florida business

Enterprise Florida narrows finalist list for new CEO

The presidential search committee for Enterprise Florida (EFI) on Friday whittled down its list of finalists to lead the state’s public-private economic development organization.

The final two are:

— Michael Finney, former chief executive officer, Michigan Economic Development Corp., who was ranked No. 1 by five of the committee’s six members.

— Richard M. Biter, a retired assistant secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation. Three of the six committee members ranked him either No. 1 or No. 2.

They will be invited to interview before the organization’s full board at its meeting in Orlando on Sept. 28-29.

The next president will be paid $175,000-$200,000 per year, down from Johnson’s salary of $265,000. The agency’s head also serves as Florida’s Secretary of Commerce.

But whether the person chosen will eventually have an organization to lead is another matter.

Incoming House Speaker Richard Corcoran, facing a tight budget next year, last week suggested Enterprise Florida could be on the chopping block. It got $23.5 million for operations, marketing and other initiatives in the 2016-17 state budget.

“Spending money on economic development is a bad idea,” the Land O’ Lakes Republican told reporters. Lawmakers this year did reject Gov. Rick Scott’s request for a $250 million incentives fund to be administered by Enterprise Florida.

When asked whether the organization needed to be dissolved, Corcoran added: “I think that’s definitely a discussion that’s going to take place this coming session.”

Bill Johnson, the agency’s immediate past leader, had taken hits over his people skills as the agency’s proposed $250 million incentives fund crashed and burned during the 2016 Legislative Session.

Johnson also was questioned over his hiring and expenses. He left the organization in late June.

Scott and the EFI board have since agreed to streamline operations of the 20-year-old agency, including eliminating jobs, closing international offices, and canceling contracts with outside consultants.

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Hillsborough Clerk Pat Frank gets the last word in beef with Hillsborough PTC

Less than two weeks before Hillsborough County Democrats went to the polls last month to vote in the clerk of the court race, WTSP-Channel 10 ran an explosive story on how the Public Transportation Commission had lost faith in the office, and was now taking public money away from the clerk’s control. The story painted Clerk of the Court Pat Frank in an extremely bad light, just as early voting had begun in her bitter primary race against Kevin Beckner. Ultimately, the story did nothing to harm her electoral prospects, and she ended up crushing Beckner by more than 18 percentage points on Election Day.

Frank stood before the PTC board and its executive director, Kyle Cockream, at Wednesday’s monthly meeting, and blasted the public bashing of her office.

“We’re used to criticism,” she said, but added that it was “frustrating when when we are blamed for something that is not our fault.”

Frank acknowledged independent auditors made critical discoveries surrounding the PTC’s accounting in the past three years, but contended those issues had nothing to do with the clerk’s office.

“The audits clearly state that the problems are with your staff, which has struggled to adapt to a new computerized accounting system,” she said. “More training is clearly needed and my staff stands ready to help. My office was also criticized for late payments to vendors and duplicate payments. A review of the past 12 months shows that my office paid your invoices within 3.5 days, though often the invoices were not sent to us for weeks. We cannot pay invoices unless they are sent to us with proper documentation. Also, the same review found only one duplicate payment, which was the result of PTC staff error.”

The story also alleged the PTC had discovered the clerk’s office was about to pay $180,000 for an $18,000 vehicle.

Never happened, Frank said on Wednesday.

“The invoice was submitted incorrectly by the vendor and caught by the PTC staff,” she said. “It was never sent to my office. We have repeatedly asked your staff for documentation to back up its complaints about my office.”

The clerk’s office has handled the accounting for the PTC for decades, but Cockream has recently authorized the agency to begin looking for services from the private sector. In her parting remarks, Frank said he should “feel free” to do so, but “just don’t criticize my office on your way out the door.”

But before leaving the dais, Frank took a shot at the agency’s payment to the Tallahassee lobbying firm of Corcoran & Associates in 2015 — a payment noted PTC critic Jeff Brandes called on Attorney General Pam Bondi to investigate

“If you want to save money, you might consider deleting the $120,000 you paid to Corcoran & Associates — a firm with family connections to the incoming speaker of the House, Richard Corcoran. Thank you for your time.”

