Mitch Perry - 4/293 - 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.

Kathy Castor calls some of Donald Trump’s actions ‘beneath the dignity of the office’

It’s less than a month into Donald Trump’s presidency, but Congresswoman Kathy Castor is not impressed so far, describing some of his actions and demeanor “beneath the dignity of the office.”

“President Trump is simply unprecedented,” the Tampa Democrat said to reporters following a news conference held at the USF College of Nursing George & Marian Miller Center for Virtual Learning. “His actions and demeanor are really beneath the dignity of the office. And I worry about young people and kids seeing that as an example of their president and Commander in Chief. Hopefully he’ll rein that in.”

Castor joined her House Democratic colleagues at a retreat in Baltimore last week, where they attempted to find a common strategy to combat Trump and the GOP-majority Congress over the next two years. She said that she is well aware that the Democratic base is alive and engaged in politics in a way never before seen in her decade long in Washington.

“The grassroots are on fire,” she said. “People want to know – what’s coming up on the floor of the House this week. So that’s a little bit different, where we’re having to educate all of our neighbors and encourage them and teach them how to weigh in.”

Castor says that the nature of Trump’s attempted ban on refugees and his “playing footsie” with Russian leader Vladimir Putin are actions that “really undermine our national security.”

“So there are a lot of very serious issues, and you can’t blame our neighbors for being on edge, upset and wanting to be engaged,” she surmised.

For the second consecutive weekend, one of Castor’s GOP colleagues in the Tampa Bay Congressional delegation, Pasco/Pinellas Representative Gus Bilirakis heard from dozens of angry constituents regarding his intent to replace and repeal the Affordable Care Act. Eight years ago, it was Castor who was singled out for her support of the ACA, specifically when facing a hostile crowd of Tea Party activists at a town hall on the ACA at the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County.

“People are scared and that’s what you’re seeing at these town hall meetings for members of Congress,”she said, adding that “folks are reasonably frightened that there’s going to be this radical repeal plan, they’re just going to rip the rug out from under families. That’s the fight right now.”

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At Tampa rally for Enterprise Florida funding, Rick Scott repeatedly calls out Shawn Harrison

Saying that he is “shocked” that a committee in the Florida House voted to kill funding for Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida last week, Governor Rick Scott came to Tampa on Monday to urge the public to urge their state legislators to maintain the funding for those two besieged  agencies.

“This is an important issue to me personally,” Scott said in his comments to reporters after concluding the second of three scheduled appearances around the state in what his staff is calling a “Fighting for Florida Jobs Roundtable.”

Now in his sixth year as chief executive, the “jobs governor” has taken it as a personal rebuke that lawmakers aren’t on the same page with him when it comes to fully funding the public-private agencies. His arguments for maintaining the funding are wide and varied, including his statement on Monday that a flourishing economy could enable the state to put more money into education and the developmentally disabled, but only if the Legislature comes through to support the agencies.

“Our economy is on a roll. This is crazy to stop this!” he said after hosting the roundtable at the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) in North Tampa.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Visit Hillsborough CEO Santiago Corrada, Port Tampa Bay CEO Paul Anderson, Plant City Mayor Rick Lott and dozens of other members from the business community sat in chairs three rows deep in a semi-circle in what was a virtual half-hour informercial for the two programs, under fire in the House as being an example of “corporate welfare” in a campaign led by Speaker Richard Corcoran.

“I am shocked that members of the Florida House of Representatives, politicians in Tallahassee, are turning their back on job creation,” Scott said, specifically calling out New Tampa House District 63 Republican Shawn Harrison for his vote in the House Career and Competition Subcommittee last week that would eliminate the Enterprise Florida economic development organization, and VISIT Florida, the tourism marketing agency, as well as a host of economic incentive programs.

Harrison narrowly won re-election last November over Democrat Lisa Montelione in HD 63, considered one of the most extreme “swing” districts in the state. The former Tampa City Council initially won the seat in 2010 but lost it in 2012 before returning back to the House in 2014.

“I’m still shocked that Shawn Harrison voted the way he did,” Scott repeated several times during the half-hour roundtable, and later when speaking with reporters afterwards. He repeatedly issued out positive statistics about the state’s economy, saying Florida’s job growth was double the national average, and that there was $771 million that came from tourists last year. Time and again, he went after the critics of the two agencies.

