Saturday, September 21, 2019

Orange County Sales Tax Proposal Could Lead to Massive Revenue for Transportation Projects

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Orange County is trying to put together a project list and drum up public support for a one percent increase in the sales tax to help the area’s transportation.

While the county has the fifth largest population in the state at 1.3 million residents, hundreds of thousands of tourists and residents of other areas flood into Orange County every day to work. These tourists, visitors and workers could end up paying 50 percent or more of any new sales tax hikes.

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings admitted the numbers are staggering.

“If we looked at increasing property taxes by 1 mill, we would generate about $144 million,” he said before turning his attention to raising the sales tax. “A penny would produce $635 million so it could be transformational for our community.”

To put it in perspective, a failed Osceola County sales tax referendum would have raised around $67 million, a little more than one-tenth of the revenue Orange County could garner if it increases sales tax by one percent.

Demings said the additional revenue would be spent on roads, sidewalks and public transportation.

“What we are trying to do is make sure that we are making the type of public policy decisions today that will be impactful for generations, decades from now,” he said. “If this sales tax passes, I can assure you this will be a major game-changer our entire community.”

Over the next three months, the county will hold town halls to try and gauge just what the public wants. Residents of the east side of Orange County are upset over a plan to extend Kirkman Road on the west side at a cost of $25 million. Universal is opening a new theme park along that extension and the public feels like it is a massive giveaway to a major corporation that should have paid for its own roads. This is a perception problem for Demings and his allies since the Kirkman Road extension was planned even before Universal had a deal for the land to build its new park.

Demings said he plans to rely on a committee made up of regular citizens to oversee the additional revenue if the sales tax increases passes.

“We will come up with a prioritized list and demonstrate to the electorate prior to the vote in November of 2020, if you pass this sales tax, this is what we are going to spend the dollars on,” Demings insisted.

Orange County ranks 43rd out of the 67 counties across Florida when it comes to spending on transportation per capita. The county estimates commuters spend an average of 46 hours each year in traffic congestion.

The key to whether or not the sales tax increase will pass will be the details. Expect a large part of the additional revenue to go to mass transit programs. Orange County wants to double its number of buses and could also use the additional money to increase the frequency of Sunrail trains. Those plans could case big backlash since only a small percentage of Orange County residents use any kind of mass transit.

Voters will get the ultimate say in November 2020 when the proposal is expected to be on the ballot.

 

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

 

Joe Biden Losing Ground to Elizabeth Warren in New Florida Poll

Joe Biden

Former Vice President Joe Biden continues to lead all Democratic candidates in Florida–but that lead is shrinking according to a new poll from Florida Atlantic University (FAU).

The survey measured 934 Florida registered voters between September 12th and 15th and showed many interesting trends. Biden came in at 39 percent among Florida Democrats in an FAU survey done in May but has dropped to 34 percent in the current poll which was released on Wednesday.

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. checks in at second place with 24 percent. The Massachusetts senator doubled her support since May from 12 percent to her current standing.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is in third place with 14 percent of those polled, up 2 points since May.

For the rest of the candidates in the Democratic race, it is going to be a long, hard slog to gain any traction in Sunshine State but there is plenty of time before the primary on March 17. South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg is polling at 5 percent while U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif. is at 4 percent. No other candidate on the Democratic side gets more than 3 percent in the FAU poll, including the lone Florida candidate Miramar Mayor Wayne Messam. It remains to be seen how many of these candidates will even be in the race by the time the Florida primary rolls around, but U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., for one, believes she can make it. She campaigned in the Miami area earlier this month.

The survey also included a primary on the Republican side and it should come as no surprise that President Donald Trump is ahead with 85 percent support. Former Gov. Mark Sanford, R-SC, picks up 8 percent, former U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh, R-Ill., takes 5 percent and former Gov. Bill Weld, R-Mass., lags with 2 percent.

Trump also holds a 49 percent approval rating with all Florida voters, higher than his nationwide numbers.

Florida Atlantic also looked at a head to head matchup pitting Trump against Democratic challengers. Florida is poised to do what it does best if the surveys are accurate–have a really close election. If that election were held today, the poll shows it would be a statistical dead heat between Trump and Biden, Warren or Bernie Sanders. Trump does better against Harris, leading her by 4 points.

