Guest Author, Author at Florida Politics - Page 6 of 148

Guest Author

Christian Cámara: Border adjustment would sock Florida with hugely higher insurance rates

In recent years, Congress repeatedly has considered legislation that would have adversely and profoundly impacted disaster-prone states like Florida. Luckily, we were spared passage, over and over again.

Unfortunately, a tax “reform” package supported by House Republicans and likely to be introduced soon may contain provisions that would do essentially the same damage.

Historically, these bills targeted reinsurance purchased by property insurers from affiliates located offshore. The key change would be to eliminate the U.S. subsidiary’s ability to write off the reinsurance costs from their corporate income. The measures long have been supported by a group of U.S.-based insurance companies, who sought to reduce competition they face from foreign insurers and reinsurers.

Damages from isolated incidents such as fires, thefts and hailstorms are normally paid directly by insurance companies. However, when a massive disaster like a hurricane strikes, reinsurance kicks in and covers the insurer’s losses beyond a pre-negotiated deductible.

Changing the tax rules to punish international insurers would be particularly damaging for reinsurers, whose global scope allows them simultaneously to cover enormous risks like hurricanes in Florida and earthquakes in New Zealand, as they are uncorrelated and therefore unlikely to happen at the same time.

Given Florida’s vulnerability to hurricanes, the availability and affordability of reinsurance protection is critical to the state’s economic health and security.

According to new research by the Brattle Group, the tax would raise home insurance premiums by 1.9 percent, or $282 million a year in added costs, and raise premiums for business insurance by 6.7 percent, or $367 million in added costs.

As President Donald Trump and House Republicans continue to discuss plans for corporate tax reform, Floridians should pay close attention to proposals for a “border adjustment tax,” which is pitched as a way to tax goods and services companies import, but not those they export. House Republicans have discussed adding this feature to their tax reform “blueprint” in order to dampen the immediate fiscal impact of reducing the federal corporate income tax rate.

The fear for Florida and other disaster-prone states is that financial services, including insurance and reinsurance, would be included in the definition of imported goods and services and thus subject to taxation.

In 2011, the Florida Legislature became so concerned by the prospect of Congress enacting a proposal to tax the purchase of offshore reinsurance that it unanimously passed a memorial urging its rejection.

Indeed, Florida has a reason to be concerned about any proposal that taxes the purchase of reinsurance from offshore companies, as 91 percent of the state’s private reinsurance protection comes from such companies, along with 98 percent of the private reinsurance bought by the state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp.

According to the Brattle study, applying border adjustment to insurance and reinsurance would cut the amount of reinsurance available to the United States by between 20 percent on the low end and a whopping 80 percent on the high end. Across the country, regular consumers would have to pay $16.9 billion more to obtain the same basic insurance coverage they already have. Florida, which leads the country with $2.9 trillion of insured coastal property, would be hit the hardest.

There is, however, some good news. Most countries that have adopted a border adjustment tax system have zero-rated or altogether exempted financial services from such taxation. Congress should do the same.

Florida has among the highest property insurance rates in the nation, due in no small part to its vulnerability to hurricanes, as well as an increasingly litigious environment that the Legislature can and should address.

The last thing it needs is for Congress to tax something that it relies on more than any other state.

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Christian Cámara is Southeast Regional Director for the R Street Institute.

Bryan Parker: By working together, Northwest Florida has chance for brighter future

One region, one voice. One united goal.

When millions of gallons of oil gushed into the Gulf of Mexico in the country’s worst environmental disaster, Northwest Florida was devastated. It was an overwhelming punch to the gut for the people and economy of our region.

Now, seven years later, that heartbreak can be replaced by opportunity. It’s up to us to work together, as a unified region, to make sure it becomes a reality.

A $300 million payment from BP, a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, is a first step to help Northwest Florida recover and rebuild stronger than ever. We are all grateful that Florida’s legislative leaders have reaffirmed their commitment to steer the promised funds to our region this year – but we also know that nothing is truly done until the ink is dry.

There is much work ahead to secure these initial funds for Northwest Florida and the remaining $1.2 billion in the future, and to guarantee that decisions related to how the money is allocated are made by Northwest Floridians. We all believe that Northwest Florida is most successful when it has the authority to determine its own economic future.

