Joe Negron Archives - Page 5 of 37 - Florida Politics

USF community outraged after last-minute budget language is inserted to keep it from achieving ‘pre-eminent’ status

Officials associated with the University of South Florida this weekend are fervently seeking to change the language in an education conforming bill that will keep the university from achieving ‘pre-eminent’ status next year.

A loss of the pre-eminent status for USF could result in losing much as $15 million in state funding.

“The amount of people who are upset about this as of this morning is like anything else,” said Mike Griffin, president of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and a USF alumnus.

In 2013, the Florida Legislature created the Preeminent State Research Universities Program, granting an extra $5 million to $15 million in state funding to universities that could meet 11 of 12 performance benchmarks used by the state to measure success. Measures include the ability to retain freshmen enrolled beyond their first year, the timely graduation of undergraduates, and the financial growth of the institution.

Since its inception, only the University of Florida and Florida State University have achieved such “pre-eminence,” but the state Board of Governors produced data last week that showed that USF was well on its way to breaking into that exclusive club, having achieved 11 of the 12 benchmarks.

Heading into this year, the university reached 10 of those 12 benchmarks, but its path to pre-eminence was paved by legislation passed by the Florida Senate that changed one of those benchmarks that a university had to achieve to a four-year graduation rate of 50 percent or higher, a mark that USF exceeded.

However, in the conforming bill written after the budget was finalized Friday, that benchmark was amended to what it had previously been — a six-year graduation rate of 70 percent or better for full-time, first-time, in-college students. That statistic exceeds USF’s graduation percentage rate for the last six years, now standing at 67 percent. USF’s Annual Work Plan says that the school’s 4-year graduation rate is unlikely to meet the new 70 percent threshold until at least 2020.

Griffin, currently chair of the Greater Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce, is calling on local leaders and lawmakers to petition Senate President Joe Negron to repeal the new conforming language.

“The mistake by some at the University of South Florida was assuming that the Legislature would adopt the 50 percent graduate rate to be immediately applied retroactively,” Negron told the Tampa Bay Times. “As everyone knows, legislation is changed throughout Session.”

“This is unfortunate for USF, and for our entire region,” Griffin said.

Former House Speaker Will Weatherford commented on Twitter: “It was unfair to move the pre-eminence goal post on @USouthFlorida at the last moment …”

Last June, the Florida Board of Governors formally designated USF as the state’s first “emerging pre-eminent state research university,” resulting in $5 million in targeted research investments, which the University has spent on enhancing heart health and medical engineering,

“It is important that our state leaders fully understand the effects of arbitrary changes to our Preeminence goals and metrics,” said USF Board of Trustees Chair Brian Lamb in a statement issued out by the University. “Shifting the goal posts at the endgame impacts the resources and facilities of USF’s students, our ability to attract the best and brightest to our university and city, the success of the Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute in downtown Tampa, and the economic growth and competitiveness of our region.”

The Legislature is scheduled to vote on the final budget on Monday in Tallahassee.

USF lobbyist Mark Walsh said he has been in contact with the Tampa Bay delegation to alert it about the financial implication of what the budget language does.

Walsh said the university had issued a “call to action” Saturday to students, faculty and alumni to contact the delegation for help.

“At the last minute, the Legislature is planning to make a change, taking away millions of $$ of funding for USF meeting pre-eminent university metrics,” the alert said. “This late change excludes SOLELY USF from qualifying for pre-eminence AFTER the Board of Governors had certified (that) USF met the necessary criteria that had been in the proposed (bill) language since January. It will also badly hurt our downtown Tampa med school and heart institute and other USF Colleges.”

Tampa Republican state Sen. Dana Young called the change in the conforming bill, “very concerning,” and said Saturday afternoon she has a been working “to get to the bottom of it.”

This is a developing story …

Peter Schorsch contributed to this story.

