Hello and welcome to Tuesday morning.
That time of year— It’s about to be budget season in Tallahassee and that means Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis will begin rolling out his recommendations on how to spend the billions in surplus money the state has accumulated the last few years. It’s a sum built from both a quickly recovering economy after the peak of the pandemic … and billions of dollars in aid from the federal government.
Spending the money— Exhibit No. 1 was on Monday when DeSantis announced his 2023 education proposals, including another boost for teacher salaries. DeSantis has already promised a big round of tax cuts will be in the mix as well. He has until Feb. 5 to submit his budget to state legislators although there is speculation it may come out by Jan. 30.
Dear governor— But as DeSantis preps for another session — and an expected presidential run — he has a familiar nemesis who continues to press DeSantis and other governors about whether they are true fiscal conservatives.
TFG— Florida Sen. and former governor Rick Scott last Friday blasted off a letter to state and local leaders across the country urging them to return unused Covid-19 relief funds sent to them by Congress.
Scott POV— “These funds were not targeted nor did they help families in need,” Scott wrote. “Instead, many state and local governments are now swimming in extra cash, with some using funding intended for ‘COVID relief’ as a slush fund for their completely unrelated pet projects, like new prisons, airport gate expansions, and golf courses. This is unacceptable, particularly at a time when families and small businesses are struggling to keep up amid a raging inflation crisis and stretching budgets to keep their businesses open.”
Familiar refrain— Yes, Scott has made the request before, but there’s a new twist. Scott points out that Congress late last year changed the law so that any unspent money returned can be used to pay down the federal debt.
Why is that important?— Well, when asked about returning money previously, DeSantis rebuffed Scott’s request on the grounds that the money would just be sent to other states. “It doesn’t make any sense,” DeSantis said back in March 2021. “If Florida were to send the money back, [Treasury Secretary Janet] Yellen is going to send it to Illinois, California, New York or New Jersey. I don’t think that would make sense for Floridians — for us to be giving even more money to the blue states that already getting such a big windfall in this bill.”
A deep well— As previously pointed out, DeSantis and the GOP-controlled Legislature has relied on Covid-19 money for a long line of pet projects, including October’s gas tax holiday, bonuses handed out by the governor to first responders, and even repairs to the state Capitol complex. How will that play out on the campaign trail?
— WHERE’S RON? — Gov. DeSantis is scheduled to be in Philadelphia where he will accept a medal from the Union League of Philadelphia.
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‘IT’S WAY MORE THAN THAT’ — DeSantis defends banning African American studies course as Black leaders call for action, by POLITICO’s Andrew Atterbury: Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday stood by Florida’s decision to reject students’ access to an AP course on African American studies as outrage mounts surrounding the move, particularly among Black leaders. The Republican governor said that he supports banning the course being offered to some high school students because its lessons delve too far into political agendas, broaching topics such as queer studies and abolishing prisons. Black officials in the state, from Democratic lawmakers to faith leaders, however, are seeking to overturn the DeSantis administration’s determination that the class “significantly lacks educational value.”
THE AGENDA— “DeSantis calls for $200 million for teacher pay, and changes to union operations,” by Miami Herald’s Ana Ceballos: “Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday announced an education plan that, if approved by Florida lawmakers, would put more state funds toward teacher salaries and make changes to how teacher unions operate and negotiate teacher compensation packages in the state. DeSantis’ proposal initially focused on teacher pay, but the governor later pointed out that there is a lot he wants to do to education and leadership at the local level. The governor called for changes to school board term limits and party affiliations as well as restrictions on teachers unions, among other proposals.”
— “Protest set for Union League event honoring Florida’s DeSantis,” by The Philadelphia Tribune’s Alec Larson:
DAY AFTER HARRIS VISIT— Florida Supreme Court agrees to hear challenge to 15 week abortion law, by POLITICO’s Matt Dixon: The Florida Supreme Court has agreed to take up a legal challenge to Florida’s 15-week abortion ban, which was one of the most controversial measures passed during the 2022 legislative session. The case the high court agreed to take up centers on a lawsuit filed by Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union, and a handful of abortion providers challenging the recently-passed law. They argued that the Florida Constitution protects the right to an abortion. Those groups successfully urged Florida’s highest court to take up the case, but the court did not agree to temporarily block the law while the legal challenge plays out.
