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Tampa City Council members went to National League of Cities meeting last week. It didn’t go well

Last week, a group of Tampa City Council members flew to Washington for the National League of Cities’ annual Congressional City Conference, the first held in the Donald Trump administration.

It was not very encouraging, at least for the three Democrats.

“The consensus of the participants was fear, primarily of the unknown,” said Council Chair Mike Suarez.

The meetings took place concurrently to the unveiling of Trump’s proposed federal budget, which eliminates funding for the HOME Investment Partnership Program, which provides grants for low-income people to buy or rehabilitate homes, and the Choice Neighborhoods program, which provides grants to organizations attempting to revitalize neighborhoods.

It also would get rid of the $3 billion Community Development Block Grant program, which Suarez says “will severely hamper the city’s ability to provide help to our citizens.”

The proposed budget cuts also include removing the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program, set up by the Obama administration’s 2009 economic stimulus package to provide an extra injection of cash for surface transportation projects. That program has distributed more than $5 billion for more than 400 projects, including Tampa’s Riverwalk.

Councilwoman Yolie Capin said the trip was expensive and what she mostly got out of “was all pretty bad news.”

“We’re pretty much on our own, the cities are, that’s what I got from it,” she said, adding that “it was my first League of Cities National Convention, and probably my last.”

Suarez says he served on a panel at the conference on the deductibility of Municipal Bonds, which, if eliminated, “would reduce the number of projects cities could fund and make our borrowing more expensive.”

Councilman Harry Cohen has also attended the conference during Obama’s term. He says it was a lot different last week.

“During the Obama years, the administration sent many top officials to speak to and interact with the elected officials from cities across the country,” he wrote in a text. “We heard from Vice President [JoeBiden, the head of the EPA, cabinet secretaries, etc. They were interested in and engaged with what was happening in America’s cities. This year, the only confirmed speaker from the administration was Attorney General Jeff Sessions — who ultimately canceled (EPA Secretary Scott Pruitt did speak at the event). Other than a few holdovers, we were totally ignored. They had nothing to say to us and they made no effort to pretend otherwise.”

Suarez says he remains hopeful that the Trump administration will give a boost to the cities when he releases his promised $1 trillion infrastructure plan. But there are some concerns now that with the President and the congress fixated on health care currently and a major tax overhaul later this year, that infrastructure plan may not happen as intended.

“Here’s a president who talks one thing — ‘oh, we’re going to have a huge rebuilding plan in America,’ and then the first budget comes out, and there’s nothing there,” Tampa Democratic Congresswoman Kathy Castor told FloridaPolitics.com this week. “So his rhetoric is not matching what he promised.”

White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said the White House is targeting “inefficient programs” and will shift funds into “more efficient infrastructure programs later on.”

Kathy Castor says GOP health care bill getting worse as vote approaches

Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor says that the House Republican health care bill “is actually getting worse” as it gets amended to try to win over more conservative votes in Congress.

“Trumpcare will be devastating to Florida families, and Speaker Ryan is desperately trying to ram this bill through the U.S. House before the American people understand the impact,” Castor said in a statement issued Tuesday. “Trumpcare rips insurance coverage away from millions of Americans, including at least 1.7 million in Florida who have gained coverage, and increases costs on everyone. It includes larger cuts to Alzheimer’s patients, the disabled, children and families who rely on Medicaid and larger tax breaks for the wealthy.

“Rather than improve health care for my older neighbors and listen to our concerns, Republicans made no change to help people age 50-64 keep their coverage.  In fact, premiums for our older neighbors are poised to increase by thousands of dollars so that coverage is simply out of reach.”

Castor made those comments after House Republicans made changes to the legislation late Monday night to win over more conservative voices in the GOP House caucus.

Among the key changes she says is making the legislation worse include prohibiting states like Florida from expanding Medicaid at the enhanced federal matching rate; allowing states the option of imposing work requirements for Medicaid (even though the majority of adults on Medicaid are already working); allowing states a block grant option for Medicaid, which health care experts warn poses the same dangerous risks for states and beneficiaries as the previous bad provision; and, accelerating getting millions in tax breaks into the hands of those wealthy few.

