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276 posts from April 2017

April 30, 2017

Middle class tax break or massive tax shift? Is homestead exemption an election-year ploy?

New Home SalesProperty owners vote, and most homeowners will vote for a tax cut.

That is the conclusion of a carefully crafted constitutional amendment before the Florida Legislature that will put an additional $25,000 homestead exemption for properties valued at more than $100,000 on the 2018 ballot.

The measure appears headed for approval Monday by the Florida Senate, and later in the week by the House. If 60 percent of voters support it, it would be the broadest middle-class tax cut since 2008, when Florida voters approved a series of property tax breaks that capped increases in non-homestead property tax assessments at 10 percent a year and expanded the homestead exemptions from $25,000 to $50,000. 

It is also carefully timed.

The proposal, which would become law in 2019, will be on a mid-term November 2018 ballot when turnout is traditionally lower than in a presidential year.

Also on the ballot with be an open race for governor and all three Cabinet positions, all 27 congressional races, half the Florida Senate, all 120 seats in the Florida House and a series of amendments proposed by the Constitutional Revision Commission. House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron are counting on their appointees to the commission to advocate for ballot amendments to authorize private school vouchers and restore Legislative control over redistricting. More here. 

Photo: Steve Helber, AP

Replacing Ileana: Who's in and who's out (so far)

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@NewsbySmiley and @PatriciaMazzei

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s announcement Sunday that she won't seek another reelection means a congressional seat that has essentially been locked up for three decades for the Republican Party will now be up for grabs in November of 2018.

Several Democrats have already declared their interest by filing to run for the congresswoman's District 27 seat. Rumors abound of likely candidates on both sides of the aisle.

Here's a working list of known and possible candidates that will be updated throughout the day.

Continue reading "Replacing Ileana: Who's in and who's out (so far)" »

Exclusive: Miami icon Ileana Ros-Lehtinen announces she's retiring from Congress

Ileana and dexter@PatriciaMazzei

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the dean of the Florida legislative delegation and the first Cuban American elected to Congress, is retiring at the end of her term next year, saying it’s time to move on after 38 years in elected office.

“It's been such a delight and a high honor to serve our community for so many years and help constituents every day of the week,” the Miami Republican told the Miami Herald in an exclusive telephone interview Sunday. “We just said, ‘It's time to take a new step.’”

Her unexpected retirement marks the end of a storied career in which Ros-Lehtinen repeatedly broke political ground as a Cuban-American woman -- and gives Democrats an opportunity to pick up a South Florida congressional seat in 2018. More here.

Ros-Lehtinen, 64, was elected last November to Florida’s redrawn 27th district, a stretch of Southeast Miami-Dade County that leans so Democratic that Hillary Clinton won it over Donald Trump by 20 percentage points.

Ros-Lehtinen defeated Democratic challenger Scott Fuhrman, a first-time candidate, by 10 points. It was her closest reelection race in years and forced her to deplete her $3.4 million campaign account, but she said Sunday she wasn't worried about 2018.

“There is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that I would not only win in this election, but I would win by a greater percentage,” Ros-Lehtinen said, adding that she would have been able to raise at least $2.5 million and win in a midterm election without a Democratic presidential candidate leading the ballot.

But she said the prospect of another two or four or more years in Congress just didn’t appeal to her anymore.

“There was no epiphany. There was no moment, nothing that has happened that I've said, “I've got to move on,’” Ros-Lehtinen said. “It was just a realization that I could keep getting elected -- but it's not about getting elected.”

Photo: Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen alongside her husband Dexter Lehtinen before her acceptance speech after winning the reelection in November 2016. David Santiago dsantiago@elnuevoherald.com


April 29, 2017

Where are the compromises on education policy for the public to vet? For now, still private.



With barely three days left before lawmakers have to finalize the annual state budget if session is to end as scheduled May 5, Floridians still have very little idea what kind of compromise lawmakers are crafting behind closed doors when it comes to the most consequential reforms this year that affect K-12 public schools.

As of Saturday evening, House and Senate leaders had yet to release any proposed amended language for policy bills tied to the education budget, such as those calling for:

▪ A brand-new $200 million “schools of hope” program (HB 5105) to help students in perpetually failing schools.

▪ A $214 million expansion of annual “Best & Brightest” bonuses for teachers and principals (HB 7069) that rely on their personal academic achievements.

▪ And reforms to how school construction and maintenance dollars — from the state and from local property taxes — are shared between traditional and charter schools (SB 376).

Hialeah Republican Rep. Manny Diaz Jr. and Altamonte Springs Republican Sen. David Simmons, the House and Senate chairmen building the $15 billion pre-K-12 schools budget, concluded their conference subcommittee’s work earlier Saturday after reaching agreement on a small increase for general school spending but without hashing out — at least, publicly — any of the differences the chambers have on these major programs.

