Tom Lee Archives - SaintPetersBlog

Legislative hopefuls file to run in 2018, 2020

More lawmakers are gearing up for a re-election bid.

State elections records show dozens of members of the state House and Senate have filed to run for re-election in 2018, and several more are looking ahead to 2020.

Sen. Greg Steube is one of those lawmakers who is starting to think about his next race. The Sarasota Republican filed to run for re-election in Senate District 23 on Jan. 10. Steube replaced Sen. Nancy Detert, winning the seat after a hard-fought Republican primary last year.

When it comes to 2018, House members are staking their claim on their seats for another two years.

Rep. Ramon Alexander filed to run for re-election on Jan. 6. The Tallahassee Democrat currently represents House District 8. And Alexander isn’t the only freshman thinking about the future.

Rep. Ralph Massulo filed to run for re-election in House District 34. The Lecanto Republican filed to run for re-election on Jan. 9. Meanwhile, Rep. Joe Gruters, a Sarasota Republican, filed to run for re-election in House District 73 on Jan. 5.

Gruters filing is notable because some Florida campaign watchers have questioned whether he leave office once President-elect Donald Trump takes the oath of office later this month. Gruters was an early supporter of the New York Republican, and there has been some speculation that he will take a job within the Trump administration.

Rep. Ross Spano, a Dover Republican, filed to run for re-election in House District 59 on Jan. 4; while Rep. Bryan Avila, a Hialeah Republican representing House District 111, filed to run again on Jan. 11.

It’s not just incumbents getting an early start on 2018. Democrat David Poulin, who challenged Rep. Ben Albritton in 2016, filed to run in House District 56. Albritton can’t run again in 2018 because of term limits. Andy Warrener, a no party affiliation candidate, filed to run against Tampa Republican Rep. James Grant; while Libertarian Spenser Garber is planning to challenge Rep. Jayer Williamson, a first-term lawmaker, in House District 3.

And Sen. Tom Lee could have primary challenger. John Houman, a Thonotosassa Republican, filed to run in Senate District 20 on Jan. 9.

Houman ran in Senate District 19 in 2016. At the time, the self-described “Mr. Manners” described his ideology and background in a lengthy post on his website— Mr-Manners.com.

On his website, he admitted to having a felony DUI, even saying he petitioned to have his civil rights restored in 2008. He said at the time he would bring several ideas — including streamlining government regulation — with him to Tallahassee, outlining 33 points in his so-called “Manifesto de Leadership.”

Lee, a Brandon Republican, was re-elected in June 2016, after no one else qualified to run in his district. Houman, who faced Darryl Rouson in his 2016 Florida Senate bid, received 69,875 votes (about 33 percent) to Rouson’s 141,305 votes (about 67 percent).

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Pro sports franchises: Build your own stadium, ballpark, or arena

Mitch Perry’s story Tuesday on FloridaPolitics.com about the bill filed by state Sen. Tom Lee to dismantle state’s Sports Development Program triggered an instant thought: Well, forget about a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays.

I followed up with a call to Lee, a Republican from Brandon, and asked if my thought about the Rays was on the mark.

“This won’t preclude the Rays or any other franchise from coming to the Legislature and asking for help with a stadium, but they will have to stand on their merits,” he said.

“They won’t be able to hide behind a program designed to give an automatic seal of approval to these sports franchises. There are ways government can invest in these big projects without being a donor to the team.”

Mark that last sentence down. It may be the only way for pro franchises in Florida to get a sympathetic ear from Tallahassee lawmakers.

Big stadium projects bring lots of associated costs – road construction, sewer upgrades, water and so on.

“Those things are in government’s wheelhouse,” Lee said. “Those things stay behind even if the sports team leaves town.

“This specific program was a ruse to give the Legislature cover to make it look like they were doing a hard analysis on the revenues of these teams. Why do they get this break? Because they’re major donors and have big-time lobbyists representing them.”

The gist of that sentiment is this simple message to team owners: Build your own stadium, ballpark or arena. If you need help with access roads and other infrastructure costs, we can talk.

The program Lee wants to eliminate was a pet project for Gov. Rick Scott in 2014. It allowed team owners to apply for a rebate of increases in sales taxes if revenues jumped because of stadium upgrades. The maximum amount was $3 million for up to 30 years.

“It became the JumboTron amendment,” Lee said. “Or the Wrestlemania amendment. There was one proposal to improve a facility so it could host a special event. That turned out to be Wrestlemania. In Jacksonville, they wanted a rebate because they were adding JumboTrons to the stadium.