“Trumpcare would already be the largest transfer of wealth from working families to the rich in our nation’s history. After stealing health coverage from millions of families, and billions of dollars from Medicaid and Medicare, the Republicans hand $600 billion in tax giveaways to the rich and big corporations. In fact, the Republican bill gives $2.8 billion to the 400 richest families in America each year,” Castor added.

The vote on the American Health Care Act will take place Thursday.

There is still considerable doubt about whether the Republicans will get the votes they need to pass the legislation through the House.

Also, there appear to be too many Republican senators currently who would not vote for the bill in its current form.

Florida AARP official calls GOP health care proposal ‘ageism unleashed’

As the U.S. House prepares to vote this week on a GOP-based health care insurance overhaul, an official with Florida AARP said Monday the bill is “ageism unleashed.”

“Ageism is discrimination against people due to their age, and that’s exactly what this proposal does,” said Jack McCray, advocacy manager for Florida AARP.

McCray was referring to provisions that will raise insurance rates for people aged between 50-64 compared to those in their twenties.

Older working class Americans with lower incomes would see their rates escalate under the American Health Care Act since the refundable tax credits provided under the GOP bill are not as generous for this demographic as Obamacare subsidies.

Under the ACA, insurers can charge older enrollees only three times more than younger policyholders. The GOP bill would widen that band to five-to-one, which would hike premiums for those in their 50s and early 60s.

But Congresswoman Kathy Castor says she learned at a committee hearing discussing the bill that GOP officials have said that 5:1 ratio increase was just an “aspirational” figure, “and it looks like it could be any price at all.”

Castor added that the average Floridian aged between 50-64 and receiving subsidies under the ACA makes approximately $25,000. “If you start to charge thousands of dollars more for health insurance, you’re simply going to take coverage away, and that has a cascading effect really undermining their financial security, the security of their families and their kids,” she told a group of reporters outside the Phyllis Busansky Senior Center in Tampa.

The news conference was the third media availability held by Castor in Tampa since the GOP unveiled their health care proposal several weeks ago. And once again she brought forward a member of the community to decry the attempt to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.

“I plan on working for a long time, but I was recently diagnosed with glaucoma, ” said Riverview resident Darlene Goodfellow, 57. “It’s very treatable, but I need access for health care. I’m a real estate broker. If I can’t drive, I can’t work.”

Goodfellow says that her concerns about potentially losing her health insurance will have a large impact on their family, causing her to become an activist for the first time in her life “because I’m literally fighting for my livelihood and my life now.” She said that Republican Dennis Ross is now her representative in Congress, but she expressed disappointment that she wasn’t able to address the congressman when she attended a town-hall meeting he held in Clermont.

Among the many different provisions included in the House Republican plan, one that Castor continues to highlight is how it would convert Medicaid to a “per capita cap” system. That would mean states like Florida would get a lump sum from the federal government for each enrollee. That’s different from current Medicaid funding. Right now, the federal government has an open-ended commitment to paying all of a Medicaid enrollee’s bills, regardless of how high they go.

“That is a radical change that will put a huge burden on families,” Castor said, adding that she didn’t hold out much hope that Florida lawmakers would pick up those new costs.

“It is a very coldhearted policy that they’re really trying to slip through,” Castor said of the Trump administration and GOP House members advocating for it.

“They want you to focus on the repeal of the ACA, but the most devastating impact under this house bill is to Medicaid,” she said, “by capping the program and costs continue to rise and our older population continues to increase, the state will have less of an ability to be able to be a partner in Medicaid.”

Last week, the Congressional Budget Office reported that 24 million more Americans would be uninsured by 2026 under the House Republican health care bill than under the ACA, including 14 million by next year.

“You’re going to see a large number of seniors just walking away from coverage altogether,” predicted the AARP’s McCray.

The House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on the American Health Care Act Thursday.

Few warm greetings from Florida for Donald Trump’s budget

There seems to be something for almost everyone to dislike in the budget proposal President Donald Trump unveiled Thursday morning.

“The plan doesn’t make any sense,” stated Florida’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

“I do not support the proposed 28 percent cut to our international affairs budget and diplomatic efforts led by the State Department,” stated Florida’s Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

The president’s proposed budget, released early Thursday, drew a handful of responses from Florida’s 27 members of House of Representatives, mostly from Democrats, and most of them went much further than Nelson in their condemnations, citing proposed deep cuts ranging from the arts to the Coast Guard, cancer research to the TSA, or schools to seniors’ programs like Meals on Wheels, jobs training to Everglades.