Reaction— “While we are pleased that the court didn’t shut its doors completely, we are dismayed that it has allowed this dangerous ban to remain in effect and to harm real people each and every day until this case is finally decided,” said Whitney White, a staff attorney for the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project.
THE BIG ASK— Florida’s prosecutors are going to state legislators with a substantial request this year: We need a major boost in pay to keep experienced attorneys on the job.
State attorneys will appear before legislative panels this week to outline a proposal asking to raise the salaries of all assistant state attorneys by $15,000 a year and to increase the salaries of all other staff by 8.2 percent. The total price tag is close to $87 million.
Jack Campbell, the state attorney for Florida’s 2nd Judicial Circuit (which includes Tallahassee), said state attorneys across Florida have nearly 400 vacancies in the prosecutor ranks, a problem that is especially acute in South Florida. He said that while salaries were boosted last year it wasn’t enough to even match inflation.
Campbell added that Florida’s current salary structure leads to many assistant state attorneys to jump to the private sector and even other government jobs where the salaries are better right after they have spent time learning how to try cases.
“I don’t run a law office, I run a law school,” said Campbell, who said he frequently loses assistant state attorneys to state agencies while the state attorney in Northwest Florida is losing people to the state of Alabama. He also noted that Florida has more than 50,000 law enforcement officers but less than 2,000 prosecutors overall.
He said state attorneys need experienced prosecutors to handle death penalty cases. Campbell added they know how to represent victims and they know what legal course to take in a case.
“An inexperienced prosecutor is going to be an aggressive prosecutor,” Campbell said. “You want a seasoned prosecutor who can separate the wheat from chaff and doesn’t make stupid decisions.”
WOULD BE THIRD UNDER DESANTIS — “Florida execution set for man in woman’s 1990 slaying,” by The Associated Press’ Brendan Farrington: “Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a death warrant Monday for a man who was convicted of fatally stabbing a woman after escaping from custody while serving a life sentence for killing a deputy. Donald David Dillbeck, 59, is schedule to die Feb. 23 by lethal injection for the 1990 murder of Faye Vann in Tallahassee. … It would be Florida’s first execution since Gary Ray Bowles was put to death in June 2019 and the longest the state has gone without carrying out an execution since 1983.”
SPOTTED at a table at Andrew’s restaurant in downtown Tallahassee: former state Sen. Annette Taddeo with Tallahassee City Commissioner Jeremy Matlow and Ryan Ray, an aide to Matlow and chair of the Leon County Democratic Party. Both Taddeo and Matlow have announced they are running for chair of the Florida Democratic Party.
FADE TO BLACK— “Growing frustration in film, TV: Movies ‘set’ in Florida filmed elsewhere,” by Florida Today’s Dave Berman: “But filming in Florida didn’t happen. The made-for-TV movie instead was filmed over the fall in Colorado, which, unlike Florida, has financial incentives available that encourage film crews to work there. It’s a growing frustration for Engle and other Floridians in the movie, television and commercial industries, who want to film in Florida, but can’t persuade the Florida Legislature to reinstitute production financial incentives that have become a necessary lure..”
— “Florida runs up tab in Medicaid transgender case,” by News Service of Florida’s Dara Kam
— “Betsy DeVos, Rep. Byron Donalds, Libs of TikTok, others urge FL lawmakers to expand school choice,” by Fox News’ Joshua Q. Nelson
GUILTY— “Four Oath Keepers convicted of Jan. 6 seditious conspiracy,” by The Associated Press’ Michael Kunzelman and Alanna Durkin Richer: “Four members of the Oath Keepers were convicted Monday of seditious conspiracy in the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack in the second major trial of far-right extremists accused of plotting to forcibly keep President Donald Trump in power. The verdict against Joseph Hackett of Sarasota, Florida; Roberto Minuta of Prosper, Texas; David Moerschel of Punta Gorda, Florida; and Edward Vallejo of Phoenix comes weeks after after a different jury convicted the group’s leader, Stewart Rhodes, in the mob’s attack that halted the certification of President Joe Biden’s electoral victory.”