“Well, if a guy owns a Subway shop and he adds a drive-thru and his revenues go up 20 percent because of that, does he get a rebate on the increase? This was found money for the team owners.”

These are wealthy franchises, it should be noted. The late Malcolm Glazer purchased the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1996. Forbes magazine estimates the Bucs are now worth $1.8 billion. The Miami Dolphins are worth $2.375 billion, while the Jacksonville Jaguars are a reported $1.95 billion.

“With what I see in education and exploding costs in delivering health care to the neediest Floridians, it’s hard to justify spending tax dollars on these sports teams,” Lee said. “That doesn’t mean that we don’t like to have them, or that they don’t enhance a community. I believe they do.

“But we have to have priorities in government. While these teams are wonderful amenities, they do essentially cannibalize other things in the community. Instead of going to the park or the golf course, people go to the stadium. They don’t create economic growth.”

Translation: The climate in Tallahassee now is turning against this so-called corporate welfare.

The message to the Rays and other teams is that the state might listen if they need help building a road or stuff like that. But if they’re asking for tax money to build something that strictly benefits the team’s bottom line, think again.

 

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Tom Lee wants to eliminate agency designed to use taxpayers funds for constructing or improving sports facilities

Less than three years after Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation providing for state revenues to go toward constructing or improving professional sports franchise facilities, state Sen. Tom Lee wants to eliminate the agency created to distribute those funds.

“The Sports Development Program was ill-conceived and based on the false premise that these capital improvements are a boon for economic development,” the Brandon Republican said Tuesday. “Professional teams are vying for taxpayer funds to pay for largely superficial facility upgrades, many of which are already in progress or completed. History has shown that team owners will make these investments without hardworking families having to foot the bill.”

Under the Sports Development Program created by the Legislature in 2014, sporting projects and complexes seeking Florida tax revenue must submit proposals to be evaluated by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. Then the disbursement of funds must pass approval by the Florida Legislative Budget Commission. The state can award up to $13 million annually for all certified applicants. The maximum annual distribution for a single sports franchise facility is for only $3 million, and distributions can be made for up to 30 years.

In spending $100 million to upgrade Raymond James Stadium over the past year, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had hoped to procure $3 million in Sports Development Program funds to help pay for that upgrade. However, their application was rejected because it wasn’t completed on time. The NFL franchise reapplied to the program last month, requesting $1 million a year for at least 10 years.

Scott hailed the legislation when he signed it into law in June of 2014, saying that the program would add more jobs to the state, as well as increase tourism.

“I am proud to support this legislation, and this Sports Development Program will allow franchises to expand in Florida, and create more jobs and opportunities for Florida families,” Scott said at the time.

The legislation was also supported by Clearwater Sen. Jack Latvala, now serving as Senate Appropriations Chairman. But it will undoubtedly be backed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who has historically opposed giving sales-tax dollars to professional sports facilities.

The anti “corporate welfare” attitude espoused by Corcoran prevailed last year in Session, when three different sports facilities — EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Sun Life Stadium in Miami-Dade County and Daytona International Speedway — received no funding from the Legislature, despite the Department of Economic Opportunity finding they qualified for the state sales-tax money.

Sarasota Republican Sen. Greg Stuebe has filed legislation (SB 122) that would prohibit a sports franchise from constructing, reconstructing, renovating, or improving a facility on leased public land. Hialeah Republican Rep. Bryan Avila has filed a companion bill in the House.

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More than a dozen lawmakers file for re-election in 2018

The number of lawmakers prepping for another run keeps on growing.

State elections records show dozens of members of the state House and Senate have filed to run for re-election in 2018. Many of those are incumbents who faced little-to-no opposition in 2016, while others ran hard fought battles to win their spot in the Florida Legislature.

Sen. Tom Lee filed to run for re-election in Senate District 20 on Dec. 29. The Brandon Republican was re-elected in June 2016, after no one else qualified to run in his district.

Lee was first elected to the Florida Senate in 1996. He served in the upper chamber until 2006, serving as Senate President during the 2004-06 term. Voters sent Lee back to the Florida Senate in 2012.

Lee is set to serve as chairman of the Senate Community Affairs Committee during the 2016-18 term.

Sen. Kelli Stargel also appears to be vying for another term in the Florida Senate, filing the initial paperwork to run in 2018 on Dec. 16. First elected to the Florida Senate in 2012, Stargel was re-elected in Senate District 22 in November. Stargel will serve as the chairwoman of the Senate Finance and Tax Appropriations Subcommittee.

