A.G. Gancarski, Author at Florida Politics - Page 4 of 364

A.G. Gancarski

Moody’s on Jax pension reform: Buy now, pay later, assume risks

Just as films and books have reviews, the municipal bond sector has its own critiques from bond ratings agencies.

In the case of Moody’s, which dropped its report Wednesday on Jacksonville’s status after pension reform, the writeup boils down to six words: “buy now, pay later, assume risks.”

And Moody’s also asserts that there may be a ceiling in terms of how the agency will see Jacksonville’s performance: “Jacksonville’s reliance on future revenues, rather than current contributions, to address its pension underfunding will continue to negatively impact our key credit metrics related to its pensions … because we do not consider future revenues as pension assets – while city contributions are going to be reduced.”

“By eliminating defined-benefit pensions for new employees, the city will shed investment performance risk over time. However, Jacksonville will also provide costly new benefits and salary increases under the plan, which it can only afford because it will defer a significant portion of its legacy pension costs to the 2030s,” reads the report.

“The city’s pension reform efforts come at a cost. While the city will carry no investment performance risk with the defined-contribution benefits for new employees, it will still contribute 25% of payroll for public safety employees. Public safety employees do not participate in Social Security,” the report adds.

Benefits, meanwhile, can be described as a mixed bag: “The longer that the sales tax for pensions must stay in place, the more difficulty the city could face in garnering support for other revenue resources, should the need arise. On the other hand, the city will immediately begin shedding investment performance risk relative to the status quo as new employees with only defined contribution benefits grow as a proportion of the city’s work force.”

Raises for city employees — delayed over a decade — are also factored into the mix.

“By 2020, these raises will increase the city’s salary spending by $120 million annually, which will amount to roughly 10% of the city’s general fund revenues by 2020…. Jacksonville will primarily offset these new costs by lowering its legacy defined benefit pension contributions…. The city will account for the dedicated future sales tax revenues as pension assets, which will reduce reported unfunded liabilities and thus lower its pension contribution requirements. Through this approach, the city will effectively lower its pension costs for the next 12 years, but it must significantly hike contributions once the new sales tax revenues become available.”

This describes the “deferred contribution” approach to pension reform that Mayor Lenny Curry‘s chief lieutenants sold the city on over many months.

 

Florida/Georgia game extension ready for full Jacksonville City Council vote

The Jacksonville City Council Finance Committee moved a number of key bills ahead of Tuesday’s meeting of the full legislative body.

Among those bills: an extension of the Florida/Georgia football game contract, which would keep the game in Jacksonville until 2021; legislation impacting public service grants; and a long-mulled settlement of a city zoning decision that was successfully countered by disability rights activists and the Federal Department of Justice.

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What it was was football: The World’s Largest Cocktail Party is one step closer to five more years in the Bold New City of the South, fulfilling a priority of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, who prioritized the extension of the contract just days after taking office.

Approved by Finance Wednesday, City Council Ordinance 2017-322 will keep the Georgia/Florida football game in Jacksonville through the 2021 event … pending a formal vote by the full City Council on Tuesday night.

Each team gets a guarantee payment of $250,000 per year, plus a one-time signing bonus of $125,000 upon contract execution, and $60,000 annually for travel and lodging.

Jacksonville can recoup that money by programming events at the amphitheater and the flex field; the schools don’t get a piece of that action.

Also obligatory: maintaining a minimum seat capacity of 82,917, which requires the installation of temporary seats — a hard cost of $2.1M in 2016.

After the 2018 game, work will begin on the extension.

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Public Service Grants: Bill 2017-317 looks to refine the public service grants process, one that has been fraught with difficulty, including claims of subjective evaluation, in recent years.

“This legislation allows for applicants who do not have the required Charitable Solicitation Permit to instead submit a state letter of exemption. Additionally, the eligibility requirement to submit the last three tax years of federal tax returns will be adjusted to allow applicants who are exempt from filing federal tax returns to instead submit an IRS certification of exemption and copies of audit reports for the last three years, or financial information reasonably acceptable to the Department of Administration and Finance,” reads the bill summary.

