CFO Alex Sink's Consumer eViews NewsletterFLORIDA CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER
ALEX SINK'S NEWSLETTER

Volume 6 Number 21 May 22, 2009

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Dear Floridian:

I am committed to making government as open and accountable as possible to the taxpayers of Florida and this week, we were able to make several transparency tools available online.

On Tuesday, I was excited to unveil Florida’s Checkbook, a one-stop-shop putting all of my transparency tools that show state and local spending in one place. I also debuted one new tool on Florida’s Checkbook, Florida Financials, which allows everyday Floridians to see exactly how much state money is coming in, going out, and what we have left – just like checking up on your finances at home.

As we look to the weekend, I hope you enjoy a pleasant Memorial Day holiday and take the time to remember America’s fallen heroes. It is because of their sacrifices that we are able to enjoy the freedom and democracy that define our great state and nation.

Sincerely,

Alex


Alex Sink
Chief Financial Officer
State of Florida


CFO Alex Sink unveils 'Florida's Checkbook’, adds new level of transparency in government spending

Florida CFO Alex Sink on Tuesday launched Florida’s Checkbook, a Web site that allows Florida taxpayers to view the tools CFO Sink has unveiled to increase transparency and accountability for government spending in one easy-to-find location.

At MyFloridaCFO.com/Transparency, citizens will be able to view information such as finance reports, fund balances, state and local receipts and disbursements, and contracts in an ongoing effort to increase accountability and openness when it comes to how Floridians’ tax dollars are being spent.

“Over the last two years, we’ve knocked down many of the barriers preventing taxpayers from knowing how their money is being spent, and worked to bring Florida’s finances into the sunshine,” said CFO Sink. “With the launch of Florida’s Checkbook, we’re taking government accountability and transparency to a new level, ensuring that every taxpayer has ready access to demand fiscal accountability.”

Also on Tuesday, CFO Sink unveiled the latest transparency tool featured on Florida’s Checkbook, her new Florida Financials Web site. Florida Financials gives citizens the ability to see exactly how tax dollars are coming in, going out and how much the state has left. Floridians are able to look at trends over time in numerous graphs, and drill down to the details with year-by-year charts showing Florida’s cash flow and balances.

Other tools Florida’s Checkbook features include: Sunshine Spending, launched earlier this year with Governor Crist, which shows which government contractors are receiving tax dollars; My Local Government Dollars and Cents, which provides revenue and disbursement information for cities and counties; and the Department of Financial Services Contract Search, which shows every Department contract online in a searchable form.

“Having this kind of detailed financial information on the spending of the taxpayers’ hard-earned money is critical to enhancing citizen understanding, civic engagement, and taxpayer value. The checks and balances that ensure good government are for naught if taxpayers are not informed and engaged in the spending of their money,” said Dominic Calabro, President and CEO of Florida TaxWatch, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research institute and government watchdog for taxpayers.

All sites on Florida’s Checkbook were created using existing resources, with no additional tax dollars spent to create or maintain them. Tools like Florida Financials and Sunshine Spending are updated nightly by Department employees, giving Floridians access to the most up-to-date information possible.


State plane travel logs posted online following CFO Sink's recommendation for greater transparency

The Florida Department of Management Services (DMS) today began posting travel logs for Florida’s state planes online, following CFO Sink’s call last week for increasing transparency and accountability to the people of Florida.  

“The business of state government should be as open and transparent as possible, which is why I applaud the Department of Management Services’ decision to implement this recommendation and post details about each state plane flight online,” said CFO Sink. “I will continue my commitment to increase openness and transparency to the taxpayers of Florida.”

“The Department of Management Services remains committed to open government,” said DMS Secretary Linda H. South. “This is another opportunity for us to serve our customers in a transparent way.”

April’s state plane log can be viewed on DMS’s Web site at: http://dms.myflorida.com/business_operations/specialized_services/aircraft_operations/state_aircraft_flight_information. DMS is responsible for the management of state-owned and operated aircraft in Florida.   CFO Sink asked DMS to post the state plane manifests online monthly for all flights on Monday, May 11. This increased transparency follows this week’s unveiling of CFO Sink’s new Web site, Florida’s Checkbook, which allows for better openness and accountability in government spending.


DFS Wins a gold medal for Excellence in Loss Prevention

The Department of Financial Services was presented with the Award for Excellence in Loss Prevention for 2008. This award recognizes this Agency’s outstanding efforts in loss prevention through an objective comparison of the DFS safety committee and program to establish best practices in loss prevention.

