FLORIDA CFO ALEX SINK'S CONSUMER EVIEWS NEWSLETTER

Volume 7 Number 50 December 10, 2010

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Dear Floridian:

As Florida’s elected Chief Financial Officer, I came to Tallahassee four years ago never having held public office before, and serving in a relatively undefined office. As your CFO, I have worked to be an outspoken fiscal watchdog and passionate consumer advocate on behalf of you, the taxpayers and citizens of Florida.

It has been a privilege to serve these last four years as your CFO and agency head for the Department of Financial Services. My commitment to work on behalf of all the people of Florida in a no-nonsense, bipartisan manner and to find ways to run state government in a more efficient, effective and businesslike manner has produced some of the most rewarding moments of my professional life.

This week, I’d like to share with you some of these accomplishments, including stories about the people we helped and the millions of dollars we saved. As you know from reading eViews each week, the duties of Florida’s CFO are extremely diverse, and so during my term I have been able to achieve reforms that span across the workings of state government. As your CFO, I have spoken out when I think things could be done better, stood up for people who needed a champion, and fought to bring more accountability for how your taxpayer dollars were being spent.

I am always happy to hear from you, and can still be reached at AlexSinkFlorida@gmail.com after I leave office. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve you.

Sincerely,

Alex Sink
CFO
State of Florida

 

Click on a topic to read about CFO Sink’s specific accomplishments, or scroll down to view all:


Cutting Wasteful Spending

Upon taking office, CFO Sink immediately tapped into her background as a business leader and searched for opportunities where private sector best practices could be applied in her Department of Financial Services to save your hard-earned tax dollars. With smart and innovative ideas for change from her experience in the business world and bright ideas from people on her Department of Financial Services team, Alex was able to save Florida taxpayers more than $24 million in just four years – while increasing efficiency and delivering better services to Floridians. And the majority of these savings are recurring annually in the future.

Much of this historic savings came from Alex’s willingness to do things differently – and to seek out ways to operate more efficiently and cost-effectively. CFO Sink consistently emphasized that all these savings add up, celebrating all cuts in wasteful spending no matter how large or how small. Some examples include her Department’s consolidating consumer call centers, reducing paper consumption by electronic and online initiatives, renegotiating contracts, and even cutting down on cell phone usage and office supplies to realize tens of millions of dollars in savings.

In her first year in office, CFO Sink also took the unprecedented step of pulling the plug on Project Aspire and halted the frequently delayed and over-budget project that had already cost the state $89 million and not delivered as promised. CFO Sink recognized the need to stop spending the people's tax dollars until a clear strategy was in place to make the project a success. By canceling this $89 million outsourced project and consistently looking for ways – large and small – that taxpayer dollars could be saved, CFO Sink truly delivered on her promise to be a fiscal watchdog on behalf of Floridians.


Standing Up for Florida’s Consumers

Not only was CFO Sink saving taxpayer money, she was also standing up for Florida’s consumers. By increasing consumer protections, expanding the role of the Insurance Consumer Advocate, and bringing foreclosure assistance directly to homeowners, CFO Sink defined the office of Chief Financial Offer as Florida’s chief fiscal and consumer watchdog.

Upon taking office, CFO Sink learned that fraud against senior investors, particularly in the area of annuities, was spiking. The CFO responded by forming the Safeguard Our Seniors taskforce and bringing together groups like AARP, Veterans’ Affairs, insurance companies and her own insurance fraud investigators to develop solutions to better protect Florida seniors from falling victim to financial fraud. Based on the task force recommendations, Alex worked tirelessly to push through tough new laws cracking down on insurance agents who were taking advantage of senior citizens. CFO Sink made safeguarding our seniors a priority for her administration, with her Department holding nearly 400 workshops throughout the state to educate seniors about how to protect themselves from unscrupulous agents.

As the housing market collapsed, CFO Sink swiftly responded by bringing together Florida Legal Services, the Florida Bar Foundation, and the Real Property, Probate and Trust Section of the Florida Bar to create the Florida Attorneys Saving Homes (FASH) program. The program recruited more than 1,000 volunteer attorneys that help Florida homeowners avoid foreclosure by helping them to achieve workouts on their loans. Recognizing the severity of the problem, Alex also dispatched her consumer representatives throughout the state to offer her Florida Housing Help program, helping more than 14,000 Floridians connect with lenders and housing counselors to avoid foreclosure and weather our state’s housing crisis.

