Orlando – Page 2 – Florida Politics

Rick Scott pledges to fix ‘unfair’ taxes for Puerto Rico

With the flood of Puerto Rico migrants to Florida and an effort by that commonwealth’s governor to organize them to support the island, Florida Gov. Rick Scott pledged in Orlando Thursday that if elected to the U.S. Senate he’d seek to change ‘unfair’ tax measures for the island.

“I’m for reduced taxes, but we’ve got to be fair,” Scott said.

The statement is in part a criticism of details of the recently approved federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that President Donald Trump pushed through Congress in December, and which Scott supported then and said he still supports. “I’m glad they passed the tax reductions,” he said.

That law, though, includes tax measures that hit Puerto Rico hard, notably with a 12.5 percent intellectual properties excise tax on profits derived from patents and trademarks held by Puerto Rican companies, seen as a sharp blow particularly to the fledgling health and pharmaceutical industry that has been blooming there.

Scott’s opponent, Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, already was a strong critic of the intellectual property tax, and of another measure that denied Puerto Rico island residents from being able to use a new $2,000 child tax credit. Nelson called the tax bill “a knife in the neck” of Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló has been an angry critic of that and other measures in the bill and earlier this week he came to Orlando to announce his support for a private effort to organize Puerto Rico migrants stateside to register and vote for federal candidates in Florida and elsewhere that supported the Puerto Rico tax measures.

Scott, who just returned from a trip to Puerto Rico while Rossello was in Florida, said he has spoken with the Puerto Rican governor about the tax.

“We shouldn’t be tasking things between states or territories, then they get more difficult for one part of the country to do better than the other one,” Scott said.

At a campaign stop in Orlando, Scott was specifically asked if he would seek to change those measures if he were elected.

“Oh yeah,” he said.

 

Debbie Mayfield urges Rick Scott to ‘protect’ state from Brightline bond questions

Armed with newly-raised congressional skepticism about the legitimacy of a financing method used by the company, state Sen. Debbie Mayfield on Wednesday urged Gov. Rick Scott to pull Florida from the financing deal backing Brightline’s proposed private passenger railroad along the east coast.

Scott’s office replied that it would review it.

At issue is $1.75 billion in federal, tax-exempt private activity bonds [PABs] that were approved last year for construction of the rail line for the privately owned and operated, higher-speed, passenger train railroad being developed by Brightline, formerly known as All Aboard Florida.

Brightline has promised high-speed, private passenger rail service connecting Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Orlando, pledging to do so with private money. Service already has begun between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale, and is expected this year to connect to Miami, with Orlando still a few years away.

Opposition has centered largely within the ride-over counties of Florida’s Treasure and Space coasts, between the planned stops in West Palm Beach and Orlando. They have raised strong objections to potential safety and disruption issues the trains may pose.

Yet now the company’s decision to seek and use federally-tax exempt PABs to raise capital for the project has led critics, notably now Mayfield, a Republican from Melbourne, to seize on this financing option as a potential critical weakness in the project.

Last week a congressional hearing raised questions about whether Brightline should have been approved for the bonds. Following up this week, Florida’s U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio wrote U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao raising more questions about the deal.

Brightline has noted that it followed all federal rules and received the approval through appropriate processes, and that courts that reviewed the financing have agreed.

On Wednesday Mayfield sought to bring those questions to Scott’s attention and caution him that he should do something about protecting Florida’s reputation, and specifically that of the Florida Development Finance Corporation, which also approved Brightline’s PAB financing plan, and through which the bonds would be sold.

“In light of the cloud of uncertainty that has been placed on the legitimacy of the allocation of PABs to AAF, there must be an effort to protect the FDFC from a potentially embarrassing situation that could also jeopardize the state of Florida’s reputation,” Mayfield wrote.

Brightline already has spent $600 million to upgrade railroad tracks in South Florida, between West Palm Beach and  Miami. The longer, higher-speed, more expensive phase involves upgrading tracks and laying new tracks between West Palm Beach and Orlando. And that’s next.

Mayfield called for Scott to not let Florida participate in financing that deal, at least for the time being.

