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234 posts from February 2017

February 27, 2017

House backs off plan to decimate Visit Florida -- a little


(AP File Photo)


It is hardly a reprieve, but Republican leaders in the Florida House took a symbolic step that might keep the doors to the embattled Visit Florida around for years to come.

Three weeks ago, GOP leaders filed a bill that would completely eliminate that tourism marketing agency and Enterprise Florida, the state’s primary economic development agency. Then last week, they changed course and agreed on a new version of the bill to keep Visit Florida, but were ready to force it to survive on a $25 million budget - a more than $50 million cut in programs that would have decimated the agency.

Now comes another step back. House leaders on Monday said they have a new plan to have a different bill that will separate the Visit Florida debate completely from the Enterprise Florida one. And the new Visit Florida bill drops the insistence on a $25 million budget. The bill would still require new transparency efforts to assure larger contracts - like the controversial $1 million deal with Pitbull or $2.8 million advertising deal with a racing car team - go before the Florida Legislature leaders before they are approved and assure the head of Visit Florida has to be confirmed by the Florida Senate in order to hold the position, among other changes.

Politically keeping Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida in the same bill was becoming a problem for some House members from tourism rich areas. Even if they wanted to kill Enterprise Florida, they couldn’t swallow killing Visit Florida in the process. State Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach, was among those last week in a committee hearing on the issues who told Republicans backing the bill that he would be “happy to kill” Enterprise Florida with them, but he’d couldn’t support a bill that also risks Florida’s tourism industry.

“I would love to see these two things split into two different bills so we can talk about them separately,” Richardson said.

That is exactly what State Rep. Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, opted to do on Monday. He filed a new bill - House Bill 9 - that deals only with Visit Florida. House Bill 7005 will be amended to become only a bill dealing with Enterprise Florida and related economic incentive programs. Renner has been leading the legislation on both issues because he has called both a version of the government getting too involved and favoring some businesses over others in the private marketplace.

Still, both bills face tough roads to become law. Even if the Florida Senate passed the same bills (which they have shown no signs of doing) the legislation would have to go to Gov. Rick Scott for his approval. Scott has been so offended by the House Republicans’ efforts that he has used political campaign donations to fund automated phone calls and visited the districts of key members to publicly call them out for trying to kill the two agencies, both of which he credits for helping the state’s economy rebound since he took office in 2011. Scott is unlikely to sign a bill into law that would kill the two agencies he’s relied heavily on to try to fulfill his campaign promises.

Worried about potential deportations, Miami Venezuelans write to Trump

via @jimwyss

An association of Venezuelan exiles in Miami on Monday asked the Trump administration for “migratory relief,” saying that sending their members back to Venezuela could be “condemning them to death.”

In a letter sent to President Trump and to the U.S. departments of State and Homeland Security, the organization, called Politically Persecuted Venezuelans Abroad, or Veppex, said Venezuela’s political situation needs to be taken into account when considering deportations.

“The chaotic situation in Venezuela, where human rights are not respected and criminals control the institutions, has turned Venezuela into a failed state whose authorities are the main threat against its citizens,” Veppex Vice President Henry Clement wrote.

Clement also asked the Trump administration “to study the possibility of a migratory relief for the thousands of Venezuelans who are in the United States seeking refuge and asylum fleeing from the ferocious dictatorship that rules the country.”

As of 2013, some 248,000 Venezuelans lived in the United States, according to the PEW Research Center, amid a migratory wave driven by that nation’s economic, political and social chaos. Since then, the economic crisis in Venezuela has worsened, with continuing food and medicine shortages. And earlier this month, the Trump administration slapped sanctions on Venezuela’s vice president accusing him of being a major drug trafficker.

More here.

Photo credit: Jose A. Iglesias, el Nuevo Herald

Miami Beach mayor to testify before U.S. Senate committee



Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, who is serving his last year in City Hall and is seriously mulling a run for governor, will be in Washington on Wednesday to testify before a U.S. Senate Committee during a discussion on infrastructure.

