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Airbnb inks tax deal with Polk County

Airbnb, the internet-based home-sharing lodging service, announced Thursday it reached a deal with Polk County to collect tourism taxes from host clients.

The company said it is seeing rapid growth in Polk County over the past year, ending 2016 with 160 hosts — people who make their houses or apartments available through Airbnb for visitors on a night-by-night basis -and about 3,000 guest arrivals. That’s more than double the 2015 activity. Based on that, Airbnb projected it could collect more than $200,000 in new annual tax revenue for Polk County in 2017.

Airbnb said it generated $4.8 million in rent for the property owners in 2016.

“Tens of thousands of travelers are authentically experiencing Polk County’s neighborhoods and attractions through Airbnb,” Airbnb Florida Policy Director Tom Martinelli stated in a news release issued by the company. “While Polk County’s hosts and merchants are already benefiting from this economic impact, our collaboration with Tax Collector Tedder will unlock a new revenue stream for the County continue marketing itself as a preferred family-friendly tourist destination.”

Polk is now the 35th Florida county, out of 67, in which Airbnb is collecting and remitting bed taxes on behalf of its hosts, joining neighboring Hillsborough and Pasco counties as well as other large counties like Pinellas, Orange, Brevard and Lee. In the past month, Airbnb signed tax collection agreement with Hillsborough, Okaloosa and Hardee counties,

“We began negotiations with Airbnb early in 2016 and stayed focused on making sure the agreement was not confidential and available for public inspection, that it was understood our office would continue to pursue back taxes due from prior rental activities, and that there were adequate mechanisms in place for our office to conduct audits and pursue enforcement actions,” Tedder stated in the release.

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Florida Chamber head still bullish on incentives (with an explanation)

The head of the Florida Chamber of Commerce Thursday defended the state’s handout of economic incentives, but said they were only ever meant to stoke job creation in a targeted way.

“In very, very limited cases, incentives are in play,” said Mark Wilson, the organization’s president and CEO. “We shouldn’t be using incentives for every job we create. In fact, they should rarely be used.”

Wilson and others, including dozens of former and current lawmakers, spoke at a press conference in the Capitol.

The organization rolled out its 2017 Competitiveness Agenda, “a blueprint of legislative priorities built on jobs, growth and opportunity for Florida families and small businesses.”

House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Americans for Prosperity-Florida, a free market advocacy organization, have inveighed against them as “corporate welfare.”

In questions and answers after the press conference, Wilson explained incentives are best used for targeted industries, such as advanced manufacturing and life sciences.

“When we can compete for those kinds of high-skill, high-wage jobs … in those very limited cases, incentives make sense,” he said. “Incentives and marketing dollars are incredibly important and when they’re used, they’re the difference maker.”

Corcoran has said, however, he expects requests for taxpayer-financed economic incentives to move through his chamber despite his personal objections to them.

This year, Gov. Rick Scott is requesting $85 million in incentives for a broad range of business deals to attract businesses to Florida.

The governor had last year proposed a “Florida Enterprise Fund” of $250 million for business incentives, a proposal that didn’t get funded in the 2016-17 state budget.

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Ben Pollara: Stephen Bittel only choice to lead Florida Dems out of desolation, irrelevancy

I won’t be in Orlando this weekend to vote for the next chair of the Florida Democratic Party. I’m not a state committeeman, so I don’t even have a vote.

But I certainly have an opinion on who should lead the political party that I’ve been a member of, and heavily involved with, since I first registered to vote at 18.

Stephen Bittel is unequivocally the best candidate for the job and the only candidate capable of effecting the sort of change in the FDP that is so desperately needed.

Except for Leah Carius, I’ve known all the candidates for chair for some time. I’ve known Alan Clendenin for nearly two decades, having grown up in Tampa, and being friends with his two kids since high school.

I got to know Lisa King almost a decade ago when I worked for Hillary‘s first presidential campaign, and Lisa was part of a small group of committed supporters in a city whose Democratic power structure was mostly backing then-Senator Barack Obama.

