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9 posts from November 26, 2012

November 26, 2012

Miami Heat asks Miami-Dade County to extend arena contract

The Miami Heat, which won a second championship this year but has yet to pay Miami-Dade a dime in profits after 12 years at its bayfront arena, wants to extend its 30-year agreement with the county for another decade.

The existing agreement doesn’t expire until 18 years from now, in 2030. But, as permitted in the contract, Eric Woolworth, the team’s president of business operations, sent Mayor Carlos Gimenez a letter last week asking the county to begin negotiations on two five-year extensions.

The team wants to plan for its future at the county-owned AmericanAirlines Arena in downtown Miami, said Sammy Schulman, chief financial officer for the Heat Group, the team’s parent company.

“We’re here. We’re a long-term partner. We’re not going anywhere,” Schulman told The Miami Herald on Monday.

The Heat’s request comes on the heels of a title-winning season that generated about $62 million in revenue — bringing it closer than ever to the threshold that would require the team’s arena-operating arm to fork over some of the money to the county. A separate entity handles Heat-related finances such as player salaries.

As part the county’s 1997 accord with the Heat, the team owned by Micky Arison financed construction on county land of the $213 million arena, which the team says ended up costing $239 million, after it bonded out a state sales-tax rebate. Miami-Dade agreed to let the arena keep profits up to $14 million a year, with the county set to receive 40 percent of any additional profits. The team has yet to reach that number since it debuted at the arena 12 years ago, essentially remaining at the facility rent-free.

Most of the Heat’s revenues have gone toward reimbursing the team for the money it borrowed to build the arena and to pay off past operating losses, with interest, as stipulated in the contract with the county. The arena ran a deficit through 2010; its finances improved with the arrival of LeBron James, the reigning league most valuable player.

More here.

Weatherford leans right with House committee assignments

TALLAHASSEE -- With the bipartisan spirit receding from last week’s swearing-in ceremony, Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford looked more like a typical conservative Florida Republican with the unveiling of his committee assignments.

Weatherford placed a trusted social conservative, Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, in charge of the powerful Judiciary Committee, and he left Rep. Bryan Nelson, R-Apopka, an insurance agent, as chairman of the Insurance & Banking Subcommittee.

Rep. Richard Corcoran, the Pasco Republican who is in line to be speaker in 2016, got two significant posts: chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee and chairman of a select committee that will oversee the implementation of Obamacare.

Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, will oversee nearly a third of the state budget as chairman of the Education Appropriations Subcommittee, which now is in charge of K-12, community college and university spending.

The Ethics & Elections Committee, revived after six years of dormancy in the House, will be led by a second-term lawmaker, Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton. The ranking Democrat on that panel is Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa.

Meanwhile, one of the banking and insurance industry’s most vocal critics, Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, was left off the Insurance & Banking Subcomittee, despite listing it as his top preference along with the Transportation & Economic  Development Appropriations Subcommittee (he was given a slot on that subcommittee).

"Having Bryan Nelson chairing Banking & Insurance is one of the worst things to happen to the consumer," Fasano said. "It's the wolf guarding the hen house. Bryan Nelson carries the water for the insurance industry."

It'll be Nelson's job during the next year to oversee changes to Citizens Property Insurance, which is currently embroiled in scandalous revelations from an internal probe. 

See below for the complete list of assignments.

Committee Assignments

-- Steve Bousquet and Michael Van Sickler

Don Gaetz names Senate leaders, key committee chairs

Senate President Don Gaetz has selected his leadership team for the upcoming session, showing who among the Republican-led Senate has made it into the inner circle.

Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Wellington, will seve as majority leader. Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, is deputy leader and whip. 

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, will chair the newly formed committee on ethics and elections. 

Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, will keep his position as chairman of the powerful Rules Committee. Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, will become Appropriations Committee chairman after leading the health care appropriations subcommittee last year.

One notable name absent from the list: Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, who is slated to become Senate president in 2014 but whose leadership ability was openly questioned last year. Gardiner successfully withstood a challenge from Thrasher for that position.

Here is the full text of Gaetz's release:

Continue reading "Don Gaetz names Senate leaders, key committee chairs" »

Broward Sheriff Elect Israel will announce new hires within two weeks

Broward Sheriff Elect Scott Israel said today that he expects to announce new hires within a couple of weeks after he returns from sheriffs' school in Tallahassee where he is headed on Sunday. Israel, a Democrat, beat Republican Al Lamberti in November.

We also asked Israel about a report on the Republican blog The Shark Tank that suggested when Israel takes over BSO won't provide the same security to DNC chair U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Weston.) Lamberti and Wasserman Schultz have had a friendly working relationship and have both appeared at Relay for Life events (both are cancer survivors).

We're not going to delve into the details about when Wasserman Schultz does or doesn't get security while in Florida. But Israel said that it is "ludicrous" to suggest that BSO won't provide security to Wasserman Schultz.