Jack Latvala blames final budget stalemate on Richard Corcoran’s ‘last-minute switcheroo’

Working toward a final Florida state budget, news of a skirmish between the Senate and House emerges.

A war of words appears to have broken out between House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate Appropriations Chair Jack Latvala.

The Tampa Bay Times reports that Latvala ended budget negotiations after Corcoran “changed the deal” by insisting the final agreement link VISIT Florida’s $25 million advertising budget to new rules on the agency’s employee travel and salaries.

Details have not been released before Monday’s vote by the full Legislature.

House budget conference attendees have agreed “in front of God and everybody” to put VISIT Florida money into the final budget, Latvala said, apart from language about agency operations.

“They changed the deal last night to put it all together and I stopped everything and we argued about it for a while,” Latvala told the Times, adding that Senate President Joe Negron ended the stalemate by an “interpretation” allowing Corcoran to get his way with a “last-minute switcheroo.”

“Without a meeting, without any vote by the conference committee,” Latvala said, “they’ve done it their way.”

The Clearwater Republican senator called Corcoran’s treatment of VISIT Florida “disrespectful” to the state’s largest industry.

Corcoran, though spokesman Fred Piccolo, responded: “It’s no great mystery that the speaker has demanded accountability and transparency from VISIT Florida.”

Richard Corcoran insists he’s not getting in the middle of Scientology vs. Clearwater Aquarium

Ever since he was able to put a leash on rapper Pitbull‘s contract with VISIT Florida, Richard Corcoran has been the patron saint of those hoping to ferret out egregious government spending.

Hospitals paying too much to their executives and lobbyists? Call Speaker Corcoran.

Lottery makes a deal with a vendor which encumbers future legislative bodies? Call Speaker Corcoran.

Tourist development councils spending money on frivolous activities? Call Speaker Corcoran.

By now, you get the point. If you think some shady spending is going on, it’s “Better Call Corcoran” time.

That said, for a moment there, it appeared like Corcoran was going to insert himself into a nasty local spending issue he would do better avoiding.

According to Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida, Corcoran is considering stepping into an ongoing battle between the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and the Church of Scientology.

Corcoran is eyeing a recent decision by the Pinellas County Commission to give $26 million in tourism development taxes to the aquarium. The money is being doled out over three years to help fund an expansion.

The issue has been a long stewing local fight as the Church of Scientology, which has a huge presence in Clearwater, lobbied commissioners hard to not give the green light to the funding.

The issue came to Corcoran’s attention after attorneys for the church circulated hundreds of pages of documents outlining what it says is a misuse of funds, a contention the aquarium has fought. The church sent the packet of documents to both local and state officials, including Corcoran, Senate President Joe Negron and Attorney General Pam Bondi.

As soon as Dixon’s story broke, this website cautioned the Speaker to avoid appearing as if it were coming down on the side of Scientology.

As a matter of fact, Dixon’s story broke the day after the Tampa Bay Times reported how the FBI conducted a criminal investigation of the Church of Scientology in 2009 and 2010 that focused on allegations of human trafficking. Although the investigation never led to charges being filed, the documents buttress a 2013 report by the Times detailing a sustained and methodical FBI investigation of the church, with agents traveling to several states, questioning dozens of former Scientologists, obtaining surveillance video of the church’s remote headquarters in the mountains east of Los Angeles, and even contemplating a raid on that facility.

Fortunately, the Speaker’s Office insists it is not taking sides in the Scientology vs. CMA scrum.

“This has nothing to do with Scientology,” said Fred Piccolo, Corcoran’s communications director. “This is about the stewardship of public dollars.”

Piccolo reiterated the comments he provided to POLITICO Florida.

“We’ve received information that raises some questions,” Piccolo said Wednesday. “The Speaker will be briefed after budget negotiations are complete and we will determine further action at that time.”

“He remains fully committed to ensuring all tax dollars — including tourist taxes — are spent appropriately,” he said.

