Mitch Perry, Author at Florida Politics - Page 3 of 344

Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

Rick Baker ad assails Rick Kriseman as ‘most incompetent mayor’ in U.S.

After running a couple of feel-good ads attempting to rebrand their candidate as hipper than he lets on, the Rick Baker campaign Thursday unleashed a thirty-second ad blasting incumbent St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman as incompetent.

The television ad criticizes the incumbent for going over budget on the Pier, spending too much on staff salaries, failing to clean up the debris generated from Hurricane Irma quickly enough, and of course, the sewage situation. It says that the mayor’s “incompetence” means fewer bike paths, playgrounds and scholarships for kids.

“Rick Kriseman might be the most incompetent mayor in America, and it’s hurting everyone,” the narrator intones at its conclusion.

The ad comes 26 days before St. Petersburg residents go to the polls, though voting by mail has been taking place for more than a week now in the race for mayor. Kriseman received 70 more votes than Baker in the Aug. 29 primary election, and the most recent St. Pete Polls survey has the race in a statistic dead heat.

The Kriseman camp dismissed the ad as “Trump-like.”

“This is just another Trump-like ad from an angry Rick Baker, who would rather talk about anything else besides climate change or sensible gun safety — issues that affect every person in St. Petersburg,” said Kriseman campaign manager Jacob Smith. “After nine years as mayor, Rick Baker left the city with a police department in chaos, no solutions on the Pier, no leadership on the Rays and a sewer system that was nine years older.”

Smith added: “Today, he has no plan for climate change or sea level rise. Rick Kriseman has moved St. Pete forward and taken strong stands on climate change and protecting our city from illegal guns. Voters approve of the job he’s doing, and they like where their city is going. They don’t want to go backward.”

See the ad below:

 

Janet Cruz, Tampa non-profit join forces to aid Puerto Rico

Since Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico 22 days ago, House Minority Leader Janet Cruz has traveled there twice to provide much-needed help to those struggling residents.

Now the Tampa Democrat is helping get ready a third shipment of goods.

On Wednesday, Cruz traveled with 30,000 pounds of relief supplies to Puerto Rico, her second trip to the ravaged island in 10 days.

After returning from the island last week with a group of Democrats — including DNC Chair Tom Perez — Cruz was motivated to help other organizations. That’s when she learned about Course of Action, a Tampa based nonprofit group formed in the wake of the storm to help those in Puerto Rico.

Led by retired U.S. Air Force Colonel E.J. Otero, the group has collected more than 2 million pounds of essential supplies over the past three weeks, transporting those goods by both air and sea.

After receiving a quote of $40,000 for a shipment, Otero put the word out to Cruz to see if she help in finding financing for the trip. She did, garnering contributions of $10,000 from the New York Yankees, $5,000 from the Tampa Bay Lightning, $5,000 from the India Festival Tampa Bay, $5,000 from AMSCOT, and the remaining $25,000 from private donations.

A total of 150,000 lbs. of supplies containing water, generators, food, diapers, hygiene items, first aid, shovels, chainsaws, food will be shipped next week. The shipment was originally going to go Wednesday, but will now depart from Tampa  October 17, returning October 24.

Officials with Course of Action say that they currently have plenty of water and clothing, but there are still many other items that can be donated. A link on the group’s website goes to an Amazon wishlist of products.

For more information, you can go to Course of Action’s website.

St. Pete Council candidates agree it’s a full time job, hesitates on pay raises

When Darden Rice proposed earlier this year that the city hire four full-time legislative aides to assist the eight-member St. Petersburg City Council conduct policy research and reform constituent services, she thought it would be relatively non-controversial.

“I couldn’t imagine anyone making this a campaign issue,” said Rice, who serves as the board’s chair. “Frankly, it’s long overdue and we all know it.”

That seems to be the case, based on how few people had publicly discussed a charter amendment for the November ballot to allow the council to weigh in on hiring decisions for new management and non-management professional positions, as well as staffing in the city council’s office.

However, the issue did surface at a candidate’s forum Tuesday night in West St. Petersburg. Disston Heights Civic Association President Jennifer Joern, whose organization hosted the event, asked the six candidates if they believed that the job should be a full-time position.

