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Tampa Bay region marked for $33M in Florida TaxWatch ‘turkeys’

Florida TaxWatch, the nonpartisan government watchdog organization, served up its annual list of “Budget Turkeys,” naming almost $178 million in line-item projects part of the $82.4 billion budget passed May 8 by the Florida House and Senate.

For the Tampa Bay region, Florida TaxWatch targeted more than $33 million in local projects as individual line items added to the spending plans—usually last minute or in committee — without a thoughtful and thorough budget process.

The largest project in the region was Pasco County’s Interstate 75 and Overpass Road Interchange, priced at $15 million.

Hillsborough County had the lowest number of turkeys with three projects totaling $1,825,000; Pasco is the highest at $16,960,000 spread out over five projects.

For the 2017-18 fiscal year, which begins July 1, TaxWatch listed 111 budgetary turkeys, suggesting around $177.8 million in savings. In total, the final budget contains more than 700 member projects, worth more than $600 million.

A “Turkey” label does not pass judgment on the project’s overall worthiness, does comment on the process. The purpose of the label is to make sure all projects using public funds are properly vetted.

“The result was that only a handful of projects made into the budget during conference. While falling short of the goal of no conference additions, this is still a very positive improvement, as projects being added in conference have become an epidemic,” the report says.

Even so, “with a few exceptions, committee hearings on member projects were pro forma, with very little discussion or debate,” the report continues.

Among the TaxWatch 111 ‘turkeys’ worth $117.8 million: An engineering building for Florida International University worth $10 million. A $500,000 rodeo facility in Arcadia. Local transportation projects valued at $81.5 million.

Individual Tampa Bay-area projects on the list include:

Pasco ($16,960,000)

– Pasco County Fair Association: $860,000

– Interstate 75 & Overpass Road Interchange: $15,000,000

– Parkland Roadway Stabilization: $250,000

– PD&E Study of Clinton Avenue Intersection Realignment at U.S. 98 and U.S. 301: $500,000

– U.S. 301/ReImagine Gall Boulevard, Zephyrhills: $350,000

Pinellas ($4,300,000)

– Great Explorations Children’s Museum: $400,000

– Education and Access to Performing Arts Program: $500,000

– Pinellas Suncoast Transit Auth – Memorial Causeway Busway Project: $1,000,000

– State Road 687 (3rd & 4th Streets) and 8th/MLK Streets downtown St. Petersburg-Preliminary Engineering Study to Convert One Way to Two-Way Street: $200,000

– Forward Pinellas Waterborne Transportation: $1,000,000

– Treasure Island Causeway Multimodal Improvements: $1,200,000

Hillsborough ($1,825,000)

– Big Brothers Big Sisters – Bigs Inspiring Student Success: $500,000

– Self Reliance Inc. – West FL Health & Safety for Seniors Pilot Project: $575,000

– Plant City Collins Street Improvements: $750,000

Polk ($10,000,000)

– Polk SC – Renovate Campus Chiller Plant System Phase I: $2,500,000

– Bartow Northern Connector, Phase II: $7,500,000

The group is calling for Scott to veto the items when he signs the budget, expected within the next week.

Among its recommendations, the report suggests making the new project vetting process permanent. It also suggests extra scrutiny for categories given to abuse, including economic development, housing and community development, workforce, and water projects.

 

Rick Scott gets $178M serving of Florida TaxWatch ‘budget turkeys’

Thanksgiving is six months away, but Friday is “turkey” day for Gov. Rick Scott.

Florida TaxWatch, the nonpartisan government watchdog group, released its annual “Budget Turkey List,” of almost $178 million in line-item projects that are part of the $82.4 billion budget passed May 8 by the Florida House and Senate.

Budget Turkeys are individual line items added to the spending plans—usually last minute or in committee — without a thoughtful and thorough budget process. A “Turkey” label does not pass judgment on the project’s overall worthiness, does comment on the process. The purpose of the label is to make sure all projects using public funds are properly vetted.

“The result was that only a handful of projects made into the budget during conference. While falling short of the goal of no conference additions, this is still a very positive improvement, as projects being added in conference have become an epidemic,” the report says.

Even so, “with a few exceptions, committee hearings on member projects were pro forma, with very little discussion or debate,” the report continues.

The group is calling for Scott to veto the items when he signs the budget, expected within the next week.