Part of the issue here, if you know the history of the funding for the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, is that it is a pet project of Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala. 

In 2013, Latvala and other local lawmakers directed $5 million dollars the aquarium’s way to pay for production and marketing associated with filming “Dolphin Tale 2.”

In 2014, the aquarium received another dollop of state money. Dixon reports that there is another $1 million slated for the facility in next year’s budget.

Additionally, in 2013, Latvala tweaked the state’s Tourist Development Tax law to allow county bed tax dollars to be used for aquariums, opening the door for Clearwater Marine Aquarium to seek additional funds through the county.

Money from that fund is what Scientology is asking Corcoran to examine.

“It is the duty of the board to every citizen of Pinellas County to weigh this information before it embarks on [a] handout of this magnitude of taxpayer’s funds,” wrote Monique Yingling, a church attorney, in a seven-page letter that accompanied the documents, according to Dixon

An economic impact study conducted earlier this year concluded that the aquarium had pumped $2 billion into the local economy since 2011.

Still, there’s nothing wrong with the Speaker keeping close tabs on taxpayers’ money, especially since he has assured us he’s not playing favorites.

After all, Richard Corcoran would hate to be accused of picking winners and losers.

Gwen Graham vows to push for solar while installing panels

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham spent a good part of Wednesday installing solar panels on roofs in Orlando, while vowing she’ll do all she can to make the Sunshine State a solar energy leader.

It’s not one now.

Florida’s solar energy generation per person falls somewhere between Illinois and Ohio, well behind such un-sunshiny states like Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Vermont, Delaware, and New Jersey, and far, far behind the national leaders of Arizona, Hawaii and Nevada, according to CleanTechnica.com, a renewable energy news website.

“We need Florida to be the solar capital of the world. We need to be encouraging the use of renewable energies. And we are the Sunshine State as we stand here on the roof in the direct sunlight, and we should be using the sun that Florida receives to cut down on our need for other energy sources,” Graham said.

Graham was on the roof of homeowner Ruben Garcia in east Orange County Wednesday afternoon, taking part in one of her “Work Days,” a tradition she borrowed from her father, former Gov. Bob Graham, regularly spending a full day working someone else’s job, to learn what Florida workers do.

She announced her candidacy for governor in the 2018 election on Tuesday.

Garcia and some of his neighbors are part of the Orange County Solar Coop of Fl SUN, to bulk-purchase solar energy equipment for their homes at bulk prices.

Graham and officials of the solar contractor she was working with, ESA Renewables, said Florida must change its law that prevents third-party owners. The law prevents companies from underwriting (and then owning) residential and commercial solar energy generation equipment, in exchange for charging the property owners for the energy they produce, at rates discounted compared with traditional power companies.

“That’s something that other states. They don’t have that prohibition. I think there are four other states that prevent third-party ownership. It makes it far more challenging for people to take care of solar energy,” she said.

Justin Vandenbroeck, a senior project developer for ESA, said the typical rate for solar power equipment installation runs about $3.50 per watt. [Garcia’s coop is getting a rate of $2 per watt.] It takes equipment, he said, to generate anywhere from 6,000 to 9,000 watts to service a whole home. That’s about $20,000-30,000 per house.

While homeowners’ energy bills could go away entirely, at that price, it could take 10-20 years for payback.

It’s why states with third-party solar power owners have far more solar energy in place, he said.

Solar energy is only part of her environmental record and platform Graham pushed Wednesday.

She said she supports repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike, for which Republican Gov. Rick Scott is seeking to fund, but said that project stands alone in efforts to clean up the Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades.

Graham also said Republican Senate President Joe Negron‘s plan is a good start, albeit a “very small” one.

“I think we need a comprehensive approach to the Lake Okeechobee issue. We certainly need to repair the Hoover Dam. I don’t believe we can focus on just bringing water south or just repairing the dam. We need to bring people together to develop a comprehensive solution,” she said.

