Scott Powers, Author at Florida Politics - Page 6 of 100

Scott Powers

Airbnb reaches agreement with Hillsborough County over tourist taxes

Airbnb has reached an agreement Wednesday with the Hillsborough County Tax Collector Office, in a deal that could immediately add thousands of dollars in county revenue.

Home hosts in Hillsborough will begin paying bed taxes for overnight guests, which is estimated at about one-quarter million dollars a year.

Airbnb will collect and remit taxes from 838 property owners countywide who rent out bedrooms, apartments and even entire houses as lodging for visitors, Hillsborough County Tax Collector Doug Belden said in a statement announcing the deal.

“As an elected official tasked with the collection of tax revenue for Hillsborough County,” Belden said, “it’s my job to ensure the best possible outcome for taxpayers and the county.”

Property owners offer short-term rentals through Airbnb, an international company that uses a mobile app to connect tourists and other visitors with homes for bed-and-breakfasts or private residences. The service has become part of the fast-growing peer-to-peer lodging industry.

Currently, only those savvy property owners with the will to collect and remit tourist taxes have done so.

The Hillsborough agreement brings further integrity to Airbnb’s rapidly-growing business in Florida, which has been sharply criticized by some for avoiding regulation and taxes, as well as placing lodging facilities in neighborhoods, sometimes inappropriately.

Nevertheless, the company’s positive efforts have attracted strong political backing.

And the Hillsborough deal brought some praise from critics.

“We applaud the Hillsborough County Tax Collector’s office for holding Airbnb’s feet to the fire and finalizing a deal with them that makes them not only provide real data, but allows them to audit their website and collect for back taxes,” Sarah Bascom, spokesperson for AirbnbWATCH Florida, said in a statement. “We believe County Tax Collectors, like Mr. Belden, are right to be skeptical about the data secrecy that Airbnb has been known for. Counties shouldn’t take a bad deal that potentially undermines neighborhoods while picking winners and losers in the tourism industry just to gain some quick revenue.”

Gov. Rick Scott expressed support for the operation Tuesday, joined Wednesday by Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

In a statement from Buckhorn’s office, the mayor calls the agreement with Airbnb to collect local tourist taxes “transparent and accountable.”

Airbnb will report information on accounts to the county for auditing purposes, and ensure they collect the appropriate taxes.

As part of the agreement, the Tax Collector’s office and Airbnb reached a consensus on all points: public records exemptions, waiver of “look-back” on back taxes, and the process for auditing host accounts.

“I am very pleased to announce that Airbnb acquiesced to all the terms; I am a firm believer that if you cannot do the right thing, then you just should not do it at all.”

The agreement was executed Tuesday evening, becoming effective February 1, 2017.

“This agreement is yet another way to allow people traveling to the City of Tampa more options to authentically experience our incredibly unique culture and neighborhoods,” Buckhorn said in the release. “I’m proud of this collaboration with Airbnb to enhance Tampa’s status as a truly world class city and am excited to work with my Hillsborough County counterparts to put this new tax revenue stream to good use.”

Belden hopes other jurisdictions in the state of Florida will adopt the agreement.

In fact, Airbnb announced Tuesday similar agreements with 31 Florida counties, including Pinellas, Orange, and Osceola, and is seeking such deals with others.

“Airbnb and our host community are passionate about cultivating Hillsborough County’s growing tourism industry,” said Tom Martinelli, Airbnb Florida policy director. “We’re particularly excited that this brand-new tourist tax revenue will infuse new funding for Visit Tampa Bay to continue its mission of marketing Hillsborough to the rest of the world. We are committed to serving as steadfast partners to Mayor Buckhorn, Tax Collector Belden and the rest of this remarkable community.”

If the 2016 number of guest arrivals and host income were to remain consistent in Hillsborough, Airbnb projects that, through the new agreement, it would collect and remit to the county about $250,000 in annual tax revenue.

Airbnb’s presence in Florida has more than doubled over each of the past two years. Hillsborough County saw a similar increase — 198 percent in 2016 — according to a statewide report Tuesday from Airbnb Florida.

