Jax – Page 6 – Florida Politics

Northeast Florida ballot moves: Kim Daniels runs unopposed, Aaron Bean draws second challenger

As qualifying quickly approaches for state races, two Northeast Florida incumbents face changes that will affect their 2018 campaigns.

Rep. Kim Daniels, a Jacksonville Democrat, currently is running unopposed after perennial third-party candidate Darcy Richardson opted to run for Governor on the Reform Party line.

Richardson called Daniels a “disgrace” and worse, and said he was “running to win,” However, the call of a statewide campaign clearly proved impossible to ignore.

As of the end of April, Daniels had just over $15,000 cash on hand. But as things stand, she will waltz unopposed to re-election.

Sen. Aaron Bean, a Republican representing some of Duval and all of Nassau County, will face not one but two opponents on the November ballot.

Democratic activist Billie Bussard is the first and only Democrat filed, joining Libertarian Joanna Liberty Tavares on the ballot.

Bussard and Tavares face long odds. Bean is an incumbent in a deep red district and, as of the end of April, had $190,000 banked between his campaign account and that of his Florida Conservative Alliance political committee.

Strong metrics abound in Jacksonville debt affordability study

It’s rare that a Debt Affordabilty Study qualifies as a good-news story, but in the case of Jacksonville, most metrics are bullish.

Debt service costs and debt per capita are below targets, while reserve funds are trending toward their targets.

“Through recent strong financial management, as recognized by the ratings agencies, a strong economy, low interest rates, and a consistent trend in reducing our debt outstanding, these metrics have continued to improve,” the report from the city’s CFO, Mike Weinstein, asserts.

And they have needed to. As the report says a bit later on: “Jacksonville has a higher than average debt burden and a slightly below average level of reserves. As will be seen later on in this study, the City has been improving in both areas over the last five years. Continuing the trend of paying down debt and increasing reserves will be viewed favorably by the ratings agencies.”

Since Fiscal Year 2013 (during the Alvin Brown mayoralty, when the city dealt with the hardest hits of the recession), the city has paid off $354 million in outstanding debt, and has kept debt service at a consistent level. Though that debt service, a function of non-negotiable fixed costs, is described within the report as “tight,” with payments being 11 percent of each of the last two budgets, expectations are that it will become less of an impact as city revenues grow in the coming years.

“Jacksonville continues to enjoy strong budgetary flexibility to meet any future fiscal challenge,” the report maintains. “Jacksonville’s modest tax rates and average tax burden form the foundation for the City’s financial flexibility while maintaining its desired service levels. This revenue capacity and flexibility underpin the market’s positive view of the City’s debt.”

The city expects to retire $400 million of general fund debt between now and FY 2023, allowing for new borrowing, the report says.

Alas, there are caveats: “While the city’s debt burden is forecast to improve and otherwise create ability for new debt, it must be cautioned that other rising costs and demands on city resources may offset some or all of this benefit.”

The short term, however, holds promise. Reserve levels are expected to be above 14 percent (with emergency and operating combined) of the general fund in the next budget, boosted by $60 million from pension reform, per the report.

The Mayor’s Office had pushed to increase reserve levels a year ago, but there was little enthusiasm for the concept on the Finance Committee at the time.

The question going into FY 2018-19: Will this be an “election year” budget, or will the Mayor’s Office dole out the castor oil for incumbents and push for fiscal restraint as voters mull their fates?

Lenny Curry: Jacksonville City Council fill-ins are Rick Scott’s decision

Just days after Gov. Rick Scott suspended two Jacksonville City Council members who face 38 federal counts in a scheme to defraud local and federal taxpayers, Mayor Lenny Curry said Tuesday his office had no active role or insight into the selection process for their replacements.

The replacements for suspended Democrats Katrina Brown and Reggie Brown will be picked by Scott. They would serve until/unless the individual Council members are exonerated, or the installation of 2019 electeds on July 1 — whichever comes first.

Speaking after a City Hall ceremony commemorating U.S./French cooperation in World War II, Curry said “it’s the Governor’s choice.”

“The process that he put into place,” Curry said, “is an application process” similar to that for gubernatorial boards.

“We’ve had people reach out to us and we have directed them to the link [to apply via the Governor’s Office], told them to follow the process,” Curry said.