Northwest Florida economic development advocates have long known that the entire region benefits most from working together – one region, one voice – to attract more jobs, training and business opportunities. Whether it’s launching a job-training program at a local college, winning a federal grant or drawing an entire industry to the area, those unified efforts create positive impacts that ripple across all of Florida.

The anchors of the Northwest Florida economy historically have been tourism and the military, but this new money will help our region build beyond our traditional economic engines to create a more diverse economy and job base. Tens of thousands of area residents will see their lives, and their communities, transformed.

Florida’s Great Northwest, the economic development organization representing the entire region, has worked with more than 860 of the region’s business, government and community leaders to develop a regional strategy that identifies the most promising opportunities for transformative economic growth in the region. Our hope is that the regional strategy will serve as the framework for prioritizing projects and allocating resources across the region.

Our wonderful corner of Florida is blessed with so many natural jewels, from our incomparable beaches and emerald-green water to spectacular rivers and forests. Add the hard-working spirit of our residents and the incredible talent and technology associated with our many military installations and private sector businesses, and you have a recipe for economic vitality and prosperity.

The BP money gives us the means to diversify and develop hubs of business and industry; train a modern workforce that will attract companies with higher wages and stable jobs; establish a state-of-the-art economic infrastructure that connects communities throughout our region; encourage innovative ideas to become reality; and build stronger communities.

Northwest Florida’s state lawmakers are working together on this, recognizing the importance of ensuring that this money goes to critical short-term and long-term efforts. Together, our region will use the funds as the impetus to create new and wide-ranging opportunities – ones that will make Northwest Florida appealing to a whole new generation of creative, talented and hard-working citizens.

Where tar balls once blotted our sugar-white beaches, wiping out jobs and our economy, we now have the opportunity to help boost education and training, business competitiveness, infrastructure, innovation and placemaking strategies that will benefit everyone.

We’re all in this together. Unified, we can ensure a much brighter picture for Northwest Florida.

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Bryan Parker is Economic Development Representative for PowerSouth Energy, where he directs the company’s economic and community development initiatives in Northwest Florida. He is a member of the Executive Board of Florida’s Great Northwest and serves as chairman of the organization’s Advocacy Committee.

 

Patrick La Pine: Make 2017 the year for depository choice

As private citizens, most of us are trying to make the best financial decisions for our family, which starts with where we bank and who we trust with our money.  And, it stands to reason that, as taxpayers, we would want our local government entities to do the same.

Yet, Florida law does not allow for credit unions to accept deposits from local government entities and, instead, only allows for local governments to bank with commercial, for-profit banks. This means school boards, universities and colleges and local governments, to name a few, cannot take advantage of, and bank at, their local credit unions.

While it seems like common sense that our local government entities should have the same freedom we do as private citizens to bank where our needs will be best met, year after year the banking lobby protects the interest of banks and their shareholders, and blocks all attempts to grant public offices and municipalities depository choice. As the 2017 Legislative Session quickly approaches, we urge lawmakers to allow municipalities and public offices the freedom to bank where they want.

Credit unions return all of their profits back to their members, and in turn, the community. Credit unions are also 100 percent member-owned, whereas banks are usually shareholder-owned, management and board driven, for-profit establishments that transfer their earnings back to shareholders.

As current law only permits commercial, for-profit banks to receive deposit requests from local government entities, credit unions are forced to turn them down, limiting municipalities from seeking more competitive return rates for their investments with financial institutions. Credit unions are not asking for special treatment when it comes to the public funds market, rather the opportunity to provide depository choice for such entities, which many can provide lower rates and bigger savings to, and would allow universities, local governments and school boards, to keep their funds within local communities.

While opponents may argue that credit unions should not serve local governments because “they do not pay taxes,” this is simply a self-serving and disingenuous argument. It is strictly a claim so that for-profit banks may maintain their monopoly to conduct business with municipalities and public offices, and keep credit unions — accessible, competent and deserving institutions — from widening the marketplace and spurring competition for public deposits.

Because their mission is to serve the community and their not-for-profit structure, credit unions are exempt from paying federal income taxes. However, credit unions pay tangible personal property taxes and property taxes, and as employers, pay all employment taxes, as would any other bank. Credit unions essentially pay the same taxes as a Sub S corporation, of which there are currently 29 in Florida — 20 of which are qualified public depositories.

Just as many Florida’s families are under economic pressure, so too are our local government entities and it’s imperative that they are granted freedom in banking, in order to make the best financial decisions for their respective entity and maximize their returns.

