Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Proposed Sales Tax Hikes Defeated in Central Florida

florida map

Proponents of raising the sales tax to fund transportation projects were dealt stunning and overwhelming defeats in Central Florida counties this week.

Voters in Volusia County were asked whether or not to approve a half-percent sales tax increase for roads, transit and water quality projects that would have raised $45 million annually for the next 20 years. Voters turned down the measure by a 55 to 45 percent margin with just 27.5 percent of Volusia County’s 376,000 turning out for the mail in only ballot.

It took county leadership a long time to release the project list that the sales tax would be used for leading many to question how serious the proposed projects were. In the end, the county’s list called for $760 million in spending with $115 million of that going for water quality projects such removing septic tanks along the Indian River Lagoon and the rest going to transportation.

Voters were not asked to approve money for mass transit like Votran or the operation of Sunrail in the referendum. One factor that could have swayed voters was that many of the proposed projects were roads in high growth areas. Volusia County voters first recoiled when the tax was proposed, especially as impact fees on developers had not been raised in 15 years. The county voted to raise impact fees slightly in 2018 just before the referendum was approved. Voters in Volusia clearly did not feel developers have been paying their fair share in the construction of roads in growth areas. The problem is only expected to get worse, especially on the west side of Daytona Beach where thousands of new homes, condos and apartments have been approved in the Tomoka Farms and LPGA Boulevard areas. The county will now have to figure out how to keep up with the growing traffic without relying on revenue from the proposed sales tax hike to widen roads.

In Osceola County, the voters spoke even more loudly, striking down a one percent sales tax increase by a two to one margin. Only 18.65 percent of voters turned out for the election despite all precincts and early voting sites being opened. Voters rejected the proposal with 67 percent against and 33 percent supporting the tax increase. Osceola County never provided a complete list of how all sales tax dollars would be spent if the penny sales tax passed though it did send out a list of prioritized roads that included some of the busiest in the area. With just weeks to go before the vote, Osceola’s County Commission made its intent clear as 75 percent of the estimated $60 million in additional annual revenue would go to roads and other transportation needs while 25 percent would go to operating, improving and expanding Lynx bus service and Sunrail, Central Florida’s commuter rail system.

Voters in Osceola lined up to fight the tax increase from the beginning. The county raised the gas tax by five cents a gallon to its maximum amount just three years before and the money ended up going almost exclusively to transit projects. Many felt they were misled when even more money was needed for transportation so soon after a major tax hike. Leadership in Osceola County has threatened a property tax increase, perhaps as much as 40 percent, if the ballot measure failed so it will bear watching what happens next there.

Important lessons can be taken from the failure of these two proposed tax hikes. First, it is not necessarily a good idea to hold an election during an off time when a proposed tax increase is the only item being voted on. The leadership of both counties wanted a lower turnout election so the proposed sales tax increase was the only issue on the ballot.  This strategy backfired on those counties. Second, voters want to know exactly what they are getting from tax increases and how it benefits them well before a vote occurs. Officials would be wise to publish a list of what projects would get funding well in advance of any vote and take the time to go out in the public and talk about why those projects are needed. Officials in both Osceola and Volusia Counties tried to do that but only in the few weeks leading up to the election–far too late to make a difference.

 

Reach Mike Synan at Mike.Synan@floridadaily.com.

Michael Waltz Backs Effort for More Special Immigrant Visas for Iraqi and Afghan Translators

muslim woman

U.S. Rep. Michael Waltz, R-Fla., an Afghanistan veteran and the first Green Beret to serve in Congress, is backing a proposal to offer Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) for Iraqis and Afghans who helped the U.S. efforts in those nations as translators.

Waltz announced on Tuesday that he was backing the “Afghan Allies Protection Act” which would “authorize 4,000 new Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) and require the State Department to report to Congress on the obstacles for processing Iraqi and Afghan translator visas efficiently.”

The bill has support from both sides of the aisle with U.S. Reps. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oreg., Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., Seth Moulton, D-Mass., and Steve Stivers, R-Ohio, backing it. Blumenauer introduced the bill which has almost 30 cosponors including U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., and Waltz.