The bill passed committee by a 5-0 margin.

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Ability Housing bills move forward: Two Jacksonville City Council bills (2017-68 and 2017-69) approved by Finance may close the book on an issue that first emerged during the Alvin Brown administration.

To recap: in 2014, Ability Housing set out to renovate an apartment building in Springfield to create 12 units of housing for the chronically homeless and disabled.

The planning director balked, likening the proposed use to that of an assisted living facility. Soon thereafter, the Department of Justice, Disability Florida, and Ability Housing sued.

The proposed settlement ensures that the city not discriminate via zoning against those with disabilities, including via so-called zoning “overlays” such as Springfield and other neighborhoods have, and allows Ability Housing to become eligible for Jacksonville Journey funding again.

Ability Housing and Disability Rights Florida would receive $400,000 and $25,000 respectively per the settlement. Jacksonville also would be required to grant $1.5 million for the development of permanent supportive housing for people with disabilities, after a competitive grant process including Ability Housing.

A rewrite of a related zoning bill, 2017-36, passed the Land Use and Zoning Committee along with the two aforementioned bills Tuesday evening.

All bills move to a full Council vote Tuesday evening.

Anna Brosche is ‘concerned’ about potential homestead exemption impacts to Jacksonville budget

On Tuesday, Jacksonville City Councilman Matt Schellenberg laid out some grievances about the “meek and mild” Duval County Legislative Delegation in the Florida Times-Union.

The most alarming and damaging issue is the additional Homestead Exemption. If passed by the citizens of Florida in the August 2018 election cycle, it would chop off about $27 million annually from our city’s general fund,” Schellenberg noted.

“The last time the Legislators increased the homestead exemption by $25,000 dollars, Jacksonville introduced a franchise fee, a garbage fee and a stormwater fee. In fact these fees are substantially more regressive than the ad valorem tax,” Schellenberg added.

While Schellenberg took issue specifically with the “crumbs” brought home for Jacksonville, and got spirited pushback from three members of the Duval Delegation, there is serious concern in Jacksonville City Hall about the impact of raising homestead exemption.

One concerned party: Councilwoman Anna Brosche, chair of the Finance Committee and one of two current candidates for the Council Presidency (to be decided by a vote of councilors on Tuesday afternoon).

“I’m concerned about such large impacts on the budget,” Brosche said Wednesday morning, adding that she is “trying to understand the changes.”

When asked if a millage rate hike might be a fix, preserving the tax base from property taxes, Brosche was non-committal, saying “when we get to that bridge, we’ll figure out how to cross it.”

Brosche very well could be the next Council President; she trails current VP John Crescimbeni 7-6 in the pledge count, with six councilors holding out for reasons only they know.

 

Stay of execution for embattled Jacksonville TRUE Commission

Rumors of the Jacksonville TRUE Commission’s demise look to be false, after serious pushback in a Jacksonville City Council panel against a bill that would sunset the body in three years.

Councilman Tommy Hazouri has been unhappy with the Taxation, Revenue Utilization and Expenditures Committee for much of his term – and Hazouri filed a long-awaited bill to reduce the membership of the commission from 18 to 11 before the commission’s sunset in June 2020.

That bill took center stage in the Rules Committee Tuesday afternoon, before it was deferred.

In 2016, Hazouri – vexed over the TRUE Commission’s opposition to expanding the city’s Human Rights Ordinance – told Florida Politics that he didn’t see the point of the appointed body.

Hazouri noted the ongoing review of boards and commissions, started last year, with an eye toward history and effectiveness – with sunset being an option for bodies that have outlived their purpose.

Then, Hazouri pushed to defer the bill for two weeks, setting up some interpersonal conflict.

Councilman Danny Becton noted, by way of opposing deferral, that he had a substitute bill on hand from the TRUE Commission itself.

Hazouri, incensed, said Becton was “disrespectful” for pushing a substitute without consulting the bill sponsor.