Sen. John Thune, R-South Dakota and chairman of the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, invited Levine to speak at a 10 a.m. hearing Wednesday entitled "Connecting America: Improving Access to Infrastructure for Communities Across the Country."

"This hearing will focus on improving our transportation and information networks to better connect communities across the country," Thune writes in his invitation letter.

Levine made a light rail system in South Beach a central issue of his second term when he was re-elected in 2015, but that train never left the station. He pushed for the city to move fast on building a local loop before the county considered building a connection to Downtown Miami, but that push failed when residents either completely opposed the plan or considered it useless without a connection to the mainland. The project is now indefinitely stalled.

While the city was moving quickly, Levine and fellow commissioners were skipping out on the possibility of federal funding for construction costs. Levine stridently grumbled that the federal process to qualify for subsidies took too long. Now, the mayor wants the broach the topic of federal dollars flowing to local projects.

“In Miami Beach and in cities across the country, we know that we need the federal government to be an active partner as we build high speed rail systems, repair aging roads and bridges and invest in resiliency efforts for communities along the coast, " said Levine, in a news release.

Levine has also long called for federal and state subsidies to pay for infrastructure work to safeguard the Beach's streets from tidal flooding, which threatens to become more intense and frequent as the sea levels rise. The city has raised stormwater rates for property owners twice in the past three years to fund $400-$500 million worth of work that include raising roads and installing anti-flooding pumps across the island.

Levine, a Democrat, has said he's expecting to make a final decision on a gubernatorial run later in the spring.

Rick Scott hangs out with Donald Trump in Washington

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON -- In Tallahassee, a battle looms with House Speaker Richard Corcoran, but here, Gov. Rick Scott has had a remarkable few days.

On Friday Scott was elected vice chairman of the Republican Governors Association. Saturday, he had lunch with President Trump and watched "La La Land" at the White House then went out to dinner with commander-in-chief at Trump International Hotel.

Sunday night, Scott was taking selfies with Ivanka Trump at the White House Governors’ Ball.

“For a guy that grew up in public housing, to be able to have lunch at the White House and watch a movie at the White House and then go to dinner with the president, it’s pretty amazing,” Scott told reporters Monday afternoon.

Amid the socializing, Scott said he spoke with Trump about getting rid of Obamacare, deeming it an “absolute mess.” He again called for flexibility with Medicaid.

“We have a mess and we’ve got to fix it. We can’t be wobbly kneed, we can’t say, ‘Oh gosh how are we going to do this?’ We’ve got to repeal and replace Obamacare," Scott declared.

But that job is proving more difficult for Republicans, some who have shifted from talk of a repeal to mending the Affordable Care Act. Combative town hall meetings this month have put lawmakers on the defensive.

Scott said Trump, who has said he'll soon reveal a plan, mainly listened to ideas.

Scott also met Monday with Betsy DeVos and Elaine Chao, respectively the secretaries of education and transportation. 

His Washington adventure continues Tuesday when Scott will be on Capitol Hill then attend Trump’s speech to a joint session of Congress.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

James Madison Institute calculates cost of jobs and money for Everglades reservoir

Sugar harvest2

by @jenstaletovich

The conservative James Madison Institute has calculated what an Everglades reservoir will cost the state beyond purchasing the land and it's not cheap: 4,148 jobs, either direct or indirect, and a $695 million hit to the state's economy.

The report, drafted by the institute and Antonio Villamil, former U.S. Undersecretary of Commerce for Economic Affairs for President George H.W. Bush, looked at the loss in revenue and jobs by converting 60,000 acres of farmland to a reservoir in Palm Beach and Hendry counties. The authors then extrapolated costs to indirect losses in the economy, including jobs, household income and gross domestic product. The biggest losers, the report said, would be the agricultural and forestry industry, followed by advisory jobs that depend on those fields.