And I have gotten to know Dwight Bullard over the years, as a champion for progressive values representing Miami, where I live, and as the chair of our local DEC. Finally, Stephen Bittel is my landlord, renting office space in his “Fortress of Democracy” to United for Care, and to the consulting firm that I helped found, LSN Partners.

I don’t have a negative thing to say about any of the candidates. These people are my friends, and they are good people. (I’m sure the same can be said of Ms. Carius, I just don’t know her.)

But being a good person, and a good Democrat, with good intentions and good plans, simply isn’t enough to make someone the right person for this job.

We capital “D” Democrats need to take a hard look in the mirror. We are borderline irrelevant in Tallahassee. The big, important fights in our state Capitol aren’t even partisan because we’re so firmly in the minority. The food fights over the direction of our government occur between House and Senate, legislative and executive branches, Conservatives and Libertarians.

We’re not even in the scrum.

Redistricting has brought some new Democratic members of Congress to the delegation, but its balance is nonetheless titled lopsidedly toward Republicans. Bill Nelson is all we’ve got to look toward as a true leader of the party and as proof that, YES!, we can actually win races statewide.

So, my fellow Democrats, look hard into the mirror. It’s ugly, Dorian Gray-type stuff. The decadence and decay of a once great political party should be nakedly obvious with even a passing glance.

Don’t look away. Don’t deny our entrenchment as a marginalized political force.

This is who and where we are as a party, unless we act to change our fate.

In the dogma of addiction and recovery, the most basic article of faith is that the journey to rehabilitation must begin with an acceptance that you have a problem.

Ladies and gentlemen of the Florida Democratic Party: We. Have. A. Problem.

Just as denying that essential truth is willfully ignorant, so too is believing that one man or woman can single-handedly solve the endemic issues plaguing the FDP as an organization and a party.

The road to recovery is long. The path itself isn’t yet clear. Further setbacks lay ahead.

But the road map to reinvention and reinvigoration begins with Stephen Bittel. We deny it (and him) at our own existential peril.

Stephen brings two qualities to the job that no FDP chair in my political lifetime has possessed to any substantial degree: executive, managerial expertise and nationwide fundraising prowess.

Bittel alone has the ability to make the sort of hard choices, to recruit the kind of experienced operatives, and to raise the money we need to reinvent the party organizationally, from the ground up.

His stated goals should be sweet music to the ears of any Florida Democrat: staff the party with the most talented people to be found; support the grassroots by funding local DECs; recruit candidates for office starting at dogcatcher and moving upward; and beat the bushes and twist arms to actually fund these grand plans.

I know Democrats want all these things because each of the candidates for chair has a pretty similar platform. But Bittel talks about his plans the most because, I believe, he doesn’t just have a plan, but a proven ability to put that plan into action; and because the other candidates have frankly spent more time trying to poison the grassroots against Bittel, rather than talk about what they would do, and how they’d do it.

Bittel is many things. He’s a rich guy, to be sure. He’s part of the “elite,” chattering class, political establishment. He’s got strong opinions, and he’s got an ego befitting the status he’s earned in business and in life.

Bittel is also a committed, lifelong Democrat. He’s a man of extraordinary compassion, who cares deeply about what is just and right. He’s hugely generous to the people, candidates, causes and charities that he believes in. He’s someone who knows how to hire and manage smart people, and how to run a large organization.

Stephen Bittel is not the best choice to lead the Florida Democratic Party out of the desolation and marginalization that plagues us. Stephen Bittel is the only choice.

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Lawmakers get ready for Seminole Compact, gambling debate

The chair of the House’s gambling policy panel Thursday made clear what the elephant in the committee room would be this legislative session.

“Everything we do is connected to this gaming compact,” said state Rep. Mike La Rosa, referring to the pending renewal of an agreement between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida. 

Indeed, the Legislature’s real work on gambling won’t start till the Senate files its gambling legislation for 2017, expected later today (Thursday).