Let’s make this the year fairness prevails for depository choice. This legislation is good for the community, as well as those public entities that could achieve financial savings from this move.

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Patrick La Pine is president and CEO of the League of Southeastern Credit Unions & Affiliates.

Dr. Carolyn J. Lukensmeyer: Leading the way in civility – Florida’s new members of Congress

This past year has seen our country feeling more divided than ever before. The 2016 election took its toll, with candidates up and down the ballot partaking in name calling and disrespectful attacks. While political incivility is nothing new, this past year saw a new low for our nation’s discourse. With public trust in Congress at an all-time low (public opinion polls consistent show less than 10 percent of Americans having trust in the body), and the first six weeks of the Trump administration leaving many concerned, we must spend time considering what steps we can take to protect the core institutions of our democracy.

Florida’s newest members of Congress may have the answer. Last Tuesday night, 28 Republicans and 18 Democrats – the Freshman Class of the 115th Congress, signed a Commitment to Civility – both Republicans and Democrats – from red states and blue states, from the north and the south. Florida has much to be proud of, with 9 of their 11 Freshmen members (Representatives Crist [D-13], Dunn [R-2], Demings [D-10], Gaetz [R-1], Mast [R-18], Lawson [D-5], Rooney [R-16], Soto [D-9] and Rutherford [R-4]) signing the letter signaling their commitment to civility.

Standing on the floor of the House, Florida’s Freshmen demonstrated their intention to act on their pledge.  They spoke about what they learned from the people who elected them and why they know this commitment is a necessary step in order to work together to solve the major issues facing the country and to begin to build back trust in Congress.

Florida’s newest members of Congress are making a point to dedicate themselves to showing proper respect to one another and modeling civil behavior in all their actions. While disagreements over policy and legislation are to be expected, these congressmen commit to “…strive at all times to maintain collegiality and the honor of the office.” These Members of Congress are promising to uphold the highest levels of decorum, which will allow them to work more effectively together, and ultimately begin to restore public trust in the legislative branch.

Stating what we all believe to be true, the civility statement addresses the “… coarsening of our culture fueled too often by the vitriol in our politics and public discourse. One result has been a loss of trust in our institutions and elected officials.” For acknowledging this reality, these congressmen deserve our commendation.

With a thoughtful and sincere statement, their comments were frank in that while upholding civility won’t be an easy task, they all can agree that disagreements do not have to lead shouting matches or name calling. They can agree to disagree, while ultimately working together to move America forward. Disagreements over policy is the way of politics, but for this commitment to civility to receive bipartisan support from the new members of Florida’s congressional delegation shows just how strong their belief in the cause is.

President John F. Kennedy in his Inaugural address noted that “civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof.”  These members have made clear that their commitment is to their word and that they will move forward to do the job their constituents sent them to Washington to do, without succumbing to the rancor and viciousness that has been dominating our politics today. All the signatories of the commitment deserve our praise and support, with special recognition needed for the overwhelming majority of Florida’s new members who signed on.

These new representatives are raising the bar for civil discourse in politics, and as such deserve our praise and congratulations. Their constituents should be proud of their leadership and stand ready to support their commitment to civility in interacting with people who hold different views. We all thank Florida’s Freshmen for taking the lead in reviving civility and respect, and stand ready to join them in this important mission.

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Dr. Carolyn J. Lukensmeyer is executive director of the National Institute for Civil Discourse.

Drs. Christine Laramée, Chad Masters: ‘Three Cs’ – choose the right health care at the right time

If you start having chest pains or receive a head injury, you probably realize you should go to the emergency room (ER) right away.

But for medical issues that are urgent but not an emergency – such as a sinus infection or an ankle injury – many people aren’t sure whether they should go to the emergency room, a walk-in care center or their primary care physician (PCP). One way to make the right choice is to think of the “three Cs”: condition, convenience and cost.

Condition:

The seriousness of your condition is the most important concern. If you experience a life-threatening illness or serious injury, seek care at the ER immediately. Illnesses and injuries that require an ER visit include head injuries, coughing up or vomiting blood, severe burns, paralysis and chest pains. Less urgent health issues such as fever, flu, earache, pink eye, urinary tract infection and cold can be treated either at a walk-in care center or your doctor’s office. Most walk-in care centers can also perform X-rays, electrocardiogram tests, blood tests, minor surgery, stitches, and treatment for broken bones and sprains.