“Well it is full time,” Rice quipped to laughs (though she appeared deadly serious) while looking at the other five candidates at the table. “Just in case anyone was under any illusions.”

Council members say they work on council issues 40-50 hours a week, though the position is officially considered “part-time” and pays an annual salary of $44,452.

While she does not support a pay increase for herself, Rice said she might support one for the position after leaving office, because she believes it could attract more quality people to run, particularly those who can’t afford to do so now due to salary limitations.

None of the other five candidates were willing to disagree with Rice about pay raises — and possibly commit political suicide — but most agreed that the job is hardly part-time.

They also agreed that hiring the legislative aides was a good idea.

“It allows research to be done, it allows decisions to be made,” said Barclay Harless, the District 2 candidate. 

District 6 hopeful Gina Driscoll agrees it should be a full-time job “because the city deserves our full-time attention.”

She said hiring assistants would obviate a need for higher salaries for council members.

“This position is a public service,” said Justin Bean, who is facing Driscoll in District 6. “I don’t think it should be a full-time job. I think of this as a public service, you give your time, and if you’re able to do that, it’s an honor to be able to serve.”

On Nov. 7, St. Petersburg voters will be asked to approve a measure releasing The Vinoy Renaissance Hotel from restrictions on 2.3 acres of property so it can construct a one-story parking garage with elevated tennis courts (at no cost to the taxpayers or an increase in the hotel’s footprint).

Voters in St. Pete and across Pinellas County will also consider extending the Penny for Pinellas tax for ten more years.

Adam Putnam says Hurricane Irma was ‘lethal’ for Florida agriculture

Telling them that their committee will be more important than they ever could have imagined but for all the wrong reasons, Adam Putnam offered a sobering assessment to the Senate Committee on Agriculture about the impact that Hurricane Irma left on the state’s agriculture industry Thursday.

Florida suffered at least $2.5 billion in osses from the storm, the path of which “could not have been more lethal for Florida agriculture,” Putnam said.

“When you think about the pride that we have in Florida about the fresh winter vegetables that are on people’s Thanksgiving table, (they) won’t be there because of Hurricane Irma,” he added.

Florida’s citrus industry got the worst of the storm, with preliminary estimates finding that Irma devastated the state’s largest agricultural industry with nearly $761 million worth of damage. An estimated 70 percent loss of the state’s orange trees.

On Wednesday, Putnam joined Governor Rick Scott in Washington D.C , where they met with most of the state’s congressional delegation to request additional disaster relief. As part of the emergency supplemental funding, they want to have congress move that $2.5 billion need to the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture to design a program that would take into consideration people who had crop insurance and the level of losses, based on the seven hurricanes that swept through Florida in 2004-2005.

“There’s a proven model out there that has worked in the past that we’re asking Congress to fund,” he said.

Boca Raton Democrat Kevin Radar said that a lot of Florida farmers were in Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP), which means that they may not be compensated for as many as nine months from now. He asked Putnam, a former congressman, if there was anything that could be done to speed up that process?

“That’s why we have to go get sort of a special category of disaster relief from USDA,” Putnam responded, adding that the department previously had the flexibility to administer those programs internally, but after the last Farm Bill was passed that power now is up to Congress.

Putnam said he and Scott asked that Florida’s needs be inserted in the current disaster relief bill from FEMA that the House will vote on Thursday and the Senate next week. He said the odds of that happening weren’t great, however, meaning that it may not be until the next replenishment for FEMA may not come before Congress until Christmas.

“Specialty crop states like Florida are not adequately protected from risk management tools that the crop insurance was designed to provide,” Putnam said, adding that it’s been long time problem which has yet to be addressed.

Fireworks bill clears first Senate panel

The latest attempt to end a decades-old prohibition on fireworks sales in Florida received its first hearing in the state Senate Wednesday, and it was a bit bumpy.

The bill cleared the Senate Regulated Industries Committee on a 8-2 vote, but bill sponsor Greg Steube admits it still needs some work.

