March 21, 2013

Federal appeals judges in Miami question Florida's controversial law on Cuba, Syria


A panel of skeptical federal appeals judges meeting in Miami Thursday sharply questioned a Florida law prohibiting the state and local governments from hiring companies with business ties to Cuba.

Several questions from the three-judge panel centered on whether the law would conflict with the federal government’s power to set foreign policy. Last year, U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore blocked the law from taking effect, ruling in favor of Odebrecht USA, the Coral Gables-based subsidiary of the Brazilian engineering and construction conglomerate. The state appealed.

On Thursday, 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Stanley Marcus asked Gregory Costas, an attorney for the Florida Department of Transportation, if the law would ban companies permitted under federal law to do some business with Cuba — such as providing agricultural equipment or medical supplies — from obtaining government contracts in Florida.

“That would be doing business with Cuba,” Costas responded.

“Isn’t that a square collision with the federal regime?” Marcus said.

Odebrecht sued FDOT over the law, approved by a near-unanimous majority of state legislators and signed by Republican Gov. Rick Scott. It would prohibit state and local government agencies from awarding contracts worth at least $1 million to U.S. firms whose foreign-owned parent companies or subsidiaries work in Cuba or Syria. An affiliate of Odebrecht USA’s parent company is heading a major expansion of the Cuban Port of Mariel.

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March 16, 2013

Remembering Larcenia

@MarcACaputo -- Statements on the death of former Miami state Sen. Larcenia Bullard.

Gov. Rick Scott:

“Today, Florida lost a strong leader. Ann and I join all Floridians as we mourn the passing of Senator Larcenia Bullard. She represented the families of South Florida with passion and integrity. Our thoughts and prayers go out to those close to her and the rest of Florida as we honor a woman who put her constituents first. We remain grateful to Senator Bullard for her service to this great state and pray that her family can find peace during this difficult time.”

Senate President Don Gaetz:

Today our dear friend and former colleague, Senator Larcenia Bullard, died in Miami.  Although she had faced many serious challenges to herhealth in recent months, Senator Bullard was on the floor with us -- cheerful and proud -- as her son, Dwight, began his first Senate session just two weeks ago.

Larcenia Bullard had the biggest heart in the Senate.  A proud Democrat, she was never an uncompromising partisan.  A political pioneer among African-Americans, her passion for fairness and justice extended to all people.  Every hard fight in committee or tough debate on the Senate floor always ended with her warmly embracing those with whom she disagreed and assuring them of her love.  Every senator with whom she served can share stories of her compassion and good humor.

The Bullards are an institution in South Florida.  Loving their community and its people, they are fiercely loved and supported in return. The Senate shares the grief of the Bullard family and extends our prayers to Representative Ed Bullard, Senator Dwight Bullard, and all of those who mourn Larcenia.  Every senator and staff member who served alongside Senator Bullard knows that something very good and kind is lost from our lives today.

Secretary Brown will keep us informed of funeral arrangements when they have been finalized.

Senate Democratic leader Chris Smith:

“I am incredibly saddened with the news of Senator Bullard’s passing. She was not only a mentor to me, but a woman many loved for her outspoken ways and selfless devotion to the people she represented.

“Even when ill, Senator Bullard remained determined to serve those who elected her - those whose faith she carried and protected.

“On the Senate Floor, she spoke of things that gave inspiration to many; she never shied away from controversial issues. And she never shied away from standing up for issues she believed were right.

“After being term-limited, she returned to the Senate just one week ago.  Ever the free spirit, she danced for the Senate’s very own version of the ‘Harlem Shake’ in a way only Larcenia could!

“As our hearts and prayers go out to her son, Senator Dwight Bullard, and her husband, former Representative Ed Bullard – ever at her side – this we know…she is still dancing in heaven.”

Senate Republican leader Lizbeth Benacquisto:

"It is with great sadness that the Senate family learned today of the passing of former Senator Larcenia Bullard. The Senate was truly blessed in abundance by Senator Bullard. She was the light of any room she walked into and her laughter and stories could capture the moment like no other. She was a friend to all and a passionate advocate for her community. She leaves behind a strong legacy of caring, compassion, and dedication. To honor her memory, let us spread her joy and kindness wherever we may go, for she would delight in that. Our thoughts and prayers are with her devoted husband, her beloved children, and her precious grandchildren."

