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March 09, 2017

Sugar loads up Adam Putnam’s political committee



U.S. Sugar Corporation officials are leaving little doubt that they support Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, a Republican most expect to run for governor in 2018.

U.S. Sugar and a railroad the company runs called South Central Florida Express, Inc. sent $200,000 in donations in late February to a political committee that Putnam runs called Florida Grown. U.S. Sugar has now given Florida Grown $465,000 since 2015, making it among the top 5 givers to Putnam’s committee.

His top donor is The Voice of Florida Business, a political action committee run by Associated Industries of Florida. They have given $605,000. That doesn’t count $525,000 that AIF has given Putnam’s committee through another committee called Associated Industries of Florida PAC. Yet another committee with ties to AIF called Floridians for a Stronger Democracy gave $150,000 to Putnam’s committee since 2015. Each of those AIF PACs get lots of support from the sugar industries. Since the start of 2016 those three PACs have raised a total of $4.2 million. But nearly $1.3 million of that comes from donations by U.S. Sugar, based in Clewiston, and Florida Crystals, a sugar producer based in Palm Beach County.

Since the start of February, Florida Grown has raised over $2 million, and since it was created in early 2015 it has raised over $9 million. Putnam has not announced if he is running for governor yet in 2018, when Gov. Rick Scott will not be able to seek re-election.

Here are the top donors to Putnam’s Florida Grown PC:

$605,000 - The Voice of Florida Business

$587,060 - Florida Power & Light

$550,000 - Florida Jobs PAC, a committee run by the Florida Chamber of Commerce

$525,000 - Associated Industries of Florida PAC $465,000 - U.S. Sugar Corporation and South Central Florida Express Inc.

$385,647 - Disney World Wide Services and Walt Disney Parks and Resorts

$200,000 - Florida Chamber of Commerce

$160,000 - Publix

$160,000 - Florida Retail Federation PAC

$150,746 - Florida Phosphate Political Committee

(Source Florida Division of Elections)

Meanwhile On Wednesday, Putnam delivered a speech at the Florida Capitol Complex stressing the importance of farming in Florida and reminding people about the challenges the industry has faced in the last year with crop killing diseases and pests.

Check out what Putnam had to say here:


Bill Nelson remains undecided on Neil Gorsuch

via @learyreports

Sen. Bill Nelson met with Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch for an hour on Tuesday but remains undecided on whether he can support him.

“The two discussed several topics and Nelson expressed his concerns about the suppression of voting rights and the amount of undisclosed, unlimited money in campaigns,” spokesman Ryan Brown said in an email.

“Afterward, Nelson said he will continue to review his record before making a decision.”

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Photo credit: Andrew Harrer, Bloomberg

GOP health care plan 'work in progress,' Gov. Scott says

Florida Governor Jobs
via @learyreports

WASHINGTON - Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday called the Obamacare replacement bill "a work in progress," stopping short of a full endorsement of legislation that has drawn the scorn of conservatives.

"As I've talked to people up here, I've let them know Florida has got to be treated fairly and I'm very interested in making sure that when the dollars come to the state  ... we have more flexibility to run a Medicaid programs and also we're not treated unfairly as compared to the states that expanded," Scott told reporters.

He's on his second day in Washington, a regular destination of late for the likely 2018 U.S. Senate candidate eager to show he's a player on national issues. Scott met Thursday morning with Sen. Marco Rubio and had meetings scheduled with Republican Reps. Gus Bilirakis, Francis Rooney and Vern Buchanan.

Asked about criticism from some conservatives that the health care bill is being rushed, Scott said: "I'm not familiar with the process. I'm excited we are having a conversation."

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Photo credit: Lynne Sladky, Associated Press

Florida man claims he was shaken down for $1.15 million. Now he wants a refund.


@joeflech & @nicknehamas

Beneath the hulking foundations of the Oceana Bal Harbour — a 28-story, $1.3 billion condo tower in one of South Florida’s wealthiest towns — a toxic fight festers between two of Bal Harbour’s most prominent figures over a $1.15 million check.

Extortionist! Liar! Puppet master! Bully!

