Scope and scale:
Lobbyist Joe Spratt complains about Governor Scott’s call for ‘return on investment:’ saying, ‘If you’re going to make us jump through the hoops . . . .’
By Raoul Bataller
CLEWISTON, FL (Tuesday, May 10, 2016) — Sounding like a caricature of his venerable self, former State Rep. Joe Spratt of LaBelle, Hendry county’s lobbyist, gave the County commissioners tonight his annual report, and he had a sour taste in his mouth that hardly impressed some commissioners.
Full text of Spratt's annual review
Spratt said, “It was a very unusual year this year in Tallahassee. Everything was rolling along great . . . . we had our bills that we were concerned about pretty much in line. . . . —which were going to get killed, and what was going to get passed— . . . Appropriations sessions ended beautifully. Everybody was happy, and were going to say ‘kumbaya’, and somebody dropped a little hanky . . . . And then the governor showed up. . . .
"He actually made his veto list before the budget was on his desk. This was one of the first times he didn’t consult with what we call the ‘upper floor.’ —directors that he has up there appointed to go over various parts of the budgets— And all the budget veto decisions were made on the first floor of his key staff.
"Without rhyme and reason, some of his veto messages were: ‘well, it didn’t rank high enough in the rankings, or it should have been funded under a different fund.
"And when you analyze these, we know he had a naughty/ nice list, because we know he had an issue: —he had a $250 million economic development package that he wanted, that there were 17 House members in the majority party that voted against that. And he wasn’t very happy. Of course, they voted against their own speaker. But we know that list existed, but when you analyze it, some of them got hurt some, but none of them got hurt all the way. They still got something through, here or there.
"And so we don’t know. No one’s been able to understand how he went about the veto process this year.
"He does have a new chief of staff, now, and I believe she’s someone we can work with, and I’m anticipating meeting with her and some of the other governor’s staff into mid-June, try to sit down and discuss small-county, rural-county issues, grant issues, appropriations issues, and say, you know, ‘If you’re going to make us jump through the hoops, you’re going to make us fill out the grant requests, you’re going to make us get on these lists and get rated, and we do that and end up in a good position, then don’t turn around and veto it.'
"Or, if you’re going to do that, then tell us, now, that your philosophy is going to be that if you can’t show me this tremendous ‘return on investment’ that he keeps talking about of using state dollars, then don’t bother sending your stuff in, and don’t bother making requests. But we’re going to try to have that heart-to-heart talk with his staff. And, well, we won’t know until after next session. And see if they understand a little better. Or, just tell us that we’re out in left field.
“But as it was, we got a lot of appropriations. That road program particularly is moving greatly. He didn’t cut any of those fundings, or cut funding for DoT where it pushes our projects back.
“It’s just going to be a different ballgame next year, we’re all hoping. You’re going to have different leaderships in both houses, of course, the House and the Senate. Every House and Senate member is up for reelection, all 160, so there could be some changes. Since the redistricting there is anticipated a shift in the numbers as far as Democrats versus Republicans. It is my opinion that the Republican leadership will stay in control.”
“Contractually, where are we with you guys?” asked Commissioners Chairman Mike Swindle. “Apparently it is something like a perpetuating contract,” Swindle observed. Spratt’s $50,000 lobbyist job continues until one side or the other gives notice.
“As a board, are we comfortable with that? For crying out loud, we bid out our newspaper. Do we want to revisit, and look at some RFPs?” Swindle asked the other board members, "and talk about deliverables, and what specifically we’re looking for?”
Swindle pointed out, “No one, including Spratt or anybody, can be responsible for a $250 million slash by the governor. But we put money forward, and we want to make sure to our constituents that taxpayers are assured of some effort on their part. Do we want to look at our constituents and say here’s what we get for this every year?” Swindle said.
Commissioner Karson Turner said, “I’d love to look at what deliverables are out there, —a metric— so to speak. I think there should be another way of measuring. How do you assess a lobbyist?”
Turner observed that Spratt had put on his own “list for informational purposes” a multi-million dollar stretch of Rte 80 that has long been on the five-year work plan of the State of Florida. Rte 80 widening needs to be watched, although it requires no continuing attention from the lobbyist for the county. Turner asked, “How do you look at, year to year, what we’re going after, what we’re engaging in, and then how successful are we being?”
Not so easy selling us
Over a decade ago, an unsuccessful overture was made to the great lobbyist Dale Melita of Craig A. Smith who has represented Glades county during its period of the state’s enormous largesse, prowling the halls of Tallahassee without fanfare and receiving a $5 million health facility, a $5 million Emergency Services center, a beautiful new high school, a $5 million Training center, plus courthouse restoration top-to- bottom, plans for a huge Moore Haven Canal park, a marina and a Moore Haven firehouse, and sewers.
It was this reporter’s impression that Melita found too many complex and beguiling characters in Hendry to have enough saleable material to work with, for the job to be more than merely begging for charity, and become appealing to him. Since in the final analysis, if a client doesn't have appealing qualities, there is no way of finding in the good ol' boy bag of tricks a way to pay for the services of someone to imitate or impersonate those qualities, to thereby give the appearance of being a can-do people if we are not. Having little for a lobbyist to work with can't be fixed by going out and buying it.
Lobbying, much like the field of public relations, has its problem clients who are their own worst enemies. No one in Tallahassee fails to notice that testimony being given by a Hendry county resident who is by family relations or political obligation directly beholden to one of the fearsome personages at United States Sugar Corp. speaks not for the people but for an extremely controversial commercial enterprise.