“What Shawn Harrison and other House members are saying – ‘oh we’re not worried about jobs anymore’ – that’s wrong!” he exclaimed. “That’s somebody’s life!”

During his presentation, he mocked anybody who voted against the programs. “How could anybody? I can’t imagine anybody who runs for office saying, ‘I’m for getting rid of jobs.’ Absolutely not.”

Scott’s pleas to maintain full funding for EF and VF sometimes reached new lengths.

“I’ve watched my mom cry because she couldn’t pay for health care. I don’t want that ever to happen to a family in our state,” he said. The sentiment might surprise the majority of Floridians who are still upset about the fact that Scott rejected expanding Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act four years ago, denying health coverage to an estimated 850,000 people.

Scott did repeatedly shower his affection for Jack Latvala and Dana Young, two GOP state Senators from the Tampa Bay area who support continued funding of the agencies.

Buckhorn, a Democrat who has on occasion blasted Scott, emphasized the bipartisan nature of support for funding EF and VF. And he oozed contempt for lawmakers who want to kill the agencies. “What is happening in Tallahassee is ideology is getting in the way of the practical application of what these incentives are all about,” he said, denying that it’s a “giveaway program.”

“This would be patently absurd to cut off our nose, to spite our face, just because somebody is reading off a playbook provided to them by the Koch Brothers,” Buckhorn said.

Americans for Prosperity Florida, which receives funding from the Koch Family Foundation, is a leading state agency fighting against what they describe as corporate welfare run amok. The organization tweeted out on Monday, “Rep Harrison voted against rigged system! Why should taxpayers pay to pad special interest pockets.”

Craig Richard, the new CEO of the TampaHillsborough Economic Development Corporation, has worked in economic development for the past 20 years in six different states. “I’ve never heard anyone interested in doing away with the goose laying the golden egg,” he said.

“It’s kind of silly that we’re having this type of conversation,” Bobby Harris ,the founder and CEO of freight and logistics provider Blue Grace Logistics. He said that the incentives that helped him hire more than 100 employees in his Tampa offices would have gone to Chicago instead.  He said the House vote is “not a good vote of confidence for business leaders.”

Harrison did not return a call for comment.

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Darden Rice officially files for re-election to St. Pete City Council

Darden Rice made it official on Monday – she’s running for re-election for her City Council District 4 seat.

“Three years ago, I ran on a platform of ‘St. Pete Strong’ ” Rice said. “I’m proud to report that St. Pete is stronger than ever. I’ve spent my time on council continuing the same work I’ve been doing my entire life: expanding opportunity, working with our local businesses, and making St. Petersburg even more inclusive. I believe now, more than ever, we’re strongest when we work together.”

The announcement comes exactly two weeks after Rice informed the public that she as being treated for breast cancer. In that initial statement and again on Monday, she said that she and her doctors are confident in her treatment plan and she expects to fully recover.

“I’m humbled by the outpouring of support these past two weeks,” Rice said. “The emails, phone calls, texts, and letters have been so encouraging as my family and I adjust to my diagnosis. I’ve never let anything stand between me and serving my city, and I’m not about to start now. I will be running an aggressive campaign to talk with voters and let them know my record, how we tackle the issues we face, and what the future looks like for St. Petersburg.”

Rice defeated neurosurgeon and Tea Party activist David McKalip back in 2013, her first time winning public office after two previous attempts. She is a strong favorite to be re-elected, and as of now doesn’t have an opponent for the August primary.

 

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Bob Buckhorn tells radio show he won’t “round up” Syrians living in Tampa

Bob Buckhorn’s visit to a Tampa mosque earlier this month to show solidarity with the Islamic community seemed to be a rather non-controversial event, but not to the morning hosts at WFLA-970 AM radio on Monday.

Buckhorn’s visit to the Islamic Society of Tampa Bay came exactly a week after President Trump signed an executive order banning travel into the U.S. by citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries. The ruling was overturned last week by the U.S. 9th Circuit of Appeals.

“I thought that ban on those seven countries was an attack on Islam, and I can tell you, Teddy, when I was at that mosque, on two occasions there were grown men who came up to me who were in tears,” Buckhorn told AM Tampa Bay host Tedd Webb.

Webb then went on to ask Buckhorn if there were people at the mosque who came from one of those seven countries that Trump named on his executive order (Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Iran, Sudan, Libya and Yemen), “You wouldn’t do a thing to round them up?”

