Sunshine State News Blogs
Florida TaxWatch went to bat for Gov. Rick Scott’s plan to reduce the Communication Service Tax (CST). Scott has called reducing the CST by almost $471 million one of his top legislative priorities in 2015.
"I applaud the governor for his leadership and commitment to reducing taxes for all Floridians, especially those families, seniors and residents on very modest incomes," said Dominic M. Calabro, the president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch, on Tuesday. "For years we have recommended that the Legislature reduce this highly burdensome and regressive tax on consumers and businesses. Florida's unfairly high Communications Services Tax is punitive and makes the state less attractive to businesses the state is trying to recruit to provide high-skill, high-wage jobs to its residents."
Florida TaxWatch released a report on Florida’s CST, one of the highest in the nation, which can be read here.
The Florida chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) offered staunch support for Florida Sen. Rene Garcia’s, R-Hialeah, and state Rep. Jay Fant’s, R-Jacksonville, bill to make the Saturday after Thanksgiving a sales tax holiday for small businesses. Across the nation, small businesses are pushing “Small Business Saturday” as part of the holiday shopping culture, much like “Black Friday” is.
“Local businesses have been enthusiastic about Small Business Saturday from its inception, but they're thrilled that the Florida Legislature wants to give Floridians an even bigger incentive to visit their smaller, independently owned stores on the Saturday after Thanksgiving,” said Bill Herrle, the NFIB’s executive director in Florida. “Florida's commitment to small-business owners has been overwhelming, but a Small Business Saturday sales tax holiday is an exciting way to give these small local shops a boost and give shoppers even more reasons to visit their neighbors on Main Street as part of their holiday shopping.”
Under the bill, small businesses would include companies with less than $3.3 million in taxable sales.
U.S. Rep. David Jolly, R-Fla., teamed up with U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., to bring out a bill reauthorizing the Suicide Prevention Resource Center and directing the U.S. secretary of Health and Human Services to allocate already established grants to mental health and drug prevention programs at colleges and universities across the nation.
“We each understand how devastating it can be for a family to lose a child to suicide,” Jolly said on Friday. “This bill is aimed at helping our youth at a critical time in their development by providing prevention and outreach programs with the resources they need to help our kids before it’s too late.
"Though suicide is often thought of as a mystery, there are some things we know about suicide: suicide is a leading cause of death for young people age 15-24; while risk factors for suicide vary with age, gender and ethnic group, important risk factors have been identified; with education, awareness and appropriate support suicide can be prevented,” Jolly said. “This legislation is a significant step in the prevention program.”
Tourism grew almost 4 percent in Florida over 2014, Gov. Rick Scott announced on Monday. With 97.3 million visitors hitting the Sunshine State last year, 2014 becomes the fourth record-breaking year for tourism in a row, up from 93.7 million guests in 2013. Tourism jobs are also growing with 1,135,700 Floridians employed in that area, an increase of 3.6 percent from 2013.
“We are excited to announce that Florida welcomed more than 97 million visitors in 2014 marking the fourth consecutive record year for tourism in the Sunshine State,” Scott said on Monday. “Not only are visitors coming to our state at record levels, but there are also a record number of Floridians employed in our tourism industry. Florida’s natural beauty, pristine beaches and exciting attractions continue to bring countless visitors to our state and provide valuable jobs for our families. Our tourism industry is vital to helping Florida become the global destination for jobs, and this year we are proposing in our ‘keep Florida working’ budget an additional $17.5 million so Visit Florida can market our state and continue our unprecedented growth in visitors.”
Former Gov. Jeb Bush, R-Fla., is turning his focus to New Hampshire, home of the first presidential primary.
On Thursday, Bush’s Right to Rise PAC announced the former Florida governor will head up to the Granite State from March 13-14 as he continues exploring running for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. Bush announced back in December that he was exploring a presidential bid.
Right to Rise brought Rich Killion, a longtime New Hampshire Republican strategist, on board in a senior adviser role. In recent election cycles, Killion helped former Gov. Mitt Romney, R-Mass., in the 2008 election cycle and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s 2012 efforts.
The two members of the Florida congressional delegation leading the U.S. House Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee are looking to increase economic and military aid to Jordan which is in the front lines against Islamic State (IS) terrorist forces.
U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., the chairwoman of the subcommittee, and U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, introduced the “United States-Jordan Defense Cooperation Act of 2015“ on Thursday. The bill would list Jordan as a trusted ally, giving Congress more flexibility to send military aid to that nation to fight IS. The legislation also allows the two nations to have joint military exercises.
