Mitch Perry - 3/324 - SaintPetersBlog

Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

To honor John Kennedy’s centennial, Tampa Theatre to screen “JFK in Tampa” Wednesday

Next Monday, May 29, John F. Kennedy, the nation’s 35th President, would have turned 100 years old.

To commemorate that anniversary, the Tampa Theatre will screen Wednesday night (one night only), “JFK in Tampa,” Lynn Marvin Dingfelder‘s Emmy Award winning 2013 documentary on Kennedy’s visit to Tampa Nov. 18, 1963, four days before his assassination in Dallas.

Dingfelder obtained footage of Kennedy’s appearance in Tampa from a visit to the Kennedy Library in Boston. That footage (later transferred digitally) was something no one else in Tampa possessed (as she learned through former WTVT sports anchor Andy Hardy) because federal authorities seized the footage of Kennedy taken by Tampa’s local television affiliates in the immediate aftermath of what happened in Dallas days before.

Nearly 54 years since JFK’s death, Marvin Dingfelder said JFK’s message captured from speeches given in Tampa that day still hold up.

“He talked about Cuba. He talked about the importance of education. Of course, he talked about segregation,” she recounts. “He also spoke about space initiatives and moving forward and the challenges before us, and he said what will future generations think of us if we don’t take these steps today?”

On that day in 1963, as depicted in “JFK in Tampa,” Kennedy took an extraordinary long 28-mile motorcade through the city, with appearances at MacDill Air Force Base, Al Lopez Park, the Fort Homer Hesterly Armory (now the Jewish Community Center).

The president spoke before 4,500 guests at a Florida Chamber of Commerce-sponsored event, ending the day with a trip to the International Inn Hotel (now the Westshore Grand) before returning to MacDill.

Dingfelder captured numerous interviews for the film, including one with former Congressman Sam Gibbons, who was Kennedy’s Florida campaign chairman in 1960, just a few months before he died in the fall of 2012.

The only previous public screening of “JFK in Tampa” at the Tampa Theatre in 2013 drew a sold-out house. Since then, Dingfelder says she’s frequently heard from people who said they’ve never seen it.

As she realized that the former president’s 100th birthday was approaching, Dingfelder reached out to the management at the Tampa Theatre, who were pleased to be to show the film again this Wednesday night.

The film will screen Wednesday, May 24, at 7 p.m. Doors open at 6 p.m.

Tickets can be purchased in advance at the Tampa Theatre’s website, or at the box office.

 

TBX critics not pleased with Bob Buckhorn tweet

Critics of the Tampa Bay Express project are upset with Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn over what they say was a “flippant” response to concerns about what the $6 billion project will do to the affected neighborhoods when construction begins.

After reading an interview Buckhorn gave Friday praising the TBX project with the website BusinessFacilities.com, Seminole Heights resident and TBX foe Rick Fernandez sent a tweet to Buckhorn saying, “your continued support for TBX is disturbing and out of touch.”

Buckhorn replied, “Whatever.”

That comment generated responses from other Tampa citizens who oppose TBX, like Chris Vela, who wrote: “PA EJ maps show TBX is est. to affect 115k ethnic/racial minorities out of 180k along our interstates. Not whatever, stand up Mr. Mayor.”

Vela was referring to the potential relocation of residents if the project moves forward as planned.

The Tampa Bay Express is a $6 billion interstate expansion project overseen by the Florida Department of Transportation that would rebuild the exchange between Interstate 275 and Interstate 4 near downtown Tampa. It would also replace the three-mile span of the northbound Howard Frankland Bridge, and most controversially, add 90 miles of tolled “express lanes.”

The project would also raze homes in Seminole Heights, Tampa Heights, and V.M. Ybor. Nearly 80 percent of the registered voters living at properties that DOT plans to demolish are black and Latino, according to a Tampa Bay Times analysis.

“A respected neighborhood leader and citizen of Tampa tweeted his surprise and concern regarding Mayor Buckhorn’s statements heartily endorsing the TBX boondoggle – just to be summarily dismissed. When is it ever appropriate for an elected official to publish a response and address a constituent’s legitimate question in such a flippant manner?” asked Michelle Cookson with Sunshine Citizens, the activist group formed to oppose the TBX. “This attitude is astonishing given that Mayor Buckhorn’s constituents have been pleading for him to defend the resurgent urban core for over two years.”