When asked if current 2019 candidates for the impacted seats have been in contact with the Mayor’s Office, Curry confirmed people have reached out, but “it’s the Governor’s decision.”

“When they get to the selection process, if the governor or his team solicit advice, we will certainly provide it at that time. But I’ve known Gov. Scott for many years, and he makes his own decisions,” Curry said.

Curry noted that Council President-elect Aaron Bowman, who takes over the gavel in July, is “anxious to see those seats filled so they can get on with their business.”

Bowman is in the process of filling Council committees for the post July 1 period.

In terms of Northwest Jacksonville, the region from which both indicted Council members hail, Curry vowed to make “continued commitments in the years ahead” despite the lapse in representation in those areas.

“We’ve got a lot to do in terms of the promises that were made long before we got here,” Curry said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Curry noted that when he got in office three years ago, he vowed to “invest” in those neglected neighborhoods, and he will continue to do just that.

Audrey Gibson endorses Tracye Polson in HD 15

Sen. Audrey Gibson, leader-designate for Senate Democrats, endorsed fellow Jacksonville Democrat Tracye Polson in House District 15 Tuesday.

Polson is the sole Democrat in the race, and will face one of three Republicans in the general election in November.

Via media release from Polson, both Gibson and Polson offered quotes of mutual approval.

“Tracye has the experience and expertise to represent Jacksonville as State Representative for District 15. She is versed in issues concerning veterans and their families, removing barriers to the successful education of our children, and quality mental and physical health of communities,” stated Sen. Gibson. “Her business acumen is a big added plus to the multiple qualities she would bring to the Legislature, and she certainly has my support.”

“Senator Gibson was very influential in my decision to run for this seat. Her expertise and knowledge of Jacksonville issues and politics have been extremely helpful in guiding my campaign thus far. I am so proud to have earned her endorsement and look forward to working with Senator Gibson in Tallahassee,” Polson asserted.

Polson’s campaign has been atypically strong for that of a Democrat running for a Republican House seat.

Through April, her campaign raised $210,000 — a number bolstered by self-financing.

As well, Polson has been endorsed by police and fire local unions, who picked the Democratic nominee even before the Republicans made their selection.

The winner of this race ultimately will succeed Rep. Jay Fant, a candidate for Attorney General.

Jacksonville budget in good shape, though investments are flat and Irma costs loom

Through the first six months of FY 17-18, the Jacksonville city budget is in good shape, showing a positive variance, per a recent report from the Jacksonville City Council auditor.

“The City is projected to experience an overall favorable budget variance of approximately $9.3 million within the General Fund/General Services District (GF/GSD). Revenues are projected to be $0.4 million more than budgeted and expenditures are projected to be $8.9 million less than budgeted,” reads the Jacksonville City Council auditor’s report.

“That’s less than one percent, but it’s good that it’s favorable, and things are looking good for the general fund,” said auditor Kyle Billy Tuesday in the Council Finance Committee.

Those savings realized in the current budget may have real world application, as the city is still waiting on payback from the federal government for hurricane related costs, and as the Mayor’s Office begins to work through departmental budgets ahead of its own proposed FY 18/19 budget next month.

Regarding Matthew, 2016’s tropical nuisance, “The latest Hurricane Matthew projection estimates the financial impact will be approximately $47.0 million. As of May 8, 2018, the City incurred expenditures of $28.8 million related to Hurricane Matthew.”

With the Feds poised to pay back 87.5 percent of that $47 million, an extra $7 million slid into a contigency account this budget year should make up for that.

“We’re actually going to be a little overfunded there, which is good,” Billy said, as Irma, 2017’s storm, is another matter.

“The latest Hurricane Irma projection estimates the financial impact will be approximately $83.1 million. This could result in an estimated $10.4 million negative impact to the GF/GSD in the future. As of May 8, 2018, the City incurred expenditures of $54.2 million related to Hurricane Irma.”

“Eventually, the city will have to [fund for] Irma,” Billy said.

Expect a contingency for Irma in the next budget. One wonders if the city will start planning for these storms as potential yearly impacts.

Speaking of impactful storms, city investments are starting to hit a lull.

“The Operating Portfolio experienced a net of fees return of negative .30% for the quarter ending March 31, 2018, which outperformed the Blended Benchmark by 27 bps. Performance of the portfolio over the last year was a positive 1.25%, after fee deductions. During the past three and five years the portfolio has earned an average annual return of 1.15% and 1.31%, respectively.”

