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

Volume 6 Number 38 September 18, 2009

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Dear Floridian:

When I came to Tallahassee, I pledged to bring my experience as a business leader to change the way state government is run – making it smarter, leaner, and more accountable -- and this week I had the opportunity to show this businesslike approach in action!

At Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, I was pleased to join my fellow State Board of Administration trustees in reviewing a new report that looks at best practices for oversight of the pension fund that our police officers, teachers and state employees depend on for retirement. This spring, I proposed studying how other states and the private sector oversee their pension funds, and after even a quick review of this report I saw some obvious reforms that I am hopeful we can move forward with to provide better accountability and transparency in the oversight of the SBA.

I also was part of a Government Cost Savings Task Force put together by Florida TaxWatch, where we discussed innovative ideas to cut waste that could be adapted from private sector successes.

Finally on Thursday, I had the opportunity to celebrate our state’s strong Hispanic-owned small businesses as we kicked off Hispanic Heritage Month at a Hispanic Business Initiative Fund lunch.

Sincerely,

Alex Sink
CFO
State of Florida


CFO Sink challenges trustees to consider reforms for improved SBA oversight

Florida CFO Alex Sink offered initial thoughts and recommendations Tuesday morning following the report presentation of the SBA’s Governance Research Project. The study was a result of one initiative proposed by CFO Sink to bring a more modern, businesslike approach to the oversight and management of the SBA.

“As one of the SBA’s three trustees, and the only current trustee with prior business experience, I have long argued that it requires more than three elected officials meeting twice-a-month for fifteen minutes to oversee a $100-billion fund that our police officers, teachers and other state employees depend on for a secure retirement,” said CFO Sink. “I am eager for all the Trustees to review this study in-depth and consider reforms that provide better oversight and accountability over the actions of the SBA.”

The study of best practices by other state pension funds and private sector investment professionals was conducted by a working group comprised of Trustee and SBA staff and presented to the SBA Board of Trustees today by CFO Sink’s Chief of Staff Jim Cassady. CFO Sink asked that the Trustees consider reforms based on this report and discuss recommendations during the next Cabinet meeting, scheduled for September 29.

CFO Sink offered her initial reaction to the report from the SBA Governance Research Project, detailed below:

At the May 13, 2009 Cabinet meeting, CFO Sink passed a motion initiating quarterly board meetings, the first of which was held on September 1, and a motion requiring each SBA trustee to appoint a staff member to an ad hoc workgroup charged with researching governance structure models and identifying best practices.

In March 2008, CFO Sink released ten specific recommendations designed to toughen the SBA’s financial safeguards, increase transparency in SBA communications and strengthen board oversight.


Florida’s Hispanic Businesses Celebrated at 14th Annual Success Stories Luncheon in Orlando

CFO Alex Sink joined the Central Florida Hispanic Business Initiative Fund to recognize graduates of HBIF’s small business scholarship and mentoring program at the 14th annual HBIF Success Stories Luncheon. The awards went to Juan Chirinos, owner of Rinse Cleaners, Luis Restrepo, owner of Professional Shoe Repair and Martha and Tony Santoni, owners of International Builders.

“You are the men and women who help keep the engine of our economy turning,” said Sink. “The economic foundation of our great state has depended on people just like you and always will. People like you who came to Florida with the dream of entrepreneurship, with the spirit and courage to build a business that expresses their passion and to build a life in our beautiful state. I congratulate you, and I thank you.”

As keynote speaker, CFO Sink told the more than 500 people in attendance that the Success Stories luncheon was a perfect way to kick off Hispanic Heritage Month 2009, celebrating the accomplishments of their members and clients.

“The richness and diversity of our state is owed in great part to the cultural influence of Florida’s many Hispanic communities,” said Sink. “This month is an important time to recognize the contributions of our Hispanic citizens to so many areas of our lives including business, science, the arts and education.”

