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My Florida C F O
Weekly eNewsletter from Florida's Chief Financial Officer

Dear Fellow Floridian:

As CFO, it is my duty to be a watchdog for how our government spends Floridians’ hard-earned tax dollars. There are few things more important than holding our government accountable. Accountability requires transparency, a principle of which Florida has consistently been on the cutting edge. In fact, this week we recognize Sunshine Week, a time dedicated to celebrating our state’s open government laws and policies.Transparency Florida website home page

Considering our state’s budget is measured not in the millions or even hundreds of millions, but in billions of dollars annually, keeping track of how the state of Florida spends your money is no small feat.

The principle of transparency served as the inspiration for the development of the Florida Accountability Contract Tracking System (FACTS), a comprehensive online tool that will offer Floridians greater visibility into how their government is doing business. The new FACTS tool, which will be launched this spring on my Transparency Florida website, will make state contracting processes transparent through a centralized, statewide contract reporting system. Through FACTS, Floridians can see how their government is deploying their tax dollars at the click of a mouse. Nearly $50 billion, or approximately 56 percent of the state budget, is spent on contracts and agreements for goods and services. A robust and complete contract tracking system is an important first step in multi-phased, state contracting reforms.

Recently, Sunshine Review recognized Florida as a leader for transparency among states. We have a government that is of the people and for the people, and now we’re using the Internet to open the doors of government to the people. Together we can help Florida, the best state in the country, become the most open and transparent state in the country.

Jeff Atwater
Jeff Atwater
Chief Financial Officer
State of Florida

Florida Economy Is Business Friendly

The statewide unemployment rate has dropped to 9.6 percent, the lowest it has been in three years. As we continue to create conditions for a business-friendly environment in Florida, I look forward to seeing lower unemployment numbers each month. For a look at Florida’s economy at your fingertips, be sure to read Florida’s Bottom Line.

News of Interest

St. Augustine Record: Guest column: CFO's office is committed to transparency

Orlando Sentinel: State jobless rate dips to 9.6% in January

Sun-Sentinel: Like Florida, the US posts record international tourism in 2011

Tampa Bay Times: Mapping out Florida's redistricting special session

Legislature Supports CFO's Key Initiatives

CFO Atwater offered praise to the Florida Legislature for supporting and passing key initiatives he proposed that will increase transparency on how taxpayer dollars are spent, better protect consumers from identity theft or financial harm, help fight insurance fraud and reduce regulatory burdens.

“I applaud the Florida Legislature for another successful session of staying the course on no new tax or fee burdens on Florida families and businesses,” CFO Atwater said. “It is clear that Florida’s elected leaders are committed to fostering economic success and reducing financial burdens to guide our state through these challenging times.”

CFO Atwater said these legislative reforms help keep money in the pockets of Floridians by fostering conditions for economic success for Florida’s businesses and families. Key reforms he pursued this session include:

• Transparency in Contracts and Government Spending:

Transparency in State Contracting: The Legislature supported and identified the resources needed to implement transparency initiatives passed during the 2011 Legislative Session. The resources will be used to fully develop an online, state contract tracking system. The new, comprehensive online tool will offer Floridians greater visibility into contract spending and how their government is doing business with tax dollars.

“A robust and complete contract tracking system is an important first step in multi-phased, state contracting reforms,” CFO Atwater said. “I look forward to continuing to work with the Governor, state agencies and legislative leaders on additional reforms in the coming year.”

• Protecting Consumers:

Protecting Floridians’ Personal Information (SB 1208/HB 7111): CFO Atwater championed an effort to close a loophole that allows certain groups to obtain social security information from the CFO’s Bureau of Unclaimed Property.

“It defies logic that Florida, the state with the highest levels of identity theft complaints in the nation, would mandate a state agency to release social security numbers for any purpose,” CFO Atwater said. “There are few roles more important to a public servant than that of protector, and I’m relieved that my agency will no longer be required to release Floridians’ personal information.”

Guarantees to Florida’s Insurance Consumers (HB 1101/SB 1620): In the unfortunate circumstance that an insurance company must be liquidated because it is financially impaired and unable to pay claims, the receiver will now have authority to pay interest on impacted consumers’ claims. Previously, money would have been returned to insurance company shareholders that had contributed to the company’s insolvency. This bill will create more equity in the claims-paying process for consumers.

• Fighting Fraud:

Personal Injury Protection (HB 119/SB 1860): CFO Atwater and Gov. Scott worked tirelessly with legislative leaders this session to pass reforms to the state’s PIP system and stop the estimated $1 billion fraud tax on Florida’s consumers. Reforms championed by CFO Atwater and passed this session target staged accident fraud, strengthen billing practices so appropriate services are provided to those who need care and tighten requirements for clinic ownership.

A report released in November by Insurance Consumer Advocate (ICA) Robin Westcott, appointed by CFO Atwater, highlighted the need for reforms through concrete and meaningful data. According to the ICA’s report, the number of Florida drivers has remained stable, and the frequency of crashes declined between 2006 to 2010 while the number of PIP claims opened or recorded during the same time increased 28 percent. In addition, the payment on PIP claims increased 66 percent during the same period.

“When I took office as Florida’s CFO, I made a commitment to do all I could to go after the fraudsters cheating Floridians out of their hard-earned dollars,” CFO Atwater said. “With the passage of this bill and the help of Florida’s Legislature, I know we have gone a long way in fulfilling that promise. I’m eager to start seeing the positive impacts of this bill in the form of rate relief for Florida’s consumers.”

Workers’ Compensation (SB 1586/HB 1277): CFO Atwater convened a working group in August 2011 to review the practices of certain bad actors in the check cashing services industry who were aiding in a complex workers’ compensation premium fraud scheme. The group released its report in November, recommending reforms to combat this scheme to the Legislature.

“As a result of bringing all stakeholders to the table last fall, we were able to recommend policy solutions that protect the responsible players in the marketplace while ensuring those who are diverting more than a billion dollars from Florida’s economy are caught and held accountable,” CFO Atwater said. “I look forward to continuing the fight against this most insidious type of fraud in order to eliminate an inexcusable cost driver on honest small businesses throughout the state.”

• Reducing Regulatory Burdens:

Cutting Red Tape (SB 938/HB 725 and HB 941/SB 1428): Last fall, CFO Atwater initiated a thorough review of regulations in place at the Department of Financial Services (DFS). The initial review indentified burdensome, unnecessary or redundant regulations within the divisions of Insurance Agent and Agency Services and Workers’ Compensation, which CFO Atwater asked the Legislature to repeal or rework. The reforms consolidate 49 insurance agent and agency license types into seven master categories and provide parity for small businesses that purchase workers’ compensation, thus ensuring that all corporations and partnerships are treated equally while allowing them to submit electronic certificates of insurance.

“Overreaching government regulations stifle growth and hinder our state’s economic recovery,” CFO Atwater said. “Looking at regulations through a new scope, we were able to quickly identify burdens we could remove from the businesses that fall within the jurisdiction of our department.”