Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics – November 26

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Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.

Today’s Rise and Shine Fact-iversary is brought to you by Sachs Media Group, the public affairs firm known for unparalleled relationships and winning strategies: On this day in 1926, St. Petersburg’s “Million Dollar Pier” was dedicated, replacing a previous pier structure that was severely damaged in a hurricane earlier that year. Dedicated on Thanksgiving Day, the Million Dollar Pier – named because of a $1 million bond authorized by the city – was the first city-owned pier in St. Petersburg history. The structure served the community until it was demolished in 1967, replaced six years later by the inverted-pyramid structure commonly known as, simply, “The Pier.” Despite an up-and-down history in recent years, The Pier remains a focal point on the city’s waterfront.

Now, on to the ‘burn.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: Yes, will be publishing a special Thanksgiving edition of Sunburn. If you’d like to share with other Sunburn readers what you are most grateful for, email your sentiments to saintpeter4@gmail.com.

AMID GLOBAL SLOWDOWN, U.S. GROWTH KEEPS LOOKING BETTER via Eric Morath of the Wall Street Journal

The economy expanded at its fastest pace in more than a decade during the spring and summer, showing the U.S. has strengthened its economic footing despite increasing global uncertainty.

Gross domestic product, the broadest measure of goods and services produced across the economy, grew at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 3.9% in the third quarter, the Commerce Department said.

FLORIDA’S NOVEMBER CONSUMER CONFIDENCE REACHES POST-RECESSION HIGH via Florida Politics

Consumer sentiment among Floridians hit a post-recession high of 86 in November, an increase of two points over October, according to a monthly University of Florida survey.

“The last time sentiment was this high in Florida was March 2007, over 7 ½ years ago,” said Chris McCarty, director of UF’s Survey Research Center in the Bureau of Economic and Business Research.

Of the five components comprising the index, three increased, one decreased and one remained unchanged.  Survey takers’ perception that they are better off financially now compared with a year ago increased two points to 75, but their expectations of personal financial gains a year from now fell a point to 82.

The survey also shows that confidence in U.S. economic conditions over the next year rose three points to 85, while faith in the national economy for the next five years remained unchanged at 86.

Finally, respondents’ view that now is a good time to buy big-ticket items, such as appliances, rose three points to 100, the highest that component has been since February 2007.

November’s confidence rise was unexpected.

Improving economic conditions in Florida also helped lift public confidence.  The state’s October unemployment rate fell one-tenth of a percent to 6.0, which is slightly higher than the national rate of 5.8 percent.  The state added 34,000 jobs since September, while the labor force rose by 22,000.

FLORIDA LEADS NATION IN NEW CONSTRUCTION JOBS via Marcia Heroux Pounds of the South Florida Sun Sentinel

Florida led the nation in new construction jobs in October, adding 10.4 percent, or 40,100 jobs since the year before, according to the state.

The swell in construction jobs was particularly evident in South Florida. Miami-Dade County had the biggest growth, 12.3 percent or 4,400 new jobs. Palm Beach County was up 7.6 percent, with 2,100 more construction jobs, and Broward added 1,700 construction jobs, up 4.9 percent from October 2013, according to new data.

“We’re not at the 2006 peak, but maybe we shouldn’t be,” said J. Antonio Villamil, economist with The Washington Economics Group. “The increases are healthier than the speculative increases we saw through 2004 to 2006.”

Population growth, foreign investment, improved employment and low-rate mortgages are contributing to more condominiums, apartments and other residential construction, he said.

“We’re starting to attract younger millennials. Broward is having success in corporate headquarters. This all increases the demand for apartments and good housing,” Villamil said.

FLORIDA TAXWATCH PREDICTS HIGHER HOLIDAY SALES, BUT NEWS IS NOT ALL GOOD Full story here

More glad tidings for retailers today, as Florida TaxWatch estimates holiday sales in 2014 to outpace last year. However, the news may not be all good.

Within the latest Economic Commentary from the independent, nonpartisan government watchdog group is a warning that more consumer spending may not fully benefit Florida retailers, due to tax loopholes on online sales.