DFS was recognized by the Interagency Advisory Council on Loss Prevention and the Division of Risk Management as having one of the best safety programs in the state. This year, a total of seven agencies and universities out of 48 were distinguished enough to receive the award.

The Safety Committee comprises Tory Desotell, Thomas Lawhon, Brittany O’Neil, Charles McCool, Lela Phillips, Scott Langston, Clyde Gaskins, Christa Nelson, Jeffery Peaten, Evelyn Rodriguez, Harriet Tucker, Susan Sloan. Not pictured: Robert Tornillo, Sean Rinehart, Beverly DiGirolamo, Brenda Poppell, Warner Prenters, Les Bellamy


Inspector General Conference Hears From CFO Sink on Importance of Accountability

CFO Alex Sink and Department of Financial Services Inspector General Bob Clift attended the 2009 Association of Inspector General Conference in Orlando on Thursday. According to the association, Inspectors General have a history that extends to the revolutionary war. Yesterday CFO Sink spoke to the group about the importance of Inspector Generals’ work, and the value they bring to state government. Sink noted the good work of her Department’s IG, Bob Clift, in helping to crack down on waste and create more accountability in DFS. She also recognized the importance of independence within the Inspector General community, with each inspector charged with maintaining the capability, authority, and responsibility to ensure the accountability of public funds.


CFO Sink Highlights Transparency and Waste Cutting at Florida TaxWatch Meeting

On Thursday, CFO Sink spoke during Florida TaxWatch’s Spring Board of Trustees meeting about how as CFO she has used her business experience to help run government more efficiently and cost-effectively. Florida TaxWatch is a private, non-profit, non-partisan research institute recognized as a watchdog of citizens′ hard-earned tax dollars. Before being elected CFO, Sink sat on the board and served as Vice Chair of Florida TaxWatch. She let members know that she personally reads all TaxWatch reports, cover to cover, and commended them on the fiscal accountability partnership they share.


United Way and CFO Sink Hold Gathering of Faith and Community Leaders

Discussion Focuses on Helping Community During Tough Economic Times

CFO Sink was the featured speaker at a gathering Monday evening of Tallahassee area community and faith leaders to discuss how to come together to help people in these hard economic times. The interdenominational gathering, which was put together by the United Way of the Big Bend, gave these community leaders and CFO Sink a chance to talk about how different faith and community groups can use their resources to help so many families who are in need right now. At the meeting, Sink discussed specific solutions, such as clergy putting congregation members in touch with one another for support and guidance. She also made the larger point that communities will get through the economic hardship they are facing by working together.


CFO Sink asking for feedback on foreclosure process to provide to Task Force

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink is asking Florida homeowners facing foreclosure as well as mortgage holders/lenders to complete a short survey for the Florida Supreme Court Task Force on Residential Mortgage Foreclosures. The Task Force is looking to recommend policies, procedures, strategies, and methods to ease the backlog of pending residential mortgage foreclosure cases while protecting the rights of involved parties.

Homeowners who have or are facing foreclosure are asked to complete the survey by May 31, 2009, in order to provide immediate feedback to the Task Force. The survey can be found at http://www.flcourts.org/gen_public/adr/index.shtml. Visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com for additional information regarding CFO Sink’s Florida Housing Help initiative.

As part of CFO Sink’s Florida Housing Help initiative, the Department of Financial Services, which she oversees, has held or participated in numerous workshops throughout Florida to provide assistance and resources to struggling homeowners. Most recently she hosted the Protecting Florida Homeowners Roundtable where lawyers and lenders came together to find solutions to keep Floridians in their homes.


Deputy CFO Teston speaks at Financial Planning Association’s Quarterly Meeting

Deputy Chief Financial Officer Tammy Teston, while speaking this month at the Financial Planning Association’s quarterly meeting in Orlando, announced that CFO Sink’s Safeguard Our Seniors' initiative, which fights financial fraud against seniors, is proving very successful.

Among the examples she gave was a case in which the Department of Financial Services was able to get $300,000 returned to a senior who had been misled in an annuity investment. Ruth McCarty, DFS Special Investigator, also was on hand and described how difficult yet rewarding it was to investigate this particular fraud case.

Sue Gorton, DFS Investigator, explained confidentiality procedures and encouraged association members to file complaints on behalf of their consumers.