Over in the Florida House, Reps. Loranne Ausley, Paul Renner, Neil Combee, Bob Cortes, Mike La Rosa, Erin Grall, Sean Michael Shaw, Alexandra Miller, Julio Gonzalez, Michael Grant, Rick Roth, Bob Rommel, and Jose Oliva have filed to run for re-election in 2018.

The election in 2018 isn’t the only one on the minds of Florida lawmakers. Several state legislators have already filed to run for re-election in 2020, including Sens. Travis Hutson, Debbie Mayfield and Kevin Rader.

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Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission likely doomed after local delegation approves bill to kill it

The troubled Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission received a terminal diagnosis Friday after members of the Hillsborough County Legislative Delegation voted unanimously for a local bill that would eliminate the agency on December 31, 2017.

After that, the County Commission would pick up its regulatory duties.

“The public has lost complete faith in the ability of this agency to regulate credibly, equitably and efficiently,” said bill sponsor James Grant said before the entire delegation vote in support of his bill.

The proposal was similar to a previous bill Grant brought to the local delegation in 2013 that sought to put a stake through the heart of the agency, but with a significant difference.

The local bill approved on Friday gives the county and the PTC a full year to contend with the transition.

“It’s not about moving fast. We want to make sure we avoid any unintended consequences,” Grant said. That was in notable contrast to the 2013 version, which would have killed the agency immediately, making it a bridge too far for other legislators to support, even with noted PTC critics like Dana Young

“I think the plan is to subcontract the regulation out to Uber, isn’t it?” asked Brandon Senator Tom Lee, eliciting the largest round of laughter of the morning.

Although meant for humorous effect, there’s no question that the addition of Uber and Lyft into the county ultimately was the beginning of the end for the PTC, which was already burdened with a toxic reputation well before the emergence of ride-sharing in Hillsborough County.

Among the previous lowlights that had saddled the PTC came in 2010, when Cesar Padilla, then the executive director of the agency, resigned after it was reported that he had been moonlighting as a security guard.

There was also the case of former County Commissioner Kevin White, was busted in 2008 for taking bribes for helping tow company operators to get permits in his role as PTC chair. White ended up serving three years at the U.S. Penitentiary in Atlanta.

The PTC caught the attention of lawmakers like Grant and Jeff Brandes after the PTC went after Uber when it introduced its Uber Black limo service during the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa. The PTC shut that effort down quickly.

Those lawmakers became incredibly irritated with the PTC and its (now former) chairman Victor Crist over the past few years, as Uber and Lyft refused to comply with PTC regulations. That led to PTC agents citing those drivers, leading to court actions and more than two years of fighting before an agreement bringing both companies into compliance occurred last month.

At Friday’s meeting, County Commission Chairman Stacy White said, “the county stands prepared to take over regulation of this industry and create a meaningful regulatory framework.”

“I think that those types of things would be able to be implemented by the county with relative ease,” White said. “We do stand prepared to create a lean, regulatory framework.”

The PTC has been funded by fees paid by the taxicab and limousine companies, not directly by taxpayers. Plant City Republican Representative Dan Raulerson asked White if the county would continue to fund their regulatory efforts in the same fashion.

“We certainly do have the ability to charge various permitting fees to offset the costs of the regulatory process,” White said.

“It seems like a good move in broadening out transportation options,” added recently elected Commissioner Pat Kemp.  

“I support it, and I realize that there are 66 other counties in the state of Florida that have figured out how to do this,” said Tea Party activist Sharon Calvert. “Let’s get it done.”

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Pat Frank again attempts to make her case for more $ for clerks office at delegation meeting

Hillsborough County Clerk of the Court Pat Frank made an impassioned plea to the members of the Hillsborough County Legislative Delegation Friday to give her office more money.

It’s a speech Frank has repeatedly done to state lawmakers in recent years, and she once again cited statistics reflecting how much her agency is doing with so much less since the Great Recession of 2008.

At that time, Frank said the Clerk’s office had 954 employees and a $78.2 million budget. Now it’s a $58.8 million budget with 699 employees.

“We have done everything that we can possibly do to economize, to modernize, to customize the office to the technology that’s needed,” Frank said. “Our customer service has been improved. Everything is working well. But we’ve suffered budget cuts for nine consecutive years.”

