Lenny Curry Archives - Page 5 of 114 - Florida Politics

Mike Pence: ‘Florida can’t afford Obamacare anymore’

Saturday saw United States Vice-President Mike Pence and Florida Governor Rick Scott talking about what Pence called “the Obamacare nightmare” with small business owners in Jacksonville.

Scott, who closed out the news week reprising a familiar call to allow the states to administer Medicaid via block grants, has worked closely with President Donald Trump and his administration on possible alternatives to the Affordable Care Act.

While the GOP line is “repeal and replace Obamacare,” finding bill language that offers comfort to moderate Republicans in the Senate and the Freedom Caucus in the House has proven challenging, making promotional media stops like this one for the vice-president a necessity as the Trump administration sets the stage for a House vote on health care next week.

Though support for the current bill may be shaky elsewhere in Florida, in Northeast Florida “repeal and replace” are the watchwords.

After a roundtable event with selected small-business leaders, the show for cameras and media commenced: the highlight, of course, was VP Pence, who Gov. Scott introduced as having stood with him in the health care battle since 2009.

Pence hyped the crowd for a couple of minutes, thanking the other speakers and extolling the virtues of Florida, pivotal on “the path to make America great again.”

“It was quite a campaign, wasn’t it? And it’s been quite an administration.”

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After discussing Trump’s “broad shoulders” and other crowd-pleasing ephemera, including his first job as a gas station attendant in his family’s store, Pence eventually pivoted to policy

“We know that when small business is strong, America is strong,” Pence said, describing the president’s “roll back of reams of red tape” and his work to “end illegal immigration – once and for all.”

“Businesses are already responding to President Trump’s ‘buy American, hire American’ vision,” Pence said, vowing tax cuts “across the board” and restraint of “unelected bureaucrats” and other talking points.

Pence pivoted from the crowdpopping lines to reference the Pulse attack last year, a function of “radical Islamic terrorism in this country.”

The wall will be built. And illegal immigrant criminals will be “off the streets of this country.” And “we will rebuild our military,” Pence said.

From there, Pence assured the crowd that “the Obamacare nightmare is about to end.”

Obamacare, said Pence, is a minefield of broken promises, and the VP has heard heartrending stories about the “hard choices” small businesses have made.

“It was a heartbreaking conversation,” Pence said.

Premiums: up 25 percent across the country.

A third of the country has one company available from which to choose.

And, said Pence, enrollment is down year over year.

“Florida’s actually a textbook example of what’s wrong with Obamacare,” Pence said, citing premiums up 19 percent year over year.

“Florida can’t afford Obamacare anymore,” Pence said to applause.

Referring to the business hosting the event, Pence noted that hundreds of thousands of dollars that could have been spent otherwise have been spent attempting to comply with this “failed” law.

“The core flaw of Obamacare was this notion that you could order every American to buy health insurance whether they need it or not,” Pence said.

The Trump alternative: “individual responsibility” and reform targeted to the state level, including expanded Health Savings Accounts and tax credits to facilitate buying private insurance.

Those with pre-existent conditions and kids under the age of 26, meanwhile, will be protected under the American Health Care Act, Pence said.

Pence spent some time talking about “engagement with Congress” to improve the bill, a seeming acknowledgement of issues.

As well, Pence vowed to allow “states like Florida” the ability to have a block grant to administer their plans, and a “work requirement” for coverage.

“President Trump supports the bill 100 percent, and we all do,” Pence said. “A new era for federal/state Medicaid partnership has begun.”

“State solutions,” Pence said, are the best way forward for Florida.

As well, Pence added that Americans will “have the freedom to buy health insurance across state lines,” via “dynamic marketplace.”

“It won’t be long until you see Flo and that little lizard on TV ads,” Pence quipped.

While “it’s going to be a battle in Washington,” Pence called for “every Republican in Florida” to support the administration’s moves to “repeal and replace Obamacare.”

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The VP had local and state support on hand.

U.S. Congressman John Rutherford, who flew down from D.C. with VP Pence, opined that “the American dream is being damaged by Obamacare … a policy that drives up costs and strangles small businesses.”

“We need a better way … we must repeal and replace Obamacare with a market-based health care policy that will reduce costs and increase consumer access to health care.”

CMS Administrator Seema Verna, introduced by Rutherford, likewise described the “burden of health care costs and overregulation” on “small businesses.”

“With the support of President Trump, we’re going to undo the damage done by Obamacare,” Verna said, also vowing to let states handle administering Medicare and have “freedom from Washington’s one-size-fits-all approach” – echoing Gov. Scott.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, introduced by Verna, said “this is really simple. The President and Vice President told us they’re going to repeal and replace Obamacare and that’s what happens now.”

Gov. Scott, introduced by Curry, noted that “Obamacare was sold on a lie. A complete lie … choices have gone down, prices have gone up.”