While CFO Sink worked on combating challenges facing Florida’s seniors and homeowners, she also stood up for the needs of consumers in the legislative process. She was instrumental in securing the 2007 legislative compromise that saved Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance, helping consumers avoid unnecessary lawsuits and ensuring affordable medical treatment. Before Alex stepped in and forced the legislative compromise, consumers were on track to lose the ability to purchase no-fault insurance that pays medical costs and lost wages that occur as a result of injuries from car accidents.

CFO Sink also made sure that Florida’s insurance consumers were given help and a voice – both through her improved insurance consumer helpline, and by giving a stronger presence and emboldened voice to her appointed Insurance Consumer Advocate. Coalitions formed by the Insurance Consumer Advocate have tackled public adjuster issues, automobile insurance fraud, advocated for reasonable homeowners’ insurance rates, and assisted consumers with appealing the denial of payment for medical treatment by their HMO. The Insurance Consumer Advocate also played a key role in standing up for the needs of consumers each year as the Florida legislature brought up property insurance reforms.


Saving and Creating Jobs for Floridians

With the record-high unemployment Floridians have faced in the last few years, CFO Sink has worked to help save jobs for Floridians and create new employment opportunities. Alex has been able to use her position as CFO, her leadership role in economic development groups like Enterprise Florida and her years of experience as a businesswoman to help Floridians in these tough economic times.

One way the CFO was able to help keep Floridians employed and small businesses afloat was her vocal leadership and innovative initiatives during the BP oil spill, which impacted business owners and employees along Florida’s Gulf Coast. CFO Sink took quick action and called for numerous steps to aid Florida’s small businesses and keep Floridians employed including ensuring the Small Business Administration expedited Federal Disaster Loans, calling on the Governor to activate the Florida Small Business Emergency Loan Program and pushing for an independent claims process. Now, more than seven months after the initial Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion, CFO Sink continues to advocate on behalf of Floridians who still face difficulty with the claims process, fighting to ensure that Florida’s small businesses are getting the payment they deserve so that they are able to keep their doors open and their employees paid.

CFO Sink also pitched in to help economically distressed communities across Florida. One shining example of her work came when it was announced that Marion County would be losing more than 1,000 jobs after a local mortgage-lending company abruptly closed its doors, and as the community was already facing over 12 percent unemployment. Alex immediately went to Ocala, participated in an emergency meeting of their Economic Development Council, and she and her staff worked with local leaders for more than a year to bring new jobs back to the area and provided a safety net to affected families. As a result of her involvement and the attention she brought to the closing, the Florida Department of Children and Families opened a call center in the area that brought 75 jobs to the area.

For the last four years, CFO Sink has also served on the board of Enterprise Florida, our state’s primary organization devoted to statewide economic development. She participated in developing the group’s five-year strategic economic development plan and contributed her understanding of how we can rebuild and diversify Florida’s economy.

No area is more important to spurring that economic diversification than renewable energy in CFO Sink’s mind. That’s why during her administration, Alex brought attention to the economic impact of climate change, and she highlighted the countless green jobs that can be created by stimulating investment into new energy sources, such as wind, solar and ocean currents. CFO Sink joined with Agricultural Commissioner Charles Bronson to hold a series of workshops called “Conversations on Climate Change” and led the charge to have the Florida Treasury and State Board of Administration join the Investor Network for Climate Risk. Under her leadership, Florida became the first Treasury in the nation to formally analyze their portfolio for the financial impacts of climate change on the state’s investments. CFO Sink also strongly supported the Property Assisted Clean Energy (PACE) legislation and other initiatives to help spur the creation of new, green jobs in Florida.


Fighting Fraud

 A large part of the duties of Florida’s CFO is protecting Floridians by cracking down on the criminals who commit insurance fraud – and CFO Sink has risen to that challenge.

CFO Sink’s Division of Insurance Fraud leads the nation in fraud restitution, and is second in arrests, with more than 1,000 insurance fraud-related arrests in just the past year. And since taking office, she successfully championed legislation to increase the number of dedicated prosecutors assigned to fraud cases, making sure that justice is served and criminals get what they deserve. As a result of CFO Sink’s efforts, her Division of Insurance Fraud is the only stand-alone fraud unit in the nation that is law-enforcement accredited, a prestigious honor that was achieved by the Department in 2009.

During her tenure, CFO Sink also recognized the need for putting “alligator teeth” in the law to protect seniors who were being robbed of their life savings by unscrupulous agents in annuities fraud schemes. After fighting for the legislation for three years, a new law was passed in 2010 that increased the fines and charges against insurance agents who defraud Florida’s seniors.