In 2016, Hillsborough County hosts earned $5.1 million in supplemental income. Tampa hosts accounted for $4.53 million, with hosts in the suburbs and other Hillsborough communities making approximately $580,000.

Tampa’s 600 Airbnb hosts welcomed about 32,000 guests in 2016. That represents 198 percent year over year growth in guest arrivals, one of the highest growth rates of any major American city and far outpacing the Florida statewide rate of 114 percent year-over-year increase in visitor arrivals.

Airdna, a consulting firm doing data analysis on Airbnb, reported Wednesday the company now claims 838 hosts in Tampa.

The tourist development tax is used for Hillsborough County to promote the region as a tourism and convention destination, as well as helping support tourism and sports facilities.

In fiscal year 2016, Hillsborough County collected $ 29.6 million in bed taxes.

Stephanie Murphy joining Blue Dogs, New Democrats

U.S. Congresswoman-elect Stephanie Murphy announced Tuesday she intends to join the two moderate-Democrat organizations in Congress, the Blue Dog Coalition and the New Democrat Coalition.

Murphy said the coalitions – the New Democrats promote small business, the Blue Dogs, fiscal conservatism – “align with her goals of strengthening Central Florida’s growing entrepreneurial and small business sectors, keeping our nation secure, and ensuring fiscal discipline in Congress.”

Murphy, of Winter Park, was elected Nov. 8 in an upset victory over 12-term U.S. Rep. John Mica, also of Winter Park, in Florida’s 7th Congressional District. The district, which includes north-central and Orange County and all of the largely-suburban Seminole County, had been a Republican stronghold for decades until redistricting and an evolving electorate changed it to purple this year.

“When I take office on January 3, I want to hit the ground running to help strengthen our economy, keep our nation safe, and bring fiscal discipline back to Congress,” Murphy stated in a news release. “I campaigned on a new approach – on working with both Democrats and Republicans to get things done. Both the New Dems and the Blue Dogs have strong reputations for reaching across the aisle and putting good public policy over partisan politics. That’s exactly what I’ll do in Congress.”

The combined membership of the New Democrat Coalition and the Blue Dog Coalition represents more than one-third of the Democratic caucus.

Both coalitions have strong bipartisan reputations and a history of working with Republicans. Murphy said she will work with her New Dem colleagues to advocate legislation that strengthens our nation’s middle class and will work with her Blue Dog colleagues to help introduce No Budget, No Pay, which says Members of Congress must pass a budget and appropriations bills on time or they don’t get paid.

“There is a lot of uncertainty facing our country in the next few years, and there is too much on the line for partisan politics to derail our progress. When I see offensive rhetoric or where I disagree with a proposal, I will oppose them in the strongest possible terms. But, where I can find common ground, I will do so,” said Murphy. “Despite the challenging political environment, I’ll also continue to fight for issues I care deeply about, such as commonsense gun laws, access to women’s health care, comprehensive immigration reform, efforts to curb climate change, and protecting our seniors and veterans.”

Congressional Puerto Rico task force releases final recommendations

A bipartisan Congressional task force heavily influenced by Florida’s U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio released its final report Tuesday on dealing with Puerto Rico’s economic collapse offering scores of recommendations for helping the U.S. territory, its economy and it’s people.

Authorized last summer by the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act, or “PROMESA,” the task force has been working for six months to prepare a blueprint for the official federal agency created in that same law that will oversee the territory’s economic governance for the near future, the Puerto Rico Financial Oversight and Management Board.

Most of the recommendations could be passed by Congress and signed by the president, pushing reforms independent of the management board. Some are recommendations for the island’s commonwealth government to tackle. Others fall more in line with hopes for changes.

“The Task Force is of the view that Puerto Rico’s best days lie before it, not behind it.” the Congressional task force members including Nelson and Rubio wrote in a joint statement issued Tuesday. “The members of the Task Force have worked across party lines to identify steps that can be taken to help Puerto Rico’s economy stabilize and grow. The Task Force hopes that its work will serve as a platform for continued bipartisan efforts to support the American citizens in Puerto Rico.”

