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Florida House payroll soaring

A $119,484 press chief joins new speaker's list of six-figure hires.

By ALEX LEARY
Published December 6, 2006


TALLAHASSEE - The new speaker of the Florida House, a self-described fiscal conservative, now employs the highest-paid spokesman in state government, adding to a growing list of staffers drawing six-figure paychecks.

Rep. Marco Rubio's press secretary, Jose Fuentes, is getting an annual salary of $119,484.

That's $23,000 more than Gov. Jeb Bush's communications director, and just $9,500 less than the governor himself.

Fuentes' salary, thought to be a record for a legislative press secretary in Florida, is drawing stares on its own. But it is only one of a number of high-paying jobs Rubio has created.

The Miami Republican has hired a $10,000-a-month financial consultant, former Bush adviser Donna Arduin, given a $100,000-a-year job to former Republican lawmaker Ken Sorensen and created a parliamentarian position that pays $133,908.

"These fiscal conservative Republicans are spending money like drunken sailors," said Rep. Susan Bucher, D-West Palm Beach.

Rubio has given jobs to a number of longtime government workers who might otherwise be unemployed with the departure of Bush. Many are paid more than $100,000 a year.

Todd Reid, a former spokesman for House Speaker Johnnie Byrd, was hired back as a staff director in the majority office. He will earn $103,008. Onetime lobbyist Eric Thorn, formerly of the law firm Shutts & Bowen, has been made a director of the jobs and entrepreneurship council at a salary of $130,008.

In all, Rubio has created 22 jobs - on top of the six created by his predecessor, Allan Bense, two years ago. Senate President Ken Pruitt has not added new staff members.

Fuentes, 32, has never held a position in state government. He worked as director of public affairs in the Miami mayor's office from May 2005 to January 2006 and held several federal government jobs, including serving as deputy director of advance for Vice President Dick Cheney from 2001 to 2003, according to his resume.

He was a spokesman for a division within the U.S. State Department and once helped coordinate media outreach for the National Rifle Association.

"The salary is comparable to the salary of a (Washington) D.C. communications director," Fuentes said.

Rubio did not talk with a reporter Tuesday, issuing a statement instead.

"Our goal," he wrote, "is to make the Florida House the host for the most vibrant competition of ideas in the entire nation. In order to accomplish this, we felt we had to provide our members with the most talented and experienced staff possible. Attracting such talent often requires paying salaries competitive with the private sector."

Rubio said he added policy positions "to ensure our members are never at a disadvantage" when considering options.

His spokesman added that some of the new positions are necessary because of the lack of institutional knowledge due to term limits.

With 120 elected members, the House has now has a staff of 314 full-time employees. There are roughly 30 staffers earning $100,000 or more, though many drew those salaries before Rubio took over.

On the Senate side, 17 staffers make six figures. Most of them are staff directors or senior executive assistants.

Times staff writers Joni James and Jennifer Liberto contributed to this report.