“Afghan translators are vital allies in our missions in the Middle East,” Waltz said on Tuesday. “These are people who not only stood and fought with us – they died with us protecting the United States. Unfortunately, translators are far too often victimized and endangered as a result of their service while waiting for their visas. This legislation ensures visas are available to bring our allies and their families to safety.”

Waltz’s office stressed the important role these translators played–and the congressman’s connection with one of them.

“Since 2002, the U.S. government has employed thousands of Afghan and Iraqi allies to serve alongside U.S. troops, diplomats and other government employees. Unfortunately, these allies have become targets of anti-American persecution and violence as a result of their service,” Waltz’s office noted. “Waltz worked with an Afghan interpreter in 2005 and 2006 who, years later, was followed from a U.S. military base to his home. Terrorists dragged him and his family members outside their house and beheaded them for working with U.S. forces.”

“It has been said, that ‘to be a friend is fatal.’ Our Afghan allies put this fact aside in service to our courageous military and our country,” said Blumenauer. “In return, we promised them safety and a new life in the United States. We must keep our promise to our allies. This legislation is imperative to the lives of these translators, the safety of our troops abroad and our international standing of being true to our word.”

“For years, we have fought for the Special Immigrant Visa program to ensure protections for those who risked their lives to protect American men and women. Because of their service to the U.S., these individuals and their families have been targeted by the Taliban and terror groups,” said Kinzinger. “This legislation is important to our allies and our code of honor. We made a promise to the men and women who served with us on the battlefield and we must uphold that promise to leave no one behind.”

“Translators saved American lives and risked their own for the freedoms that they saw in our country and so desperately wanted to bring theirs,” said Moulton who is part of the crowded field of candidates running for the Democratic presidential nomination. “They deserve our country’s gratitude, new opportunities and most of all the safety that only comes from living within our borders. It’s up to Congress to make it happen by approving these visas.”

“During my time deployed as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, I worked with many foreign allies who were critical to the success of our mission and who put their lives and the lives of their families on the line to serve alongside us,” Stivers said. “They did not turn their backs on us, and we cannot turn our backs on them.  This bill is not about politics, it is just the right thing to do.”

“Though the Iraqi SIV program ceased accepting applications in 2014, the Afghan SIV program continues today. The Fiscal Year 2019 Omnibus bill authorized 3,500 SIVs but the backlog continues to grow, topping 20,000 Afghans this year,” Waltz’s office noted.

For his part, the Northeast Florida Republican said the number of SIVs offered to these translators should be expanded.

“If we authorize more visas, we can properly thank these allies for their service,” Waltz said.

The bill was sent to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee last week. So far, there is no companion bill over in the U.S. Senate.

 

Kevin Derby can be reached at Kevin.Derby@floridadaily.com.

Universal Orlando Previews New Harry Potter Roller Coaster

*Video courtesy of Universal Orlando Resort.

Earlier this week, Universal Orlando Resort announced a ride update that is sure to please fans of the Harry Potter franchise. Universal announced an official opening date of June 13 for Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure.

According to Universal, the new coaster will become the park’s most highly themed, immersive outdoor coaster experience and will also give fans the first-ever opportunity to join Hagrid – one of the most beloved characters in the Harry Potter books and films – on a journey through the Forbidden Forest.

For more news on Universal Orlando and other attractions across the state, visit our Theme Parks and Tourism News Section at floridadaily.com/category/theme-parks-tourism-news

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New Rides Arriving at Florida Theme Parks in 2019

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SeaWorld Offers Free Admission for U.S. Military Veterans and their Families 

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Rick Scott: Donald Trump Should Tell Prince Charles to Stop Backing Cuba

Prince Charles

This week, U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., continued bashing Prince Charles for visiting Cuba.

Scott weighed in President Donald Trump’s plans to meet with Prince Charles when the president visits the United Kingdom next month.

“Prince Charles’ recent trip to Cuba is in direct conflict with Prime Minister May’s recognition of Juan Guaidó as the legitimate leader of Venezuela,” Scott said. “The UK cannot support freedom in Venezuela while at the same time supporting Cuba – the most powerful force propping up Nicolas Maduro as he starves and kills his own people. I’m calling on European nations to unite against dictators and cut off ties with Cuba. President Trump should ask Prince Charles to end his support for Cuba and join the United States in the fight for freedom.”