For more than half a century, Florida law on fireworks has been banned, but there is a loophole that allows fireworks to be used “solely and exclusively in frightening birds from agricultural works and fish hatcheries.”

What that means is that Floridians who purchase fireworks from roadside stands are usually asked to sign a form acknowledging that they fall under one of the exemptions, which gives legal cover for fireworks vendors that buyers will actually use them for the purposes that they describe in the form.

Like scaring birds.

Lawmakers in recent sessions, including former state Rep. and now U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, have tried to change the law to no avail. This time around, it’s Steube, a Sarasota Republican. He filed a bill (SB 198) to legalize consumer fireworks.

St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes asked Steube how many people he thought committed fraud when they filed the forms. Steube replied that he thought it was around 99.9 percent.

“We’ve created this unique situation where we all allow people to commit fraud every day and the government turns a blind eye to it,” said Brandes, who said perhaps the simpler rule would be to change the form instead of jettisoning it.

Lobbyist Ron Book, representing American Promotional Events, said his client strongly objected to eliminating the forms, saying it indemnifies the seller. “The industry is happy the way things are here,” he said.

He did add that the form could be enhanced to include “general use” in addition to the provision on agriculture, as is now the case.

In addition to removing the ban, Steube’s bill also will prohibit those under the age of 18 from purchasing fireworks.

Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon II said if the bill encourages people in his district to shoot off fireworks—and not guns—on the 4th of July and on New Year’s Eve, he’s good with it.

With two more stops before the bill would go to the Senate floor, Steube said he’d be happy to work with any senator in improving the measure.

Activists in Tampa denounce Trump’s tax plan as ‘giveaway to wealthy’

For a scheduled speech in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Wednesday evening, President Donald Trump is expected to say that truckers and other middle-income workers stand to benefit significantly from his proposed tax plan.

Hundreds of miles away, however, a group of progressive activists gathered in Tampa earlier the same day to denounce the proposal as currently laid out, calling it a gross giveaway to the wealthy.

“Please note that in 2027 when all aspects of this Republican plan are phased in, four out of every five dollars in proposed tax cuts will flow to the top 1 percent,” said Ione Townsend, chair of the Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee.

She called it an “egregious wealth transfer for those who least need it.”

Though Townsend is clearly partisan, the Washington, D.C.-based Tax Policy Center is generally considered to be centrist and/or nonpartisan. That organization estimates the plan would cut taxes for the bottom 95 percent of earners by 1.2 percent, while the top 1 percent would get an 8.6 percent tax cut.

Townsend joined a group of progressive activists gathered at the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers’ Association building in West Tampa to pick apart the proposed tax cut plan, an important agenda item for Trump and congressional Republicans who have yet to score any major achievements this year, despite being in complete control of the federal government since late January.

“Corporate profits are at near record highs. Corporate taxes are at record lows. Major corporations pay little to nothing in taxes due to loopholes,” said Michelle Prieto, a member of the group Mi Familia Vota.

Prieto said if the tax plan under the president goes through, corporations will use their tax savings to “further pad the pockets of CEO’s and rich stockholders.”

“We need a compassionate budget that prioritizes real people and real public service programs that put American people first,” said Chelsea Bunch, a steering committee member of Indivisible Action Tampa Bay. “And give not one penny more to corporations and billionaires who don’t need it.  

Despite activist’s concerns, exactly how much each taxpayer will be affected by the proposed tax is unknown, because the framework Trump and congressional Republicans in Congress released late month out left out vital details, such as exactly which tax deductions and credits would be eliminated.

Committees in both houses of Congress still need to agree on a budget resolution that specifies how much tax reform could cost.

Karen Clay is a disability activist serving on the board of the Florida Alliance for Assistive Services and Technology (FAAST). She says a review of the Trump tax cut plan makes it “obvious” where the budget cuts will come from — Medicare, Medicaid, education, food stamps, SSI and SSDI.

Clay fears what health care will soon look like, even with the Affordable Care Act still the law of the land. Going back to last spring, Florida Gov. Rick Scott has been advocating that he wants a block grant from Washington for the state’s $26 billion Medicaid program.

