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July 01, 2015

State tight lipped on incentives given to Missouri company to create 15 jobs

@JeremySWallace

No amount of jobs appears too few for Gov. Rick Scott to celebrate with bold headlines and press releases.

That point was obvious today, when Scott sent out a press release applauding the state’s role in luring 15 new jobs that will be created over two years in Suwannee County in north Florida.

"We are on a mission to make Florida the number one destination for jobs, and today we are another step closer as we announce the creation of new jobs in Live Oak," Scott said in a press release.

But what Scott or the state did to lure those 15 jobs is a mystery. That is because neither Scott nor Enterprise Florida, the state’s economic development arm, will say what the state gave International Mulch Company, a Missouri-based business, for financial incentives until as late after Christmas.

Continue reading "State tight lipped on incentives given to Missouri company to create 15 jobs" »

Obama announces opening of embassies with Cuba

Casting aside more than a half century of hostilities, President Barack Obama announced Wednesday that the United States and Cuba would restore full diplomatic relations and open respective embassies.

Speaking in the White House Rose Garden, he called the rapprochement “a historic step” in efforts to bring the two countries and their people together. The president said Secretary of State John Kerry would soon travel to Havana to “proudly raise the U.S. flag over our embassy.”

The United States and Cuba held four rounds of talks — two in Havana and two in Washington — to reach agreement on the terms for opening embassies and renewing diplomatic ties after Obama and Cuban leader Raúl Castro jointly announced on Dec. 17 that the two countries planned to work toward normalization.

He said that since then he was seen “enormous enthusiasm for this new approach.”

Turn to Mimi Whitefield's story here.

Which presidential candidate released the most tax returns in history?

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush released 33 years of tax returns, casting it as the high water mark of transparency for presidential hopefuls.

"Today, I’m releasing 33 years of tax returns – more than any presidential candidate in history," Bush said on his website. He also bragged about it on Twitter. The returns run from 1981 to 2013.

We wondered if Bush’s 33 years was indeed the most ever, and that does appear to be the case. We also found it’s highly unusual for a candidate to share so many returns, especially so early in the campaign.

Turn to PolitiFact to see what we found.

Gov. Rick Scott's net worth grows to $147 million

Gov. Rick Scott reports his net worth has grown to nearly $147 million -- an increase of about $14 million or nearly 11 percent more than the year before. The wealthiest governor in Florida history filed his annual financial disclosure statement with the Commission on Ethics, and the agency posted it online Wednesday.

Scott reports that the assets held in a blind trust are worth $128 million and that his Naples home is worth $15.4 million. Most of Scott's assets are kept in a blind trust, a decision that was the subject of much litigation over the past year in a case in which the governor prevailed. Scott has defended the blind trust as necessary to prohibit him from making official decisions that could affect his portfolio. But because the assets are in a blind trust, the public cannot know how Scott got richer over the past 12 months.

Scott did list the assets in the trust when he filed his previous financial disclosure one year ago.

Senate president calls Gov. Scott's UCF veto 'a shot at Orlando'

If Republicans in the Florida Senate are getting over their anger at Gov. Rick Scott's rash of vetoes, they sure don't sound like it.

Appearing on News 13's Political Connections, Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, did not mince words in describing Scott's zeroing out of money for programs for people with disabilities and for the start of a downtown Orlando campus of the University of Central Florida.

"It's a shot at our community. It's a shot at Orlando, Orange County, Central Florida, those of us who believe in economic development," Gardiner told the cable outlet in an interview. "While everybody will try to say, 'Oh, this is a shot at Andy Gardiner,' in many ways, it's a shot at our community." 

Scott vetoed $15 million to start the first phase of UCF's "downtown presence," saying it was not on the three-year list of approved projects by the Board of Governors. Gardiner said the BOG backed the project but for less money and he defended the Legislature's right to increase appropriations.

He said Scott vetoed other university projects that had the BOG's support, saying: "That's where the inconsistency comes in from our members. They kind of wonder, what are we playing with here?"

Gardiner also accused Scott of vetoing projects that were supported by the governor's own agency heads. He called out by name Barbara Palmer, director of the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, saying she "advocated for" Senate-backed projects to help people with special needs enter the work force. APD did not respond to the Times/Herald's request for a response.

Gardiner is term limited. But he has another full year as president of the Senate and his staying power may be enhanced by the fact that Senate Republicans have not yet coalesced around a successor in the competition between Sens. Jack Latvala of Clearwater and Joe Negron of Stuart.

On Cuban embassy news, Marco Rubio restates vow to oppose ambassador

@CAdamsMcClatchy

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a key voice opposing the United States’ opening to Cuba, reacted to the news that the two nations are set to establish their embassies by repeating his vow to oppose one of the next steps in the thawing process -- the confirmation of an ambassador to the island nation -- until certain conditions are met.

The opening to Cuba was first announced in December. It is a multi-pronged effort that has already relaxed some travel and financial restrictions and is quickly moving toward the establishment of a greater diplomatic presence in Havana. On Tuesday, word leaked that the two nations were planning to open embassies in their respective capitals; a formal announcement on that is expected Wednesday.