Back in February, Scott called on Prince Charles to abandon his planned trip to Cuba and visit Florida to meet exiles from the communist regime instead. Scott wrote the British government on the matter.

Sir Alan Duncan, the British Minister of State for Europe and the Americas, replied to Scott.

“We believe that the best way to promote human rights and encourage a Cuba that fully respects fundamental freedoms is through practical diplomacy, such as with this visit,” Duncan wrote.

Scott quickly responded to Duncan.

“Yesterday, I met with Nicolette Brent, the British Consul General in Miami, to discuss my letter urging Prince Charles to reconsider his trip to Cuba. He’s always welcome to visit Florida and meet with Cuban dissidents to discuss the horrors of the Castro regime,” Scott said.

“In a response, the Minister of State for Europe and the Americas, a government official under Theresa May, defended the trip, calling it ‘practical diplomacy’ and ‘the best way to promote human rights.’ I reject that,” Scott continued. “In the same month Prime Minister May recognized Juan Guaidó as the legitimate leader of Venezuela, the British government also sanctioned this trip by the Royal Family to visit the Cuban Dictatorship propping up Nicolas Maduro. This makes no sense. And, Prince Charles should meet with dissidents in Florida or reach out to those in Cuba fighting for Democracy, like Luis Garcia Perez ‘Antunez’ or the Ladies in White.”

 

Kevin Derby can be reached at Kevin.Derby@floridadaily.com

Marco Rubio Wants FEMA to Quickly Remove Hurricane Michael Debris on Private Properties

Marco Rubio

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., wants answers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) about debris removal as Northwest Florida continues to recover from Hurricane Michael which hit the region in October.

This week, Rubio wrote Acting FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor and urged him to approve more applications for debris removal on private property.

“As you know, recovery efforts following Hurricane Michael have been extremely difficult for Northwest Floridians, and the federal government must work with local communities in response to the unprecedented devastation,” Rubio wrote Gaynor on Tuesday. “One area that continues to affect the health and safety of residents in the Panhandle is private property debris removal. While I am grateful for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) agreeing to extend the program for 60 days, I write to express concern with regard to the high rate of denials of applications for assistance. Communities continue to struggle with the large amount of debris from private property, and local officials indicate that this poses a significant health and safety threat to the public-at-large. Thus, I request for FEMA to work with localities to swiftly reconsider, and approve, applications for private property debris removal.

“With the debris posing an increased threat for wildfires, it is critical that FEMA takes into account the extraordinary circumstances our communities face, and work with local officials to protect the public health and safety of residents. The longer we wait for debris to be removed, the greater that threat increases for unsafe and unsanitary conditions for remaining survivors. Thus, I respectfully request you work with state and local communities to consider and approve these applications in a timely manner,” Rubio added. “Thank you for your attention to this matter.”

Ross Spano: Congress Needs to Decide What to Do With SBA’s Community Advantage Loan Program

Ross Spano

On Tuesday, the U.S. House Committee on Small Business Subcommittee on Investigations, Oversight and Regulations met for a hearing titled “Investing in Community: The SBA’s Community Advantage Loan Program.”

U.S. Rep. Ross Spano, R-Fla., the top Republican on the subcommittee, offered the following opening statement:

Thank you, Madam Chairwoman.

The economy continues to reach new heights. From historic unemployment rates to encouraging GDP readings, the nation is moving in the right direction.

Despite these positive economic signs, the nation’s smallest firms continue to face obstacles when it comes to financing their businesses.

With conventional lending options exhausted, they often turn to the Small Business Administration and their many capital access programs to finance their operations and dreams.

SBA’s largest government guarantee program is the 7(a) Loan Program.

In 2011 and using its own express authority, SBA created a 7(a) sub-program targeted at underserved communities called the Community Advantage Loan Program.

Given that this program is not congressionally authorized, it is currently operating as a pilot program within SBA and thus lacks the many requirements needed for a government guarantee loan program.

Since its creation, this pilot’s expiration date has been extended a number of times by SBA and was recently extended until September of 2022.