Florida is often measured against similar size states like California, Texas, and New York. In one particular measure, the category of successful Hispanic businesses, Florida continues to show positive growth. Hispanic Business Magazine’s 2009 list of the 100 fastest growing companies in the U.S. showed that for the first time Florida moved ahead of California with 17 percent of the companies listed headquartered in Florida.

“Hispanic-owned companies have fared better in this recession than many of their counterparts and  are continuing to post major gains in revenue,” Sink said. “Florida’s Hispanic businesses are vital to creating and bringing new jobs to our state. Together we will rebuild a stronger, more diverse economy for Florida.”


CFO Sink Participates in Tax Watch Government Cost Savings Task Force

CFO Alex Sink joined members of the Florida TaxWatch Government Cost Savings Task Force, chaired by David A. Smith, chairman, president, and CEO of PSS World Medical on Wednesday in Orlando. The 30-plus-member Task Force has been formed to improve efficiency and increase innovation in state government and save money. The group’s goal is to provide immediately actionable recommendations to the Florida Legislature in January that could save the state as much as $4 billion.

CFO Sink shared at the meeting how she has applied her more than 26 years of business experience to saving money saving and improving efficiency within her Department of Financial Services resulting in more than $5 million dollars in projected savings and improved service to Florida’s taxpayers in 2009 alone.

The weakened economy and resulting fiscal crisis have presented state and local governments and Florida’s taxpayers with challenges not known or experienced in the lifetime of most Floridians. The Task Force is designed to turn these challenges into opportunities to change the operation of Florida’s government in ways that will benefit Florida for years to come. Led by Dominic Calabro, president of Florida TaxWatch, Task Force members including CFO Sink are exploring money saving options in the operation of state government that will maximize tax dollars and better serve Floridians. The group is focusing its collective business expertise on operation and administration not policies and priorities.


Florida High-speed Rail Resolution presented by Cabinet

The development of high speed rail and intercity rail in Florida will catalyze the development of strong regional and local rail, reduce congestion and air pollution and will promote better growth management. Federal funding of Florida’s Tampa-Orlando-Miami high speed rail and Jacksonville to Miami inter-city rail applications would meet the goals and objectives of President Obama and the U.S. Congress, providing greater funding equity to Florida, creating jobs and laying a new foundation for economic prosperity.

The Governor and Cabinet of the State of Florida support and urge President Obama, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph C. Szabo to fully fund Florida’s applications.

The Governor and Cabinet urge that members of Florida’s Congressional delegation support Florida’s high speed and inter-city rail applications and request that the Florida Legislature enthusiastically support the applications by taking steps to maximize Florida’s ability to qualify for these federal funds.

Read the Resolution in full.


Workers' Compensation 2009 Annual Report is available online

The Division of Workers' Compensation has published its 2009 Annual Report. The spotlight of this year’s report is on data collection processes, but more importantly focuses on how the Division in turn uses that data to benefit the workers’ compensation system. It also provides specific information on how the data are made accessible and transparent to stakeholders and policymakers.

The report discusses new programs and processes implemented to enhance the self-execution of the Workers' Compensation System and to assist injured workers, employers, health care providers and insurers in complying with their statutory obligations. Please click on the following link to access the report: http://www.myfloridacfo.com/WC/pdf/annualreport2009.pdf


State Fire Marshal Alex Sink announces 4th Annual Volunteer Firefighter training

Florida CFO and State Fire Marshal Alex Sink this week announced that volunteer firefighters from throughout the state will gather this weekend at Northwest Florida State College in Niceville for the 4th Annual Florida Volunteer Firefighter Weekend. Over 200 pre-registered volunteers are signed up for the event, which is provided to help dedicated volunteer firefighters better prepare themselves and their neighborhoods when fighting fires.

“There are thousands of volunteer firefighters in Florida who selflessly dedicate their time and services to protect their communities, and it’s imperative that they are provided with training in the newest techniques and also that they have access to refresher courses,” said CFO Sink. “I commend the volunteers and instructors who are participating in this weekend’s training for their honorable service to Floridians.”

