Monday, July 20, 2009

Senator Aronberg Continues Prove Into Private Contractors' Salary Hikes

From the Senate Dems:

State Senator Dave Aronberg (D-Greenacres) on Wednesday put a second state agency on notice that he is seeking documentation related to the growing controversy involving taxpayer financed salary raises for the state’s private contractors.

The records are being sought under Florida’s public records laws.

“I am aware of at least two contracts that appear to include automatic salary increases for private vendors doing state work,” wrote the Greenacres Democrat to Michael Sole, Secretary of Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection. “These contracts, accounting for hundreds of millions of state dollars annually, appear to include these routine raises as a standard contracting procedure. If this is accurate, it is troubling that state agencies have routinely increased the salaries of private contractors…[while] rank and file state employees – from highway patrol officers to nurses in our state hospitals – have become targets for pay cuts to offset state revenue losses.”

The move by Aronberg follows a similar public records request he sent earlier this week to the state Department of Transportation. Aronberg began his investigation less than two months after legislative attempts by Senate Democratic Leader Al Lawson (D-Tallahassee) to halt the little-known practice were unsuccessful during the last days of the 2009 Legislative Session.

Aronberg, an ardent watchdog on privatization and consumer issues, said he was concerned that as Florida’s economic crisis has deepened, the salary hikes to the privately contracted employees appear to be continuing without public scrutiny or legislative oversight. For example, salary hikes for one private contractor went into effect just weeks before the Legislature convened in January for a special session to cut the budget.

“Without disclosure of these private contractors’ spending arrangements, there is no feasible way for legislators to fulfill our proper legislative oversight obligation,” Aronberg wrote. “As a result, untold amounts of tax dollars that could have been used to stave off cuts to law enforcement or other critical public service personnel are being transferred from the State’s coffers into the pockets of private contractors.”

To that end, the Senator filed a request under Florida’s public records laws seeking, among other things, a listing of all private consultant contracts that include the so-called “escalation clauses” approved by DEP from fiscal year 2006 until present, the total amount paid to each of these contractors in escalation clauses, and the amount already committed for the next fiscal year.

Senator Aronberg said he expects to file similar requests with additional state agencies.

“Our struggling taxpayers are getting hit on both ends,” Aronberg said. “Not only are they losing critical programs and services due to budget cuts and layoffs, but they’re simultaneously subsidizing financial bonuses state agencies dole out to private contractors. It’s like ‘Robin Hood gone bad.’ We’re robbing from the poor to give to the rich. And no one is stopping the holdups.”

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