A Leon County circuit court judge dealt the latest blow to Florida counties hoping to fill their budget gaps with taxes paid by online travel companies.
Judge James Shelfer ruled Thursday that Florida’s 1977 law relating to county tourist development taxes is so ambiguous that he couldn’t conclude that companies like Expedia, Orbitz or Travelocity should be required to pay taxes on the marked-up price of a hotel room when they sell it to customers.
Seventeen counties joined in the lawsuit, including Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and Seminole counties. A similar lawsuit is pending in Broward County, where the online companies are challenging a tax levied against them by county authorities.
The state will help pay for a $45 million upgrade to the petroleum facilities at the Port of Tampa, Gov. Rick Scott announced Thursday.
The state and the port will split the cost of the project, which will add two new petroleum berths and rehabilitate the petroleum terminal infrastructure, Scott said during remarks at the Governor's Luncheon at the Florida State Fair.
When completed in 2014, the upgrade will allow the port to handle up to five million more tons of petroleum products a year. It will create 641 construction jobs and thousands more permanent jobs over the next 30 years, the port estimates.
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Governor Rick Scott is taking a vacation for the first time since taking office in January. He casually mentioned his plans to reporters before he left and quickly drew criticism from Florida Democrats.
WLRN Miami Herald reporter Gina Jordan tells us Democrats think Scott is being hypocritical because of where he's vacationing.
New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez tweets: "Met with @RayLaHood to advocate for redirecting the $ that FL rejected to the Northeast Corridor #HSR."
Meeting with the nation's governors today at the White House, President Barack Obama noted that his plans for high speed rail have "garnered controversy" in some states (see Florida: Rick Scott) which he attributed in some cases to "partisan politics." (He didn't name any names.)
But he argued that spending on infrastructure projects "hasn’t traditionally been a partisan issue. Lincoln laid the rails during the course of a civil war. Eisenhower built the Interstate Highway System. Both parties have always believed that America should have the best of everything. We don’t have third-rate airports and third-rate bridges and third-rate highways."
He said that new businesses are going to want the "fastest, most reliable way to move goods," whether its Chicago or Shanghai. And he wants them to stay in the United States.
"To those who say that we can’t afford to make investments in infrastructure, I say we can’t afford not to make investments in infrastructure," he said. "The notion that somehow we’d give up that leadership at this critical juncture in our history makes no sense."
The NYT's editorial board pans Gov. Rick Scott's decision to reject $2.4 billion in federal financing for high speed rail, saying there is "no sound economic justification.
"Political pandering to his Tea Party supporters is the only explanation we can come up with."
That didn't take long: New York Democratic Rep. Louise Slaughter has asked Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood for a portion of Florida's share of high speed rail.
Slaughter's office said she's fired off a letter outlining "New York’s commitment to high-speed rail development as vital to the region’s future transportation, economic, and security interests.
"While we are aware of the resistance among some to spend money in our current economic environment, the truth is that only bold investments in our nation's infrastructure will help us build a foundation for a stronger future, compete in the global economy and improve national security," the New Yorker wrote.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney says the White House considers Gov. Rick Scott's decision to turn down federal high speed rail money an "unfortunate decision." And Carney suggested the money will soon go elsewhere.
"There's been a lot of bipartisan support for the need to create the kind of modern infrastructure in this country that will enable us to compete," Carney said. "High-speed rail is very much a part of that. We will make sure that that money is used elsewhere to advance the infrastructure and innovation agenda that is essential for economic growth."
He said Obama believes high speed rail is "essential" to creating an infrastructure "that allows us to compete.
"I've heard some other countries are very advanced in high-speed rail," he said. " We need to be. He believes that. And it's also an important job creator."
U.S. House Transportation chair John Mica on Florida Gov. Rick Scott's decision to turn down high speed rail dollars: "I am deeply disappointed in the decision to not move forward with the Orlando to Tampa passenger rail project.
"This is a huge setback for the state of Florida, our transportation, economic development, and important tourism industry.
"I have urged the Governor to reconsider going forward and allow the private sector to assume the risk and any future costs for the project. I made this appeal to the Governor this morning. With the federal government assuming 90% of the cost of the project, I am disappointed the private sector will not have an opportunity to even offer innovative proposals to help finance the balance of the costs and to construct and operate this system.
"I will continue to work with the Governor and all those interested in developing cost-effective 21st century transportation alternatives for Florida and the nation, with systems that can improve quality of life and help meet our future transportation needs."