“The Trump budget is an immoral affront to nearly all of our most important priorities,” declared Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

So far only Republican U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross in Florida’s congressional delegation has spoken out in strong support, though Rubio did point out something he liked in the budget: Trump’s incorporation of Rubio’s ideas to expand school choice with tax credits. But the senator cautioned to not take Trump’s budget too seriously, because, “it is Congress that will actually set the nation’s policy priorities and fund them.

“I will continue to review all the details of this budget proposal for areas of common interest,” he concluded.

Ross, of Lakeland, said the budget was true to Trump’s promises and a snapshot of “a strong conservative vision for the size and role of our government.”

“In addition to a renewed focus on the military, this proposed budget keeps the President’s word to prioritize border security, veterans’ health care, and school choice, as well as reduce burdensome regulations that harm small businesses and economic growth,” Ross continued. “With our national debt quickly approaching $20 trillion, we cannot afford to waste any more taxpayer dollars on duplicative and ineffective government programs.”

Republican U.S. Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart took a similar tone to Rubio, saying the budget “attempts to focus on our nation’s real fiscal challenges” and presents an opportunity for conversations about national priorities and the national debt.

Then he concluded, “I look forward to Congress exercising its oversight role and ultimately making funding decisions.”

Not many areas of common interest were cited by Florida’s 12 Democrats, including Nelson.

“You’re going to cut some of our most important agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, which is working to find cures for cancer and Alzheimer’s, the Environmental Protection Agency, which keeps our air and water clean, and the Army Corps of Engineers, which is working to restore the Everglades,” Nelson stated. “I agree that we must do whatever is necessary to keep our country safe, but cutting all of these important programs to pay for things, such as a wall, just doesn’t make any sense.”

In a Facebook post, Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando called Trump’s proposal an “irresponsible budget which decimates investments in America’s future to fund tax cuts for the rich. He proposed cuts to our Coast Guard (border security?), scientific research, commerce, state department, environment protection, agriculture and our nuclear program among countless others. We will fight to protect our future!”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg declared “Budgets are statements of our values as a people. The statement made today by the Trump Administration is that climate change isn’t real, our environment is not important, diplomacy is a waste of time, medical breakthroughs aren’t beneficial, the poor are on their own, and the arts, despite their small price tag, aren’t of significance.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa went into far more detail, arguing from the start that the budget fails to deliver on Trump’s campaign promises to help the middle class and create jobs.

She cited deep or complete cuts in after-school programs, college students’ PELL grants, transportation projects such as Tampa’s Riverwalk, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s efforts to improve marine biology health, and the EPA.

“It is clear that Trump’s budget is not balanced in a way that our community needs and expects.  It shifts even more economic burdens onto the shoulders of working families, guts important services and investments in our economy, attacks vital education programs and hurts Tampa Bay’s sensitive natural resources,” she concluded.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee said a budget should reflect society’s values, and that this budget does not reflect those of his district.

“President Trump’s budget calls for extreme cuts to vital funding for job training, clean energy, medical research, and public education,” Lawson stated. “It is a shortsighted plan that seeks to give tax breaks to the wealthiest while taking away lifelines for those who need it most.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings of Orlando responded only by retweeting a post from Congressional Black Caucus chair U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, a Louisiana Democrat who noted that African Americans “have a lot to lose under this administration” and the budget proposal “is proof.”

Wasserman Schultz provided the strongest language in her condemnations.

“Aside from the horrific health care cuts that will push tens of millions of people into higher-cost plans, or no coverage at all, this budget proposal sacrifices too many safety, environmental, labor and health protections, all just to ultimately deliver grotesque tax breaks to the wealthy,” she stated in a release issued by her office. “It weakens or eliminates funding for, among many other things, transportation, clean energy, health research, public education and housing, legal services, national diplomacy, the arts and humanitarian aid. And while Trump’s budget purports to improve our national security, it reportedly starves crucial aspects of it by putting our coasts and airports in dire jeopardy. This budget proposal is a gut punch to America’s families, their needs, and their values.”