“We’re going to change that,” Scott said. “Obamacare’s on a death spiral. Prices have just gone out of control.”

“We had to sue the Obama Administration for our low-income pool because we didn’t expand Medicaid,” Scott noted.

 

Jax PFPF Board Chair: ‘I think the mayor’s plan is terrible’

The slow walk by the Jacksonville Police and Fire Pension Fund toward policy marginalization continued apace Friday, as the five-person board of trustees offered “review and discussion” of the city’s latest pension proposal.

The General Counsel contended earlier this week that the PFPF had no role in the pension decision, arguing that the 2015 pension deal removed the pension fund out of a decision making capacity.

The unions decide, according to the OGC, and they ratified the deal … one which the Lenny Curry administration says is essential to unlocking the guaranteed revenue of a future half-cent sales tax, and finally resolving the current $2.7B unfunded pension liability.

The proposed pension deal loomed over the entire meeting. And discussion went beyond whether or not the board could vote on the deal, as the board’s fiduciary duty to the plan requires board input regardless of the need for a vote.

Long story short: the lack of a need for a vote doesn’t eliminate the PFPF board role in the pension reform process.

And the review process looks likely to sprawl into at least April, including a need for a financial analysis, an impact statement, and input from Tallahassee.

Meanwhile, General Counsel Jason Gabriel explained why he decided the board didn’t need to vote after all.

And, by the end of the meeting, board members raised their voices at each other, with the pension board chair being upbraided for a “diatribe” about Gabriel.

All in a day’s work in #jaxpol.

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The pension deal offers raises and uniform benefits for current public safety employees, and a defined contribution plan for new hires. Questions abound about the actuarial projections for the plan, including repurposing the PFPF reserve account for a share plan, and while the Jacksonville City Council will have a vote — and it will be contingent on that projection making sense for the city — those questions were to have no answers on Friday.

That said, something was provided to at least some council members, via a shade meeting this week.

Trustees came into the meeting with questions about the specific proposal, and the general counsel’s position that no board vote was needed.

Bill Scheu, one of four trustees who met with the city, noted that no specific numbers were provided in those meetings.

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 As the meeting progressed, questions were raised about the mayor’s proposed plan even before Gabriel’s portion of the program.

Treasurer Joey Greive noted the city’s projection of 3.75 to 4.25 percent annualized sales tax growth (optimistic in light of past performance), urging that the PFPF actuary review projections be done before the end of March for the benefit of council review.

“That’s going to be tight for us,” the actuary said.

The projection of 1.1 percent payroll growth from the city also got brought up. The PFPF growth rate projection was far more conservative: 0.67 percent a year.

“Now the city’s expecting us to sign off on something that hasn’t been approved anywhere,” Tuten said, calling it a “cart before the horse situation.”

As discussion progressed, there was a movement to refer the specifics to the Financial Investment Advisory Committee, which could provide advice in the coming weeks.

“The city needs this in two weeks, let’s give it a shot, but the FIAC should look at it,” actuary Pete Strong said.

General Counsel Jason Gabriel suggested that there would be a 5-6 week legislative cycle, with a “milestone” public hearing in this process after the board reviews the plan, at which point the board can provide an “impact statement” that can guide the council’s thinking, and can also offer guidance to the state of Florida.

The board’s next regular meeting: April 21, which Trustee Scheu framed as an “absolute sort of deadline.”

Tuten noted that “we haven’t even got a green light from the state Division of Retirement Services yet,” which could reset all hastily-rendered calculations.

Scheu noted that “we aren’t being asked to adopt anything,” but to provide actuarial assumptions, including an experience study, for meaningful policy guidance.

Discussion got more heated during the discussion of the need for an actuarial study, with Tuten comparing Gabriel’s urging to push through to a pitch from a “used car salesman.”

“It takes time. We need to get something from the state saying we aren’t wasting our time,” Tuten said.

The board motioned for an actuarial report and to authorize cooperation between lawyers and actuaries.

“It’s going to take us beyond the 31st,” the PFPF actuary said, especially when factoring in a range of hypothetical assumptions.

The board can expect an actuarial impact statement as the next step in the process.

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The board expected in February to have a more extended process, and after a hard break, Executive Director Tim Johnson noted that.

“Jason and his staff have more deeply analyzed these questions … and determined there isn’t an action this board has to take,” Johnson said.

Johnson compelled Gabriel to explain the change in status from February to March regarding the board “role as it applies to accept these agreements” and what happens regarding the surtax as a source of revenue.

Tuten echoed Johnson, noting that “it seems all of a sudden you don’t need the board approval.”

“There’s a whole host of theories as to why you cam out with this opinion when you did … days before we meet,” Tuten said.

Gabriel reiterated his position from a letter this week: that the 2015 pension agreement was intended to remedy “inappropriate” intertwining of the board with pension negotiations.