"In conclusion, Florida's economy would suffer substantial negative impacts each year from the implementation of the proposed land acquisition," the report says.

The report is based on a proposal by Senate President Joe Negron that initially targeted two areas in Palm Beach and Hendry counties but which has since been updated to include only land obtained from willing sellers or through a 2010 deal struck by former Gov. Charlie Crist with U.S. Sugar.

The proposed bill, SB 10, does not specifically identify land and Negron has said he wants the state to use both state land and that obtained by the state for the reservoir. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, has also indicated that any proposed land sale would be accompanied by an economic development package aimed to assist anyone whose jobs might be displaced in the future, when the land is taken out of commission. 

The report says sugar farms and mills take up most of the land targeted, but a wide range of other crops are grown in the area. Based on those assumptions, it predicts direct jobs loss would amount to 1,915 with economic impacts totaling $345 million.

Critics say what the report doesn't address are losses caused by pollution generated by the farms or the subsidies supplied to sugar growers by the U.S. government. Americans for Tax Reform reported that amounted to $300 million in 2013. Tariffs and trade deals also hike the cost of sugar about 24 percent, costing consumers between $2.9 and $3.5 billion, according to a 2016 Congressional Research Service analysis. Because of a trade deal struck with Mexico, those subsidies vanished between 2015 and 2019. However, costs could surge back to $115 million if the the deal falls apart, according to the analysis.

The James Madison Institute does not disclose its donors. It has played a role in producing research aimed at advancing special interest agendas, such as providing the utility industry's efforts to pass a constitutional amendment erecting barriers to the advancement of rooftop solar and the failed attempt to pass the utility-backed Amendment 1 on the November ballot.

Corcoran, Negron to discuss Obamacare, flood insurance with Rubio in D.C.

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON -- House Speaker Richard Corcoran and other legislators are in Washington Monday and Tuesday for a series of meetings and social gatherings with Sen. Marco Rubio and others.

Though the parties are keeping details close — for reasons that aren’t clear — we have obtained an itinerary.


1-2 p.m. Working lunch flood insurance
2-5 p.m. Affordable Care Act and impact on Florida
5-6 p.m. Social Hour
6-8 p.m. - Dinner with Rubio and Rep. Vern Buchanan


9-11 a.m. Breakfast - water issues
11-1 p.m. Tax reform
1-3 p.m. Meetings with individual members of Congress

Rubio’s office said Friday that the meetings are “to make sure we are providing open lines of communication and be a resource as it relates to federal activity and how it impacts Florida as they head into legislative session.”

Here is a list of those invited:

Speaker Richard Corcoran
President Joe Negron
Rep. Jeanette Nunez
Rep. Jose Oliva
Rep. Jose Felix Diaz
Rep. Michael Bileca
Rep. Janet Cruz
Rep. Ray Rodrigues
Rep. Bobby DuBose
Rep. George Moraitis
Rep. Carlos Trujillo
Sen. Wilton Simpson
Sen. Anitere Flores
Sen. Bill Galvano
Sen. Jack Latvala
Sen. Oscar Braynon
Sen. Lauren Book

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times, with Jeremy Wallace

White House may probe SEAL's death in Yemen

Navy SEAL 06 EKM (2)
via @jknipebrown

A White House spokeswoman has indicated that President Donald Trump may consider opening an investigation into the counter-terrorism operation in Yemen that claimed the life of a Navy SEAL and more than a dozen civilians last month.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, principal White House deputy secretary, in an interview on ABC News'
This Week" on Sunday, acknowledged that a decision had not been made about a probe, which was requested by the SEAL’s father, Bill Owens, in an interview published Sunday in the Miami Herald.

“I haven't had the chance to speak with him directly about that, but I would imagine that he would be supportive of that,” Sanders said of Trump.

Owens, who lives in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, wants a thorough probe — not only into the raid itself, but also into the entire timeline, which would include the planning, timing and decision-making that went into the operation.