Kathy Castor one of six Democrats calling on EPA IG to probe potential conflicts of interest with Scott Pruitt

Tampa Representative Kathy Castor is one of six Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee who reached out to the EPA inspector general earlier this week, calling on him to investigate the agency’s conflict of interest policies and procedures in the wake of reports of a close relationship between industry groups and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.

The letter to Inspector General Arthur A. Elkins, Jr comes in response to Pruitt’s rejection of scientific evidence that human activity is a significant contributor to global warming, as well as reports that he coordinated closely with the oil and gas industry while serving as attorney general of Oklahoma, and the fact that he has sued the government because of environmental rules in the past.

“It is critical that EPA and all federal agencies maintain effective conflict of interest policies and ethics requirements in order to ensure government operates in an honest and transparent manner,” the letter said. “Your investigation will help us better understand the role your office will play in ensuring strict adherence to such rules and guidelines, and how EPA and its new management will address these concerns.”

In addition to Castor, the letter was signed by New Jersey’s Frank Pallone, the ranking member of House Energy and Commerce Committee; Illinois’ Bobby Rush, the energy subcommittee ranking member; New York’s Paul Tonko, the environment subcommittee ranking member; Oversight and Investigations Ranking Member Diana DeGette of Colorado and Maryland Representative John Sarbanes. 

As part of the investigation, the Democrats say that they want the answers to these questions:

What conflict of interest policies, procedures, and laws exist to ensure Pruitt and all other current political appointees do not have conflicts of interest with their positions at EPA or with EPA enforcement actions?

Do these policies specifically consider whether Pruitt or other political appointees or their spouses maintain any financial holdings (including but not limited to stock holdings or mutual fund holdings) in the oil and gas industry or electric utility industry

What agency ethics trainings and certifications are Pruitt and all other current political appointees required to complete in order to join the agency

How do agency conflict of interest policies, procedures, and any relevant laws restrict Pruitt’s ability to coordinate, fundraise, or otherwise support organizations in which Pruitt previously served in a leadership capacity?

You can read a copy of the letter here.

Florida’s Congressional Dems blast GOP health care plan after budget report

As expected, the scoring of the Republican health care plan in Congress affirmed many of Democrats’ biggest warnings.

And, as expected, many of Florida’s delegation wasted no time Monday attacking the “American Health Care Act” as “wrong,” “inhumane,” “alarming,” and “ruthless and cruel.”

No word yet from any of Florida’s 17 Republican members of Congress on how they feel about the Congressional Budget Office legislative analysis of the bill Republicans introduced last week. Its aim is to replace “Obamacare,” the Affordable Care Act President Barack Obama and Democrats pushed through in 2010.

Democrats loaded up Monday at several of the CBO findings of the bill being dubbed both “RyanCare” for House Speaker Paul Ryan and “TrumpCare,” for President Donald Trump. The CBO reported that 14 million people would drop from being insured in the first year, and that a total of 24 million now covered would be without health insurance in a decade. The CBO also projected rapidly increasing premiums for the first couple of years, that it would cut $880 million from Medicaid, and increase costs for seniors on Medicare. And it reported that cuts to Planned Parenthood would mainly affect low-income women.

Almost all 12 Florida Democrats decried all those findings, through news releases, social media posts and statements on their websites. Among the responses:

“It is wrong to take away health insurance for 24 million people, as well as increase the cost to seniors,” wrote U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

“This legislation is terrible for those in their golden years, our seniors. And most distressing is how this bill treats the poor and the disabled of our society,” wrote U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg, representing Florida’s 13th Congressional District. “The Gospel of Matthew teaches us that we will be judged by how we treat the ‘least of these.’ But this bill treats the least among us in the most inhumane way possible.”

“Biggest non-shocker of the week #Trumpcare knocks 24M people off insurance,” tweeted U.S. Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando, representing Florida’s 9th Congressional District.

“This report from the nonpartisan CBO confirms what we already knew to be true, millions of Americans will lose health insurance, hardworking families will be forced to pay higher premiums, and Medicaid recipients will suffer greatly,” declared U.S. Rep. Val Demings of Orlando, representing Florida’s 10th Congressional District. “As Republicans recklessly work to push through this plan, the people who need it the most, working families, seniors, and children stand to lose the most. The GOP plan is not better than the Affordable Care Act and Republicans know it.”