The island’s economy is spiraling downward, and the governor announced in June of 2015 that the Puerto Rico government could not pay its $70 billion in debts. Unemployment, poverty and crime rates are higher than any state’s. Puerto Ricans are fleeing by the ten thousand a month, mostly to Florida, and overwhelmingly to Central Florida. Island schools, first-responder agencies and other agencies have been cut to what many observers say are critically low levels. Health care reportedly has been particularly rocked by inequitable Medicaid rates, a mass exodus of doctors and other health care providers, and the epidemic outbreak of the Zika virus.

The congressional report is 125 pages long.

Among the task force’s recommendations:

* Repeal an exemption in a 1940 law that otherwise provides some investment protection to companies.

* Congress needs to enact an equitable and sustainable legislative solution to the financing of Puerto Rico’s Medicaid program early in 2017.

* Changes also should be made to how Medicare is administered on the island, possibly changing the opt-in requirement for Puerto Ricans who want Medicare Part B.

* Congress should expand the federal child tax credit in Puerto Rico so families there with one or two children can claim it just as families in the states do.

* Congress also should consider other tax reforms to bring Puerto Rico’s tax laws more in line with the states.

* Increase the amount of excise tax on Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands rum, and imported rum, that is paid back to the island’s government.

* Congress should extend the tax deductions available in the states for qualified film, television, or live theatrical productions to Puerto Rico.

* The government of Puerto Rico should fully reform the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, which the task force said “does not inspire confidence” with its high-priced and unreliable electrical production and grid.

* The National Science Foundation, in collaboration with other government and non-government stakeholders, take all feasible steps to ensure continued operation of the Arecibo Observatory.

* The government of Puerto Rico should make it a priority to redevelop the former Naval Station Roosevelt Roads.

* The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers should expedite plans to restore the Martín Peña Channel.

* Congress should consider whether to authorize Puerto Rico to have greater flexibility in its use of Unemployment Compensation benefits for the purpose of increasing employment.

* The Small Business Administration should assess and reform its rate structures, limits, and contribution formulas for making small business loans in Puerto Rico.

* Congress should create a program for contracting preference program for Puerto Rico small businesses to participate in federal contracts.

* Congress should enact a law allowing Zika virus and other communicable diseases to qualify as a “disaster,” making affected small businesses eligible for emergency loans.

* Congress should hold a hearing to determine if Social Security Supplemental Security benefits should be extended to disable people in Puerto Rico.

* The government of Puerto Rico should develop a comprehensive economic development strategy that exploits the island’s many comparative advantages.

* Someone with expertise in Puerto Rico tourism should be appointed to the United States Travel and Tourism Advisory Board.

* The U.S. Economic Development Administration should base its Puerto Rico representative in Puerto Rico, rather than in Philadelphia.

* And, regarding future status – statehood, independence, continuance as a U.S. Territory, the Task Force simply stated Congress should take it seriously: “If the government of Puerto Rico conducts a plebiscite authorized and funded by Public Law 113-76, the Task Force recommends that Congress analyze the result of this plebiscite with care and seriousness of purpose, and take any appropriate legislative action,” the task force concluded.

 

Airbnb housing in Florida doubles again in 2016, reaches 1.5 million

The number of visitors to Florida choosing to stay in private homes through the Airbnb home-sharing app continues to explode and has topped 1.5 million for the 2016 year, the company announced Tuesday.

With Florida attracting more than 100 million visitors a year Airbnb still represents a tiny fraction of the market. But it now has captured more than 1 percent of Florida’s visitors, with survey evidence that some of those visitors wouldn’t have come otherwise. And the company discusses plenty of growth potential.

Airbnb reported that in 2015 its client homes housed about 753,000 people in the Sunshine State, and the year before it was 303,000.

This year it’s 1.5 million visitors. Airbnb also reported it’s up to 32,000 host homes, up 74 percent since last year.