Deputy CFO Teston discussed in detail the duties of the various divisions of the department and how they work together to protect consumers. A highlight of the meeting occurred while she was talking about the state’s Unclaimed Property program. Omayra Rosario, of the Bureau of Unclaimed Property, announced that he had found $585 that belonged to one of the attendees.

For more information about CFO Sink’s Safeguard Our Seniors initiative, visit www.flseniors.net.


Florida Consumer Advocate urges governor to veto managed care legislation

Florida’s Insurance Consumer Advocate, Sean Shaw, sent a letter to Governor Charlie Crist today urging him to veto SB 1122, managed care legislation.

“Allowing SB 1122 to become law would be a backward step from attempts to corral the spiraling cost of health care and more specifically, the direct cost to consumers,” Shaw said. “Florida would be heading in the wrong direction and at the wrong time.”

Read ICA Shaw’s letter to Governor Crist.


CFO Sink offers natural disaster preparedness and recovery programs for small business owners

Florida CFO Alex Sink’s Department of Financial Services (DFS) presented Southwest Florida small business owners a free educational program designed to help them prepare their businesses for natural disasters. Two events, in partnership with the Florida Gulf Coast University Small Business Development Center (SBDC), were held Wednesday in Labelle and Clewiston.

DDFS Outreach Coordinator Terry Cerullo offered information on what type of business insurance small business owners should consider. The SBDC explained the strategies and tools for disaster planning to reduce economic damages.

Other presenters included Lupe Taylor, Hendry County‘s Director of the Emergency Operation Center; Tuesday Tritt of the Hendry County Economic Development Office; and Ron Zimmerly, Hendry County Special Project Manager.


Upcoming Hurricane Preparedness events

Storm Prep Expo 2009 - Miami Beach Convention Center, Saturday & Sunday, May 30 & 31,  from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Come join us from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for the biggest hurricane preparedness event in the county with the most resources and information. Get the information you need to be better prepared for a storm before hurricane season starts. This event will have something for the entire family.

Martin County Hurricane Fair - Treasure Coast Square Mall, Saturday & Sunday, May 30 & 31, 2009. This 15th Annual Hurricane, Health & Safety Fair is on Saturday, May 30 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday, May 31 from noon to 6 p.m. Attendees will receive information and resources on hurricane preparedness and hear presentations by the Department of Financial Services and the American Red Cross, as well as other organizations and vendors.

More More Hurricane Preparedness Events


Hurricane season is the time for an annual check-up

With hurricane season starting June 1, reviewing your insurance coverage is an excellent part of being prepared. When conducting your “annual check-up” on your insurance policy, there are some key items every homeowner should check out:

Hurricane Deductible – The amount the homeowner is responsible for out of the total damages to the home. Homeowners' policies contain two deductibles: one (usually stated as a percentage of the policy limits) for damage from hurricanes and another (usually stated as a dollar amount) for damages from other causes such as fire.

Flood Insurance – Homeowners’ policies do not cover flood damage. Homeowners can purchase flood insurance from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) also updates flood maps periodically. Homeowners should call the FEMA Map Service Center at 1-800-358-9616 or their County Engineer to verify whether they should consider purchasing flood insurance. Please do not wait until a hurricane or tropical storm warning is posted, since flood insurance takes 30 days to become effective. Remember heavy rains can cause a small retention pond to rise over its banks and cause flood damage to nearby homes, so it’s best to take these steps right away, if you haven’t already.

Actual Cash Value (ACV) – The depreciated value of property that is damaged or destroyed. Typically, the ACV method for determining the cost of damage is used for personal property such as carpet, furniture and appliances. For example, if your 10-year old carpet is destroyed, you will not be paid enough to buy brand new carpet. The insurer will determine the value of your carpet based on the purchase price 10 years ago and reduce that figure by how much the value of the carpet has depreciated over 10 years. Your insurer may allow you to purchase replacement cost value coverage for personal property at slightly higher premium.

Replacement Cost Value (RCV) – The amount needed to replace or repair your damaged property with materials of similar kind and quality, without deducting for depreciation. RCV is the method typically used to determine the cost of repairing or replacing the roof, walls, doors and windows. I recommend that you call your insurance agent to check that your home and contents are covered at their replacement cost value.

Ordinance or Law Coverage – If a local building ordinance or law increases the cost of repairing or replacing an insured dwelling, the insurance company will not pay the additional amount, unless this coverage is a part of the policy. Homeowner insurance companies are required to include this coverage at 25 percent of the dwelling limit and you must sign a waiver to remove the coverage. In addition to the 25%, insurance companies must also offer a 50 percent limit.