“This bill does not make good on claims by @SpeakerRyan,” tweeted U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, representing Florida’s 22nd Congressional District. “It will block millions from coverage in exchange for cutting taxes for the wealthy.”

“Despite numerous promises by Trump that no one would lose health insurance, Republican scheme does just that!” tweeted U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa, in Florida’s 14th Congressional District. “Irresponsible @SpeakerRyan!”

“Yanking insurance coverage from 14 million people and leaving them uninsured next year would be ruthless and cruel,” wrote U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, representing Florida’s 23rd Congressional District.

“House Republican leaders are rushing this process with closed-door meetings and midnight committee sessions,” wrote U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park, representing Florida’s 7th Congressional District. “We need to slow down, bring both parties together, and get health care reform right so there aren’t any unintended consequences that hurt families, seniors, and small businesses.”

After 27-hour committee hearing, Kathy Castor calls GOP House push to pass health care bill without CBO scoring ‘ unconscionable’

The House Energy & Commerce Committee passed the GOP health care repeal bill this afternoon, in a session that lasted 27 hours. It was the second committee on Thursday to pass the legislation, after the House Ways and Means Committee voted 23 to 16 to advance the American Health Care Act shortly before 4:30 a.m. Thursday after about 18 hours of debate.

Tampa Representative Kathy Castor serves as Vice Ranking Member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, and she went off her GOP colleagues after the bill passed this afternoon.

“It is unconscionable that House Republicans rammed this repeal bill through committee without understanding how much the bill will cost, the impact on the deficit and how many Americans will lose their health insurance,” Castor said. “Republicans repeatedly rejected amendments to protect and fight for patient protections and health care affordability.  We stayed up through the night and forced them to debate and go on record opposing measures that address the concerns that we have all have been hearing about from our neighbors at town halls throughout the country.”

The requirements for the bill have been extensively reported on this week since it was unveiled on Monday night. It would result in major cuts to Medicaid funding which has been crucial for people to sign up for the Affordable Care Act, and eliminates the subsidies that approximately 85 percent of those on the ACA are relying on to stay on their current plan.

Castor also took aim at the fact that the House Republican declined having the bill “scored” by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to determine the costs to the American public, and how many people will be able to afford the new plan.

“Rather than rush a Republican repeal bill, I urge my colleagues to work together to improve health care coverage for families across America,” she said. “We are at the lowest rate of uninsured in history, we have kept health care costs in check for people with insurance and we can do more by tackling the cost of pharmaceuticals, but that has been left out of the Republican repeal bill.”

Although the bill did make it through the two GOP-led committees and may ultimately pass in the GOP-held House, there is considerable pushback from a number of Republican Senators, jeopardizing the repeal and replace plan at the moment.

Kathy Castor calls new GOP House health care plan ‘Robin Hood in reverse’

Congresswoman Kathy Castor has always been an unflagging champion of the Affordable Care Act, so you could bet she would have a harsh reaction to the plan unveiled by House Republican leaders on Monday night.

“It’s pretty horrendous,” the Tampa Democrat told a group of reporters gathered in front of a medical building Tuesday morning on West Swann Avenue in South Tampa.

Castor said Floridians arguably have the most to lose under the GOP proposal. More than 1.7 million Floridians signed up for ACA plans on Healthcare.gov in 2016, the most of any state. They would automatically lose coverage when the exchanges are eliminated.

Although Florida Gov. Rick Scott did not allow for Medicaid expansion which could have brought on at least 750,000 more Floridians to the ACA, there are groups of Floridians — children, the disabled, people with Alzheimer’s and others — whose coverage is funded by Medicaid. The GOP House plan calls for a change Medicaid funding which would have it distributed by a per-person allotment to the states.

“If they devastate Medicaid, they will harm families across the state,” Castor warned.

Approximately 85 percent of those on the ACA receive some government subsidy to pay for their coverage. Under the House GOP plan, that subsidy would go away, to replaced by a tax credit that would start at $2,000 annually for those under 30 years of age, and max out at $4,000 for seniors.

