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Chris King vows to bring ‘progressive entrepreneur’ spirit to Governor’s office

Orlando Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris King introduced himself to Florida Tuesday evening as the “progressive entrepreneur” promising to bring bring a head for hard work, return on investment and financial stewardship but also a heart to Tallahassee.

King, a 38-year-old Winter Park businessman with no experience in politics, kicked off his campaign for the state’s highest office at an Orlando rally with 400 to 500 people, a musical warmup, several advance speakers and an ice cream truck, in the parking lot of the 14-story Hillcrest Hampton House, an affordable-housing senior tower his Elevation Global Initiative company developed.

“Whether you are an old friend or a new friend, we come together tonight at a momentous time in my life, and in the life of this state,” King said standing beneath the “In front of the family that loved me, the community that raised me, and the senior tower that gave me my mission, I announce my candidacy for governor of Florida.”

King’s 27-minute speech placed him squarely in the center of most Democratic issues and values, from environmental protection [“I would put scientists back in charge of environmental agencies;”] to affordable housing [his business speciality;] from minimum wage increases, to investing far more in public education [“I will be a champion and advocate for public education;”] social and legal equality for all, to expanding health care access and investment in mental health.

“If you’ve come here tonight and you are an advocate for public education or environmental protection or housing, or health care, I’m with you,” King said. “I want to be too.”

Yet King also dismissed all of that as secondary to his primary concern, fixing the economy to better provide for working families. King criticized Florida’s economy as low-wage, dead last among the 10 most-populous states in incomes, wages and productivity, with 45 percent of jobs paying $15 an hour or less.

“The biggest issue, the motivating issue for me and this campaign as we move forward, is to me the issue Florida faces today. And that is the fact that we have an economy that no longer works for so many our families,” he said.

For that he promised to lay out his economic plan which he is calling “Home Grown Florida,” focusing on fostering entrepreneurs and small businesses, education, and investment in infrastructure.

He also spoke in detail about the need to address water issues, and promised his campaign would “not take any money from big sugar. Not because it’s always wrong… but because the issues around water, sugar and the health of this peninsula are so critical, so compelling, that the citizens of Florida must know that their next governor is an honest broker, able to sit down with all parties, and not beholden to the financial interests of any.”

King comes into the race largely unknown politically outside limited circles in Orlando, but not unconnected. His father David King is a powerful lawyer who argued and won the redistricting cases on behalf of the League of Women Voters in Florida that forced Tallahassee to redraw congressional and state senate districts. His mother Marilyn King is a longtime patients advocate who served as chair of the board of directors of Orlando Health.

After graduating from Harvard and getting a law degree from the University of Florida and a brief law career, King and his brother Michael King started Elevation Global Initiative, which arranges creative financing to re-invest in old housing and senior housing properties, to redevelop them as affordable-housing.

Both his father and brother say that Chris King has probably been preparing to run for governor since he was in high school. David King said his youngest son has “a calling,” and has been seriously contemplating the run for about a year and a half. In recent weeks he’s been raising early campaign money and assembling a campaign team that includes veterans of the Barack Obama and Charlie Crist statewide campaigns,

So far King faces Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum for the Democratic nomination, while several others are openly exploring runs, including Miami Beach Mayor Phil Levine, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham and Orlando lawyer John Morgan. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam appears to be clearing the field for his run for the Republican nomination.

Lake Okeechobee water level drops below targeted range

Dry weather has caused the water level in Lake Okeechobee drop below the minimum range targeted for South Florida’s drinking water supply.

The Sun Sentinel reports that if the dry spring becomes a summer drought, water restrictions could follow.

On Monday, officials said the lake was at 12.46 feet (3.8 meters) above sea level, which is 2.66 feet (0.81 meters) lower than the same time last year. In order to balance water supply needs during dry months while avoiding flooding concerns during the storm season, the Army Corp of Engineers likes to keep the lake level between 12.5 to 15.5 feet (3.81 meters) year-round.

Florida Water Management officials say March was drier than usual, averaging under an inch of rainfall in the region stretching from Orlando to the Florida Keys.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

 

Keith Miller: Florida’s small businesses need protections in state law

Keith Miller

Two Orlando residents are out $8 million after a large, out-of-state corporation forced their local businesses to shut down.

The local entrepreneurs were originally enticed by the corporation to open 10 Mexican-themed fast food restaurants in the Orlando area. The California-based corporation used unrealistic sales projections and profit margins to convince the group to sign on to the deal.

However, after only three years in business, they were forced to walk away and left with no state legal protections to recover their $8 million in investments and their businesses were sold for just 35 percent of their original purchase amount. Additionally, the investors secured loans from the Small Business Association (SBA), a federal program that uses taxpayer dollars to assist and support small business growth.