La Rosa, a St. Cloud Republican, and Tourism & Gaming Control Subcommittee members heard from legislative economist Amy Baker and Department of Business and Professional Regulation Deputy Secretary Jonathan Zachem, the state’s top gambling regulator, and Jason Maine, its general counsel.

Maine mentioned that the state’s deadline to appeal a federal court ruling on Indian gambling is next week, but didn’t say what the state would do. 

Senior U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle ruled in November that the tribe can continue to offer blackjack and other “banked card games” to its Hard Rock Casino customers in the state.

Hinkle had said the state had broken an exclusivity deal with the tribe, part of what’s called the 2010 Seminole Compact, allowing it to keep its blackjack tables until 2030 even though the blackjack provision expired in 2015.

Also in the mix is a Supreme Court case over whether a Gadsden County race track can offer slot machines because voters previously approved them there.

If the court rules in Gretna Racing’s favor, it could open the door for slots to be added in other counties where voters OK’d a local slots referendum.

But if slots are expanded, it would allow the Seminoles to reduce the gambling revenue they’re required to share with the state.

State Rep. Tom Goodson, a Rockledge Republican, asked Zachem whether the state’s tax on slots might make up any lost revenue from the tribe. Zachem answered – essentially – that he didn’t know.

“It’s not a clear-cut, thumbs up or thumbs down,” he said.

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Charlie Crist to hold first St. Petersburg fundraiser of 2017 Saturday

This weekend, Congressman Charlie Crist will be back on home turf for one of his first Florida fundraisers of 2017.

The afternoon reception, scheduled Saturday from 5:30 – 7 p.m., will be at the home of Crist’s sister, Dr. Elizabeth Crist Hyden, at Casa Las Brisas, 515 Brightwaters Blvd, NE in St. Petersburg.

Supporters of the freshman St. Petersburg Democrat include Palm Harbor Attorney Fran Haasch as honorary chair, with a tentative host committee including St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, Janette and Tom Carey, Gordon Chernecky, Susan and Bob Churuti, Aubrey Dicus, Watson Haynes, Paul Jallo, Katharine and Joe Saunders, Kent Whittemore and Emory Wood.

A spot on the guest list will cost $500; $2,700 to be a host. Co-hosting the event will set supporters back $1,000. RSVPs are through Evan Lawlor at Evan@CharlieCrist.com or (202) 741-7215.

Crist – who represents Florida’s 13th Congressional District – has begun fundraising for a re-election bid in 2018, starting with a Washington D.C. fundraiser Jan. 3, the day he officially became part of the 115th Congress.

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Philip Levine announces final term as Miami Beach mayor, to launch statewide listening tour

Philip Levine will not be seeking another term as mayor of Miami Beach.

In a video “state of the city” address released Thursday, Levine talked about how he “rolled up his sleeves and got to work” on such issues as sea level rise, traffic congestion, the Zika virus and lower property taxes.

With that, Levine adds that this will be his last term as mayor.

“Now I look forward to ways of how best to serve my community and my state,” he says in the nearly 3-minute video. “How to make Florida a 21st-century leader in the world economy.”

Levine, an entrepreneur in the cruise industry and media, was first elected to office in 2013. As a multimillionaire, many insiders speculate Levine — as a popular South Florida municipal leader — would possibly seek higher office.

Levine adviser Christian Ulvert says: “Over the coming months, Mayor Levine will travel across Florida to listen to Floridians on how best to serve the state he loves. He will be making a final decision on his plans for continued public service in the spring.”

The video is also available on YouTube:

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Financial report says St. Petersburg is most fiscally healthy city in Florida

St. Petersburg is the most fiscally healthy large city in Florida, according to a new report.

The online Fiscal Times has put out a list of America’s large cities ranked by their fiscal stability — and the ‘Burg came out tops in the Sunshine State, and 23rd in the nation.

The report was written by Marc Joffe, director of policy research at the California Policy Center. He compiled the list using some a number of statistical tests.