“Instead of going to the doctor’s office, they want to ask working families across America to go to the accountant’s office for care,” Castor remarked, adding that such credits won’t be available until after a citizen gets their income tax refund, which could be a full year or longer from when they would have to pay for a medical procedure.

Higher-income Americans could pay fewer taxes and get more tax benefits with the new plan, according to an analysis from CNN/Money. The legislation would eliminate two taxes that Obamacare levied on the wealthy to help pay for the law. Nearly everyone in the top one percent who earn more than $774,000 a year, would enjoy a hefty tax cut, averaging $33,000, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. Those in the top 0.1 percent would get an average tax cut of about $197,000.

“It’s a reverse Robin Hood,” the Congresswoman quipped. “It’s a steal from the poor to give to the rich, and even (a) steal from working families,” adding, “to give huge tax cuts for the wealthiest among us and withdraw coverage to so many more of our neighbors? I don’t understand that.”

As she has done in previous news conferences focused on maintaining the ACA, Castor featured a Tampa citizen who testified on behalf of the current health care system. Joe Nammour, 36, is a small-business man who was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis five years ago, where he said that he was denied access to coverage because it’s a disease that is very expensive to treat. He praised the ACA for not discriminating against people like him who have a pre-existing condition.

Republicans are touting that the most popular provisions of the ACA, including not discriminating against pre-existing conditions, are maintained in their proposal. Like Obamacare, it requires insurers cover these people and prevents carriers from charging them more because of their health.

However, the GOP plan would lift the requirement that insurers cover a certain share of the cost of getting care. This change would allow carriers to offer a wider selection of policies, including more with higher deductibles and copays. That could make it harder to find plans with low deductibles that the sick often want.

Castor is the Vice Ranking Member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, which will be voting on the new bill on Wednesday. That’s despite the fact that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has yet to score this repeal bill, which would determine what it would cost and how many people would remain uninsured. She disputed a reporter’s question that the Democrats pushed the ACA through Congress without anyone reading the bill.

“The difference is, before we went to a committee markup, we had had months and months of hearings and heard from experts and folks from all across the spectrum, and many academics and crafted that bill,” she said, calling that notion “a canard.”

Charlie Crist calls new Trump travel ban ‘deeply troubling’

While calling it a slight improvement, Charlie Crist says that President Donald Trump’s newly revised version of his executive order that will bar migrants from predominantly Muslim nations from entering the U.S. remains “deeply troubling.”

The Trump administration released its new executive order travel ban on Monday, more than a month after federal judges blocked the initial ban on residents from seven Middle Eastern and African countries that created legal challenges and spontaneous demonstrations in airports across the country. The new executive order removes citizens of Iraq from the original travel embargo and deletes a provision that explicitly protected religious minorities.

“While it’s an improvement that Iraq was taken off the list of countries under the travel ban, this executive order is still deeply troubling, and we can’t take our eye off the ball,” Crist said in a statement.

“By cutting the number of refugees able to seek freedom and safety in the U.S. by over 50 percent annually, we are condemning the lives of up to 60,000 people – a population the size of Fort Myers, Florida – who fear persecution due to their race, religion, nationality, or political views,” said the Pinellas County Representative. “It’s unconscionable, flying in the face of our American values as the beacon of hope and light to the rest of the world.”

Like some foreign policy observers, Crist says the new executive order makes America less safe, “damaging the alliances we need to stop terrorism at home and against our allies and interests abroad.”

The release of the statement shortly after it was announced is another example of how Crist appears to be more focused in his job as a Congressman. When the original travel ban was announced late in the afternoon of Friday, January 27, citizens converged the next night to airports around the country to protest the decision (though in Tampa, citizens who initially were rebuffed by Tampa International Airport officials relocated in front of Marco Rubio’s then Tampa office).

Crist did not issue a statement that entire weekend, finally sending out a statement via his spokeswoman on January 30.

Not this time, however. Tampa Representative Kathy Castor, Crist’s Democratic colleague from across the Bay, has not weighed in with a statement as of yet on Monday afternoon.

Pat Kemp wants public to put pressure on Hillsborough County Commissioners to fund transit now

Pat Kemp lost her battle this week to redirect approximately half of the $812 million in public funds toward transit and not just roads in the next decade.