“We’ve got to get good, smart people, who care about the environmental future of Florida. The Everglades are the environmental heart of Florida. We need to get good, smart people back together again who are just focusing on how do we reverse course,” She said. “I think the Negron plan is a good start, but a very small start.”

One difference she has with Negron, she said, is she does not think there should be a prohibition on Florida using eminent domain to address Everglades cleanup.

“We don’t want to be limiting the state of Florida in terms of what we need to be doing with our environment,” she said. “We have a long ways to go to get our environment back to a healthy state. Clearly, the last six years have been the worst in our environment’s history.”

USF’s downtown Tampa medical school takes a $2 million haircut in final budget offer

The final budget offered by the Florida Legislature provides the University of South Florida with $12 million for its new downtown Tampa medical education and research center which is expected to begin construction this fall.

That’s less than the $14 million that was listed on Monday, and $5 million less than USF officials had requested from the Legislature.

“We would be very pleased to receive $12 million for the USF downtown project in this year’s state budget,” said USF spokesman Adam Freeman. “It will keep the project on schedule and we thank our state leaders for their continued support.”

The USF Health Building is considered a key anchor in the $3-billion real estate development by Strategic Property Partners, the joint venture between Jeff Vinik and Cascade Investment, LLC. The group is developing 53 acres in downtown Tampa into a multi-use, urban waterfront district.

The building is expected to cost $152.6-million. To date, the Legislature has provided nearly $79 million to its construction.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron separately told their members Wednesday morning that they had reached a deal on a new $83 billion state budget, meaning the budget numbers are unlikely to change before its voted on next Monday.

Report: Rob Bradley says 2017-18 budget will include money for land conservation

Sen. Rob Bradley isn’t giving up hope the 2017-18 state budget will include money for the Florida Forever conservation lands program.

POLITICO Florida reported Tuesday that Bradley said the budget would include spending for Florida Forever, for Florida Keys wastewater projects, his proposed projects along the St. Johns River, and Senate President Joe Negron’s proposed water storage reservoir.

“This is going to be a budget that those who care about the environment are going to be very proud of,” the Fleming Island Republican told reporters, according to POLITICO.

The environmental budget has been a sticking point for budget negotiations. Lawmakers will need to go into overtime to complete the budget, since they did not finish it in time to be able to vote on it Friday. State law requires the budget be finalized 72 hours before the final vote.

The Senate’s proposed budget included $15.2 million for Florida Forever projects and $5.4 million for the the Florida Communities Trust.

Capitol Reax: Lake Okeechobee water storage reservoir

The Florida Legislature voted to send a trimmed-down version of a bill (SB 10) to build a water storage reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee. A top priority for Senate President Joe Negron, the bill aims to divert toxic algae discharges from coastal communities. The measure prohibits the state from taking private property to build the reservoir.

“Today is a momentous event. The many voices that came to the table this session – anglers, realtors, business and community leaders, and people who want the best for their state – were heard with the final bipartisan passage of SB 10, a positive and science-based step toward the restoration of America’s Everglades.

We thank the Senate and House for working together to create a solution that all parties could unite behind, and we applaud them for backing this good bill and its ultimate passage. Expediting the planning and implementation of the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir will significantly reduce the amount of harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee and provide us with the opportunity to store, clean and send large amounts of water into the Everglades and Florida Bay, where it is needed.

We recognize Senate President Joe Negron, who made this his priority from Day One, realizing the immediate need to pursue a solution to the damaging discharges, and never wavered. It is because of his unremitting advocacy and leadership that we’re seeing this legislation head to the Governor. This is a legacy that will be remembered long after his presidency ends.

Recognition is also due to House Speaker Richard Corcoran for his hard work in the House. Without his diligence and resolve, this momentous day would not have been realized.