“Member projects have a place, but there are a number of things in the budget that we think have priority over parochial-type projects,” TaxWatch vice president for research Kurt Wenner said during a news conference. He suggested school construction and economic development programs.

For the 2017-18 fiscal year, which begins July 1, TaxWatch identified 111 budgetary Turkeys, suggesting around $177.8 million in savings.

“Budget Turkeys are items, usually local member projects, placed in individual line-items or accompanying proviso language that are added to the final appropriations bill without being fully scrutinized and subjected to the budget committee process or that circumvented established processes,” the organization said.

In the past 28 years, Florida governors vetoed more than $2 billion in projects that have appeared on the TaxWatch report. For example, in the first two years of Scott’s administration, the governor vetoed 70 percent of TaxWatch Turkeys for $244 million in savings.

Throughout the current state spending plan, Florida TaxWatch recognized surplus projects in a variety of state agencies, including the Department of Transportation, which had a majority with 79 projects (worth $139.4 million) that were not in the DoT Work Program.

The report says: “Because new appropriations rules resulted in many member projects being heard in committee and very few projects being added during the budget conference committee process, the budget contains approximately 600 additional member projects worth more than $425 million that do not qualify as Budget Turkeys.”

Among the TaxWatch 111 ‘turkeys’ worth $117.8 million: An engineering building for Florida International University worth $10 million. A $500,000 rodeo facility in Arcadia. Local transportation projects valued at $81.5 million.

Also included was $750,000 to implement the medical marijuana constitutional amendment, because the implementing legislation never passed.

“We only do that because, technically, they’re not allowed to fund that,” Wenner said. “Because it’s contingent on legislation that doesn’t pass, it would be illegal to fund that projects. … It has nothing to do with the value of the projects.”

The organization found six projects included in the House-Senate compromise budget but which hadn’t been included in either chamber’s budget bills. They were worth nearly $2.8 million.

The report credits budget rules pushed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran for keeping additional turkeys out of the budget. The rules required House members to file special requests and individual bills for every member project.

The Senate ultimately agreed upon joint rules barring projects not heard in committee for inclusion in the final budget.

“This rather cursory public review was expected, there is simply not enough time during Session to thoroughly debate each project when there are so many requested. This highlights the need for the establishment of more competitive review and selection processes that take place before the Legislature decides what to fund.”

The report identifies six park projects, worth $3.7 million, that weren’t listed as priorities by the Department of Environmental Protection. Five cultural and museum projects got money instead of projects listed as higher priorities.

“It’s not fair to organizations that go through the established processes,” Wenner said.

“To add a bunch of things that didn’t make it through the legislative process into one big budget conforming bill is not a good idea,” he said.

Among its recommendations, the report suggests making the new project vetting process permanent. It also suggests extra scrutiny for categories given to abuse, including economic development, housing and community development, workforce, and water projects.

Capital correspondent Michael Moline contributed to this post.

Mitch Perry’s 5 people to watch in Tampa Bay politics in 2016

It’s been a long contentious year in Tampa Bay, from Pinellas County’s “Failure Factories” and Beth Leytham in Tampa City Hall to the evolving political landscape that has drawn Charlie Crist for another bid for elected office.

Good or bad, 2015 offered a little something for everyone (to cheer or argue about).

Now that the New Year is finally in sight, here are the top five people to watch in Tampa Bay for 2016:

Mike Grego — It hasn’t been an easy time for the well-respected Pinellas County school superintendent of late, particularly after the report in the Tampa Bay Times about “Failure Factories” in South St. Pete schools. Or, as the paper described it, how “Pinellas County School Board members turned five schools in the county’s black neighborhoods into some of the worst in Florida.”

Grego wasn’t around in 2007 when the board initially abandoned integration and avowed that schools in poor black neighborhoods would receive more money, staff and resources — and didn’t deliver.

He’s there now, though, and is working on a contract to keep him employed with the district until 2020. But for those who aspire to have St. Petersburg become the “Seamless City” (in Rick Baker‘s words), everyone knows midtown and the Southside can’t be ignored. Grego needs to step up.

Jeff Brandes — Although liberals will never get over the fact that he was the lone vote in the Senate a couple of years ago to deny any semblance of Medicaid expansion, the St. Pete legislator has a serious libertarian streak, making him not just one of the most interesting Republicans in Tampa Bay, but in the entire state. Whether it’s medical marijuana, Uber, self-driving cars, looking at civil asset forfeiture reform, Brandes wants to shake things up and get things done.