“Florida’s retail industry is alive and well,” says TaxWatch President Dominic Calabro, “producing more jobs and bolstering state revenues, which enables our elected officials to fund necessary programs that benefit all Floridians.”

In 2013, he says, visitors to the Sunshine State spent more than $76 billion on taxable retail purchases. Sales taxes comprise nearly 75 percent of the state’s General Revenue budget. From September 2013 through August of this year, the Commentary estimates that six retail categories contributed 55 percent of sales and use tax revenues.

Florida retail sales traditionally peak in March and December. Although a strong holiday retail season may have an overall positive impact on the state budget, Calabro also notes that Florida’s remote tax laws could lessen the impact of those higher sales. Brick and mortar retailers often lose business to online consumers, who purchase items tax-free on the internet, even though sellers are required to remit the sales tax to the Florida Department of Revenue.

Calabro calls for an update to the state’s sales tax code.

“The businesses that are investing in our state’s communities and providing jobs to hardworking Floridians should not be penalized, and consumers shouldn’t face the burden of remitting their own taxes,” he says. “It is past time to modernize the way Florida collects sales taxes.”

RANKS OF SUPER-RICH FLORIDIANS ON THE RISE via Jeff Harrington of the Tampa Bay Times

Amid recent reports showing stagnant income growth and nearly half of Floridians struggling to afford basic needs comes this fresh insight into the Sunshine State’s financial fortunes:

The ranks of super-rich Floridians jumped nearly 12 percent last year, the biggest surge among large states.

Wealth-X, a Singapore-based intelligence research firm, crunched the numbers on individuals with net assets of $30 million or more — a category dubbed ultra-high net worth (UHNW) individuals.

Its report found Florida added nearly 500 ultra-wealthy the past year bringing that rich niche to 4,710. Its one-year growth spurt of 11.7 percent more residents on the high end of the wealth chart not only surpasses the rate of increase in other large states like California, New York and Texas, but ranks as the fifth biggest percentage increase in the country.

Wealth-X attributed Florida’s growth to the financial and real estate sectors.

Some recent data highlighting the disparity in Florida:

>>> The United Way found that nearly half of Florida households — 3.2 million in the state, including about 600,000 in Tampa Bay — are hard-pressed to pay for basic needs.

>>> The U.S. Commerce Department reported that per capita income in Tampa Bay rose just 1.3 percent in 2013, trailing the national average of 2 percent.

>>> Financial adviser website interest.com said Tampa Bay’s median income — lowest among the 25 biggest metro areas and $4,000 less than the second-worst, Miami — makes it hard for middle-class residents to afford a home.

GOV. SCOTT AND STAFF USED PRIVATE EMAIL ACCOUNT, DESPITE DENIALS FROM ADMINISTRATION via Gary Fineout of the Associated Press

Gov. Scott exchanged emails dealing with vetoes, the state budget and his speeches from a private email account, according to records turned over to The Associated Press on Tuesday.

Scott has previously said he used a Google email account to communicate with his family and not for state business. He also said that if ever he got an email dealing with state business he would forward it to his public email accounts.

John Tupps, a spokesperson for Scott, however, acknowledged in a statement that “after a thorough review of this old email account, there were occasions the governor failed to forward messages.”

“This email account is closed and the personal email account the governor uses now has not been given out beyond his family,” Tupps said.

The Scott administration turned over the emails more than three months after The Associated Press first asked for them.

Most of the emails appear to be from 2011 and 2012, although there are some also from 2013. It is not a violation of law to have a private email account, but it would be a violation if someone asked for emails and the governor’s office failed to turn them over.

Scott’s Google email account has been at the center of an ongoing lawsuit filed against Scott by a Tallahassee attorney and a frequent critic of the Republican governor.

WATCH HERE: Fineout’s exchange with Gov. Scott from this summer about his Gmail account.

TWEET, TWEET: @fineout: Remember @PaulFlemming column about Sunburst – the plan to put @FLGovScott & staff emails online. Scott called it “funny” in his Gmail

GOV. SCOTT PICKS MONICA RUSSELL FOR CABINET AFFAIRS POST via Matt Dixon of the Naples Daily News

Governor Scott announced the appointments of Monica Russell as the Director of Cabinet Affairs; John Tupps as the Deputy Communications Director; and Jeri Bustamante as the Press Secretary. All positions are effective December 1st.