Although initially low-key when FDOT introduced TBX to the public two years ago, Buckhorn said in November of 2015 that he was cognizant of the concerns that neighborhood activists had about the project hurting the neighborhoods where the proposed expansion is to occur, saying, “They recognize that it’s going to have an impact on the community. They realize that Tampa has changed drastically since that plan was created, and so they’ve got to be able to mitigate that, and they can’t put up a barrier that’s going to divide the city. So I think there’s a way to find that middle ground, but I’m thankful that they’re able to reach out to the neighborhood and have that discussion.”

Some members of the Tampa City Council have been more critical.

FDOT officials said last December that they were hitting the “reset button” on the project and intend to take the next couple of years to research and respond to community feedback, and are expected to unveil a revised plan by 2019.

Ashley Bauman, the director of public affairs with the City of Tampa, said Buckhorn had no comment on Saturday.

Marco Rubio has little to say about Donald Trump, but a lot about the media

For anyone following national politics, it’s been a dizzying week.

Marco Rubio isn’t sure what to make of it all.

The Florida Senator, who turns 46 next weekend, was considered a possible nominee for President of the United States less than 15 months ago, but he’s now just a sideshow in the circus that is the Donald Trump presidency, and he’s getting frustrated about it.

Speaking at the Pinellas County Republican Party’s Lincoln Day Dinner, Rubio touted his bill to reform the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which is being co-sponsored by Montana Democrat Jon Tester and Georgia Republican Johnny Isakson and gaining some momentum in the Senate. The bill would reform the VA by allowing the secretary to dismiss bad employees, and “ensure appropriate due process protections for whistleblowers.”

“That’s an important law. How many of you read about that in the newspaper?” Rubio asked the hundreds of Republicans who gathered at the Hilton St. Petersburg Carillon Park.

He said it simply wasn’t sexy enough, without mentioning why the national press is so focused on what Trump has been saying and tweeting, and what his staff is telling the press every day.

“It’s not being posted because nobody clicks on those stories, because the stories that get all the clicks are the stories about something controversial and explosive,” he said, adding that, “I’m not here to beat up the press but just because somebody told you something doesn’t mean that’s what happened.”

“Maybe it did? And maybe it did, and if it did then we need to find out, but if it didn’t, that would be unjust, would it not? So before you ask me to give you a hard opinion on something, let me find out the truth first, let you find out the truth first?”

Rubio made the same complaints while interviewed on Fox and Friends on Thursday when asked about Trump’s possible connections with Russia and Comeygate. So if you’re looking for Rubio to bash Trump when he seems to be in free fall, Rubio is not your man. Instead, he sounds like a man who isn’t sure what to think about all of the news coverage.

Other than he doesn’t like it, labeling the way politics is covered these days as “entertainment.”

Referring to the seemingly daily bombshell stories about Trump and Comey, Rubio asked if it wouldn’t be better for everyone involved if everyone knew the facts and didn’t have to “take concrete positions one way or another. “

“Isn’t that what you deserve? Isn’t that what the president deserves? Isn’t that what our nation deserves? Isn’t that what everyone deserves?,” as the crowd of partisan Pinellas Republican cheered lustily.

But before you think that Rubio thinks that Trump is getting a raw deal from the mainstream media, he was there to tell us that he spends 10 hours a week in the Senate Intelligence Committee looking at threats to the nation, including “looking at the specific threats to the 2016 campaign and what Russia did, and what they’re beginning to do in Europe and other places.”

Rubio said mournfully that the campaign last year was about getting people back to work and reminding people about the American dream, but “we don’t talk about these things.”

But the tone of his speech seemed like it was more of the media’s fault for not focusing on incremental policy changes — but how can it compare to a president who can’t stop contradicting his own press spokespeople?

He said that everyone was to blame for our current situation. Looking for an example of how the press doesn’t always get it right always, he chided an Associated Press story this week that initially reported that North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis needed CPR after exerting himself too strenuously this week proved to be incorrect.

“I’m not saying it was malicious,” he said about the AP report (who he praised as generally being straight up in its reporting), “but imagine if it was public policy or decisions of national magnitude. Should we not know the facts?”

Rubio didn’t leave himself out of his critique. Remember when he began attacking the size of Trump’s hands on the campaign trail last year and got live coverage from the cable news networks?