Frank’s office is not the only one with major complaints about the lack of funding from Tallahassee. Earlier this year, the Broward County Clerk of the Court sued the state regarding the issue, calling on a Leon County circuit judge to declare “funding of the offices of the clerks of the circuit and county courts performing court-related functions” as unconstitutional.

Clerks of the Court from some of Florida’s biggest counties have been making the argument for years that the state doesn’t give back what is owed to the individual offices. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported last year that overall, the 67 clerks of court take in more than a $1 billion, but their allocation from Tallahassee in 2015 was less than half of that — $444 million to be precise.

“I find it confounding that as the legislature in its wisdom back when we had Article V say we were to be fully funded, as the Constitution says that we are to be fully funded,” Frank said. She added that her office sent back $10.8 million more to the state’s general fund last year than they took in.

She said the Legislature is free to spend the money they’re keeping from local clerk’s office in any way they fashion, naturally, but questioned spending $6 million to upgrade the state Senate chamber.

“I was there when the Capitol was constructed,” Frank told lawmakers, referring to her previous career in the Legislature.

“And I don’t need a face-lift yet,” she quipped.

Following Frank to the podium was Andrew Warren, the just elected State Attorney in Hillsborough County. After he too complained about a lack of funding for his office, Brandon Republican Sen. Tom Lee, the head of the local delegationwas sympathetic, acknowledging that the reduction in foreclosures and fines has hurt the funding for those offices.

 

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Hillsborough County Legislative Delegation meeting set for December 16

With Tallahassee a four-hour drive away, the annual meeting of the Hillsborough County Legislative Delegation to be held in two weeks in Tampa could very possibly be the only time local residents can address their state representative(s).

That meeting will take place on Friday, December 16 at the Tampa Bay History Center, 801 Old Water Street, from 9 a.m. to 3.p.m.

The Delegation consists of 13 members of the Florida Senate and Florida House of Representatives that represent all or parts of Hillsborough County. Senators Dana Young, Bill Galvano, Darryl Rouson will join Brandon area state Senator Tom Lee , who serves this year as the current Chair of the Delegation.

House members include Jake Raburn, Dan Raulerson, Sean Shaw, Shawn Harrison, Ross Spano, Jackie Toledo, Janet Cruz, Jamie Grant and Wengay Newton.

The annual meeting is an opportunity for the general public to interact with and voice any concerns or opinions to their elected officials prior to the start of the 2017 Legislative Session. It’s also when lawmakers will propose so-called “local bills”

Public testimony will be limited to three minutes per speaker. The deadline to submit a request to speak is 5 p.m. on Friday, December 9, which you can access from this page. Additional speaker request forms will be available at the meeting.

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Dana Young named to chair Health Care policy committee in Florida Senate

Dana Young has been named as chair of Health Care policy in the Florida state Senate. The South Tampa Republican, who was elected to the Legislature’s upper chamber earlier this month in SD 18, will also serve as Vice Chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education

Senate President Joe Negron handed out such assignments to his charges in the Senate on Tuesday for the 2017 and 2018 sessions.

Other Hillsborough County area senators who learned that they would chair committees include Bill Galvano, who will chair the Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education

Senator Galvano previously served as Majority Leader to the Florida Senate during the 2014-2016 legislative term, and has also served as the Chair of Education Appropriations in the past. He represents District 21, which encompasses all of Manatee County, as well as a portion of Hillsborough County.

“I appreciate the confidence President Negron has placed in me by appointing me Chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education,” said Galvano.  “I look forward to delivering a higher education budget that truly meets the needs of the people of Florida; a budget that will elevate our university system to the highest level of excellence.”

Darryl Rouson, who narrowly defeated fellow Democrat Ed Narain in the Tampa/St. Pete District SD 19 race, will serve as Vice Chair of the Transportation Committee.

And Brandon’s Tom Lee heads Community Affairs.

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Tom Lee files constitutional amendment on property taxes

State Sen. Tom Lee has filed a proposed constitutional amendment to keep “dramatic increases in annual property tax assessments” in check on vacation homes and other properties.

Lee, a Brandon Republican, filed SJR 76 on Monday.

“Failure to pass this joint resolution will result in one of the largest tax increases in the history of our state,” Lee said in a statement. “Florida voters will have the ultimate say on the 2018 ballot, but it is the legislature’s responsibility to act in a timely manner so these important provisions don’t expire.”

The amendment, which would apply to Section 27 of Article XII of the State Constitution, would protect limits now in place on annual tax hikes.