The 4th Annual Volunteer Firefighter Training Weekend begins on Friday, September 18 and continues through Sunday, September 20. Participants in this weekend’s training will receive updates on firefighting including investigative techniques that deal with potential manmade and natural disasters. The courses will consist of hands-on and classroom training, including vehicle extrication, incident management and handling a “mayday” situation. For more information on the annual training, please visit the event web site: www.nwflvolunteerffweekend.com.

This free training is made available through the cooperation of local fire departments, the Florida State Fire Marshal and the Florida Fire and Emergency Services Foundation.


David J. Grain appointed to SBA Investment Advisory Council

The State Board of Administration (SBA) Board of Trustees, comprising Florida CFO Alex Sink, Governor Charlie Crist and Attorney General Bill McCollum, on Tuesday approved David J. Grain as the newest member to serve on the SBA’s Investment Advisory Council. CFO Sink nominated Grain for the position because of his previous business and board experience, and his appointment was approved at Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting.

“Given his extensive experience, I am confident that David Grain will provide strong oversight and accountability of the operations of the State Board of Administration,” said CFO Sink. “David’s background in business and his service with both private enterprises and a public pension fund give him the tools needed to protect Floridians’ investments.”

“I am honored by my appointment to the State Board of Administration’s Investment Advisory Council and thank CFO Sink and the Trustees for this opportunity,” said David Grain. “I look forward to applying my extensive and diverse experience to best serve the people of Florida.”

Grain is the Founder and CEO of Grain Communications Group, Inc (GCGI) which owns and operates wireless communications infrastructure throughout the United States. GCGI is also a certified Minority Business Enterprise based in Sarasota, FL. Prior to forming GCGI, Grain served as President of Global Signal Inc. from its emergence from bankruptcy through its operational turnaround. Grain also worked as Senior Vice President of AT&T Broadband’s New England Region, and for more than a decade in the financial services industry.

Grain was previously appointed to the Massachusetts Pension Reserves Investment Management (PRIM) Board in 2001 and served as Chairman of PRIM’s Investment Committee until 2005. Massachusetts’ PRIM board functions in a similar capacity to Florida’s Investment Advisory Council in its oversight of a pooled investment fund established to invest the assets of the Massachusetts State Teachers’ and Employees’ Retirement Systems.

The State Board of Administration’s Investment Advisory Council provides independent oversight of the SBA’s funds and major investments, including the Florida Retirement System and the Hurricane Catastrophe Fund. The council meets quarterly, and members are appointed for 4-year terms pursuant to Section 215.444(2), Florida Statutes.


CFO Sink recognizes Hispanic Heritage Month

Florida CFO Alex Sink is asking Floridians to join her in recognizing September 15 - October 15 as Hispanic Heritage Month 2009.

“Florida has been particularly blessed throughout its history with the richness and diversity of the many Hispanic communities and cultures in our state. Our state is stronger and more economically vibrant because of the multicultural influences of Hispanic Floridians.

“From business and science to the arts and education, the contributions of the Hispanic residents of our state are vast and noteworthy. Also, Hispanic communities and Florida’s many strong Hispanic-owned businesses will be instrumental in fostering job growth and encouraging a more innovative economy as we look to build a successful future for Florida.

“That’s why I join all Floridians in celebrating the presence, influence and contributions of Florida’s diverse and vibrant Hispanic communities by recognizing Hispanic Heritage Month.”


Financial Planning Week is October 5 - 11, 2009

The Financial Planning Association of Florida is the membership organization for the financial planning community, representing 1,700 members dedicated to supporting the financial planning process as a way to help Floridians achieve their goals. The Governor and Cabinet of the State of Florida recognize October 5 through 11, 2009, as Financial Planning Week to remind Florida's citizens of the importance of financial planning to assist in making prudent financial decisions.