“Not unless they had done something wrong,” Buckhorn replied, adding that it was important to screen refugees adequately and have control of our borders, “but that’s not the majority of people who immigrate to this country. It hasn’t been that way for generations. So, no, if they just happen to be from Syria, no I would not round them up. They’re not guilty of anything.”

Buckhorn was also pressed regarding the issue of whether Tampa is a sanctuary city.

The mayor has been consistent in saying that it is not, but added as always that he won’t be advising the Tampa Police Department to act as Customs and Enforcement officials in detaining undocumented immigrants unless they have committed a crime.

“That makes you a sanctuary city!” Webb interjected.

“Not necessarily” the mayor replied, repeating that if those people are found guilty of committing crimes, then they would certainly be detained. But they would not be detained for simply being undocumented.

“Undocumented? They’re illegal! They came into this country illegally, they broke a law to come into this country, Mayor,” Webb responded.

“They did, but I would tell you that we’re a nation of immigrants,” Buckhorn replied.

“We’re a nation of legal immigrants, Mayor,” Webb responded, later stating the premise that one reason Buckhorn might be so liberal on the issue is because “we know illegal immigrants convert into Democratic votes when they become legal.”

Buckhorn laughed before saying, “I don’t know that to be the case,” acknowledging that the Latino vote has been trending Democrat in recent elections, but that George W. Bush did receive 44 percent of the Latino vote as recently as 2004.

Buckhorn was also asked if he believed Donald Trump, 23 days into being president, should be impeached.

“At this point, no … I don’t think he has done nothing impeachable, but he’s made some decisions that clearly a lot of people have disagreed with.”

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Pasco GOP official in trouble after social media posts go national

Pasco County Republican Executive Committee Secretary Bill Akins is under fire  after a story about his history of pushing out racist jokes and conspiracy theories on social media was published Sunday by the Washington Post.

The reason that the previously little-known local Republican even earned the interest of the Post was because of what happened on Saturday at Congressman Gus Bilirakis raucous town hall meeting in New Port Richey. That’s where Akins told a crowd of mostly supporters of the Affordable Care Act that it was a fact that they would face “death panels” at the age of 74 under the legislation.

“Death Panels” were often mentioned by Tea Party activists at town hall meetings back in 2009 when the ACA was initially being discussed. PolitFact called the term the “Lie of the Year” in 2009.

As soon as Akins finished pronouncing “panel,” the crowd erupted into arguably the loudest amount of jeering from the two hour meeting.

“OK, children. Alright, children,” Akins stated, mocking the crowd in an exchange that was repeatedly by CNN and MSNBC on Saturday.

Akins apparently deleted all of his posts on his Facebook page on Saturday night, after the story by the Post’s Dave Weigel went live. The earliest posts now available to see on his page go back to 2011.

Among the controversial statements that Akins made included comparing black protesters to monkeys, accusing former President Barack Obama of being a foreign-born Muslim, and that Bill and Hillary Clinton had potential trial witnesses against them murdered.

He claimed that former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia might have been murdered, that “Climate Change” is a globalist hoax, and that Nancy Pelosi is mentally handicapped.

The Pasco County GOP Facebook page was filled with angry responses on Sunday.

“Rep Bilirakis SR was a truthful and honorable man,” wrote Chris Perfusion Clay. “The present Representative (who used to be my Representative until they gerrymandered again) makes a fool of himself by agreeing with a delusional Bill Akins. Mr Akins Facebook page is an example of why Republicans are seen as seriously problematic.”

Pasco County State Committeeman Bill Bunting said the revelation about Akins social media history was a definite “black eye for us, no question about it.”

At the town hall, Akins identified himself as being the Secretary of the Pasco REC. He was only recently elected to that post.

Akins did not return our request for comment on Sunday afternoon. Nor did Republican Party of Florida Chairman Blaise Ingoglia.

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At heated town hall, Gus Bilirakis once again hears overwhelming sentiment to improve — not repeal — the Affordable Care Act

For the second consecutive Saturday, Tampa Bay U.S. Representative Gus Bilirakis waded into a lion’s den of sorts, hosting a town-hall meeting that was dominated by those pleading with him to vote to improve — but not replace — the Affordable Care Act.

As hundreds crammed into the West Pasco Government Center in New Port Richey (with at least another hundred listening to the meeting via an audio transmission outside the chambers), the atmosphere was at times raucous and rude, although the audience was overwhelmingly dominated by Democrats and supporters of the health care law.