Since it was a California-based corporation and Florida does not currently have laws on the books to protect our own small-business owners and their investments, these Floridians were bound by California law which favored the corporation.

Florida cannot continue to lose our small businesses, their investments, or risk taxpayer dollars due to unfair corporate franchisor practices.

It is an all-too-common story where local business owners are at the mercy of the more powerful corporations and are taken advantage of. In this instance, the California-based corporation was issuing directives to the Florida owners based on California demographics and sales patterns which simply did not fit the Florida locations. When these locations were unable to comply with the unreasonable demands, and sales goals, they were left with no choice but to walk away from their businesses, leaving behind millions of dollars in property, equipment and supplies.

Owning and operating a successful business is challenging enough without the constant stress and fear that everything you’ve worked for can be taken away in the blink of an eye. 23 other states have already enacted laws to provide greater protection for small business franchise owners and Florida should do the same.

Similarly situated businesses in Florida, such as automobile dealers, agricultural equipment dealers and beer distributors are protected under Florida law.

In Florida, there are more than 40,000 small businesses owned and operated by franchisees who provide over 404,000 jobs and generate $35 billion in economic activity annually.

State Sen. Jack Latvala and State Rep. Jason Brodeur have introduced “The Protect Florida Small Business Act,” legislation that will provide protections to Florida’s small-business owners. Florida citizens can log on to www.ProtectFLBusiness.com to support passage of this important legislation.

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Keith Miller is the Chairman of the Coalition of Franchisee Associations (CFA), an organization founded in 2007 to provide a forum for franchisees to share best practices, knowledge, resources and training. Mr. Miller and the CFA are supporting this legislation and giving a voice to the individual franchisee owners who are at risk of speaking out themselves.

 

Chris King to kick off gubernatorial run as Democrat

After more than a month of silent campaign building since he filed to run for governor, Orlando Democratic businessman Chris King is ready to come out into the limelight,

King announced he will be holding his campaign kickoff at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Hillcrest Hampton House in Orlando. That is a senior affordable housing community his company renovated.

He is one of two Democrats to announce their candidacies to run for governor in 2018, along with Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum. But the silent mode of King’s campaign staff building since he filed his paperwork in February has left him behind three other potential candidates, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, Miami Beach Mayor Phil Levine, and Orlando attorney John Morgan, when it comes to introducing himself, his views and his plans to Florida.

An advisory released by his campaign Monday morning says he “will call for a new kind of leadership, and movement of people ready for a new direction to ‘rise up so Florida can lead again.’”

That is consistent with the few remarks the developer of affordable and senior housing projects has made in the past.

“As many of you are probably aware, next Tuesday I will be launching my candidacy for the Democratic nomination for Governor, and I look forward traveling all around this state getting to know so many of you,” King stated in a video presentation provided to a gathering of statewide Democrats Saturday night at the Florida Democratic Party’s DCCA Retreat.

“We can win this race in 2018, and I want to be the type of candidate that makes that possible and gets you excited again about what is possible in Florida,” King said.

Gillum, Graham, and Levine all attended the retreat in person, gave live speeches, and worked the crowd.

King, founder and CEO of Elevation Financial Group, a private equity real estate investment company, characterized himself as a “progressive entrepreneur” in his video to the Democrats’ retreat.

In tweets he posted last week, he declared, “I’m running for Governor of Florida because politics as usual isn’t working.” He also tweeted, “Florida should lead the nation, but today we’re falling behind on jobs, wages, education, health care, and hope.”

So far, he’s putting together a team that includes Charlie Crist‘s former campaign manager Omar Khan to serve as his senior adviser, as well as adding other Barack Obama alumni Jeremy Bird, Hari Sevugan, Larry Girsolano, and Isaac Baker to his team.

Florida cities among the biggest population gainers

Three metro areas in Florida were among the nation’s 10 biggest gainers in the number of people moving there last year, and another three Florida metro areas were in the top 10 for overall growth rates.

The U.S. Census Bureau on Thursday said the Tampa area had the nation’s fourth-highest gain from people moving there last year. Some 58,000 new residents moved there.

South Florida had the nation’s seventh-highest gain from migration, adding about 48,000 residents who moved there.

Orlando added nearly 47,000 residents through migration, placing it at No. 8.

Those three metro areas also were in the nation’s top 10 for overall population growth — which includes natural population increases and migration.

South Florida grew by nearly 65,000 residents from births and migration, and its population stood at more than 6 million last year.