“As I previously indicated, I respectfully request that you take action and direct the FDFC to not act as a conduit for AAF, its affiliate Brightline North Segment Borrower LLC, or any other affiliate of AAF, to sell $1.15 billion in PABs while there is an active discussion and analysis taking place at the federal level for the next 90 days.”

A response from Scott’s office declared, “We will review it.”

Last week at a hearing of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Government Operations, largely under questions from Republican U.S. Reps. Brian Mast of Palm City and Bill Posey of Rockledge, federal officials revealed they had approved the bonds under a very broad interpretation of the law. That led subcommittee Chairman U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows, a North Carolina Republican, to suggest that what happened appeared to him to be outside what Congress intended when it authorized the financing mechanism.

Rubio wrote Chao Tuesday wanting to know any precedents that might compare with Brightline’s case.

Marco Rubio joins calls questioning federal financing behind Brightline

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio on Tuesday joined his congressional colleagues U.S. Republican Reps. Brian Mast and Bill Posey in questioning whether All Aboard Florida should have received $1.75 billion in federally authorized, tax-exempt private activity bonds to build its private, higher-speed railroad from South Florida to Orlando.

Mast, of Palm City, and Posey, of Rockledge, led a congressional challenge of the appropriateness of the bonds during a hearing last Thursday of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Government Operations.

In a letter Tuesday to U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Rubio raised the same question Mast and Posey posed, plus a couple more.

“AAF’s project has raised questions regarding whether federal financing was appropriately used. I urge the Department of Transportation to provide clarity,” Rubio wrote.

At issue is the interpretation used by the U.S. Department of Transportation to determine whether the privately owned and operated Brightline railroad being planned from West Palm Beach to Orlando would qualify under federal laws that restrict private activity bonds’ usage.

The federal tax-exemption on bonds is explicitly available in the law to either passenger trains that can go at least 150 mph, or to surface transportation projects that have previously received federal transportation funding.

The Brightline train, as envisioned, could go as fast as 110 mph between West Palm and Cocoa, and could top out at about 120 between Cocoa and Orlando. The current trek from West Palm to Fort Lauderdale has a maximum speed of 79 mph. The next leg, to Miami, opening later this year, also has a maximum speed of 79 mph.

At the hearing last week, a U.S. DoT official maintained that Brightline qualified for $1.75 billion of tax-exempt bonds as a surface transportation project that had previously received funding, up to $9 million for upgraded road crossings. Posey, Mast and other members of Congress at that hearing criticized that interpretation, saying they understood “surface transportation” to be defined as roads and highways, not railroads. They also argued that the road crossings that had received the federal funding were not owned by Brightline and thus shouldn’t have been considered a part of the Brightline project.

Brightline President Patrick Goddard testified that his company followed all the U.S. DoT rules, and that the approval of private activity bonds has been successfully defended in court, more than once.

Though Rubio appeared unconvinced in his letter Tuesday.

“It is not clear that Brightline’s proposal should have qualified for these funds,” he wrote.

He wanted to know three things:

– “Is DOT’s interpretation that any surface transportation project that utilizes Title 23 funds, no matter the dollar amount, would qualify for funding through private activity bonds?”

– Is there precedent for other rail projects that did not meet the 150 mph threshold receiving funding?

– Has DOT previously denied rail projects based on the 150 mph threshold not being met?

Job growth tops 1.5 million in his tenure, Rick Scott says

Florida added 12,500 new public sector jobs in March pushing the jobs growth tally over 1.5 million during his tenure, Gov. Rick Scott announced Friday in Orlando.

The latest numbers from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity show the state’s unemployment rate holding at 3.9 percent, with the professional and business services sector leading the way in the 167,000 new private jobs created in the past 12 months.

“Now we’ve passed 1.5 million jobs in seven years and three months, which is exciting to me because as you know it’s what I ran on back in 2010, 700,000 jobs in seven years, and now we’ve way more than doubled that,” Scott, who recently announced his bid for the U.S. Senate, said at VOXX International, an automotive electronics and audio components manufacturing company in Orlando.

The latest numbers show 38,100 new jobs in the professional and business services sector, 32,300 in leisure and hospitality, 31,600 in construction, 21,200 in education and health services, and 15,600 in financial services over the past year.

