November 21, 2017

Congress could eliminate the tax break that helped Miami Beach’s Art Deco renaissance

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via @joeflech @alextdaugherty

Behind the signature Miami pastels, perfectly symmetrical facades and terrazzo floors that give South Beach’s rich stock of Art Deco buildings its distinctive flavor, one section of the U.S. tax code fueled the rehabilitation of these once-crumbling structures.

As part of a sweeping tax overhaul, Republicans in Congress could eliminate the historic tax credit — a move that is upsetting local preservationists and developers who say the credit is an essential factor in the financial formula that keeps these decades-old buildings standing.

The tax plan passed by the House of Representatives on Thursday eliminates a 20 percent historic preservation tax credit. The tax plan under debate by the Senate currently keeps the tax credit, though it could be changed.

Locals who fight to save historic buildings and developers who take these buildings on as restoration projects agree that reducing the incentive would hamper future rehabilitation of Miami and Miami Beach’s historic architecture.

“In the development community, we take advantage of this,” said Sandor Scher, principal of Claro Development. “This is a real incentive.”

Claro is planning to rehab and reuse several late-era Deco and Miami Modern buildings in the redevelopment of Ocean Terrace, a block along the city’s north shore. Scher plans to apply for historic tax credits to help finance the project, which is currently under review by the city planners.

The credit enables developers to save on taxes and spend more on costly rehabilitation projects that preserve the facades of historic buildings while renovating the rest of the structure to make it economically viable.

Hotelier Alan Lieberman helped shape South Beach’s character through several historic restoration projects that met the stringent requirements set forth by the National Park Service, which runs the tax credit program and approves projects based on how faithful a restoration is to the building’s original look.

Lieberman’s company, South Beach Group Hotels, has preserved archetypal Art Deco hotels in the city’s tourist center, including the Collins Plaza Hotel, the Chesterfield and the Catalina Hotel and Beach Club. He said historic hotels are good for business because guests appreciate the uniqueness of the architecture.

So do people who live in the Beach, a rare intersection between tourism and resident interests.

“We take the buildings for granted,” Lieberman said. “It’s really nice, it’s interesting and it’s comfortable. People love historic buildings.”

At least one member of the local Congressional delegation agrees and hopes the final bill will leave the tax credit untouched when it comes to a vote.

“I will vote for this monstrosity with the hope that many of these things will get taken care of once the bill comes back and we have a conference and people come to their senses,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, of the House bill. But she did not rule out voting against the final bill if enough changes aren’t made.

“Preservation is so important in my congressional district, not only in the Gables but in Miami Beach. Oh my gosh, those beautiful Art Deco hotels and homes,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “We want to preserve them. I’m not in favor of doing away with those deductions. Why take it out on the little guys like that?”

Read more here.

November 20, 2017

Miami’s ‘master of selfies’ mounts a pro-Trump congressional bid

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@alextdaugherty

Republicans and Democrats beware: The “master of selfies” is running for Congress.

Mayra Joli, a Brickell-based immigration attorney and five-time beauty queen who dabbles as a pundit on Spanish-language television, is running without a party affiliation for retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s Miami-based seat.

Joli, a lifelong Democrat, is also an ardent Donald Trump supporter who says that her 12 years on television gives her enough visibility to win.

“I am not looking to run because I need a paycheck, like Donald Trump. I’m not looking to run because I need fame, like Donald Trump. I’m running because I need this country to succeed,” Joli said. “Like Donald Trump, I don’t drink.”

The self-described “Jenny from the block” could potentially impact one of the nation’s most competitive congressional elections in 2018 due to her pro-Trump message.

While Joli will face an uphill climb to win the open congressional seat that favors Democrats, her pro-Trump stance could create a complicated situation for the Republican nominee in a district where Hillary Clinton beat Trump by over 19 percentage points in 2016.

“Being a Trump supporter in that district may not be the best tactic or person to be supporting if you actually want to win,” said Miami attorney Rick Yabor, a frequent political commentator in Spanish-language media. “What I think she does as an independent is she’s going to hurt the GOP candidate when it comes to the general.”

Joli kicked off her campaign two weeks ago at a pro-Trump rally in Tropical Park, complete with an LED billboard displaying her face and a karaoke machine.

As she grabbed the microphone to introduce herself to the audience, the karaoke machine began to play Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” and Joli jumped right into the chorus, belting out an off-key “And I...” before beginning her stump speech.

“Eventually I’m going to master it,” Joli said, adding that the karaoke machine will be a fixture at all of her future campaign events.