Cindy Stuart and Susan Valdes — Half of the so-called “Mean Girls” – so identified by Bob Buckhorn after the ouster of former Hillsborough school Superintendent MaryEllen Elia at the beginning of the year – the pair of school board members will go before the voters next November.

In the wake of the controversial sacking of Elia, many were talking (including the Times editorial page) about not forgetting the incident when the time came for those board members to face the public for re-election.

Kevin Beckner — While some Democrats who have stood with him since being elected in 2008 are taking a side and backing his opponent, incumbent Pat Frank in the Clerk of the Court election case, how much will Beckner be able to produce for county residents in his last year on the job?

He’s accomplished a lot so far:

  • Founded the Juvenile Justice Task Force that led to the expansion of the Civil Citation program for first-time misdemeanor offenders;
  • Introduced and passed ordinances that shut down pill mills and reduced epidemic insurance fraud related to staged auto accidents;
  • Formed a countywide violence prevention initiative to reduce the frequency and severity of violence in communities; and
  • Led hard in the county enacting a wage-theft ordinance.

Oh yeah, he’s also been a trailblazer in getting Hillsborough out of the 19th century on LGBT issues.

Charlie Crist — The jury is out on how his 2016 bid for Congress will play out. He had a ridiculously large lead over challenger Eric Lynn before the new CD 13 district lines were verified by the Florida Supreme Court. Lynn, though, has assiduously worked the grassroots for months to build support and win the endorsement of a slew of Pinellas County Democratic officials. Many of them, like a certain majority of statewide Democrats, just aren’t enamored with Charlie for his GOP background through most of his adult life.

Mitch Perry’s Top 10 stories of 2015 in Hillsborough politics

As first said by Greek philosopher Heraclitus, in the universe change is the only constant. Nowhere was that more applicable than in Tampa Bay during the past 12 months.

From the much-ballyhooed dismissal of MaryEllen Elia as Hillsborough County School Board District superintendent to redistricting and the rising (and falling) fortunes for hizzoner Bob Buckhorn, many of the leading political issues of the year centered on shaking up the status quo.

With that, here are Hillsborough County’s top ten stories in 2015:

1) MaryEllen Elia canned by Hillsborough County School Board.

For most of her decadelong tenure as Hillsborough County School Board District superintendent, Elia enjoyed a glorious run, beloved by the local media and recognized by her peers across the nation as one of the top public school instructors in the country.

But there are always issues simmering below the surface that actually wasn’t that hidden for those who followed the 2014 Hillsborough County School Board elections, where Elia was referred to critically by many if not most of those running for office.

Elia clashed severely with two school board members for years: April Griffin and Susan Valdes. After last fall’s school board election, which included the stunning upset victory by Sally Harris over establishment favorite Michelle Shimberg, Elia was in more trouble than she could have ever imagined.

In January, the school board on a 4-3 vote shockingly fired Elia.

One of those school board members who opposed her, Cindy Stuart said that some incidents had eroded the board’s trust, including one in which the board did not learn for 10 months about a special education student who had a medical emergency on a school bus and later died.

It all ended up well for Elia. In addition to costing local taxpayers more than $1 million to break her contract, four months later, she was named New York state Education Commissioner.

2) Guido Maniscalco stuns Jackie Toledo, Tampa establishment in runoff City Council race.

In this three-way race to succeed Charlie Miranda in Tampa’s City Council District 6 contest (Tommy Castellano was the third candidate), Republican Jackie Toledo had the financial edge and was embraced by the business elite in Tampa who welcomed a fellow “R” on the otherwise all-Democratic Council.

But as the campaign continued, Toledo suffered serious negative fallout. Some of that had to do with the actions of her campaign manager Anthony Pedicini that Toledo never addressed.

But some of it was on her, such as her weak response when it was learned that her campaign had failed to get permission from the Florida Department of Transportation to shoot video in a restricted construction zone for a television ad.

Nevertheless, Toledo won the plurality of votes on primary Election Day in April, garnering 46 percent of the vote, to Maniscalco’s 29 percent (Castellano received 25 percent).

Saying he was offended by her campaign, Castellano endorsed Maniscalco that evening, and local Democrats worked the streets to ensure that the council remained all Democratic in party registration.