In fact, the lobbying effort on behalf of Glades county was never concocted out of whole-cloth fabrications, but rather drew strength from direct people-to-people contact that has been genuinely engaging to State Sen. Denise Grimsley, Rep. Pigman, and others who can see in Glades no guile, a unified county pulling itself up as best it can, not an arena of two cultures in one county, five tiny districts some of whom appear beholden to a rich and extremely controversial corporation, traveling more out-of-county than within-county, comfortably reposing under the uncritical eye of friends, family, pastors and unproductive grant-seekers less interested in confronting the specter of unproductivity of a constituent, than of themselves, and of the quantifiable value of one’s government service.
LaBelle’s County commissioners Don Davis and Darrell Harris want to go on with Spratt unchanged.
Spratt himself served as county commission chairman in a lethargic period of county government when they employed a planning and zoning man named Williams who would babble on in reports to no point since no one on the commission seemed to grasp his purpose for being. Meetings took this reporter no more than two hours to wrap-up, so little did they accomplish. The only audience who attended BoCC meetings in the Dallas Townsend center were two elderly old maid sisters from Pioneer. So little government was actually going on, that the way was paved for the county’s word to be given to Chuck Svirks that a pipeline would be run to his CHL projects, a promise later broken. And the bare-bones government was ripe for a county manager who laid on layers of bureaucratic fat that looked healthy for awhile until all available parking and office space was consumed, and fell hopelessly into the great “space” crisis resulting in breakneck occupancy of top-dollar Courtyard Square, willy nilly raises to employees and wildly imaginative job restructuring to justify raises, then the waves of professional consultants who at times seemed more like referees, and there was at hand the most expensive age of governance.
$1.5 million for Clewiston Police HQ
Special to the Sunday News
CLEWISTON, FL (Monday, May 16, 2016) — Retiring State Rep. Matt Hudson, who will be a candidate for state senate in the fall, reported tonight fully on this year's state budget decisions to the Clewiston City commission.
More than 40% of the state's budget is related to health programs covering 40,000 state employees, six different agencies, which Hudson supervised as chairman.
“We put a significant amount of resources towards citrus greening research,” he reported.
State Citrus commission staff costs, which growers pay for, were appropriately scaled down, he noted.
“As is the process, the Governor gives us his budget, and we don't give him everything he wants. And then we give him our budget, and the Governor doesn't always give us what we want. That’s the nature of things. That's why you have three co-equal branches of government, with their checks and balances. We had a couple of vetoes, and by the same token, we didn't get a lot of vetoes.”
Police station $1.5 million
The budget contains $1.5 million for a new Clewiston police/municipal services safety facility.
“Prior to session, I got a call to come out and look at the jail," Hudson recalled seeing “you're sharing your restrooms with the people you're incarcerating, and an awful lot of other things that were patently not right. They put forth a plan, and it looked like it could be workable,” said Hudson.
The “plan” for the new police headquarters is more than a half-dozen years old, and was priced by rough square-footage estimation.
“We have a good Plan-B in place, just in case,” Hudson noted.
"The Hendry County Fair and Livestock show with $500,000 in the budget unfortunately was vetoed.
"The LaBelle Municipal Design and Construction Access road to State Road 29, $1.3 million, did not get vetoed. That is in place."
Hendry County Fairground and Rodeo Complex $250,000 did get vetoed.
“The Governor and I are going to have a little chat about the importance of rodeo in Hendry county,” Hudson remarked.
"The LaBelle Civic center had desperately needed improvements —money for that got vetoed.
"The good news is State Road 80. We have in the budget, secured, ready to go, State Rd. 80 from Dalton lane to Indian Hills drive, $27.6 million, then from Indian Hills drive to County Rd. 833, $30 million, plus $6 million in construction inspection and consulting monies.
"Early Learning services for school readiness got $1.7 million, nearly $1 million for a voluntary pre-K program, $50,000 for Trinidad park.
LaBelle's Downtown Revitalization program and its Heritage Museum got funding, and $500,000 earmarked for Courthouse repairs. About $100,000 was earmarked for a county property appraiser program involving aerial photography, he said.
Also in, are funds for land acquisition for State Rd. 29 expansion, and about $1 million for Ft. Denaud roadwork. About $250,000 for wastewater infrastructure at Rte 80 and U.S. 27 was vetoed.
A LaBelle water quality improvement project received $200,000.
A Workforce Education program was funded for $200,000.
The Legislature passed an $83 billion budget, funded one third from state tax revenue, another third from licenses and permits, and another third from the federal government.
The final document included $3 billion put into reserves.
"By doing what we did, it gave Florida the highest credit score. To put that in perspective, if California borrowed an amount of money and Florida borrowed the same amount, California would pay 60% more interest charges." That could be important, he added, in ensuring safety and cleanup in the aftermath of hurricanes.
The budget provided the highest per-student funding in the history of the state of Florida.
"Typically, the state pays a portion and local taxpayers pay the rest," he noted. "This year, we drastically increased the amount the state pays, thereby making sure you would not have a property tax increase." He estimated those savings in property tax across the state at $500 million.
The state road and bridge plan was fully funded, he said. "We have people moving to our state to the tune of 855 people per day. By the end of next year it will be right at 1,100 people per day. We might want wider roads and we might want more roads, but it is very important to make sure that we take care of what we have. And to that end, the American Society of Civil Engineers said that Florida has the best infrastructure in the United States."