Read more here.

November 16, 2017

Miami Republicans vote in favor of Trump-supported tax overhaul

Congress Taxes

@alextdaugherty 

All three Miami Republicans in the House of Representatives voted Thursday in favor of a $1.5 trillion plan to overhaul the nation’s tax code, though one of them called the legislation a “monstrosity” and left the door open to voting against the final proposal if negotiations with the Senate don’t yield enough changes.

Reps. Carlos Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen all voted in favor of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which passed by a vote of 227-205. Every Democrat from South Florida voted against the plan with the exception of Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami Gardens, who did not vote. Thirteen Republicans, mostly from northeastern states, voted against the plan.

Curbelo, a member of the House tax-writing committee responsible for drafting the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, has been a vocal supporter of the legislation for months and delivered introductory remarks in English and Spanish at a press conference with Republican leadership lauding the bill’s passage.

“What a country and what a day,” Curbelo said. “Today we are one step closer for tax relief for every American family.”

Passing a bill would give President Donald Trump and the GOP their first big legislative triumph in 2017 after an effort to repeal Obamacare stalled earlier this year.

Diaz-Balart also praised the bill in a statement after the final vote.

“Filing your taxes shouldn't be an arduous and burdensome task; this legislation creates a simpler, fairer tax code for individuals, protecting their hard-earned dollars,” Diaz-Balart said. “American families deserve a tax code that allows them to keep more of what they make; for Floridians, that means keeping $1,945 more of their wages. It also creates more than 50,000 new jobs in the Sunshine State, encouraging business owners and revitalizing the job market.”

Ros-Lehtinen had a much different response to the sweeping tax legislation, saying she only voted in favor on Thursday so the House and Senate can hash out differences before drafting a final bill. Ros-Lehtinen said she could vote against the final bill if enough changes aren’t made.

“I will vote for this monstrosity with the hope that many of these things will get taken care of once the bill comes back and we have conference and people come to their senses,” Ros-Lehtinen said before the vote.


Read more here.

November 14, 2017

All South Floridians in the House voted against flood-insurance overhaul. Here’s why

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@alextdaugherty

The entire South Florida delegation in the House of Representatives voted Tuesday against a proposal to overhaul the National Flood Insurance Program, as Congress seeks a long-term solution for the program saddled with billions in debt after Hurricane Irma.

Miami Republican Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo joined the majority of Democrats to vote against the proposal, which passed by a vote of 237-189, with 15 Democrats voted in favor.

“It doesn’t make the changes that I need to satisfy... a big percentage of my district,” said Ros-Lehtinen, who represents Miami Beach and coastal areas of central Miami-Dade County. “We have a lot of homes that are highly valued and it’s going to incur a lot of cost. It’s got to be fair for everybody. To have a home that you can’t find anybody to insure, that doesn’t do anyone any good.”

South Florida Democratic Reps. Frederica Wilson, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Alcee Hastings, Lois Frankel and Ted Deutch also voted against the bill.

The National Flood Insurance Program is set to run out of money by Dec. 8, and if Congress lets the program lapse, thousands of real estate transactions and construction projects in flood-prone areas could be affected. Florida has 35 percent of the nation’s 5 million policies covered by the federal program — three times as many as the second-ranked state, Texas, which has 593,000 policies.

The flood insurance funding bill was the product of an agreement between House Financial Services Committee chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, and Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La. Hensarling has fought for years to privatize portions of the flood insurance program in an effort to make it fiscally solvent. Lawmakers from coastal areas, like Scalise, have cautioned that reforms could result in higher premiums and hurt investment.

Read more here.

November 13, 2017

A new bill would allow all TPS recipients to apply for permanent residency

For TPS

@alextdaugherty

As the Trump administration weighs whether or not to end the Temporary Protected Status for thousands of Haitians and Salvadorans, three members of Congress are preparing legislation that would allow every TPS recipient to apply for permanent residency.

The bill, dubbed the ASPIRE Act, would let every person covered by TPS before Jan. 1, 2017, apply for permanent residency by proving before a judge that they would face extreme hardship if forced to return home.

“The Temporary Protected Status program was created with bipartisan support to protect human life,” said Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-N.Y., who plans to introduce the legislation with Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Washington Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal. “It advances American interests and values and we must work in a bipartisan manner to do the right thing and protect hardworking immigrants from being sent back to countries where their physical well being could be cast into doubt.”