There was no microphone for Frank to drop, or she undoubtedly would have done so with that zinger.

“I’m really sorry if anyone’s feelings got hurt in all of this. That was certainly not the intention,” Cockream responded later in the afternoon, adding he has had recent conversations with Frank’s staff. “If we can find a resolution to the issues at hand, then that’s the end of the game. I don’t see any benefit in engaging in any public bantering back and forth about it. She’s an elected official and I respect that office and I’d never do that.”

 

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Public Service Commission balks at water rate hike in Pasco County

The Florida Public Service Commission delayed a vote Tuesday on whether to allow a private utility to boost rates so it can switch customers from the unpleasant-tasting, discolored, sediment-filled water it supplies, to cleaner water provided by Pasco County.

Residents of the Summertree retirement community in New Port Richey and county officials objected to the proposed 5.35 percent rate hike, urging the regulators to either kill it or delay a vote.

Commissioners questioned whether Utilities Inc. of Florida could pay for the cleaner water without the higher rates.

But although Pasco County Commissioner Jack Mariano addressed the panel via conference call, no one in any official capacity from local government was on hand to address that question.

So the commission agreed unanimously to delay a vote until Oct. 11.

“I don’t feel like we have complete information,” Commissioner Lisa Polk Edgar said. “I think postponing this for one month for further deliberation, so that we have some of these questions answered, makes sense.”

The increase would amount to nearly $47,000, according to PSC records. Utilities Inc. also has asked for $200,000 to retire the wells at issue, but the commission’s staff recommended taking up that matter later.

Details are here. (Scroll down to Item 7.)

State Rep. Richard Corcoran, the Land O’ Lakes Republican slated to become House speaker, and Sen. Wilton Simpson sent an aide to present their protest of the switchover rate hike.

Both have been harsh critics of Utilities Inc.

And Mariano, during his telephone testimony, complained the utility has been providing bad water for 20 years.

“Rates are among the highest in the country, and now they want to make it higher,” he said. “You cannot let them.”

Members of Summertree Water Alliance, representing residents, denounced Utilities Inc.’s “incompetence and greed.” One showed commissioners pictures of her bathroom plumbing, featuring dark discoloration she blamed on bad water.

Erik Sayler of the Office of Public Counsel, which represents ratepayers before the PSC, said it made sense to wait to see how much the switch would actually cost, rather than decide based on estimates.

Better, he said, to make sure customers get clean water before asking them to pay.

“We’re asking for patience,” Sayler said.

Utility representatives argued the switch has already been delayed too long and that the PSC should approve its rate hike. It sought the increase, they said, to ensure a clean transition.

“We didn’t want any confusion after the fact,” said John Hoy, the company’s chief operating officer.

Additionally, the Illinois-based company has sought rate increases to finance $30 million to improve its facilities in 10 counties, and to allow it to charge customers in those counties the same basic rates.

That could mean rate increases in some areas and decreases elsewhere, Sayler said.

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Tom Jackson: In Pasco, all roads lead to Mike Fasano

Mike FasanoWhatever else we might be tempted to say in the aftermath of last month’s recent primary election, for those who live and/or work in Pasco County, this, above all, is beyond dispute:

Pasco is Mike Fasano’s county. Everyone else is just visiting.

Who but Fasano, the nudging, empathetic, perpetually beatifying champion of the “little guy and little gal” could have done in the Republican race for Pasco County property appraiser what he did with the fundamentally flawed Gary Joiner?

That is, Fasano — officially Pasco County’s tax collector but, increasingly, its kingmaker — took his operations chief, a career bureaucrat whose best-known qualities were philandering, creepiness, dishonesty, and opportunism and created the impression that the virtuous candidate in the GOP primary was not San Antonio’s Ted Schrader, the reasonably well-regarded and accomplished four-term county commissioner, but his guy.

That’s right. The fellow who carried on a workplace affair with a subordinate in 2009, lied about it, attempted to rekindle the romance in 2013 and 2014, got suspended when he was found out and, as a condition of his reinstatement, can no longer be alone with female colleagues — that is the guy local Republicans preferred in an 11-point landslide over Schrader, who was effectively portrayed as Pasco’s own Lyin’ Ted.