And the company said that brought in $273 million in rent for those operators, supplemental income for the vast majority of them.

The continuing growth has drawn both praise from Gov. Rick Scott and warnings from a group called AirbnbWATCH, which raises concerns about the largely unregulated [and to date mostly still untaxed] new lodging option.

“It is great news that Airbnb and the home sharing community are helping more families experience the Sunshine State,” Scott stated in a news release issued by the company. “During challenging times in our state this year, Airbnb offered emergency accommodations to many families in need following the Orlando terrorist attack and Hurricane Matthew. We truly appreciate when businesses like Airbnb help Floridians in need.

But Sarah Bascom, spokeswoman for AirbnbWatch Florida offered a concern.

“In general, Airbnb expects special treatment. It has been their practice to withhold taxes unless municipalities create a special tax structure that only applies to them and they have been hiding important data,” Bascom said. “This is what AirbnbWATCH Florida will encourage lawmakers to examine this session. It is imperative that we protect the safety and well-being of our local communities, which includes holding Airbnb accountable for paying their fair share of taxes in a manner that ensures all of the rules are being respected.”

The vast majority of Airbnb service still is in South Florida, with Miami-Dade and Broward counties accounting for more than half of the business. The company has not yet negotiated systematic tax collection systems with either of those counties, so their tax revenues from Airbnb homes is hit-and-miss, based on what the counties and operators know about each other and local and Florida laws.

Elsewhere, however, Airbnb has set up tax collection systems in 31 counties and reported that it remitted more than $20 million statewide so far this year, with more receipts pending. The taxes paid so far include $900,000 in Pinellas, $800,000 in Orange, $500,000 in Brevard  and $300,000 in Lee counties.

Central Florida market continues to increase rapidly. Both Orange and Osceola counties saw 140 percent increases in business in 2016. The Kissimmee Airbnb market took in 154,000 visitors, and the Orlando market took in 114,000.

The company conducted a survey of guests in Miami and found 36 percent said they probably would not have come without the service, and others stated that they were able to stay longer. The company also touted the spinoff economic boom to tourist attractions, restaurants and shops, particularly in neighborhoods such as Miami’s Little Havana that otherwise have little or no tourist lodging.

“Home sharing is an economic driver to cities and neighborhoods in Florida that typically get overlooked due to the lack of hotels,” Airbnb Florida Policy Director Tom Martinelli stated in the release. “Meanwhile, the infusion of new revenue to state and county coffers is helping local policymakers fund critical local services.”

Miami-Dade saw $113 million in Airbnb business in 2016; followed by Broward, $28 million; Osceola, $18.3 million; Orange, $14.3 million; Pinellas County, $12.3 million; Palm Beach County, $9.5 million; Monroe County, $8.5 million; Lee, $6.7 million, Sarasota County, $6.7 million; and Hillsborough County, $5.1 million. Also, 13 other Florida counties also topped $1 million in Airbnb business, according to the company.

Alan Grayson: Florida Democrats need someone with a message

Imagine a populist Democrat who not only bucks the party but has to battle against it, funded only by small donations and passionate followers lured to a message about what’s in it for THEM.

Bernie Sanders? Alan Grayson? The party’s only hope in Florida if it wants to elect someone statewide, other than Bill Nelson? Or just another dreamer who mistakes popularity for electability, and goes down in flames in a party primary? Or Donald Trump, had he been a Democrat this time?

Grayson is wrapping up his third and, for now, final term as a Democratic congressman from Orlando, a never apologetic liberal lion with perhaps as much name recognition in California and New York as he does in Florida.

While looking ahead to his announced plans to run a legal or Florida constitutional amendment campaign to restore civil rights for felons, Grayson also  reflected on his own accomplishments, his collapsed campaign for the U.S. Senate, and his opinions for what it would take for the Florida Democratic Party, the Democratic National Committee,and other Democratic establishments to win.

Grayson got crushed in the Aug. 30 primary, losing to U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy by more than 40 points,. That was just a few weeks after many polls had the race fairly tight and an occasional survey even found Grayson ahead.