The relationship was marked by litigation and power struggle since 1990, Gabriel noted.

“2015 culminated with an agreement … right at the end of the Brown administration … a very strong foot forward, putting the parties of the consolidated government back into the traditional and legal roles set forth by law,” Gabriel noted.

That agreement precluded the PFPF involvement in collective bargaining or benefit determination, Gabriel said, a position consistent with Florida law and necessary according to the terms of the pension tax referendum.

“What changed between a month ago and perhaps now? The city and the unions entered into good-faith collective bargaining,” Gabriel said, which had been precluded for decades because of the fund’s outsized role in pension negotiations previous to 2015.

Reserve accounts came into the discussion during the bargaining process, and “there was an agreement regarding the reserve accounts.”

“The board has several roles to play,” Gabriel said, but “action needed to effectuate these bargaining agreements” isn’t one of them.

“A pension board does not intertwine with the constitutionally protected rights of the union and the city to agree on benefits,” Gabriel said.

The Mar. 15 deadline was set by the city in that context, that the board had no “approval” it needed to offer.

“I immediately caucused with my attorneys,” Gabriel said, regarding the disposition of chapter funds and other governance-related concepts, and the analysis revealed that “every dollar in reserve accounts is tied to pension benefits.”

“The action of the board,” said Gabriel, “is inclusive of the actuarial plan reporting … not the collective bargaining agreements.”

As well, the board is expected to offer review and analysis of the implementing ordinance once offered to the city council, Gabriel noted.

Regarding the accelerated payments from the city required as part of the 2015 pension deal, Gabriel noted the potential of a “retreatment of the dollars” and a “change of the disbursement” was in the deal.

“Whether it’s good or bad policy is another debate,” Gabriel said.

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Tuten wondered how an agreement between the city and the unions could loop out the PFPF from a “former contract of the past.”

“This is of some sort of urgency,” Tuten said, “you met with the four trustees then pop up and say ‘hey, we don’t need you anymore’.”

“Nobody knows what he’s proposing. It’s all hush-hush, hurry-hurry … a cynic mght say the mayor’s trying to avoid bad press and controversy,” Tuten thundered, wondering if the mayor thought the vote would go bad for the deal.

Tuten and Gabriel engaged in spirited cross talk as to whether the general counsel was the lawyer for the plan or not, with Tuten saying the plans were taken from the city oversight by the state, and that there was a potential of “conflict of interest.”

“Who hired you? Who fired you? The mayor is the one who tells you what to do,” Tuten said, “not us.”

Tuten wanted input from fund attorney Bob Sugarman.

“This decision is the first one in fourteen years that if we screw it up, we’re held liable,” Tuten said, “frustrated” by the Gabriel presentation that “doesn’t add up.”

Scheu then reminded Tuten that Gabriel was the “legal officer for the whole city — like it or not” and the general counsel gets to decide relative to conflicts in city government, as per the charter.

“The office of General Counsel is the lawyer for the fund,” Scheu said.

Sugarman backed Gabriel up to a point.

“You have no right to vote on the collective bargaining agreement,” Sugarman said, unless the union had offered that approval as a precondition.

“Our work is seeing what your rights and obligations are … on these other things,” Sugarman said, including the board’s rights under the 2015 agreement and the consent decree.

“You’ve got a contract. You’ve got a consent decree. You can’t just throw them under the table and pretend they don’t exist anymore,” Sugarman said.

“Everything that’s happened,” Gabriel added, “fits into the 2015 agreement.”

Worries among the trustees remain about liquidity risk, potential fiduciary liability, and other major issues, but they are going to be worked out — in fact, they’ll have to be.

“For the record, I think the mayor’s plan is terrible,” Tuten said, regarding “putting off a problem now for a problem 20 or 30 years from now.”

“I don’t see them deviating from the plan,” Tuten added, asking “are we going to have to sue them to stop?”

The board would need the state Attorney General’s approval to sue, and that isn’t likely.

The board will hire a financial consultant for guidance in the meantime … a move not precluded by charter.

“We’re just spinning our wheels here,” Tuten opined, before presenting a series of nightmare scenarios about the city not having the revenue to fund pensions for the people on the current plan, and raising questions about not being able to send an accurate bill to the city.

One suggestion emerged to the council: not cutting out the extra supplemental payments to the pension fund, as mandated by the 2015 deal.

Jacksonville leaders’ arguments for state incentives fall on deaf ears in Tallahassee

Jacksonville may be Ground Zero for the debate about economic incentives. Local leaders want them, but the local Florida House delegation does not.

This week, yet another prominent person in Jacksonville’s City Hall sounded the alarm for state incentives via Enterprise Florida.

The Jacksonville Daily Record reports that local OED head Kirk Wendland made the case for Enterprise Florida on Tuesday to local stakeholders.