To be sure, Joiner benefited from the endorsement of popular Sheriff Chris Nocco, as well as from tens of thousands of dollars in nonstop advertising diverted from the electioneering committee of state House Speaker-designate Richard Corcoran — looking for some payback after Schrader helped choke off his intriguing charter-county plan last year — but it was Fasano, famous for wishing God’s blessing on all he meets, who chiefly midwifed his lieutenant’s campaign.

And it’s not like Schrader, who comes from an influential family of developers, business operators, and citrus growers, was out there flailing alone. His backers included a who’s who of the area Republican firmament: former state House Speaker Will Weatherford, likely future state Senate President Wilton Simpson, state Rep. Danny Burgess, schools Superintendent Kurt Browning and even Fasano’s longtime pal, state Sen. Jack Latvala, whose district includes part of West Pasco.

Looking back, with voters in a throw-’em-out mood, maybe all that establishment worked against Schrader.

Even so, rehabilitating Joiner — or, worse, making voters not care about his indiscretions — is an achievement so breathtaking, if Fasano’s next act were to cause white tigers and hippos to fly in formation the length of State Road 54 from New Port Richey to Zephyrhills, no one would raise an eyebrow.

And he did it all while conveniently removing a potential rival from challenging his future re-election plans. You could look it up.

Joiner made plain his preference would be to run for tax collector while acknowledging that, with Fasano ensconced, that door seemed firmly shut. Now a potential problem — a younger man with ambition — has been positioned, if he subdues little-known Dade City Democrat and real estate broker Jon Sidney Larkin in November, to run a new agency and while being converted into an indebted ally. You don’t get that sort of twofer every election cycle.

Beyond its lopsided margin, what is particularly remarkable about Joiner’s primary triumph is its geographic scope.

You would expect a New Port Richey resident backed by prominent west-county policymakers to do well in his backyard, and Joiner did. A Pasco County supervisor of elections map showing a precinct-by-precinct breakdown indicates a Joiner wave stretching virtually uninterrupted from the Gulf of Mexico to U.S. 41/Land O’ Lakes Boulevard.

But what happened on the other side that reveals, startlingly, the tale of Fasano’s influence. I mean, we’d seen evidence of his considerable sway on the broad county’s west side, when his appointment as tax collector, in June 2013, to succeed the late Mike Olson — the last Democrat to hold countywide office — triggered a special election for his seat in the Florida House.

Fasano’s divorce from Tallahassee was mutually satisfying. He’d been eyeing a constitutional office opportunity back home, and both Gov. Rick Scott and House GOP leadership were weary of his ever-increasing maverick status. But in a delicious episode of being careful of what you wish for, Fasano leaped over party lines to support Democrat Amanda Murphy, who narrowly defeated Corcoran’s choice, former Florida Gator defensive tackle Bill Gunter.

The question in the property assessor’s race was whether the Commutative Property of Fasano would play in the East. Come Election Day, the answer rocked Pasco’s political Richter scale.

In the end, Schrader’s support scarcely extended beyond his home base, the mostly rural northeast quadrant of the county. With exceptions in just a few master-planned villages where newcomers gather, fast-growing Wesley Chapel in the heart of the county rejected Schrader almost entirely. And, cutting Schrader off on his southeastern flank, Joiner dominated in Zephyrhills.

How bad was it?

While Joiner hopscotched around the county, Schrader spent Election Day in The Groves, an over-55 golf and country club community in North Land O’ Lakes that’s also GOP-rich territory.

Nearly 900 votes were cast there, but despite his daylong presence, Schrader lost by 11 votes, a metaphor for the election if there ever was one.

It would be nice to give more credit to the winning candidate himself, but as Joiner himself said, if it weren’t for Nocco, Corcoran and Fasano, he’d have gone nowhere.

I’d say he’s absolutely correct, especially the part about Fasano, who showed himself a shifter of landscapes.

Now we know. It’s his county, after all.

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Dana Young urges Hillsborough PTC reject new rules proposed for Uber, Lyft

Writing that “Hillsborough County is better than this,” Dana Young is the latest Tampa Bay area lawmaker calling for the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission to reject proposed new rules that ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft say would force them out of the local market.