The survey also looked at the attitudes of Florida voters on some hot topics, including gun control. According to the polling, 75 percent of Floridians favor universal background checks for all gun buyers with just 14 percent opposed.

“It seems that the majority of Democrats, Republicans and independents agree on universal background checks,” said Monica Escaleras, the director of the FAU Business and Economics Polling Institute.

Florida voters are more split on tariffs with 40 percent saying they hurt America, 33 percent saying they help America and 27 percent saying they have no effect.

The survey has a margin of error of +/- 3.1 percentage points. The margin of error for the Republican primary is +/- 5.2 percentage points while the margin for error for the Democratic primary is +/- 4.9 percent.

 

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

 

Brian Mast Urges Robert Wilkie to Reverse Decision Kicking Congressional Offices Out of VA Facilities

Brian Mast

On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie urging the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to reverse its decision to evict members of Congress from their offices inside VA facilities. Mast’s letter comes in response to a letter received from Wilkie on September 13, 2019, in which the VA Secretary suggests that effective oversight of the Department of Veterans Affairs can be conducted without leaving Washington.

Mast’s letter to Wilkie, which he also sent to President Donald Trump, is below:

Dear Secretary Wilkie:

I write today in response to your letter dated September 13, 2019 and to urge you again to reconsider the decision that would prohibit Congressional offices from using office space at Veterans Health Administration (VA) facilities. The sudden decision to evict members of Congress from VA facilities was very surprising considering none of our congressional offices—nor the veterans served by the offices—were consulted by the VA prior to this decision.

Moreover, as you know, these offices were first put into place under the leadership of President Donald Trump, who has made unparalleled progress for veterans during his first term in office. Allowing members of Congress to meet with constituents at VA facilities has improved veteran access to their congressional representatives, helping thousands of veterans without sacrificing any medical space at the facilities. These offices are a prime example of President Trump’s commitment to helping veterans and his dedication to increasing accountability and transparency. The termination of these offices will hurt veterans and serves only to undermine the significant legacy of the Trump administration opening up the VA to increased accountability after substantial failings during President Obama’s tenure.

Specific to the community that I represent in Congress, the West Palm Beach VA Medical Center is a 1.7 million square foot facility, including 811,000 square feet in the main hospital. If the 100 square foot converted storage closet that our office currently occupies is needed for another use, will you please direct the hospital’s leadership to locate a different 100 square foot space that we may utilize to help veterans? Surely, there is a conference room that we could use while it is empty or another storage closet that could be cleaned out.

To this end, I would like to invite you again to visit our office in hopes that we may find a suitable arrangement to keep this office operational.  Moreover, in your letter, you suggested that I hold a “town hall on the premises to further constituent outreach.”  Therefore, I would like to invite you to host a joint town hall with me prior to the end of the year at the West Palm Beach VA so that we can both hear directly from the veterans that we wish to serve.

The bottom line is that if you want to fix a problem, you have to be present for it. While you may believe that effective oversight can be conducted from Washington, D.C. (as stated in your letter), I believe that the history of crisis within various VA medical centers proves otherwise. That is why I opened the office in the first place, and I encouraged my fellow members of Congress to do the same. Far too often, decision makers in Washington, D.C. ignore problems because they refuse to spend the time actually experiencing the issues themselves. I refuse to fall into that trap, and so I hope you will join me in upholding President Trump’s commitment to improving transparency and accountability for our veterans by reversing your decision.

Rick Scott Demands Answers on How Much Medicare for All Costs

Rick Scott

U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., took aim at the “Medicare for All” proposal championed by some Democrats in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail this week.

Scott weighed in on continued efforts from the GOP to have the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) score either the House or the Senate versions of, what he called, “the Socialist Democrats’ Medicare for All” and expressed frustration it has not been done.

“On multiple occasions, Republicans have requested a score from the Congressional Budget Office of the Socialist Democrats’ Medicare for All proposal, especially Budget Committee Ranking Member Bernie Sanders’ bill filed in the Senate this year,” Scott said on Tuesday. “So far, the CBO has refused. It is irresponsible and unconscionable that the CBO refuses to tell us the price tag for a healthcare proposal that has become the centerpiece of the Democrats’ agenda, both in Congress and in their presidential campaigns.”

Scott sent a letter to the CBO asking for a detailed look at the Medicare for All proposals on Capitol Hill.