March 08, 2013

Stadium bill survives hostile amendments, wins approval of House panel


The Miami Dolphins’ push for a taxpayer-supported stadium renovations gained steam in the Florida Legislature on Friday, sidestepping a number of toxic amendments aimed at killing the bill.

The Dolphins, who are asking for as much as $200 million in taxpayer support for the stadium overhaul, shepherded their proposal through its first committee stop in the Florida House, where it passed by a 12-4 vote.

The battery of rogue amendments include
d a proposal from Rep. Carlos Trujillo, a Miami Republican, to have Broward County to help foot the bill for proposed improvements to SunLife Stadium. The bill as originally drafted would require only Miami-Dade County to raise its mainland hotel tax.

Continue reading "Stadium bill survives hostile amendments, wins approval of House panel" »

Jeb Bush, Miami GOP mourn passing of Mary Ellen Miller

Mary Ellen Miller, a revered Republican elder stateswoman who rose through party-activist ranks to twice chair the party in Miami-Dade County, died Wednesday at her Venetian Island home.

She was a dignified, private person who declined to discuss her illness, which took even close friends by surprise, according to Liliana Ros, a longtime GOP committeewoman and friend.

Often compared to former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Miller advised Republican governors, local officials, members of Congress and the Florida Legislature.

She was known for being as discreet as she was connected. It’s said that she never spoke ill of anyone, even Democrats.

“Even after she retired, we still went to her,’’ Ros said. “She knew everything: state laws, party laws. She was very gentle, sweet. She had no ego, and that in politics that is very unusual. … She would get upset if you praised her.’’

Over the years, Miller supported Sen. Marco Rubio, former U.S. Rep. David Rivera, both Bush presidents, and former Gov. Jeb Bush, among others.

“Mary Ellen was a great Republican and an even finer person,’’ Jeb Bush, who’d been the county’s party chairman in the 1980s, wrote in an email. “No one worked harder. No one was more committed. You could count on Mary Ellen Miller, and everyone did.’’

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March 07, 2013

Should Broward help pay for Dolphins stadium upgrade? Dade lawmaker thinks so

After adding an amendment to require Miami-Dade voters to approve a new local hotel tax to help pay for a $400 million upgrade of the Miami Dolphins stadium, skeptical lawmakers may be planning more changes for the controversial proposal. 

Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, implied that the bill should include a contribution from Broward County taxpayers as well, since much of the economic benefit from the Miami Gardens stadium takes place north of the Dade County line.

“One concern that I have is Dade County is paying 100 percent of the tax,” said Trujillo. “We receive, best case scenario…38 percent of the tourists. The majority stay in Broward and Broward doesn’t have to pay anything.”

Trujillo sits on the Finance and Tax Committee, where the bill will be heard on Friday—along with four lawmakers from Broward County. A Senate version of the bill passed its second of four committee stops on Wednesday, with a unanimous vote.

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March 06, 2013

Rick Scott message guru guiding Miami Dolphins stadium strategy


Give it to the Miami Dolphins: They know how to play offense.

At least in the state Capitol.

In the club's effort to get a tax-subsidized stadium deal, it hired top Republican message-master Curt Anderson, who was part of the consultant dream team that helped Rick Scott, an unknown former hospital executive with a blemished past, become governor of Florida.

Now Anderson might be embarking on a just-as-tough effort: Getting a jaundiced Miami-Dade electorate to approve a tax deal for a stadium. A new poll from FIU pollster Dario Moreno shows it's a longshot. Voters here are still stewing over the Miami Marlins stadium deal.

A poll from Anderson's firm, OnMessage Media (an arm of OnMessage Sports, which has worked on other tax-sports issues), indicates voters can be persuaded in Miami-Dade to back the stadium deal. (Moreno poll is here; Anderson poll nugget is here).

Of course, all of this is on paper. If, and it's a big if, this passes the Legislature, Scott will have to decide whether to sign the bill. Although, Scott just so happened to voice a measure of support for the stadium deal today.

If all that happens, then the campaign begins to persuade people in earnest. As Prussian Gen. Helmuth von Moltke said: No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy. Boxer Mike Tyson's version: Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.

Here's Anderson's slogan: "We measure public opinion. Then we change it."