We encourage Governor Rick Scott to join the Senate and House in embracing this long-awaited action by signing SB 10 into law.” – Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg

“Today, the Florida House stood up for Florida’s farming communities by approving legislation that does not take farmland out of production. While not perfect, Senate Bill 10 will ensure the planned EAA reservoir is eventually completed on existing state-owned land. Having turned the page on buying additional land south of Lake Okeechobee, the Florida Legislature in a future session can focus on plans that will address the excess water and nutrients originating north of the lake, which science shows can reduce the frequency of discharges by more than 60 percent.” – Ryan Duffy, spokesman for Florida Sugarcane Farmers

“Senate Bill 10 has been greatly improved, takes essentially no privately owned farmland, and even removes the threat of eminent domain.   The House deserves credit for quickly passing legislation that can provide some protection for our water resources while also protecting our farming communities and vital food production.

 U.S. Sugar always supports solutions that are based on science, which, in this case shows the source of the water significantly impacting the coastal estuaries flows from north of Lake Okeechobee, not the south.  Obviously, you’re going to have to build some solutions north of the lake to finally fix the discharge problem.  We look forward to working with legislators in the future to get that done.” – Judy Sanchez, senior director for corporate communications and public affairs for U.S. Sugar.

“We are grateful for House Speaker Richard Corcoran, Rep. Matt Caldwell, Rep. Holly Raschein, Senate President Joe Negron, Sen. Rob Bradley, Sen. Jack Latvala and the entire Florida Legislature for their support of Everglades restoration projects and funding. This much-needed focus on our state’s natural resources will provide for the implementation of comprehensive solutions that will have the greatest and most immediate impact on the Everglades, Florida Bay and our south Florida estuaries.” – Kellie Ralston, Florida Fishery Policy Director of the American Sportfishing Association.

 

Jose Felix Diaz: ‘We were too far apart’ from Senate on gambling

State Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, the House’s point man on gambling, said an impossibility of compromise over slot machines killed the 2017 gambling bill.

“We were too far apart and the Senate wanted to bring it in for a landing during budget conference, and we were not going to be able to do that,” he told reporters after Tuesday’s House floor session. “The timing was off.”

The sticking point was an offer to expand slot machines to pari-mutuels in counties that approved them in referendum votes. Such an expansion still needs legislative approval. The House opposed it; the Senate wanted it.

The will of residents who voted for slots “should be acknowledged and accepted by us,” Senate President Joe Negron said Tuesday in a Senate floor session, during which he officially dissolved the Conference Committee on Gaming

Also, Negron made clear Monday his desire to pass legislation was for the money: The state is holding about $200 million in gambling revenue share from the Seminole Tribe pending a resolution in legislation and litigation. A court fight between the state and Tribe is pending on appeal.

“My interest in doing a gaming bill this session significantly decreases if we’re not able to deploy the funds available that we’re currently holding,” Negron told reporters. He also had said both sides were “getting close” to a deal.

In any event, this week’s collapse continues the Legislature’s modern history of failure on passing any kind of overhaul of the state’s gambling laws.

The slots issue “was the big divide,” Diaz said, allowing that there were a myriad of other smaller disagreements. “Our constitution has said that gaming is not allowed, and when gaming needs to be expanded in a major way, everybody gets to vote.”

House Speaker Richard Corcoran “has been pretty consistent” in not wanting to legislatively OK slots in referendum counties, Diaz said.

So far, voters have passed slots referendums in Brevard, Duval, Gadsden, Hamilton, Lee, Palm Beach, St. Lucie and Washington counties.

When asked about the bill’s death after an impromptu press availability Tuesday, Corcoran said only, “You know my record.”

Lawyer: Seminole Tribe ‘will react accordingly’ to gambling bill’s death

The Seminole Tribe of Florida “will react accordingly” to the demise of a gambling bill this Legislative Session, the Tribe’s top outside lawyer said Tuesday.

Chief negotiators for the House and Senate said earlier Tuesday they wouldn’t resolve their differences over the legislation before the scheduled end of the 2017 Legislative Session on Friday.

