Staff Reports - 6/63 - SaintPetersBlog

Staff Reports

From Argentina, Rick Scott keeps up the chatter for economic incentives

Gov. Rick Scott, while on a trade mission to Argentina, urged the Florida Legislature to include his economic incentives  programs when finalizing the next state budget.

“Lawmakers cannot be shortsighted at the expense of Florida families by cutting funds for tourism marketing and economic development,” Scott said in a written statement distributed by his office.

“I would be absolutely shocked if politicians in the Florida Legislature put their self-interests before the interests of our families and small businesses,” he wrote.

“Let’s remember, fully funding Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida is only 0.24 percent of Florida’s state budget. But, reducing this funding will have a significant impact on state, county, city, and local tourism and economic development boards’ revenues by hundreds of millions of dollars.”

It was the second time in as many days that Scott has spoken up for his economic development programs. Tuesday, his office distributed a letter from Division of Bond Finance director Ben Watkins to the House and Senate budget chairmen, warning that cutting Visit Florida could damage the state’s credit rating.

Senate President Joe Negron said Wednesday that the House and Senate had agreed on the rough outlines of a budget compromise but not the details. He did not say what it would mean for economic development programs.

House Appropriations Chairman Carlos Trujillo omitted the programs when discussing the negotiations Tuesday evening.

However, aides to the governor and lobbyists said earlier this week that Enterprise Florida would be zeroed-out.

Visit Florida‘s budget would be capped at $50 million, and House accountability measures for the public-private tourism marketing agency would imposed, including pay caps and limiting employees’ travel expenses.

Florida House approves assignment of benefits reform legislation

Assignment of benefits reforms ardently sought by the insurance industry and business passed the Florida House Wednesday on a vote of 91-26.

A spokeswoman for the Consumer Protection Coalition, a business-oriented lobby aligned with the Florida Chamber of Commerce, immediately praised the action.

“The House’s action is a big step toward ending costly AOB abuse and protecting Florida’s homeowners and businesses,” chamber spokeswoman Edie Ousley said in a written statement.

“With less than two weeks left in the legislative session, we urge the Senate to recognize the impact that AOB abuse is having on consumers’ wallets and approve the House bill before another year passes without protections for Florida families,” she said.

A less industry-friendly Senate version is pending in the Regulated Industries Committee.

In debate, Democrat Joe Geller argued against the attorney fee provision.

“It’s going to result in more, not less, litigation,” Geller said. “It’s going to be tied up for the next two years.”

Co-sponsor James Grant replied that the problem has festered too long and that it was time to act.

“Vote up on this good bill, and make sure we do not go home yet again having done nothing with the assignment of benefits problem,” Grant said.

The House bill, PCS/HB 1421, would tighten requirements for contractors to report claims to insurance companies and establish a graduated scale for determining whether contractors holding these agreements qualify to recover litigation expenses from carriers.

It would require the Office of Insurance Regulation to collect data on trends in assignment of benefits, or AOBs, and related litigation.

Grant has said that the bill would forestall increases in property insurance rates approaching 50 percent.

The idea is to make it harder for unscrupulous contractors and attorneys to abuse AOBs to run up repair costs and use the litigation process to inflate claims and extract attorney fees from carriers.

Business interests would have preferred repealing a law requiring carriers to pay fees entirely, the coalition said, but the bill passed “does provide some restrictions on their use aimed at reducing incentives for third parties to sue insurers over inflated claims.”

“This bill isn’t perfect, but it addresses many of our concerns and, hopefully, will weed out many of the bad actors who are preying on consumers and driving up the cost of home repairs,” said Cam Fentriss, lobbyist for the Florida Roofing and Sheet Metal Contractors Association.

“AOB abuse hurts the reputations of all the good roofers and other contractors who just want to work for an honest living. We have to stop it,” Fentriss said.

“Skyrocketing litigation costs are a major problem and if we go another legislative session without a solution this type of abuse will only get worse and insurance costs could continue to rise,’’ said Logan McFaddin, regional manager for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America.

“We have an opportunity to enact meaningful reform to keep home ownership affordable and attainable for many Floridians,” she said.

A sign the end is near: It’s time to play #CateSineDie

The end of the 2017 Session is quickly approaching, and that can only mean one thing: It’s time to get your bets in.

Yep, it’s time for #CateSineDie.

Here’s how Kevin Cate, the media guru for which the annual parlor game is name after, put it Wednesday morning:

“I love traditions and this is one of my favorites.