In the runoff, Maniscalco narrowly won, 51-49 percent.

3) Uproar over Citizens Review Board for Police in Tampa.

The Tampa Bay Times report in April that Tampa Police had written more than 2,500 bike tickets over the past three years: more than Jacksonville, Miami, St. Petersburg and Orlando combined. They also reported that nearly 80 percent of the citations in the city went to blacks.

That report — along with some problematic issues within the department — resulted in community activists calling on the City Council and Mayor Bob Buckhorn to create a Citizens Review Board to monitor police procedures and policies, something that most major cities in the country have, but not Tampa.

The controversy hit “Def Com 5” the day Buckhorn — initially resistant to the idea — announced an executive order creating such an agency, giving himself the power to name all but two members to the nine-member regular board with two alternates.

That led to a prolonged battle with the City Council over who had jurisdiction to name members of such a board. Activists also wanted the board to have subpoena power, something that no council members was even calling for.

4) Redistricting changes everything — David Jolly leaves the 13th Congressional District seat for a U.S. Senate run, Charlie Crist enters the race.

In Tampa Bay, some of the greatest political changes can be summed up in one word:  redistricting. David Jolly had been part of one of the most expensive congressional races in U.S. history in early 2014 when over $12 million was spent altogether for the Pinellas County District left open after the death of longtime U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young.

A little over a year later, Jolly announced he would leave the seat in 2016.

That’s because, during the summer, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the Florida GOP-led Legislature had violated the state’s constitution by gerrymandering eight of the state’s 27 congressional districts in 2012. The result was a newly drawn up CD 13 that, on paper anyway, made it much less possible for Jolly (or any other Republican) to hold on to the seat.

So, exit Jolly from local politics (he’s now running for U.S. Senate), and say hello (once again) to Charlie Crist, whose political career seemed to have ran out of options less than a year earlier after his narrow loss to Rick Scott in the incredibly bitter contest for governor.

Crist is running for the Democratic nomination in CD13 against Eric Lynn, the St. Pete native who began working for then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama right before the Illinois lawmaker announced his run for president. Lynn served for six years in the Pentagon, before announcing earlier in 2015 that he would challenge Jolly.

Jolly’s out, but Crist is in, and his overwhelming advantage in name recognition has made him the prohibitive favorite in the race, but Lynn has refused to be cowed by his much more famous challenger.

5) Jim Norman attempts a return for local politics.

The jury is still out on how significant development this actually is, but what is newsworthy is that Jim Norman opted to come out of hibernation and attempt a return to the place he served for 18 years.

The former County Commissioner says he’s been exonerated for the ethical issues involving the vacation home involving one of his benefactors, the late Ralph Hughes. He remains the odds-on favorite to capture the GOP nomination for the District 6 countywide seat next year, but it’s not known if the electorate overall will be that forgiving.

6) Kevin Beckner challenges Pat Frank in Hillsborough County Clerk of the Court race in 2016.

The biggest game of “he said/she said,” in local politics, Kevin Beckner ended up alienating some of the Tampa Democratic establishment by challenging Pat Frank, but it was never intended to be that way.

The two Hillsborough Dems acknowledge they had a conversation, where Beckner talked about his interest in running for the race. They disagreed on what was actually said at that meeting. Beckner said Frank told him she would be stepping down in 2016, suggesting he consider running for the office.

Frank vigorously denied that, saying she told Beckner she hadn’t made up her mind yet.

“I never said I wasn’t going to run,” Frank told this reporter. “I said I hadn’t made up my mind yet. And I never said that I would endorse him or anything of that sort. In fact, he did say to me, ‘If I do run, could you support me?’ And I said, ‘I’ve gotta be honest with you, the person who would stand first in line with me would be Harry Cohen.’”

7) Frank Reddick becomes Tampa City Council Chair/Les Miller ousts Sandy Murman as Hillsborough Board of County Commission Chair.

There was a changing of the guard in local leadership.

In Tampa, Charlie Miranda was expected to be re-elected by his colleagues once again as chair. In fact, Mayor Bob Buckhorn predicted it. But in a rare sign of flexing independent muscles, something they would do again later in the year, a majority of the council opted instead for another choice, Frank Reddick, probably the mayor’s biggest critic on the board.

In November, two Republican Hillsborough County Commissioners (Victor Crist and Ken Hagan) joined Democrats Kevin Beckner and Les Miller to select Miller as Board Chairman, ousting former chair Sandy Murman.