In a letter Tuesday to PTC Chair Victor Crist, Young says the current proposal set for a vote by the PTC “is plainly designed to be an anti-competitive attempt to push ride-sharing companies out of Hillsborough County.”

“If this occurs,” she added, “our constituents will pay the price by losing a safe and reliable transportation option.”

Young’s letter was co-signed by 12 members of the local Tampa Bay area legislative delegation.

Last week, a PTC subcommittee approved new regulations representatives from Uber and Lyft have said are unacceptable. They include a seven-minute wait time for a passenger to get a for a vehicle for hire in the county, a $7 minimum fare, and Level II backgrounds checks that require fingerprinting their drivers. That last demand actually compelled Uber to leave the Austin, Texas market this past spring, so both companies appear serious about not bending on that issue.

On Monday, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn headlined a news conference featuring members of Hillsborough County’s entrepreneur, tourism, and business sectors. They also called on the PTC to reject the proposed rules.

Although the state Legislature failed to come up with statewide regulations of ride-sharing companies, Young’s letter vows the issue will finally be addressed in the next regular Legislative Session, which begins March. Young says the PTC board should hold off on any action regarding ridesharing in Hillsborough until the 2017 legislative session ends next spring.

Joining her in co-signing the letter are two local Republicans well-known for their enthusiasm for ridesharing and loathing of the PTC — Jeff Brandes and Jamie Grant. Republican legislators Larry Ahern, Danny Burgess, Richard Corcoran, Bill Galvano, Jake Raburn, Shawn Harrison, Wilton Simpson, Ross Spano, Dan Raulson, and Democrat Darryl Rouson also signed onto the letter.

Some Hillsborough Democrats have been much less vocal in criticizing the PTC and speaking up for the ridesharing companies than their Republican brethren since Uber and Lyft began operating in Hillsborough in the spring of 2014.

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Lawmakers get grim budget news for next year

Florida is likely to basically break even next year in terms of its state budget, lawmakers heard Monday.

The Joint Legislative Budget Commission met in the Capitol to hear the latest financial outlook for 2017-18: Present income and outgo estimates leave Florida with a relatively scanty $7.5 million left over out of about $32.2 billion in available revenue.

The current year’s budget is roughly $82 billion, for example, after Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a total of $256 million in spending. Roughly two-thirds of the yearly budget goes toward health care and education.

After the meeting, Republican lawmakers stressed that the state didn’t have a revenue shortage, it had a spending problem, painting a picture of government profligacy.

But, since the GOP has controlled the Legislature for nearly two decades, it’s a picture they’re prominently featured in.

House Speaker-designate Richard Corcoran said education and health care spending isn’t to immune to cuts next year.

“If you’re asking me, do I think we are misspending or wasting money, or not getting an efficient return from money that spend on 70 percent of our budget, the answer is yes,” he said. “Every single government person comes up here and spends money like a teenager in the mall for the first time with a credit card. We’ve got to start cutting up the credit card.”

But first on the chopping block, Corcoran suggested, was Enterprise Florida (EFI), the state’s public-private economic development organization. It got $23.5 million for operations, marketing and other initiatives in the 2016-17 state budget.

“Spending money on economic development is a bad idea,” the Land O’ Lakes Republican said. Lawmakers this year did reject Scott’s request for a $250 million incentives fund to be administered by Enterprise Florida.

When asked whether the organization needed to be dissolved, he said: “I think that’s definitely a discussion that’s going to take place this coming session.

“But you have to understand, over the last umpteen (years), EFI has been in the acquisition of power,” he quickly added. “There’s lots that has been put into EFI that doesn’t belong in EFI that probably still has a function that the state would want to keep.”

“Enterprise Florida is committed to ensuring every Floridian has access to a quality job,” spokesman Mike Grissom said in an email. “We will continue to work until we have accomplished that goal.”

Corcoran, who was House Appropriations chair the last two sessions, said “unequivocally, there are tons of things in the budget that need to be cut, should be cut and will be cut.” He didn’t offer specific proposals.

State Sen. Tom Lee, the Brandon Republican who chaired the Senate Appropriations committee, cautioned that the numbers were preliminary and could change.

Chief legislative economist Amy Baker, however, earlier told the panel the current forecast “could be the good news” and later outlooks “may not be this good.”