But not always. For every Rick Scott gubernatorial success story, there's a Texas Gov. Rick Perry campaign for president, which Anderson, Fabrizio and Warfield all worked on (Dolphins owner Steven Ross, incidentally, had backed Mitt Romney).

Miami Dolphins chief trashes "ginned up" poll showing stadium plan is highly unpopular, toxic


A written statement from Miami Dolphins President and CEO Mike Dee on today's poll showing about 73 percent of likely Miami-Dade voters don't like the club's tax-subsidy plan:

“A ginned-up poll paid for by a mystery client that goes out of its way to lead people to a negative position is hardly enough to sway us from our efforts to put this issue in front of voters this spring. We believe in the people of Miami Dade County, and trust that the voters can and will see the differences in our project from prior ones.

“The fact that the Dolphins will pay a majority of the costs, and that the rest will be paid by tourists and patrons of the stadium - and never by residents of Miami Dade - along with creating thousands of jobs and millions in economic activity for the people of our community, are powerful facts than this cynical, politically-motivated poll conveniently ignores.

“We know that we have to make our case to the elected leaders and the people of Miami Dade. It’s a challenge we readily accept and are confident it will end with the voters approving our plans to create more jobs and more opportunity for the people of Miami Dade County."

One note: There's no evidence that this was a so-called "push poll" that, in Dee's words, "goes out of its way to lead people to a negative position." Indeed, it described one of the sales-tax breaks the Dolphins seek as a "rebate" when the state program can act like a subsidy.

Here's the question pollster Dario Moreno said he asked:

The Dolphins are asking for a one-cent increase in the "bed tax" in Miami-Dade County, as well as a $3-million-a-year rebate in sales tax revenue generated by goods and services at Sun Life Stadium. Stephen Ross, the owner of the Dolphins, has pledged to pay for at least half of the $400 million renovations himself, meaning the team is asking for approximately $199 million in public funding. Do you support or oppose this plan?

And there's an irony as well: The Dolphins shared a portion of their own poll, but it was more of a push poll that Moreno's. That is, it message-tested, which all campaigns have to do, by asking a series of questions of voters to figure out how popular an item is or how to make it popular. The survey, conducted by a group called OnMessage Sports, that they said showed 59 percent approved of the plan and only 33 percent disapproved after they were "informed." The poll's crosstabs were not shared with The Miami Herald, unlike Moreno's survey.

Dolphins stadium-tax deal highly unpopular, a 'toxic' political killer, poll shows


About 73 percent of likely Miami-Dade voters oppose a plan to give the Miami Dolphins a tax subsidy for stadium improvements, according to a new poll obtained by The Miami Herald that indicates the issue is a political killer for politicians to support.

"This is toxic to the Legislature, the county commission and the executive," said Dario Moreno, a political science professor at Florida International University who conducted the 1,000 voter survey for a private client.

"There's not one group of likely voter who supports this idea," Moreno said. "Even in County Commission District 1, where the stadium is, people are overwhelmingly opposed."

Opposition cuts across demographic and party lines. It is highly unpopular in each of the county's 13 commission districts.

Overall, nearly 61 percent of people polled strongly oppose the measure, while nearly 12 percent simply oppose it. Only 17 percent support or strongly support it.

Poisoning the Dolphins effort: The unpopular Miami Marlins baseball stadium deal, which led to the recall of former Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez, Moreno said.

"These are recall numbers," he said. "These numbers are very similar to the recall numbers. What they tell you is Miami-Dade County has not yet recovered from the Marlins deal. And I think people are very reluctant to give public money to a private sports team."

People are paying attention as well, with 59 percent of voters saying they're somewhat or very familiar with the proposal.

The poll, conducted Monday and Tuesday, comes on the heels of the first state Senate committee vote in the Legislature (background here). Lawmakers are amending the bill to ensure that voters have a referendum so that they'll have a final say over increasing the bed tax by a penny and giving the Dolphins a $3 million annual sales-tax subsidy to help pay for stadium improvements.

But there's a good chance the measure will never make it out of the Legislature. Poll numbers like this can slow the momentum of any measure in the Legislature that's not a top priority of the leadership; and this isn't a must-pass bill for the House speaker or Senate president, neither of whom is from South Florida.

