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News Story
Updated: 07/24/2014 09:38:49PM

Net worth up for majority of lawmakers

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By JIM TURNER

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TALLAHASSEE (News Service of Florida) — For most state lawmakers, 2013 was another good year financially, regardless of party.

Still, those with an “R” affixed to their names are doing better, in general, when it comes to the bottom line thanks mostly to stronger housing and stock markets.

Updated financial-disclosure reports for 2013 were due July 1. And from the reports posted online as of Thursday, the average net worth in the Senate is just under $3.77 million, while the average net-worth figure is a little more than $1.4 million in the House.

The totals run from a high of $26 million for outgoing Senate President Don Gaetz to a negative $127,138 for Rep. Darryl Rouson, a St. Petersburg Democrat who remains underwater on a pair of home loans.

Gaetz, a Niceville Republican with two years remaining in the Senate, was a co-founder of VITAS Healthcare Corp. He actually saw his net worth slip slightly in 2013, by about $140,000, from the prior year.

“The decline in my net worth is forcing me to make economies,” Gaetz quipped in an email response. “I’m afraid I will have to cancel some newspaper subscriptions.”

Of the 156 lawmakers who served during both the 2012 and 2013 sessions and whose reports were available, 119 recorded increases in net worth, 35 went down and two posted no change.

The reports represent an individual’s net worth on Dec. 31, 2013. While the reports were due July 1, lawmakers have until Sept. 2 to file them before facing fines.

As of Dec. 31, 2012, the average for all 40 senators stood at $3.34 million. The average for the 120 House members was $1.27 million.

A little more than $30,000 in income for each legislator comes from their state salaries.

Senate Republicans on average are worth $4.3 million per the latest reports, while their House GOP counterparts chime in at an average of $1.7 million. Democrats in the Senate averaged $2.77 million, while in the House the average stands at $865,224.

The averages are all up from a year earlier.

Dan Krassner, executive director of the watchdog group Integrity Florida, said lawmakers should be praised for major ethics reforms in 2013 that require the financial-disclosure reports to be posted online. However, the information still fails to provide a full picture of individual lawmakers’ wealth, he said.

“Many lawmakers receive significant income from special interests who lobby the Legislature,” Krassner said in an email. “The Legislature has created disclosure loopholes so conflicts of interest are easily hidden or just made legal.”

Among the problems with the reports, according to Integrity Florida, are that the self-reported numbers are never audited, assets can be easily hidden under a spouse’s name and lawmakers don’t have to reveal if firms they own or work for have business before the Legislature or state government. Also, Integrity Florida contends that with the requirement that numbers be based on a single day rather than the full-year lawmakers can “secretly engage in major transactions throughout the year undetected.”

Of the 40 Senators, 18 are millionaires, one more than during the prior year.

Tampa Democrat Arthenia Joyner, a longtime attorney, joined the seven-figure crowd, with her net worth growing from $908,422 to $1,009,588.

In the House, 35 of the 120 members are members of the millionaires club, the same number as the previous year though the list of millionaires does not include all the same representatives.

Not among those seven-figure lawmakers is outgoing House Speaker Will Weatherford, a Wesley Chapel Republican who reported his net worth declined from $288,075 to $285,259.

Weatherford, who reported his leadership post paid $39,585 last year, also drew $16,000 from the Dallas-based Breckenridge Enterprises and $102,785 from Red Eagle Group, a company under the umbrella of Simpson Environmental Services, which is headed by Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby.

Simpson, worth $18.1 million, is the second-wealthiest senator.

Weatherford is slated to be replaced this fall as House speaker by Rep. Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island. Crisafulli, a real estate broker from a prominent citrus family, posted a net worth of $453,989. A year earlier, Crisafulli’s net worth was at $375,127.

Sen. Andy Gardiner, an Orlando Republican who is vice president of external affairs at Orlando Health, is slated to replace Gaetz as Senate president this fall. Gardiner came in with a net worth of $751,353 in 2013, up from $585,023 in 2011 to $681,653 in 2012.

Rep. Michael Bileca, a Miami Republican who co-founded the Towncare Dental Partnership firm now located throughout Central and South Florida, topped the House in terms of net worth, at $14.2 million.

Sen. Darren Soto, an Orlando Democrat and attorney with more than $300,000 in liabilities mostly involving home loans, is the only senator to record himself as financially underwater. Soto listed his net worth at a negative $6,663, an improvement from a negative $32,351 a year earlier.

In the House, 12 members — two fewer than a year earlier — owe more than they’re worth, mostly due to outstanding home, student and auto loans.


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