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Ashey Moody

Ashley Moody to speak in Jacksonville Wednesday

Republican Attorney General candidate Ashley Moody will make a campaign swing through Jacksonville Wednesday afternoon.

Moody will appear at the Republican Party of Florida headquarters (10111 San Jose Blvd., Unit 6) at 4:00 p.m., for what is billed as a “meet and greet.”

Moody emerged from a competitive primary with Rep. Frank White, who had Jacksonville backing including Mayor Lenny Curry and U.S. Rep. John Rutherford.

Jacksonville’s Jay Fant had filed as a candidate but withdrew from the race before qualifying.

However, even facing those headwinds, Moody had strong local support, including fundraising events in Fant’s own House district, and backing from former Duval County Republicans’ chair Cindy Graves.

Moody will face Democrat Sean Shaw, a state Representative from Tampa, in the general election.

Early polling in the AG race is tight, per the latest survey from St. Pete Polls.

When asked, “If the election for Attorney General were held today, who would you vote for: Republican Ashley Moody or Democrat Sean Shaw,” 46 percent of respondents chose Moody and 44 percent selected Shaw.

Jacksonville CFO Mike Weinstein headed out, treasurer Joey Grieve moving up

One of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry‘s most trusted lieutenants, Chief Financial Officer Mike Weinstein, will leave City Hall Nov. 9.

“Since 2015, during the transition between my administration and my predecessor’s, Mike Weinstein has been both trusted adviser and friend. His expertise and depth of knowledge helped me prepare balanced budgets that met our city’s priorities, create a solution to the pension crisis, and set Jacksonville on a sound financial path,” Curry said Monday.

Tuesday saw the very quick naming of a replacement: treasurer Joey Greive, a trusted and reliable hand, will move to CFO. And Greive will be replaced by his current assistant, Randall Barnes.

While the City Council will have to approve these moves, there is no reason that wouldn’t happen.

The Weinstein era spans the better part of the history of Consolidated Jacksonville, with service in multiple roles and some runs for electoral office in the mix.

He served in the Florida House between 2008 and 2012. One of his bills proved to be prescriptive for Jacksonville’s solution to its pension liability: a measure to allow discretionary sales surtaxes to fund indigent health care facilities.

When Weinstein and Curry came into Jacksonville’s City Hall, the city’s general fund budget was throttled by pension obligations of more than $300 million a year.

Weinstein’s discretionary sales surtax concept came into play, with the city able to negotiate defined contribution plans for new city hires, while routing post-2030 collections of the city’s ½-cent sales tax currently used to fund Better Jacksonville Plan projects to the pension liability.

The city also reamortized pension debt, creating flexibility in the near term, and banking on growth to help pay off a pension obligation that is between $3 and $4 billion now.

Weinstein also served last year as the interim CEO of the Kids Hope Alliance, serving an important bridge role as the city reorganized its children’s programs.

Jacksonville is enjoying a renaissance in terms of its municipal credit standing, getting its first AAA rating for a standalone municipal bond just last week (even as local utility JEA is under a “credit watch” from another ratings agency).

There are those who have suggested that the next high profile departure from City Hall could be Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa, who like Weinstein, has spent decades in the public sector and who, also like Weinstein, came in to help stabilize a new administration.

Weinstein is also known for having one of the catchiest campaign themes in Jacksonville history, one that seemed to borrow freely from Kenny Loggins‘ “Footloose”. The video is below.

Under ‘negative credit watch,’ JEA renews plea for Plant Vogtle exit

Jacksonville’s public utility JEA and Georgia’s Municipal Electric Authority are at loggerheads over the future of the $27 billion Plant Vogtle, with lawsuits filed by each side.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports, MEAG contends JEA is trying to renege on its 2008 deal to “cover 41 percent of MEAG’s share of construction costs at the Vogtle expansion for 20 years in exchange for power to service its residential customers in Florida and Georgia.”

On Tuesday, JEA sought resolution on the issue with a letter from its board chairman G. Alan Howard to his counterpart at MEAG.

That letter outlines the unaffordability of the deal for JEA and MEAG, proposes that JEA continues to pay “sunk costs,” and offers alternative, cheaper power sourcing for MEAG and JEA both.

Howard pointed out that Jacksonville consumers can’t afford paying what the board agreed to a decade prior: “But we in Jacksonville have 50,000 families that live at or below the poverty line to protect, making affordability an essential priority for us and our community.”

“And this decision is crystal clear: if MEAG Power’s Board votes not to proceed with this Project, communities across Georgia, Alabama, and Florida could save at least $2.5 billion when compared to at least one alternative power option we have identified: money that makes a meaningful difference in the lives of the people we serve,” Howard added.