Also, before the poll was released, many in the Miami-Dade delegation already opposed the plan, making it tougher to pass as well in a 60-day lawmaking session where legislators from across the state want their bills to pass and don't have the time to spend on a measure that appears is if it will go nowhere.

Add in the strong opposition in the poll, and it becomes more politically popular to oppose the Dolphins measure. Also, a majority of legislators are Republican, who worry about votes that could make them look as if they're raising taxes.

A vote like that is a recipe for a GOP primary that many Republican lawmakers would prefer to avoid.

The poll questions were carefully worded. For instance, it described the sales-tax deal as a "rebate," even though the program can sometimes act more like a subsidy.

Also, Moreno said, this poll's sample size is not just large for a single county -- 1,000 -- it was conducted by using a verified voter list that targeted high-propensity voters. So it minimized the chance that non-voters or less-likely voters were surveyed.

The Dolphins effort might have already done political damage. The poll shows that 49 percent of likely voters believe the county is on the wrong track while about 28 percent think it's on the right track.

"That sentiment is partly a result of the Dolphins plan," Moreno said. "By going to the commission and getting support for this, it really soured people's view of the county. It looks like business as usual."

Moreno, who has polled for Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, said he had simple advice: "Don't support this."

Gimenez said he has his doubts about the Dolphins deal.

"These numbers don't surprise me," the mayor said. "The Marlins deal is the elephant in the room. It poisoned any effort like this for any future sports franchise. Before this poll, we didn't even know if we were going to reach an agreement with teh Dolphins. Now the path is even tougher."

March 05, 2013

Dolphins bill now has amendment requiring referendum

When the so-called ‘Dolphins stadium’ bill goes before the Senate Finance & Tax committee on Wednesday, it will include an amendment allowing Miami-Dade voters to have the final say on whether or not taxpayers will chip in to renovate the Fins’ Miami Gardens Stadium.

An amendment, filed Tuesday, confirmed what bill sponsor Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, told the Herald last month. According to the amendment, the Miami Dolphins would only be able to receive taxpayer assistance for the stadium renovation if taxpayers themselves vote to allow it.

The amendment allows the referendum to take place before the bill is enacted. That could potentially allow Miami-Dade to set a referendum vote for sometime this Spring, ahead of the National Football League’s decision of where Super Bowl 50 will take place. South Florida is being considered, and the Dolphins say a newly renovated stadium could help give the region a leg up.

The Dolphins are asking for the mainland hotel tax to increase from 6 percent to 7 percent, as well as up to $90 million in sales tax rebates, paid out over 30 years. The $3 million annual tax break would be in addition to $2 million in annual payments SunLife is already receiving. Altogether, taxpayer money would help fund about half of the costs for the $400 million renovation. Miami-Dade legislators opted against making the stadium bill one of their legislative priorities this year.

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross initially opposed the referendum, saying there would not be time.

Ross traveled to Tallahassee yesterday, apparently at the request of Gov. Rick Scott for an event not related to the stadium bill. 


February 11, 2013

Miami lawmaker supports Dolphins' referendum, calls current plan 'bad deal'

Another lawmaker is throwing support behind a plan for the Miami Dolphins to go before voters prior to receiving taxpayer funding for a $400 million stadium renovation.

Rep. José Javier Rodríguez, D-Miami, said he believes voters should be “partners” in whatever deal is struck for the Dolphins, since they ultimately will provide the taxpayer funding. He said more changes need to be made to what is currently a "bad deal."

 “If we as taxpayers are going to invest in the success of our hometown NFL franchise, we ought to do that as their partners not as their benefactors. We want them to succeed; they should want us to benefit as well,” said Rodríguez.

Over the weekend, Dolphins pivoted their strategy to include a referendum vote on the stadium financing plan. Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, confirmed that he would be changing the language of the bill to allow for a referendum vote.

Rodríguez believes billionaire Dolphins owner Stephen Ross should pitch in more of his own money in the deal. The Miami-Dade delegation of lawmakers did not throw its official support behind the Dolphins’ proposal, with some lawmakers opposed to the deal.

Rodríguez wants lawmakers to consider more stipulations in the deal, including potentially using some of the money generated by the Dolphins to help pay for the county’s debt on the Marlins stadium.

Miami-Dade mayor Carlos Gimenez has also said he'd like Ross to pitch in more of his own money,.

See the press release below:

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