Richard Corcoran Archives - Florida Politics

FRA head strikes back: ‘Redevelopment is about the people’

With the House of Representatives now trying to take out community redevelopment agencies (CRAs), the head of the Florida Redevelopment Association is fighting back.

“Community redevelopment agencies breathe new life into communities that have been neglected or forgotten, and their impact goes far beyond the buildings and roads they help develop,” said Carol Westmoreland, executive director of the association.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran has made it a 2018 Legislative Session priority to rein in the state’s more than 200 community redevelopment agencies.

The chamber already is moving a bill (HB 17) requiring, among other things, more transparency and board member ethics trainings.

The legislation, ready for the House floor in January, was followed by a House Media Team video slamming CRAs as vehicles for local government to pay for their “pet projects.”

“Ever heard of Community Redevelopment Agencies?” the video begins. “Chances are you haven’t, but chances are you’re paying for one.

“Community Redevelopment Agencies, or CRAs, were meant to clean up slums and blighted neighborhoods. Instead they became another vehicle for local governments to take your money and spend it on their pet projects. That’s why your Florida House is is introducing legislation to bring accountability and transparency to CRAs in Florida.”

But the “work of our local CRAs is about the community and those living in it; redevelopment is about the people,” Westmoreland said in a statement.

“These efforts should not go unnoticed, unrecognized or misrepresented, as CRAs are dedicated to our citizens and restoring our communities to make them come alive.”

Westmoreland also provided talking points backing the associations’ benefits:

— “Florida’s community redevelopment agencies (CRAs) serve to revitalize communities through projects such as streetscapes and roadway improvements, building renovations, neighborhood parks and more.”

— “CRAs are created by local governments and funded by tax increment funding, which captures tax revenues resulting from increases in property values attributable to an agency’s investment in an area.”

— “Unfortunately, Florida’s CRAs are currently under attack by proposed legislation that will enact crippling regulations in an attempt to impede the creation of new CRAs and phase out existing programs.”

— “SB 432 and HB 17 aim to impose a laundry list of revised requirements that will have an enormous negative impact on the survival of local CRAs.”

— “Without local CRAs, the progress that has been made in redevelopment will come to a halt; property values will drop, and communities will suffer.”

Finally, she referred to a video of “how CRAs are working to improve local communities,” produced by the Southeast Overtown/Park West CRA.

Hurricane committee to start ‘policy phase’

It’s turkey time for some lawmakers, but crunch time for those charged with addressing Florida hurricanes.

The Select House Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness met for the fifth time on Thursday, marking their last ‘educational’ committee meeting. The committee’s duties were originally split into three phases: gather information, solicit ideas for improvement and make recommendations to Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature.

Now equipped with the statewide woes of the 2017 Hurricane Season, the committee transitions to the final part: policy recommendations.

“This is it for our fact-finding mission and our education phase of our work,” Chair Jeanette Nuñez said. She expects there will be two committee meetings in December, where “the rubber hopefully will meet the road.”

In the meantime, the Miami Republican wants an all-hands-on-deck effort from the lawmakers.

“I want you to start mulling over potential policy recommendations for the full House to consider,” Nuñez told the committee. She said lawmakers will be busy in the next two weeks working with House staff to bring forth policy recommendations.

Nuñez said each committee member will soon receive an assigned hurricane-related topic to consider. While she expects lawmakers to take the assignments seriously, she encouraged members not to be sheepish with other proposals.

“Don’t let (the assignments) impede your ability and your interest in other areas,” Nuñez explained. “I’m just trying to make sure we have a focused attention, at a minimum, from a handful of you on each category.”

When Speaker Richard Corcoran spawned the committee, he charged it with several responsibilities, which Nuñez recapped in closing. They include evacuation; energy; shelters and vulnerable populations; health care facilities and medical care; agriculture; future hurricane expenditures and tax relief; housing; beaches; sanitary sewers; stormwater flooding; debris removal; and education.

The meeting Thursday heard testimony regarding education, debris removal and agriculture and emergency management, along with a presentation from the Governor’s Office.