“Today, I sent yet another letter to the CBO asking for a score. The American people deserve to know how much this proposal would cost, how much taxes would be raised, and how many Americans would lose their employer-sponsored healthcare. This is why the CBO exists. They need to do their job,” Scott said.

After two terms as governor, Scott was elected to the Senate last year, defeating three-term U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.,

 

Reach Kevin Derby at kevin.derby@floridadaily.com.

 

Four Florida Mayors Go to Bat for Pete Buttigieg

Pete Buttigieg

Stuck behind the top tier candidates but ahead of most of the crowded field as he continues his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg showcased the support of almost 60 mayors on Wednesday, including some from the Sunshine State.

In a piece published at USA Today, 58 mayors explained why they were backing Buttigieg. Wilton Manors Mayor Justin Flippen, Parkland Mayor Christine Hunchsofsky, Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis and Sarasota Mayor Liz Alpert signed the op-ed.

The 58 mayors praised Buttigieg’s record in South Bend and insisted he can help bring change to the federal government.

“While Washington has ignored or exacerbated our immigration crisis, Pete created a municipal ID card so that undocumented residents could open bank accounts and fill prescriptions. And because Pete knows that population growth is the key to economic growth, his plan for rural America would provide Community Renewal Visas to bring immigrants to communities in need of revitalization,” the mayors wrote.

“In the wake of a tragic officer-involved shooting in South Bend, we have seen Pete engage in an honest dialogue about the shadow of racism. And he has backed up his words with concrete plans. His Douglass Plan is arguably the most comprehensive plan any candidate has offered to start dismantling systemic racism and directly invest in black Americans. It puts forward ambitious-yet-attainable goals — from tripling the number of entrepreneurs from underserved backgrounds, to creating health equity zones to cutting incarceration by 50 percent,” they added.

“Pete understands the power of moral leadership,” the mayors insisted. “Mayors are walking symbols of their cities. When we cut a ribbon at a new factory, or comfort a grieving parent whose child was lost to gun violence, we are showing the people we represent that their community stands with them. That kind of empathetic leadership is desperately needed in the Oval Office. For all these reasons, Mayor Pete has become a role model — and in some cases, a mentor — to mayors like us. We endorse him from heartland towns, coastal cities, suburban communities and every other corner of our great country. What’s more, in the spirit of the community of mayors, we are already offering Pete our best ideas and helping engage grassroots supporters all across the country. We’re proud to stand together as ‘Mayors for Pete,’ and hope you’ll join us in supporting this bold and unifying leader who will help us write a better future.

Other mayors who endorsed Buttigieg on Wednesday include Steve Adler of Austin, Texas; Nan Whaley of Dayton, Ohio; Betsy Hodges of Minneapolis, Minnesota; Annise Parker of Houston, Texas; Luke Bronin of Hartford, Connecticut; Michelle De La Isla of Topeka, Kansas; Jim Gray of Lexington, Kentucky; John Cranley of Cincinnati, Ohio; Leirion Gaylor Baird of Lincoln, Nebraska; Sly James of Kansas City, Missouri; and Andy Berke of Chattanooga, Tennessee.

 

Safety Belt Law Expansion Proposed in the Florida House

With the Legislature meeting in Tallahassee for committee weeks, state Rep. Emily Slosberg, D-Boca Ration, has filed a bill to ensure all passengers in cars wear safety belts.

Slosberg weighed in on the proposal on Tuesday as she looks to expand the Florida Safety Belt Law which, her office noted, “currently requires drivers, front seat passengers, and passengers under 18 years of age to wear a safety belt; however, adult passengers who sit in the back seat do not.”

The Boca Raton Democrat, whose twin sister was killed in a car accident when they were teenagers, wants to change that.

“Although passengers are three times more likely to escape a car crash with little to no injury if they wear a safety belt, many choose not to use this vital piece of safety equipment. Between 2008 and 2017, there were 14,377 passenger vehicle fatalities in the state of Florida. Nearly half of those killed – 6,823 people – were not wearing a safety belt at the time of the crash,” her office noted.

“I lost my twin sister in a horrific car crash when we were teenagers,” Slosberg said on Tuesday. “Her seat belt was tragically unbuckled when it happened. Since then, I have dedicated my career to traffic safety advocacy and have fought to make our roads safer with common-sense legislation like this seat belt bill. We could save countless lives every year by requiring everyone to wear a seat belt – including those in the back seat.”