Expect anemic performance to continue: “Achieving positive returns in equity and fixed income markets has become increasingly challenging due to elevated price levels and stubbornly tight spreads.”

An issue in Finance Committee: a roughly $3 million decline in municipal sales tax revenue (from the state pool) compared to budgeted amounts, with expectations of $170 million in proceeds compared to $173 million.

Despite this underperformance, the number is still expected to be up over the previous fiscal year’s $165 million.

County sales tax revenues are expected to be favorable, with the half-cent sales tax $1.8 million over projections.

Paul Renner launching re-election campaign June 21

Palm Coast Republican Rep. Paul Renner is kicking off his bid for a second term in House District 24 with a hometown fundraiser later this month.

The campaign launch event will be held at the Palm Coast Arts Foundation, 1500 Central Ave., from 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm on June 21. The reception will likely double as a celebration for qualifying for the ballot — Renner hit the his required signature total for HD 24 a couple weeks ago.

The first-term Republican, slated to take over as House Speaker following the 2022 elections, faces Democrat Adam Morley in the fall. Morley has is also set to qualify for the ballot by petition, though Renner likely isn’t quaking in his boots. HD 24 is a Republican stronghold, and Renner’s campaign and committee accounts are stocked with cash.

To that end, the kickoff event suggests a light $25 contribution to his campaign account to make the guest list. Those willing to part with that sum can send in an RSVP via Chad.Kunde@gmail.com.

The invitation is below.


Renner Campaign Kickoff 6.21.18

Aaron Bean draws Libertarian challenger

Aaron Bean will face a general election challenge in Senate District 4, a Duval/Nassau district that leans heavily Republican.

Monday saw Joanna Liberty Tavares file for the seat as a Libertarian.

Tavares, per SunBiz, is an officer for Sweet Freedom LLC. The business address, at River City Marketplace, corresponds with Smallcakes Cupcakery, a well-regarded pastry shop that has 4 stars on Yelp.

Tavares is a U.S. Army Veteran, whose highest rank was Staff Sergeant. She served in Afghanistan last decade, as the “global war on terror” was ramping up.

And that experience was central to her decision to run.

She said she was following the work of the Military and Veterans Affairs Committee, of which incumbent Bean is a member, when she realized “a lot of people are making decisions for military members and veterans who have never served.”

Tavares in 2014 wrote on this subject, advocating for renewed attention to the mental health issues of those returning from Afghanistan and other theaters of conflict.

Between his campaign account and his political committee, Bean had nearly $200,000 cash on hand at the end of April, and will certainly be well-positioned to fundraise further (if needed), given the incumbent’s allies in the region.

Tavares joins a number of Libertarian candidates running in the region, including state House candidates Ken Willey and Ryan Ramsey. They are running in House Districts 18 and 19 respectively.

Tavares may not line up completely with other Florida Libertarians; she backs, for example, restrictions on assault weapons sales to those under 21.

On other issues, such as cannabis legalization, Tavares syncs up with most Libertarians, advocating legalization and the “new commerce” it would create as a funding source for public schools and law enforcement.

City website (inadvertently) promoted Jacksonville property appraiser’s re-election bid

Duval County Property Appraiser Jerry Holland turned heads in April with $100,000 raised. In May, he added another $10,550 to the mix.

He has over $110,000 on hand, and has yet to spend money.

Holland, a popular Republican in his first term on the job, faces nominal opposition in Democrat Kurt Kraft, who is largely self-financed and has just over $260 on hand.

To counter Holland, who has been winning Jacksonville elections for decades, Kraft spent over $1,900 in May, with the bulk of that spend being on signage.

Inadvertently, at least until Monday, Holland, a former Supervisor of Elections,  had a free ad courtesy of the city of Jacksonville website.

The City of Jacksonville website contained, for two months, boldfaced directions for anyone wishing to donate: “April 2- Duval County Property Appraiser Jerry Holland announce his run for re-election! Should you want to contribute to the campaign send your contribution to Jerry Holland Campaign 1688 Harrington Park Drive Jacksonville 32225.”

Section 350 of Jacksonville municipal code issues prohibitions on blurring campaign and official personae and work, and the city website advertising the campaign would seem to contravene prohibitions on political signs and campaigning on public property.

When we reached out to Holland, he cleared up the matter as a case of human error.