Scott said, “John Tupps has been a tireless advocate for our mission to become the number one job creator in the world.  Monica and Jeri both did an excellent job on my campaign. They are all focused on our work to make Florida the best place in the world to raise a family and live the American Dream.”

Jeri Bustamante most recently served as Press Secretary for Lt. Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera during the reelection campaign where she also assisted with Hispanic media outreach. Prior to that, Bustamante was a communications specialist at the Miami-Dade Property Appraiser’s Office and an associate producer at FOX affiliate WSVN in Miami. She received a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in public administration from Florida International University.

Monica Russell most recently served as the Surrogates Director and managed operations for Lt. Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera during Governor Scott’s reelection campaign. Before that, Russell served as deputy communications director in the Governor’s Office. From 2013-2014, she served as communications director for the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. Previously, Russell was a partner at North Public Relations and served as vice president of government and community affairs for the Greater Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce. Russell holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Florida.

John Tupps has served in the Executive Office of the Governor since February, 2011, where he worked in various roles, including most recently as the Governor’s Press Secretary. Originally from Knoxville, TN, Tupps previously worked as a radio producer for South Central Radio Group. He received his bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of Tennessee.

REDISTRICTING RECORDS: GOP-LED PROCESS WAS AN ILLUSION via Aaron Deslatte of the Orlando Sentinel

Long before the first public maps were released, critics say Florida Republican political operatives were creating an “illusion” of non-partisanship over the once-a-decade redistricting process with a “wink and a nudge toward their collaborators in the Legislature.”

That illusion was outed Tuesday when the Florida Supreme Court released thousands of pages of emails, testimony and sealed court records related to the GOP political consulting firm Data Targeting, which was at the center of the two-year legal fight over lawmakers’ attempts to implement anti-gerrymandering reforms passed by voters.

… Given the leak, the high court released the records Tuesday.
… During a deposition,Bainter professed to only having a passing “interest” in the redistricting process, and had never submitted maps, claiming “it was an intriguing process” to watch.”I never actually completed a map. I found it way too tedious,”Bainter said under oath.But behind the scenes, email show he arranged for intermediaries to submit five maps drawn by GOP operatives. Bainter suggested he could round up “10 more people at least” to do the same.

Through fellow Gainesville Republican Stafford Jones and consultant Rich Heffley — who has worked for current Senate President Andy Gardiner — Bainter’s shop provided a pipeline from the Republican Party of Florida, which was preparing draft congressional and legislative plans, to the Legislature’s portal for public map submissions, records show.

After RPOF operative Frank Terraferma submitted a proposed congressional plan to Bainter in October 2011, Bainter wrote to his staff that “We will NOT exactly copy this map, but it does give you something to go on. In particular take note of the new Hispanic Central Florida District,” a version of which would later be won by Democrat Alan Grayson.

In another message that month to Bainter, consultant Anthony Pedicini wrote he had an alternative map called “Impartial” that constructed a Central Florida Hispanic congressional seat which would draw three Tampa Bay Republicans into the same district.

BILL FILED AGAIN TO PROTECT LGBT COMMUNITY IN STATE LAW Full story here

Key Largo Representative Holly Raschein filed a bill that would add protections for gay and transgender people in Florida’s anti-discrimination law.

The Florida Competitive Workforce Act will be heard during the 2015 legislative session.

It’s already illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, religion, sex, national origin, physical handicap or marital status, the LGBT community isn’t covered under state protections when it comes to employment and housing. The bi-partisan bill is seen as a win by business leaders who believe it will give the state a stronger competitive foothold in a society where alternative lifestyles are becoming widely accepted.

The bill is being celebrated by Florida Businesses for a Competitive Workforce, a coalition of 21 major Florida employers. The group includes giant job creators like Darden Restaurants, Florida Blue, the Marriott hotel chain, Raymond James and Tech Data. Also involved are Walt Disney World Resorts, Wells Fargo and Winn Dixie.