The office also cited an annual job growth rate of 2.3 percent in Florida, compared with 1.8 percent nationally, and the 3.9 percent unemployment rate represents a decline of 6.9 percentage points since December 2010, faster than the 5.2 percentage points decline seen nationally.

Mikaela Nix fundraiser to feature Jennifer Carroll, Jason Brodeur, Chris Dorworth

Former Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, state Rep. Jason Brodeur, former state Rep. Chris Dorworth, and Trump 2020 Club founder Randy Ross are helping host a Republican Mikaela Nix‘s campaign in Florida House District 47.

Carroll, Brodeur, Dorworth, and Ross are among host committee members for an event Mikaela has scheduled for April 25 at The Acre Orlando in College Park. Seminole County Commissioner Bob Dallari also is a member of the host committee.

Mikaela, of College Park, is in a Republican primary battle with Stockton Reeves VI of Winter Park for the nomination to run in HD 47, which likely will be an open seat because Republican incumbent state Rep. Mike Miller of Winter Park is running for Congress. Anna Eskamani is running for the Democrats in the district, which covers north-central Orange County.

Philip Levine

Philip Levine stakes I-4 presence with Central Florida coordinator

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine has staked his presence in the I-4 corridor with the announced hiring Wednesday of Jonathan Santiago as his Central Florida regional coordinator.

Santiago has worked as a Central Florida regional organizer on the last two statewide operations for Hillary For America’s 2016 Florida team and the Crist for Governor campaign in 2014.

“Jonathan is a veteran of Central Florida politics whose organizing and grassroots knowledge will enforce the campaign’s mission to reach voters in every community across the state,” Levine’s Campaign Manager Matthew Van Name stated in a news release. “We’re excited to expand our team with dynamic young talent that will allow the campaign to build momentum and continue its strategy of engaging with voters in all of Florida’s 67 counties.”

The move by Levine, who is based in Miami, comes as Democratic rivals Chris King and Gwen Graham established their campaign headquarters in Orlando, the critical Democratic fulcrum in the always-critical I-4 Corridor. Fourth Democratic candidate Andrew Gillum also staked his own presence Tuesday night with a downtown rally featuring a rousing introduction from state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, the Orlando Democrat who chairs the state Legislative Progressive Caucus.

“I am fired up and ready to get to work to elect Mayor Philip Levine as our next Democratic governor of Florida because his record shows someone who will fight for all communities, including mine,” Santiago stated in the release.  “We saw firsthand last year how Mayor Levine stepped in to help mobilize relief efforts for Puerto Ricans and took on Donald Trump when his administration failed to act swiftly. There is no doubt that the people are ready for change in the Governor’s mansion in 2018 and I am ready to put in the elbow grease and work hard to elect someone who will govern in a way that truly reflects the values of our diverse communities across our state.”

Rick Scott: I don’t intend to fit in

Gov. Rick Scott sought to reclaim his image as an outsider when he announced Monday morning in Orlando that he is running for the U.S. Senate.

Scott ended more than a year of little suspense as he formally announced his Republican bid for the Senate seat held by Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson. He did so on the eighth anniversary of his announced run as a true outsider for the Florida’ governor’s office, and made it clear he’s intending to capture that same tone.

On Monday Scott made no specific references to Nelson, though he railed against career politicians, a label Nelson can wear as someone who’s been in public office since the 1970s. And he made no reference at all to President Donald Trump, whose unpopularity could become Scott’s greatest challenge with voters who know the president and governor have been close.

Instead, he chose to turn back the clock to 2010 when he came out of no where, talked  of nothing but jobs, brushed aside Florida’s Republican establishment, and then won the governor’s office. He even finished his announcement rally Monday with his trademark slogan from that campaign, shouting, “Let’s get to work!”

Scott made his announcement in front of a couple of hundred supporters crowded into the warehouse area of ODC Construction in Orlando.

“When you go to Tallahassee and make real change, guess what happens? The first they are is mad at you. They say you don’t fit into Tallahassee. I think that’s true,” Scott said. “I didn’t fit in in Tallahassee because I didn’t play the insider game. I never intended to fit into Tallahassee. And guess what? I’m not going to fit into Washington either.”