A full 40 percent of the rating is based on the ratio of a city’s general fund balance to its expenditures, and another 30 percent goes to how much a city owes and how much it can pay (excluding its pension obligations). The other 30 percent is broken down in 10 percent increments on A) the ratio of actuarially determined pension contributions to total government wide-revenues, B) a change in the local unemployment rate, and C) a change in property values in 2015.

The announcement is a nice boost for Mayor Rick Kriseman, who is running for re-election this year.

“We are thrilled to be highlighted, but it comes as no surprise to us,” said Ben Kirby, a spokesman for the mayor. “It’s a reflection of our team’s talent and hard work and our focus on getting St. Petersburg’s finances back on track following the Great Recession.”

The report lists 116 cities in all, with Miami the next city from Florida on the list, coming in at 38.

Tampa is considered by the Fiscal Times as Florida’s third most fiscally healthy city, coming in at 60.

The Fiscal Times said that in order for a city to get a perfect score of 100, a city would have to have a general fund balance of at least 32 percent of general fund expenditures; long-term obligations (excluding pensions) no greater than 40 percent of total revenue; actuarially required pension contributions equal to no more than 5 percent of total revenue; stable or declining unemployment; and home price appreciation of at least 3 percent.

Orlando (72), Hialeah (93) and Jacksonville (102) complete the list of Florida cities in the report.

The nation’s most fiscally healthy city, according to the Fiscal Times, is Irvine, California. The two worst? Chicago is considered the worst, with New York City right behind them.

 

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TCC serves up coffee, corporate welfare, and confidentiality

At Tallahassee Community College (TCC), they’re serving up a venti cup of corporate welfare with a side order of unnecessary and possibly illegal confidentiality.

The school is shelling out $500K in “unrestricted funds” to peddle coffee — more specifically, Starbucks coffee — at its downtown “Center for Innovation” located just spitting distance from the state Capitol.

TCC’s stated goals include providing students with “hands-on entrepreneurial experience.” You’d think that Starbucks never hired college kids — or high school kids — without a subsidy from their mommies, daddies and college presidents.

TCC began brewing this exercise in innovation and job creation in 2015 when it tried, and failed, to persuade three local coffeehouse proprietors that there was a pony of a business plan inside its under-trafficked downtown location.

The bean counters and bean roasters at Redeye, Lucky Goat and Catalina Café saw only a pile of horse feathers. In an impressive exercise in graciousness, diplomacy and understatement, Lucky Goat’s Ben Pautsch told the Democrat, “The timing and economics didn’t make sense for us as a local business.”

Maybe it would have made sense if the local coffee guys had the kind of high-powered negotiators available to multi-billion dollar players like Starbucks. The Colossus of Caffeine talked TCC into a “confidential nondisclosure agreement” which precludes release of details of its discussion with Starbucks. That’s just as well for House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s blood pressure, considering what the parties are not embarrassed to disclose. In addition to picking up the $488,000 construction tab, TCC paid a $30,000 licensing fee and will be giving Starbucks 7 percent a month off the top once the place opens.

For regular people, a handcrafted mocha choca latte ya ya Creole Lady Marmalade skinny Frappuccino is a very occasional luxury, if that. For TCC trustees, it’s a good reason to raid the stash of “non-restricted money which can be used for non-instructional services.”

Tallahassee is full of local businesses that could use a $500K transfusion. TCC is full of teachers who could use a raise, and students who could use gas money. What TCC trustees could use is better judgment about how they spend the slush funds.

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Dennis Ross re-files bill telling DHS to build a wall

Donald Trump says he wants Congress to immediately authorize funding to construct a wall on the U.S. Southern border with Mexico, and Dennis Ross wants to help him do it.

The Polk County Republican announced on Thursday that he’s reintroducing legislation on the Finish the Fence Act, which amends the Illegal Immigration and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 to direct the Secretary of Homeland Security to complete the required 700-mile Southwest border fencing by Dec. 31, 2017:

“I reintroduced the Finish the Fence Act because finishing the construction of the fence along our Southwest border is the first incremental step in securing our border, providing for our national security, and halting the massive influx of illegal entry into our country,” Ross said in a statement.