JEA has been shopping for better deals, Howard noted, securing a term sheet for 206MW of energy through 2042; if JEA could take this deal, it would save customers more than $1.1 billion “if the project is abandoned and those savings include JEA continuing to pay for sunk costs.”

A similar offer has been secured for MEAG, with 292MW in play there.

“Based upon the MEAG Replacement Offer and MEAG’s financial projections provided to JEA on August 31, 2018, cancellation of the Project, repayment of the sunk Project costs and acceptance of the JEA Replacement Offer and the MEAG Replacement Offer would result in savings in excess of $2.5 billion to MEAG, JEA and PowerSouth Energy Cooperative. MEAG alone would save more than $800 million over the initial 20-year life of the PPA,” Howard writes.

With estimated project costs spiking to $30 billion from a $14.5 billion estimate just 18 months earlier, Howard urges an exit from the deal and is willing to present its replacement offer to MEAG at its board meeting this week.

JEA’s issues with Plant Vogtle, coming after a discussion of privatizing the public utility, have attained national notice of an unwelcome sort.

The utility is on a negative credit watch from Standard & Poor’s.

“In our view, JEA’s assertions that its board acted beyond the scope of its authority raises questions about the quality of the utility’s internal controls,” S&P analyst David Bodek said, according to the Florida Times-Union.

“In our opinion, the utility’s legal claims seeking to repudiate the board’s actions after a decade call into question the utility’s willingness to meet its contractual financial obligations.”

One wonders how the latest gambit will play with the ratings agency.

Pre-existing health conditions at issue in new Nancy Soderberg TV ads

Nancy Soderberg, the Democratic nominee to fill Ron DeSantis‘ open seat in Florida’s 6th Congressional District, rolled out two new TV spots Tuesday morning spotlighting health care differences between her and her opponent.

The first one, “Hung Up,” deals with difficulties in getting health insurance. In it, Soderberg mentions her accomplishments when she served as Alternate Representative to the United Nations under President Bill Clinton, with the rank of Ambassador.

“I helped start the conversation to bring peace to Northern Ireland, and I was one of the first to say ‘let’s get bin Laden,’ but when I called insurance companies looking for health coverage, they hung up on me because I have a pre-existing condition,” Soderberg said in the spot.

Those closely following Soderberg’s race with Republican nominee Mike Waltz will note that health coverage for pre-existing conditions has been a general election talking point for her. Her first ad, released last month, also highlighted her struggle to get health coverage as a diabetic.

“Everyone here in Florida deserves health insurance we can afford. That’s why I’m running for Congress,” Soderberg says.

The second spot, “Unavailable,” sets up a contrast with Waltz, beginning with a depiction of a constituent call to Waltz’s headquarters.

“Can you please tell me why Mike Waltz’s health care plan kicks 70,000 people off health insurance and raises health care costs for everyone else,” says one caller.

A second caller shreds Waltz for trying to “gut protections for pre-existing conditions.”

Eventually, callers are routed to an answering machine.

Soderberg, who has raised over $2 million in this race, has the resources to deploy thanks to her primary being much less costly than the three-way GOP race, which left Waltz with only $286K banked on Aug. 8. And she clearly sees room to move independent voters on the real differences in health care plans between Waltz and her.

Tracye Polson takes off gloves in new HD 15 ad

“What side is lobbyist Wyman Duggan on?”

That’s the question posed by the first television ad from Republican Duggan’s opponent in the House District 15 general election, Democrat Tracye Polson.

The 30-second spot contends that “Duggan worked to sell JEA, raising rates, costing the city millions every year” and “wants politicians to appoint our school board.”

The ad’s reference to Duggan working to sell JEA (lobbying for Emera, a Nova Scotia utility company that also owns TECO in Tampa) was rehearsed by a Republican opponent during the primary campaign last month. However, this is the first time the claim has been televised.

Polson, meanwhile, draws a contrast to that world of influence with her upbeat narration, noting she stands “with students, who deserve great public schools; with an elected school board, with law enforcement … and as a cancer survivor and health professional, with patients.”

“My opponent can stand with the other lobbyists. I’ll always stand with Florida’s families,” Polson says in close.

The Polson ad, on television in her Westside Jacksonville district, can be seen here.

In the race to succeed Jay Fant in HD 15, Polson had (as of Aug. 31) a cash advantage: $187.000 on hand, to just $7,000.

Expect the cavalry to come to Duggan’s rescue soon enough, as Republicans are increasingly cognizant that this seat — safe through 2016 — is now in play.

Fant faced no Democratic challenge in 2016, remarkable given that Democrats actually outnumber Republicans in the district.

Jeremy Ring courts Jacksonville Democrats Monday night

Margate Democrat Jeremy Ring, a former state Senator and current Democratic nominee for Chief Financial Officer, will address Jacksonville Democrats tonight.

Ring will speak to the Duval Democrats at their normal monthly meeting (held at the IBEW Union Hall) at 6 p.m. Monday evening.

Ring is running against incumbent Panama City Republican Jimmy Patronis, a gubernatorial appointee running for his first term.

Patronis, who did not face a primary challenge, is well-capitalized, with over $5 million banked. Ring will not match that fundraising.

When we talked to Ring in late August, he contended that fundraising would not determine how the campaign would go.

Ring noted that with candidates for Senate and Governor running, and Constitutional amendments on the ballot, spending is “already up over $200 million.”

“So, $4 million or whatever buys you maybe a week and a half of TV,” Ring said. “But we’re all going to get lost in the clutter. And the clutter’s no longer just television — it’s digital, it’s scattered, it’s everything.”

“I’m not convinced that anyone [running downballot] is going to be able to break through the amount of money that’s going to be spent,” Ring predicted. “The cluttered environment is going to make it very difficult for anyone that doesn’t have $50 million, $100 million to spend.”

Polls of the race earlier this summer reflected an undefined race. Public Policy Polling had Ring up by five points; the Patronis-friendly Florida Chamber had Patronis up by nine.

Jacksonville to expand early voting sites to University of North Florida, Edward Waters College

Activists wanted early voting at Edward Waters College and the University of North Florida in Jacksonville. And now they’ve got it.

Duval County Supervisor of Elections Mike Hogan confirmed such in an email to Jacksonville City Council members Monday, noting that “sites will be open to all eligible registered Duval County voters. These two additional sites will provide Duval County voters access to 20 Early Voting locations.”

“Funding for the two additional Early Voting sites will be absorbed within my currently requested budget,” Hogan noted.

This made a piece of legislation — a proposal by Councilman Garrett Dennis to allocate $30,000 to expand early voting sites to Edward Waters College and the University of North Florida — “unnecessary,” per Hogan.

Florida Atlantic University, the University of Central Florida, the University of Florida, Florida State University, and the University of South Florida are all slated to host early voting before Election Day this year.

Dennis moved to withdraw the bill, noting an email from Hogan committing to open the sites.


Jacksonville homeless rights bill on pause

Monday morning, Jacksonville City Council Neighborhoods, Community Services, Public Health and Safety committee put the brakes on a long-tabled bill.

But it will be back.

The  Homeless Bill of Rights measure was introduced by now suspended (and federally indicted) Councilwoman Katrina Brown months back.

The bill (2018-308) contends that “the basic rights all people should enjoy must be guaranteed for homeless individuals and families,” and attempts to “assure that basic human rights are not being trampled simply because someone happens to be homeless.”

Since Brown’s sabbatical from Council began, her fellow Democrats Tommy Hazouri and Garrett Dennis were tasked with carrying the bill.

Hazouri told us ahead of the meeting that Dennis was going to rewrite the legislation, so the bill was to be pulled.

“He’s coming out with a new bill,” Hazouri urged the committee.

Currently, there is no timetable set for the new bill.

Florida AFL-CIO backs Nancy Soderberg’s congressional bid

The Florida AFL-CIO endorsed Amb. Nancy Soderberg Friday in the race for Florida’s 6th Congressional District.

Soderberg, a Democrat, is up against Republican Mike Waltz for the right to fill Ron DeSantis‘ former spot in the U.S. House.

“The Florida AFL-CIO is proud to endorse Nancy Soderberg for the US Congress on behalf of the more than one million workers, retirees, and family members we are fortunate to represent,” Mike Williams, President of the Florida AFL-CIO, said.

“Florida’s Labor family knows that we need a new delegation in Washington, one that puts the needs of workers ahead of the corporate special interests and political insiders. Nancy, with her bold vision and determination, is going to be a part of that delegation, and our members are looking forward to being a part of the team that makes that happen.”

“To have the endorsement of the Florida AFL-CIO is an incredible honor,” Soderberg said. “As a U.S. Ambassador, I fought for human rights around the world. I am deeply concerned by the barrage of threats to workers’ rights that are becoming commonplace in this country. I’m running for Congress to be a champion for Florida workers from day one,” Williams added

Though the district has been historically Republican, Soderberg has reasons for confidence.

The former Clinton-era Ambassador to the United Nations has raised over $2 million (nearly double Waltz’s haul), and is polling in a dead heat with Waltz, a former Green Beret and aide to Vice President Dick Cheney.

Jacksonville celebrates bond rating milestone, as JEA credit trends south

This week, Jacksonville celebrated a milestone in its history of bond ratings: its first standalone AAA rating. Meanwhile, its local utility suffered a setback.