Looking Out for Florida’s Taxpayers

Looking out for Florida’s taxpayers has been a top priority for CFO Sink over the last four years, and that means not just looking for ways that state government can use taxpayer dollars more efficiently, but also finding ways to help taxpayers protect and maximize their money in these tight times.

CFO Sink administered the extremely successful My Safe Florida Home program, providing over 400,000 free wind inspections and approving over 40,000 matching grants to help Floridians strengthen their homes against hurricanes. And while this exceptional program ensured that thousands of Florida’s homeowners were more protected against hurricanes, it also qualified these homeowners for significant discounts on their property insurance.

Alex also helped put more cash in Floridians’ pockets through her focus on returning their unclaimed property or treasure, with www.FLTreasureHunt.org. Although the Bureau of Unclaimed Property has been around since 1961, CFO Sink’s emphasis on the program and online access allowed her to successfully return nearly half of all the unclaimed property held since the program began 50 years ago – totaling more than $630 million in forgotten or lost cash and property.

CFO Sink’s focus on our tax dollars also extended to pushing for Florida to get our fair share of federal funding – because the money we send up to Washington, DC, should come right back here to Florida. Her office completed a study on federal funding, revealing that Florida ranks 45th out of the 50 states in per capita federal grant funding and outlining recommendations to improve Florida’s ability to get our fair share of our tax dollars.

Finally, CFO Sink was on guard for policies that could harm our citizens and local governments throughout her administration. For example, when the Florida Legislature tried to pass the so-called “Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights,” Alex strongly opposed it, showing how TABOR would hamper state and local government’s ability to respond to changing economic conditions and effectively govern in emergency circumstances. And responding to citizens’ input and concerns, CFO Sink forced the Department of Revenue to reevaluate their Value Adjustment Boards rule, and made sure that Floridians had a fair process to appeal their property value assessments.


Championing Everyday Floridians

CFO Sink made it her priority to stand up for everyday Floridians, and made a special point to champion causes for those who so greatly deserve our help such as Florida’s veterans, firefighters and children.

After discovering that Florida veterans were not receiving many of the benefits they so bravely earned, CFO Sink worked to create the “Florida Vets Connect” initiative, designed to connect veterans with information about the benefits they may be entitled to through their brave service to our country. Since its inception, at no cost to taxpayers, the joint initiative with the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs and Department of Highway and Safety Motor Vehicles has already contacted nearly 30,000 Florida veterans with information about the benefits they may be entitled to through their service to our country.

As Chair of the Florida Healthy Kids Corporation Board of Directors, CFO Sink pushed to make it easier for families to get health insurance for their children and increase the number of children who stay in the program. Her three-year effort led to the passage of new reforms that simplified and streamlined Florida's KidCare program. Additionally, CFO Sink demanded an audit of a KidCare provider, which led to a $2.1 million recovery for the State of Florida.

CFO Sink also championed causes brought to her by Floridians who were looking for a voice in Tallahassee. One shining example of this is her fight to pass the firefighters death benefits bill. After meeting a young widow who lost her husband in a firefighter training accident and then found she wasn’t entitled to any benefit, Alex successfully fought to pass a law that ensures the families of firefighters killed in training accidents received the same death benefits as any other work-related death.

Finally, CFO Sink voted along with Governor Crist and Commissioner Bronson to automatically restore civil rights for those who have completed probation, paid restitution and have had no further violations of the law.


Bringing a Businesslike Approach

Applying her nearly three decades of business experience to running state government more like a business has been one of CFO Sink’s major accomplishments during her tenure in office.

As one of the three trustees of the state pension fund, and the only current trustee with previous business experience, Alex developed a set of ten proposals to increase the level of accountability and transparency of SBA operations, including common private sector actions like independent annual audits and quarterly board meetings. The CFO’s proposals became the basis for legislation passed in 2010 further increasing transparency and communication about investments and enacting new ethics and disclosure requirements. And while Alex pushed for even greater oversight reforms, including requiring financial professionals to sit on the board, that were not passed, she leaves the oversight and accountability of the Florida Retirement System much stronger than she found it.

Alex has also been a vocal advocate for insurance reforms that take a businesslike approach to reducing Florida’s exposure to risk. She successfully worked with the legislature to achieve reductions in Florida’s Hurricane Catastrophe Fund exposure and a gradual return to actuarially sound rates for the state-owned Citizens Property Insurance.