Ross notes that more than a decade ago, Congress mandated that a 700-mile fence be built along the border, but nothing has been done to accomplish that. “There is no excuse for this delay because our Republican-led Congress recently provided DHS with $11 billion to finish construction and better secure our borders,” he says.

Trump’s tough talk on illegal immigration and his call for Mexico to pay for the construction of a wall helped catapult his early surge in popularity amongst Republican primary voters last year.

Despite Trump’s promises, Mexican leaders have steadfastly maintained that their country won’t provide funding for a border wall. At his press conference in New York City on Wednesday, Trump said that he wants to begin construction of the wall immediately.

“We’re going to build a wall,” he said. “I could wait about a year and a half until we finish our negotiations with Mexico, which we’ll start immediately after we get to office, but I don’t want to wait.”

Trump argued that the use of US tax dollars to pay for construction of the wall would be temporary and done in the interest of speed. He promised that he would eventually be able to get Mexico to “reimburse us” for it.

“I don’t feel like waiting a year or year and a half. We’re going to start building. Mexico in some form and there are many different forms, will reimburse us and they will reimburse us for the cost of the wall. That will happen. Whether it’s a tax or whether it’s a payment,” he said.

Trump continued, “Reports went out last week, ‘oh, Mexico is not going to pay for the wall because of a reimbursement.’ What’s the difference? I want to get the wall started. I don’t want to wait a year and a half until I make my deal with Mexico. We probably will have a deal sooner than that.”

In his statement, Ross said American lives are on the line in arguing for construction of a wall to begin immediately.

“This is not just an issue of illegal immigrants crossing our porous border,” he says. “This is also an issue of national security. ISIS is looking for every possible opportunity and weakness within our security systems to infiltrate and radicalize individuals to join its jihadist regimes to kill Americans, including recruiting and training those illegally crossing our border and entering our country. We cannot waste any more time on this, and I call on my colleagues to join me in demanding that this fence be finished.”

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John Rutherford recovering from ‘acute digestive flare-up’, not cardiac episode

Congressman John Rutherford, the first-term Jacksonville Republican who had a medical emergency in Washington Wednesday, is “on his way to a full and swift recovery,” his chief of staff said.

Notably: contrary to much reporting, Rutherford did not suffer a heart attack.

Kelly Simpson, Congressman Rutherford’s Chief of Staff, said, “Congressman Rutherford is recuperating at a local hospital on his way to a full and swift recovery.”

“On Wednesday evening, Congressman Rutherford experienced significant discomfort while just outside the House Chamber.  Mr. Rutherford received medical attention and treatment in the Capitol before being transported to a local hospital for further evaluation.  After ruling out more serious concerns, testing showed that he is experiencing an acute digestive flare up that is generating the discomfort,” Simpson said.

“He did not suffer a heart attack as widely reported.  In fact,” Simpson added, “doctors are happy to report that all of his vitals look great.  While he will briefly remain in the hospital to treat the inflammation, the Congressman’s care providers expect that he will be back to full strength in little time.  John and his family are so grateful for the outpouring of prayers and support from friends and neighbors in Northeast Florida and colleagues here in Washington, and they salute the physicians, EMTs, and staff for their exceptional response.”

The 64-year-old, elected in November, had collapsed in the House of Representatives, according to reports.

The former Jacksonville sheriff was then “wheeled out of the House chamber on a stretcher to a nearby elevator and taken to the hospital. He appeared to be receiving oxygen through a mask,” The Hill reported.

Rutherford’s north Florida colleague, Democratic U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, offered a statement.

“My thought and prayers are with John and Patricia Rutherford during this time, as he deals with this very difficult health challenge,” Lawson said. “John is a good friend and colleague.

“During the past few weeks, we had been discussing issues we could work on together for our community,” he added. “I ask the people of Florida to join me in praying for John and his full recovery.”

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