Wendland’s quotes are so on message with Gov. Rick Scott that they could have come out of his press shop.

“If any of you know any senators and you have any conversations with them, please convey that it’s serious. We are counting on them to save Enterprise Florida,” Wendland said.

To hear him tell it, the merry-go-round of economic development is slowing: “just the discussion of Enterprise Florida not being there, and not having a state economic development agency, has absolutely affected the deal flow that we have seen over the past couple of months.”

Consultants — the kind that handle site visits for companies — aren’t biting, saying “we’ll come talk to you” after the incentive fight wraps.

If Enterprise Florida is cut, it “will have a material impact on us being able to compete for major projects here in Florida, in Jacksonville specifically,” Wendland told the Daily Record.

Wendland’s words echo the positions of two members of the city council, Jim Love and Aaron Bowman (whose day job is with the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce).

Bowman and Love are pushing a resolution to affirm support for Enterprise Florida, which they believe is especially important for Jacksonville compared to other major metros in the state.

The salient numbers for Councilman Love: 5,000 jobs and $650M in private capital investment since July 2015.

Even before the council resolution, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry spoke to our Northeast Florida bureau about the need for incentives.

“We use incentives – local incentives and state incentives through Enterprise Florida – and we use them successfully,” Curry contended.

The city’s scorecard, which ensures ROI for taxpayers when incentives are offered, is designed to ensure an “inflow of tax dollars that exceeds that investment.”

“I would say that incentives are important to us. They’re used in a way that respects the taxpayers. Without the state funding,” Curry said, “we would have had trouble closing some of the big deals that we closed.”

Since the beginning of his mayoral administration in July 2015, Curry has evangelized for Enterprise Florida.

“Funding for Enterprise Florida is critical and important for Northeast Florida,” the mayor said in the summer of 2015. “It’s how we get deals done.”

It’s not just government workers who back Enterprise Florida.

It’s also the donor class, as Shad Khan made clear as early as 2015.

“I want to applaud Governor Scott,” Khan said. “If there is one lesson [to be derived] from Florida, it’s that economic development,” when prioritized, “leads to other things down the road.”

Such development can’t happen without Enterprise Florida, he said, and commented that the funding deficit is “disconcerting” because “the returns on funding are phenomenal.”

He urged the Legislature to “loosen the purse strings,” lest opportunity for corporate recruitment be lost.

Khan said, controversially at the time, that “there’s nothing iconic about Jacksonville.”

In that, he’s right.

Economic incentives have been the rising tide that has lifted at least some boats locally.

Companies like Macquarie, KLS Martin, and Deutsche Bank all expanded Jacksonville operations in the last two years.

All of those deals were incentive driven.

Jacksonville is an acquired taste for corporate types, used to the faster pace of life in New York or other traditional hotbeds.

However, it was just this year that Bloomberg reported that Jacksonville’s efforts, aided and abetted by state economic development, are paying off.

“Global financial companies including Frankfurt-based Deutsche Bank and Sydney-based Macquarie Group have been moving executives here and hiring locally, even while paring staff elsewhere.

“It’s part of a Wall Street trend known as nearshoring, in which banks are moving operations away from expensive financial centers like New York to places such as Jacksonville and North Carolina’s Research Triangle. Also in Jacksonville are more than 19,000 employees of Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo,” Bloomberg notes, adding that Jacksonville is Deutsche Bank’s second largest American location.

In addition, the Bloomberg report notes that jobs in Jacksonville, such as those offered by Macquarie, are filled by “people whose jobs might otherwise have been filled in India. It provides a support staff that’s more convenient for its U.S.-based employees, while its Indian operation continues to focus on the Asia business.”

With two years of successful economic development under the current structure, it’s noteworthy that the Duval Delegation is unmoved by the results on the ground.

During this week’s vote on Enterprise Florida in the House, a grand total of one representative — Jay Fant — represented the position preferred by local policy makers.

Paul Renner, seen as an adjunct local legislator, is key to the battle against incentives.

Meanwhile, other Republicans (Cord ByrdJason FischerClay Yarborough) and both local Democrats (Tracie Davis and Kim Daniels) went with the Speaker and away from the constant drumbeat from locals that Jacksonville’s economic boom will lean toward bust without state incentives.

This has been a session of recalibrated expectations in Jacksonville’s city hall relative to this delegation: consider the aborted Hart Bridge offramp changes as a prime example.

The argument could be made, meanwhile, that the most effective lobbying on any measure by a local legislator has been by Rep. Daniels, on her bill expanding protections of “religious expression” in public schools.

Daniels took the bill over to the Senate, where she got Ocala Republican Dennis Baxley to carry it through committees to the Senate floor.

On the House side, meanwhile, the bill has had one committee hearing.