“We are currently ranked 48th in our per capita spending. So if the amount from the federal government is capped, and there is no mechanism in place to help individuals after a natural disaster, an economic downturn or any type of job loss, how will individuals and families ever get back on their feet?” Clay asked.

All the advocates urged members of the public to contact their elected representatives in Washington, and tell them to oppose the tax proposal.

 

Gina Driscoll blasts ‘unacceptable’ St. Pete transit service

St. Petersburg City Council hopeful Gina Driscoll doesn’t think much of the service offered by the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) to those needing transportation in the ‘Burg.

“We need to look at the bus system that we already have because it’s broken, it doesn’t work for most of the people who have to use it,” the District 6 candidate said at a forum hosted by the Disston Heights Civic Association Tuesday night (moderated by this reporter).

Driscoll, the president of the Downtown Neighborhood Association, decried how it can up to two hours for a passenger to travel to the same place that would require only a twenty-minute commute by motor vehicle.

“I think that’s mediocre and unacceptable for a city of our size,” she said, adding that any future transportation projects would need to include a comprehensive plan to overhaul the city’s bus system.

PSTA has one of the lowest budgets in the country for a transit agency of its size, as does the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART), its sister agency across Tampa Bay. The combined budget for the two systems is $141 million, similar to smaller cities like Buffalo, New York, which has 1.5 million fewer people.

Driscoll raised the subject of buses when the six candidates for the three City Council seats up for election in St. Petersburg next month were asked if they would theoretically support a transit measure on the 2018 ballot similar to the 2014 Greenlight Pinellas initiative.

Greenlight Pinellas was the unsuccessful one-cent transit tax to pay for expanded PSTA service and a 24-mile light rail link from St. Petersburg to Clearwater.

“I voted for it in the voting booth,” Driscoll said. “And I would vote for it again.”

Justin Bean, her opponent in the District 6 race, would definitely consider supporting a similar measure, but he said the city and region needed to look beyond light rail and embrace other technologies such an autonomous vehicles.

Darden Rice, a former chair of the PSTA Board and a strong public transit advocate, would not support a Greenlight-type referendum next year. She said that other transpiration agencies in the Tampa Bay area needed to work with Pinellas to identify the best corridors which would move the most people, as well as look at what the best modes of transportation to do so.

Jerick Johnston, Rice’s opponent in her bid for re-election to District 4, would not support another Greenlight style initiative, saying that everyone needed to be brought back to the drawing board to decide on what would be for the region moving forward.

District 2 candidate Barclay Harless agreed all modes of transportation need to be on the table, but emphasized that any such conversation must be regional in scope, and not limited to within the St. Petersburg city limits. “For us to have this discussion in a vacuum is fool’s gold,” he quipped.

Brandi Gabbard, facing Harless in District 2, is a strong supporter of the 2014 ballot measure, and said she believes in a referendum for transportation funded by sales taxes, and not ad valorem taxes. She agreed a regional approach was needed, saying she had faith that St. Petersburg could be a leader in such a discussion.

Bill to establish slavery memorial at Capitol advances in House committee

Legislation to establish a slavery memorial at the state Capitol in Tallahassee passed its first committee Wednesday.

The bill (HB 67) would authorize the Department of Management and Services, upon a recommendation from the Florida Historical Commission, to create and establish a Florida Slavery Memorial on the Capitol Complex.

It would “honor the nameless and forgotten men, women and children who have gone unrecognized for their undeniable contributions to our great state and great country,” explained Miami Democrat Kionne McGhee to the House Oversight, Transparency & Administration Subcommittee.

McGhee’s proposal is supported by House Speaker Richard Corcoran. A similar measure  passed the House during the 2017 Legislative Session, but failed to advance in the Senate, after initially being blocked by Ocala Republican Dennis Baxley.

Baxley told a reporter that he had a “discomfort about memorializing slavery” and that it would be too negative.

“I would rather celebrate overcoming the heartbreak of slavery. I wouldn’t want to build a memorial to child abuse; I wouldn’t want to build a memorial to sexual abuse,” Baxley told the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times. “I have a discomfort about memorializing slavery. … I would like to take it in a more positive direction than a memorial to slavery.”