It was a stunning move, which had many people wondering how it had happened.

While there were a few scenarios presented, it seems apparent the vote against Murman had nothing to do with her counter proposal to fund transportation projects in the county.

That offer, using the framework a plan worked on by both Sierra Club and Tea Party members, employs a variety of courses (such as mobility fees and a gas tax), and received poor reviews when Murman announced it, although she still expects it to get a hearing in 2016.

8) Go Hillsborough effort rocked by WTSP Channel 10 story.

Speaking of Go Hillsborough, the fate of that possible county transportation tax remains unresolved as of this posting. Go Hillsborough is the collective work effort of the county initially presented last summer as a plan to go before voters in 2016.

With transportation taxes going down in the Tampa Bay area in 2010 and 2014, the pressure is on Hillsborough to finally break the losing streak and get something — anything — passed. Or, at least, that’s the way it looked like to Tampa residents — a plan tailored for the rest of Hillsborough County (outside of Tampa) and heavy on adding or improving roads, with little devoted to transit.

Then Noah Pransky‘s story on WTSP hit in early September. It sought to enlighten the public on the power public relations consultant Beth Leytham held within the county’s corridors of power but exposing serious questions about how the contractor, Parsons Brinckerhoff was selected to work on the project. Parsons then hired Leytham as a subcontractor.

Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee has been investigating some of the questions presented by Pransky — his findings have yet to be announced (as of this posting). Some say it doesn’t matter, and the project is now doomed to fail — again. Others say it could be ready to make a comeback.

9) Bob Buckhorn’s bad summer

Bob Buckhorn started off 2015 in grand fashion, seeming to have found his footing at the end of last year. But in late summer, the mayor definitely encountered the most turbulence in his four-year-plus tenure.

It began with winning re-election by the margins usually tin-pot dictators, taking 96 percent of the vote.

That would be the highlight. For a while, anyway.

As noted above, the Tampa Bay Times reported that blacks had been disproportionately cited by the TPD for bike citations. Police Chief Jane Castor and Buckhorn initially pooh-poohed the report, but it opened the floodgates for critics of the police department, who held a host of meetings decrying their treatment by police, along with the seeming lack of concern by the mayor.

Buckhorn and Castor asked for assistance from the U.S. Justice Department, which sent its Office of Community Oriented Policing (COPS) program to investigate the TPD; that report is slated for the end of the year. (Critics say it will be a whitewash, and that the DOJ should have instead sent itsCivil Rights Division to investigate.)

Critics then began demanding the creation of a Citizen’s Police Review Board, something the mayor initially said wasn’t needed. He came around to the idea, but alienated members of the City Council when he signed an executive order allowing him the power to choose nine of the 11 total members. Council members objected, but Buckhorn’s initial stance was that the City Charter allowed him to name all 11 members. He dismissed the critics who attended council meetings who criticized him, saying they were part of “fringe groups.”

Buckhorn also played a supporting role in the WTSP report on Leytham, providing the mayor one of his least flattering on-camera moments ever when he responded to Noah Pransky’s queries.

After fundraising slowed for his political action committee, which was designed as a vehicle for him to travel around the state broadening his profile for a potential 2018 gubernatorial run, questions began percolating that Buckhorn dropped the idea. He hasn’t.

However, Buckhorn acknowledges that it will involve a major undertaking on his part, something he says he’ll definitely decide by the end of 2016, if not earlier.

10) TBX Express is coming to Tampa

For nearly two decades, the Florida Department of Transportation has been invested in what it calls the ultimate downtown interchange: widening both I-275 and I-4.

And what that meant was for years, the FDOT did nothing except buy and move historic structures in Ybor City and Tampa Heights, part of the purchase of rights of way for road widening.

But earlier this year, when the FDOT finally announced plans for the ultimate downtown interchange, many members of the local Seminole Heights/Tampa Heights community were less than impressed.

The plan calls for express toll lanes to run along Interstates 275, 4 and 75, and would cost up to $2 per mile to use. On I-275, TBX would go south from Bearss to the I-4 junction, west to the Westshore area, and over the Howard Frankland bridge to Pinellas County. The price tag would be $3 billion.

Community activists say it could destroy the progress, particularly that made in Seminole Heights, citing what FDOT did to the city when the interstate was constructed in the 1960s.