Scott repeatedly called for “shaping up” Washington, and he even called for term limits, something that apply to Nelson, who’s seeking his fourth term representing Florida in the U.S. Senate.

Other than the term-limits support and pledging to continue his jobs push, Scott made no promises and offered few policy statements or philosophies. He did not meet with the media, though he did answer a couple questions shouted at him as he pressed through the throng to leave after his speech.

“It’s going to be fun,” he said when asked about getting back on the campaign trail. “I’m going to work hard to get my message out. I’ll be coming out with a variety of proposals over the next several months. It starts with: we’ve got to get rid of career politicians.”

Nelson responded earlier Monday with a written statement: “I’ve always run every race like there’s no tomorrow – regardless of my opponent. While it’s clear that Rick Scott will say or do anything to get elected, I’ve always believed that if you just do the right things, the politics will take care of itself.”

Scott declined to comment on Nelson.

“We have a record of getting things done in this state. I’m going to take that same record to D.C. We’ve got change the national economy like we’ve done with the Florida economy, and that’s what I’m going to take there. It’s a can-do attitude that says we’re going to get our country back to work,” Scott said instead.

Carlos Smith endorses Andrew Gillum in Governor’s race

Orlando Democratic state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, chairman of the Florida Legislative Progressive Caucus and the lion of the state’s progressive Democrats, has thrown his support behind Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum in the Governor’s race.

“In 2018 Florida Democrats have a choice: do we settle yet again for moderate candidates reading a script written by party consultants, or do we want authentic leaders with bold ideas and a plan to achieve them? I’m proud to endorse Andrew Gillum for governor because he has lived and governed with our progressive values and stood up for issues that matter to our state: equality, healthcare and gun safety,” Smith stated in a news release issued by Gillum’s campaign Friday morning.

“Andrew’s proving you don’t have to be from a famous family or be ultra-wealthy to run for governor in our state, and he’s going to win in August and November,” he added.

Smith is finishing his freshman term representing Florida House District 49, covering northeast Orange County, and is seeking re-election so far without opposition. His first term established him as an unabashed and highly vocal leader in promoting progressive politics.

The endorsement also is a bid for Orlando’s Democratic base.

Gillum’s Democratic gubernatorial primary opposition includes two candidates who’ve established headquarters in Orlando, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, who moved much of her operations to Orlando from Tallahassee, and Winter Park businessman Chris King. Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine also is fighting for Orlando’s Democratic base, now with billboards.

“I am ecstatic to have Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith’s endorsement in this race for Governor. Carlos has redefined what it means to fight for your constituents – from his relentless advocacy on gun violence after Pulse, to the Puerto Rican community after last year’s hurricanes — he has fought tirelessly for the people and issues we care most about. It’s truly an honor to have his support in this race,” Gillum stated in the release.

Buddy Dyer endorsement of Nancy Robbinson sets stage for high-stakes school board race

With Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer‘s endorsement of Orange County School board member Nancy Robbinson to be the board’s chair, the election has turned into a high-stakes battle.

On the steps of Orlando City Hall Wednesday, Dyer endorsed Robbinson, a bit of a protégé, for the countywide chair position amidst expectations that Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs is about to announce her candidacy for the post.

Dyer’s endorsement begins setting the sides in what could be a contest between Robbinson, popular among downtown leaders, and Jacobs, broadly popular among countywide voters, for the uniquely powerful schools seat.

“We all know that great schools are the backbone of every community. They reflect our community’s belief that educating our young people and developing tomorrow’s leaders is a wise investment in the future of our community. But great schools don’t just happen…. without great school boards,” Dyer said.

“Nancy is an experienced education leader that our community needs as its next school board chair. I’m honored to endorse Nancy Robbinson as the next Orange County School Board chair,” Dyer said Wednesday.

Robbinson got her start in education leadership when Dyer appointed her to his Mayor’s Public Education Action Council in 2003, and then she served on the school board for 10 years, starting in 2008, representing north-central Orange County in District 6.

“I am just as passionate today about public education as when I first ran for the school board. And I still firmly believe that public education has to deliver a high-quality education experience for every student,” Robbinson said.

She pledged she would continue momentum that she said she helped create, seeking to continue to harden the schools for safety, focus on individual student achievement, pursue more pre-school options, and support teachers.