By becoming aware of the value of financial planning, including tax, estate, investment, risk and retirement planning, citizens will have the tools necessary to increase their financial literacy and learn to apply the financial planning process to their personal situations.

The State of Florida, through the Legislature and the Chief Financial Officer, have created a Financial Literacy Council designed to study the financial barriers for Floridians of all ages and encourages prudent financial planning as a means to overcome these barriers.

Read the Resolution in full.


Arrest of Gadsden County man for attempted murder and arson announced by CFO Sink

Florida CFO and State Fire Marshal Alex Sink on Tuesday announced the arrest of a Gadsden County resident who allegedly set two fires to a Midway residence while occupants were inside. The arrest stems from a joint investigation by CFO Sink’s Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations and the Gadsden County Sheriff’s Office. Christopher Knight, 25, has been charged with multiple counts of arson and attempted murder. Knight was arrested yesterday and booked into the Leon County Jail; if convicted, he could be sentenced to life in prison.

“Arson is a serious crime that puts innocent citizens and rescue personnel at great risk, and this particular arrest shows just how destructive arson can be,” said State Fire Marshal Sink. “I commend the SFM detectives, who have diligently worked this case and were able to take a violent criminal off the streets.”

Knight allegedly set fire to a home in Midway on September 9, 2009, that was determined to be arson after the State Fire Marshal’s Office discovered ignitable liquid surrounding the home, including the front and back doors. At the time of the fire there was one occupant inside who was able to exit the home without harm. According to witnesses, Knight started the fire after he had an argument with one of the residents.

Law enforcement officials completed the fire scene, cleared the dwelling and were attempting to locate Knight when a second fire at the same Midway residence occurred. This time, four occupants were present at the home; the fire was set in an isolated area outside one of the home’s windows. After the second fire, Knight fled from Midway to Tallahassee, where he was picked up by State Fire Marshal investigators and transported to the Leon County Jail.

The Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations is a law enforcement branch of the Division of State Fire Marshal that assists other state and local fire and law enforcement agencies in the investigation of fires of suspicious origin. Anyone with information about arson or any suspicious incident of fire is asked to call 1-877-662-7766 (1-877-NO-ARSON). Rewards are offered for information leading to an arrest and conviction.


First-time homebuyer tax credit expires December 1, 2009

This credit expands the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008

First-time homebuyers may be able to take advantage of a tax credit for a home purchased in 2009. But they must act quickly.

Qualifying taxpayers who buy a home before Dec. 1 this year can get up to $8,000 or $4,000 for married filing separately. For a newly constructed home, the purchase date is the first date the taxpayer occupies the home. A revised version of Form 5405, First-Time Homebuyer Credit, is posted on www.IRS.gov. The revised form incorporates the changes for 2009.

More details are available on www.IRS.gov. Updates are posted as additional information becomes available, so review the web site often for the latest information.


Hurricane Checklist: Preparation is key!

You have completed your back-to-school shopping and have your tailgate supplies, but are you prepared for a natural disaster?

Join us for a Disaster Preparation workshop to make sure you and your family are ready for a hurricane or other natural disaster.

Tuesday, September 22: Hurricane Preparedness for Renters
Azalea Ridge, 8151 Alderman Road, Jacksonville - 6:00 p.m.

Thursday, September 24: Disaster Preparation Workshop
Lakeside Community Center, 1999 City Center Circle, Port Orange - 9:00 a.m.

Thursday, September 24: Hurricane Preparedness for Renters
Lindsey Terrace, 6455 Argyle Forest Blvd., Jacksonville - 6:00 p.m.

Saturday, September 26: Hurricane Preparedness and Recovery
Selby Library, 1331 First St., Sarasota - 10:00 a.m.

Monday, September 28: Hurricane Preparedness Event for Seniors
Mayo Senior Center, 114 Community Circle, Mayo - 11:00 a.m.