A lot contributed to Grayson’s pummeling, including renewed, ugly reports about his personal life, and his stubborn refusal to ever acknowledge that either his personal or business controversies were anybody’s damned business, or that he ought to address them. But so, too, did a late advertising blitz by Murphy and by various Democratic groups in support of Murphy or nasty opposition of Grayson, which the small-donors-only Grayson campaign couldn’t dream of matching.

Yet the lesson Grayson seemed to take from it was the one he’d expressed all along, that the Democratic Party wanted to back a safe, moderate, mainstream and, if possible, self-funded, candidate; and that such a candidate would surely lose big in Florida’s general election, like almost all the similar safe, moderate, mainstream, self-funded candidates the party had backed for a couple of decades. And Murphy did.

And so once again Grayson is calling, really wishing, for a new approach.

“Unless there is substantial structural change, the Blue Dogs will continue to make the argument that a populist Democrat, or for that matter a progressive Democrat, which is not exactly the same thing, has no chance of winning – because that’s the way they continue to dominate the statewide machinery,” Grayson said. “Even though they’ve been proved wrong in every single race except for Alex Sink’s race for CFO, every single race for a quarter century.”

Grayson said the party needs to stop relying on identity coaltion-building politics – black, Hispanic, gay etc. – and focus clearly on basic issues people can believe will improve their lives, and which can be delivered. In the senate campaign, his was “seniors deserve a raise,” which referred to his plans to expand Social Security and Medicare. Trump and Gov. Rick Scott won populist campaigns on bringing back jobs.

“There are populist issues that would actually bring the whole state together and galvanize the groups that we did extremely poorly with in the national election, for instance high school dropouts, where the Democratic Party got wiped out,” Grayson said. “The polls showed Bernie did 40 points better than Clinton with high school dropouts. 40.”

A populist campaign, he argued, that focuses on those issues as Sanders did, while paying little attention to issues that have only regional support in Florida, could win.

“There are a number of issues that play just as well in the Panhandle as they would play in South Florida and the polls show it. For instance, increasing the minimum wage. There’s basically majority support all around the state except for Fort Myers,” Grayson said. “There are certain issues, actually, that you do see regional differences like for instance gun control, like abortion, and not the way you might think. Abortion is not that popular in South Florida.”

He also railed against what he called “the commentariate and the political industrial complex” for writing off attempts to appeal to certain segments of voters, like much of the working class, because they don’t vote. This year they voted, for Trump.

“I think if the Democratic party stopped ignoring them, they might vote,” he said.

Santa Claus takes credibility hit, poll finds

Santa Claus’s credibility has taken a bit of a hit this year, but Americans of all political stripes still believe in Christmas by overwhelming numbers, according to a new poll released Monday by Public Policy Polling.

And if there is a divisive issue this time of year, it apparently involves the phrase “Happy Holidays!”

While Democrats mostly said they could take or leave the phrase, a significant portion of Republicans say they’re offended by it.

The poll, taken last Tuesday and Wednesday of 1,224 registered voters across the country, should have Santa alarmed. Four years ago, after the 2012 general election, a whopping 52 percent of respondents said they believed in him, while 45 percent were pretty skeptical, saying they didn’t believe in him. This year Santa’s believability rating fell to 31 percent, and his numbers are down among Democrats, Republicans and independent voters fairly equally.

PPP claims a 2.8 percent margin of error for the general questions.

“It doesn’t matter whether you voted for Clinton or rump,” PPP President Dean Debnam stated in a news release. “Everyone is feeling a little bit less hope and joy after this year.”

Santa was unavailable to comment Monday.

Ninety-one percent of respondents said they had a favorable opinion of Christmas, while 5 percent did not. That tops other holidays this time of year: 75 percent said they were favorable toward Hannukah, with 5 percent not; and 47 percent were favorable toward Kwanzaa, and 18 percent not.

That Christmas fondness widely extended to the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life: 73 percent approve, 5 percent do not.