The comments rankled McGhee, who called them “borderline racist.” The two later met for dinner and cleared up their differences.

Well-known legislative gadfly Brian Pitts praised the bill during public comment, but said that legislators should consider a similar memorial for Native Americans.

The Capitol complex currently includes monuments honoring veterans, law enforcement officers and women and one recognizing the Holocaust.

 

The two Ricks argue about city spending during latest St. Pete mayoral forum

As the St. Petersburg mayoral race enters its final month, the Rick Baker campaign is making a case that Rick Kriseman is bad at managing the city’s budget.

In a series of emails and tweets, Baker campaign manager Nick Hansen blasted Kriseman for dipping into reserves while the city takes in record levels of revenue.

And Tuesday night, Baker himself went hard at the incumbent’s spending at a candidates forum sponsored by the Disston Heights Civic Association (moderated by this reporter).

While the first question of the night had focused on Kriseman’s proposal to raise wages of city workers to $15 an hour by 2020, Baker ignored the question to instead launch an assault on Kriseman’s fiscal rectitude, charging the incumbent with being over budget by $35 million on both the new Pier and the city’s new police station.

Baker then pointed out that tax rates in the city were up 14 percent from when he left office in 2010.

“We have had more tax revenues than ever in the history of this city, yet he’s going into your emergency reserves to balance the budget right now,” the former two-term mayor said. “That is a bad omen for the future moving forward.”

As he had in the past when hit with the charge, Kriseman responded calmly. He said that he had simply borrowed from the reserves with a plan to pay that money back.

Kriseman said: “I would much rather have taken the money out now and gotten the work done, then delayed the work that we needed to do to try and get ready for this storm season, which we’ve done very well because we got the work done.”

He then claimed Baker dipped into reserves in 2009 and never paid the city back, adding that Baker’s millage rate was “considerably higher” during his first four years in office (2001-2005)  than his own.

Baker called that “doublespeak,” countering that, yes, the millage rate in St. Pete was initially higher when he first took office in 2001, but he had brought those rates down by 20 percent.

The forum did have more than just economic talk.

Both candidates clashed on Tallahassee having the authority to pre-empt Florida cities on enacting gun control regulations. Baker said it made sense for the state to set the laws so that Pinellas Park, Largo and St. Petersburg other Pinellas communities didn’t all have different sets of gun laws.

It was wrong for the Legislature to treat St. Petersburg the same as Eustis (on the eastern end of the I-4 corridor in Lake County), Kriseman responded.

On the issue of sanctuary cities, Kriseman supports the “idea” of protecting the undocumented from being arrested simply because of their status, but by law, the city did not have authority on such measures. Anybody who violates the law would be arrested and transported to the Pinellas County jail, he said.

“Individuals have to abide by the law, cities have to abide by the law,” said Baker. “And I do not support sanctuary cities.”

Baker was asked if he would challenge the Trump administration’s proposal to eliminate funding for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, which supports a wide range of urban-renewal projects. He said he absolutely would.

“Anything that we can do to help the urban center of our city is important and I think the federal government has a role in it,” Baker said, adding that he would venture to Washington, Tallahassee or anywhere else to protect the interests of the city.

Kriseman used the opportunity to blast Baker for being silent when it comes to any of President Donald Trump‘s statements or policies.

“Mr. Baker hasn’t spoken out one time against anything that our current president has said, no matter how offensive,” he said, nor has he heard any opposition against cutting federal programs (though, in fact, he just had).

Unlike most other candidate forums this year, Tuesday’s event was held in western St. Petersburg, far from downtown and Midtown, the location of a majority of the other mayoral forums. As such, the candidates were given time to make a lengthy opening statement (seven-and-a-half minutes) on issues such as the Pier, a stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays, Midtown and sewage infrastructure, so that the remainder of the discussion would focus on other topics. Despite that, the Pier and sewage matters did surface throughout the night.

Election Day is Nov. 7.