ANITERE FLORES TO LEAD MIAMI-DADE LEGISLATIVE DELEGATION via Kathleen McGrory of the Miami Herald

The Miami-Dade Legislative Delegation has a new leader. Sen. Anitere Flores, a Miami Republican, was voted chair.

Flores said she plans to concentrate on issues that affect all of Miami-Dade County, including transportation, education and infrastructure. She will also work to ensure Miami-Dade projects receive funding.

Flores, who has served in the Legislature since 2004 and works as the president of Doral College, won the unanimous support of her colleagues.

Sen. Oscar Braynon said he expects her to reach across party lines.

“She always been inclusive of me, Dwight [Bullard] and Gwen [Margolis],” he said, naming the other Senate Democrats from Miami-Dade. “I’m happy to have someone from our Senate group to spread the unity to our entire delegation.”

Flores replaces former Rep. Eddy Gonzalez, who could not seek re-election due to term limits.

Rep. José Félix Díaz, R-Miami, will serve as vice chair. The 24-member delegation from Miami-Dade is the largest in the state.

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POLICING FOR PROFIT: HOW YOUR PROPERTY CAN BE SEIZED via Noah Pransky of WTSP

A controversial procedure that allows Florida law enforcement to seize cars, cash, and other personal property during an arrest is under increasing scrutiny as some agencies are relying on it more and more to create revenue.

Civil forfeiture was designed to take tools such as guns and drug money away from serious criminals. Anything seized during a felony arrest can become the property of the arresting agency if the property owner doesn’t challenge it. But officers routinely seize property as their agency’s own even though warrants are seldom filed, and often, charges are never even filed against the property owner.

10 Investigates found many local law enforcement agencies are utilizing the practice more than ever, raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars each in cash and cars they later sell at auction.

Representatives for local agencies say property is seized to prevent crime, yet several have policies of only taking property away if it has legitimate cash value to the agency. Cars that are very old or have large loans/liens on them are seldom seized.

It can be tough to tell exactly how much Tampa-area agencies are making through their forfeiture/seizure programs because proceeds usually fall under several different budget line items and multiple government programs. But according to the Department of Justice, one program helped law enforcement agencies seize $4.2 billion in property in 2012, with Florida one of the top states in the nation.

BIPARTISAN BUSINESS COALITION PUSHES FOR INCREASED HEALTH ACCESS via Christine Jordan Sexton of Florida Politics

Legislative leaders quickly put the nix on talk of Medicaid expansion last week while in Tallahassee but members of a bipartisan, growing coalition aren’t listening.

The group — A Healthy Florida Works — wants to pump up the volume on the health care access debate and says 2015 is the year to do it.

“I think it’s far to say you’ll be hearing from from us soon,” said Jennifer Fennell, spokesperson for the group, whose membership includes 500 businesses across the state and 70,000 individuals who want Florida to tap into $50 billion in federal dollars over the next ten years.

Other statewide partners in the A Healthy Florida Works coalition include Associated Industries of Florida, Florida United Business Association, the Florida Hospital Association, and the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

While Fennell wouldn’t release any details on a Tallahassee event, she did note that the coalition is  hosting “Cover the Bay” with St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn on January 28. It will provide an opportunity for business leaders to meet with Bay area municipal leaders to discuss how extending health care coverage to roughly 1 million eligible Floridians would impact the local community.

A Healthy Florida Works doesn’t focus its message on “Medicaid expansion” instead, it talks in terms of health care access and the use of available federal dollars to provide health care coverage to poor adults.

Expanding Medicaid was one way the federal law–commonly called Obamacare–provided coverage to uninsured Americans.

IN THE DEPARTURE LOUNGE: LOBBYISTS JOE MCCANN, ROBERT REYES, AND MIKE HIGHTOWER’S RETIREMENT? Full story here

There are few weeks of the year better than this shortened, Thanksgiving one to quietly make a personnel move in the world of government and politics. Continuing this occasional series, we update you on who’s in the Departure Lounge.

Joe McCann is leaving his position as a Senior Vice President at Ballard Partners, the firm confirmed. Before joining the lobbying world, McCann previously served as the campaign manager for Bob Butterworth for Attorney General, was a senior legislative aide to state Senator Ron Klein, and legislative aide to Congressman James Bacchus. McCann is expected to open his own boutique firm.

Robert Reyes will soon part ways with Floridian Partners, the statewide firm headed by Charlie Dudley. The parting was amicable. Reyes’ book of business included multiple interests from the insurance and financial services sectors. Prior to entering the private sector, Reyes served as legislative affairs director for the Department of Insurance under Commissioner Tom Gallagher.

This is more an arrival as SPB is hearing Mike Hightower’s retirement is about to depart. Look for the former Florida Blue lobbyist to sign on with law firm Holland & Knight.

GOVERNORS CLUB SMOKING REGULATION PERTURBS SOME MEMBERS Full story here

The world is growing smaller for Governors Club smokers.

Beginning Jan. 1, smoking will not be permitted prior to 7:00 p.m. in the Lounge of the exclusive downtown Tallahassee club, which features dining and meeting rooms.

“It makes the Governors Club Lounge like any other bar in town; there’s nothing special about going there now,” said David Ramba, a Tallahassee lobbyist who frequently holds court in the Lounge.

“If you want a nice place to smoke a cigar, it’s the only place available in town, “said Ramba. “If you are sitting there having a cigar with a senator you don’t have to worry about the press walking in. …  “It’s a place where you can sit down have discussions, socialize and have the smoke-filled room – it got famous for that.”

Gus Corbella, president of the Board which oversees the Club sent out a notice Monday explaining the new smoking regulation. Corbella wrote that 57 percent of the respondents to a club survey voted in favor of making the change.

“Today’s decision by the Board to limit smoking until after 7 p.m. is a sincere effort to try and find a middle-ground to respect the wishes of our membership as a whole,” Corbella explained.

THE END OF AN ERA IN TAMPA via Susannah Nesmith of the Columbia Journalism Review

The sad news out of Tampa just keeps trickling across my Facebook page.

This week it was the fact that Tampa Bay Times’ Bill Duryea and Michael Kruse were leaving for Politico. Last week, it was long-time sports columnist Gary Shelton penning his last goodbye to the Times while the crosstown Tampa Tribune laid off a political columnist, William March, a 30-year veteran his competition called “venerable” and “annoyingly tough.”

Before that, my Facebook feed saw farewell parties for the Times’ delightful culture columnist, Jeff Klinkenberg, and others who took early retirement as part of the paper’s downsizing announced two months ago. While the bad, sad news has been coming mostly from the Times recently, the Trib had its share of tribulations over the summer, with far too many photos of going-away cakes flitting across my feed.

I’ve worked in Florida journalism for nearly 17 years. In the 1990s, I worked at The Palm Beach Post, at a time when we proudly thought of ourselves as a “writers’ paper,” a smaller version of the Times. From 2003 until 2009, I worked at The Miami Herald, a time when we recognized that the Times was probably better at nurturing writers, but we had more fun and so did our readers. (The Herald, after all, produced Dave Barry and Carl Hiaasen. We took journalism seriously, but were never as serious as the Times.)

The two Tampa papers have always been viewed with a bit of romance, even awe by my cohort of Florida journalists. The Times was just so good, and it seemed protected from the market forces that battered so many other newspapers. Owned by the nonprofit Poynter Institute, it didn’t have to please shareholders or lay off great reporters and photographers in order to carve a profit out of shrinking advertising. (A 2001 CJR article about the then-St. Petersburg Times was headlined “A Happy Newsroom, for Pete’s Sake.”) Meanwhile, the Trib was just so scrappy, holding its own against the competition the Times dished out.

There will be some more good journalism in the future, but the era of romance is over. Poynter is losing money. The Times took out a loan last year that looks like the corporate version of a payday loan, and it’s got to be paid back next year. Both Poynter and the Times are selling off property.

You can read all about the Times’ troubles in the Trib. Meanwhile, I’ve heard friends at the Tribune wonder how long their paper will survive. They’re heartbroken because they have enjoyed being the scrappy rival to the Times’ impressiveness. There was always something a little pugnacious about the Trib.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to former Senator Dan Gelber and to the friend who has taught me a great deal during our brief relationship, Mac “The Knife” Stipanovich.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.