For a calendar of events, visit the Consumer Services Calendar of Consumer Outreach Programs located on the Department web site. If you would like to arrange for a presentation to a group or club, please contact the Consumer Helpline at (850) 413-3089.


Mortgage life insurance: Is it your best option?

If you are like most people, your mail-box is constantly full of life insurance offers aimed at helping you ensure your loved ones are taken care of in the event of your death.

Consumers should consider the most cost-efficient option to best serve their financial situation and the needs of their family. Here are some options and the coverage they provide:

Opinions vary on these options, but the most important determining factor is what does your family need. Shop around; compare policy types and prices, and always Verify Before You Buy.

For insurance-related information and resources, visit the department’s Insurance Library.


My Family CFO: Retirement planning includes Social Security

How much will I get every month?

Essentially, the amount you'll get at your full retirement age is based on your average lifetime earnings, adjusted for rising wage levels over the years. The average monthly Social Security benefit for a retired worker is about $1,153 in 2009. The maximum amount for 2009 for a person retiring at full retirement age (66) is $2,323.

At what age should I begin collecting?

Depending on when you were born, your full retirement age varies between 65 and 67. If you take your payments earlier than your full retirement age (62 is the earliest), the payment will be reduced. Wait till you are older, and the payment will be higher. Most people take Social Security before full retirement age. But it often pays to wait. Just in terms of benefits accrued, if you have an average life expectancy or better, you'd probably come out ahead waiting for a larger payment that you won't collect as long. More important, you'll have a bigger check at an age when your retirement savings are diminished and you aren't likely to be able to work to supplement your income.

Will I lose benefits if I work?

Once you reach full retirement age, you can still work with no effect on your Social Security. If you take your Social Security before full retirement age, your checks will be reduced by $1 for every $2 you earn over an annual limit, currently $14,160.

Will my benefits be taxed?

Currently, about a third of Social Security recipients pay income tax on a portion of their benefits. To see whether you'll owe taxes and, if so, to estimate what the bill might be, fill out this form in IRS Publication 915, available at www.irs.gov.

Can I count on Social Security to be there?

Despite what you may hear about the system going broke, the funds from workers' payroll taxes will cover all retirees' payments until 2016 even if no changes are made to the current program. After that the Social Security Administration can cover full benefits until 2037 by cashing in its Treasury bonds from the Social Security trust fund. And when the bonds run out, income from payroll taxes would be enough to cover about 75% of payments for decades.


Saving Energy, Saving Money: The Hidden Costs of Transportation

One of our significant uses of energy and sources of air pollution involves traffic. Not only does commuting and transportation utilize enormous amounts of fossil fuels, but it also costs a great deal in terms of human health and time management. Americans waste over 4.5 billion hours per year in commuting alone! If that time could be allocated to community volunteerism or increase the number of hours that families spend together, our quality of life would increase significantly.

Here are some ideas to discuss with your family that may save money and time, reduce your energy footprint, and increase your quality of life:

Can you find a car pool to commute to work? This saves fuel, reduces air pollution, and also may allow additional time for reading or studying as part of a carpool.

Find public transportation for some of your family travel needs. Every gallon of fuel used in commuting releases 20 pounds of carbon dioxide into the air. Even the simple creation of a carpool to after-school sports for kids will reduce your use of fossil fuels, save money, and perhaps be more fun for the team.

Ask your employer about staggered work hours. For some people, traveling to and from the job outside of the conventional rush hour can save fuel, time and also avoid arriving late to work.

Can you work at home one day per week? Many companies work with employees to identify those components of the job that could be done away from the workplace. This not only saves transportation time and energy, but the flexibility often results in raising employee loyalty and job satisfaction.

It often seems easier to drive alone, but our planet can not support six billion people commuting to work. We can create new ways to promote energy efficiency by thinking creatively about how to minimize our use of fossil fuels in the area of transportation.