In this last extension, SBA also made significant structural changes to the program to further examine it which include prohibiting new Community Advantage Lenders from participating to adjusting the loan loss reserve ratio.

Ultimately, the decision to authorize this program lies solely with Congress.

Small businesses, entrepreneurs, and startups from Ohio to my state of Florida benefit from many of SBA’s capital access programs, including the Community Advantage Pilot Loan Program.

A comprehensive discussion on next steps for this program is required and that is what we are doing today.

I want to thank our witnesses who have traveled from across the country to talk with us.

I am looking forward to hearing about their experience with the program – what has worked and what hasn’t worked?

I am also interested in hearing how they believe the structural changes that SBA put in place this past fall will impact the program.

As we have these conversations, it is important to keep in mind that with any government program, comprehensive oversight is critical in safeguarding American taxpayer dollars.

Thank you, Madam Chairwoman, for having this timely hearing, and I yield back.

U.S. Rep. Ross Spano, R-Fla., was first elected to Congress in 2018.

FDLE: Florida Man Arrested for Fraud Had 350 Credit Cards

Below is a release from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE):

ORLANDO, Fla. – FDLE agents arrested Clifton Lee Sneed III, 30, on charges of unlawful possession of personal identification information, criminal use of personal identification, possession of credit card making equipment and forgery of a credit card.  Investigators say Sneed used stolen personal information such as individual credit card numbers, names, addresses and birthdates to manufacture fraudulent credit, debit and gift cards while living at 9518 Water Orchid Ave. in Clermont.

The investigation began after Groveland Police Department received information about an illegal credit card scheme. During a search of Sneed’s Clermont home, Groveland Police officers found more than 350 credit, debit and gift cards, including over 250 blank or altered credit cards and equipment used for making fake credit cards.

FDLE began its investigation at the request of Groveland PD and examined hundreds of fraudulent credit cards and the digital information contained on those credit cards.  Agents determined that 18 credit cards had information on the magnetic strip that did not match information on the front of the card.  Agents contacted the financial institutions and individual victims who told agents their personal credit cards had been used fraudulently with charges from restaurants, gas stations and retail stores in Central Florida.

FDLE agents, along with Orlando PD officers, arrested Sneed Saturday morning at the Orlando International Airport as he was coming off a flight from Las Vegas.  He was booked into the Orange County Jail on a $110,000 bond. This case will be prosecuted by Attorney General Ashley Moody’s Office of Statewide Prosecution.

 

Orlando Ranked as One of the Best Cities in the Nation to Start a Career

For nearly 50 years, Orlando has been one of the nation’s top tourist destinations but new rankings show that the city popularized by theme parks is gaining national attention as an ideal place for young people to work, not just play.

WalletHub ranked Orlando fourth overall in its “2019 Best and Worst Places to Start a Career.” The ranking marks Orlando’s second-straight appearance in the top five. Last year, Orlando finished second behind Tempe, Arizona as the best city to begin a career. According to WalletHub, criteria for the rankings include two key dimensions: “Professional Opportunities” and “Quality of Life.” Suburban stats are excluded from the rankings.

Source: WalletHub

“We evaluated the two dimensions using 29 relevant metrics, which are listed below with their corresponding weights. According to WalletHub, each metric was graded on a 100-point scale, with a score of 100 representing the most favorable conditions for job-market entrants. We then determined each city’s weighted average across all metrics to calculate its overall score and used the resulting scores to rank-order our sample,” noted John Kiernan, a senior Writer and editor for WalletHub. “Deciding where to lay the foundation for a long and prosperous career can be a tall order, especially for recent graduates entering the job market for the first time. There are many factors — job-market saturation, housing affordability and commuter-friendliness — to consider about each prospective area. The market is ripe for new graduates with an unemployment rate of only 3.8 percent as of March. Employers plan to hire nearly 17 percent more graduates from the Class of 2019 than they did from the Class of 2018.”

Tampa just missed out on the top ten, placing eleventh.