“It’s about the history – the recent history,” Hazouri said.

Becton invited Hazouri and others to discuss the merits of the bill in the meeting.

Hazouri’s play got support from Councilman Greg Anderson, who wants to talk to the chair.

Councilman Scott Wilson likewise supported deferral, saying that it would be “difficult” for him to support on a number of grounds.

Council VP John Crescimbeni wanted time to review the substitute, noting that in light of the facts, deferral would be the best way to go.

Councilman Jim Love backed deferral: “the extra two weeks won’t make any difference.”

For his part, Rules Chair Garrett Dennis – a co-sponsor of the Hazouri bill – said he had a “change of heart” regarding the bill.

Deferral was approved via a show of hands.

‘Meek and Mild’ legislators dispute Matt Schellenberg’s Duval Delegation diss

Shots were fired across the bow of the Duval County Legislative Delegation Tuesday by Jacksonville City Councilman Matt Schellenberg.

In the Florida Times-Union, Schellenberg said the “meek and mild” delegation brought home “crumbs … a huge disappointment.”

He also said the delegation kowtowed to House leadership rather than bringing home the bacon, taking specific issue with the expanded Homestead Exemption — which could take $27M out of Jacksonville’s general fund in upcoming budgets.

Schellenberg on Tuesday amplified his comments to us.

“I think they could have done a better job,” Schellenberg said. “They shouldn’t always do what leadership says.”

Schellenberg, who had flirted with a run for State House in 2016, made a dig at the current representative, Jason Fischer in comments also.

“The people of Mandarin deserve someone who is going to finish the job — unlike Jason Fischer,” Schellenberg said.

When asked about rumors that Schellenberg may be looking at a primary challenge against Fischer, the Councilman didn’t completely rule it out though.

At an event Tuesday in Jacksonville, we caught up with two State Senators and Mayor Lenny Curry, each of whom took issue with Schellenberg’s premise.

Sen. Audrey Gibson, calling Schellenberg a “friend,” said his premise was “laughable.”

Gibson noted that Schellenberg came to Tallahassee multiple times during the session, including more than one visit to her office.

Regarding Schellenbergian claims that not enough was brought home. Gibson noted that — perhaps — Schellenberg “wasn’t familiar with the process.”

Sen. Aaron Bean, who noted that he also had met with Schellenberg in Tallahassee during the session, also essentially said the Jacksonville City Councilman was out of his depth.

“We had one of the best sessions in history,” Bean said, suggesting that Schellenberg’s pique was rooted in a pet issue not being addressed.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, who has been consistent in advocating for the local and regional delegations, did so again when we asked him.

“My relationship with the delegation is solid,” Curry said, including the regional delegation with the Duval legislators.

“Things we have listed as priorities are real wins,” Curry said, noting “big wins” last cycle also.

Meanwhile, Rep. Jason Fischer had his own comments for Schellenberg.

“Clearly Councilman Schellenberg and I disagree on many issues such as my support for tax cuts while he is in favor of more government spending. I sponsored legislation that was fiscally prudent and he’s sponsored legislation to raise his own pay and extend his own term limit. This lack of respect for taxpayers hard earned money is why people are tired of career politicians.”

And people say letters to the editor don’t get results! Expect Schellenberg to get special attention in whatever his next election might be … in 2018 or beyond.

Rick Scott ducks announcing Jackie Schutz as Chief of Staff in Jax, does it by email

Rick Scott press gaggle on the road typically lasts between five and ten minutes, and rarely offers deep insight into what’s coming next from the Governor’s Office.

Tuesday’s gaggle in Jacksonville was no exception to that rule, with less-than-clarifying answers to questions regarding who the next chief of staff will be, who the next CFO will be, his disposition on his successor as Governor, and legislation from Tallahassee that he may or may not veto.

When asked about the hot rumors for Chief of Staff and CFO (Jackie Schutz and Pat Neal, respectively), Scott wasn’t in any hurry to show his hold cards … remarkable especially as Schutz stood inside the gaggle.