The thawing could eventually lead to a full lifting of the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba and open travel there. The White House can accomplish some steps on its own, while Congress would need to weigh in on other aspects.

Rubio, a Republican from West Miami who is in the top tier of GOP presidential candidates for the 2016 nomination, is a leading voice against the Cuban opening. While the politics of the Cuban opening are somewhat mixed, other GOP lawmakers tend to defer to Rubio on the issue.

Continue reading "On Cuban embassy news, Marco Rubio restates vow to oppose ambassador " »

Miami politicians, Billy Corben team up for swimming fundraiser

@NewsbySmiley

It's not the most anticipated sporting event in Miami. But it will surely be among the most, um, unique.

Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff and County Commissioner Xavier Suarez are teaming up Friday morning to take on Suarez's son, Miami Commissioner Francis Suarez, and local filmmaker Billy Corben in a relay race at the Elizabeth Virrick Park pool.

The elder Suarez coordinated the 11:45 a.m. event as a fundraising effort to avoid a summer fee for use of the West Grove pool at 3255 Plaza St. Kids were going to be charged $1, and adults $3 to swim, Suarez said, so each participant is contributing $1,000 to keep use of the pool free of charge.

"The idea that kids are going to get charged for the summer ... is absolutely ridiculous," the county commissioner said.

The race is just for show. Corben will be doing the breast stroke, competing against Xavier Suarez, who will break out the butterfly. The two city commissioners will swim freestyle.

Corben said there is a "strict no Speedo policy."

June 30, 2015

Raquel Regalado seizes on tax-district flub by Gimenez administration

@doug_hanks

The 2016 Miami-Dade mayoral race ran into some close quarters on Tuesday.

Raquel Regalado waited through hours of the County Commission meeting to speak out against a plan to increase fees on more than 100,000 properties within special taxing districts that fund security guards, lighting and landscaping for some communities. Mayor Carlos Gimenez's administration proposed the rates, saying there has been widespread under-billing thanks to a faulty accounting system. 

Regalado, a two-term school board member, is running to unseat Gimenez in 2016, and Tuesday was her first time addressing county commissioners as a candidate. 

"This is a clear case of mismanagement," Regalado told commissioners. Ten feet away on the elevated dais, Gimenez leaned back on his chair and stared intently as she spoke. "This commission has the opportunity to regain the public's trust and create a better process."

Regalado did not appear to make eye contact with Gimenez, who listened without expression during most of her remarks. (He chatted with an aide for a small part of it.) She spoke during a public-comment hearing that occurred before Gimenez and commissioners discussed the issue later in the meeting. 

Gimenez apologized for the need to raise fees, saying his administration moved quickly once the long-term problems were discovered. His Public Works department said a $2 million deficit needs to be closed in 2016 to make up for past under-billing. 

"I really do apologize to all impacted residents," Gimenez said. "This is a problem we uncovered recently."

Convicted killer asks Supreme Court to delay execution again

The lawyers for an Orlando man whose execution was delayed by the Florida Supreme Court are asking the justices to intervene yet again.

In a response to Attorney General Pam Bondi's request that the execution of Jerry Correll -- a convicted killer of four -- move forward as planned, the condemned man's lawyers requested that the Court protect him until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on a death penalty case it will hear in its upcoming term.

The Florida Court stayed Correll's execution in February after the federal justices accepted a case questioning the constitutionality of one of the three drugs used for lethal injections in Florida and three other states: Oklahoma, Arizona and Ohio. After a ruling Monday that the drug does not constitute "cruel and unusual punishment," Bondi asked for permission to move forward with the execution.

But another death penalty case is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, which calls into question the processes used to sentence Florida criminals to death.

If this Court vacates the stay of execution that is in place, Correll may be executed and later found to have been sentenced under an unconstitutional death penalty sentencing scheme," the attorneys wrote. "He will suffer great harm, and that harm will be irreversible."

The Florida Supreme Court has yet to make a decision on the stay.

Correll was sentenced to death in 1986 for the stabbing deaths of his ex-wife, their daughter and her mother and sister. Gov. Rick Scott signed a warrant for his death in January.

Jeb Bush's income rose to $7.4 million in 2013

via @adamsmithtimes @learyreports

The Bush family mantra has been consistent for generations: First make a lot of money, and then focus on public service.

Jeb Bush followed that path before running for governor of Florida in the 1990s, and 33 years of newly released tax returns show how the Republican embraced that strategy with zeal before launching his presidential campaign this year.

Bush's income jumped from $261,000 in 2006, his final year as governor, to more than $2.2 million in 2007. Then, from 2010 through 2013, tax returns released Tuesday show his annual income exploded from $3.2 million to nearly $7.4 million. (He got an extension until Oct. 15 to file his 2014 return.)

The vast majority of income came from consulting and speaking fees, where Bush earned between $40,000 and $75,000 apiece for dozens of appearances before business and trade groups, colleges, and organizations ranging from The Salvation Army to a South Korean defense contractor.

More here.