Full story here.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

Environmental budget blows up as House retreats, Senate calls exercise 'a fool's errand'


Negotiations blew up Saturday over the Legislature's $3.6 billion environmental budget after the Florida House returned with a new offer that rescinded agreements forged the previous two days, forcing the entire budget silo to be bumped up to leadership to resolve.

"We've now spent two days on what, in essence, is a fool's errand,'' said Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, the chair of the Conference Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources.

He then declared that all 359 line items will be resolved by House and Senate budget chairs, Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, and Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater. After the meeting, Bradley called the two days of meetings "a charade."

"This was destined to fail and this budget was not going to work out in any meaningful way,'' he concluded. It was not clear when Latvala and Trujillo would meet to resolve the budget, which includes many of the pivotal environmental projects sought by lawmakers as a condition of their support for Senate President Joe Negron's priority -- a water-storing reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee.

Rep. Ben. Albritton, R-Wauchula, the House's lead negotiator, disagreed with Bradley's description and said he was optimistic the issues would be resolved.

"It's an accumulation of priorities,'' he said. "I'm not going to get worked up over incremental differences or huge differences." 

The House rescinded a $5 million offer to use Land Acquisition Trust Fund money to pay for the restoration of the St. Johns River and its tributaries and the Keystone Heights Lake Region. The project is a top priority of Bradley's, who filed legislation authorizing the expenditure and he was visibly irritated at the House's change of heart. 

Bradley said that the Senate's decided Friday to "meet halfway" with the House over their differences on water projects by offering $45.5 million but the House countered by offering only $7.5 million more over its $20 million offer.

And on beach projects, where the Senate originally wanted to spend $50 million to the House's $30 million, "rather than meet us at a number to close it out, the House inexplicably overshot by $5 million in order to bump it,'' Bradley said.

On funding for projects in the Florida Keys, the House has agreed to spend only $5 million, he said, compared to the Senate's $20 million and "has not moved at all."

A project important to Gov. Rick Scott, providing local matching grants for homeowners to convert septic tanks to sewer lines which the House started at $5 million, went backwards on Saturday as the House rescinded that amount and went to zero. The Senate wants to spend $10 million.

The Senate offered to agree to a House request to spend $1.7 million on local parks was also rescinded, opening the issue again. And on the Florida Communities Trust, the House asked for $15 million; the Senate agreed to that amount and on Saturday the House moved it's budget item again back to $10 million.

"Rather than moving together, we moved apart,'' Bradley said, adding that he was optimistic the differences would be worked out. 

After the meeting, Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon blamed House leadership for forcing Albritton's hand on the issues that had been previously resolved.

"This was not Chair Albritton's doing,'' said Braynon of Miami Gardens.  

Rep. Kristin Jacobs of Coconut Creek, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said she did not agree that the environmental budget was destined to fail.

"This has been a very complicated process and it's typical for these discussions to go the way they have,'' she said. "There's are a lot of moving parts here.'' she said.

She said that as  one of the House's conferees, she was not consulted about the offer and disagreed with parts of it.

"I think our hands are tied in some respects and some of those decisions are being made by leadership above my pay grade,'' she said. "There are other dollars and priorities that I would like to have seen us do and hopefully we can accomplish it at the next stop."

Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Melbourne, said she was disappointed in the failure of the House to agree to the septic tank conversion program, which has been identified as a need to address toxins flowing in to the Indian River Lagoon.

"I hope that is something that is reconsidered whenever we bump this up,'' she said.

The House also proposed adding language relating to how the money can be spent, proposing that any candidate for office is barred from hosting a Farm Share food distribution event during the campaign season.

Albritton also proposed restricting marketing funds: The Department of Citrus could not spend funds on advertising, only on research. The Florida Parks system would have to have a spending plan before advertising money is spent promoting state parks.

Cruz: Senate chairman who opposes slavery memorial 'knows he can say this and be revered at home'

Cruz_janet apday 013117 (2)


House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz is among those upset and offended by a conservative Senate chairman's explanation on Friday for why he blocked a bill to establish a Florida Slavery Memorial near the Capitol in Tallahassee.

Ocala Republican Dennis Baxley, who chairs the Senate's government operations committee, had told the Herald/Times a memorial to slavery would be too negative and would "celebrate defeat" -- remarks, among others, that were viewed as racially insensitive and sparked immediate backlash from House Democrats and members of the black caucus.

Baxley later clarified that by "defeat" he meant "adversity" but his explanation didn't quell the outrage.

MORE: "A senator said a Florida Slavery Memorial would ‘celebrate defeat.’ Lawmakers are furious."

After what Baxley said, Cruz remarked that a "real issue" in Florida is the redrawing of legislative districts in ways that have created politically safe seats for one party or another.

