The most important issues being talked about in Tallahassee.
Businesses unite to kick the can down the road
The minimum unemployment compensation payment that businesses must make is set to rise from $72 to $171 per employee. The increase is to help pay off loans the state began taking out under Gov. Charlie Crist to make unemployment payments at the bottom of the recession.
The state owes the feds about $1.8 billion right now on that loan, although it is down from a peak of $2.4 billion.
But the business community, sensing the economy is moving in to only a weak recovery, wants to push off the $817 million tax increase and spread it over future years.
“In a weak beginning of a weak recovery, we cannot afford to take that out of the economy,” Randy Miller, executive vice president of the Florida Retail Federation, told a House subcommittee. In a moment of complete bluntness, he added: “Please consider kicking the can down the road one more time. It's our can. We pay for it.”
The request would add more in interest payments by lengthening the payout period, but lawmakers on the panel seemed amenable to it. Expect the tinkle of the can rolling down the road.
De-junking science to help businesses
Business organizations and trial lawyers, perennial antagonists, are fighting over the standards used to allow “expert” testimony at trials.
A House panel has given first approval to a bill that would create tougher standards for such witnesses, more in line with what federal courts use. The goal is to prevent what is sometimes called “junk science” from so-called expert witnesses who make a living giving expert testimony in trials.
Lawyers groups contend that the changes would result in increased costs and delays in lawsuits and make it harder for injured people to go after businesses — which is kind of the point of the proposed law.
The changes are supported by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Associated Industries of Florida and the Florida Medical Association. Business groups are going all out to make the business climate more friendly in Florida, and this is one of the steps.
The House Civil Justice Subcommittee approved the bill on an 11-4 vote.
Jennifer Carroll spells it out
Gov. Rick Scott may not be known for his oratory skills, but Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll can bring the house down with smooth passion and humor.
Going script-less — no teleprompter, no notes, few pauses — she had about 150 Florida business leaders eating out of her hands last week during the Florida Chamber of Commerce's Capitol Days.
Carroll took the media to task for only reporting things that could be spun negatively, then walked through all the governor has accomplished in the first year. She wove a web of facts, dissecting problems with taxes and regulations, explaining how reducing those barriers help businesses grow and threw in a regular rat-a-tat-tat of one-liners. Here are a few snippets:
• Avoiding anthropology references, she nonetheless said the state does not need “university degrees in basket weaving. We have machines for that.” Instead, state universities need to graduate students “equipped to process, analyze and be an asset to business.”
• “If we can't keep up with third world countries running rings around us educationally, we will fall behind...We will not fall behind.”
• “It's not our (government's) role to create jobs. It's yours. We create the climate for you to create jobs.”
The group high-powered business people alternated clapping, laughing and nodding appreciatively, with more than one murmur of: “She's good!”
Get Lean Florida just too inefficient
Sometimes the best sounding ideas just flat don't work.
A focus of lawmakers in the past few years of declining revenues has been to make government more efficient. So it must have seemed like a no-brainer when they decided to ask people to call up the government and suggest ideas for efficiency. That would allow people dealing with government on the street level to offer their insights and government could streamline and become more business-like.
Alas, the Department of Financial Services has determined that the program, known as Get Lean Florida, has been largely a waste of money. That is, it has been inefficient.
In 2011, the department reports, six out of 10 suggestions called in from the public were categorized as “invalid.” But staff had to investigate them and even those that were valid resulted in few helpful suggestions for the amount of time spent on them.
Further, and it seems lawmakers should have seen this coming ahead of time, the state's chief financial officer, who was put in charge of the program, does not have the legal authority to make any changes that were brought to his office anyway. So now a bill is working its way through the Legislature to repeal the law.
Because catchy nicknames for laws are popular, might we suggest that it not be Get Fat Florida.