Supporters of the plan, like Bob Buckhorn, say it’s a new FDOT, which is more sensitive in how they go about construction projects, and it intends to be more cooperative with neighborhoods.

FDP releases ad for mock Marco Rubio credit card

Just in time for Tuesday night’s GOP presidential debate from Las Vegas, the Florida Democratic Party is mocking Marco Rubio with the release of a new web video called, “The Rubio Card” that mocks the Florida Senator’s variously reported financial problems over the years.

Questions of Rubio’s spending on a Republican Party of Florida charge card first surfaced in his U.S. Senate election in 2010, when the Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald were leaked two years of records from when Rubio was Speaker of the Florida House.

The records showed plenty of personal spending, including movie tickets, charges to a wine store, a family vacation, even $1,000 for damage to his minivan and thousands more for a rental car to replace it.

Rubio and his campaign say the state GOP never paid his personal expenses, as recently as last month.

“While the concept of a job interview may be new to a career politician like Marco Rubio, voters deserve honest answers about his financial malfeasance. Yet every time he’s asked about it, he dodges, lies, and dismisses the concerns voters have,” FDP Chairwoman Allison Tant said in a prepared statement. “How can Marco Rubio expect Americans to trust him with the nation’s finances when he has proven unable to manage his own throughout his entire career?

Here’s the script for “The Rubio Card”:

Voice-over: You’re a politician on the go, and you’ve got a lot of expenses.

Sure, you could use your personal credit card, but you need something a little more … nefarious.

What you need is the Rubio Card.

This is your opportunity to be as financially reckless and irresponsible as Marco Rubio.

The Rubio Card not only allows for preposterous expenses, it encourages them.

News Clip 1“For instance, he charged the party $1,000 for repairs to his minivan.”

News Clip 2: “… spend $1,000 at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, chalk it up to a party expense.”

Voice-over: You can use the Rubio Card to take a vacation, remodel your house, or even get a haircut. Just listen to what people are saying:

News Clip 3: “Senator Rubio, you, yourself, have said that you’ve had issues. You have a lack of bookkeeping skills.”

News Clip 4: “… spending party money at a time when he should have used his personal money.”

Voice-over: Now some, like the Florida Ethics Commission, might say the Rubio Card is “negligent” and “disturbing.” But the best part about the Rubio card is that you’ll never have to pay anything or answer any questions about your purchases — no matter how bad they look.

So, apply today! There’s no credit check, no application, and absolutely no credibility. You don’t even need to show up for your job!

Because why be ethical, when you can be Marco Rubio?

[Disclaimer] The Rubio Card cannot be used for the follow items: Women’s health, income inequality, same-sex marriages, immigration reform, net neutrality, or doing the actual work of a U.S. Senator.

And here’s the ad:

Bob Buckhorn calls on Congress to give Puerto Rico bankruptcy protection, while Buddy Dyer sits it out

With Puerto Rico facing $72 billion in debt and not able to pay off its creditors, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn has joined a group of over a dozen mayors in the U.S. calling on Congress to restore the commonwealth its bankruptcy protections in the omnibus appropriations funding bill being debated in the House of Representatives.

Interestingly, Buckhorn is the only Florida mayor who is part of that group. Not signing on to that letter was Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, whose city has one of the largest populations of Puerto Ricans in the state. More on that below.

Buckhorn voiced his concerns in an op-ed published on the website of Bloomberg View on Monday, sharing his byline with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“We have heard from Puerto Rican, congressional and local leaders across the country that we need urgent action,” Buckhorn and de Blasio write in advocating that Congress get involved. “Leaving Puerto Rico in a state of fiscal uncertainty is not only unacceptable but also un-American. There is too much at stake for too many people to delay any further.”

Buckhorn and de Blasio are part of a group of 15 other mayors and county leaders across the country who sent a letter to House Speaker Paul D. Ryan on Thursday urging him to work with President Barack Obama and other members of Congress on backing a package of proposals that the president unveiled back in October to enact a plan to provide broad bankruptcy protection and debt restructuring powers for Puerto Rico.

Because Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, it cannot declare Chapter 9 bankruptcy the way that U.S. cities and municipalities can. The commonwealth has been borrowing to pay its debts as they came due. It payed $354 million in principal and interest owed on Government Development Bank notes on Dec. 1, but said that its liquidity was “severely constrained” with another payment of $357 million due Jan. 1.

