News from Tallahassee for 10/20/14

Gov. Rick Scott releases 2013 tax returns; questions remain posted on 10/17/14

by Mary Ellen Klas | Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

TALLAHASSEE— Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday released his 2013 tax returns “in the interest of full transparency” with just weeks to go before the election.

Scott, a multimillionaire who files his annual return jointly with his wife Ann, reported that he and his wife had an adjusted gross income of $8.2 million and paid $2 million in taxes. They filed their returns Wednesday, the final day allowed by the IRS for taxpayers who sought the six-month extension.

The release of Scott’s tax return, however, left unresolved many questions that have emerged about the accuracy and completeness of his financial disclosures since he filed his 2013 state financial disclosure reports as required to run for re-election.

The governor reported a net worth of $132.7 million, and put many of his assets in a blind trust managed by his longtime investment advisor, Alan Bazaar. The goal of the blind trust, the governor said, was to shield him from any conflict of interest when the companies in which he holds stock do business with the state.

Excluded from his reported assets, however, are investments held by his wife, or held by his family’s Scott Family Partnership Trust. The Herald/Times reported last week that documents filed with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission show that Scott has a history of dividing his assets into those and other multiple trust accounts and he remains the “beneficial owner” on some of the stock.

According to the reports filed with the state, Scott may only be disclosing the assets held in his newly formed personal blind trust, not the assets for which he is the beneficiary, raising questions about the completeness of his reports.

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TaxWatch: Small Budget Surplus Could Hurt Campaign Spending Promises posted on 10/16/14

by Lynn Hatter | WFSU

A state government spending watch group says just because Florida has a budget surplus doesn’t mean there won’t be budget cuts. That means it could become very difficult for either gubernatorial candidate to get his state spending priorities funded during the upcoming year.

Florida has a project budget surplus of $336 million. Those are the dollars left over after the state meets all its current spending obligations in the next fiscal year and tucks away about a billion dollars in reserves. Popular campaign promises from gubernatorial and legislative candidates include boosting dollars for education and Florida Tax Watch’s Kurt Wenner says, that’s doable: to an extent.

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Lawsuit: Gov. Rick Scott shields more than $200 million in assets posted on 10/9/14

by Mary Ellen Klas | Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

FL Gov Rick ScottTALLAHASSEE Gov. Rick Scott has failed to report more than $200 million in assets on his state financial disclosure form in violation of the Florida Constitution, Democratic attorney general candidate George Sheldon alleged in a lawsuit filed Wednesday.

Sheldon, a former deputy attorney general under Bob Butterworth, is running against Republican Pam Bondi. His lawsuit, filed in Leon County just weeks before Election Day, accuses the governor of relying on a “web of complex financial arrangements” to shift investments and hide his “financial interests from public view.”

Sheldon is asking a judge to order Scott, Florida’s wealthiest governor, to “immediately and accurately disclose all assets he owns or controls,” and to declare the governor’s “blind trust” in violation of the blind trust law he signed.

“The lawsuit asks the court to remove the blindfold that Rick Scott has put on the people of Florida so that they cannot see what is going on with his personal assets,’’ Sheldon said during a press conference. “The governor likes to talk about how much he has disclosed. The lawsuit is about how much he has not disclosed.”

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Scott campaign defends his financial disclosures posted on 10/8/14

by MARY ELLEN KLAS AND MARC CAPUTO | HERALD/TIMES TALLAHASSEE BUREAU

FL Gov Rick ScottTALLAHASSEE— Gov. Rick Scott’s campaign defended his financial disclosures as fully transparent Tuesday, but answers to specific questions about the details of his investments — or even when he’ll release his 2013 taxes — remain unanswered.

The statement, issued by campaign manager Melissa Sellers, came in response to a Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times story published over the weekend analyzing his “blind trust,” his state financial disclosure and the differences in the way he reports his finances to the federal government and the public.

“The Governor is in full compliance with both federal and state reporting requirements, which are different,” Sellers wrote.

But that claim, at least regarding Florida’s “reporting requirements,” is a matter of dispute.

Jim Apthorp, a longtime aide to former Gov. Reubin Askew, is suing to force Scott to adhere to the letter of a Florida constitutional requirement that elected officials make a “full and public disclosure” by annually filing “a sworn statement showing net worth and identifying each asset and liability in excess of $1,000 and its value.”

Scott hasn’t done that. Instead, Scott signed into law a “blind trust” statute that allows him to place his assets in an account, managed by a longtime business associate, that shields each asset annually from public view. Apthorp’s lawsuit, which is on appeal, is backed by an association of media organizations that includes the Herald/Times.

Scott, who reported a net worth of about $133 million, formed his blind trust in 2011 — two years before signing the blind trust law. He and Sellers say he did it to shield himself from knowing what his investments are and from subsequent charges of having a conflict of interest.

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Gov. Scott and GE: Jobs, incentives and investments in Scott’s oil & gas partnerships posted on 10/8/14

by Dan Christensen | Broward Bulldog

When Gov. Rick Scott announced last week that GE Oil & Gas would open a $50 million manufacturing facility in Jacksonville he talked about how it would create 500 new jobs for Florida.

GE Oil & Gas’s official welcome package: up to $15.4 million in financial incentives, including $10 million from the city and $5.4 million from the state.

Not mentioned in the hoopla was how another division of General Electric, GE Energy Financial Services, has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in publicly traded oil and natural gas partnerships in which Scott had a financial interest.

Financial disclosure records made public by Gov. Scott in June show that as of Dec. 31 he was heavily invested in more than two-dozen oil and gas ventures. One was Spectra Energy, which is currently working with Florida Power & Light to build the contentious, $3 billion Sabal Trail pipeline in north Florida.

As BrowardBulldog.org reported in July, Scott and his appointees at the Public Service Commission backed construction of Sabal Trail despite state ethics laws that generally prohibit public officials from owning stock in businesses subject to their regulation. Scott acquired his Spectra shares via a controversial “qualified blind trust,” which by law allows politicians to hide their investment activity and also affords them immunity from prohibited conflicts of interest.

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