Florida voters amended the constitution in 2008 to give property owners some protection, according to a statement from Lee’s office.

“The amendment, set to expire in 2019, currently prohibits the assessment of certain non-homestead property, including second homes, rental properties, vacation homes, vacant land or commercial property, from increasing by more than 10 percent per year,” it said.

“Sen. Lee’s resolution would extend this provision indefinitely.” Property owners affected by this provision in 2016 will save a total of $776 million, he said.

“This amendment has done its job in keeping annual tax increases modest for Floridians, and anything less than that is unacceptable,” Lee added.

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Final round-up of the money chase in Tampa Bay’s legislative races

On Friday, candidates released their final campaign finance reports before Election Day, and reports out of Senate District 18 show Tampa Republican Rep. Dana Young pressing her fundraising advantage in the race with $1.2 million in spending.

Young spent more than $500,000 of campaign’s war chest in between Oct. 22 and Nov. 3, most of it heading to a media buy with Mentzer Media Services.

The exiting House Majority Leader also raised $67,000 for her SD 18 campaign, leaving her with about $113,000 on hand in her campaign account heading into the final few days of the election cycle.

Her political committee, “Friends of Dana Young,” spent even more money, with $700,000 heading to the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee chaired by incoming Senate President Joe Negron. Young’s PAC had about $200,000 on hand Nov. 3.

Young is running against Democratic attorney Bob Buesing and a pair of NPA candidates for the Tampa-based seat, but none of her opponents have come close to competing in the money race.

Despite raising another $76,000 in contributions and putting another $35,000 of his own money into the race during the two-week reporting period, Buesing’s total fundraising is less than a quarter of what Young has been able to pull in through her campaign and committee accounts.

Buesing’s $111,000 performance was coupled with $119,000 in spending, mainly on media buys through Chicago-based AL Media. His campaign had about $53,000 in the bank heading into the final five days.

Joe Redner, the better funded of SD 18’s two NPA candidates, didn’t post any contributions during the period, though he did spend $35,000 on media. Fellow NPA candidate Sheldon Upthegrove also laid an egg in his report and showed a $100 account balance Nov. 3.

The other five Senate seats covering Hillsborough or Pinellas counties are pretty much decided, with Sens. Tom Lee, Bill Galvano and Jeff Brandes all winning re-election unopposed, and Clearwater Republican Sen. Jack Latvala only facing a write-in candidate.

The SD 19 race between Democratic Rep. Darryl Rouson and Republican John “Mr. Manners” Houman is also looking like a runaway.

Rouson raised another $41,000 during the reporting period and spent $23,000, leaving him with about $85,000 in the bank for the final stretch. Houman, best known for his nontraditional campaign website, added $0 during the period and has about $60 in the bank.

In the House, Republican Reps. Jake Raburn, Janet Cruz, and Jamie Grant have secured victory, and Sean Shaw is already on the list for the freshman class. Also expect to see Chris Latvala, Chris Sprowls, and Larry Ahern hang on to their seats with little fanfare.

In HD 63, Republican Rep. Shawn Harrison brought in about $46,000 and was outraised by Democrat Lisa Monelione, who added $55,500 to her campaign coffers.

Harrison still has the cash on hand lead with about $38,000 in the bank compared to about $10,000 for Montelione, though a money lead may not be enough to keep him in the swing seat come Tuesday.

South Pasadena Republican Rep. Kathleen Peters is also facing a decently funded Democrat, Jennifer Webb, though she out-raised her 3-to-1 in her new report.

Peters added about $61,500 and spent about $100,500, mainly on a TV buy, leaving her with about $113,000 in the bank. Webb took in another $21,000 and spent about $19,000, leaving her with about $13,000 on hand.

Republican HD 59 Rep. Ross Spano also outraised his opponent, Democratic attorney Rena Frazier, with $26,600 in contributions compared to her $13,500 haul. Both candidates spent nearly $60,000 during the reporting period, and Nov. 3 Spano had about $66,000 in the bank compared to $31,000 for Frazier.

 In HD 60, Republican Jackie Toledo crossed the $300,000 mark in total fundraising after bringing in another $38,000. Toledo, who is running to replace Young, spent $55,600 and had about $73,000 in the bank Nov. 3.

Her opponent, Democrat David Singer, raised about $8,800 and spent $8,300 leaving him with just $5,000 in the bank for the final stretch. At $161,00, his total fundraising is about half of Toledo’s.

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