It’s a scene that’s playing out throughout the country, as Republicans are being met with fervent Democratic activism, a level at which has not been seen in decades. The energy has been compared to the Tea Party rebellion that flared up during the town hall meetings that Democrats held eight years ago when rolling out the ACA, with one of the most infamous being a Kathy Castor town hall in Ybor City that made national headlines.

Bilirakis is on record as voting to repeal the Affordable Act Act, but he expressed sympathy with those who are worried about the uncertainty of what comes next, now that the Republicans control all branches of the federal government and are charging full ahead of doing something different with the health care system.

“We do have some bills that are filed. However, the replacement bill has not been filed,” the Tarpon Springs Republican admitted in his opening remarks to the crowd. “There is a blueprint. But that’s why were here to add to that blueprint, and that’s why I want to hear your personal stories — how Obamacare has affected you.”

But using the “O” word was a mistake to many of the Democrats in the room, who began shouting at him.

“Okay, excuse me, the ACA,” he corrected himself, while noting that Nancy Pelosi (and Barack Obama himself) has referred to the 2010 law as Obamacare.

Bill Akins, the secretary of the Pasco County Republican Executive Committee further inflamed the crowd when he brought up one of the issues that ignited Tea Party activists at town hall meetings back in 2009 — the famed “death panels.”

“There is a provision in there, that anyone over the age of 74, has to go before, what is effectively, a death panel-“

As soon as Akins finished pronouncing “panel,” the crowd erupted into arguably the loudest amount of jeering from the two-hour meeting.

“OK, children. Alright, children,” Akins stated, mocking the crowd (The segment was shown throughout the day on CNN).

A few moments later, 77-year-old Pat Seeley told Akins he was full of it.

“I think it is unconscionable for this politician to tell me at 74, I will be facing death panels.”

It should be noted that PolitiFact judged the death panels argument as the “Lie of the Year” in 2009.

Immediately following Akins to the mic was Beverly Ledbetter, the secretary for the Pasco County Democratic Executive Committee. She thanked Bilirakis for “having the courage” to host a town hall, which “so many of your compatriots are cancelling.” But she said it wasn’t enough for the six-term congressman to listen to his constituents. No, she said, it was incumbent on him to act on what the voters were saying.

“I’m asking that you make a commitment to us and you act the way that we, the people who elected you and sent you to Washington D.C. to be our voice, and to vote according to the directions that we have, and not the line of the Republican Party,” Ledbetter said.

Although there were plenty of speakers who sang the praises of Obama’s signature domestic achievement, there were several others who acknowledged that improvements were essential to improving the ACA, though the underlying message to Bilirakis was not to dismantle it without something similar in scope.

Like President Trump and many other Republicans, Bilirakis said he wants to retain the bill’s most popular provisions: no more discriminating against pre-existing conditions; no more lifetime caps; and keeping people under 26 years of age on their parent’s policy.

The chief nemesis called out by the ACA supporters at the meeting wasn’t Republicans, but the health care industry, followed by the pharmaceutical industry.

Sitting in a wheelchair, Ellen Floriani said that she was hit with a hospital bill of $98,000, but because of Medicare, it was negotiated down to $6,000, with her copay only $1,000. “Those of you under 65, don’t you wish you had that kind of coverage?” she asked, adding that everybody could get that type of coverage if a Medicare-for-all (i.e., single payer) system was implemented, a sentiment several other people suggested as well.

It wasn’t all nastiness. One speaker said Congress should look at adding an excise tax on marijuana purchases. “There’s a lot of states now selling marijuana for recreational use, and this is an excise tax to plug the hole and subsidize the deductibles that people have.”

The crowd wasn’t devoid of Republicans who proudly said they supported Donald Trump for president.

“My request to you is to rip the Obamacare bill, the way it is now, to shreds,” asked Pete Franco to Bilirakis. “There’s plenty of people obviously who like Obamacare, but there’s a massive amount who don’t.”

“Alternative news,” yelled an ACA fan from the back.

And so it went. Bilirakis promised to hold a third town hall meeting soon, at a place to be determined.

While he was earning plaudits from even his sternest critics for facing the heat on the issue, countless Democrats managed to sneak in a diss to another prominent Florida Republican not in attendance.