But Kemp says she will continue to advocate for the county to directly fund transit projects over the course of the next four years.

During the debate about the Go Hillsborough half-cent sales tax proposal last year (which a majority of County Commissioners ultimately deemed unworthy of inclusion on the ballot), County Administrator Mike Merrill knocked down calls by members of the public and even other commissioners to look at spending money out of general revenues vs. going to a sales tax.

But in the aftermath of their voting down Go Hillsborough, the board somehow later found a way to find (initially) $600 million — and ultimately $812 million — of general revenue funds to pay for transportation projects.

“That’s the reason we were told that we needed a sales tax — that there just was no money in the county budget,” Kemp explained to a crowd who gathered at the Oxford Exchange Friday as the featured guest at the weekly Cafe Con Tampa meeting.

Kemp’s alternative plan was to delete some of that $812 million for earmarked mostly for roads (specifically cutting the $97 million to widen Lithia Pinecrest Road) and reallocate it for more trails, greenways, and buses for the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority.

However, unlike in the state legislature where lawmakers can work with colleagues to get them to sponsor bills before presenting them, Sunshine laws prevent fellow commissioners from meeting outside of official meetings to do likewise. That’s something Kemp says is a challenge in creating support for her own proposal. When she presented her alternative plan at Wednesday’s meeting, no other lawmaker was prepared to go with her idea, and she failed to get a second vote to at least continue the debate.

When Kemp presented her alternative plan at Wednesday’s meeting, no other lawmaker was prepared to go with her idea, and she failed to get a second vote to at least continue the debate.

“It really is a process that is very mysterious to me,” Kemp said, despite the fact that she spent three years in the aughts working as an aide to then Commissioner Kathy Castor. “It lends itself to having county staff and the county administrator being powerful and strong in the process. It lends itself really to the strength of lobbyists.”

Kemp is moving forward, though, saying that with enhanced revenues increasing the country budget by some $350 million, now is the time for the board to begin setting aside money for future transit projects.

“We need to stop starving HART, our transit agency,” she said, calling it an issue of social mobility and economic development. Currently, HART gets its funding solely through property taxes at a set rate (Kemp says only Hillsborough and Pinellas are the only Florida counties to fund transit agencies this way).

In something of a radical departure for a transit activist in the Tampa Bay area, Kemp says she now doesn’t believe that light rail is necessary for Tampa Bay. Light rail was a key component of the Go Hillsborough, Greenlight Pinellas and Moving Hillsborough Forward transit initiatives that failed over the past decade. Kemp says that with so many new innovations being developed in the world of transportation, it just doesn’t make sense financially to commit to such a system.

“We’re talking about $90 million a mile. We wouldn’t even be voting to do it for several years,” Kemp said. “We would be acquiring the right of way and wouldn’t start building for a decade or two.”

She’s much keener on autonomous vehicles but says it won’t work if everyone owns a car.

It’s obvious that when it comes to public transit, there is much more support for it in the major cities of the Tampa Bay area like Tampa and St. Petersburg, vs. the rest of Hillsborough and Pinellas, respectively. At least that’s the perception, which Kemp disagrees with.

“I ran countywide, and I won with 63 percent of the vote,” she said of her victory last November (she actually defeated Republican Tim Schock by a 56-44 percent margin). “I was all over this county talking about transit. I was doing it in Brandon, in Fishhawk, I did it in Ruskin, in Sun City Center, I was out in all kinds of places. I think it’s more a failure in leadership,” as the crowd cheered loudly.

Sitting in the audience applauding her was former County Commissioner Ed Turanchik, who is currently deeply involved in the Cross-Bay Ferry project that will continue taking passengers from Tampa to St. Petersburg through the end of next month.

“There’s a huge amount of money coming into this county with new revenues. Pat’s saying, ‘use some of those for transit,'” Turanchik said. “The county administration has said ‘we’re not going to fund transit, that’s HART’s responsibility. That’s not his call.”

Kemp agreed, saying, “We need to make our elected officials standup! Mike Merrill is not elected. Flood them with emails! Flood them with phone calls! They need to take responsibility, they have the vote!” she said to more cheers.

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