An employee had shown him a draft version of the text and asked if it could be publicized.

He said “absolutely not.”

From there, the employee deleted the text — but not from all browsers.

The message was deleted finally Monday afternoon.

“It sure didn’t help with campaign contributions,” Holland quipped.

Michael Waltz renews call for John Ward to ditch CD 6 run

Candidates in Florida’s 6th Congressional District are beginning to reach a consensus: Republican John Ward needs to get out of the race.

John Ward has been under fire for weeks for comments made at a forum in April.

His take was that displaced Puerto Ricans shouldn’t be voting in Florida; one by one, candidates have been issuing statements rebuking Ward’s take.

Mike Waltz, one of three Republicans running to replace Ron DeSantis in the St. Johns/Flagler/Volusia district, again called for Ward’s withdrawal Monday, echoing a call he made a week and a half ago.

“As a Green Beret Commander who served multiple combat tours overseas, it’s outrageous to me that politician John Ward would say certain American citizens shouldn’t be able to vote in our country,” Waltz said.

“In combat, no matter where we came from, we all served under the same flag and fought to ensure we all had the same rights. For John Ward to suggest otherwise makes him unfit to serve,” Waltz added.

“There is no place for politician John Ward in this or any campaign and that’s why I’m calling on him to withdraw his candidacy immediately. I urge fellow Republicans to join the chorus of conservative leaders in Florida to demand the same,” Waltz added.

Democrats Nancy Soderberg and John Upchurch have already called for Ward to withdraw. Republican Fred Costello and Democrat Stephen Sevigny likewise have condemned the comments.

Ward, meanwhile, did not respond to our request for comment Monday afternoon.

Despite hiccups, Jacksonville ‘District’ development clears first City Council panel

On Monday, Jacksonville City Council’s Neighborhoods, Community Services, Public Health and Safety committee greenlit the ‘District‘ development plan.

That said, the bill did not pass without considerable discussion and consternation among myriad members of the panel before the 5-1 vote

The bill (2018-313) could transform the Southbank with its radical redevelopment of 30 acres at the former Southside Generating Station property next to the Duval County School Board building.

“The District will encompass approximately 200,000 square feet of retail space, 200,000 square feet of office space, 1,170 apartments/condominiums, and a 150-200 key hotel,” per a dedicated website to the project.

Politically connected developers Peter Rummell and Michael Munz have a deal via their Elements Development to buy the land for $18.6 million from the JEA Board. That deal closes July 18.

Concerns in committee included potential environmental risk if the city took possession of the property, in case of developer default. Councilwoman Lori Boyer, in whose district the District will be built, noted that remediation was already done by JEA and certified, with indemnity protections built into the agreement.

As well, a reduction of the amortization from 20 years was broached. Boyer was willing to lower the term to 18 years.

Borrowing was capped at $19 million, reduced from $23 million.

Dedicating parking — 135 metered spaces for Riverwalk access — and enforcing the parking regulations: also a sticking point, with Crescimbeni incredulous over the ability or legality of the future homeowners’ association to enforce parking.

“I can’t vote for this bill,” Crescimbeni told DIA head Aundra Wallace. “This is sloppy. This is not what I expected.”

Boyer, a lawyer by trade, vowed an amendment in Tuesday’s Finance Committee to address the issue.

Despite that qualm, Council President-designate Aaron Bowman said he supported this bill “100 percent” — a position shared by Mayor Lenny Curry.

Current Council President Anna Lopez Brosche, meanwhile, was not in attendance in committee.

Among the incentives for developers: a $30 million capital improvement plan and a Rev Grant (75 percent for up to 22 years capped at $56 million).

The Rev Grant extends to 2040 when the Southbank CRA sunsets.

The total post-construction-assessed value is expected to be just shy of $216 million.

Capital improvements would include $25 million of infrastructure work, including three riverfront parks and a marshfront park on the south of the property ($4.469 million total, and these parks would be city lands).

Other project costs would include $6.361 million for a riverfront bulkhead, a $3.488 million Riverwalk extension, $1.597 million for a boardwalk, $1.035 for an overland trail. As well, a $1.025 million extension of Prudential Drive, $405,600 for Broadcast Place, and $1,158 million for Riverside Drive are in the mix.

Design costs of $2.931 million and a contingency allowance of $3.371 million are also included.

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