"Gerrymandering has given members in these safe seats, on both sides, the ability to say what the hell they want to say without answering to a district," the Tampa lawmaker told the Herald/Times, venting her frustration late Friday.

"Baxley knows he can say this and be revered at home," Cruz added. "So throwing red meat today and making those comments, he has no fear."

She said Floridians asked for "compact, contiguous districts that more fairly represent the people" and she noted that registered Democrats outweigh registered Republicans in Florida, while the number of voters with no party affiliation are "skyrocketing."

"Yet we still have members that can make what I call a racist remark and go back to their district and not worry about getting re-elected," she said.

Photo credit: AP

Once on chopping block, Miami arts school could still get some state aid next year

Oscars Diversity@ByKristenMClark @KyraGurney

Lawmakers in Tallahassee are largely reversing course on plans to cut $650,000 in state grant funding to the Miami arts school whose alumni helped create the Oscar-winning film “Moonlight” and the Broadway hit “Hamilton.”

During ongoing budget talks Saturday morning, the Florida House asked for $500,000 for New World School of the Arts in 2017-18. That would still represent a cut of $150,000 in funding from last year, but it’s a drastic change from the House’s first proposal to entirely de-fund the school.

The funding level is still under negotiation — talks that now elevate to the full Appropriations chairmen and will continue through the weekend. The Senate had also originally proposed cutting all funding to New World, but later proposed $20,000.

MORE: “Lawmakers set to defund Miami school that educated makers of ‘Moonlight’ and ‘Hamilton’ ”

Threats to the school’s state grant funding sparked public outcry when news of the Legislature’s plans spread on Friday. 

But House and Senate chairmen in charge of K-12 public school spending said Saturday morning those complaints had little to do with their change of heart.

Full details here.

Photo credit: AP

Corcoran: Gov. Rick Scott is 'the problem with recess,' not Legislature

Corcoran_richard 022217 2


House Speaker Richard Corcoran offered a curious statement shortly after midnight Saturday: It’s not lawmakers who have a “problem with recess” — it’s Gov. Rick Scott.

Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, made the remark in a tweet with no additional explanation. The Herald/Times has requested clarification from Corcoran’s office and also sought comment from Scott’s spokeswoman. (This story will be updated when they respond.)

“Recess moms” were immediately perplexed by Corcoran’s mystery tweet, which was in direct response to a question from an advocate for daily school recess.

More here.

Photo credit: Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau

David Rivera is hanging out in Frank Artiles' old Senate office


Former U.S. Rep. David Rivera appears to be testing out the digs of a state legislative office that he might seek to occupy one day soon.

Rivera, a Republican, was seen casually hanging out in the Capitol office of former Sen. Frank Artiles on Friday evening -- socializing and bantering with a handful of people who appeared to be Artiles' remaining legislative staff and others.

One of Artiles' legislative aides, Alina Garcia, used to work for Rivera when he was a state House member from 2000-2008.

Artiles, R-Miami, resigned one week ago Friday after a firestorm brought on several days earlier when Artiles insulted a fellow lawmaker and used a racial slur to describe several other senators in an alcohol-laced tirade at a private Tallahassee bar.

Rivera's name has been floated as a potential candidate to fill Artiles' vacant seat, representing District 40 in Miami-Dade County. (Rivera unsuccessfully ran for a state House seat last fall.)

After Artiles' resignation, his legislative staff was kept on to provide continued constituent services until voters select his replacement in an upcoming special election, which Gov. Rick Scott has not yet scheduled.

From the hallway, Artiles' old office looks rather empty -- and the name-plate outside his door has been changed.

It now reads only: "District 40."

Photo credit: El Nuevo Herald file photo

House, Senate agree to small increase in K-12 public school spending

Diaz simmons 042717_2

From Brandon Larrabee at the News Service of Florida:

The House and Senate agreed to a relatively modest increase in per-student funding for public schools Friday, as negotiations continued over state spending for the budget year that begins July 1.

Under an agreement reached by leaders, per-student spending through the state's main formula for schools would increase 0.34 percent, or $24.49 a head. Discussions on other education projects were expected to continue.

Lawmakers' ability to significantly increase per-student funding was hampered by two decisions that carried out other House priorities: to not allow local education property taxes to rise with real estate values, and to plow more than $400 million into teacher bonuses and the House's "schools of hope" proposal.

Neither of those two items is included in the main formula, known as the Florida Education Finance Program, or FEFP. But lawmakers involved in the education budget talks said not accounting for the additional spending doesn't give a full picture of what the Legislature is doing for education.

"It's been our theme from the very beginning that we're going to laser-target those students in the high-need areas," said Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., a Hialeah Republican who chairs the House's education budget subcommittee.

Continue reading "House, Senate agree to small increase in K-12 public school spending" »