The 2017 Florida Legislative Session is winding down. The last day is scheduled for May 5th, but anything can happen between now and then — and it changes by the minute.

So it’s time for us to act like we know what’s up and play #CateSineDie!

The rules are simple and, like all good ideas, stolen from Bob Barker.

Tweet #CateSineDie along with your prediction for the exact date and time the hanky will drop, ending the 2017 Regular Legislative Session — closest without going over wins.”

All entries must be tweeted by 4 p.m. Thursday.

Cate swears he isn’t sending an email reminder, so get your prediction in now before you forget. Like last year, the winner will get $500 to their favorite charity. And this year, Cate upped the ante — adding “something even more silly — a trophy.”

Jeff Larsen announces campaign kickoff in Pinellas County School Board race

Jeff Larsen

Jeff Larsen announced Tuesday that several longtime community leaders are hosting a campaign kickoff in his bid for Pinellas County School Board.

Larsen, a teacher and former Tarpon Springs Vice Mayor, is running for the At-Large District 2 seat. The kickoff is Wednesday, May 24, at Wine at the Docks, 828 Dodecanese Boulevard in Tarpon Springs. Event begins at 6:30 p.m.

“I’m humbled by the number of people who’ve pledged their support over the past few months and are eager for me to continue my leadership for our students,” Larsen said in a statement. “This campaign is about preparing our children for a lifetime of success and this event will help me share that message across the county.”

Hosts for the event will include Tarpon Springs Vice Mayor David Banther, City Commissioners Rea Seiber, Susan Miccio-Kikta and Jacob Karr. Greater Tarpon Springs Democratic Club President Gerald Goen and longtime Democratic backer and activist Janet Goen are lending support as well. The committee also includes community leaders Manny Tsesmelis, Pamela Kontodiakos, Dan Jenkin and Dr. Johnny Johnson.

“My experiences as a father, husband, educator, coach, and Vice Mayor have prepared me to serve our families and give our children the best opportunity to succeed,” Larsen said. “I look forward to the months ahead so I can continue meeting with voters and sharing my vision for strong and successful schools throughout Pinellas County.”

More information about Larsen’s campaign is at votejefflarsen.com.

Joint venture partner accuses Tampa’s DeBartolo Development of fraud, withdrawing from deal

A former joint business partner is suing DeBartolo Development of fraud, claiming the company exaggerated its record and dropped out of a real estate investment fund for apartment complexes throughout Florida and the Southeast U.S.

Tampa-based DeBartolo is a real-estate company headquartered at 4401 W. Kennedy Blvd. Edward Kobel serves as president and chief operating officer. The CEO of its parent company is Edward “Eddie” DeBartolo Jr., one of Tampa Bay’s richest residents and a former owner of the San Francisco 49ers.

In 2014, DeBartolo Development partnered with Mainstreet Capital to help raise tens of millions of dollars in capital for developing real estate, particularly large apartment complexes in the Southeastern United States.

Brothers Todd and Craig Marshall are founders of Mainstreet Capital, headquartered in Stuart.

In a suit filed in Hillsborough County Circuit Court April 14, Mainstreet alleges DeBartolo told them that a Canadian pension fund already had agreed to invest $40-million, and DeBartolo’s reputation in the real-estate world would boost fundraising.

Mainstreet agreed, and formed a joint venture — dubbed DeBartolo-Mainstreet. According to its website, managing partners are Kobel, David Perlstein (of Magno Aere LLC), and both Todd and Craig Marshall.

However, Mainstreet is saying the deal soon soured.

The lawsuit accuses DeBartolo of exaggerating its record of successful fundraising and development, and “thwarted the venture” by refusing to give information to large institutional investors.

In addition, DeBartolo representatives either skipped or canceled key meetings, and ultimately pulled the group — and the well-hyped “DeBartolo” name — out of the joint venture.

Mainstreet is asking the court to award damages for fraud, negligent misrepresentation, tortious interference with a business relationship, as well as breach of fiduciary duty.

Jack Latvala, Larry Ahern trade budget jabs on Twitter

With 10 days until the scheduled end of the 2017 Legislative Session and no allocations on the desk, it’s fair to say things are getting a little heated in Tallahassee.

Case in point: An exchange between Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala and House Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Larry Ahern on Twitter over the House’s proposed standard operating, or continuation, budget.