Trump gave the green light for the plan six days into his term. While it had been planned and vetted under former President Barack Obama, Owens expressed doubts whether Trump’s team had enough time to review it.

More here.

Photo courtesy of the Owens family

The tale of Trump, an unwanted mansion and a Russian fertilizer king

via @glenngarvin

Since the allegations about Donald Trump’s business connections to Russia started to fly last year in the middle of his presidential campaign, the fog of political war has made it difficult to tell the real from the shadow. Except for one very visible landmark: a sprawling, rococo seaside mansion in Palm Beach that Trump himself liked to boast about as an example of his real-estate acumen.

“What do I have to do with Russia?” he replied to reporters’ questions at a press conference in Doral last summer. “You know the closest I came to Russia, I bought a house a number of years ago in Palm Beach … for $40 million, and I sold it to a Russian for $100 million.”

That was a bland, if fairly accurate, summary of a wild and goofy tale of the Palm Beach real-estate market involving tax fraud, Russian billionaires, lurid divorce-court accusations and — at least in the opinion of some Palm Beach observers — the execrably vulgar taste of the super-rich.

It’s a tale that’s now coming to a sad end: That $100 million mansion, once the most expensive home in America, has become its most expensive tear-down. Not a single trace of the compound remains, and soon even its address will disappear: The 6.3-acre estate on which it stood has been broken into three parcels, and one of them has already sold.

“It’s an odd story, but Palm Beach real estate can be kind of strange,” said Gary Pohrer, one of the island’s real-estate agents. “People decide they want something, and they’ll pay a price that doesn’t necessarily correspond to reality.”

More here.

Photo credit: Gregg Lovett, Palm Beach Post file

Rick Scott: 'Great to see Ivanka Trump last night'

via @learyreports

Gov. Rick Scott tweeted a photo Monday morning of him and Ivanka Trump from Sunday night's Governors' Ball at the White House.

Scott, who had lunch with President Trump on Saturday, remains in Washington. This morning he and other governors attended a meeting at the White House and at 12:30 p.m., Scott is to meet with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos followed by Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Who is trying to buy access to Rick Scott?


Gov. Rick Scott (AP Photo)


Gov. Rick Scott faces term limits and cannot seek re-election, but that isn’t stopping the biggest special interest groups from continuing to load up his political action committee with huge checks.

A private prison operator, a sugar industry giant and a Clearwater real estate management company with ties to a major Florida insurance company, are among those who have given Scott’s Let’s Get to Work committee at least $100,000 during the first two months of 2017 and at least $250,000 each since the start of 2015.

Scott has relied on the Let’s Get to Work committee to promote his agenda around the state. He’s recently used Let’s Get to Work to fund robo calls against Florida House members, pay for videos against House leadership and fund a poll defending his job incentive programs that the Legislature has threatened to kill. He’s also used the committee to pay for an inauguration ball in Washington D.C. when President Donald Trump took office.

Scott cannot run for re-election, but he’s been considered a potential challenger for the U.S. Senate in 2018 against Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat.

Top 10 Donors to Rick Scott’s Let’s Get to Work Committee

$790,052 - Florida Chamber of Commerce
$335,000 - Associated Industries of Florida PAC 
$325,000 - U.S. Sugar Corporation, based in Clewiston
$310,000 - The Geo Group Inc - private prison operator based in Boca Raton
$277,503 - Walt Disney World Parks and Resorts
$250,000 - Skye Lane Properties, a real estate management company in Clearwater and a subsidiary of Heritage Insurance Holdings.
$250,000 - Floridians for a Stronger Democracy - a PAC with ties to Associated Industries of
$250,000 - Voice of Florida Business - a PAC with ties to Associated Industries of Florida.
$200,000 - Jeffrey Vinik, owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning
$200,000 - Daniel Doyle Jr. & DEX Imaging - Doyle is CEO of the document imaging equipment company Tampa based

SOURCE: Florida Division of Elections