Convenience:

The second factor to consider is convenience. PCPs often have limited office hours and require an appointment. But for some medical conditions, waiting for an appointment may be difficult. For example, if you wake up with a urinary tract infection on Saturday morning, it may be very uncomfortable to wait until Monday for a doctor’s appointment. Walk-in care centers are typically open seven days a week and don’t require an appointment.  Emergency rooms are open 24/7, but often have long wait times for non-emergency care.

Cost:

Third, consider the cost. Under most health benefit plans, patients pay a low or no co-pay to visit their doctor.  A visit to a walk-in care center typically has a higher co-pay but costs less than the ER. In addition, tests and treatments performed at the ER are usually more expensive than if they were performed at an outpatient center. According to UnitedHealthcare data, in Florida, the average cost for a non-emergency ER visit is $1,500 to $2,000, compared to $150 to $200 on average for a visit to an urgent care center.

The most important factor in choosing the right care setting is that you get the care you need. Choosing the right place for you – depending on your condition, convenience and cost – can make a big difference and save you money.

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Dr. Christine Laramée is Medical Director of United Healthcare of Central and North Florida; Dr. Chad Masters is Regional Medical Director for Florida for MedExpress.

Dennis Freytes: Safe fracking — good for America

Many veterans of war, including myself, have concerns with foreign products being purchased from countries at war, namely the Middle East. We have come a long way in recent years to obtain our own oil and natural gas within the U.S. However, we can’t lift our feet off the proverbial pedal. Our country must use all forms of energy to become energy independent for the good of all. There is a direct correlation between energy reliability on the Middle East affecting matters of national security. Many American veterans agree in order to improve our quality of life at home, it’s imperative we continue safely improving all energy infrastructure on our homeland.

One safe and viable option for domestic oil and natural gas production is through hydraulic fracturing. Contrary to popular belief, this process has been used in the United States for nearly 70 years. It’s not a new technology; the practice has been tested and refined for decades. Another important point to remember is fracking falls under at least eight different federal regulations, not to mention state and local laws.

Fracking serves to enhance the flow of energy from a well. Many people who are nervous about the concept just don’t understand how it works – it’s actually quite simple. First, a hole is drilled vertically to form a well that is thousands of meters underground, and then drilled horizontally into an oil or gas deposit. The hole is cased with a steel pipe cemented into place, which isolates the area of the rock to protect our water supply. Then, a special perforation gun is lowered through the pipe, and forms holes through small, quick charges. Once the holes are formed, fracking fluid is pumped through with pressurized bursts. This creates small cracks throughout the rock so that trapped oil or gas can easily flow through.

The fracking fluid is a mixture of 99.5 percent water and sand, combined with chemical additives which control bacteria growth and prevent corrosion. These chemicals make up less than 1 percent of the fracking fluid and are significantly below the maximum levels required by the Environmental Protection Agency. Any water or fluid that is released through fracking is stored in a safe treatment facility. And once the process is complete – which can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days – a well can produce energy for years, even decades.

Currently, there is inaccurate information circulating the media about fracking’s effect on our drinking water. I want to be clear: there have been no confirmed cases of groundwater contamination from hydraulic fracturing in the 2 million wells fracked since the 1940s. Before fracking even begins, casings are placed into the well, and the space between the casings and the drill hole is filled with cement. This ensures neither the water and sand mixture that is pumped through the well, nor the oil and gas eventually produced, will enter the water supply.

In fact, a 2015 study conducted by Yale University found that fracking fluids do not contaminate aquifers. The researchers also found that contamination to drinking water does not occur because of casing failures, which has been an argument by those opposed to the practice.

Here in the sunshine state, scientists are currently considering using deep injection wells, a form of fracking, to restore Lake Okeechobee and the South Florida Water Management District has stated that this process would not affect Florida’s drinking water supply.

Fracking is one of the ways we can obtain reliable, homegrown energy to power our homes, buildings, phones, cars – you name it.

Oil and natural gas production keep our everyday conveniences — ones that many countries do not have — at our fingertips. Let’s avoid national security risk and ensure progress for our beloved U.S.A. by continuing processes like fracking within our borders and keep things moving, literally.