“I know that I spend all my time working on the VA bill and so forth — we will get very little coverage that doesn’t get a lot of clicks and a lot of attention, but if I spend time saying something outrageous, I’ll get a lot of coverage, so I’m incentivized to do that,” he admitted.

The media critique was the highlight of what was one of Rubio’s less inspired speeches seen in some time. Then again, he’s part of the Republican dominance of Washington D.C. that doesn’t appear to be getting much done. Well, there is that VA bill that’s gaining some momentum.

Before the event, a crowd of over 200 protestors gathered at the entrance to the Hilton St. Petersburg Carillon Park. Activists have been demanding that Rubio hold a town hall meeting, something that he has yet to do in 2017.

There were layers of security both outside and inside the hotel.

UPDATE: On Saturday on Twitter, Rubio criticized the Tampa Bay Times coverage of the story, which highlighted his critiques on the media, tweeting, “They actually ran the exact headline I predicted they would run to get clicks!”

That supposition neglects the fact that very little else in his speech was newsworthy.

(Photos courtesy of Kim DeFalco).

Hillsborough lawmakers clash during Tampa Chamber’s Session look-back

As House Minority Leader Janet Cruz notes, the Hillsborough County Legislative Delegation works “as a united front” when representing their community in Tallahassee.

That’s true on issues like the eleventh-hour move by the Florida Senate to push the University of South Florida out of pre-eminent status under a conformity education budget bill that passed in the waning hours of the legislative session two weeks ago.

Over that matter, members acted in unison, denouncing what they said was a fundamental unfairness, leading to USF being denied up to $16 million.

But that unity is not so apparent on several other issues, like the “Schools of Hope” education bill (SB 7069) and the lack of funding for Florida Forever, the conservation land-buying program that 2014’s Amendment 1 was meant to address.

It was those subjects where Democrats and Republicans differed sharply Friday in a post-session review luncheon sponsored by the Greater Tampa of Chamber of Commerce at Maestro’s restaurant in Tampa.

Sen. Darryl Rouson spoke wistfully about the fact that the education bill would have only taken one more vote in the Senate to have been defeated.

“It’s almost an insult to call it a schools of hope bill because every school is a school of hope,” the St. Petersburg Democrat declared, adding that unlike in the House, the Senate wasn’t willing to give tens of millions of dollars to high-performing out of state charter school before offering those funds to existing public schools.

Republican Rep. Jamie Grant of Tampa countered that the $140 million slated to go to charter schools is a better purpose of taxpayer funds than giving it to public institutions graded as “F” schools for three consecutive years.

Grant said House Republicans deserved praise because most of these charters aren’t in their home districts.

Republican Sen. Dana Young of Tampa said the “disagreement and negative feelings” expressed on the panel stemmed more from the process — adding the bill to a conforming bill completed in the last few hours of Session — than the policy itself.

Rep. Wengay Newton argued that the idea of cutting funds to struggling public schools is wrong. The St. Petersburg Democrat blasted the fact that Florida is ranked 42nd in the nation for education funding per student and 49th for the number of instructors per 100 students in public schools.

(Apparently, the public favors the Democrats in this argument. The Miami Herald’s Kristen Clark reported that by a margin of at least 3-to-1 so far, Floridians are telling Gov. Rick Scott via email and phone calls that they want him to veto the bill).

Sometimes the arguments transcended party lines, such as the legislation to completely defund VISIT Florida, the state’s tourism agency.

“I’m not willing to put my name behind anything that is adverting to Syrians that could be invested in education or we could be talking about the rising costs of health care,” said Grant, referring to recent reports of wasted taxpayer dollars spent by the state agency.

But he received strong pushback from both Democrats and Republican on the panel.

“There were problems with transparency, there were problems with contracts, those should be addressed on an individual basis,” agreed Rep. Sean Shaw, a Tampa Democrat. “But for a state that depends on tourism as much as Florida, I am very leery of destroying and eviscerating the entity that is responsible for that tourism.”

“Every product needs marketing to get it out there, and we are going to have our lunch eaten by Utah and Michigan and Austin and all of these other places that advertise if we don’t advertise … particularly in Europe, but not Syria,” Young added.

State Sen. Tom Lee of Brandon joined Grant to defend the Legislature over criticism from environmentalists that they failed to adhere to 2014’s Amendment 1 when it comes to allocating money to properly fund Forever Florida, the state’s conservation and recreation lands acquisition program.