But Happy Holidays? Merry Christmas? Opinion is split, mainly along party lines.

Only 5 percent of Clinton voters said they’re offended by the phrase Merry Christmas, compared to 19 percent of Trump voters who say they’re offended by Happy Holidays.

Trump voters said by a 69-4 percent margin that they prefer the phrase Merry Christmas to Happy Holidays. Meanwhile, 63 percent of Clinton voters say they don’t care, with those who have a preference split between Merry Christmas (23 percent) and Happy Holidays (14 percent.)

Along those same lines, only 34 percent of Americans said they think there’s a War on Christmas, down from 41 percent three years ago. It’s a partisan issue: 60 percent of Trump voters stated that they still think there’s a “war on Christmas.” In fact, 24 percent of Trump voters said that the war on Christmas concerns them more than a potential war with China would.

In Orlando, Donald Trump decries ‘reckless interventions;’ vows to crush ISIS

Decrying the horrors of atrocities in the Middle East, President-elect Donald Trump both denounced reckless interventions and pledged to destroy ISIS and radical Islam during his “Thank You” tour stop in Orlando Friday night.

Speaking before a huge outdoor crowd that he said numbered 22,000, Trump argued that the United States can’t get involved in foreign conflicts with unclear American interests anymore. The declaration harkens to Trump’s position that he was long an opponent of the Iraq War, which he blames for the rise of ISIS and the catastrophic civil war in Syria.

He also pledged to “stand with the people of Cuba,” though he didn’t elaborate as to whether that means attempts to roll back the opening of relations with that dictatorial, communist government begun under President Barack Obama.

Yet while promising to strengthen America’s military, the primary theme of  his “peace through strength” address appeared to be avoiding more international conflicts, Trump declared: “Our foreign policy needs a new direction.”

“For too long we’ve been moving from one reckless intervention to another in countries that most of you have never even heard of before.

“It’s crazy, and it’s going to stop.”

Trump expressed outrage apparently at the humanitarian meltdown occurring this week in Aleppo, Syria, though he didn’t name the location explicitly.

“We spent $6 trillion in the Middle East. And now it’s in worse shape than it’s ever been before. Years of horror. And now look what’s happening over there right now,” Trump said. “Six trillion dollars, and look what’s happening. It’s a horrible thing. We’re going to do everything we can. We’re going to get it straightened out.

“Just think of all of that money, all of those lives, and I mean lives on both sides … and you have nothing. So we’re going to start using our head. And we’re going to try to patch that up.”

He pledged to build safe zones in Syria and to get Middle Eastern countries to pay for them.

Meanwhile, American taxpayers will be called upon to rebuild American infrastructure and schools.

“Instead of rebuilding foreign nations,” he said, “it’s time to rebuild our nation.”

Yet Trump also declared his intention to wipe out ISIS and radical Islam threatening the United States and to do so immediately.

“The Trump administration will focus on the vital national security interests of the Untied States, and that means crushing ISIS rapidly and defeating radical Islamic terrorism,” Trump said.

He also repeated one of his more recent policies, opposition to people burning American flags.

“I don’t like when I see people burning our flag, I don’t like it. I don’t like it. And you don’t like it. And we’re going to try to do something about it,” Trump said.

Visit Florida housecleaning continues: Rick Scott calls on chief Will Seccombe to resign, board to publish business

Gov. Rick Scott called on Visit Florida’s Executive Director Will Seccombe to resign Friday afternoon, continuing a bloodbath at the pseudo-state agency that saw two other top executives fired earlier in the fallout from how it handled a marketing contract with Miami rapper superstar Pitbull.

In a letter the governor sent to Visit Florida’s board chairman, Scott called for a complete overhaul of how it does business, telling the board he wants to see it publish details about how it spends money, including contracts.

And to do so, Scott said that Seccombe has to go.

“The major changes outlined above require new leadership and ideas at the agency, and I believe it would be best for the future efforts of Visit Florida for Will to step down and allow new leadership to come in at this critical time,” Scott wrote to Visit Florida Chairman William Talbert III of Miami. Seccombe was also sent a copy of the letter.