The bill also creates a new form of “protected status” for TPS recipients who have been in the the U.S. for at least five years. Instead of waiting for renewal or revocation of their status every 18 months, current TPS recipients would be able to stay in the U.S. for a renewable six-year period, though they would not be eligible for permanent residency if they cannot prove extreme hardship.

Clarke’s proposal is more expansive than a bill sponsored by Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo that would provide a path to permanent residency for TPS recipients from Haiti, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras who arrived in the U.S. before Jan. 13, 2011. Ros-Lehtinen and Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart have signed on to Curbelo’s bill.

The ASPIRE Act would also correct what Clarke’s office calls an “error” in existing law that requires TPS recipients who arrived in the U.S. illegally to leave the U.S. and reenter to adjust their status. Instead, a TPS designation would be enough of a reason to apply for permanent residency without having to leave the country.

Read more here.

November 09, 2017

More than a dozen Republicans demand a legislative solution for Dreamers

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@alextdaugherty

In a show of force to House Speaker Paul Ryan and Republican leadership, more than a dozen Republicans from around the country are demanding a legislative solution by the end of 2017 for 800,000 young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents.

There is less than four months left for Congress to find a solution for the young immigrants known as Dreamers before President Donald Trump will cancel an Obama-era executive order known as DACA that allowed Dreamers to be protected from deportation.

The 13 Republicans who gathered on Thursday want to vote on a bill now.

“The reality is that these young people with DACA status are already being harmed today,” said Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., noting that over 22,000 DACA recipients missed an October deadline to renew their status and could be fired from their jobs immediately. “Everyday that Congress fails to act, every time that Congress kicks this can down the road, people, real people, are hurt.”

The group, which included conservative Texas Rep. Joe Barton along with moderate Miami Republicans Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Carlos Curbelo, wasn’t the typical cast of characters at an immigration news conference on Capitol Hill.

While Ros-Lehtinen and Curbelo are well-versed on immigration issues and delivered their talking points in English and Spanish, other members at the news conference on Capitol Hill tripped up when reciting details about DACA recipients. Pennsylvania Rep. Ryan Costello referred to DACA recipients as “those who were born here” before being corrected by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.

The pro-Dreamer Republicans also included those who are trying to hold on to their seats in the face of well-funded Democratic challengers ahead of the 2018 elections. Issa ranks as the most vulnerable House incumbent in a recent analysis by Roll Call, while New York Rep. John Faso, who also spoke at the press conference, ranks third on Roll Call’s list.

But the Miami Republicans will need every possible Republican on board, even if their support is driven by political calculations, to convince Ryan to put a bill on the floor. Certain conservative Republican members are poised to vote against any proposal that expands immigration protections, but multiple Republicans at the press conference said that a legislative solution for Dreamers would easily garner over 300 votes in the 435 member House of Representatives.


Read more here.

November 08, 2017

Ros-Lehtinen: Fellow Republicans don’t care about finding a permanent TPS solution

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@alextdaugherty

Over 200,000 Haitians and Salvadorans could be forced to leave the United States if the Trump administration ends Temporary Protected Status for the two countries, and Democrats along with Miami Republicans in Congress are pushing for a permanent solution.

But Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen isn’t convinced that most of her fellow Republicans care.

The outgoing Miami congresswoman said Tuesday that the majority of Congress “would not know what TPS is” if asked about it and that there isn’t an appetite from Republicans to give TPS recipients a path to permanent residency.

“I spoke yesterday about TPS, had hardly anyone ask me about it. I spoke again today about TPS, radio silence from my colleagues,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “There’s just no interest for immigration reform generally, and I don’t think there’s much appetite to help these two particular groups of people. It hurts to say it but it’s the political reality.”

Ros-Lehtinen and the entire Miami delegation in Congress — Democrats and Republicans — are united behind a bill by Rep. Carlos Curbelo that would allow Haitians, Salvadorans, Hondurans and Nicaraguans who receive TPS to obtain a path to permanent residency.

The Department of Homeland Security announced on Monday that TPS will expire in 2019 for Nicaraguans, while Hondurans will get a six-month extension until July 2018. The Trump administration has not yet announced a determination for Haitians and Salvadorans.

“While I’m disappointed in the administration’s announcement, these continued short-term extensions have created anxiety and uncertainty not only for these immigrants and their families, but also for their employers and neighbors whose prosperity also depends on them,” Curbelo said in a statement. “Congress has an opportunity to change that, and I’m grateful the Administration has called for a permanent solution from Congress.”