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Lt. Col. Dennis Freytes, United States Army (Ret.) – Florida Veterans Hall of Fame, is co-chair of Florida Vets4Energy, a group of volunteer veterans who continue to serve America as advocates for energy policies to sustain our national security.

Brewster Bevis: Karenna Gore out of touch with Florida’s energy future

Floridians have heard a great deal about the potential expansion of renewable energy, and for good reason.

Per the Energy Information Administration, renewable energy like solar and wind rank among the fastest-growing energy sources. It’s a promising development – one we should all applaud.

Still, one pressing concern remains: Renewables alone can’t meet the state’s escalating energy needs.

The University of Florida estimates that the state’s population will increase from nearly 20 million in 2014 to about 29 million in 2040 – which the Florida Reliability Coordinating Council projects will increase electricity demand by more than 10 gigawatts by 2035.

Remember: One gigawatt powers about 750,000 homes and renewables currently account for just a sliver of Florida’s electricity generation portfolio.

That means one of two things will occur as our population surges.

Some will have more difficulty getting the energy they need to turn on the lights, cool their homes and refrigerators and power their smartphones. Others will have the misfortune of paying a lot more for the energy they do get. No one wants to fall into either category.

But unless we urge policymakers to greenlight the construction of more critically-needed pipeline expansion, they will.

A recent report from Consumer Energy Alliance shows this reality all too well. Per the report, Florida and other states in the U.S. Southeast could sustain a 29.2 percent electricity shortfall if the U.S. rejects more pipeline expansion proposals and baseload generation options go offline prematurely.

That’s why it’s important we think twice before nodding our heads to what out-of-state, anti-energy activists like Karenna Gore say about how we develop and acquire our energy.

Gore doesn’t live in Florida. She won’t be affected when demand exceeds supply, and she won’t pick up the tab when your electric bill crushes your budget. Florida is just another stop on her misguided tour, coordinated by national anti-energy groups.

Skip her show and others like it.

Florida’s families and businesses need realistic options to affordably meet their energy needs. That means balancing renewable energy growth with nuclear and fossil fuel generation and expanding pipeline infrastructure.

Think about it. Florida, heavily reliant on natural gas, is one of the top energy-consuming states, using more energy than it produces. It also has no refineries and produces small amounts of oil and gas. In addition to natural gas, most of the petroleum it uses – for gas and other daily products – comes elsewhere, delivered by pipeline, tanker or barge.

Expanding our state’s energy infrastructure isn’t something new or radical; it’s how we’ve successfully grown our commercial and industrial sectors – and supported our families, small businesses and must-see attractions – for generations.

Only now we do it better than ever.

Statistics show that transporting energy via pipeline is not only 4.5 times safer than moving the same volume across the same distance by other means, but 99.999 percent of what’s moved, through 2 million-plus miles of pipeline, safely reaches its destination. Fewer pipelines also mean more air emissions and a greater chance of an accident or spill. Thanks to pipeline upgrades and increases in the use of cleaner-burning natural gas, carbon emissions from electricity generation are at their lowest points in years.

Let’s keep this going – not by listening to keep-it-in-the-ground extremists like Gore but by advocating for pipeline expansion that, in conjunction with renewable energy growth, will bring in more supplies and increased energy diversity, security and reliability to Florida, safely and securely.

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Brewster Bevis is senior vice president of State and Federal Affairs at the Associated Industries of Florida.

Miami-Dade residents, rise and activate!

I was born and raised in Miami, after my family was forced to flee from our home country of Nicaragua in the 1970s. My family took refuge in Miami, I believe, because of its welcoming environment and close proximity to Central America. I spent my entire childhood and teenage years in this community, devoting countless hours to service and working hard through my studies at MAST Academy, a privilege and honor I hold close to my heart till this day.

I share this brief look into my early life because I am completely in awe of how Miami-Dade has seen its residents rise and activate in what has become one of the most contentious and fearful times in our nation’s history. I know our relatively young nation has faced turbulent times in past decades and overcame some of its darkest moments, but I worry that we are seeing, once again, our country live through a defining moment.

We are a community of refugees, past and present, and it seems some have forgotten this. This is a unique characteristic to Miami-Dade because so many here are first generation residents to this country.

As we struggle to make sense of today’s chaos, we have to turn to our personal stories to reflect on who we are as people so we can then define who we will be as a community. My family came from Nicaragua like so many Cubans did in the 1980s, fleeing oppression and literally leaving a life behind to start an unknown one.