Cynthia Kelly, Gov. Rick Scott’s state budget director, highlighted the hurricane-related budget recommendations in Scott’s newly announced “Securing Florida’s Future” budget.

Apart from federal match programs for communities, Scott wants $50 million for beach recovery, $2 million for citrus research and $2.2 million for search and rescue enhancements, along with an additional $100 million request to target affordable housing needs created by Hurricane Irma.

Education issues related to the influx of Puerto Ricans were briefly discussed in the meeting. Afterward, Rep. Bob Cortes, an Altamonte Springs Republican, hinted there might be more problems ahead for Puerto Rican evacuees attending school in Florida — specifically those expecting to graduate.

“We’re seeing that juniors and seniors potentially are going to be very vulnerable,” Cortes said.

He said Puerto Rico’s graduation requirements are not aligning with Florida Standards Assessments, which are required to obtain a high school diploma in the state.

“Theoretically, these students — seniors from Puerto Rico — would not be able to graduate in Florida,” Cortes said.

But Cortes said the Florida Department of Education is working on a memorandum of understanding with Puerto Rico to authorize Florida high schools to give the students a Puerto Rican degree, rather than a Florida diploma.

What remains in uncertainty, Cortes said, is whether the Governor’s executive order mandating K-12 schools to accept Puerto Rican students will expire. If that is the case, Cortes said it will be addressed through legislation.

The committee next convenes on Monday, Dec. 4.

Chris Latvala, Kathleen Peters lack ‘integrity,’ lawyer says

State Reps. Chris Latvala and Kathleen Peters have not shown “integrity” or acted “in the public interest” in how they have publicly responded to accusations of sexual harassment against state Sen. Jack Latvala, according to a lawyer for one of his accusers.

Tallahassee attorney Tiffany R. Cruz wrote a letter to House Speaker Richard Corcoran to complain about the two Republican lawmakers.

The Latvalas are son and father; Peters is an ally of Jack Latvala, a fellow Pinellas Countian.

Cruz specifically blamed the two House members for “condemn(ing)” Latvala’s accusers on social media for the purpose of “intimidation.”

Cruz also said she did not expect the two to be punished, but told Corcoran she wanted him to be aware of their “abhorrent conduct.”

The one-page letter, dated Wednesday, is below:

We’ll provide comment from Peters when we receive it.

In an email to Florida Politics, the younger Latvala said: “I have known Tiffany for about 10 years. We were aides together. I have no idea what she is referring to. I have purposefully not engaged in social media as it relates to this matter but I believe any accuser has a right to face those who anonymously accuse them, so as to not ruin their career and life for political purposes.”

A spokesman for Corcoran on Thursday said he had no immediate comment to the letter.

Adam Putnam widened fundraising lead in October, while Phil Levine made a splash

Gubernatorial candidates raised big bucks last month, none more so than Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam who added $1.2 million between his campaign and committee accounts.

Putnam raised $571,932 of that sum through his campaign account and another $616,235 through his political committee, Florida Grown.

The former congressman and state lawmaker spent a combined $466,801 from the two accounts to leave him with nearly $14.7 million in the bank with a to-date fundraising total of $20.4 million.

Putnam’s campaign account received dozens of checks for $3,000, the maximum contribution for statewide races, with several donors doubling down with checks through their company’s subsidiaries or from their family members.

The October donor roll includes a political committee tied to Florida Transportation Builders Association, the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association and insurance company GEICO, among many others.

Florida Grown, which passed $17 million raised last month, picked up a $150,000 check from the Associated Industries of Florida on the last day of the month as well as $50,000 contributions from California Republican David Jenkins, Dallas-based Tenet Health, real estate group Rayonier Inc., and GMRI, an Orlando-based subsidiary of Darden Restaurants.

Among the expenditures were $115,755 in payments to Harris Media for digital advertising and web development, 17 payments combining to over $75,000 for Lakeland-based Silloh Consulting, and $43,430 to Tallahassee-based Forward Strategies for fundraising consulting.

As reported last week, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine brought in nearly $1 million for his political committee, All About Florida. With all candidate reports in, that total puts him in second place behind Putnam for October.

Levine filed as a candidate on Nov. 1, so he has yet to file a finance report for his campaign. His committee account is flush, though, due to him plunking down $2.6 million of his own money.

The committee had about $5.4 million socked away at the end of the month, earning Levine the No. 2 spot in cash on hand.

Embroiled Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala’s October numbers came in at $513,101 raised between his campaign and political committee, Florida Leadership Committee, putting him in a distant third place among the declared major-party candidates.

The new money was offset by $152,147 in spending, leaving Latvala with a little over $5 million in the bank, good enough to put him in third place for cash on hand as well.

Campaign donors included a committee tied to the Florida Automobile Dealers Association, hotel company Marriott, and North Palm Beach attorney James Williams Jr. and his wife, Maureen Williams.

On the committee side, Latvala picked up $25,000 checks from American Traffic Solutions, a political committee tied to the Florida Chamber of Commerce, U.S. Sugar and public employee trade association AFSCME Florida.

Expenditures included a $50,000 contribution to the Republican Party of Florida, which paid that back with more than $60,000 worth of “in-kind” contributions last month, $30,000 to Champion Digital Media for advertising, and $20,000 to St. Pete mayoral candidate Rick Baker’s political committee. Baker lost that election to incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman earlier this month.

Former congresswoman Gwen Graham, who touted her fundraising efforts earlier this month, came in behind Latvala with $346,573 raised between her campaign and committee, Our Florida. Heading into November, the North Florida Democrat had raised more than $4 million between her campaign and committee and had $2.66 million of that money on hand.

Winter Park businessman Chris King, running as a Democrat, tacked on $151,834 through his campaign and committee, Rise and Lead Florida, while Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum came in last place among the major candidates. His campaign announced last week that it had raised $80,107 in October, though his committee, Forward Florida, saw negative fundraising last month.

King’s fundraising total to-date clocks in at about $2.7 million, with about $1.7 million on hand. Gillum has raised nearly $1.6 million to date, and had $557,571 on hand at month’s end.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who has not officially declared for governor, brought in $267,200 in October through his political committee, Watchdog PAC, making it the committee’s slowest month yet.

AIF’s Voice of Florida Business political committee gave the Land O’ Lakes Republican $50,000 last month, while Auto Glass America, the Seminole Tribe of Florida, and a couple other donors chipped in with $25,000 apiece.

His $4 million on hand total would currently put him in the No. 4 position if he were to enter the race.

Property taxes likely to spur school funding fight

Another battle about using increases in local property taxes to bolster public schools will complicate upcoming state budget negotiations.

In his $87.4 billion budget proposal for 2018-2019, Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday called for a $770 million increase in funding for Florida’s kindergarten through 12th-grade education system. But nearly $7 out of every $10 of that increase would come from rising local property-tax revenue, much of it the result of increasing property values with a stronger economy.

Senate leaders support the governor’s plan, while House leaders remain firmly opposed to using the increased local property tax collections, arguing that such a move would represent a tax increase.

The projected $534 million increase in local property tax revenue includes $450 million in “required local effort” taxes and $84 million in discretionary local school taxes.

In an explanation of Scott’s budget, his office noted the school proposal does not change the required local property-tax rate, meaning “there is not a tax increase.”

“The amount of local funding provided in the (school funding formula) calculation primarily increased due to a 6.15 percent, or $117.1 billion, rise in the school taxable value that was the result of an increase in the value of Florida property,” the explanation said. “When property values rise, it’s a good thing for Florida families.”

Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley of Fleming Island said the Senate supports Scott’s K-12 plan, including the use of increased local property tax collections.

“It’s not a tax increase. It’s just simply not,” Bradley said.

“If I were to buy a lawnmower at Home Depot for $200 in January and then buy the same lawnmower as a present for my brother four months later and it’s priced $230, there will be more taxes owed on the $230 purchase, but that’s not a tax increase,” Bradley said.

He said it’s “just the same tax rate being applied to a purchase that is a little higher than it used to be.”

But House Speaker Richard Corcoran of Land O’Lakes, reaffirmed Wednesday the House’s strong opposition to using increased property tax collections.

“I think our position has been very clear for the last two years and it will not change,” Corcoran said. “We’re not raising taxes.”

The House prevailed in the negotiations on the current 2017-2018 budget, with the Senate agreeing to roll back the “required local effort” property tax rate to offset the increase in tax collections.

Rather than having the majority of an increase for the K-12 system come from local property tax collections, lawmakers funded most of the $455 million increase from state revenue, along with a $92 million increase in discretionary local property-tax collections.

But that meant the Legislature had to shift $364 million in state revenue, which could have been used in other areas of the budget like health care or criminal justice, to come up with a $100 per-student increase in funding.

Under Scott’s new plan, per-student funding would rise by $200, but that is based on $450 million in property taxes. If lawmakers reject using the property tax revenue, they will have to again shift more state revenue into the schools’ budget, which will be even more difficult in the coming year.

“We’re very committed in the Senate to K-12 education,” Bradley said. “And an important part of that commitment is making sure that we have the (local property tax collections). It’s not a tax increase. I agree with the governor. And that’s where we are.”

Corcoran downplayed the differences with the Senate over the next state budget, which will be debated when lawmakers begin their annual session in January.

“Where we are right now is in a good place and the likelihood we’re going to end in a good place is as strong as ever,” he said. “I think it’s a good situation.”

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Republicans, agencies welcome Rick Scott’s budget

Gov. Rick Scott’s new $87.4 billion proposed budget has been welcomed by some major Republicans and state agencies.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who pushed legislation combating the Governor’s job incentives and tourism priorities last year, said he welcomes working with Scott to do what “is right for Florida taxpayers.”

“We are confident that together with the Governor and Senate we can produce a budget that cuts taxes, imposes accountability and transparency and ensures the future fiscal health of the state,” Corcoran said in a statement.

The Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) sang praise for the Governor’s proposed budget, which includes a $10 million investment for an additional 130 child protective investigators and Florida Abuse Hotline counselors, $2.2 million to expand care for victims of human trafficking and $15 million to enhance substance abuse service capacity statewide, along with other items helpful to DCF’s core mission of protecting the vulnerable.

“Governor Scott’s proposed budget shows his commitment to Florida’s most vulnerable citizens and the importance of providing resources to allow DCF to ensure the health and safety of Florida’s families,” said DCF Secretary Mike Carroll in a statement.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner and gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam thanked Scott for his proposed raises to wildland firefighters and law enforcement officers. The proposed budget specifies $2.4 million for a 10 percent raise to all Florida Forest Service Firefighters.

“These proposed raises will help us recruit and retain the best law enforcement officers and wildland firefighters to keep Floridians and visitors safe,” Putnam said.

The Florida Department of State (DOS) — with nearly half a million dollars and five staff positions proposed on the budget to create a cyber-security section for mission critical systems and $14.3 million in grant funding for cultural, historical and library grant programs — also lauded Scott.

“Governor Scott’s commitment to investments in library grants, cultural programs, and historic preservation support cultural heritage tourism and economic development, ensuring Florida continues to be one of the world’s best places to live and visit for generations to come,” Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner said.

The Florida Department of Education applauded Scott, too. K-12 public schools received a proposed budget of $21.4 billion in state and local funding, an increase of $769.6 million; Florida colleges received $1.24 billion in state operating funds, an increase of $31.9 million; College students got a proposed continuation of  Bright Futures’ funding for 100 percent of Florida Academic Scholars’ fees and tuition.

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said the proposed budget demonstrates Scott’s dedication to Florida students.

“This continued investment in our state’s public education system will help to maintain the momentum to the benefit of current and future generations,” Stewart said.

But, despite the praise from his party colleagues and agencies, the term-limited Republican Governor hasn’t won the hearts of Florida Democrats.

The Florida Democratic party denounced the budget as “self-serving politics”

“At every turn, Scott is proving he’s only ever looking out for himself,” the Democratic Party of Florida said in a statement. “And he can’t run away from seven years of budgets that have left hardworking Floridians worse off than when he took office.”

Tallahassee Mayor and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum called the budget an attempt to “cover up seven years of failed policies.”

“Budgets reflect our values, and for seven years we’ve seen just what the Governor’s values are: cuts on top of cuts to programs that are critical for working families,” Gillum said.

Former Congresswoman Gwen Graham, who also is a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, pointed to the budget as last-ditch effort to make up for prior education cuts.

“In his first year as governor, Scott cut more than $1 billion from Florida’s schools and we still haven’t recovered from those massive cut,” Graham said. “Adjusted for inflation, per-student funding would still be less under Rick Scott’s new budget than it was when he took office.”

Gwen Graham goes nuclear over recovery fees, fracking fees

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham wants to put a stop to Florida utility ratepayers paying for nuclear power  plants that were never built or which never worked, or for paying for fracking exploration in Florida.

The former congresswoman from Tallahassee went nuclear Tuesday denouncing the 2006 law that allowed Florida investor-owned utility companies to charge advance fees for nuclear power plants that were never built, something that the Florida Public Service Commission has allowed, to the tune of more than $3 million in fees, she said. She charged that the commission is out of control.

Her statement Tuesday in some ways echoes that made last month by her rival for the Democratic primary nomination, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who welcomed her on board the position Tuesday, yet also said “it feels like an election year conversion” for Graham.

Graham faces Democrats Gillum and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, and Winter Park businessman Chris King in seeking the 2018 Democratic primary nomination to run for governor.

On Oct. 17, Gillum declared in a statement, “Instead of forcing everyday Floridians to continue ponying up money for Florida Power & Light, the PSC should instead force FPL to pay for their Turkey Point nuclear energy license. Working people in this state face enough financial hardships as it is — they should not have to fork over more money to an enormous corporation who controls most of the state’s major energy decisions. Corporations have run roughshod over this state for too long, and when I’m Governor it will finally end.”

On Tuesday, Graham also called for an end.

“Floridians should not be forced to pay for nuclear power plants that are never built or for fracking exploration,” Graham stated in a news release. “For 20 years, the Republican politicians in Tallahassee have turned a blind eye to the Public Service Commission and utility companies as they’ve taxed seniors, small business owners and families. That ends when I’m elected governor.”

She also criticized both Gov. Jeb Bush and current Gov. Rick Scott for what she said was stacking the commission with what she called “unqualified, industry-friendly commissioners.” She then went after Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, the leading Republican gubernatorial candidate, for having voted for an unbuilt nuclear power plant while he was in Congress, and then go after likely Republican gubernatorial candidate House Speaker Richard Corcoran for appointing to the PSC nominating commission.

In 2015, the commission accepted a utilities’ request to allow the charges to Floridians as much as $500 million a year for natural gas fracking projects. The Florida Supreme Court ruled the commission exceeded its authority by approving it.

Now proposed legislation that would grant the commission new authority to charge what Graham called “the fracking tax.”

She pledged that as governor she would fight that and push for a statutory ban on any fracking tax.

“Rick Scott has appointed unqualified, industry-friendly commissioners. Adam Putnam voted to approve the construction of a $24-billion nuclear expansion that is unlikely to ever be built. As Speaker of the House, Richard Corcoran makes half of the appointments to the PSC Nominating Council — which has refused to consider consumer advocates for the PSC,” Graham said. “Their records make it clear that Corcoran and Putnam would continue to allow the Public Service Commission and utilities to charge Floridians with outrageous and unfair taxes.”

Corcoran’s office responded by saying he has six appointments to that commission, and they included Democratic House Leader Janet Cruz and consumer Ann Marie Ryan.

The watchdog group Integrity Florida recently labeled the PSC a “Captured Regulatory Agency,” asserting it has been captured under the influence of the very utilities it is responsible for regulating.