The Tampa area grew to 3 million residents last year, adding 61,000 residents through natural increases and migration. Orlando grew overall by nearly 60,000 residents and had a population of 2.4 million residents last year.

The Villages community northwest of Orlando had the nation’s highest overall growth rate last year at 4.3 percent.

Fort Myers had the fifth highest at 3.1 percent. Punta Gorda’s 3 percent rate placed it at No. 8.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Florida’s unemployment rate holds steady at 5%

Florida’s unemployment rate held steady at 5 percent in February.

This marks the second month in a row the state’s unemployment rate has been at 5 percent, and mirrors the unemployment rate the state experienced in the first two months of 2016, according to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

The state added 239,800 jobs private sector jobs year-over-year in February. According to the DEO, the professional and business services industry added the most jobs — 43,000, or 3.4 percent increase — during the one-year period.

“I am proud to announce that Florida’s private-sector businesses have created nearly 54,000 new jobs in 2017,” said Gov. Rick Scott in a statement Friday. “Over the past six years, we have been relentless in our efforts to make Florida the most business-friendly state in the nation because a job is the most important thing to a family.”

The agency reported trade, transportation, and utilities added 42,000 jobs, or a 2.5 percent increase; education and health services added 40,500 jobs, or a 3.3 percent increase; and the leisure and hospitality industry added 40,300 jobs, or a 3.5 percent increase, during the same one- year period.

The Orlando region continued to lead the state in year-over-year job gains, adding 50,900 jobs between February 2016 and February 2017. The Tampa Bay region added 36,100 jobs during the one-year period, followed by Jacksonville with 25,900 jobs.

Mickey vs. the tax man: Disney, Universal fight tax bills

It takes a lot of land to accommodate Cinderella’s castle, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Epcot’s 11-country World Showcase — and a hefty purse to pay the property taxes on it.

To cut tax bills in the tens of millions of dollars, the specialists at Orlando’s famous theme parks have employed methods from the creative — placing cows on undeveloped land and claiming an agricultural exemption — to the traditional — negotiating or appealing to a county board.

Over the past couple of years, however, such tactics aren’t quite doing the job: Property assessments and taxes have jumped — and so has the number of lawsuits the theme parks and other businesses have filed against Orange County’s property appraiser. That’s Rick Singh, who was re-elected to a second four-year term last fall despite the thousands of dollars in donations park officials gave his opponent.

Park guests relax and cool off with a water mist under the globe at Universal Studios City Walk in Orlando, Fla.

In lawsuits filed last year, the theme parks said Singh’s office had failed to use proper appraisal methodology. Walt Disney Parks and Resorts issued a statement describing increased assessments on some of its properties for 2015 as “unreasonable and unjustified.”

Beyond such terse statements, officials from Disney, the development arm of Universal Orlando and SeaWorld of Florida are saying very little about an issue they hope to resolve in court.

But they have spoken loudly with their wallets. Groups affiliated with all three companies gave $19,000 to Singh’s Republican opponent. Singh, a Democrat, got only $5,000 from the groups.

“If the single mother who is working two jobs has to be held accountable to pay her fair share, so should everybody else.” — Rick Singh, Orange County property appraiser

The backlash isn’t surprising, said Doug Head, chairman of the watchdog group Orange County Watch. Head said the appraiser’s position has traditionally been a cushy post for local politicos waiting to retire, but Singh is one of the first to have substantial professional training.

“He uses professional expertise, and he clearly figured out there is a lot more value than is properly being reflected,” Head said. “He did what he needed to do, and people accustomed to the way business was done weren’t happy.”

Singh said his methods for assessing properties are no different than those of his predecessors — except when looking at resorts and hotels. Then, he considers their income statements and the local “bed tax” paid by hotel customers, which he said his predecessor didn’t use. Income isn’t considered when assessing theme parks.

“It’s a matter of being fair and equitable,” Singh said. “If the single mother who is working two jobs has to be held accountable to pay her fair share, so should everybody else.”

The importance of the three theme parks to Orange County, which includes Orlando, can’t be overstated: The properties owned by Disney, Universal and SeaWorld are valued collectively at about $10.7 billion. Properties owned by the largest resort and timeshare companies are worth another $6.3 billion.

The three theme park companies pay 7 percent of the county’s property taxes — more than $135 million last year. That revenue helps to mitigate the impact of hosting 66 million visitors in 86,000 hotel rooms and 15,500 timeshare units every year, and to finance law enforcement, schools, parks and public health programs. Disney also pays property taxes to a private government established by the Florida Legislature that provides the Disney parks and resorts with services including utilities, roadways and firefighters.

Orange County Property Appraiser Rick Singh, left, at an election party in Orlando, Fla.