Insults and now a lawsuit are flying between Doug Rudolph and Joseph Imbesi, once friends and neighbors who teamed up to sell the storied but decrepit Bal Harbour Club to an Argentine condo developer for $220 million in 2012. The spacious, beachfront property was a gem, but the pair made for bad bedfellows.

Could public schools state capital funding disappear if reform plan succeeds?

Negron2 _030717


A complicated and controversial measure to change how Florida’s 4,300 public schools get taxpayer money for construction and maintenance projects is limping through the Florida Senate, advancing even as lawmakers agree it needs a lot more work before it might become law.

Senators behind the measure (SB 376) envision the final bill would have two main elements: It would require school districts to share local tax dollars with charter schools — and it would give school boards the freedom to raise local tax rates back to pre-recession levels, so that they could collect more revenue to address the backlog of maintenance needs in traditional public schools.

Senate education leaders say the first part is not possible without the second, but efforts to restore the school districts’ tax-rate cap might not have the votes to pass because it could be construed as a tax increase.

While that debate lingers, it’s not the only issue now. The ideal bill some senators want could also carry another consequence that Republican Senate leaders revealed this week but that lawmakers have not yet discussed in public committee hearings.

Sen. David Simmons, an Altamonte Springs Republican who chairs the chamber’s Pre-K-12 education budget committee, told reporters if SB 376 is implemented with both crucial parts, “there won’t be a need” for the state to provide its current share of capital outlay funding — an annual moving target that has dwindled over the years but nonetheless still accounted for $150 million this year for charter and traditional public schools.

More here.

Photo credit: Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, talks with reporters in Tallahassee during a media availability on the opening day of the 2017 legislative session on Tuesday, March 7. Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau

White House marks 10th anniversary of Robert Levinson's disappearance in Iran


The White House on Thursday marked the 10-year anniversary of the disappearance of Robert Levinson, the former FBI agent from Coral Springs who went missing from Kish Island, Iran, while working on an unauthorized mission for the CIA.

In a statement, Press Secretary Sean Spicer said President Trump's administration "remains unwavering in our commitment to locate Mr. Levinson and bring him home."

"We want him back, and we will spare no effort to achieve that goal," said Spicer, who repeated his statement from the briefing room podium Thursday afternoon.

He asked for any tips to be directed to the FBI.

In a tweet Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio also noted the decade since Levinson's disappearance. 

And U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson remembered Levinson in remarks on the Senate floor. Nelson, Rubio and U.S. Reps. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami also filed a resolution calling on Iran to assist in finding Levinson.

"Since Bob's detention, American officials have sought Iran's cooperation in locating and returning Bob to his family," Nelson said. "And, of course, Iranian officials have promised over and over their assistance, but after ten long years, those promises have amounted to nothing. Bob still is not home."

This post has been updated.

Photo credit: Levinson family via Associated Press

Tampa's Buckhorn won't run for Florida governor in 2018

via @Danielson_Times

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn has decided not to run for governor next year, opting instead to finish his second and last term at City Hall in 2019.

Buckhorn, 58, is giving two reasons for his decision. First, he doesn’t want to miss important family moments with his daughters Grace, 15, and Colleen, 11, to pursue an “all-consuming” 18-month campaign.

“The state of Florida needs a course correction and a new direction,” he said in a statement emailed to supporters and posted on social media at 5 a.m. Thursday. But “the timing for me and my family would be a challenge.”

Also, he said he loves the job he has, and has work to complete in the 24 months that remain before he is term-limited out of the mayor’s office.

“Finishing Tampa’s next chapter is more important than starting mine,” he said. “Absent extenuating circumstances, I intend to finish the job I was hired to do and prepare Tampa for the great things that are about to occur.”

Even with Buckhorn out of the race, the Democratic primary is drawing a crowd: Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who announced last week, plus expected or potential candidacies of former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, Orlando area personal injury lawyer John Morgan, Winter Park businessman Chris King and Palm Beach businessman Jeff Greene.

See full story here.

Buckhorn's statement:

Continue reading "Tampa's Buckhorn won't run for Florida governor in 2018" »

March 08, 2017

Fact-checking Gov. Rick Scott's claim about commercial lease tax


via @allisonbgraves

At his State of the State address, Gov. Rick Scott once again promised to cut the state's tax on commercial leases, something he says is unique only to Florida.