As news spread Sunday the House had offered a so-called continuation budget, Latvala, a Clearwater Republican took to Twitter to question why the offer was being made.

“A continuation budget is just putting our names on former legislators’ work,” he tweeted around 8 p.m. Sunday night. “Aren’t we better than that?”

That tweet hung out there until about 3 p.m. Monday, when Seminole Republican retweeted Latvala’s quote and asked: “What are you doing as Appropriation Chairman to facilitate a compromise that makes it unnecessary?”

Hours later, Latvala shot back asking Ahern why he couldn’t “find a single project worthy of funding in Pinellas?” Latvala is the chairman of the 10-member of the Pinellas County legislative delegation, of which Ahern is a member.

Ahern’s response came this morning: “My project funding approach is more statewide. Over half have some benefit directly to Pinellas. About 9 million dollar’s worth.”

Latvala, who spent most of his morning in the Senate Appropriations Committee meeting, hasn’t replied. The House Appropriations Committee, meanwhile, passed its so-called standard operating budget during a meeting this morning.

LIBRE Initiative releases Spanish-language ad calling for end of ‘corporate welfare’

The LIBRE Initiative is calling on the Florida Legislature to put an end to corporate welfare.

In a new Spanish-language digital ad, the organization calls on Floridians to contact their lawmakers and tell them “the game’s over; end this corporate welfare.” The 60-second spot is similar to one released earlier this month by Americans for Prosperity-Florida, which compared economic incentives to gambling and said the incentives “haven’t paid out.”

Both the LIBRE Initiative and Americans for Prosperity-Florida are aligned with the Koch brothers.

“Hispanic families and small business owners across Florida deserve a fair, competitive free market where the government does not pick winners and losers. This is why the Florida Senate should pass a responsible budget that doesn’t fund corporate welfare and special interests,” said Cesar Grajales, the coalitions director of the LIBRE Initiative, in a statement. “Ending these wasteful, unfair programs is an important step toward breaking down barriers to economic growth and opportunity. Stopping this broken system will lead to economic progress and increasing prosperity that benefits everyone – not just well-connected corporations.”

The House budget does not include funding for Enterprise Florida and associated economic incentive programs. The Senate, however, has approved a 2017-18 budget that includes funding for Enterprise Florida.

The LIBRE ad comes as state lawmakers are working to resolve a budget stalemate.

See the ad in Spanish:

Here’s the ad in English:

Bubba the Love Sponge legal update: IRS files tax lien, ex-girlfriend drops injunction

Bubba the Love Sponge can now add a federal tax lien to his recent legal troubles.

But as one issue pops up, another appears to have worked itself out for the embattled Tampa Bay shock jock.

Formerly known as Todd Alan Clem, Bubba the Love Sponge Clem is the owner of the Bubba Radio Network Inc., headquartered at 5021 W. Nassau St. in Tampa.

Over the years, the infamous radio host, who now lives in South St. Petersburg, has either directly or indirectly been involved in multiple legal cases, both in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

In the latest of his legal difficulties, the Internal Revenue Service filed a tax lien last month against the Bubba Radio Network, saying the company owes $23,295 in unpaid ‘941’ taxes for the tax period that ended Sept. 30, 2016.

This latest problem comes on top of former girlfriend Nicole Maria “Nikki” L’Ange seeking an injunction February against Bubba for domestic violence. The same week, Bank of America sued him over a defaulted $75,000 line of credit.

In December, Beasley Media Group, part of the Beasley Broadcast Group, removed Bubba’s show from WBRN-FM 98.7 in the Tampa area, leaving his show on a single Beasley station: WRXK-FM 98-Rock in Fort Myers.

Tampa’s WWBA-AM 820 later picked up the show.

But at least one of the actions seemed to have been settled. On March 13, L’Ange voluntarily dismissed her petition for a restraining order against Clem. She did not list a reason.

As for Bank of America’s $75,000 lawsuit, neither Clem nor the Bubba Radio Network has responded as of mid-April.

 

AFP-FL urges Senate to keep incentives out of Triumph Gulf Coast bill

A Northwest Florida Republican plans to amend the Senate’s version of a bill to send millions of dollars to the Panhandle communities impacted by the 2010 BP oil spill to allow money to be spent on economic incentives.

The Panama City News Herald reported this weekend that Sen. George Gainer said he plans to file an amendment to the bill (SB 364) so that it allows funds to be spent on economic incentives for companies in the region that provide high paying jobs. Gainer, a Panama City Republican, sponsored the Senate bill to funnel $300 million of settlement funds from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill to Triumph Gulf Coast.