Additional Living Expenses – Most homeowners’ policies provide additional living expense coverage that will pay some extra expenses if damage to your home is caused by a covered peril and your property is uninhabitable. Policies may designate a limit of coverage for additional living expenses, but this does not obligate the insurance company to pay this amount in advance or in full. You must keep receipts for all expenses and submit them to the insurance company for reimbursement.

Check back with us next week for more ideas.


My Family CFO

Are you the chief financial officer of your family? Are you always looking out for the best deals, wise investments and smart moves for your family's financial security?

As your family's fiscal watch dog, keep an eye on this column for money-smart ideas from the Chief Financial Officer of Florida, Alex Sink.

If you have a creative way to be fiscally smart, share it with us for this column!

MyFamilyCFO@MyFloridaCFO.com

Idea: Resolve and remember to regularly backup your computer

As your family's CFO, you are in charge of the important details and you wouldn't want to lose track of those details. An essential part of effective financial planning is protecting your data. Backup your files on a regular basis! Data loss is not uncommon - up to 66 percent of internet users have suffered from serious data loss according to a survey.

We have all had Word arbitrarily decide to close and the automatic recovery feature saves us from redoing the work. Just imagine losing all your data just like that and you will understand how vital it is to have a recent copy of your important files kept in a safe place.

Natural disaster, virus attack, power surge, hard drive failure or plain old user error can create problems in accessing your data.data.

Learning how to do the backup starts the process, then there is no excuse to neglect this chore that should be done on a scheduled basis.

First, decide what information you need to protect. Your operating system and your software applications, any data that has been compiled and would not be easy to replace, such as household financial information/ledgers, photographs, files and programs you have downloaded, especially those that cost money, your email address book and email folders and any other data of value to you should be saved.

Second, decide where you are going to store this large amount of data on a device separate from your computer. Storage is fairly inexpensive these days, and an external hard drive will be a worthwhile investment. Online storage is also available and accessible from any computer.

Third, making copies of files is the simplest and most common way to perform a backup. A means to perform this basic function is included in all backup software and all operating systems. Get professional help if needed, or research on the Internet to figure out how to do this.

The data can then be easily restored to a new computer or reloaded on your existing machine after repair.


SAVING ENERGY, SAVING MONEY
Energy tips for Florida families - these actions represent ways to behave kindly toward Mother Earth, AND save money as well as energy. These tips are presented by CFO Alex Sink's science advisor Meg Lowman, Ph.D., on the faculty at New College of Florida. Dr. Lowman has written numerous award-winning books and is an expert on the rainforests of the world.

Policy solutions based on science will save time, energy and money for Florida’s next generation

In 2007, the National Academy of Sciences in Washington DC identified six critical environmental science issues for twenty-first century America. These topics impact local and national economy as well as ecology, and their solutions will significantly enhance our quality of life. The six issues are: biodiversity, climate change, biogeochemistry (meaning the biological, geological and chemical cycles regulating our ecosystems which includes water), land use, infectious diseases, and invasive species. The last issue alone (invasive species) is estimated to cost Americans more than $150 billion per year, and most control efforts are akin to the proverbial needle in a haystack.

Florida has the dubious distinction of boasting all six of the National Academy’s grand science challenges. In Florida -- with our subtropical climate, location in hurricane alley, and high density of coastal populations, we are a crossroads for these critical scientific bottlenecks. North Dakota, for example, does not suffer the immediate threats of land use, invasive species, or biodiversity loss; and subsequently, their regional governments do not have the financial burden of paying for their solutions. Predictions indicate that issues such as tropical infectious diseases will hit Florida before they threaten North Dakota. So does that mean we should move to North Dakota? With all due respect to North Dakota, the answer is “no.” But it certainly means that Floridians need to be vigilant about environmental issues, and prioritize science as a tool for long-range planning and policy solutions.

The importance of investing in research and of integrating ecological science with policy-making can not be understated for Florida in the next few decades. It is sometimes easy to overlook the direct links between quality of environment and human health. As energy-conscious Floridians, be sure to put your politicians to the litmus test. Are they relying in science as well as economics for decision-making? Are they seeking solutions that are based on understanding that a healthy environment is inextricably linked to the health of citizens? Sometimes issues that may seem expensive today, such as prioritizing clean water supplies or mass transit which minimizes automobile emissions, will have enormous savings in health costs and ultimately energy use tomorrow.