“The notion that Visit Florida spending would not be transparent to the taxpayers is just ridiculous,” Scott wrote. “We must have major reforms at Visit Florida in the weeks ahead that require new leadership.”

The action comes just hours after Scott confirmed that Seccombe had fired two of his top executives, Chief Operating Officer Vangie McCorvey and Chief Marketing Officer Paul Phipps.

Seccombe has been president and chief executive officer since Nov., 2012, of Visit Florida, a non-profit company set up by the state to promote tourism to Florida.

Scott did extend some credit to him.

“The mission of Visit Florida is crucial to the economic growth of our stature, and Will Seccombe has played a major role for many years in helping Florida attract record numbers of tourists,” Scott wrote.

However, Scott concluded, “Visit Florida’s mission is imperative to the continued success of Florida’s economy and record growth in tourism, but in order to achieve that success, the organization must be run in an open and transparent manner, which will demand major reform.”

Concerns about how Visit Florida conducts business, particularly veiled in secrecy at times, have exploded this week, over inquiries into the $1 million contract it signed with Pitbull. Earlier this week House Speaker Richard Corcoran sued Pitbull’s company to get the contract publicly released. Pitbull himself publicly released it on Thursday, and the suit was dropped. However, the concerns over Visit Florida continued into Friday’s housecleaning.

Corcoran responded Friday with an ominous statement, suggesting Visit Florida’s very fate is at stake.

“Our job is to decide if Visit Florida should exist and if so how much should it be funded,” he said in a statement. “We’re not engaged in their hiring and firing decisions.”

Visit Florida gets $76 million a year in state money, though $74 million of that comes from a tourism trust fund.

Scott made it clear in his letter to Talbert that he thinks of Visit Flordia as “a steadfast part of Florida’s amazing record growth in tourism over the last six years.” But he expressed the same frustration that Corcoran and others have held about secrecy. His recommendations to Talbert were all about transparency and accountability.

He urged Talbert to consider reforms that would lead the corporation to publish, online, externs reports detailing public spending; all reports that include metrics and return on investment calculations; employee position and salary information; an organizational chart; relevant audits, tax returns, financial reports and summaries; statutory required reports; and public expenditure details by vendor and contract, with all contracts provided online.

 

Rick Scott touts 31K new jobs added in Florida in November

Florida added another 31,600 private-sector jobs in November, the 56th consecutive month of job growth in the Sunshine State, Gov. Rick Scott announced Friday.

Orlando continued to lead the state in job growth in November, according to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. Florida’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate went up slightly since October and held at 4.9 percent in November, but that’s two-tenths of a percent lower than it was the previous November.

Florida’s labor force grew by 174,000 over the year, increasing by 64,000 over-the-month in November, and exceeding the national labor force growth rate.

“It’s really good news that we’re continuing to add jobs in the state. The key here is it doesn’t matter what zip code you from, what country you come from, you should have the opportunity to live the dream of this country right here,” Scott said.

Scott made the announcement Friday at the offices of HostDime, a cloud-hosting service in the Orlando suburb of Eatonville, which is Florida’s oldest historically black town. HostDime’s current Central Florida, 120-worker operation is in a modest light-industrial rooms in the back of a furniture warehouse, but the company has broken ground on a shiny, new seven-story office building to be constructed not far away, still in Eatonville, pledging to add another 50 jobs after it opens in a couple of years.

Scott, who will be attending a rally with President-elect Donald Trump later Friday, also said, “Next month we will have a new president, Donald Trump, who is laser focused on growing American jobs and turning around our national economy like we have done in Florida.”

Over the year, construction and leisure and hospitality led the state in job growth, with the construction sector adding 23,200 jobs, increasing its employment by 5.3 percent, and the tourism industry adding 57,300 more jobs, increasing its employment by 5 percent. The professional and business services sector, which includes HostDime, and the education and health services sector, also each added 50,000 jobs in the past year.