“I think it would be deeply disingenuous to say that a constitutional amendment us to purchase land,” Grant said. He insisted the amendment’s language calls for the Legislature to act as “stewards of that land,” which Grant said wasn’t the same thing as purchasing said land.

“I think it would be equally disingenuous to only say we’re going to manage it and not acquire (land),” Shaw responded, quoting the exact language of the amendment.

Lee alienated the Chamber and other parts of the Tampa Bay area establishment with his stance on several issues during the past session. Though he wasn’t asked (and didn’t volunteer) to discuss his controversial request for an audit of Tampa International Airport, he did speak freely about why he and St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes inserted an amendment on a bill to reconfigure TBARTA.

Lee said he spoke with many officials involved with efforts to increase transit in the Tampa Bay area, and said what he heard back was by no means monolithic. “The truth is, there really wasn’t us among you all about what to do about TBARTA,” he said.

And Lee compared a new TBARTA with the extremely unpopular Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission, the troubled county agency in that lawmakers voted to kill at the end of the year.

“They become their own runaway train, spending millions of dollars at your expense, and these feasibility studies sometimes end up being twice the cost for capturing the ridership,” Lee said. “Nobody’s scrubbing these things except the people whose real estate projects stand to benefit from them.”

Regarding USF, Young put into perspective the disappointment of the school missing benchmarks to quality for pre-eminent status as well as the millions that would have gone into receiving that designation.

The university received $42 million in new recurring operational funds, Young said, as well as $12 million for the Morsani Medical School to be built in downtown Tampa and $3 million for dormitories.

“The future of USF is bright,” she said.

David Gee to step down as Hillsborough County Sheriff at the end of September

Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee announced Friday that he will be stepping down from his job at the end of September.

Gee, a Republican who has served in his position since 2004, and was re-elected last year to another four-year term when he failed to draw a Democratic challenger.

“This decision has not been made lightly and was one of the most difficult decisions that I have made in my career,” Gee said in a statement. “Each of my Sheriff’s Office family and the citizens of our community is very important to me. I have dedicated my life to serving others and hope that I have served well.”

The statement from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office said that Gee would not be speaking with the media today.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who worked with Gee for a number of years when she was at the Hillsborough County State Attorney’s office, released a statement praising Gee for his “humility, integrity and selflessness.”

“His career exemplifies what it means to be a servant leader,” Bondi said. “I am blessed to call Sheriff Gee one of my dearest friends and most trusted advisers. I so greater admire the sacrifices both he and his wife, Rhonda, have made to ensure the safety and well-being of the people of Hillsborough County. His impact will last forever in our community.”

Gee is a lifelong resident of Hillsborough County who has served in the Sheriff’s Office for over forty years. He moved his way up the ranks, working as a homicide investigator, Internal Affairs supervisor, Public Information Officer, Chief Financial Officer and Chief Deputy until he was elected Sheriff in 2004.

Over the years, Gee was often discussed as a potential candidate for another political office but steadfastly declined any such opportunities.

There will need to be a special election to succeed Gee, as his term was not up until 2020.

Ken Hagan doesn’t understand why Tallahassee Republicans seemingly ‘loathe’ local government’

Republicans in Tallahassee have left Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan scratching his head.

Plenty of city and county government officials have recently disparaged members of the Florida Legislature for passing a measure to expand the homestead exemption, which could ultimately deprive them of millions of dollars of revenues in the coming years.

As for Hagan, a lifelong Hillsborough County Republican, he doesn’t have that big of an issue with his fellow GOP state lawmakers over that matter.

But Hagan certainly does have a problem with killing Enterprise Florida, the state’s public-private economic development organization slated to be completely defunded unless Gov. Rick Scott vetoes that bill in the next month.

Led by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, the Florida House voted to defund Enterprise Florida, which offers tax incentives to lure businesses to the state, decrying it as corporate welfare.

Hagan has trouble understanding that attitude.

“Years ago, the conservative pro-business Republicans were always in favor, because it was job creation, (and) it was the more liberal side that made the case it was corporate welfare,” Hagan said Friday at the Oxford Exchange in Tampa. “Now it’s a 180.”

Hagan was speaking to about 50 people at the event, part of the Cafe Con Tampa series.

“Now you’ve got far right conservative Republicans saying this is corporate welfare and why are we doing this,” he said. “And I really don’t understand.”