“It’s very clear … that spending levels in this legislature are just not sustainable,” said Lee, who will be succeeded as Senate budget chief by Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican.

“We are, by every economic metric, growing and growing very well … unemployment is down, there’s wage growth, sales tax is up … we’re just struggling to balance our spending with those revenue streams,” Lee said.

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Let Florida use Frankenskeeters, lawmakers tell feds

A throng of Democratic and Republican state House members — 61 in all — are asking the federal government to let Florida deploy genetically modified mosquitoes in the battle against the Zika virus.

“This modified mosquito, developed by the company Oxitec, has proven exceptionally effective,” said their letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell, also signed by Republican Speaker-designate Richard Corcoran and Democratic Leader-designate Janet Cruz.

Where the insects have been used, they “reduced the target mosquito population by 90 percent without harming either the human population or the environment,” it said. “However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not given final approval for its use in this country.”

The letter went out Tuesday, the same day U.S. Senate Democrats for the third time blocked a $1.1 billion Zika funding package and an accompanying Veterans Affairs spending bill over restrictions on Planned Parenthood.

“We strongly urge you to declare a public health emergency and grant an Emergency Use Authorization,” the letter asks Burwell.

Oxitec, a British biotechnology company, built a facility in Marathon to raise the mosquitoes, jokingly referred to by internet wags as “Frankenskeeters.”

They work by breeding with non-altered females, who then lay eggs that don’t hatch, reducing the Aedes aegypti mosquito population that spreads the virus.

The effects of Zika are not very severe for most adults, but for pregnant women, the virus can cause a serious birth defect called microcephaly and other severe health problems for babies.

Zika is spread by mosquitoes but can also be contracted through sexual contact. As of Tuesday, the state’s Department of Health tallied 633 reported cases of Zika infection, including 80 pregnant women.

The state also has marked areas in Miami-Dade County where “active local Zika virus transmission” is occurring, as opposed to travelers who get the virus abroad.

The FDA last month published its final finding that releasing modified mosquitoes into the wild would not cause significant impact to the environment. The firm has used genetically modified mosquitoes in Brazil, the Cayman Islands, and Panama for several years.

The lawmakers’ letter also was addressed to FDA Commissioner Robert Califf, with courtesy copies to National Economic Council Director Jeff Zients, Deputy Homeland Security Advisor Amy Pope, and National Security Advisor Susan Rice.

“We ask you to stand by the people of Florida in our time of need and use your legal authority to grant us access to a new source of hope in the fight against the spread of this terrible virus,” the letter says.

Material from The Associated Press was used in this post, reprinted with permission

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Five Florida politicians with a lot on the line today even though they’re not on the ballot

Their names are not on the ballot today, but five Florida politicians have a lot on the line as voters head to polls Tuesday.

Governor Rick Scott, Speaker-designate Richard Corcoran, Senate President-designate Joe Negron, state Sen. Jeff Brandes, and Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry each have a lot at stake in today’s elections.

For Scott, there is an opportunity to demonstrate his influence if the candidates he has backed win their competitive legislative races. Scott has directly or indirectly assisted Doug Broxson in Senate District 1, Ritch Workman in Senate District 17, and Kathleen Passidomo in Senate District 28. All of these candidates are running in tough GOP primaries.

Although no one will say it aloud, opposite Scott — or at least Scott’s allies at the Florida Chamber of Commerce — is Corcoran and a slate of candidates running for the Florida House. As Jason Garcia of Florida Trend tweet-stormed yesterday, Corcoran and a loose assortment of interchangeable allies are backing Jonathan Tallman in HD 4, Terrance Freeman in HD 12, Wenda Lewis in HD 21, and Erin Grall in HD 54. Not that Corcoran needs any more friends than he already has, but he’d love to win these races to restock his Republican majority.

Time was, Negron had to worry about how his allies would do in the primaries. That was back when he was locked in an intraparty scrum with Jack Latvala for the Senate presidency. But now that Negron’s place is assured, the issue he is most worried about today is one of personal pride. His wife, Rebecca, is running in the ultra-competitive race for Florida’s 18th Congressional District. It’s looking tough for Mrs. Negron, as Brian Mast was leading in the most recent public poll.