 

SEIU highlights progressive proposals made to Constitutional Revision Commission

The deadline has passed for the public to offer proposals to the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC). It ended last Friday, after being extended to allow more input from the public after Hurricane Irma whipped through the state.

The 37-member commission (34 of whom are Republicans) was created to review Florida’s Constitution and, if necessary, to propose changes for voter consideration. Any constitutional amendments proposed by the CRC are placed directly on the 2018 general election ballot.

The Services Employees International Union Florida (SEIU) is highlighting five progressive proposals submitted by some of its members recently, hoping it can get traction by the time the CRC votes on the proposals next spring.

The proposals include:

Dedicating Resources to address the Affordable Housing Crisis

Democrats (most notably gubernatorial candidate Chris King) have bemoaned the fact that the governor and Legislature raid the affordable housing trust fund to pay for programs like tax incentives to out of state businesses. They want the state to stop doing that and address the growing problems with affordable housing in Florida.

“We have an opportunity in our state to set a standard of living for the next several decades and that must include housing affordability,” said Ena Muños a domestic worker from Miami. “Cities like Miami, Tampa, and Orlando have seen a rise in housing costs that has far exceeded the growth of wages and salaries in those same areas. Rewriting the constitution to require our leaders to take this issue seriously and stop taking away affordable housing funds can ensure generations to come can continue to thrive and live in the same communities they were raised in.”

End the Criminalization of Poverty for Legally-Innocent People Awaiting Trial

Roderick Kemp, a realtor and formerly jailed resident from Fort Lauderdale, submitted a proposal requesting the CRC to stop criminalizing those unable to afford the cost of bail.

“Often times, people who work hard and still live in poverty get the short end of the stick. They may face an injustice and before they can even get their right to a fair trial, they sit in jail for months because they can’t afford bail,” said Kemp.”We must do better as a state to level the playing field for the rich and the poor, especially as it relates to their freedom.”

Paid Sick Leave and Eliminating Poverty Wages

Florida’s current minimum wage is just $8.10 an hour. Recent attempts to raise that to more than $10 by Democrats have gone nowhere. Orlando atttorney/entrepreneur and potential 2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Morgan says he will subsidize getting a constitutional amendment on the 2020 ballot to raise the living wage to $14 an hour.

Orlando fast food worker Thomas Evans submitted a proposal to the CRC to set a wage standard that grows with inflation and requires businesses to provide paid time off for workers who get sick.

“Every year, prices go up but our pay stays the same. We work hard to help our employers be successful, but we don’t share in that success,” said Evans. “If you work 40 hours a week, you shouldn’t live in poverty — and that is what many of us are doing. And when we get sick on the job, we can’t afford to call out because paid sick leave isn’t required. In order to create a better Florida, we have to include a $15/hour minimum wage as a starting point, and paid leave when you or your immediate family is sick.”

Fully Fund Free Public Education for Our Children

Beth McGarry from Vero Beach is an adjunct professor who submitted a proposal requesting the CRC to consider creating a standard for high quality, fully funded public K-20 education for our state’s students, including vocational training.

“The fact that a fully funded public education system was not already included in our state’s constitution was a surprise to me,” said McGarry. “This seems like a minimum standard we should have as a state. If we are going to fully realize our students and our state’s potential, we have to ensure we are providing adequate education and vocational training for our children,” said Beth McGarry.

Saving Access to Quality and Affordable Healthcare

This might be a tough one in a state that refused to accept Medicaid expansion.

Helen Kirton, a healthcare worker from Tampa, submitted a proposal requesting the CRC to include the minimum rights for healthcare for Floridians.

“No one should have to choose between putting food on the table and keeping their family healthy. And yet, that is the decision so many Floridians are faced with throughout the year as healthcare costs rise and the right to coverage doesn’t follow. Setting standards in our constitution is a way to ensure quality healthcare doesn’t run hardworking families into bankruptcy if someone gets sick or has an accident,” said Kirton.

Next spring, the CRC will vote on all of the various proposals that have been submitted over the course of this year. Those that are approved will be placed on Florida’s 2018 general election ballot. All proposed constitutional amendments need to obtain at least 60 percent voter approval to officially become law and revise the Florida Constitution.

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