Property values for the theme parks, resorts and other large commercial properties are set by a team of almost two dozen of the county’s seasoned appraisers in what Singh calls “the most complex tax roll in the world” due to the constant growth.

Singh said the appraisers use a “cost approach” when evaluating theme parks. Tax bills go up not just from rising property values but also from new construction, which is constant at the parks.

“What does it cost to improve the land? What does it cost to build this? … What is the labor cost? Factor in all that and then it depreciates, and that’s your cost approach,” he said.

But the results are meeting a wall of resistance. Last year, Disney, Universal and SeaWorld filed a dozen lawsuits against Singh’s office, the tax collector and the state Department of Revenue. Several other Orlando resorts also have sued.

The companies pay taxes only on their properties’ “assessed” values; the “market” values reflect what the properties could be sold for.

SeaWorld is fighting the market and assessed values of its flagship SeaWorld Adventure Park, its Aquatica water park and Discovery Cove, an animal-encounter park. In a separate lawsuit the property appraiser’s office filed against SeaWorld in 2015, Singh’s office listed a market value of $192.5 million; SeaWorld listed it at $143.4 million.

Universal is disputing the market value of its 20,000-vehicle parking garage, which has nearly doubled in two years, from $148.6 million in 2014, to $297 million in 2016. The garage’s assessed value only went up 10 percent a year during that time, however, from $145 million to $175 million.

The entrance to Sea World, in Orlando, Fla.

Disney, whose total properties in Orange County have a market value of $8.2 billion, is not saying publicly what it thinks the value should be. But the company’s tax bill from Singh’s office jumped from $84.5 million in 2014 to $97.2 million in 2015 to $102.6 million in 2016, an average increase of about 10 percent a year. Those numbers exclude what Disney pays its private government in property taxes.

“Similar to other property owners in Orange County, we have no choice but to take action to dispute these errors by the property appraiser,” Disney’s statement said.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

If Aramis Ayala had been in Denver, people might have shrugged

In January, when she took office, new Denver District Attorney Beth McCann reaffirmed her campaign promise on an extraordinary policy: There would be no death penalty cases in her district under her watch.

The reaction?

Virtually nothing. No expressions of shock or outrage from other politicians, no calls for cases to be stripped from her, no calls for her firing, suspension or resignation.

“I think our community is a lot different from Orlando,” McCann said in an interview with FloridaPolitics.

Indeed, Orlando’s State Attorney Aramis Ayala became something of a political pariah a week ago when she made a similar pronouncement for her Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit, with most Republicans and a few Democrats blasting her and many calling for her ouster. And while Ayala is getting some support for Democrats for her right to decide how to prosecute her cases, she’s not finding much political support explicitly for her no-death penalty position.

Nationally, the latest annual tracking poll by Gallup, in late 2016, found that 60 percent of Americans support the death penalty and 37 percent oppose. That’s the closet gap since Richard Nixon‘s first term as president, but still a solid majority in support. A Pew tracking poll shows identical trend lines, though a much tighter gap in 2016 – 49 percent in favor and 42 percent opposed. But again, death penalty wins.

Yet region by region, state by state, sometimes even district by district, there may be no across-the-board pattern, and nothing to suggest that the blowback Ayala is getting in Florida and Central Florida is at all common.

The last two district attorneys in San Francisco have disavowed and not used the death penalty. That’s a liberal political bastion; but now two district attorneys in Birmingham, Ala., have won election and entered office after personally disavowing the death penalty, though neither has ruled it out entirely for extraordinary cases.

One key difference between Ayala and McCann – both Democrats – is that McCann campaigned on a no death penalty promise. But it wasn’t that hard for her to do. Two of three candidates took that position. There hasn’t been an execution in Colorado in 12 years, and statewide there are only three people on death row. Her predecessor in Denver tried just one death penalty case in five years, and lost on the capital punishment counts.

Even Aurora, Colo., movie theater mass murderer James Holmes – tried in the neighboring Arapahoe County – was given life in prison without parole, after being convicted of murdering 12 people and attempting to murder 70 others.

McCann watched with interest everything Ayala said, and everything that has happened since. She found herself agreeing with all of Ayala’s reasonings, and “very troubled” by the political reactions, particularly when Gov. Rick Scott reassigned the case of alleged cop-killer Markeith Loyd to another state attorney. But McCann also conceded it’s all outside her experience, and cautioned that Ayala will have to reconcile with local opinion.

“I think it’s the climate in our state. In Denver, politically, the death penalty is not very popular,” McCann said. “So it’s a very different situation.”