Brandes is not fighting any proxy wars in any of the congressional or legislative races, but he has as much at stake Tuesday as any of these pols. That’s because he’s the de facto leader of Amendment 4, a ballot measure to provide property tax breaks for people who install solar panels on their homes. Amendment 4 was placed on the ballot by a unanimous vote in both chambers of the Legislature, but Brandes has been its most vocal champion. Environmentalists and business interests also support the measure, which must receive 60 percent approval to pass.

There’s probably no one with more on the line Tuesday than Curry. County Referendum 1 would allow Jacksonville to extend a current 1/2-cent sales surtax past its sunset and to dedicate it to a $2.8 billion unfunded pension liability. But this referendum is about more than pensions and taxes. Curry has put his sizable political machine being “Yes for Jacksonville,” so much so that it’s difficult to imagine what happens if Jacksonville voters say “No.”

Keep your eyes on these stories as results begin to come in after 7 p.m.

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Richard Corcoran, Janet Cruz join forces to call on federal government to allow state to use self-limiting mosquitoes to combat Zika

Members of the Florida House are joining together to ask the federal government to allow the state to use genetically modified mosquitoes to combat the spread of Zika.

House Speaker Designate Richard Corcoran on Monday told members he planned to ask the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to declare a public health emergency and grant an emergency use authorization to make the technology immediately available.

House Minority Leader Janet Cruz joined Corcoran in making the request, and both Corcoran and Cruz are asking their fellow members to sign on as well.

“The outbreak of the Zika virus, coupled with the inability of current measures to stop the spread, clearly demonstrate that time is of the essence if we are to beat back the spread of this disease. I am pleased that this request to the federal government to cut red tape and allow Florida to protect itself is a bipartisan and unified petition,” said Corcoran in a statement. “I am especially honored to be joined by Leader-designate Cruz in pursuing a solution to this public health crisis.”

Corcoran said lawmakers hope obtaining the authorization “will be quick and enable our public health officials to deploy these solutions before more Floridians are infected.”

The United States Food and Drug Administration in August published its final finding that releasing modified mosquitoes into the wild would cause no significant impact to the environment. The finding marked the final regulatory hurdle Oxitec needed to overcome before it could begin a trial in Key Haven, a community north of Key West.

The firm has used its genetically modified mosquitoes in Brazil, the Cayman Islands, and Panama for several years. The mosquitoes have served as an effective mosquito control tool, reducing the population and slowing the spread of mosquito-borne diseases.

In the letter to HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell, House members are asking to grant state and local governments access to the self-limiting mosquito. The House letter notes it could take years for Florida to access the technology if the government “follows its normal bureaucratic processes.”

“Such a delay presents an unnecessary health risk to the people of our state,” the letter reads. “Red tape is never an acceptable justification for the loss of human life.”

“We strongly urge you to declare a public health emergency and grant an Emergency Use Authorization under Section 564 of the Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act to make this technology immediately available in any Florida area where Zika is being transmitted or likely to be transmitted,” the letter continues. “This authority has already been used 10 times in Zika cases in order to make diagnostic tests available.”

According to the Florida Department of Health, there are more than 660 cases of Zika in the state of Florida. Seventy-five of those cases involve pregnant women; while 43 of those are locally transmitted cases of the virus.

“It’s time the federal government listened and worked more closely with their local partners. All we are asking for is the flexibility to confront a growing public health emergency on the front lines of this outbreak. All local governments should be given access to any available tool in a public health crisis,” said Cruz in a statement. “Absent legitimate evidence that using this technology will lead to consequences that outweigh the potential positive outcomes, this request should be granted immediately for Pinellas County and any other counties looking for a solution.”

House members have until 5 p.m. Wednesday to sign the letter.

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Elected unopposed, Florida lawmakers must decide what to do with leftover campaign cash

With nearly $3.5 million in the bank and no races to spend it on, some Florida lawmakers are left figuring out what to do with the last of their campaign cash.

While their colleagues are sweating out contested races, 42 members of the House and Senate are looking for ways to spend down the war chests they didn’t end up needing. They have a few options, and just about a month left to decide what they’re doing with the extra dough.