 

1 Salt Lake City, UT
2 Pittsburgh, PA
3 Atlanta, GA
4 Orlando, FL
5 Austin, TX
6 Minneapolis, MN
7 Seattle, WA
8 Raleigh, NC
9 Boston, MA
10 Denver, CO
11 Tampa, FL
12 Charleston, SC
13 Portland, ME
14 St. Louis, MO
15 San Francisco, CA

John Morgan Takes Aim at Andrew Gillum on Twitter

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As he prepares to host a fundraiser for former Vice President Joe Biden, the current frontrunner in the crowded race for the Democratic presidential nomination, high powered attorney John Morgan is escalating his attacks on former gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum.

This week, Morgan took to Twitter to call the former Tallahassee mayor’s new voter registration drive “phony.”

Morgan wasn’t done. He next asked Gillum to take the $3.5 million left over from his gubernatorial campaign to be donated to pay fines for felons so that they could regain the right to vote, saying he would match that money with $3.5 million of his own money.

He also took a shot across the bow of Gillum’s ship, suggesting the former Tallahassee mayor is not ethical and is all about his own political ambitions.

It’s been a tumultuous time for Morgan’s relationships with political allies. In late 2017, Morgan disavowed Democrats, announcing he was leaving the party. He’s still a rainmaker for some Democrats as Biden gets ready to visit Morgan’s Lake Mary home for a major fundraiser, part of a two-day swing to raise funds for his campaign.

The former vice president spent Monday in South Florida at the home of developer Michael Adler, a long time supporter where Biden told the well-heeled crowd that President Donald Trump posed an “existential threat” to the rest of the world.

“We’re the United States of America. There’s not a damn thing we can’t do,” Biden said. “But there’s not much we can do if he’s still there.”

Biden said NATO might not continue if Trump wins a second term next year. The former vice president also spoke about “the soul of the country” being torn apart and how the middle class makes up the backbone of the United States.

“A majority of Americans, if they got an extra bill for $400 a month, they couldn’t pay it,” Biden said. “Right now 65 out of 100 jobs in America require some kind of post-high school degree … and guess what, I know a lot of people like me are helping their kids and grandkids go to school. And this ain’t your father’s tuition either.”

Biden only spoke for about eight minutes but tore into Trump several times and telling his supporters that a tariff war with China would not be in the best interest of the US.

“If we continue this battle going on the last three years for another four … China is going to be in 5G. AI is going to be owned by them,” Biden said. “They’re spending billions of dollars and we’re standing here with our thumb in our ear while the rest of the world is passing us by. So folks, it’s time to remember who we are.”

The campaign also announced a new digital platform that will supposedly have campaign donations listed more quickly. It is not clear at this point how much money Biden will raise for the campaign n his two day Florida swing.

 

Reach Mike Synan at Mike.Synan@floridadaily.com.

Florida Congresswoman Gets Resolution Against Female Genital Mutilation Through the House

Lois Frankel

On Monday night, the U.S. House passed a Florida congresswoman’s resolution opposing female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) and recognizing it “as a human rights violation against women and girls” without objection.

U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Fla., introduced the resolution in February with U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-Penn., as the main cosponsor. Almost 30 other members of the House, including U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., the chairman of the U.S. House Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee, also cosponsored the resolution.

Frankel’s resolution overwhelmingly cleared the House on a 393-0 vote on Monday night. Twenty members, including U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney, R-Fla., U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., and Perry himself, did not vote.

“An estimated 200 million girls and women have been victims of FGM/C, with more than 3 million estimated to be at risk of being cut annually. The practice, a procedure that involves partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, is most common in parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia and is associated with several traditions but is not tied to any one culture or religion. FGM/C even occurs in the United States,” Frankel’s office noted after the resolution was passed.

“Today we’re sending a clear message that every girl, no matter where she’s born, has a right to live free of violence,” said Frankel after the vote. “This bipartisan resolution recognizes that FGM/C is a gross human rights violation holding women and girls back from reaching their full potential.”

“We’ll continue to demand an end to the horrific practice of female genital mutilation/cutting, justice for its victims, and protection for our girls,” said Perry. “I’m pleased by the bipartisan effort and want to thank Congresswoman Frankel for her diligence to bring to the full House our resolution condemning the reprehensible and subjugating practice of FGM/C.”

 

Kevin Derby can be reached at Kevin.Derby@floridadaily.com.