CFO Sink also used best practices from the private sector to redesign the way the state manages risk, leading a highly successful effort that has saved Florida over $12 million. With input from risk management experts with companies like Publix and Disney, the CFO restructured her Division of Risk Management with an emphasis on prevention rather than claims management, resulting in increased efficiency, improved care and expedited return to work for injured workers and reduced legal costs through early intervention. She also targeted the agencies with the highest number of claims and worked with them to address their specific needs and significantly lower the state’s costs.

Finally, Alex used her knowledge and experience as past president of Florida’s largest bank to ensure the most effective staffing levels at her Department and implement private sector level professional development. She applied private industry best practices by streamlining middle management, reducing costs and improving efficiency. And CFO Sink created a Talent Development Plan within her Department to seek out and encourage the best and brightest to consider careers in public service and to retain those currently in state government, which included internships, fellowships, division-wide annual assessments and leadership development programs and education.


Transparency for Your Tax Dollars

The way the state spends your tax dollars is important, and one of Alex’s major efforts during her administration was to bring government spending into the sunshine. Her work culminated with the launch of “Florida’s Checkbook,” a website that allows Florida taxpayers to view online tools created by our Department to increase transparency and accountability for government spending in one easy-to-find location.

At MyFloridaCFO.com/Transparency, Floridians can see information about how much we are paying a company that does business with the state, up-to-date finance reports and fund balances for the State of Florida. You can even see the money coming in and being spent by your local city or county, all with a few clicks on the computer. And this year, when CFO Sink pressed for increased accountability from BP in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, the website was updated to include a “Deepwater Horizon Financial Accountability” tracker, which monitors the funds received from BP in Florida and also the funds that have been dispersed.

All of the information made available to Floridians on Florida’s Checkbook was created using resources and information CFO Sink had in her Department, with no additional tax dollars spent to create or maintain them. The information is also updated nightly to ensure Floridians are receiving the most up-to-date data available.


Getting the Best Deal for Florida

For these last four years, CFO Sink has worked hard to ensure state government is getting the best deal for the taxpayer when it comes to how we are spending your hard-earned tax dollars.

A key objective was ensuring that Florida was getting the best deal when it came to our state’s contracting processes. So Alex implemented contracting reforms in her own Department to create more aggressive competitive requirements, more thorough reviews and stronger performance standards. She also required that all contracts be renegotiated, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars. CFO Sink also made sure contracting reforms were implemented statewide, working with a bipartisan group of legislators to craft and pass legislation that created stronger accountability and performance standards for all agency contracts.

CFO Sink also acted as the chief fiscal watchdog, calling the spending practices of other agencies into question. That included forcing Citizens Property Insurance to competitively bid contracts to get the best deal. After questions arose regarding the amount of money spent on the new First DCA courthouse and how the money was allocated, Alex had her Accounting and Auditing team conduct a full audit of the project to make sure the details of this spending were made public.

During her time as CFO, Alex worked to ensure that the legislature and state agencies were achieving the best value for the taxpayers of Florida on deals like commuter and high-speed rail. CFO Sink was a prominent voice to make sure that the taxpayers of Florida would not be on the hook for loss, injury or damage when CSX is at fault. She raised concerns about the unfair liability provisions and worked with the parties to seek improvements and renegotiate a better deal for the state on this commuter rail project. The CFO then pushed for the creation of a comprehensive approach to rail in the state, to capitalize on the opportunity for Florida to draw down billions of dollars in federal rail funding.

For CFO Sink, getting the best deal for the taxpayers of Florida also included making sure the state received what we were owed. For instance, as a member of the Florida Cabinet, Alex authorizes any construction over submerged lands owned by the state, which includes things like docks, piers, and seawalls. CFO Sink made a point in her four years on the Cabinet to suggest that our state should be paid fairly when leasing these sovereign submerged lands, and to ensure that the Department of Environmental Protection took more aggressive action to collect the fees and fines that we were owed when marina and dock owners did not pay the state for the use of those state submerged lands.

Over the past four years, CFO Sink has voted to ensure the preservation of tens of thousands of acres of environmental lands for conservation purposes. In addition, the CFO also ensured that when the state bought lands, it did so in a fiscally responsible way. She voted against potential land deals where parties would be paid more than the fair market rate for selling their lands. By voicing her concerns, CFO Sink successfully saved the state hundreds of thousands of dollars. Alex also ensured that when the state bought conservation easements, schools and other educational organizations had access to those lands to help educate the public about the importance of protecting our natural resources.

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink's Consumer eViews 1-877-MY-FL-CFO