“Businesses all across the state in the past year have added jobs at a  pace that is more than double that of the nation, and that families all across the state, actually 250,000 in the past year, now have a job and can go to work every day,” said DEO Executive Director Cissy Proctor.

 

Rick Scott says Visit Florida firings are holding people accountable

Florida’s beleaguered tourism promoter has fired two of its top executives in the wake of revelations and criticism of a $1 million contract with Miami rapper Pitbull, an action that Gov. Rick Scott said was a matter of holding people accountable.

Scott confirmed Friday morning in Eatonville that Visit Florida’s President Will Seccombe has fired Chief Operating Officer Vangie McCorvey and Chief Marketing Officer Paul Phipps.

And then the governor called on Seccombe to resign, and Visit Florida Board Chairman William Talbert III to reform the state agent company that has come under fire for keeping public business secret.

The pair of top executives are taking the fall for the Florida tourism marketing contract Pitbull got with Visit Florida in July 2015, particularly because of concerns by top lawmakers and others that the contract and its terms were kept secret until after House Speaker Richard Corcoran sued Tuesday to have it declared public. Pitbull himself released it publicly Thursday morning.

Scott did not indicate that he played any role in advising Seccombe about the firings or the fallout. But speaking at a jobs event in the Orlando suburb of Eatonville, Scott declared his said he wants transparency.

“I believe in transparency in contracts. If you’re going to do business with the state, your contract has to be transparent,” Scott said.

Scott also said he was not aware of any other job actions at Visit Florida, saying “those were the only two.”

He also praised Pitbull for his cooperation and efforts to support Florida.

“Pitbull is a great Florida entertainer, a great Miami entertainer. He clearly supports our state. I wanted to thank him. I visited his charter school, and he’s a great community supporter,” Scott said.

Seccombe suddenly postponed a quarterly staff meeting scheduled for Friday morning to the afternoon. He and Visit Florida have not responded to requests to comment.

The governor also praised Visit Florida, the state-chartered non-profit company that plays the role of the state’s tourism promotion agency.

“At the same time, you’ve got to hold everybody accountable. I know that’s what’s happening right now at Visit Florida,” Scott said.

Visit Florida, formally known as the Florida Tourism Marketing Corporation, receives $74 million a year in tourism trust funds from the state of Florida, plus another $2 million in general revenue funds. After receiving notice from Visit Florida that Pitbull’s production company, PDR Productions, considered virtually the entire contract to be trade secrets, and threatened to sue of Corcoran or anyone else disclosed any of its provisions, Corcoran sued first, seeking to get a circuit court judge in Tallahassee to rule invalid any such claims.

Pitbull responded Thursday by releasing the entire contract, via a tweet.

Later Thursday Corcoran withdrew the suit, getting a voluntary dismissal.

But the issue remained whether Visit Florida should offer any of its contractors the opportunity to keep their contracts secret, and Corcoran reserved the right to refile.

Scott appeared Friday to agree with Corcoran’s concern.

“It’s somebody’s money. It’s your money. it’s every taxpayers money. You should know how your government spends your money. So contracts need to be transparent,” Scott said.

Corcoran responded Friday with an ominous statement, suggesting Visit Florida’s very fate is at stake.

“Our job is to decide if Visit Florida should exist and if so how much should it be funded,” he said in a statement. “We’re not engaged in their hiring and firing decisions.”

Visit Florida gets $76 million a year in state money, though $74 million of that comes from a tourism trust fund.

Scott made it clear in his letter to Talbert that he thinks of Visit Flordia as “a steadfast part of Florida’s amazing record growth in tourism over the last six years.” But he expressed the same frustration that Corcoran and others have held about secrecy. His recommendations to Talbert were all about transparency and accountability.

He urged Talbert to consider reforms that would lead the corporation to publish external reports detailing public spending; all reports should include metrics and return on investment calculations; employee position and salary information; an organizational chart; relevant audits, tax returns, financial reports and summaries; reports required by statute; and public expenditure details by vendor and contract, with all contracts provided online.

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