“On the CFO, I’ll make the right decision at the time there is an opening. In regard to chief of staff, I’ll be making that announcement soon,” Scott said.

Soon apparently was minutes later, via email.

Governor Scott said in a statement: “Jackie has been on my team since my first year in office and has done a great job leading my communications efforts and conveying my vision of Florida as the best destination for families and businesses. Along with her work on my communications team, Jackie was an integral part of my reelection efforts and has continued to be a trusted advisor in all aspects of implementing our agenda for Florida. I have full confidence that she will do an outstanding job as my Chief of Staff.”

On the race for Governor, we asked Scott his dispensation on a potential GOP primary donnybrook between Adam Putnam and Rep. Ron DeSantis.

“There’s going to be a lot of people. It’s a great job. If you care about people, it’s the right job to have. I hope the next Governor is somebody who’s going to focus on jobs. It’s the most important thing,” Scott said.

Uncertainty of economic incentives takes center stage at Jax job creation event

Florida Governor Rick Scott returned to Jacksonville Tuesday, for the ribbon-cutting at a beer bottling plant he’d visited more than once in recent years: Anheuser-Busch’s expanded Metal Container Corporation manufacturing facility.

Back in 2015, Scott discussed the need for money for the Quick Action Closing Fund, part of a trend in which the “jobs governor” sought money to drive economic incentives that the Florida Legislature was less enthusiastic about.

The event in Northwest Jacksonville Tuesday was a success, driven out of incentives, including the late, lamented Quick Action Closing Fund. And with 102 new jobs created, the goal of 75 new jobs has already been eclipsed.

However, as Scott’s final term as Governor heads for its end, Scott was able to speak more confidently about the past than the present.

“We’ve had a lot of success here,” Scott said. “We’re fighting. But the Legislature this year did not fund economic development.”

As part of a phalanx of speakers at the event, held outdoors on sun-baked blacktop, Sen. Rob Bradley noted that the Governor’s “jobs, jobs, jobs” message may not have resonated with the media, but was necessary.

Then, in a rare moment for a ribbon cutting, Bradley noted that this year’s budget wasn’t to the Senate’s or the Governor’s liking.

“We didn’t get things with this budget,” Bradley said. “Governor, I wish we could have done better this session.”

Soon enough, Bradley introduced a note of levity — and a reference to Gov. Scott’s veto pen, expected to be active this year in a fit of score-settling.

“Whatever you do, we understand,” the Clay County Senator said. “Just don’t do anything about the Keystone Lakes though.”

That reference: to money that Bradley got for the Northeast Florida chain of lakes, currently subject to water depletion.

In a press gaggle after the event, Scott discussed the need for job creation.

“This doesn’t happen by accident. This happens because we recruit companies, go out and get them to come here,” Scott said, via “incentives.”

With incentives increasingly under siege, there already is serious concern about how much more recruitment can happen going forward.

“We’ve got to keep fighting for these things. We’re competing with 49 other states, foreign countries. This is one of the last projects [where] we had the Quick Action Closing Fund, one of the tools in the toolkit we had to recruit companies,” Scott noted.

“We don’t have those dollars anymore. So we’re going to see fewer and fewer of these job opportunities.”

Audrey Gibson draws 2018 general election opponent

Restive SD 6 voters will have a chance to vote for someone other than Sen. Audrey Gibson in 2018, as a write-in has filed.

As LobbyTools first noted, write-in candidate Lucretia Fordyce has filed to run against the veteran Democratic Senator and chair of the Duval County Democratic Party.

If Gibson survives the 2018 primary, she can look forward to a spirited general election campaign against this political newcomer.

Fordyce, a customer service rep and an Army veteran, bills herself on her Facebook page as a “national recording artist and an author.”

Among her books: Dare to Be a Diva in Bella Mafias.

Fordyce describes this book — all nine pages of it — as follows: “Yeah! Yo! I am the devastater. For the Heps to the Shucks, Mafiyo Heck . . . At Apollo at the Florida Theatre, in Jacksonville, Florida. I danced to Freak Me and Hump with It by 95 South mixed tape. We made Triple Threat (my group). I am my music.”