"Florida is now the only state in the nation to tax commercial leases," Scott said March 7.

Florida does levy a 6 percent sales tax on the total rent paid for any commercial property, including storefronts, offices and warehouses. But is that the only state-level tax of its kind?

Scott’s team sent over an October 2015 report from Florida TaxWatch, a group that takes a critical look at state spending with an eye toward long-term savings. The report says that Florida "is the only state to impose a standard, statewide sales tax on commercial real estate leases."

It cites as evidence a Nov. 24, 2014, research memorandum from the Florida Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability, which is nonpartisan.

Keep reading from PolitiFact Florida.

Tampa Bay Times photo of Senate President Joe Negron and Scott.

Experts: Medicaid spending caps in GOP health plan could be costly for Florida

0006 OBAMACARE RALLY 03-02-17
via @dchangmiami @TonyPughDC

Florida stands to lose more than it gains under the bill unveiled this week by House Republicans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act — especially when it comes to the 4.3 million state residents who rely on Medicaid, advocacy groups reviewing the new legislation said Tuesday.

The House bill, called the American Health Care Act, calls for, among other things, a spending limit — known as “per capita caps” — for each person enrolled in Medicaid beginning in 2019, with annual adjustments for medical inflation. Any amount spent above the cap would be at the state’s expense.

That’s a problem for Florida, said Joan Alker, a researcher and Medicaid expert with Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families, because the state could become a victim of its own success at cutting program spending over the years.

“Florida should be especially worried about the caps,” Alker said during a teleconference hosted by the Florida Philanthropic Network, a Tampa-based nonprofit and advocate of health insurance coverage expansion.

Under its current structure, Medicaid spending is open ended, with the federal government guaranteeing a 61 percent match for every dollar that Florida spends to fund the program. But the AHCA, which will be voted on by two House committees this week, would end the guaranteed federal match and cap Medicaid spending at 2016 levels.

Traditionally, Alker said, Florida’s spending for Medicaid has ranked at or near the bottom among all states, which means its spending cap is likely to be lower than the national average.

To make matters worse, Alker said, the rate of Medicaid enrollment in Florida among disabled persons and low-income seniors — the most expensive populations to cover under the program — has risen faster than national averages over the past decade.

More here.

Photo credit: Al Diaz, Miami Herald staff

Want Rene Garcia's vote? Start talking mental health.


@MichaelAuslen and @ByKristenMClark

State Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, has a message for lawmakers pushing to loosen restrictions on guns in Florida.

"I can't find myself voting for any bill that does not have a mental health component to it," he said. "Making sure that we invest more money into the system, making sure that people have access and treatment abilities. That is my main focus."

Garcia, the Senate's Children, Families and Elder Affairs chairman who has advocated to improve Florida's mental health system, often finds himself a swing vote in hearings over controversial issues like gun access. A more moderate Republican from an urban district, he has bucked the party line before.

In the wake of mass shootings at Pulse, an LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando, and the Ft. Lauderdale airport, Garcia has become even more concerned about widespread gun access, particularly among people in a mental health or substance abuse crisis who might be more likely to commit a violent crime.

READ MORE: Mass shootings lead to talk, but little action, on mental illness

During a Judiciary Committee vote Tuesday on a bill to let concealed-carry permit holders take their guns to courthouses and store them with security officials, Garcia called out the Legislature for not doing more on mental health. Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, raised concerns, as well, about gun bills that are not narrowly tailored to fix specific problems.

"Every time we have this issue of guns, we have this debate in a vacuum," Garcia said. "And we always forget that at least when you look at the massacres that have happened across this nation and here in Florida, a lot of the common denominator has been a lack of mental health diagnosis or a lack of treatment."

Garcia praised Gov. Rick Scott for putting more money into mental health and substance abuse treatment. This year, the governor proposed adding $25 million to the annual base budget, though he proposed cutting the total mental health and substance abuse budget by $5 million, much of which comes from capital projects.

Photo: Sens. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, and Anitere Flores, R-Miami, talk on the floor of the Florida Senate in 2016. Both have been skeptical of wholesale loosening of gun laws. (Scott Keeler | Tampa Bay Times)