She would not say that she would change anything of the agenda set by current School Board Chair Bill Sublette, but said she would be available to treat the post as a full-time job unlike Sublette, an attorney.

The transition will be a critical time, she said, because at least four and perhaps five of the current seven district seats on the school board will have new members.

“I’m positive that I am the right person to guide this new and changing school board toward functioning at a high level, and I am ready for this leadership role,” she said.

Sublette is stepping down after two terms as the only county-wide elected school board chair Orange County has had since the position was created. In addition to Robbinson, School Board Members Joie Cadle, Daryl Flynn, and Christine Moore are not running for another term, while Linda Kobert is seeking re-election.

Robbinson has two opponents already, Robert Allen Prater of Orlando and Matthew Fitzpatrick of Apopka.  The race would take a decidedly different level and tone, however, if Jacobs opts in. The two-term mayor, a former county commissioner, won both of her countywide elections by landslides, though she’s never enjoyed the high regard of the downtown Orlando leadership community that tends to rally around Dyer.

Robbinson said she does not expect to change her approach if Jacobs gets in.

“I am hearing rumors that she is planning to file. Like I tell people, it’s always a rumor until she’s actually gone to the Supervisor of Elections to file to run for the office,” Robbinson said. “The way I plan to respond if she were to file is to continue my campaign just as I am, and be the obvious choice for the Orange County School Board chair position because I have 10 years of educational experience, and I have been representing the community and fighting for children and public education the entire time.”

Dyer said it makes no difference to him whether Jacobs files for the post.

“It doesn’t affect my support for Nancy Robbinson one bit,” Dyer said. “She’s done a great job in 10 years with the school district. She’ll do a super job as school board chair and I will support her all the way through.”

When do you write about the arrest of a lawmaker’s spouse?

No matter what else the reporters of Florida Politics wrote on Monday, I knew that the story that would be most-read would be whatever we posted about a congressman’s wife being arrested for disorderly intoxication.

On that day, FP served up a steady stream of first-of-the-quarter, post-holiday scoops and stories about candidates maneuvering their campaigns into position for 2018 and politicos maneuvering their careers into position for the long term.

That didn’t matter. People wanted to see a mugshot. They wanted to read a police report.

They wanted to be reassured that a politician’s day-to-day life is no better or worse than theirs. Lots of families have someone who drinks too much on a holiday. Some of those folks even end up running head-long into law enforcement. A handful of them get booked into jail.

But is it news? Did we really need to publish the story about U.S. Rep. Darren Soto‘s wife being arrested at Disney World?

If you go by the standard of ‘Well, everyone else is publishing, so why aren’t we?’ then, yes, our reporter in Orlando, Scott Powers, had to write about it. The Orlando Sentinel was covering it, and certainly so were Central Florida’s voracious television news stations. Powers wasn’t first to the story, but since he was close to being first, I knew we’d win the click-bait race.

Later in the day, after I looked at the viewership stats on the story, I pushed Powers to take another bite at the apple. To Powers, a classy veteran of the newspaper industry, I had to have sounded like Jason Sudeikis’ character in the fake movie trailer from John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight: “Get some likes. Get some clicks. Get some retweets. Get some forwards.”

Powers’ concern about hyping the story stemmed from Congressman Soto’s acknowledgment (via a press release and a statement) that “my wife has been honest about her struggle of living with mental illness…”

By re-upping the story, would we be taking advantage of someone who needs help and was just having a really bad day, just to earn a few thousand more clicks?

The police report further complicates the story. In it, the officer (who seemingly could not have been more patient) writes that “even while attempting to speak with her (Mrs. Soto), she continued to utter that her husband is a congressman, therefore, she can do whatever she wants.”

It’s that last part – the sense of entitlement it suggests – that guided me to my decision about pushing the story.

Yes, Mrs. Soto is suffering from some sort of mental illness. Yes, she had been drinking and only by the grace of God have I not found myself in the back of a police cruiser for similar reasons. But neither of those reasons are an excuse for haranguing a law enforcement officer.

That’s why we had to publish the story about a congressman’s wife being arrested for disorderly intoxication.

Here’s to hoping Mrs. Soto gets the help she needs.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons