Volunteer Florida is gearing up for a busy April with a slew of initiatives and activities celebrating Florida Volunteer Month.
“Volunteer Florida is proud to recognize Florida’s outstanding volunteers, who work hard every day to make the Sunshine State the best place to live, work, and raise a family,” said Volunteer Florida CEO Chester Spellman. “Florida Volunteer Month is a time to celebrate their impact and encourage others to serve.”
Among the agency’s plans for the month is the #30Under30 initiative, which highlights exceptional Sunshine State volunteers under the age of 30, and the first-ever Volunteer of the Year award, the winner of which will be announced in late April.
Volunteer Florida has also teamed up with telecommunications giant Comcast to produce a TV spot promoting volunteerism, and grantees and partners of the agency plan to participate in Comcast Cares Day on April 22, the largest corporate philanthropy day in the nation.
Gov. Rick Scott also spoke in support of volunteers ahead of the the kick-off to Florida Volunteer Month.
“Florida volunteers strengthen communities across the state and help change the lives of families in need,” Scott said. “We are proud to recognize the hard work and commitment of our many volunteers during the year’s Florida Volunteer Month.”
Volunteer Florida is encouraging Floridians to use the hashtag #ServeFL on social media when sharing their photos and stories of service. More information on Florida Volunteer Month and listings for volunteer opportunities across the state can be found on the agency’s website.
In Tampa, Florida Democratic Party Chair Stephen Bittel waxed optimistically last month about the Democrats’ chance of winning back the state Senate in 2020.
Notably, he didn’t say anything about the House, where Republicans outnumber Democrats, 79-41.
Tampa Rep. Janet Cruz, serving the first year of a two-year stint as Minority Leader and four weeks into the 2017 Session, admits it’s been a tough haul.
“I feel like we’re spending so much time on bills that in caucus meetings, we’ve grown to call them ‘dead bills walking,'” she says of how Session is going so far.
“These are bills that are simply shots across the bow,” she says, specifically referring to Speaker Richard Corcoran and his campaign to kill Enterprise Florida.
The Speaker’s effort comes much to the consternation of Gov. Rick Scott, who continues to travel the state to call out individual Republicans who have voted in support of the proposal to date.
“They’re one executive branch taking shots at the other executive branch,” Cruz says. “And in my opinion, it’s all posturing to run for higher office.”
While both Corcoran and the governor are considered to have ambitious to run for higher office next year, their battle regarding tax incentives to recruit businesses to Florida has become visceral. Meanwhile, the passage this past week of Longwood Republican Scott Plakon‘sbill that would require unions to disclose information on it’s membership or be forced to re-certify appeared to devastate Democrats.
What both bills have in common — neither has a Senate companion.
“We are hearing bills that don’t have a chance of going anywhere,” Cruz laments.
“These are just bills that they want to send a message with more union busting. Further intimidation,” she says, adding, “Thank God for the Senate.”
There has also been legislation preemption local governments, such as St. Cloud Republican Mike LaRosa‘s proposal to bar cities from regulating vacation rentals of private homes, angering many mayors.
Cruz mused that the plan seemed something scripted from ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council known to offer model legislation to Republicans.
“They realize that most cities and led by Democrats and those from the urban core,” she notes. “This is just an overreach of local control, and it’s wrong.”
Governor Rick Scott has reappointed Virginia Sanchez to the Governing Board of the Suwannee River Water Management District.
Sanchez, 54, of Old Town, is a co-owner of Sanchez Farms, LLC. She received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida and her master’s degree from Florida A&M University. Sanchez is reappointed for a term beginning March 31, 2017, and ending March 1, 2021.
The appointment is subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.
Enterprise Florida Inc. could survive 2017 after all.
Established in 1996, the taxpayer-funded organization has awarded nearly $2 billion in economic incentives to private businesses to create jobs and boost the state economy.
Its record is mixed, and its reputation has been scarred by exorbitant executive pay, high-profile taxpayer losses and a failure to match private funding with public appropriations — a statutory requirement.
As a result, Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, is spearheading an effort to put the controversial business recruitment agency out of business permanently.
Earlier this month, the House passed a bill that would eliminate Enterprise Florida and nearly two dozen tax incentive programs. The House passed an additional “corporate welfare” billthat would subject Visit Florida, the state’s taxpayer-funded tourism marketing corporation, to the same accountability standards as state government agencies while cutting its annual funding from $76 million to $25 million.
The Senate apparently didn’t get the memo.
Both reforms ran into a roadblock this week when the Senate unveiled its 2017-18 budget proposal. It includes more than $80 million for Enterprise Florida programs and $76 million for Visit Florida. The funding totals align with what Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, has requested.
Scott, an unabashed proponent of incentives, issued a statementWednesday endorsing the Senate proposal.
“I want to thank the Florida Senate for listening to our families and job creators by proposing to fully fund Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida,” said Scott, who serves as chairmanof Enterprise Florida’s board of directors.
“Unfortunately, at this time the Florida House has chosen to continue ignoring the Floridians they serve. The House’s decision to severely cut the budget of Visit Florida is especially shocking when we look at how disastrous this has been in other states,” Scott said.
Corcoran has yet to release a statement, but has continued to make his case publicly since both House reform bills passed during the first week of the annual legislative session.
“Instead of picking winners and losers in the marketplace, which does more on its own to lift people out of poverty, they ought to be using that money for education, for infrastructure, for giving back taxes to the people or broad-based, fair tax cuts in the business marketplace, which is why people move here more than any other reason,” Corcoran told the Panhandle Tiger Bay Club.
Amy Baker, the Legislature’s top economist, told lawmakers in January that 70 percent of the state’s incentive programs fail to deliver a positive return on investment.
Scott and other incentive advocates contend that taxpayer resources are necessary to entice businesses from going to other states.
“Over and over again, politicians in the House have failed to understand that Florida is competing for job creation projects against other states and countries across the globe. Eliminating Enterprise Florida means we will not be able to effectively compete for new opportunities,” Scott said Wednesday.
The Legislature is constitutionally required to pass an annual budget. Corcoran said in his Tiger Bay remarks that he’s ready for a special session beyond the May 5 regular session deadline if the Senate is unwilling to abolish Enterprise Florida, which he referred to as an “absolute cesspool.”
Scott began by reappointing Luke Buzard to the Early Learning Coalition Hillsborough County, Inc., which collaborates with agencies throughout the community to offer a range of early learning services.
Buzard, 37, of Wesley Chapel, is the pipeline safety director at TECO Energy. He previously served as chair of both the Accounting Circle at the University of South Florida and the West Central Region for Connect Florida. Buzard is reappointed for a term ending April 30, 2020.
The governor next announced the appointment of J.C. Stoutamire to the Apalachee Regional Planning Council, Region Two, which serves Calhoun, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Jackson, Jefferson, Liberty, Leon and Wakulla counties and associated municipalities.
Stoutamire, 81, of Hosford, is a former papermaker for St. Joe Paper Co. Additionally, he served on the Liberty County Board of County Commissioners for eight years. Stoutamire fills a vacant seat for a term ending Oct. 1, 2018.
Stoutamire’s appointment is subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.
Scott also reappointed Virginia Sanchez to the Governing Board of the Suwannee River Water Management District, which manages water and related natural resources in north-central Florida. In terms of geographic area, Suwannee is the smallest of the state’s water management districts.
Sanchez, 54, of Old Town, is a co-owner of Sanchez Farms, LLC. She is reappointed for a term ending March 1, 2021.
The appointment is subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.
Finally, Scott announced the appointment of Amy Gowder to the Florida Defense Support Task Force, which, as part of Enterprise Florida, is designed to preserve, protect and enhance Florida’s military missions and installations.
Gowder, 41, of Orlando, is the aerospace and defense executive for Lockheed Martin. She fills a vacant seat for a term ending July 1, 2019.
A new survey from the Florida Hospital Association shows strong support among Florida voters to keep — or in many increase — state funding for Medicaid programs.
The survey, conducted by Public Opinion Strategies from March 1 through March 5, found Floridians have the most favorable opinion of Medicaid that the association has recorded in six years. The poll of 600 registered voters found 56 percent said they had a favorable opinion of Medicaid, up from 47 percent in a November 2011 survey.
The results of the survey come as state lawmakers began releasing their initial budget recommendations, which included taking away as much as $621.8 million from hospitals in the coming year.
The House proposal cuts the state’s share of Medicaid by $238.6 million, or a total of $621.8 million once federal dollars are factored in. The Senate has recommended cutting $99.3 million, or a $258.6 million total cut.
But the Florida Hospital Association found that while the state is slashing budgets, many Floridians would actually like to see lawmakers keep funding as is, if not give the programs funding boost.
According to the survey, 45 percent of Floridians said they would like to see Medicaid funding increased, while 29 percent said they believe state funding should stay the same. Just 8 percent said funding for the programs should be decreased.
Six years ago, 47 percent of Floridians supported keeping the funding the same, while 39 percent wanted to see more money put into the program. Back in November 2011, 11 percent of Floridians supported decreasing funding for Medicaid programs.
When respondents were asked about a few specific areas the Legislature will be spending money on this year, 61 percent of Floridians said the state should increase funding for Medicaid, which provides health care to lower-income children, the disabled elderly, and pregnant women.
Voters also supported increasing funding for water quality problems (67%); the state’s colleges and universities (52%); tax cuts to help business to expand or relocate to Florida (31%); and tourism promotion (23%).
Yet when asked whether they would support redirecting money from Medicaid to help pay for increased funding for colleges and universities, tax cuts for businesses, and tourism promotion, 75 percent of voters said they would advise their legislator to keep the money in Medicaid programs.
There appeared to be broad support to keep money in Medicaid programs, with 68 percent of Republicans, 85 percent of Democrats, and 73 percent of independents saying they would advise their legislator to keep funding Medicaid.
That feeling was echoed throughout the state, with a solid majority of voters in each media market saying the Legislature keep money for Medicaid.
The highest support for keeping the cash for Medicaid came from the Jacksonville area, where 80 percent of respondents said they wanted legislators to keep money for Medicaid programs.
The Fort Myers media market — which includes Gov. Rick Scott’s hometown of Naples — had the highest percentage of people saying they should shift the funds, with 20 percent of respondents saying they would tell their lawmaker to use it for something else.
In a sense, Jacksonville is the cradle of Republicanism.
The city has a politically active Republican mayor.
The City Council: majority Republican.
Republican Governor. Republican Legislature.
What could go wrong? How about the imminent end of the economic boom?
Look at what’s happening to CSX.
Hunter Harrison, 72, was brought in to run the operation, imposing a “Logan’s Run” management style, in which those with real experience were shown the door.
Sure, the company was top-heavy. But the reality is a lot of people are losing a lot of good jobs.
Where will they find new ones?
The job creation events, a staple of the early part of Mayor Lenny Curry’s term, have dried up — a function of corporate unease over imperiled Enterprise Florida.
Their attitude: “if you lack the money, honey, we lack the time.”
Pension reform is a big story — and we’re covering it a few stories below the lede.
But there is an irony that in a city and a state where Republicans maintain control over all levers of power that economic development (flawed though it may be) is even up for discussion.
Lenny Curry, Rick Scott tag team for incentive push
In Jacksonville Wednesday for a “military roundtable” messaging on behalf of Enterprise Florida, Gov. Rick Scott and Mayor Curry said all the right things.
Scott lit up local legislators, like Jason Fischer and quasi-local ones, like Palm Coast’s Paul Renner, for voting against incentives.
But Scott didn’t serve up the fiery rhetoric he did when in Jacksonville earlier in the month.
“Along with keeping Enterprise Florida alive, we need to keep the Florida Defense Alliance,” Scott said. “We’ve got some House members who already voted to eliminate the Florida Defense Alliance.”
Scott added that the programs are “fully funded” in the Senate … and worth noting: he has had meetings this week with dozens of Senators, including Rob Bradley andAaron Bean.
Bean called it a “happy visit.”
Bradley, lauding the governor’s “underrated sense of humor,” said substantive issues, from EFI and Visit Florida to medical marijuana to water, were discussed — as was the “absurdity of the political process.”
Seal of approval
Though Gov. Scott appreciated Mayor Curry stopping in to help sell the doomed “Trumpcare” plan — which didn’t even get a House vote — the fact is the effort failed as we wrote last week.
It wasn’t Curry’s fault, or Scott’s fault: they weren’t buttonholing the Freedom Caucus or the Tuesday group. They featured in a last-minute pitch for the plan — on Curry’s turf — and Team Trump couldn’t sell it.
Curry, of course, is a party guy. Scott is looking toward Bill Nelson’s Senate seat. And sure, Florida voters have the long-term memory of fruit flies.
But this one hurt Florida — and Jacksonville — as a place the administration can sell initiatives.
The VP decided to make his stand here, giving Rutherford a platform because neighboring Ted Yoho and Ron DeSantis weren’t feeling this bill. The governor came in and got his moment in the spotlight. And Mayor Curry made the stop before going on spring break.
And all of it added up to nothing. Even Ted Yoho and Ron DeSantis, who were supposed to be pressured by the Pence push, were unmoved.
In Jacksonville Wednesday, neither Curry nor Scott demonstrated regret over the failed push, despite evidence of a Trump pivot.
“The message was ‘repeal Obamacare.’ The message remains to those Republicans in Washington: ‘repeal Obamacare,’” Curry said.
“I’ve spent a good amount of time with President Trump. I know he listens. And my hope is that we can come up with something that all Americans can embrace,” Scott added.
Water issues, near and far
Coverage over the last week has focused on regional water issues — and with good reason, as Mark Woods and A.G. Gancarski contend.
In the Florida Times-Union, Woods describes how “Old Florida” once looked: “Miles and miles of ‘perfect beauty,’ of a grand forest of cypress robed in moss and mistletoe, of cypress knees looking like champagne bottles set in the current to cool, of palms and palmettos, of gleaming water and grinning alligators.”
Jacksonville, Woods observes, isn’t like that anymore. And neither is much of North Florida, including the Keystone Lakes, as Gancarski reported for FloridaPolitics.com.
“Decades back, Lake Geneva was full — kids swam in the water that used to be underneath the raised pavilion. Out on the lake, water skiing contests and other events supported local businesses and brought tourists from miles around to this corner of Old Florida,” Gancarski wrote.
Now the lakes are drying up. Sen. Rob Bradley and Rep. Bobby Payne are carrying a bill to allocate $35M of Amendment 1 money for North Florida water needs, with the Clay delegation members’ priority being to restore those lakes via pumping in water from flood-prone Black Creek.
It will help to restore the aquifer, the legislators claim.
The bill is further along in the Senate than in the House. But for the sake of the Keystone Lakes, it needs to be signed into law this year.
Pension bills filed in Council
Back in January 2016, Lenny Curry’s pension reform plan (close the current defined benefit plans and cap that $2.8B unfunded liability, extend the ½ cent local sales tax to pay for them, and lock new city hires into defined contribution plans) seemed like the heaviest of lifts.
However, the Curry administration went into Charles Atlas mode, getting Tallahassee’s OK, getting 65 percent on a referendum OKing the tax extension, and negotiating generous DC plans with the unions.
And they stiff-armed their old nemeses at the Police and Fire Pension Fund board in the bargain, saying that the PFPF had no say so in this going forward.
Bill 2017-257 would, if passed by the council, levy the half-cent discretionary sales tax approved by voters via referendum in August.
Bill 2017-258 affects the general employees and correctional worker plans; 2017-259 implements revisions to the Police and Fire & Rescue plans, closing extant defined benefit plans to those hired after Oct. 1, 2017. It commits the city to a 12 percent contribution for those general employees and a 25 percent contribution for correctional and public safety officers hired after October.
“The direction we’re going in is the right way to go,” Gulliford said, especially considering that “there are not a lot of alternatives.”
Gulliford has not seen the financial projection, but he believes “the numbers will support the proposal.”
The first date to watch: April 6, when the council will spend four hours hearing about the financial projections for the plan — data which the Curry administration has kept under wraps thus far.
Journey to 55
Here’s to your health, Duval County. You need all the help you can get.
Duval County is down seven points in the state’s yearly health rankings, from 48 to 55.
Bad optics for Mayor Lenny Curry, who put Duval on a “journey to one” last year.
“Duval County ranked 49th in length of life, 54th in quality of life, 36th in health behaviors, 10th in clinical care, 35th in social and economic factors and 58th in physical environment (physical environment looks at air pollution levels, drinking water violations, housing issues and commute times),” reports the Florida Times-Union.
St. Johns County, of course, has that No. 1 spot — and advantages which include a lack of the problems big cities face, a lack of legacy costs and industry, and a wealthier commuter population.
Vitti does Detroit
Detroit is known for many things: techno music, mass production of cars, and Motown.
Soon, the local school district may also be known for poaching Duval County’s School Superintendent, Nikolai Vitti.
Vitti, widely seen as the front-runner in the two-man race, has Detroit “in his DNA.”
The often-controversial super went back to the Motor City Wednesday to interview for that district’s top job.
“I will not lead from my office. I will lead in schools, with the staff and the community,” Vitti said in Detroit — an accurate depiction of his work in Jacksonville.
More ironic, though, was his call for continuity.
“I think one of the tragedies, as far as the history of public schools in Detroit, has been an instability of leadership and constant changes so every leader wants to put their own fingerprint on a body of work and that means disrupting the previous leader’s work,” Vitti said.
The same could be said about Duval County — the district he would leave.
Some have suggested Clay County Superintendent Addison Davis replace Vitti.
Davis, Vitti’s former right-hand man, was elected in Clay last year. If he left the job, he’d leave Clay in the lurch.
But that would be Clay’s problem. Not Vitti’s, or Duval’s.
Spies Like Us
Jacksonville is a neighborly town, where someone is always watching over you. It is especially true if you were a protester of recent vintage, WJXT reported this week (piggybacking on a Times-Union report).
The issue: a JSO contract with “Geofeedia,” a company which keyword tracked social media phrases like #BlackLivesMatter … though, in what had to have been an oversight, not #AllLivesMatter.
Geofeedia was cut off from social media platforms this year after the American Civil Liberties Union balked at the data-harvesting.
JSO’s Geofeedia deal lapsed; however, those at protest events had better be ready for the spotlight, as rallies are recorded.
“You never know what is going to happen,” is the rationale for that.
And for those advocating that Jacksonville build a new convention center — a contention made by many stakeholders over the years, one crystallized in Mayor Curry’s transition team recommendations in 2015 — millions of dollars are at stake.
Council President Lori Boyer contends “in terms of the size of the facility and of the amenities offered in the facility compared to what larger and newer convention centers elsewhere offer, we’re certainly at a disadvantage.”
However, Boyer and others agree that a convention center has to come with other upgrades: more hotels, being closer to the action, a revitalized entertainment district.
Can Jacksonville make up for decades lost to places like Orlando and San Diego regarding chasing conventioneers? That very much is an open question.
On the state level, a bill is moving through the House to end them … but appears to be stalled out in the Senate.
Locally, one CRA — that of the Jacksonville International Airport — has been recommended for sunset in 2019 by its trustees.
While they claim that the CRA accomplished its goals of blight reduction, councilors are pushing back, saying that there is plenty of real blight in the area that was not addressed
In fact, the “blight” the JIA CRA addressed mainly involved replacing trees with the River City Marketplace, a shopping center which has helped to put Dunn Avenue and Gateway Mall on life support.
The disconnect between the CRA board and the councilors speaks to a fundamental lack of communication as to what the CRA was supposed to do.
Ironically, that only helps to make the case that thus far has been more persuasive in the House than in the Senate.
Down with LNG?
Liquefied Natural Gas, or LNG, is a big part of the region’s energy strategy — with evidence of that surfacing last week by two 260-ton storage tanks housed at JAXPORT.
“The tanks — each one-half the length of a football field — are each able to hold 100 million liters of LNG fuel, which means enough for 14 days of travel — two round trips to Puerto Rico,” reports WJXT.
Crowley Maritime has dropped $500M into the technology, about which one corporate rep said Jacksonville was “leading the world.”
Flagler residents tell Paul Renner they want home rule on vacation rentals
A standing-room-only crowd packed into the Hammock Community Center last weekend to tell Republican Rep. Renner that they don’t like the vacation rental bills moving through the Florida Legislature this year.
Hammock residents said they don’t like companies such as Airbnb coming into their neighborhoods to rent single-family homes to vacationers, and they say the argument that vacation rental companies are keeping cash-strapped homeowners from facing foreclosure is baloney.
“There’s really absolutely no truth in the fact that these are struggling people trying to keep their house. These are investors who are preying on us, ruining our community,” one homeowner said to applause.
Renner seemed responsive to his constituents’ pleas at the town hall, whereas the area’s senator, Travis Hutson, hasn’t been.
Renner said he’d vote no on HB 425 when it comes up in committee this week, and that he’ll vote against it if it reaches the floor. Hutson, who was not at the town hall, hasn’t made his opinion known on the bill, which would curb local control measures on vacation rentals that he pushed through the Legislature in 2014.
A word with Marty Fiorentino
The president of The Fiorentino Group in Jacksonville, spent the past few weeks shuttling back-and-forth to Washington, D.C. to help Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, a longtime friend, get things up and running at the federal agency. A transportation expert in his own regard, we caught up with Fiorentino to talk about his relationship with Chao and transportation issues on the horizon.
FP: Tell me a little bit about your history with Secretary Chao.
MF: During the administration of President George H.W. Bush, I served as counselor to the Deputy Secretary of Transportation, who was Elaine Chao. After moving back to Florida, we remained friends over the years. She later became head of the Peace Corps, President of the United Way and Secretary of Labor for eight years under President George W. Bush. She was named Secretary of Transportation by President Trump. She asked me to come up to Washington to assist her as things got up and running at the Department of Transportation and I was honored to help.
FP: From an outsider’s perspective, the Cabinet confirmation process seemed to be tumultuous. As someone on the inside, what was it like working with Secretary Chao through the transition?
MF: Actually, Secretary Chao’s confirmation process was relatively uneventful. She is well-known by the Senate and has had a distinguished career of public service. In fact, she was one of the first cabinet members confirmed by the Senate.
FP: How do you think the Secretary will work to implement the president’s campaign promise for massive infrastructure spending?
MF: The president has made infrastructure funding one of his highest priorities. An interagency group has been established at the White House led by the National Economic Council to develop a national infrastructure plan. Transportation issues cut across numerous departments and involve everything from pipelines and broadband to the energy grid, roads, bridges, ports, airports, permitting and public-private partnerships and finance. It involves Treasury, Energy, EPA, DOD, OMB, Interior, Commerce and, of course, USDOT. The Secretary has a working group that meets internally and weekly with the White House to develop this plan and DOT will have a big part in implementing it.
FP: As a Floridian, what infrastructure projects do you think should be a top priority for Secretary Chao and President Trump?
MF: Florida of course! Actually, the time it takes to permit transportation projects is a terrible economic burden and job killer. If we can shorten that process it will unlock a lot of economic prosperity and expedite long needed transportation projects that are under design and development. Governor Scott has been to Washington and Secretary Chao and I had lunch with him. He was a strong advocate for Florida’s highway, rail, port and airport projects. Personally, I think the Governor has been spot on with his early support of Florida’s seaports and willingness to put the state’s money behind them.
Jacksonville Zoo LEGO-themed Safari EGGscursion
Jacksonville Zoo & Gardenshosts Eggscursion, its annual spring event, April 15 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. The theme of this year’s hunt will be a LEGO Egg Scavenger Hunt. Guests will crisscross the Zoo searching for hidden LEGO eggs throughout the park. Participants that register guesses with the correct number of eggs found will be eligible to win a Grand Prize! Also included are bounce houses, photo ops, games and crafts and goody bags on the Great Lawn. Eggscursion is free with Zoo admission.
Trailer Bridge boosts service from JAXPORT to Dominican Republic
Trailer Bridge, Inc., is now offering added service to the Dominican Republic from JAXPORT’s Blount Island Marine Terminal. The company will offer two sailings per week to Santo Domingo, in addition to its longtime weekly call from JAXPORT to Puerto Plata. The vessels also call San Juan, Puerto Rico during the twice-weekly rotation to Santo Domingo.
Trailer Bridge serves the Dominican Republic trade lane with larger, 53-foot containers which the company says significantly reduces per-unit cost over traditional 40-foot containers. Trailer Bridge has been serving the Caribbean market through JAXPORT for more than 25 years.