So how is it in Florida? Polling is all over the place. Polls by the Palm Beach Post and by Public Policy Polling both found majorities preferring life imprisonment without parole – Ayala’s position. But polls that have asked if people support the death penalty have shown majorities saying yes.

That leads Robert J. Smith, director of the Fair Punishment Project, a death penalty opposition group based at Harvard University, to argue that people do not support the death penalty as much as politicians – in any political party – think that people do.

The biggest indicator, Smith argues, is that the actual use of the death penalty has plummeted in the past two decades, nationally and in Florida, both in terms of sentences and executions. At least in practice, prosecutors, judges, and most importantly, juries, are just not that into it anymore, he suggested.

“In the 1990s, there were 315 death sentences in 1994 and 1996. Last year in America there were 30,” Smith said. “So you have a nation of 320 million people, there were 15,000 homicides, and you had 30 death sentences in the last year.”

Texas, once one of the execution leaders of the world, with upwards of 40 death sentences a year, saw just three death sentences handed down last year, Smith said. Neither Dallas nor Houston (Harris County) have had one in more than two years, he added.

In Ayala’s circuit, under her predecessors Jeff Ashton and Lawson Lamar, there was one death sentence in Orange County and none in Osceola County in the five-year period between 2012 and 2016, Smith said.

“I think you’re going to see that politics is going to change… going to catch up to that,” he said.

Federal grant to provide $8.5 million to help Pulse victims

The U.S. Department of Justice is awarding an $8.5 million grant to help the victims of last June’s massacre at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub.

The grant, to be awarded Tuesday by the Department of Justice to the Florida Office of Attorney General Pam Bondi, was announced Monday by the office of U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida.

Florida will get $8,466,970 to assist survivors and victims’ families of the mass shooting, which left 49 dead and 53 wounded, as well as to help witnesses, and first responders. The Antiterrorism Emergency Assistance Program grant, administered through the DoJ’s Office for Victims of Crime, will aim to ensure that victims, witnesses and first responders receive necessary services to help them adjust in the aftermath, begin the healing process and cope with re-traumatization, according to an advisory from the department.

The money also will be used to reimburse authorities for the family assistance center that Orlando, Orange County, Heart of Florida United Way, Florida and the non-profit foundation Orlando United established in the days after the massacre.

The Orlando United Assistance Center was initially opened at the Camping World Stadium in the days immediately following the tragedy, but was moved to a building at 507 Michigan Street later on, where it has remained, with funding set for 2017. There, patients have access to mental health care and other needs, such as referrals for housing and rental assistance, emergency financial assistance, employment, training and educational opportunities.

Protests at Marco Rubio’s office say focus is on access, not booting him

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio lost leases on his offices in Tampa and Jacksonville in part because of landlord’s impatience with the incessant barrage of protests out front.

Is Orlando next?

The plaza in front of the downtown Orlando office building housing Rubio’s Central Florida office was the site of another protest Tuesday, as it has been almost every Tuesday this year.

This time, it was For Our Future and other groups pressing a combination of state, local and federal liberal causes as part of the statewide Awake The State rallies.

The building itself was occupied by protesters for most of a day and night last July when more than a hundred people staged a sit-in, demanding that Rubio consider gun restrictions in response to the horrific massacre at the Pulse nightclub just a couple miles away. Ten protesters were arrested for refusing to leave that night.

On Monday to the Florida Times-Union (and again Tuesday morning for FloridaPolitics.com), a Rubio spokeswoman in Jacksonville charged that the leases were yanked not because protesters were explicitly targeting the Republican senator but because they were targeting President Donald Trump,  using Rubio’s offices as a platform.

“For the second time in another major region of the state, the unruly behavior of some anti-Trump protesters is making it more inconvenient for Floridians to come to our local office to seek assistance with federal issues,” Christine Mandreucci asserted in a statement she had earlier provided to the Times-Union.

Orlando’s protesters aren’t entirely disputing that Rubio is not the primary target of their ire, but said as long as the senator refuses to respond to them they would assume he is doing nothing to address their concerns. Tuesday’s protest, for example, largely focused on state lawmakers and Trump, though most speakers called on Rubio to get involved in issues ranging from health care to Muslim bans, and from abortion to Israel.

“We would like to remind people like Marco Rubio who said that he would be a check on Donald Trump. He refuses to met with people, he refuses to have a town hall, he refuses to talk to us, so we’re holding it here,” said Mitch Emerson of For Our Future.

And they said they have no interest in causing the senator any problems with his landlord — Seaside Office Plaza is managed by Highwoods Properties.

“Truthfully, the one goal that I have, and the one goal that we have in general, is we would like our voices to be heard,” said Melanie Gold, a primary organizer of the Tuesday rallies.

 

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