More than ever, local city councils and county commission members up and down the state have criticized the GOP-led Legislature this spring for seemingly attacking the idea of “home rule,” including numerous attempts to take power away from local governments, and bring control back to Tallahassee.

In some cases, they were successful; others, not so much.

“It’s been my impression through the years that there are certain members of the Legislature … that really appear to loathe local government, and I don’t really quite understand that,” Hagan said.

Some Democrats say that they believe Tallahassee is biased against local governments, in part because they’re controlled by Democrats.

But that’s not universal throughout the state.

For years, the Hillsborough County Commission has been a dominantly conservative Republican board, and Hagan said it’s been as fiscally conservative “as any in the state. ”

“Yet it seems like some members, for whatever reason, think that local government just wastes money away, and I really don’t understand that.”

“I’m a fiscal conservative,” Hagan continued, “and it’s always been my opinion that conservatives believe in devolving power from the federal level to the state level to the local level, and some of their actions appear to be inconsistent with that core conservative philosophy.”

“I don’t understand where it’s coming from.”

The 49-year-old Carrollwood-based legislator sponsored a number of ordinances that have captured the attention of the public over the years. That includes this week’s ban on commercial puppy stores opening in the county, in an attempt to crack down on puppy mills.

Initially elected in 2002, he’s been re-elected four different times, serving in two separate districts; he’s hungry to stay involved in county politics, announcing last month he will run next year for the District 2 North Hillsborough. It’s a seat he previously held for eight years (2002-2010).

That’s prompted some grumbling from Democrats and Republicans such as Tom Lee, who say that it violates the spirit of term limits in the county which call for a maximum of two terms in one district.

But the fact is, Democrats haven’t been able to beat Hagan in five different elections to date.

One issue that the Legislature recently approved that has irked local lawmakers is the vote to expand the homestead exemption by another $25,000 on the November 2018 ballot.

County Administrator Mike Merrill said that could bring a financial hit of up to $36 million annually to the county, but Hagan doesn’t have an issue with it.

“Whenever we can offer our citizens property tax relief we should, but it’s going to require us to continue tightening our belt,” he said bluntly.

When it comes to tax incentives for luring Hollywood productions to the county, Hagan has been an unflagging champion of the concept.

However, because state lawmakers have declined to replenish that incentive program in recent years, Hollywood producers wanting to film in Tampa went to states like Louisiana or Georgia, as was the case of the recent Ben Affleck-directed “Live By Night.”

The producers of last summer’s “The Infiltrator” wanted to film extensively in the Tampa Bay area, but couldn’t because of the lack of a state incentive. Led by Hagan, the County contributed $250,000 to the producers to convince them to shoot some scenes here.

“When properly executed and we can show a return on investment, and you’re offering your incentives after the fact, after they’ve created the thresholds, it’s a sound investment and a strong return on investment,” he says.

Hagan believes the problem with incentives are when they are offered before a company actually meets the metrics such as how many jobs they will bring to the area. He remains hopeful that Tallahassee will change their policy on providing film subsidies, though that certainly won’t happen under the current regime.

Hagan has also been well known for championing sports to the region, and he’s been the number one cheerleader/strategist in trying to lure the cross-bay Tampa Bay Rays to Tampa.

Admitting to being frustrated about how long the process has gone on, Hagan sounded optimistic that the Rays would announce their choice of a stadium sometime in 2017, and hinted that it would be somewhere in the Ybor/Channelside area.

“I think that they will be able to come up with something special that’s going a long way toward transforming downtown, Channelside-Ybor area, where I don’t mind saying that it’s going to be in that geographical swath,” he said. “It’s going to go a long way toward transforming downtown Tampa and the entire Tampa Bay area.”

Government critic Barb Haselden now seeking seat on Pinellas Commission

Barbara Haselden, a St. Petersburg insurance executive and prominent opponent of the 2014 Greenlight Pinellas transit tax referendum, is running for the Pinellas County Commission.

Haselden has her eyes on the District 6 seat being vacated by a retiring John Morroni.

Haselden was the leader of No Tax for Tracks, the citizen-driven group formed to oppose Greenlight Pinellas, the referendum which asked for a penny increase in the sales tax to pay for expanded bus service and a 24-mile light rail system linking St. Petersburg and Clearwater.

That measure was defeated, with 62 percent of voters opposed.

Haselden’s first task will be winning the Republican primary in District 6, where Seminole-based state Representative Larry Ahern has already announced his candidacy (as has state representative Kathleen Peters as well).