On Monday, CFO Mike Weinstein emailed that the city “received notification that Fitch Ratings has upgraded to ‘AAA’ from ‘AA’ the City’s excise tax revenue bonds.”  

“Our records show this is the first time in City of Jacksonville history that the City, or any of its revenue pledges, has received an ‘AAA’ rating from a major rating agency on a standalone basis,” Weinstein observed.

“This is exciting news for our City!  Not only is it confirmation that the strong fiscal management you established is being recognized by the financial community at large, but it is also proof that the Jacksonville economy is vibrant and growing,” Weinstein added.

“This is a tremendous win for the City of Jacksonville,” said Mayor Lenny Curry. “I’m proud of the history we are making by bringing strong fiscal management to our city. My administration will remain consistent in our commitment to respect the hard-work of taxpayers.”

In less “tremendous” news that was not trumpeted with a press release, Friday also brought word that Standard and Poor’s put local utility JEA on a “negative credit watch,” as Florida Times-Union reporter Nate Monroe noted.

“In our view, JEA’s assertions that its board acted beyond the scope of its authority raises questions about the quality of the utility’s internal controls,” S&P analyst David Bodek said, per the Times-Union

“In our opinion, the utility’s legal claims seeking to repudiate the board’s actions after a decade call into question the utility’s willingness to meet its contractual financial obligations.”

The JEA Board agreed to purchase power from the under construction Plant Vogtle in Georgia in 2008. The plant has had delays and increased costs in construction, and the current leadership of the utility filed suit to get out of the deal — which did not play well with S&P.

Notably, the city’s press release hyping the credit upgrade dropped at the same time reports of the S&P hit on JEA dropped.

Since Lenny Curry took over as mayor in July 2015, the city has strengthened its financial standing.

In 2015, Curry noted that if the city didn’t address its unfunded pension liability, the city could be like Detroit by 2020.

The first Curry capital improvement plan was lean, a measure of money encumbered by the city’s spiraling pension liability.

While the pension liability is still spiraling (north of $3.2 billion now), relief occurred when the city ratified a pension reform plan that moved people hired after October 2017 to defined contribution plans — rather than the defined benefit iterations that caused the city such fiscal strain.

That ratified reform lowered the city’s contribution from an expected $360 million in FY 17-18 to $221 million, reamortizing the debt and structuring paydown to start in 2030, when the Better Jacksonville Plan would be paid off; the ½ cent sales surtax currently dedicated to that capital improvement plan of the turn of the century will instead be moved to old pension debts.

The near-term salutary effects of the restructuring can be seen in the latest proposed budget, slated to be ratified later this month. Ratings agencies like the fact that the city “stopped the bleeding,” instituted a defined contribution plan, and identified a revenue source.

As compared to the $1.19 billion general fund budget in FY 16-17, and the $1.27 billion budget last year, the general fund budget is up this year to $1.31 billion.

That’s thanks to pension reform, which the Mayor’s Office says contributes to $331 million of savings over two years.

“Without pension reform,” Curry said, “millions and millions of dollars would be diverted away from making our city better.”

A big part of the spend: capital improvements. FY 18-19 will see $161.4 million allocated to improvements, with big spends on Hart Bridge offramp removal ($12.5 million from the city matching the same sum from the state), a new fire station ($5 million), road resurfacing ($12 million), money for infrastructure at U.F. Health ($15 million, part of a $120 million commitment) and sidewalk projects (many of them delayed for years).

The CIP, at $161.4 million, doubles Curry’s first CIP of $72 million, and comes at a time where the city is investing heavily in police, fire, and children’s services via the “Kids Hope Alliance” — a Curry-devised umbrella organization that oversees spending on children from economically-disadvantaged backgrounds.

There have been worries about the city’s financial position in the past: a bill introduced in Council last year would have set aside year-over-year portions of increases in general fund revenue and apply them to the unfunded liability, with that portion eventually capping out at 15 percent of yearly revenue hikes.

That bill was floated because there were worries that the city could face a $10 billion unfunded liability by the time the ½ cent Better Jacksonville Plan sale tax was repurposed to tackling that deferred bill.

The Curry administration was adamantly opposed.

“We’re done with pension reform,” said more than one official.

And as far as the ratings agencies are concerned, the city’s approach is vindicated in one sense.

The question that many will be watching, both for the 2019 elections and beyond: how does the city’s financial position translate into dealing with historic inequities, with many older neighborhoods on the Northside, Westside, Arlington, and the Southside dealing with issues ranging from poverty and poor education to subpar infrastructure.

And a corollary question, especially in light of the JEA gambit: will the mayor’s office be seen as liable for the issues at the local utility, which is now run by a Curry ally, and which has a board stocked with Curry picks?

Certainly, potential opponents for Curry — such as Councilors Garrett Dennis and Anna Brosche — will frame it as such.

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