It was approved unanimously, with applause after the vote.

One can argue the merits of school prayer and other demonstrations of “religious expression” in schools.

What can’t be argued: no amount of “religious expression” in schools will bring a single job to Jacksonville.

Joe Gruters says he’s a long shot for CFO position, but appreciates the mention

Sarasota GOP Chair and state Rep. Joe Gruters said he is a “long-shot” to be Gov. Rick Scott‘s choice to succeed Jeff Atwater as Chief Financial Officer once Atwater leaves the office in May.

On Wednesday afternoon, Gruters appeared on Tampa Bay area radio station News Talk 820 WWBA with guest host David Jolly, who formerly represented Florida’s 13th Congressional District.Gruters had shown loyalty to Scott and President

Jolly said Gruters had shown loyalty to Scott and President Donald Trump when he backed both candidates when they were considered outliers within the GOP, and Scott would reward such loyalty by picking Gruters to succeed Atwater later this year, Jolly said.

“Well, Congressman, that’s so nice of you to say,” Gruters responded, as Jolly laughed.

“Even to be mentioned with some of these other names that are being popped up is an incredible honor,” Gruters continued. “I don’t know who it’s going to be. My guess is that I’m a long shot candidate, there’s other great candidates like (Jacksonville Mayor) Lenny Curry, Pat Neal, who’s a great friend of mine in Manatee County who would be a strong 2018 contender.

“But here’s the deal: you never know. Listen, I’m going to continue to fight for jobs and economic development no matter what the position I’m in, whether it’s state House or anything else.”

“Joe, you’re a winner in Florida politics,” replied Jolly, who was guest-hosting for Dan Maduri. “It wouldn’t surprise me if either now or in the future, we’re talking about Joe Gruters in a Cabinet position.”

Atwater announced he will leave the CFO position after the regular Legislative Session ends in May. Scott has given no indication about who he will select to replace him.

Jacksonville PFPF expected to vote on pension deal Friday

In February, the Jacksonville Police and Fire Pension Fund Board of Trustees balked at a Mar. 15 deadline to vote on the city’s latest pension plan.

The board had worried that there would not be enough time to review the data of the new plan, which offers raises and uniformity of benefits for current employees, while providing a new defined contribution plan for future hires — offering a 25 percent city match and assurances that death and disability benefits would substantially be the same as they are for current employees.

Since then, the Fraternal Order of Police and the corrections officers had approved the deal, with the Jacksonville Association of Firefighters voting on it this week.

And now, after a prolonged period of negotiations, which included candid emails between PFPF Trustee Board Chair Richard Tuten and the city’s chief administrative officer, Sam Mousa, the board and the city have struck a compromise.

The board is expected to vote on the deal two days after the city’s unilaterally imposed deadline: Friday, March 17, at its regular 9 a.m. board meeting, according to emails between Mousa and the heads of the police and fire unions.

Facilitating the compromise to extend the deadline two days — cooperation of the members of the board not named Richard Tuten, as Mousa wrote to PFPF Plan Administrator Tim Johnson.

“The Mayor has asked me to ask you to please extend his thanks and gratitude to the four (4) PFPF Board Members (Scheu, Brown, Payne and Patsy) who took time out of their busy schedule to meet individually with me and Mike Weinstein concerning pension reform. Mike and I are furthermore appreciative of those members as we believe the meetings were very productive,” Mousa wrote.

If this vote is successful (and if it actually happens, the pension deal will move on to the Jacksonville City Council, whose own members have serious questions about the actual hard numbers in the deal — numbers that have yet to be produced for public review by the Lenny Curry administration.

Curry contends that the deal will save the city money, saying that the 25 percent city match is far short of what the city pays for pension costs for current employees.

“Right now we’re spending 119 percent of for [pension costs] for every JSO employee and fireman,” Curry said. “If we hired you today, we would take your salary and put 119 percent of that in the pension fund. That’s not sustainable …. 25 percent is a fraction of 119 percent. It works. It will attract and retain people.”

“As to when the numbers will be made available,” Curry said, “City Council will have to vote on this, and all of these numbers will be laid out before them, which is how the budget process works.”

Jacksonville re-ups Friends of Hemming Park contract for 6 months, $415K

In Jacksonville, friendships aren’t meant to last forever. But in the case of Friends of Hemming Park, they are renewable in six-month terms.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry wrote senior staff this week with the news that the once-controversial FOHP contract would be re-upped through the end of September.

“Based on our discussions with Bill Prescott, it is clear he is passionate about the future of Hemming … committed to performance metrics and accountability,” Curry said.

The mayor wants to give them a 6 month extension, though he wants the board to know the mayor’s office is “serious about results.”

An ordinance (2017-198) has been filed for the allocation.