However, it seems many have forgotten their own stories of how this community opened its doors and welcomed a transformational change to the way of life Miami-Dade knew at the time. I know too many Cubans and Nicaraguans, among other nationalities who back in the day lived here undocumented and worked with political leaders to navigate policies to help establish protections. This is how the former Wet-Foot-Dry-Foot and Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act were enacted.

I applaud the leaders of the day who worked with stakeholders and community leaders to ensure those who lived in fear found hope.

Today, unfortunately, we don’t have the same political willpower at the federal level. Worse, this country is engaging in a deep level of division, stoking fears about immigrants and minorities. Sadly, I’ve experienced in the last month several moments where I was targeted for being Hispanic. One case was leaving a flight where a passenger heard me speaking Spanish and stared right at my face and told me “my time will come where I am kicked out of this country.”

While visiting parts of Tennessee, I saw the stares from fellow Americans — yes, fellow Americans since I was born in this country and consider myself as much American as anyone else — who heard my husband and I speak Spanish. Lastly, in Miami-Dade, home to 60-percent Hispanics, I was told at a gas station that “my deportation is coming.”

While these moments hurt, I can endure these senseless remarks because my protections are guaranteed as a natural born citizen of the United States of America. Sadly, the calls I’ve received from several folks in the last two weeks are more painful, because they’re from individuals who either have family members, or they themselves are undocumented; having lived in this country for years and their glimmer of hope to resolve their status has been washed away under the new presidential administration.

In this defining time, I say to those who are in the power to make decisions, be guided by what the teachings of faith and moral character offer. As you take a step forward, don’t forget to look back and extend a helping hand to the very person who is walking the same path you once did. Pope Francis in recent days has emerged as a forceful voice in this debate and every person who is guided by their Catholic teachings should pay close attention to his words.

Miami-Dade County was tested in the past days, and sadly, we will be remembered in history as failing the test. The debate some want to have about detaining criminals is a mere distraction, as the policy of deporting violent criminals and repeat offenders has not, and should not be changed. I agree that if you are committing egregious crimes against the community you live in then you should face all consequences, including immediate deportation if you are here undocumented.

However, we cannot allow our community to be defined by what the presidential administration is trying to do- target, round up and tear apart families. If you don’t believe this is the case, just look at the stories being shared around the country of immigration raids. I now know too many stories of individuals who were nearly detained, or worse, are in detention centers because they were subjects of a raid. This is not who we are as a nation.

In my line of work, I often know the exact path ahead and can see what next steps we must follow. However, this current terrain has me worried and my heart hurts, leaving me uncertain as to what we do. But what I do know is this- Miami-Dade, you must continue to rise and activate. Do not stay silent because we need to make sure we are extending a helping hand to those in line who want to enjoy the same freedoms so many of us have today.

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Christian Ulvert is a native of Miami-Dade County, a graduate of the county public school system and president and founder of EDGE Communications, a political and public affairs consulting firm.

Frank Artiles: A review of the facts — SFRTA gets it right

Over the last few weeks, South Florida has seen criticism regarding the process used by the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority (SFRTA) to award a contract to operate and maintain the South Florida Tri-Rail commuter rail system to Herzog Transit Services, Inc.

As your elected representative, I made it my personal mission to delve into the details surrounding the process and draw my own conclusion on the integrity of the process. What I found was that the attacks on the process are not consistent with the facts surrounding this issue and do not divulge the entire story.

SFRTA initiated a competitive process for a contractor to provide operations and maintenance services for the Tri-Rail system. SFRTA’s instructions to proposers were very clear that conditioned proposals – a proposal that takes exceptions or makes assumptions relative to the technical or commercial terms of the solicitation – were not acceptable and SFRTA reserved the right to reject such proposals.

In response to the solicitation, six bidders submitted proposals, and five of those six contained the very technical or pricing conditions that were specifically not permitted. As such, this made the real costs of their proposals virtually impossible to determine. Only one bidder, Herzog Transit Services, followed the rules and did not condition their bid. In fact, their bid of $511 million, which is lower than the independent engineer’s estimate of $530 million, is the only credible number that can be used for comparison purposes. I feel strongly that SFRTA got it right, and that the integrity of the process was maintained.