— “Central question as Georgia inquiry wraps: Will Trump face criminal charges?” by The New York Times’ Danny Hakim and Richard Fausset
— Dems ask watchdog to investigate IRS’s tardy audit of Trump, by POLITICO’s Benjamin Guggenheim
— “Donald Trump will stop in New Hampshire ahead of his South Carolina rally,” by NBC News’ Marc Caputo
— “Trump’s MAGA forces threaten to upend vote for RNC chair,” by The Associated Press’ Steve Peoples
ON HOLD— “Supreme Court puts off considering state laws curbing internet platforms,” by The New York Times’ Adam Liptak: “The Supreme Court asked the Biden administration on Monday for its views on whether the Constitution allows Florida and Texas to prevent large social media companies from removing posts based on the views they express. The practical effect of the move was to put off a decision on whether to hear two major First Amendment challenges to the states’ laws for at least several months. If the court ends up granting review, as seems likely, it will hear arguments no earlier than October and will probably not issue a decision until next year.”
SPOTTED at a cocktail reception for Miami Mayor Francis Suarez hosted by Adrienne Arsht at her Chevy Chase, Md., home on Monday night: Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), Spanish Amb. Santiago Cabanas, Jonathan Capehart, Kellyanne Conway, Capricia Marshall, Barbara Harrison, Courtney Kube, Dana Bash, Steve Clemons, Jorge Plasencia and Kathy Baughman McLeod. (via POLITICO’s Daniel Lippman)
— “Florida Democrats see Republican posturing on debt limit as reckless, warn of threat to Social Security and Medicare,” by South Florida Sun-Sentinel’s Anthony Man:
FALLOUT— “Manatee County teachers close class libraries, fearing prosecution under new Florida law,” by Sarasota Herald-Tribune’s Steven Walker: “Some Manatee County teachers have covered their classroom libraries with construction paper or otherwise eliminated students’ access to make sure they comply with new Florida law requiring all library books to be approved by a certified media specialist. The Manatee County School District directed teachers to remove all books that had not yet been approved by a specialist from their classroom libraries, Kevin Chapman, the district’s chief of staff, said Monday.”
ARRIVALS— “Who’s moving to Florida? What new driver’s license data tells us,” by Palm Beach Post’s Kimberly Miller: “A second notable swell of newcomers traded out-of-state driver’s licenses last year for ones with a Sunshine State address following temptations of tropical succor, an income tax desert or a particular political ethos. More than 583,200 people were freshly entered into the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles database in 2022 after surrendering non-Florida licenses. That’s 28% higher than the average of the previous six years and 36,200 more than the pandemic-triggered migration of 2021.”
— “Dorworth took polygraph test after Joel Greenberg’s allegations,” by Orlando Sentinel’s Annie Martin
— “Bethune-Cookman students protest campus conditions after school’s split with Ed Reed,” by The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s Chris Vinel
— “FPL wants to boost electric bills in April to recoup costs related to Ian, pricey natural gas,” by News Service of Florida’s Jim Saunders
— “Coast Guard stops boat with 400 Haitians off the Bahamas and likely headed to Florida,” by FLKeysNews.com’s David Goodhue and Miami Herald’s Jacqueline Charles
— “Orange County deputies resign after tip leads to investigation into them having sex on duty,” by WFTV’s Shannon Butler and Adam Poulisse
BIRTHDAYS: Karen Woodall, executive director of Florida People’s Advocacy Center … former Tampa Bay Times photojournalist Scott Keeler … former state Rep. Bev Kilmer
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