“The Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department will transfer a total of $415,000 to the Friends of Hemming Park. $240,000 from Parks Playgrounds & Centers for operational expenses and $175,000 from completed capital projects and Countywide Parks Upgrades/Maintenance/Repairs to upgrade the landscaping and make hardscape improvements within Hemming Park,” asserts the fact sheet.

“These capital improvements include landscaping and hardscape improvements throughout the entire park. All impovements will be contracted out. It is anticipated that the improvements will be completed by the end of FY 2017,” continues the document.

Deferral of an amendment to the FOHP contract, asserts the fact sheet, “will be detrimental to the best interests of the community because the Friends of Hemming Park will be working to leverage our dollars with private contributions.”

Opioid overdose crisis becomes top priority for Jacksonville policy makers

The numbers are stark for those who care about public policy in Jacksonville. And the need for solutions is urgent.

Overdoses, at last count, end four times as many lives as homicides in Duval County, with 2016’s count of 464 casualties more than doubling 2015’s count of 201.

Caucasians represent 86 percent of the deaths, and over half of those passing away are in their 30s and 40s

911 calls for ODs to the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department have tripled, with a call every two hours now. Narcan administrations: up 500 percent. JFRD responded to over 3,411 calls in 2016, and the cost of transporting OD victims could near $4.5M this year.

Councilman Bill Gulliford and other city council members were on hand — as was Mayor Lenny Curry.

Curry noted that he “moved some things around to be here,” to address the “tragic epidemic.”

“We take this seriously. We understand that families have suffered because of this. And we have to get it right.”

Councilman Gulliford noted the statistics, including the “131 percent increase” year over year.

The goal of the meeting: to talk awareness, prevention, and solutions, Gulliford noted.

Gulliford noted that extends to his own family. He spent time last weekend talking to his grandchildren about these issues.

“I hope I made an impression on them. I pray I made an impression on them,” the councilman said.

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Richard Preston, a recovered addict, told his “hellacious story” of recovery from drugs and alcohol, using the exhorting style that blended the rolling cadences of an evangelist with the patter of a traveling salesman.

He has been sober for 11 years.

“I know that Jacksonville can be the city against which others are measured in the war against opioids,” Preston, a Jacksonville native said, describing how cocaine and other drugs derailed his promising academic career, then his work life.

“This is our opportunity,” Preston said to the politicians on hand.

“We need to bring hope to those who don’t have hope themselves,” Preston said, before shilling his second memoir about his addiction issues.

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Jeff and Edie Carlson spoke next; their youngest son is a heroin addict.

Mrs. Carlson attributed the issue to a lack of education on addiction, and the stigma attached, noting that another Mr. Carlson’s brother — a former undercover police officer — died of an overdose.

“The education needs to start with the parents of elementary school students. Middle school may be too late,” Mrs. Carlson said, before describing their son’s struggle with overdose and rehab trips.

During one post-rehab overdose, her son had stopped breathing. Timely arrival of medics kept him alive.

Currently, he is in a 90-day rehab.

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Medical Examiner Valerie Rao spoke of the agony of the calls, when parents ask her what she can do, and when she asks if “they believe in God.”

When they say they do, Rao (a religious person) is relieved.

However, the relief is short-lived.

“We have to somehow personalize this. If you start thinking like that, we can come up with solutions. If you don’t,” Rao said, “it’s not going to work.”

Miami-Dade, Seattle, Orlando — all have task forces.

Rao advised that Jacksonville have something similar.

“Everybody’s talking about heroin,” Rao said, “but fentanyl is cheap. Carfentanil is cheap … who ever heard of these drugs? But that’s what the drug dealers are using to cut the heroin.”

The casualties come quick from these lethal cocktails.

“I’m dealing in truth, not fiction. And this is what I deal with every day,” Rao said, noting that unlike in the case of cocaine, when someone can taste the powder and identify anesthetic, there is no analogue for heroin and its variants.

Rao went through recent cases, including ten just today: the common threads are a history of doing drugs and ubiquitous drug paraphenalia in many of the cases.

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The hope, as advanced by Susan Pitman of Drug Free Duval, is for a sustained community response.

Much of that, said Ron Lendvay of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, revolves around supply interdiction and prevention, via undercover officers infiltrating the communities of users.

Still, the impact builds.

One homicide sergeant had to go to five overdoses in one day recently, and as Rao said, the most corrupted drugs tend to be most deadly.

“The heroin is an organic material … fentanyl is as bad if not worse than heroin,” Lendvay said, noting that Mexican cartels are manufacturing the synthetic cutting agents.

“If anybody hears these speakers and doesn’t think there’s a crisis,” Gulliford said after Lendvay wrapped, “you must have been sleeping.”

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Audience members had their say, and the disagreements were passionate about the merits of methadone and Nar-Anon, and the limits on treatment for the uninsured.

“Magically,” said one mother, “if you are uninsured, you’re healed in three days.”