The House bill (HB 7077) unanimously passed the full House on March 23. Rep. Jay Trumbull, the Panama City Republican who sponsored the bill in the House, told the News Herald that adding economic incentives — something the House has opposed — into the bill could kill the bill.

But Gainer, according to the report, said the Triumph program was meant to help the region and incentives can help spur growth.

The House sponsor isn’t the only one who appears to be critical of the addition of incentives, though. In a statement Monday, Americans for Prosperity-Florida state director Chris Hudson said the Senate would be wrong to “direct disaster relief money towards incentives.”

“That money should be used to help ensure the Panhandle’s affected natural resources, beautiful beaches, and critical infrastructure needs are addressed. Handing that money over to a few select private companies is another form of corporate welfare and is wrong,” said Hudson. “We call on Senator Gainer to not file his amendment and vote on the house bill as it stands. He should put the Gulf Coast ahead of politics and not kill this bill over corporate welfare.”

Gainer’s bill is ready for a vote by the full Senate, and could be heard in the next few days.

Joe Negron says no to House’s proposed ‘continuation budget’ as talks stall

Senate President Joe Negron has rejected a House proposal to settle some $4 billion in state budget disagreements with a “continuation budget.”

Negron said in a memo to senators Monday that House negotiators made the proposal over the weekend.

“Despite serving as the Appropriations chair in both the House and Senate, I had never encountered this term in state government until it began to appear in these negotiations,” Negron wrote.

“I understand the concept of a ‘continuation budget’ to be a Washington creation where Congress is habitually unable to pass a budget and then simply carries forward the current budget for years at a time, with additional spending.

“I have no interest in adopting this ineffectual practice.  Our constituents deserve and expect more.”

This year’s state budget amounts to $82.3 billion.

The move left budget negotiations stalled, at least for the time being, as the Legislative Session entered its final two weeks. House and Senate leaders indicated last week that conference committee members would have to know by early this week how much money they’d get to spend.

By law, any compromise would have to be available for scrutiny for three days before any final vote.

A continuation budget would be just fine with Broward Democrat Evan Jenne.

“Last year’s budget was widely respected by both chambers and both parties. Grand total, there was 149 yeas and one nay, when you combine the two chambers,” Jenne said.

“Granted, a lot of that means that individual member projects would go by the wayside. But we’re not here for individual member projects. We’re here to get the budget done.”

However, that would not provide for Senate priorities, an aide on that end of the rotunda said.

“I think it points to the fact that we’re not going to get done on time,” said Jenne, who’s been following progress through member-to-member contact with Republicans knowledgeable about the talks.

“I hope we do, but I don’t have warm feelings about that happening, just given the lack of communication and lack of time at this point. I mean, we’re down to it now.”

Florida TaxWatch president and CEO Dominick Calabro was gloomy, too. The House and Senate aren’t quibbling over dollars, he said, but over fundamental policy disputes.

“It’s highly unlikely they’ll get done on time,” Calabro said.

The House has passed an $81.2 proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins on July 1. It sets aside $200 million to create a “schools of hope” program that would shift students from failing schools to charter schools; includes $22.8 million for pay increases for corrections officers; includes $25 million for Visit Florida; and funds 46 new counter-terrorism positions.

The House proposal, however, doesn’t fund Enterprise Florida or a host of economic incentive programs associated with the public-private economic development agency, and does not include across the board pay raises for state employees. The Senate’s $85 billion proposal includes both, plus first-year funding for Negron’s $1.5 billion Lake Okeechobee plan.

House and Senate negotiators last week “exchanged meaningful and productive offers on proposed budget allocations and significant policy issues,” Negron wrote in his memo.

“I value the extraordinary amount of creative energy members of the Florida House and Senate have contributed to build their respective budgets over the last six months. I do not wish to set aside that work product and instead settle for last year’s base budget,” he continued.

“I will insist on a budget work product that reflects public testimony from our fellow citizens, input from the constituents we represent and the thousands of informed decisions – big and small – elected legislators have made since November 2016.

“Accordingly, I stand ready, willing, and able to respond to a budget and policy counteroffer from the House, with both the House and Senate negotiating in a principled way to agree on allocations and policy for the upcoming fiscal year.  Before the appearance of the “continuation budget” from the House, many budget and policy issues had been amicably resolved.

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