“Where’s Marco?” was a refrain heard throughout the morning. Democrats contend Senator Marco Rubio has been AWOL in even having staffers answer calls in his Washington or local district offices over the past couple of weeks.

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Vern Buchanan predicts completion of GOP tax plan by August

An excited Vern Buchanan took to Fox Business News Channel Friday morning, predicting that a major tax reform bill will come out of the House of Representatives by the time Congress breaks for summer recess.

“The stars have aligned,” the Sarasota GOP congressman told anchor Charles Payne.

“I can just tell you, we’ve been working on this for the last six and a half years, but we’re very focused in the last three to four months, and as some of this gets out to more of the communities and various individuals, you’re going to get some feedback, but I’m very pro-growth,” he said.

“This is going to be a very pro-growth tax policy that I’m confident will get done, ideally by August, that’s the game plan. I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with Speaker [PaulRyan as well in the past six years, and I have a lot of confidence that we’re going to get this done.”

Buchanan serves on the House Ways & Means Committee, which is currently working on legislation based on a tax-reform proposal that House Republicans offered last June. The plan includes a border adjustment tax that has been somewhat problematic with GOP Senators.

On a proposed 20 percent tax on all imports, Georgia Sen. David Perdue called it “regressive, hammers consumers and shuts down economic growth.”

Several other Republicans have also expressed concerns about such a border adjustment tax.

On Thursday, President Trump said a “phenomenal” plan to overhaul business taxes might be released within the next “two or three weeks,” without offering any details, saying simply that his plans call for “lowering the overall tax burden of American businesses, big league.”

Buchanan hopes the reform plans will include full, immediate expensing for business equipment, which would let businesses immediately deduct expenses from their income.

“The idea that you can write off an asset the first year, a piece of equipment that’s $5 million the first year, is a big creates a lot of excitement for a lot of people in business,” Buchanan enthused.

Last year Buchanan offered up legislation aimed at ensuring that small businesses don’t pay higher rates than corporations. His plans called for lowering the rate for noncorporate businesses to 25 percent. Trump’s tax plan during the presidential campaign would provide a 15-percent rate for “all businesses, both small and large, that want to retain the profits within the business.”

 

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Janet Long lashes out at transit critics

Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long was not happy.

Last Monday, the board of the Hillsborough County Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) inserted revised language into a proposed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with PSTA to ensure that the agreement did not mean that the two transit agencies would be merging or preparing for a sales tax referendum pending because of it.

That rankled some board members, who said that the agreement is simply to officially collaborate on more issues going forward.

Upon reading about that earlier this week, Long said she became upset. Long has led the way for HART and PSTA to come together to an agreement, and she doesn’t like the insinuation feared by some critics.

“I really paid attention when Greenlight failed,” she says, referring to the 2014 Greenlight Pinellas transit tax that went down to defeat. “It frustrates me beyond belief when the Tom Rask‘s and Barb Haselden’s of the world — no matter how hard you try to be thoughtful, be considerate, be creative in terms of trying to provide good public transportation — they will not see anything good in what you do,” she said.

Rask and Haselden are two leading Tampa Bay Tea Party activists who lobbied strongly against the Greenlight plan.

“Not once have any of us have talked about a tax increase, not once have any of us talked about consolidation,” Long continued. “What we have talked about is, how can we be more effective, how can we be more efficient, and how can we work really work hard to put best practices in place to give our citizens a bigger bang for the buck. That’s what we’re focused on, and isn’t that what the Tea Party/No Tax for Tracks want?”

Rask says that Long’s claim to never having talked about a tax increase is not accurate. Both he and Haselden referred to a graphic shown at a PSTA board workshop last month with an arrow pointing toward the city of Phoenix which read in part, “regional sales tax funding PLUS Individual Jurisdiction Funding.”

“State Sen. Jack Latvala is behind this push for consolidation, and Janet Long is carrying the water for him,” Rask wrote in an email. “My guess is that she is doing it mainly as thanks to Jack Latvala for insuring that the Pinellas County Republican Party didn’t field a candidate against Janet last year. Long and Latvala are two sides of the same corrupt coin, and the voters are aware of the situation.”

For her part, Haselden refers to how the Pinellas MPO invited political consultant Jason Jordan from the American Planning Association to speak at the Tampa Bay Transportation Management Area Leadership Group last April.

Jordan reportedly spoke about the necessity for local governments to continue to push for a transit referendum.