When asked whether the Tribe plans to stop paying the state, attorney Barry Richard of the Greenberg Traurig law firm said, “I can’t answer that question,” adding such a decision requires a vote by the Tribal Council.

Gary Bitner, the Tribe’s spokesman, declined comment.

The death of the gambling bill also means killing any chance of passing a renewed blackjack agreement struck by Gov. Rick Scott that promised $3 billion over seven years in revenue share to the state.

But despite active litigation over its right to offer blackjack, the Tribe still pays gambling revenue share to the state as a “sign of good faith,” approximately $20 million a month. The money has gone into the state’s General Revenue Fund, but is not marked for spending.

Senate President Joe Negron has said there’s now about $200 million from the Seminoles sitting in state coffers.

federal judge last year ruled the state broke an original blackjack deal, which expired in 2015, and said the tribe can offer “banked card games” through 2030.

The state appealed to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, but that appeal has been on hold while lawmakers considered legislation that could have affected the agreement.

It allows for the Seminoles to stop paying if the state allows gambling that compete with the Tribe’s offerings, including slots and cards. The Tribe has seven casinos, offering blackjack at five, including Tampa’s Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.

A court decision allowing slot machine-type entertainment devices and state regulators OK’ing “designated player games” that resemble blackjack constitute an “infringement” of the Seminole Compact, the overarching agreement signed in 2010.

“If that infringement continues, (not paying) is an option,” Richard said. “The state has to take action to shut those (games) down. If they don’t, the Tribe certainly is entitled to stop payments.”

A spokesman for the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which regulates gambling, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

 

Joe Negron: Lawmakers ‘getting close’ to agreement on gambling

Senate President Joe Negron on Monday said lawmakers are “getting close” to a deal on a gambling overhaul bill for the year.

The same day, however, a House Democrat who’s on the Conference Committee on Gaming tweeted “Nope” about the same thing.

Negron was asked about the legislation during a media availability after the day’s floor session. Lobbyists close to the negotiations said the House wouldn’t broker a gambling deal unless senators passed its favored homestead exemption increase, which won approval in the Senate Monday.

When asked how close, Negron said, “I don’t want to give you odds,” smiling. The 2017 Legislative Session is scheduled to end on Friday.

“We have a very compressed time period,” he said. “My interest in doing a gaming bill this session significantly decreases if we’re not able to deploy the funds available that we’re currently holding.”

Despite ongoing litigation over its right to offer blackjack, the Seminole Tribe of Florida continues to pay gambling revenue share to the state, about $20 million a month.

That money goes into the General Revenue Fund, though state officials have said it is administratively segregated.

A renewed blackjack agreement struck by Gov. Rick Scott promised $3 billion over seven years in revenue share to the state, but it failed to gain approval from lawmakers last year.

It’s back before the Legislature this year as part of dueling gambling legislation. The House wants to contract gambling overall, while the Senate would expand some gambling opportunities across the state, including allowing slot machines at pari-mutuels in counties that have passed local referendums approving them.

“I’m not committed to what we would do with those funds,” Negron said. “But I don’t think it makes sense to bring a gaming bill to the floor that doesn’t address the $200 million that’s available.”

But in response to the Senate passing the homestead bill, Tallahassee lawyer Hal Lewis tweeted, “The gambling bill should now be on the fast track!”

Rep. Jared Moskowitz, a Coral Springs Democrat on the gaming conference committee, soon tweeted back, “Nope.” 

“For too many years now, our inability to come to a solution on the issue of gaming has allowed the courts to fill the vacuum and legislate from the bench,” he said Monday night. “Meanwhile the dogs continue to run for their life next to an electrified third rail while no one is watching. I thought this year was going to be different.”

When asked specifically whether there was any chance of a bill this year, he said “no,” adding that “obviously the Senate President may know things I do not.”

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