Two weeks ago, Puerto Rican Gov. García Padilla called on Congress to include a measure allowing bankruptcy in the must-pass omnibus spending bill being negotiated, saying it would be “the most likely way for Congress to act prior to January.”

Last week, Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch proposed legislation that would offer Puerto Rico up to $3 billion in cash relief, reduce employee payroll taxes for five years, and establish a new independent authority that could borrow on the government’s behalf. It would also require Puerto Rico to disclose more detailed financial information about its pension obligations. The island faces a Jan. 1 deadline to make bond payments of $900 million.

According to the Center for Puerto Rican Studiesin 2014 New York continued to host the most Puerto Ricans in the U.S., but for the time in history, Florida became the first state after New York more than 1 million Puerto Ricans. Much of that growth of Puerto Ricans coming to the Sunshine State has concentrated on Central Florida, and specifically the Orlando area.

When asked why Orlando Mayor Dyer did not sign on to the letter sent to House Speaker Ryan last week, a spokeswoman said that the issue was a bit too hot for Dyer to weigh in on.

“We decided to remain silent on the issue for a number of reasons,” says Kathleen Devault, Director of Strategic Partnerships for the city of Orlando. The main reason, she says, was how a bankruptcy could affect small businesses in Puerto Rico that have ties to central Florida.

“We heard a lot of feedback from our local community, which we have a large portion from Puerto Rico,” Devault said. “And there were a number of expressions of concern regarding this, because many of our residents have family members in Puerto Rico, some who own companies which the government may be their largest consumer or their largest customer.”

Default adds that there was a fear expressed by members of the community that those local businesses ini Orlando would create a domino effect, “and that a lot of smaller locally owned business in Puerto Rico that have ties to central Florida, could also have been negatively impacted.”

Meanwhile, it’s no secret that Buckhorn has aspirations for possibly running for governor in Florida in 2018. If nothing else, the letter will get the attention of that growing Puerto Rican demographic in the Sunshine State.

Mitch Perry Report for 12.14.15 – Warming up for a Tampa Bay Winter

Gosh it’s hot out there. That’s what went through my mind this morning when I went running at 5 a.m. Seriously, this felt like the warmest morning yet of what has been a very warm December in the Tampa Bay area.

Maybe it’s the El Niño affect, but this unseasonably warm winter weather isn’t relegated to those of us in the Sunshine State.

In Cleveland yesterday, it was 64 degrees, one degree off the warmest December day in the city’s history. According to Accuweather, for most of the east coast this weekend, high temperatures ranged 10 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit above normal for this time of year. Temperatures in some areas were predicted to climb to 30 degrees above normal this weekend.

Now let’s talk about climate change.

First of all, let’s state that weather is not climate. As NASA describes it, when we talk about climate change, we talk about changes in long-term averages of daily weather. However, this looks like it will go in the books as the hottest year in the history of the planet – again.

On Saturday in Paris, the United Nations 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) concluded with an agreement for a long-term goal to eliminate global-warming pollution in this century.

The accord achieved one major goal. It limits average global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial temperatures and strives for a limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) if possible.

It does not mandate exactly how much each country must reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Instead, it sets up a bottom-up system in which each country sets its own goal – which the agreement calls a “nationally determined contribution” – and then must explain how it plans to reach that objective.

Those pledges must be increased over time, and starting in 2018 each country will have to submit new plans every five years.

Naturally, GOP candidate for president bashed the proposal – at least those who even mentioned it this weekend. But the criticism wasn’t limited to Republicans.

“While this is a step forward it goes nowhere near far enough. The planet is in crisis. We need bold action in the very near future and this does not provide that,” U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders said in a statement.

Perhaps will hear something of some substance on the issue tomorrow night when the GOP candidates debate in Las Vegas tomorrow night on CNN?

Or maybe not.

Oh, and in other news this weekend,  Saudi Arabia let women vote, as well as runoff office.

 

Marco Rubio in 4th place in Iowa in new poll

Despite the support from more major donors and the so-called GOP establishment, Marco Rubio‘s campaign doesn’t appear to be doing much in Iowa, site of the first caucuses next year.

The Florida senator remains in fourth place in Iowa, according a poll released Sunday.

The big story in the Des Moines Register  is the rise of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who leads the survey with 31 percent support, giving him a 10-point lead over Donald Trump, who has 21 percent support in the poll.