Beds at rehab facilities — River Region and Gateway — are filled for months, meanwhile, meaning that the issue for many of those struggling with addiction can’t get help.

Over the course of the meeting, what was generally clear: a sincere desire to somehow stop the epidemic, yet a realization that resources are scarce, and that interdiction of the drugs coming from Mexico has proved daunting.

Perhaps a “great, big, beautiful wall” will stop it.

Perhaps trends themselves will change, as historically has been the case with illicit drug use.

But the reality is that in Jacksonville, as is the case in major and minor cities and hamlets across the country, overstretched local governments have yet to mount a meaningful counter to this epidemic.

In Jacksonville, Thursday evening’s town hall is a start — a step forward on a long journey, one where the finish line is nowhere near being in sight.

Lenny Curry, Rob Bradley committees and Travis Cummings pace Northeast Florida February fundraising

No Northeast Florida incumbents face competitive races in 2018. Yet the fundraising continues anyway, as February evidenced.

Notable for performance: two Northeast Florida political committees that cleared the $100K threshold for February money.

And one Clay County legislator who had a strong month.

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One of the PACs that hit six figures: “Build Something That Lasts,” the political committee of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry,

Curry’s committee raised $110,000 in February. That sum follows a $63,000 January, and brings the committee near $240,000 on hand.

Curry’s committee secured the $110,000 from five donors, including the Jacksonville Jaguars, Peter RummellGary Chartrand, and J.B. Coxwell.

While these are usual donors, the committee also got a $25,000 donation from Mori Hosseini, the CEO of ICI Homes who is a noted power player in GOP politics.

For those monitoring Curry’s appeal outside of Northeast Florida, the Hosseini donation is a strong indication of what may be a trend.

Curry still hasn’t filed to run for re-election in 2019, and his name is still in the rumor mill to replace Jeff Atwater as CFO.

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The strongest committee performance in February in NE Florida: “Working for Florida’s Families,” the committee of Sen. Rob Bradley.

Bradley’s committee brought in $120,500 in February, bringing total cash on hand over $360,000.

The leading donor at $25,000, RAI Services, the parent company for R.J. Reynolds, American Snuff, and other fine tobacco products available at stores near you.

American Traffic Solutions gave $10,000, as did licensed medical marijuana company Costa Farms (a regular supporter of Bradley), and Floracann, the cannabis subsidiary of Jacksonville’s Loop Nurseries.

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The best month for any legislator, by far, was from Rep. Travis Cummings in Clay County’s HD 18.

Cummings brought in $34,150 of new money, pushing his total cash on hand over $47,000 – a good indication that the pressure the governor put on him over not supporting Enterprise Florida hasn’t affected Cummings’ bottom line.

PACs and physicians were the main drivers for Cummings: Anesthesiologists, Physical Therapist, Beer Distributors, Realtors, and other such groups that know to back a winner.

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Of local Senators, SD 4 Republican Aaron Bean brought in $6,200 in February, pushing the Republican near $20,000 on hand.

Among the donors to the Bean team: Service Corporation International, which runs the Dignity Memorial funeral home chain, and donated $1,000.

Also maxing out: SmartHorizons, an online education company. And petroleum giant Chevron donated $500.

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In SD 5, Audrey Gibson has yet to report February numbers; we will update this piece when she does.

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In HD 11, Cord Byrd raised $5,500 of new money in February, giving him $10,100 on hand – not bad for someone who won in November with 98 percent of the vote.

Gunster, The Fiorentino Group, Southern Gardens Citrus, and Pinch-a-Penny were among the donors.

Over in HD 12, Clay Yarborough brought in $5,000 in new February money, pushing his total raised to $7,500 for his re-election.

Gunster and Fiorentino ponied up for the former Jacksonville City Councilman, who also had a max contribution from the Florida Harbor Pilots Association.

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In HD 13, HD 14, HD 15, and HD 16, there is nothing as yet to report.

Tracie Davis and Jason Fischer have yet to do a February filing. And Kim Daniels has yet to file for re-election, though a staffer told us last week that delay is just a function of travel and other commitments, and Daniels will run for re-election in a safe Democrat district.

Likewise, Rep. Fant has yet to file to re-election

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In HD 17, Cyndi Stevenson, who was re-elected without the formality of a primary or general election challenge last year, had even a better February, with $8,150 of new money.

Among her contributors: the AIF PAC, Florida Blue, the Florida Chamber, Ronald Book, Bitner and Associates, and Southern Gardens Citrus. Stevenson had just over $20,000 on hand.

Could anti-Donald Trump quotes hurt Pat Neal’s chances of becoming CFO?

Not surprisingly, Donald Trump hasn’t been too keen on hiring those associated with the “Never Trump” movement of conservative policy who surfaced in last year’s presidential campaign.