But finding a permanent solution will be a political challenge for House Speaker Paul Ryan and the Miami Republicans. Conservative Republicans have railed against any attempt to expand immigration, and the March 2018 deadline for Congress to find a legislative solution for young people known as Dreamers, who came to the country with their parents illegally as children, looms ahead of Nicaragua’s January 2019 TPS elimination or Honduras’ possible elimination in July 2018.

Read more here.

November 06, 2017

Final year in Congress: Ros-Lehtinen takes on Trump, immigration and climate change

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

@alextdaugherty 

The congressional office with one of the best views of the Capitol Dome awakens from a mid-afternoon lull as the door swings open and the boss emerges with a loud, “Hello everybody!”

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is in, and the cafecito is flowing.

The outgoing Miami Republican, one of the few remaining moderates in a Congress dominated by uncompromising politicians of both stripes, is cheerful and full of energy as she navigates her final year in Washington. Ros-Lehtinen freely distributes hip-bumps, high-fives and hugs to everyone, and typically dour-faced lawmakers light up whenever they encounter her on Capitol Hill.

Ros-Lehtinen, a 65-year-old Cuban-American who was a trailblazing Latina in Tallahassee and Washington, said she’s not leaving office because she’s scared that her overwhelmingly Democratic-leaning district will turn against her in 2018 or that she’s fed up with the hyper-partisan rhetoric of the Trump era.

It’s just been 28 years, and she and husband Dexter Lehtinen are ready for something different.

“Dexter and I, one morning we just woke up and we just looked at each other, maybe we had read an article in the Herald, I don’t know, and we just said ‘What do you think?’” Ros-Lehtinen said. “I said, ‘Yeah, I think we’re ready, I think we’re ready for a new adventure.’”

Ros-Lehtinen doesn’t have an immediate plan for the future. She may get back into teaching, her profession before she first ran for the Florida Legislature 35 years ago. Or she may work in an advocacy role that allows her to split time between Miami and Washington, noting that the two-hour flight is a breeze.

A year ago, Ros-Lehtinen faced her closest challenge in years. She won by 10 percentage points over businessman Scott Fuhrman after spending $3.4 million in campaign cash, even though Hillary Clinton won her district by over 19 percentage points. But six months later, Ros-Lehtinen announced that she was retiring from Congress, a decision that sent shockwaves through the Miami political community.

“Ileana has been a champion for her time, I don’t look at it as a loss but a passing of the torch,” said Miami commissioner Ken Russell, one of the Democrats seeking to replace her in Congress.

Other Republican lawmakers who recently announced their retirement, like senators Bob Corker and Jeff Flake, have fiercely criticized Trump and his associates for dragging American politics into a tweet-filled gutter. But Ros-Lehtinen, a veteran of many Miami-style political campaigns where insults are hurled with regularity in two languages, said politics has always been a rough game.

“I think Jeff Flake and others have been talking about how frustrated they feel in a polarized environment,” Ros-Lehtinen said minutes after Flake announced his retirement in a dramatic Senate floor speech. “This has always been a polarizing place it’s always been a source of frustration if that’s how you look it. I chose long ago I was going to be a Hubert Humphrey-style happy warrior.”

Read more here.

November 02, 2017

Curbelo, Ros-Lehtinen can apply for Hispanic Caucus membership (Updated)

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@alextdaugherty 

Miami Republican Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen will receive a letter to officially apply for Congressional Hispanic Caucus membership, and then the body, currently made up of all Democrats, will vote on their application. 

Ros-Lehtinen has no intention of joining the caucus despite the invitation to apply, a spokesman for the congresswoman said.

The CHC executive council discussed Curbelo's potential candidacy during a closed-door meeting on Thursday, according to three members in the room. Curbelo has been trying to join the caucus since February, but the body has yet to make a decision. 

"The congressman’s intention has always been to join the Hispanic Caucus," said Curbelo spokeswoman Joanna Rodriguez

At issue is Curbelo's immigration stance. Some members of the caucus are concerned that inviting Curbelo would be antithetical to the group's position on immigration since Curbelo has not co-sponsored a version of the Dream Act, which would give the children of undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship.

The Dream Act has Republican co-sponsorship, including from Ros-Lehtinen, who urged a vote on the measure during a speech on Thursday. 

"Let's bring the Dream Act to a vote so that these young people can make their American dream a reality," Ros-Lehtinen said on the House floor. "The clock is ticking." 

But Curbelo has his own proposal, the Raising America's Children Act, that provides a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers but is more narrowly tailored than the Dream Act. Curbelo has pitched his solution as a conservative alternative to the Dream Act. 