If Slosberg’s bill passes, it would take effect on July 1, 2020.

First elected to her current post in 2016 to represent parts of Palm Beach County, Slosberg is the daughter of former state Rep. Irv Slosberg who served four terms in the Florida House.

 

Reach Kevin Derby at kevin.derby@floridadaily.com.

 

St. Leo University Launching BA in Emergency Management Program

st leo university

This week, Saint Leo University, a Catholic school based in Pasco County, announced it will offer a new Bachelor of Arts degree in emergency management which will start in January.

St. Leo unveiled the new program, which will be fully online, on Monday.

“Faculty at Saint Leo were inspired to create the new program by the sustained demand across the country for people trained in managing coordinated response to disasters, fires, and other emergencies caused by conditions ranging from coastal flooding and powerful storms to industrial accidents and criminal actions. Emergency management directors can work for local and state public agencies, private-sector companies, hospitals, and nonprofit organizations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics,” the university noted.

“Saint Leo anticipates its new degree program will appeal to adults who are still in their 30s, and want to advance in their careers. Many of the likely students are people already working in fields including law enforcement, fire safety, public works and utility systems, and related occupations,” said Dr. Phillip Neely who chairs the undergraduate criminal justice program in St Leo’s College of Education and Social Services. “They may have completed some occupational training, come from a military background with some relevant skills training, and perhaps have a two-year degree. They need to get a bachelor’s degree to get promoted.”

Dr. Susan Kinsella, the dean of the College of Education and Social Services, said the university would use instructors with experience in the field.

“Throughout our College of Education and Social Services, we offer applied programs that are developed by faculty who are former practitioners in the field, and that were created for students who want to be in the helping professions like teaching, criminal justice, social work, or human services,” Kinsella said.

The new major will included courses in principles and practices of emergency management, emergency planning, hazard identification, interagency management, leadership skills and ethics, technology in emergency management, social impacts of disaster and terrorism and emergency management. It will also include electives focusing in fire safety operations and departments, crisis communications, emergency operations center management and management of large-scale events and critical incidents.

The new program will cost $370 per credit but active-duty military personnel will have a discount and pay $250 per credit.

There are around 12,000 students currently at the university and more than 90,000 alumni.

 

Reach Kevin Derby at kevin.derby@floridadaily.com.

 

Marco Rubio Backs Trump Administration’s Latest Sanctions on the Maduro Regime

Marco Rubio

On Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., the chairman of the U.S. Senate Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, cheered the latest round of sanctions on the Maduro regime in Venezuela.

Rubio applauded the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s National Targeting Center and other federal agencies for sanctioning three individuals and 16 entities “for enabling the Maduro crime family to profit from imports of food aid and distribution in Venezuela under the illegitimate regime’s food subsidy known as the Local Committees for Supply and Production (CLAP).”

The latest round of sanctions, Rubio’s office noted, “target those who are directly or indirectly linked to Alex Saab, previously sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department for his involvement in a large corruption network connected to the illegitimate Maduro regime.”

Rubio weighed in on the latest sanctions and praised the Trump administration’s continued efforts against the Maduro regime.

“The Treasury Department’s sanctions designations today underscore our nation’s unwavering support for the people of Venezuela and the interim government of President Juan Guaidó,” Rubio said. “I applaud the Trump administration for imposing additional sanctions against individuals and entities who are illegally profiting from the suffering of the Venezuelan people through the CLAP boxes.”

Rubio insisted the U.S. and other nations should continue to oppose the Maduro regime.

“The United States and the international community must continue to hold Maduro’s cronies and his enablers accountable, and not sit idly by as these thugs continue to benefit at the expense of the lives and livelihood of the suffering Venezuelan people,” Rubio said.

 

Reach Kevin Derby at kevin.derby@floridadaily.com.