“I don’t know whether she thinks I can’t connect the dots,” Haselden says of Long. “Does she think that we’re just totally ignorant?”

Long says that she reached out to HART CEO Katharine Eagan back in 2015, and since then they’ve met up every six or seven weeks to talk about how to get a “bigger bang for the buck” if the agencies came together in a more formal way.

This is different, she says, then when Latvala decreed back in 2012 that the agencies should consolidate. While PSTA officials didn’t seem to have much of a problem with that, most of the HART board did. Two different studies showed that there would be cost savings if the agencies consolidated, but nothing formal ever came out of those studies — until now.

“His heavy-handed tactics didn’t go over so well, and so I said to Katherine, ‘I think we can accomplish a lot of the same things that were the ultimate goal of his thought process if we try to move this forward in a voluntary way,’ ” Long says.

Long said her goal is in sync with the official line emanating from the Tampa Bay Partnership, who are calling for regional transportation governance in the Tampa Bay region. With more than two dozen agencies in the greater Tampa Bay area working on transportation solutions, the concerns being expressed is that there is no “synergy” that ties them together.

Some say the obvious model should be TBARTA, the eight-county transportation agency created by the Legislature a decade ago. But a lack of funding from the onset has hampered any serious attempt for TBARTA to fill that role. Long is outspoken in calling the agency a paper tiger.

“I don’t know if you’ve been to a TBARTA board meeting, but I thought I was going to eat my brains out!” Long says. “It is four hours of — excuse my expression — bullsh*t. All you do is listen to one study after another study after another presentation, and on and on. They don’t do anything!”

Hillsborough County Metropolitan Transportation Organization director Beth Alden says she’s all for regionalization in local transportation but says that the urgency right before the legislative session is a bit concerning.

While Long believes that a new transportation authority featuring Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties is what’s needed now, Alden says that’s “short-sighted,” saying that the region is much larger than that. She contends that if the Tampa Bay region wants to compete with other metropolitan regions around the country, it needs to include the entire areas that are in TBARTA, which include Sarasota, Hernando, Polk, Manatee and Citrus counties.

The Minneapolis/St. Paul region includes seven counties, 3,000 square miles and 3 million people. Atlanta’s includes 20 counties, 6 million people and 6,000 square miles. Dallas Fort-Worth encompasses 16 counties and over 6 million people.

The TBARTA planning area includes eight counties, 4 million people, and 8,000 square miles. “It puts us on that same playing field with the rest of the county,” Alden says.

Long doesn’t support that theory, criticizing Alden’s attitude as coming from a planner’s point of view, not “the common sense, day to day commuter of people going back and forth to work.”

“When you look at the density data, it becomes clear that the basis for this new model has got to be Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough,” Long says, adding that the other Tampa Bay area counties should be given goals and objectives to meet, and when they do, “they can be part of the authority.”

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Hillsborough MPO head wants to slow down talk of new regional transportation authority

Beth Alden is looking to have a serious discussion about regional transportation in the Tampa Bay area.

In early 2017, the consensus among the political and business establishment is that the Tampa Bay region must come together as one cohesive regional entity to maximize its leverage before anything can be done about transportation.

However, Alden, the head of the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Organization (MPO), wants to put on the brakes.

“Let’s not do this half-assed,” she asserted in an interview earlier this week. “If we’re going to do this, let’s do this for real. Let’s have a real conversation about this.”

Alden fears that with the regular legislative session scheduled to begin in just a few weeks that conversation with all the key players involved won’t happen in time.

According to a new white paper prepared by the D.C.-based Enos Center for Transportation, a regional structure for transportation planning, operations and decision-making is paramount to developing a regional transportation system.

The document was sponsored by the Tampa Bay Partnership, who is leading the way to have the eight-county region come together as one unit to facilitate and expedite transportation improvements.

Speaking at a meeting of the Tampa Bay Area Legislative Delegation in Clearwater last week was Veology CEO Barry Shelvin, who is the co-chair transportation working group with the TBP with Jeff Vinik.

Shelvin said two goals for the Partnership this year is to create a multicounty MPO and to a support a regional center for transit operations.

HART and PSTA, the two biggest transit agencies in the Bay area, should have a “closer relationship,” he said, leaving it open as to how that happens.

HART and PSTA formally signed a Memorandum of Understanding this week, which some transit critics fear is a stalking horse toward another sales tax referendum, or possibly a merger of the agencies.