"Even when I got into the caucus 14 years ago there was a vote by the other members and we'll take that vote," said Arizona Democratic Rep. Raúl Grijalva. "Once we're done that, he can possibly stop complaining that he hasn't been given an audience and start complaining about the result." 

Grijalva does not plan to vote for Curbelo even if he signs onto the Dream Act. 

"He's politicized it more than it should be," Grijalva said of Curbelo's desire to join the group. "He's the one running around whining about the fact that he's not being allowed in because he's a Republican. It has nothing to do with that. It's a political strategy to try to make himself in a competitive district look like he's a victim. He's not a victim." 

"We are absolutely, in writing, making it very clear that we recognize that Curbelo and Ileana informally have asked that they be part of the caucus, now they're going to be invited to formally say they want to be a member of the caucus," said CHC chairwoman Michelle Lujan Grisham. "Every member of our caucus gets a vote." 

Lujan Grisham said the letter will be sent to Curbelo and Ros-Lehtinen tomorrow and that a vote could take place next week if the Miami lawmakers reply promptly. Lujan Grisham has not made up her mind on whether she will vote for Curbelo, though she said "it may persuade some members" to vote for him if he signs onto the Dream Act. 

As for Ros-Lehtinen's candidacy, Grijalva said "she's been pretty consistent on our issues" but that the letter to her was more of a "gesture on her part." Ros-Lehtinen, who is retiring in 2018, was once part of the CHC but left along with other Republican members in 2003 over differences on Cuba policy. 

The caucus at one time included members from both parties, but several Florida Republicans walked out years ago and formed their own group, the Congressional Hispanic Conference. That group is chaired by Miami Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who has said he’s not interested in joining the other caucus.

UPDATED 3:49pm

Ros-Lehtinen says she has no intention of joining the CHC. 

“I had informal conversations with Michelle and Lucille (Roybal-Allard) over this issue and I told them that I am saving money in my remaining time in Congress to pay for some Congressional costs I have outstanding and I don’t want to use those funds to pay dues to the Caucus," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. "Carlos is an outstanding legislator who merits being made a part of the Caucus and I hope that he is accepted by the Caucus."

Lesley Clark contributed 

October 31, 2017

South Florida lawmakers propose a path to legal status for Haitian TPS recipients

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@alextdaugherty 

A bipartisan group of South Florida lawmakers introduced a bill on Tuesday that provides a path to permanent residency for thousands of foreign citizens who participate in a temporary program that allows them to work and live in the United States.

Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo introduced the Extending Status Protection for Eligible Refugees with Established Residency Act, which provides a pathway to permanent legal status for certain Haitians, Nicaraguans, El Salvadoreans and Hondurans who arrived in the United States before Jan. 13, 2011.

South Florida Democratic Reps. Frederica Wilson and Alcee Hastings also signed on to the legislation, which applies to participants in the Temporary Protected Status program, along with Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

“While hoping and waiting they would be able to return to their native countries for years, Nicaraguan, Salvadoran, Honduran and Haitian migrants have become essential parts of the South Florida community by contributing to our local economy and our culture,” Curbelo said in a statement. “While I will continue to support extensions for Temporary Protected Status, this bipartisan legislation would give these migrants the peace of mind to continue giving back to their communities, contributing to our economy and supporting their families.”

Haiti, El Salvador and Honduras are the three countries with the most participants in the program, which is administered by the Department of Homeland Security. About 300,000 people from those three countries participate in TPS, and the bulk of Haiti’s 50,000 TPS recipients live in South Florida.

“I am proud to be part of this bipartisan effort to provide a permanent solution for families living in the United States with temporary protected status,” Wilson said in a statement. “It is in the meantime imperative that we not forget the economic, cultural and other contributions that people living and working in the United States thanks to this measure are making to both to our nation and their native countries.”

The Trump administration faces multiple looming deadlines for extending the Temporary Protected Status program in Haiti, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras. Haiti’s status is set to expire in January 2018 after then-Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly extended TPS for six months instead of the usual 18 in May.

Kelly also said Haitians “need to start thinking about returning.”

Extending TPS for Haitians is a source of bipartisan agreement among Florida lawmakers, including Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson. But the Trump administration terminated Sudan’s TPS status in September, an indication that they could decide to end other countries’ TPS status.

Currently, citizens from nine countries are eligible for TPS. The bill to provide a path to permanent residency does not apply to TPS recipients from Nepal, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria or Yemen.

Read more here.