 

State Senator Wants to Change How Prisoners Counted for Redistricting

Randolph Bracy
With the legislative session coming up in Tallahassee at the start of the year, a Democrat in the Florida Senate is calling for reforming districts in time for the next round of redistricting in 2022.
State Sen. Randolph Bracy, D–Ocoee, has filed a bill with hopes of ending what he think is gerrymandering in many rural voting districts in Florida. The bill is fairly simple. It would force the state to count prisoners as being based at their home addresses instead of prison. Currently, prisoners are counted inside the prison and their numbers are added to the district in which the prison is located.
Bracy said inflating rural populations changes the redistricting dynamics.
“If you count them in the rural districts where they are incarcerated, then it gives more voting power to those districts,” Bracy told Florida Daily.
If Bracy’s bill passed, it could lead to major changes when legislators draw up new maps.  The metro areas of Orlando, Tampa and Miami could pick up an extra state House or Senate district if prisoners are counted from their hometowns instead from the prison while lowering the population in some rural districts. For example, the state prison in Starke has up to 1,460 inmates at any time. Most of that population would not be included in the rural Northeast Florida legislative districts which cover Starke.
Bracy likened his proposal to a simple concept: one man, one vote.
“I just think it is a matter of fairness. I don’t know what the opposition will be,” he told Florida Daily.
Bracy pointed out to Florida Daily that most of the prisoners in state prisons are ineligible to vote when they are counted for voting populations.
“There are some misdemeanors that will score prison time but most of the people in prisons have committed felonies, serious crimes,” he said.
If passed, the bill would take effect after the 2020 census is complete.
Bracy told Florida Daily that he does not see any advantage to either Democrats or Republicans if his bill is passed–but state legislators from rural areas, which heavily favor the GOP and conservatives, will disagree.
Despite Republican control of the Legislature, Bracy is optimistic that his bill will pass.
“We are going to have a busy session with a lot of issues but with the 2020 election coming up, with the census coming up, it will garner some attention,” he said.
Bracy admitted his bill could be a sensitive topic because elections are often close in Florida.
The Department of Corrections has the home address of all of its prisoners so the bill is not expected to have a large implementation cost. Florida has almost 166,000 offenders on probation, and 96,000 inmates currently incarcerated, according to the Department of Corrections.

 

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

Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, Congressional Hispanic Caucus Women’s Task Force Unveil Agenda for Latinas

Debbie Mucarsel-Powell

While she is still in her first year on Capitol Hill, U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, D-Fla., the first South American-born member of Congress, leads the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) Women’s Task Force which was formed at the start of the year.

Mucarsel-Powell unveiled the CHC’s “Latina Prosperity Principles” on Tuesday.

“Latinas are an integral part of our country’s economy and we are proud to outline a framework to help lift the tide in a way that no longer leaves Latinas behind,” said Mucarsel-Powell. “Our principles are wide-reaching; we recognize that Latina issues are intersectional. As Latinas become a growing percentage of the labor force, we need a comprehensive strategy that will help Latinas earn equal pay for equal work and afford quality education – for themselves and their families. Latinas make 53 cents for every dollar men make, and it is critical for our society that we end that pay disparity. Our commitment to promoting policies that will advance economic justice, ensure access to affordable quality health care, and equality will determine whether or not we build an inclusive economy that puts the American Dream in reach for everyone. When you empower Latinas, you empower families across the country.”

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, the chairman of the CHC, also weighed in on Tuesday.

“I am so proud to join Congresswoman Mucarsel-Powell and the Women’s Task Force in unveiling the CHC’s Latina Prosperity Principles. Latinas are the backbones of their communities and the leaders of their families, yet they still face massive inequalities. They are denied access to healthcare, equal pay, and the respect they are owed,” said Castro. “But Latinas are also on the rise – earlier this year, we doubled the number of Latinas in Congress. Despite adversity, Latinas across the country are making profound impacts on their communities, rising through the workforce, and stepping into leadership roles they deserve. These principles are just the beginning; our Hispanic Caucus will continue fighting to build an infrastructure of opportunity and equality for Latinas.”

Other members of the CHC’s Women’s Task Force, include Democrat U.S. Reps. Nanette Diaz Barragán, Lucille Roybal-Allard and Grace Napolitano of California and U.S. Rep. Nydia Velázquez of New York. The CHC, which has almost 40 members, was formed back in 1976 and “advocates for issues important to Hispanics through the congressional legislative process.” U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, D-Fla., is also a member of the CHC.

The Latina Prosperity Principles introduced on Tuesday can be found here.

First elected to Congress last year when she edged U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., Mucarsel-Powell represents all of Monroe County and parts of Miami-Dade County. Representing a swing district, Mucarsel-Powell is expected to be a top target for Republicans as the GOP looks to flip the House in 2020.

 

Reach Kevin Derby at kevin.derby@floridadaily.com.