The most glaring example of this is the case of former State Department official Elliott Abrams. A meeting between the two last month reportedly went well, according to CNN. Ultimately, though, Trump opted not to hire Abrams for the Deputy Secretary of State position once he learned that Abrams criticized him during his White House run.

With the in mind, might strong criticism of the President during the campaign turn off Rick Scott, a close ally of Trump’s, specifically when it comes to naming a new Chief Financial Officer?

While there have been a host of names floated as possible contenders (including state Senators Jack Latvala, Jeff Brandes, Tom Lee and Lizbeth Benacquisto, state Rep. Jim Boyd, former interim head of Citizens Property Insurance Tom Grady, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, former Speaker of the House Will Weatherford, and Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera), Pat Neal, the Manatee County real estate developer and former state lawmaker, is being looked at by many as the top choice to succeed Jeff Atwater.

Atwater announced last month that he would step down as CFO to serve as Vice President for Strategic Initiatives and Chief Financial Officer at Florida Atlantic University at the end of the Florida Legislature’s regular session in May.

Neal announced last June that he would not be a candidate for the CFO position in 2018, telling the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that he was “dispirited with what I see every morning having to do with the Trump campaign.”

He went on to tell reporter Zac Anderson that he viewed Trump as an incredibly “vulgar” candidate  who “is leading our party off a cliff.”

Neal later told the Times’ Adam Smith: “I, Pat Neal, have never had a bankruptcy, never had a bank default. When you sign a note of bonds, or sell stock with investors the right thing to do is pay them back. Not only did he lose money for people he borrowed from, but for a period there he lost money for his investors, particularly in the casino deals. That isn’t the way you do it, and I would not say he is a credit to the real estate industry.”

When asked to comment, a spokesperson for Scott simply sent the same statement that Scott said when Atwater announced he would be leaving the CFO spot last month.  It was filled with effusive praise for the Palm Beach County Republican, with Scott adding, “The role of the CFO is incredibly important to our state, and I will begin the process to appoint someone to serve Florida families.”

It should be noted that not everyone who has had critical words for Trump has been banned from working with him in his new administration.

Take Rick Perry, Bush’s Secretary of Energy.

On the campaign trail, the former Texas Governor called Trump a “cancer on conservatism,” before ultimately endorsing Trump for president calling the the New York City real estate magnate “one of the most talented people who has ever run for the president I have ever seen.”

2017 Legislative Session preview: Tempered expectations for Duval Legislative Delegation

It’s show and prove time for the Duval County Legislative Delegation.

The whispers inside the St. James Building (Jacksonville’s city hall) are full of doubt and disbelief.

Some are saying they lack experience – and they do. Five of the six House members are rookies.

That’s going to make it difficult to score appropriations victories.

Some are saying the members’ committee assignments are backbench.

That likewise is problematic.

What is clear though: for Duval County, this will be a session of not-so-great expectations.

After last year’s session, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry was able to trumpet a variety of wins, from appropriations asks to the pension tax referendum getting through (sponsored in the legislature, notably, by outsiders), as “what winning looks like.”

This time around?

It’s going to be more like playing for a tie.

A symptom of the diminished expectations emerged as early as last year’s meeting of the Duval County Legislative Delegation.

Curry said he needed $50 million of state money to tear down the Hart Bridge offramps into the sports complex area and route traffic onto Bay Street, creating a flow toward the stadium, amphitheater, and other amenities in the area and soon to be there.

Curry got crickets.

Privately, delegation members groused that the ask was too much, with too little detail, and too little advance work.

Soon thereafter, the Curry administration signaled a strategic retreat.

They decided, as per the Florida Times Union, that pursuing state matching funds for septic tank removal – to go along with a shared $30M commitment between the city and JEA over 5 years – would be more “prudent.”

Curry noted last week that he’d been “working with our delegation on priorities I’ve laid out. One of the big ones is septic tank removal. The city’s looking for a match – a big match. That is an issue that’s environmental … that will help us honor promises that were made pre-Consolidation.”

“I’m working with the delegation toward the priorities that I have, and I think we’ll work very successfully,” Curry said.

Recently, FDOT authorized a $250,000 allocation for a study of the issues on the bridge, though with a tightening state budget, it may be twilight for such ambitious infrastructural asks.

Delegation chair Jay Fant is provisionally optimistic, telling this reporter that even though the folks in the delegation didn’t have a lot of tenure, they knew how to get things done.

That may be the case.

But they clearly need to prove that to the mayor’s office, as the big ask of the session – the Hart Bridge ramps – was squashed before it even began.

For his part, Fant tells us that he would have been “happy to carry the bill,” but that the mayor’s office “backed off” because the concept “needed some validation” and wasn’t just a “request and get.”

Fant asserts that the bill may be more salable in committees with more data behind it.

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