Herzog Transit Services, a well-known company with a strong track record, were SFRTA’s operations and maintenance contractor from 1994 to 2007 and know the project. Further, Herzog Transit Services, which is nationally recognized and the largest private passenger rail operations and maintenance service provider in the United States,

— Moves more than 32 million passengers per year;

— Operates 164,000 trains a year;

— Dispatches more than 179,000 trains a year;

— Maintains 280 rail vehicle units; and,

— Maintains 334 miles of track

Herzog Transit Services currently has nine active contracts in the United States providing similar services to those required by SFRTA, with a customer satisfaction rating in the high 90th percentile for its contracted services – a significant improvement over what Tri-Rail riders are seeing today.

The reality is that no other bid contemplates the full and complete cost of running the system, no other bid includes the fundamental cost components that will keep the trains running on time, and no other bid ensures that thousands of Tri-Rail passengers will get to and from work or their other destinations every day, as Herzog Transit Services did.

Unfortunately, other bidders are trying to “muddy the water” using half-truths and fuzzy math; however, after looking at the details surrounding this instance, I have full confidence that SFRTA acted with due diligence and correctly awarded the bid.

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State Sen. Frank Artiles represents Senate District 40, which includes part of Miami-Dade County.

Patrick La Pine: Credit unions work to protect consumers’ interests, balance Florida economy

As a member-owned cooperative, a credit union’s success is directly related to the financial health of the people who use its services every day. This symbiotic structure is why credit unions remain the safest and most consumer-friendly option for financial services.

This is the reason the government was not bailing out credit unions after the 2008 financial crisis. Washington seems to have forgotten who was responsible for that crisis. Regulations written and created to police the bad behavior of Wall Street and big banks have been slapped onto credit unions, too.

These massive one-size-fits-all regulations have been detrimental to many Florida credit unions, with limited resources as not-for-profit financial institutions. It is simply not reasonable to treat behemoth financial institutions the same way as not for profit, member-owned and governed credit unions.

How can the big banks collapse the economy and emerge in even better shape than the credit union industry that safeguarded its members all along? This is unjust.

Certainly, Congress was not ill intended when they created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Protecting consumers from the irresponsible behavior we saw from big banks makes sense. It was not reasonable, however, for this agency to blanket all financial institutions with the exact same regulations, regardless of size.

It is not common sense for Florida credit union members, to pay for the mistakes of the big banks. Something must be done.

As the 115th Congress works on these and other issues, credit unions need support from our elected officials for legislation that will rectify these problems. We need legislative fixes that will direct the CFPB to treat credit unions like credit unions, and not like big banks. We need more oversight at the CFPB, such as the installation of a multimember board instead of one, single-minded director.

Since the financial crisis, more Americans have chosen credit unions as their best financial partner. In fact, in 2015, 3.5 million Americans joined credit unions. Compared to other providers, credit unions offer services to lower-income members at prices that are much more affordable.

A study found that the fees banks collect on an annual basis on low-balance checking accounts are two and a half times higher than what they collect on high-balance accounts.

The Credit Union National Association (CUNA) estimates that Florida credit unions provided more than $517,648,000 in direct financial benefits to the state’s 5,249,940 members during the 12 months ending in September 2016. These benefits are equivalent to $99 per member or $187 per member household.

Estimated total benefits of credit union membership are calculated by accounting for differences in credit union and bank pricing. Specifically, average credit union savings account yields, loan interest rates and fees are compared to average bank savings account yields, loan interest rates and fees. The interest rate differences are then applied to respective average credit union loan and savings balances. Fee differences are weighted and applied to credit union non-interest income to obtain the total estimated benefits arising from fees.

The per-member and per-household benefits delivered by Florida credit unions are substantial, but these benefits are averages. Mathematically, that means the total benefits provided are divided across all members (or all member households) – even those who conduct very little financial business with Florida credit unions.

I hope my members of Congress will support regulation measures and preserve the tax-exempt status of credit unions. Our members, your constituents and your communities need relief.

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Patrick La Pine is president/CEO of the League of Southeastern Credit Unions & Affiliates.

The League of Southeastern Credit Unions represents 261 credit unions in Alabama and Florida with a combined total of $76 billion in assets and more than 7 million members. LSCU provides advocacy and regulatory information; education and training; cooperative initiatives (including financial education outreach); media relations and information; and business solutions.

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