Fordyce also offers, via Facebook, what apparently are musical stylings, which we include below.

Ron DeSantis for Governor? Don’t rule it out

Adam Putnam may have some competition for the Republican nomination for Florida Governor after all.

Sources very familiar with the thinking of U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis note that he is looking at a run for the state’s top job, with a decision to be made late in the summer.

Were he to run, he would be a very serious candidate for the job — posing an existential threat to Putnam, as DeSantis could very quickly own the space to Putnam’s right.

DeSantis, who was far and away the strongest fundraiser in the GOP primary race for Senate in 2016 (ended when Marco Rubio decided to run for re-election), has some advantages that others lack.

Among them: name identification, as Team DeSantis asserts that the nationally-known Northeast Florida Congressman has better name id than either Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran or State Sen. Jack Latvala.

As well, DeSantis has $3M at his disposal already; were he to enter the race, that war chest would grow quickly.

However, no decision is imminent — yet. DeSantis is still working on the federal level, with a number of issues he wants to push forward ahead of the August recess.

DeSantis, unlike presumptive GOP Senate nominee Rick Scott, has not secured or even asked for the blessing of President Donald Trump. However, given DeSantis’ national profile, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which Trump does not support the nationally-known conservative.

Conversations DeSantis is having about the race are the kind of stakeholder talks one would expect in the pre-candidacy phase — “open” conversations with local, state, and national figures.

Those conversations reveal a “real hesitation about Putnam,” we are told.

Meanwhile, any support that Corcoran may be interested in securing from Americans for Prosperity may be blunted, effectively, by the vast majority of members of the board of directors having given to DeSantis for Senate already.

DeSantis is going to be worth watching in the next few months, as he has the biggest national profile of any potential gubernatorial candidate, with hits on Fox News Channel a few times a week.

While Attorney General may be another option, the reality is that for DeSantis, the time to make a move for the top job in the state is likely now.

For Northeast Florida conservatives, meanwhile, DeSantis may be the best shot in decades to take the governor’s office.

How religious mania changed the Corrine Brown jury

Speculation about what a discharged juror (“Juror 13”) said last week in a closed-court session in the trial of Corrine Brown can now end, as a transcript of the session was released Monday afternoon. [Transcript of Juror 13]

Juror 8, the juror who complained about the comments — relating that the discharged juror spoke of “higher beings” saying that Brown was guilty — kicked off proceedings in closed court by registering concerns.

The discharged juror had made such comments on the first day of deliberations and did not reiterate such comments, according to Juror 8.

However, “Some of the jurors are concerned that that’s affecting his — his decision,” Juror 8 said.

Federal prosecutor A. Tysen Duva was unmollified: “A higher being told me that Corrine Brown was not guilty on all charges and that he trusted the Holy Ghost. That does not resonate whatsoever with the court’s instructions to apply the law to the facts and make a decision,” he said regarding the juror’s mental state and ability to discern guilt from innocence in an evidentiary framework.

The discharged juror, for his part, didn’t reassure the feds.

“I told them that in all of this, in listening to all the information, taking it all down, I listen for the truth, and I know the truth when the truth is spoken. So I expressed that to them, and how I came to that conclusion …. I told — I told them that — that I prayed about this, I have looked at the information, and that I received information as to what I was told to do in relation to what I heard here today — or this past two weeks.”

The juror’s tipster? “My Father in Heaven.”

“My religious beliefs are going by the testimonies of people given here, which I believe that’s what we’re supposed to do, and then render a decision on those testimonies, and the evidence presented in the room,” the juror said.

Brown’s attorney attempted to defend this position: “I think the juror has simply said the Holy Spirit told him something. I think based upon what he said — however, he did say that he considered and has looked at the evidence that was presented, and did respond to the court’s questions concerning, first, his ability to follow the instructions given by Judge [James R.] Klindt during jury selection, whether or not there was any moral or religious belief that would prevent him from serving as a juror.”

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