Haselden is not the first prominent Pinellas Tea Party activist to make a run for the District 6 seat. Activist and blogger Tom Rask ran and lost to Morroni in 2014.

Haselden was not available for comment, but she did tell Rask’s blog — The Tampa Bay Guardian — that one of the issues that she’ll be running on if elected, would be to place a referendum on the ballot for an eight-year term limit on Pinellas County Commissioners, counting time served.

“So the citizens of Pinellas County can once again get to vote on how long commissioners may be on the board,” Haselden said.

Activists like Haselden and Rask have been arguing for years that term limits should be implemented in Pinellas County. In 1996, 72 percent of voters approved 8-year term limits, but the commission never put those term limits into the county charter after a Pinellas judge threw out a lawsuit seeking to enforce the referendum.

Three of the eight commissioners currently on the board have served well beyond the term limits enacted in local jurisdictions such as St. Petersburg, Tampa and Hillsborough County. Ken Welch was elected in 2000, Karen Seel was appointed in 1999 and then elected in 2000, and Morroni has been in office since 2000.

The district covers the middle part of Pinellas County, from Seminole to Pinellas Park, including Feather Sound, northeast St. Petersburg and some southern beach communities.

 

Tampa to face new financial challenges even before potential 2018 ballot measure hits

The Florida Legislature’s approval of a constitutional amendment for the 2018 ballot that could severely reduce the level of revenue coming to local governments is just the latest challenge to Tampa’s fiscal health, Chief Financial Officer Sonya Little told the City Council Thursday.

If passed by voters, the measure would expand the state homestead property tax exemption to $75,000. Over 4 million Floridians currently receive the current homestead exemption, which lowers the taxable value on a primary residence by $50,000.

“We’re projecting a roughly $6 million hit to our general fund with the loss of those revenues,” Little told Councilman Mike Suarez.

The potential hit to Hillsborough County would be much worse. County Administrator Mike Merrill says the county would have to cut or make up over $30 million a year if voters approve the additional $25,000 homestead exemption.

The city allotted $153.4 million for the current FY 2017 budget that goes through September. That’s still down from the pre-recession budget under former Mayor Pam Iorio in 2008, which was at $166 million.

Going back to that high-water mark of 2008 in terms of revenue coming into the city, Little said that cumulatively the city has lost a total of $287 million.

Discussions for the fiscal year 2018 will begin next month, and Little said that there will be several issues that will present a clearer picture of what that will look like, mentioning preliminary estimates of the property tax revenues for next year, as well as preliminary estimates on the city’s pension contribution requirements and a clearer gauge of what the city’s health care costs are going to be.

In response to a question from Councilman Frank Reddick, Little said everything will be on the table, including a consideration of raising millage rates.

“That is obviously one of the mechanisms in which we can address the city’s needs for FY18,” Little said.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn is scheduled to present his FY 2018 budget to the Council on July 20.

 

Sean Shaw bill for 2018 would stop raiding of Sadowski Housing Trust Fund

For the tenth year in a row, Florida lawmakers raided the Sadowski Housing Trust Fund to balance the budget that currently sits on Governor Rick Scott‘s desk. One state representative says that needs to stop.

Democrat Sean Shaw says he will file legislation for the 2018 Legislative Session to block what has become an annual ritual of the Legislature, even if the likelihood of the bill’s passage is dubious.

“I’m willing to dedicate one of my six slots to that, just to have the discussion,” he says, referring to the rule that House members can only file six bills in a legislative session.

Sadowski funds come from a locally collected document stamp on real estate sales transactions that are sent to the state. Seventy percent of that is sent back via the State Housing Initiatives Partnership (SHIP) to all 67 counties, based on population, to primarily aid low-to-moderate-income residents with buying a home. The other 30 percent goes to the State Apartment Incentive Loan (SAIL), which the state uses as an incentive for developers to build affordable apartments.

Last year, lawmakers took $200 million out of the trust, cutting Scott’s original proposal of almost $240 million. The year before, the Legislature allocated $175 million of the $255 million that should have been spent on affordable housing.

“The Sadowski Fund isn’t the only one that gets swept,” Shaw told FloridaPolitics earlier this week. “It’s the one that means the most to me, but there are tons of funds that get swept into general revenue that are taken for specific amounts of money.”