Dr. Ben Carson is in third place with 15 percent, and Rubio is next at 10 percent.

Jeb Bush is fifth with 10 percent.

Rubio and Bush have gained 1 point each in the survey from the previous poll the Register conducted in Iowa in October.

The story of the poll is Cruz. He was the favorite of just 10 percent of likely Republican caucusgoers in the Iowa Poll in October.

Another 20 percent of likely caucusgoers say he’s their current second choice for president. Cruz hits 51 percent support when first- and second-choice interest is combined, again leading the field.

Three Republicans are tied at 3 percent: Rand Paul, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

The Iowa Poll of 400 likely Republican caucusgoers was conducted Dec. 7-10 by Selzer & Co. of Des Moines. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.

Joe Negron signs on to Jeff Brandes civil asset forfeiture reform bill

Joe Negron, the Stuart-based state Senator who recently survived a marathon battle with Jack Latvala to become Senate President in 2017, has signed on as a co-sponsor Jeff Brandes civil asset forfeiture bill (SB 1044) in the Legislature’s upper chamber.

The legislation would stipulate assets or property may only be seized under the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act after a criminal defendant has been convicted of a crime. Up to that point, assets suspected to be connected to a crime may be only temporarily revoked under a provisional title obtained by police.

Under current law, police can seize assets without even bringing charges against a defendant.

Civil asset forfeiture laws became in vogue with law enforcement agencies in the 1980s, where they became empowered to seize the property and money associated with criminal organizations involved in the illegal drug trade. The agencies that seized the assets were allowed to keep the proceeds resulting from their seizures, creating a powerful financial incentive to seize and forfeit property.

Unlike criminal asset forfeiture, however, with civil forfeiture, a property owner need not be found guilty of a crime – or even charged – to permanently lose her cash, car, home, or other property.

Lehigh Acres Rep. Matt Caldwell is sponsoring the companion bill (HB 883) in the House.

David Jolly Senate campaign now boasting of Donald Trump backing his legislation

Earlier this week, Pinellas County Congressman David Jolly made national news by calling on Donald Trump to leave the Republican presidential race, after the real estate mogul’s controversial comments about temporarily banning Muslims from the U.S.

“I rise today to call on Donald trump to withdraw his candidacy for the White House,” Jolly said on the House floor Tuesday morning.

Those sentiments weren’t mentioned today, however, as the Jolly Senate campaign is boasting that Trump is backing a bill Jolly is sponsoring in the House of Representatives that would mandate stiffer penalties on people convicted of killing police officers.

In a campaign appearance in Portsmouth, New Hampshire on Thursday night, Trump said that as president,  he would call for the death penalty for any person who kills a cop.

“One of the first things I’d do in terms of executive order, if I win, will be to sign strong, strong statement that would go out to the country, out to the world, anybody killing policeman police woman, police officer, anybody killing police officer, the death penalty is going to happen,” Trump said, not mentioning any specific piece of legislation. He spoke alongside the New England Police Benevolent Association, shortly after that group voted to endorse him for president.
It was close enough for the Jolly camp however to tout about in a statement released on Friday about Jolly’s bill, called the Thin Blue Line Act (H.R. 814). The legislation would make the murder of a law enforcement officer, firefighter or first responder an aggravating factor in death penalty determinations. Under current law, the homicide of a federal public servant, such as federal agents, politicians and federal judges, is an aggravating factor for the death penalty during sentencing. The Thin Blue Line Act would extend the same treatment to state and local law enforcement and first responders when they are acting under federal jurisdiction.
“My bill simply says this – if you take the life of a law enforcement officer, be prepared to lose your own,” Jolly said in a statement. “I encourage all presidential candidates and Americans alike to rally behind my legislation to protect our brave men and women who put their lives on the line every day for us.”

Those presidential candidates apparently include those who you’d prefer weren’t in the race.

Sarah Bascom, a spokesperson for the Jolly campaign, pushes back on the idea that it’s incongruous to be highlighting Trump’s support for the Thin Blue Line Act.

“It’s politically intriguing,” she says. “Trump touts support of an issue that Congressman Jolly has been leading on since February, only days after the congressman’s criticisms of Mr. Trump.  That is the point.”

Jolly is competing for the GOP nomination for Senate in 2016 in Florida.

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