State law requires candidates to dispose of any surplus funds within 90 days of either being elected, eliminated or winning unopposed. That means the more three dozen House and Senate candidates who won in June have until Sept. 22 to dispose of excess funds.

Their options are limited. Return a portion back to donors or donate to charity. Set aside $20,000 for their re-election campaign, give up to $25,000 to their party, or transfer some to an office account.

And for some candidates, the best answer to do a little bit of everything.

Fleming Island Republican Rob Bradley won re-election in June when no one challenged him in the newly drawn Senate District 5. The district is much larger than his current Senate district and includes 10 full counties.

“I spent a lot of time after session up until qualifying getting to know the counties in the Senate district,” said Bradley. “I spent a great deal of time and effort getting to know the nine new counties I was going to represent.”

To do that, Bradley raised $481,756 toward his official campaign. Records show he spent $201,708 through June 24 the last day of qualifying, much of which dedicated to advertising. Bradley said he sent a lot of mailers and was active on social media to try to convince voters he was the right man for the job.

It worked, but it left him with $280,047 in his campaign account.

So what’s he going to do with it? Bradley said he was giving $25,000 to the party to help with Senate re-election campaigns. He’s also planning to set aside $40,000 — or $10,000 a year for each year he’ll be in office — to fund his office account. The rest of the money will be given to charities, most likely ones that help at-risk teens and children in his district.

Of the 42 House and Senate candidate who were elected unopposed earlier this summer, Bradley ranked among the Top 5 fundraisers this election cycle. Lauren Book, an Aventura Democrat, was in the top spot.

Book, a first-time candidate and a child abuse advocate, didn’t garner an opponent this election cycle. Some of it might have been name recognition, but a healthy war chest didn’t hurt. Records show Book raised $586,659.

Steve Vancore, a Democratic political consultant who worked with Book, said she made sure to communicate with her would-be constituents early on in the campaign. She qualified by the petition method, working the community to get twice as many of the signatures she needed to get on the ballot.

“It’s a poor strategy not to be spending money,” said Vancore. “It takes a lot to get on the ballot by petition. You want to do polling, so you’re not freaking out, and you should be communicating with voters in the late spring and early summer.”

Records show Book had $203,074 in the bank as of June 24. Among other things, Vancore said Book planned to send a “thank you” communication to voters in the district with her leftover funds. State law allows candidates to purchase “thank you” advertising for up to 75 days after a candidate withdraws, is unopposed, is eliminated or elected.

Other top fundraisers included Sen. Denise Grimsley, who raised $371,021; George Gainer, who raised $324,217 and loaned his campaign $500,000; and House Speaker Designate Richard Corcoran, who raised $305,345. Majority Leader Bill Galvano raised $269,415, while Sen. Wilton Simpson raised $260,560. Both Galvano and Simpson are in line for the Senate presidency.

Corcoran and Rep. Jim Boyd were the only House members who were among the Top 10 fundraisers elected unopposed. Boyd raised $169,150. Corcoran had $79,618 in the bank.

A spokesman for Corcoran said the Land O’Lakes Republican planned to give the maximum $25,000 donation to the party, do paid “thank you” ads, and donate at least $25,000 to several organizations, including Guiding Star Tampa/Life Choices Women’s Care, Volunteer Way, New Life Solutions, Oasis Pregnancy Center, and the West Pasco Pregnancy Center.

Senate candidates might have dominated the list of Top 10 fundraisers elected unopposed, but plenty of House candidates raised big money.

Thirty House candidates were elected without opposition, who had a combined $1.5 million in the bank.

Rep. Dane Eagle was among those House candidates to go unchallenged. He raised $125,511, and had $44,575 left.

Elected in 2010, this was the first time Eagle has won a race unopposed. He was prepared to run a full-fledged campaign this year and was ready to do that until the last minute. He said he used his campaign account for radio ads to keep constituents informed.

Eagle gave some of his surplus funds to local charities and the party. He said he was doing his part to help make sure the House retains a Republican majority.

“Fortunately for myself and my colleagues in Southwest Florida, it’s a Republican stronghold so you can keep it in Republican hands, but there’s other parts of the state where it’s 50-50,” he said. “(We’re doing) as much as we can help bring those people back, and bring people I’ve worked with back that are darn good legislators.”

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