Shaw says the Legislature has its priorities out of order when it comes to issues such as affordable housing.

“For us to keep giving tax cut after tax cut, and then to make up for it with money from the Sadowski Fund, is ludicrous,” he says.

Chris King, the Winter Park businessman and Democratic gubernatorial candidate, is also making the raiding of the Sadowski Housing Trust Fund an issue in his campaign.

“It’s not fair that we have huge tax cuts to the biggest corporations in America while were raiding the affordable housing trust fund to the tune of $1.7 billion over the last 15 years, which has been an all-out attack on seniors, on law enforcement, on recent college graduates, anyone who wants to make a life here in Florida” he said earlier this week in Tampa.

Meanwhile, Shaw is slated to co-host a clinic on voting rights restoration this Saturday in Tampa.

The clinic is designed to help former felons regain rights they lost when convicted of crimes. Clinic participants will receive information and access to resources to help put them on the path to the restoration of their rights.

Co-sponsored with the Florida Rights Restoration Project, the clinic is scheduled for 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday (May 20) at Middleton High School, 4801 N 22nd St., Tampa.

Citizens address gamut of issues at Tampa meeting of constitutional panel

Florida’s vicennial Constitution Revision Commission made its first stop in the Tampa Bay area Wednesday.

Members of the public came before the 37-member council — organized to get together every 20 years — and were allowed only two minutes to discuss what amendments should, or should not, be placed on the 2018 ballot.

The first speaker, 18-year-old graduating high school senior John Alvarez, said one of the best ways to overcome income inequality in Florida would be to implement a state income tax, getting rid of the sales tax.

“We rank second for regressive and abuse of bottom income earners,” he said.

Andrew Vila didn’t want the Commission to make any changes, but if they did, he asked for them to ratify school choice into the state’s Constitution.

Mark Klutho blasted the Legislature for failing to implement recently passed constitutional amendments regarding solar power, the environment and medical marijuana that have been held back in part by the Legislature. “What are these amendments mean if the Legislature won’t do a damn thing when the taxpayer says this is what our vote is? ” he asked.

“The way I see it, this is just a big farce,” Klutho added, eliciting large cheers from the audience.

Hillsborough Clerk of the Court Pat Frank took an opportunity to (once again) complain about how the Legislature failed to abide by a 2004 constitutional amendment transferring responsibility of funding clerks offices from counties to the state of Florida.

Frank said that collectively, clerks took in nearly $777 million in 2016, yet only $409 million went back to their offices.

There was lots of talk about guns both from Second Amendment supporters and gun control advocates. Each side warned the commission not to allow changes to the constitution supporting the other side.

“Any changes are an abridgment to liberties of the citizens,” said Nicholas Malone.

Sarah Johnson, with the anti-gambling advocates at No Casinos, said gambling groups have violated the state constitution for years by no longer going through the people to expand gambling, going directly to state legislators instead.

“We believe this shift violates Article 10, Section 7 of Florida’s current constitution,” Johnson said, adding that the power to allow building casinos in a community should be left to the voters.

Johnson then called for support of the Voter Control of Gambling Amendment.

“Deciding whether Florida becomes the next Las Vegas or Atlantic City shouldn’t be up to the legislators, it should be up to the voters of Florida,” she said.

As was the case in several other CRC public meetings, members of the public called for open primaries, allowing independents to vote in Democratic and Republican primary elections.

“I’ve been a Republican for over 45 years,” said Penny Hunter, “and I can’t imagine why we closed our primaries.”

Hunter lamented about how phony write-in candidates prevent voters from a different party to run in the primaries.

Citizens at the meeting also advocated for ranked choice voting, public financing of campaigns and the automatic restoration of voting rights for ex-felons.

Several members of the League of Women Voters repeated similar talking points, each calling for the commission to act with full transparency in their meetings.

Mickey Castor was concerned that the Commission would change the Fair Districts Amendment voters passed in 2010.

Gerald White requested that the Commission place a measure on the ballot to make the Secretary of State an elected Cabinet position. A bill sponsored in the Senate by Fernandina Beach Republican Aaron Bean looking to do just that died on the last day of Session.

After most of the crowd repeatedly applauded statements made by progressives, Commission Chair Carlos Beruff castigated the audience, admonishing them to keep quiet.

Audience members then flashed green cards in support of statements, red cards in opposition.

The meeting was held at the Dale Mabry Campus of Hillsborough Community College.

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