"She is a Congresswoman in the United States of America," Israel said.  "Of course we will be protecting her."

Israel said that he asked Wasserman Schultz to endorse him and she didn't respond. But he said that isn't a factor in any security decisions.

Voting open for Florida license tags

Floridians can now go to Vote4FloridaTag.com to vote for their favorite license tags.

The most popular selection will be the state's official plate, according to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

The state hopes to upgrade the plates by 2014 to include more characters (Florida is running out of combinations) and make them more legible for red light cameras and toll booths.

The four competing tags were created by in-house designers, said Kirsten Olsen-Doolan, spokeswoman for the department.

Continue reading "Voting open for Florida license tags" »

PolitiFact seeks your vote on the Lie of the Year

From PolitiFact:

It's time to choose the Lie of the Year -- and we'd like your help.

As we’ve done for the past three years, we will be selecting the year's most significant falsehood. We have begun putting together a list of contenders and would love to hear your suggestions before we unveil the list of finalists.

You can email your suggestions totruthometer@politifact.com or tweet them to us @PolitiFact.

We’ll announce our finalists in about a week.

Movers & Shakers: Legislative aides shuffle, Polytech hires COO

Senate leadership has brought on new staff, according to the provisional directory. Christopher Clark is the chief of staff, Reynold Meyer is the Deputy Chief of Staff on the legislative process, Katie Betta is the deputy chief of staff for communications, George Levesque is general counsel, Frank Fuller is senior policy adviser on education, Rick Harper is senior policy adviser on economic affairs, Lisa Vickers is senior policy adviser on governmental operations, Carol Gormley is senior policy adviser on health and environment, Eric Edwards is chief legislative assistant, Carlecia Collins is office manager and scheduler, Mary Mica is front office coordinator, and Britton Alexander is legislative research analyst.

The House directory will be printed the first week of December, according to the clerk's office.

Continue reading "Movers & Shakers: Legislative aides shuffle, Polytech hires COO " »

Gov. Rick Scott issues $10,000 degree challenge to colleges

From the Times' Gradebook blog:

As expected, Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Monday challenged the state's 28 colleges to create bachelor's degree programs that cost students no more than $10,000. The Florida Department of Education, which oversees the colleges, quickly put out a press release with many statements of support.

"Florida must be focused on affordability in higher education. The efforts of our colleges to work to produce baccalaureate degrees at a lower cost should provide a major benefit to our students and help meet Florida's workforce needs," Florida College System chancellor Randy Hanna said in the release. 

"Gov. Scott’s $10,000 degree challenge is an innovative approach that will help keep a college degree within reach of a broader section of students," added State Board of Education chairman Gary Chartrand. Five of the board's other six members also offered their praise for the idea.

Notably absent in the commentary was State Board vice chairman Roberto Martinez, who in a separate letter to the governor panned the idea as a "gimmick pretending to be a policy used as a sound bite" and stripped from the playbook of Texas Gov. Rick Perry. He urged Scott to reconsider:

Continue reading "Gov. Rick Scott issues $10,000 degree challenge to colleges" »

For 20 state senators, it's almost campaign time again

The 2012 election campaign may have just ended, but for half of the members of the Florida Senate, it will soon be time to reload and run again. That's because 20 senators who received two-year terms in the new reapportionment plan face re-election in 2014. The two-year anomaly occurs only in a once-a-decade redistricting year, to maintain the constitutional requirement for staggered Senate terms. 

Every senator in an even-numbered district received a two-year term in 2012. Those who were just elected for the first time will be eligible to serve for 10 years, through 2022, if they subsequently win re-election to two additional four-year terms in 2014 and 2018.

The district numbers were randomly assigned to Senate districts last March. The Senate secretary drew balls from a basket in a drawing similar to a  lottery.

Sixteen of the 20 senators who will face voters in 2014 are Republicans. They are Greg Evers, Aaron Bean, John Thrasher, Dorothy Hukill, David Simmons, Thad Altman, Wilton Simpson, Jack Latvala, Jeff Brandes, Tom Lee, Bill Galvano, Nancy Detert, Lizbeth Benacquisto, Joe Negron, Rene Garcia and Miguel Diaz de la Portilla. 

Of that group, only Brandes has opened a re-election campaign account for 2014.

Negron and Thrasher could have the most longevity of all senators in that even-numbered group because both were first elected to fill unexpired partial terms in special elections in 2009.

The four Democratic senators who are up for re-election in 2014 are Geraldine Thompson, Darren Soto, Maria Sachs and Oscar Braynon.

And speaking of legislative longevity, the new "Dean" of the Legislature is Democratic Sen. Gwen Margolis of Coconut Grove, who served six years in the House and is starting her 21st year in the Senate, with one two-year break from 2008-2010.

-- Steve Bousquet