“The Public Service Commission is out of control. As governor, I will appoint consumer advocates who will vote in Floridians best interests — not the special interests,” Graham said. “I will fight to repeal the advanced nuclear recovery taxes and to ban utilities from ever charging customers a speculative fracking tax.”

HD 37 Republican Ardian Zika adds $23K in October

Republican Ardian Zika posted a solid fundraising report for October with $23,000 raised and an on-hand total of $124,000 in the race to replace House Speaker Richard Corcoran in House District 37.

Zika took in 44 contributions last month, including 15 for the maximum donation of $1,000. His spending clocked in at just $1,250 – $1,000 of which went to the Republican Party of Pasco – leaving him with $124,434 at the end of the month.

Making the donor roll in October were Brandon-based lobby shop RSA Consulting, Kimmins Contracting President Joseph Williams and his wife, Laura Williams, as well as Land O Lakes entrepreneur Tia Young.

The October numbers showed a significant jump over Zika’s prior month effort, which saw him raise $2,600. His report for August, his first month in the race, came in at just over $100,000.

The Pasco County businessman is the current frontrunner among the three Republicans running to replace Corcoran, who faces term limits and will leave the seat after the 2018 elections whether he decides to run for governor or not.

The other candidates to file are Elle Rudisill, who raised $615 last month, and Bill Gunter, who had not yet filed his report as of Thursday afternoon.

In addition to besting Rudisill and Gunter on the campaign trail Zika has also pulled in some high-profile endorsements, including October nods from former House Speaker Will Weatherford and Pasco Schools Superintendent Kurt Browning.

Rudisill, an assistant state attorney for the 6th Judicial Circuit in Pinellas/Pasco county since the fall of 2014, has raised a total of $11,312 since filing in June and has nearly all of that money on hand.

Gunter, a pastor of the Redeemer Community Church in New Port Richey, had raised a total of $7,885 through the end of September, and had $4,421 of that money in the bank Oct. 1. Gunter was the GOP nominee in the 2013 special election to replace Mike Fasano in House District 36 but ultimately lost to Democrat Amanda Murphy in the general election.

HD 37 covers the majority of inland Pasco County, including the communities of Land O’ Lakes, Odessa, Heritage Pines, Shady Hills, Meadow Oaks and Moon Lake.

According to 2016 voter statistics, the electorate is about 43 percent Republican, 29 percent Democrat and 24 percent belonging to no party. After winning the Republican Primary for the newly redrawn seat in 2012, Corcoran cruised into office without any Election Day opposition. He didn’t have any primary or general election challengers in his 2014 or 2016 re-election campaigns.

How high will tax cuts go?

Based on past years, and comments from House and Senate leaders, Gov. Rick Scott will get a tax-cut package to sign in 2018 when he is expected to be ramping up a run for U.S. Senate.

The package may not be exactly as he’s requested — a nearly $180 million proposal made up of sales-tax “holidays” and a rollback of some 2009 hikes on driver’s license fees.

But odds are, lawmakers will give Scott at least part of what he wants.

Sen. Rob Bradley, who this week took over as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said lawmakers will look carefully at Scott’s proposal.

“We also need to make sure that what we consider to be the basic needs, fundamental needs of the state government, are financed appropriately,” Bradley said. He added, “We’ve always been supportive of tax cuts. Whether the number ends up at $180 (million) or something less, that remains to be seen.”

House Ways & Means Chairman Paul Renner, a Palm Coast Republican, said the details will depend, in part, on the growing state tab for Hurricane Irma.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran was more confident.

“Of course, we look forward to partnering with Governor Scott on his tax cut proposal,” Corcoran, of Land O’Lakes, said in a statement.

Scott made several appearances across the state this week promoting the proposal, and even made a rare appearance before Renner’s committee.

Scott’s proposal would reverse portions of fee increases imposed on motorists in 2009 after the recession hit. He also proposed a 10-day back-to-school sales tax “holiday” on clothes and school supplies and three weeklong disaster preparedness tax “holidays” in May, June and July.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

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