in school funding are the top items at play in the budget this year, there's plenty left in the $77-$80 billion spending plan that will be the target of lobbying in the next few days.
Take for example an appropriation in the House budget for $1.2 million to provide liability insurance to teachers.
This is not a new idea and had been in place while Gov. Jeb Bush was in office. The idea is for the state to help pay for coverage and take away a recruiting tool for the Florida Education Association - which right now is engaged in a lawsuit against Florida's tax credit scholarship program. (This program pays for roughly 70,000 kids to attend private schools around the state.)
Patricia Levesque, a former top policy aide to Bush, chief executive officer of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, executive director of the Foundation for Florida's Future, wrote an email to Senate budget chief Tom Lee strongly urging that the Senate set aside the money for the program.
In a March 31 email with the subject line - "couple of new budget issues for your radar" - Levesque wrote:
"There is a policy moving in the House that would provide every full-time teacher in the state with liability insurance coverage to match the level provided by the teacher's union. As you know, one of the primary reasons teachers give for joining the union is the liability insurance coverage. Teachers are not told that most districts have coverage for their employees or that they could buy a person rider on their homeowner's policy for $100. Instead they join union and pay $650- $850/year in membership dues. The state can provide comparable liability insurance coverage for only $5-6 per teacher ($1.2 million).
You might remember that we had this policy in place for a few years (2001-2006). It took a couple years for the information to get down to teachers - it wasn't until year 3 of the state-provided insurance that insurance cards were actually sent to the teachers before the start of the school year. But as soon as that occurred, the union immediately began working to repeal it. We believe there was a significant hit to membership that year. We think this policy is important to show teachers the state supports them, while giving them peace of mind and allowing them to choose whether or not they want to save their membership dues."
Bush _ who will announce his candidacy for president on June 15 _ left the foundations that he started ahead of his active consideration of the Republican nomination.
But this is a reminder of the long-running battle that Bush and his allies have waged against the state's teacher union (which helped boost the candidacy of Bill McBride, the Democratic nominee for governor who challenged Bush in 2002.)
Big money, big contracts also at stake
Another long-running battle at stake in this year's special session?
Florida's law-enforcement radio contract.
The ongoing tug-of-war over the contract, which now belongs to Florida-based Harris Corp., has been documented over the last couple of years. Part of the debate has been whether to move ahead and begin procurement now for a new contract in advance of the 2021 expiration of the existing one.
But Rep. Ritch Workman, the powerful Rules Committee chairman (and who is missing the first part of the session because he's out of the country), wrote to the Department of Management Services late last month to make the case for his hometown company.
Workman told DMS that Harris would upgrade the existing network to a new type of technology for the radios under its existing contract "at no additional cost." This would obviate the need to award a 19-year contract that could cost nearly $1 billion to fully implement.
The catch is that the state would have to buy the additional radios needed to run on this system. That would be a $84 million cost according to estimates that Harris provided to DMS.
DMS Secretary Chad Poppell in his response to Workman agreed that "savings to the state may exist." But he added he looked forward to "productive discussions" with the Legislature to fund it. He also said it would require a substantial technical undertaking to fully evaluate the proposal. Poppell also said that DMS would likely have to hire additional employees in order to oversee the project.
One of Harris's main competitors for the new contract, however, has a slightly different viewpoint on the proposal.
A project manager for Motorola Solutions wrote Poppell and said the proposal "amounts to a tactic to bypass the state's competitive bidding laws."
"If the state were to implement this proposal as written, it could become a very costly mistake,'' wrote Jay Malpass, strategic project manager for Motorola Solutions.
The letter contends that Harris' proposal would allow it to get a head start on other vendors in advance of the new contract.
"We want to be clear that it is our opinion that if the state proceeds with the accepting the Harris proposal, it will create an anti-competitive environment in which legitimate vendors would not be in a position to offer what will be a better, more comprehensive and cost effective solution to the state."
As Marc Caputo with Politico noted this morning on the same subject: The contracting battle should be closely watched because those backing Harris are friends, allies and big time fundraisers of Gov. Rick Scott. The Harris roster of lobbyists includes Brian Ballard and the rest of Ballard Partners as well as long-time Scott pal Billy Rubin and other lobbyists in The Rubin Group including former top Scott aide Chris Finkbeiner.
Motorola is represented by Southern Strategy Group - the deeply-connected well-heeled firm formed by Paul Bradshaw, attorney, lobbyist, and who been in close contact with many top GOP politicians in the state. Bradshaw's wife, Sally Bradshaw, is a former chief of staff for Jeb Bush and will likely have a substantial role in helping him run for president.
SSG's long-roster of lobbyists also includes many former top officials in state government during the last two decades.