U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, the chair of the U.S. State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, and her ranking Democrat U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., are also backing the measure.
The four congressional representatives released a joint statement on Thursday explaining the rationale behind the bill.
“As Jordan ramps up its attacks against IS terrorists, it is critical that the United States does everything it can to support the kingdom in our joint effort to combat radical Islamist terrorists,” they said. “Jordan has been a key partner in the region for years and is on the front lines of the fight against IS, sharing a border with both Syria and Iraq. In order to ensure Jordan has the capabilities to defend itself and fight to eradicate this terrorist threat, we must increase our bilateral military cooperation and expedite military sales to the kingdom.”
Florida TaxWatch weighed in on Thursday, insisting the Sunshine State could save by recalculating class size while not violating a state constitutional amendment voters approved in 2002. Florida TaxWatch finds using a schoolwide average in the calculations could save more than $14.5 million of Florida schools.
"Adjusting the class size calculation to a school average would maintain small class sizes for Florida students and teachers without putting handcuffs on Florida principles and administrators," said Dominic Calabro, the president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch, on Thursday. "By adjusting the way our state's schools calculate their class sizes, billions of taxpayer dollars would be freed up for use on proven tools to increase student learning gains. School districts would be able to invest in better teacher training programs, higher teacher salaries and more resources for students."
Calabro praised a bill working its way through the Legislature that would use a schoolwide average in calculating class sizes.
"Just this week, Rep. George Moraitis Jr. and Sen. Rene Garcia filed proposals (HB 665 and SB 818) that would allow Florida schools to calculate compliance with constitutionally mandated class sizes according to a school average,"said Calabro. "This smart policy change is in line with Florida TaxWatch research recommendations contained in this report and would ensure more of the taxpayers' education investments are spent in Florida classrooms for Florida students."
The Libertarian Party of Florida (LPF) is claiming momentum, pointing to a 13 percent increase in their number of registered voters in the last quarter of 2014 while the Democrats and Republicans remained essentially in place.
"It's not surprising that the Republican and Democrat parties are stagnant, while the Libertarian Party is growing rapidly,” said Adrian Wyllie who was the Libertarian guberntorial candidate in 2014. “We're the only party offering common-sense government solutions that benefit everybody.
"If you ask 100 people on the street, about one third of them will agree with the Libertarian platform right down the line,” Wyllie added. “There's already millions of Libertarians out there, but they just don't know there's a political party that believes what they do. We're going to tell them."
The LPF is now pushing to earn major party status with 5 percent of registered voters in the state joining their party.
Former Gov. Jeb Bush, R-Fla., will be hitting Wall Street on Wednesday for a high end fundraiser. Politico has some of the details.
Financier Henry Kravis will be hosting a Park Avenue fundraiser for Bush’s Right to Rise PAC with tickets costing $100,000. Bush said back in December that he is exploring running for the presidency in 2016.
With former Gov. Mitt Romney, R-Mass., announcing last month that he would not seek the Republican nomination for a third time, Bush has been actively trying to claim many of his supporters, including those from Wall Street.
Appearing on the “Kelly File" on Fox News on Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a member of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee and a possible Republican presidential hopeful in 2016, called for a wide ranging Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against Islamic State (IS) terrorist forces.
“I think we need to authorize not just the use of force, we need to authorize to defeat IS,” Rubio said. “It continues to develop. What the president needs to come up with is a strategy, militarily, to defeat them. Which I think involves, for example, an anti-IS ground force made up of Arab armies, combined with U.S. Special Forces, particularly for tactical support, an increase in the air strikes.
“But we need to authorize the use of force,” Rubio added. “But more importantly, we need to authorize the use of force sufficient to defeat them, to destroy them.”
Megyn Kelly from Fox News noted that U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., another potential Republican presidential candidate, called for a more restricted AUMF--something Rubio said he disagreed with.
“If you put a geographic limit on the authorization of the use of force, you’ve basically told IS where they can go to hide,” Rubio said. “If you say, for example, you can only hit them in Iraq and Syria, they have every incentive now to move their operations and their training facilities to some other place that’s not included within it.
“We need to understand – what’s the goal here?" Rubio continued. “The goal here is to defeat ISIL. If your goal is to defeat them, your goal is to defeat them no matter how long it takes, or how many places you have to go after them.”
“Do you think this AUMF that’s going to get submitted tomorrow is going to go through, is going to pass?” Kelly asked.
“Well we need to see the details of it, as I said. I hope that it is an authorization sufficient that allows us to win, to defeat IS,” Rubio answered. And I think when you limit it geographically, when you limit it with time constraints, you’re basically telling the enemy, ‘We’re going to fight you for five years, and if in five years we haven’t succeeded, then we’re going to stop,’ or ‘We’re not going to hit you if you move to Libya, or if you move to Afghanistan.’ I don’t think that’s going to work if our objective here is to defeat this very dangerous group.”
Ethan Czahor was hired this week as the chief technology officer for Right to Rise, a PAC connected to former Gov. Jeb Bush, R-Fla., who is looking at running for president in 2016. Czahor drew fire from the left on Monday for tweets in which he repeatedly called women “sluts” but he apologized and was kept on by the Bush team.
But even more inappropriate comments from Czahor came to light on Tuesday with the Huffington Post reporting he made inappropriate racial remarks and questioned the Pledge of Allegiance. By the end of day, Czahor offered his resignation which was accepted.
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the new chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, closed the door on running for the Republican presidential nomination on Monday. Corker’s name had generated some buzz as a possible dark horse hopeful.
Speaking to WPLN in Nashville, Corker said he was focused on his new duties.
“I have no plans to pursue that," Corker told WPLN. "I’m very challenged with my current role as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. It’s involved me in things beyond what I ever anticipated.”
U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., is calling on President Barack Obama to have an “overarching strategey" again Islamic State (IS) terrorist forces.
“Now is the time for the president to articulate an overarching strategy to defeat IS and explain how he intends to build a greater international effort that does not rely on American combat troops,” Buchanan said on Tuesday. “The leadership vacuum in the White House must be replaced by a clear and coherent vision."
Buchanan pointed to reports showing IS gaining in Syria and Northern Africa as well as UN reports on their execution methods and called for a coalition of Middle Eastern nations to be the front line forces against IS.
"That coalition should include other Arab nations that have much to lose if IS continues its murderous rampage in pursuit of an Islamic Caliphate," Buchanan said.
As Sunshine State News nears its 5-year birthday in March, expect some major changes as we continue to cover a side to the issues and stories that is absent in the news landscape.
Sunshine State News will expand in new directions in the weeks to come, taking our common-sense core message to even more Floridians. Keep an eye on Sunshine State News on Wednesday morning for a major announcement concerning the first step toward these efforts.
Sunshine State News is about to hit the radio airwaves.
Your humble blogger will be on all two hours of the Ed Dean Radio Show on Wednesday instead of my normal half hour spot. We’ll be broadcasting at the 1300 WMEL studio in Cocoa.
Listen in at www.1300wmel.com.
The poll found most voters prefer to cut spending and don't see the need for higher taxes. Only 16 percent say they're in favor of a budget that increases spending while over half -- 54 percent -- prefer a budget that cuts spending. Only 21 percent think spending levels should remain about the same.
When it comes to increasing taxes, more than half -- 57 percent -- say additional tax hikes are needed to fund the federal government while only 26 percent say additional tax hikes are necessary.
When Congress was unable to reach a long-term budget agreement in 2013, it agreed to automatic across-the-board annual budget cuts. Obama says he wants to end the sequestration cuts. Thirty-five percent of likely voters favor ending these cuts and raising federal spending while a slightly higher number (40 percent) are opposed.
The poll of 800 likely voters was conducted Jan. 31-Feb. 1 by Rasmussen Reports.
Former Gov. Mitt Romney, R-Mass., announced to supporters on Friday that he will not seek the Republican presidential nomination for a third time. Romney was the Republican presidential candidate in 2012 who lost to President Barack Obama.
Conservative pundit and radio show host Hugh Hewitt received a copy of what Romney told supporters on Friday. Romney insisted that he could win the nomination but decided against a third bid.
“After putting considerable thought into making another run for president, I’ve decided it is best to give other leaders in the party the opportunity to become our next nominee," Romney said.
The National Republican Campaign Committee (NRCC) jabbed freshman U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, D-Fla., on Wednesday, accusing her of backing President Barack Obama’s call to tax 529 saving accounts that Americans use to save for their children’s college education. After drawing heavy fire from the Republicans on the proposal, Obama has spiked it for the moment.
“Gwen Graham’s first big initiative in Congress was supporting Barack Obama’s plan to tax college savings accounts – a proposal so absurd that even the president has already abandoned it,” said Chris Pack, a spokesman for the NRCC, on Wednesday. “Hopefully Graham now realizes that she should study up on the president’s proposals to see how they would impact her constituents before she blindly supports them.”
But a spokesman for Graham has said she has never backed the president's plan or raising taxes on 529s
Graham's camp noted that, in her response to Obama's State of the Union, the new congresswoman said, "I disagree with some of the president’s proposals, like raising taxes while our economy is still recovering."
Graham's team also noted that her father -- former U.S. Sen. and Gov. Bob Graham, D-Fla. -- introduced 529s with now-U.S. Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
"Hubris appears to be the organizing principle of our executive branch," she said.
"These last few weeks have been a miserable lesson in bad government and the citizens whom I've had the opportunity to speak with -- many of whom have written letters to the editor in your newspapers -- have stated ... what is going on and why can't we get the truth out of the firing of Commissioner Bailey, a gentleman with an esteemed record of service in this state and law enforcement whose own statement contradicts that of the governor's office," Joyner continued.
Joyner also called for an investigation of the firing.
The special Republican primary battle for former Rep. Doc Renuart’s open House seat, representing the northern parts of St. Johns County, proved close on Tuesday night.
St. Johns County Commissioner Cyndi Stevenson beat St. Augustine businessman Mike Davis, who challenged Renuart in the primary back in 2012, by 300 votes on Tuesday night. With all votes in, Stevenson had 5,173 votes (42 percent) while Davis took 4,870 votes (39 percent). Jack Capra stood in distant third with 2,379 votes (19 percent).
Stevenson will face Judy Stevens, who is running with no party affiliation, and write-in candidate Mary Anne Boczek in the April 7 special election.
Former Rep. Travis Hutson won the special Republican primary for an open Florida Senate seat on Tuesday night, decisively beating former Rep. Doc Renuart by 17 percent. Hutson will face Democrat David Cox in the special election on April 7.
With all votes in from Flagler, Putnam and Volusia counties and more than 90 percent of precincts reported in St. Johns County, Hutson had 52 percent of the vote while Renuart trailed with 35 percent. Dennis McDonald was in distant third with 13 percent.
The seat became vacant when former Sen. John Thrasher accepted the presidency of Florida State University. Republicans have a clear advantage in the district.
Paul Renner is one step closer to heading to Tallahassee after a big primary win on Tuesday night.
Renner, an attorney and Navy veteran, lost by the skin of his teeth in a Republican primary to banker Jay Fant for an open Florida House seat in Duval County. But, on Tuesday, Renner bounced back easily, crushing former St. Johns County Commissioner Ron Sanchez and conservative activist Danielle Anderson in the special Republican primary for the House seat vacated by former Rep. Travis Hutson.
Renner will be a heavy favorite over Democrat Adam Morley in the special election in April to represent this solidly Republican district which represents all of Flagler County and parts of St. Johns and Volusia counties.
U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, D-Fla., announced on Monday she was named to the U.S. House Agriculture Committee. Graham defeated U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Fla., back in November in a rare bright spot for Democrats in the Sunshine State in last year’s election cycle.
“Farmers and rural communities are the backbone of North Florida,” Graham said on Monday. "Our economy depends on their hard work. Our families depend on them to provide food.
“On the Agriculture Committee, I will be a voice our farmers can depend on to represent their interests,” Graham added.
Graham helped overcome a Republican tide by pushing the “North Florida way” instead of the “Washington way” on the campaign trail and stressing bipartisanship. She continued along those lines on Monday.
“Florida’s farmers expect us to rise above partisanship and politics,” Graham said. “I look forward to working with Republicans and Democrats to benefit North Florida agriculture.”
Florida Farm Bureau President John Hoblick said he was glad Graham has her new assignment.
“I want to congratulate Rep. Gwen Graham upon her appointment to the House Agriculture Committee,” Hoblick said. “Florida’s farm families look forward to working with her on a variety of federal issues that affect their livelihoods. They will be knowledgeable resources for Rep. Graham in both the development of new legislation and the application of existing policies.”
Graham is not the only representative from North Florida on the Agriculture Committee. U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., also sits on it.
U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., announced on Monday he was a co-sponsor of U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson’s, R-S.C., “Local Control of Education Act” which would stop the Obama administration from making states “adopt a specific curriculum, and would void any previous federal requirements established for states that have already adopted Common Core.”
Rooney explained why he was backing the bill on Monday.
“The federal government has no constitutional business setting the curriculum for a teacher in a Florida classroom,” Rooney said. “If states, of their own volition, want to adopt a certain set of standards, then that’s their prerogative. I believe in states’ rights. However, the federal government should not be using carrots and sticks to coerce states into adopting Common Core or any other curriculum passed down from on high in Washington.
“I believe Florida’s teachers, principals and parents know our students and their needs better than any bureaucrat in Washington does, and decisions about education and curriculum need to be made as close to the student and teacher as possible,” Rooney added. “Our bill restores local control over education by prohibiting the federal government from using grants or waivers to coerce, mandate or incentivize states into adopting Common Core or other similar standards.”
Rooney said the Obama administration has used waivers from No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top funds to push states into embracing Common Core.
Conservative group Americans for Prosperity (AFP) came out swinging at proposals to use public funds and incentives to lure the entertainment industry to Florida on Tuesday. AFP’s Florida chapter showcased an infographic on the matter on Tuesday, insisting film incentives don’t help the economy.
"Because some lawmakers were misled by Hollywood lobbyists promising massive economic growth, illustrious films and shows like 'Spring Breakers,' 'Magic Mike,' 'What would Ryan Lochte Do?,' and even a Victoria’s Secret commercial were approved to receive millions in corporate welfare,” said Chris Hudson of AFP Florida. “These are just a few of the examples of questionable entertainment that were subsidized by Florida taxpayers – all in the name of nonexisting economic growth. While Hollywood executives made big promises about job creation and economic growth, our state’s own economists did the research and gave a critical review: two thumbs down for Hollywood handouts. They found that the tax incentive program fails to live up to its hype, providing a pathetic return on investment of only 43 cents for every taxpayer dollar invested. It’s time to end Hollywood’s B-rated cronyism drama in Tallahassee. No more handouts for special interests.”
Gov. Rick Scott called for $7.4 million for three new state homes for veterans. One of the homes will be in St. Lucie County while the Cabinet needs to decide on the location for the other two.
“Florida is the most military-friendly state in the nation and as a Navy veteran, it is incredibly important that we do all we can to help our veterans and their families,” Scott said. “My father was a member of the 82nd Airborne and we will never forget the selfless sacrifice all of our veterans have made to ensure we have the opportunity to live the American dream. I am proud that we are going to continue to support our heroes by adding new nursing homes and we will keep working each day to ensure all of our veterans have a great quality of life in Florida.”
Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown, the first Democrat to win a mayoral race in that city since Ed Austin in 1991, is in serious trouble according to a poll of likely voters released on Monday.
The poll finds, for the first round in March, Brown ahead with 38 percent followed by Curry with 31 percent. City Councilman Bill Bishop stands in distant third with 9 percent.
But with the runoff of the top two candidates in May, if nobody gathers 50 percent Curry takes the lead in a head-to-head match-up. In that scenario, Curry takes 45 percent and Brown 42 percent.
The poll of 1,247 likely Jacksonville voters was taken between Jan. 23-25 and had a margin of error of +/- 2.8 percent.
Longtime Alachua County educator Hershel Lyons was named as K-12 public schools chancellor by Education Commissioner Pam Stewart on Monday.
“Hershel has dedicated his life to educating our students and I am confident he will do an outstanding job as chancellor,” Gov. Rick Scott said on Monday. “Providing Florida students with a world-class education is vital to our goal of making Florida the No. 1 state for job creation, and I’m certain that Hershel will help us on that mission. I look forward to continuing to work with Commissioner Stewart and Hershel as we work to provide historic investments in our K-12 education system and make Florida the best state in the nation to raise a family and get a great education.”
“Florida’s K-12 students and teachers rank among the best in the nation for achievement,” Stewart said before turning to Scott’s record. “Under Gov. Scott's leadership, we have implemented student-centered policies and made significant investments in education, which has enabled Florida students to thrive. We must build on this success, and the K-12 public schools chancellor is integral to continued student achievement. With nearly three decades of in-school experience and a track record of applying innovative approaches to improve outcomes, Hershel is ideal to lead Florida’s public schools.”
"I have been honored to work with Florida students throughout my career because I believe that, with the right guidance, every child has boundless potential,” Lyons said. “I am humbled by Commissioner Stewart's appointment, and I look forward to continuing to serve the people of Florida in this new role."
School Choice Week starts in Monday with more than 1,400 events across Florida, part of almost 11,100 events across the nation.
Jacksonville leads the Sunshine State with 227 events followed by Miami with 174 and Orlando with 90.
“When it comes to providing parents with a diverse array of K-12 education options for their children, Florida is a national leader,” said Andrew Campanella, president of National School Choice Week. “Parents in Florida have more educational choices for their children than in many other states.”