That concern led HART officials to explicitly add language to the agreement saying that won’t happen.

The Hillsborough County MPO already has formal planning agreements with Pinellas, Hernando, Pasco, Polk, Sarasota and Manatees counties, all working within the MPO TBARTA coordinating committee.

In December, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and Federal Transit Administration (FTA) jointly finalized a new rule calling for MPO’s in urbanized areas to merge. It was first promulgated last summer, and Alden says her organization has spent the past six months studying four different cases on how MPO’s organize planning processes in other parts of the country.

“We think we have crafted a thoughtful approach that includes public discussion of the issue, and independent nationwide research into effective strategies to address the issue of regionalization,” she says. “We can do this well, but we need to do our homework.”

Alden was inspired to post a lengthy comment on the MPO’s Facebook page last week following a Tampa Bay Times editorial lauding the Enos Center report, writing: “I’m not at all saying we should do nothing for regional transit. I’m saying we have to walk before we can fly.”

The Times editorial and Clearwater state Sen. Jack Latvala have invoked the example of Tampa Bay Water as a template for creating a regional transportation authority, but Alden questions that logic.

In the case of Tampa Bay Water, local governments turned over their own water resources to a third party to sell the water back to them at wholesale prices. Alden wants to know how that apply to regional transit.

“The primary source of operating funding for transit is a property tax levy, so what are we talking about, asking HART and PSTA to begin turning over their property tax to an independent agency across multiple counties?” she asks.

Disagreeing with Alden is Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long, who says the time is now for the Legislature to create a Tampa Bay area transit authority.

“Now they’re going to do another study?” she asked disdainfully. “As if this issue has not been studied to death.”

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Brad Drake, Blaise Ingoglia want lying candidates pay some type of price

During your average election cycle in Florida (and around the country), there are always some egregious examples of dirty campaigning.

Sometimes, they can decide an election.

Examples abound, but generally, there is little recourse for an injured candidate, other than to try to rebut the negative message via advertising or comments to the media.

Brad Drake thinks that’s wrong, and he’d like to do something about it.

At Thursday’s House Oversight, Transparency & Administration Subcommittee, the DeFuniak Springs Republican asked state election officials what recourse is there when a candidate is subjected to “malicious” comments from his opponent?

“If a candidate defines the opposition as being one who shoots peanut butter up their veins, or if they put malicious statements on Facebook and say ‘candidate A is a heroin addict,’ “Drake asked. “What is the resource of the opposing candidate?”

Amy Toman, executive director of the Florida Elections Commission, said that a candidate can always file a complaint with her organization.

Spring Hill Republican Blaise Ingoglia said the real problem with such negative and false allegations is the extensive delays between reporting an elections violation and the time the commission addresses it.

“If somebody is talking about peanut butter and veins, then they know that it is a political calculation, knowing that the time you all rule, the election is over,” said Ingoglia. He’d like a “fast-track process” where if a candidate sends out false information, the other candidate can file a complaint and get a response from the election commission within five business days.

Ingoglia posited that “vile speech” is protected by the First Amendment, but said that “false speech should be protected at least by the courts.”

Toman explained that there is no statute currently to expedite such investigations. Currently, the Florida Elections Commission only meets every three months to review such complaints.

“So, you would basically have to be lucky that you’re being attacked or smeared right before an election commission meeting,” Ingoglia said sarcastically. He asked if Toman could provide information as to the average time it takes such a resolution to be completed. She said she would research and get back to Ingoglia with that information.

Drake said he was also bothered that when a candidate who does not meet the minimum qualifications files to run for office, he or she is essentially committing perjury and asked if there was a statue of limitation on candidates in Florida who did that.

Toman said that there is a provision in state election law that prohibits anyone from swearing a false oath in connection with elections, but emphasized that “we don’t have any criminal jurisdiction,” so the elections commissions could not charge anyone with a felony. Drake said he wanted to get the agency to investigate that issue as well.

Ultimately, Drake stated that he and Ingoglia might begin working on legislation to reform the current system regarding false campaign reports.

“Only if there’s lots of peanut butter involved,” Ingoglia quipped.

Plantation Democrat Katie Edwards added that “if you’re going to impugn someone’s credibility, you better have the information and documents to back it up, and not just throw something out there like so-and-so is a terrorist, so and so is a wife beater, so and so is a heroin addict.”

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