Thursday, May 24, 2018

Backroom Briefing: Putting them on the Board

Jim Turner News Service of Florida May 24, 2018

TALLAHASSEE --- Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, and Rep. Nicholas Duran, D-Miami, didn’t get the special legislative session they wanted to address school funding.

But they were able to get a roll call this week of most House and Senate members amid a controversy about per-student funding in the new state budget.

With Republicans lined up in opposition, a request from the Democrats to hold a special session quickly fizzled out. To be successful, the Democrats would have needed three-fifths support in both Republican-dominated chambers --- 70 votes were needed in the House, which currently includes 117 members, and 23 votes were needed in the 39-member Senate.

Members had until mid-day Thursday to vote on the special session, but by Tuesday it was apparent that Jones and Duran would not get the needed support.

“Representative Jones and Duran would like to reassert that this was an effort, before the fiscal year comes to an end, to correct an issue created by the Legislature,” House Democratic Office spokeswoman Karol Molinares said Wednesday, after it became mathematically impossible for the House to reach the support threshold as 51 Republicans and one Democrat voted against the proposal. “They wanted to facilitate a way for members to share their opinion on whether they thought the lack of education funding was important enough to move forward with a special session.”

The budget for next fiscal year, which begins July 1, increases funding by $101.50 per student.

However, critics contend the “base student allocation,” the primary funding source for general operations of schools, only increased by 47 cents per student statewide.

It should be noted that the polling got worse for the Democrats as the week progressed, in part because of the tally counters.

The Department of State on Monday recorded the votes of Republican House members Julio Gonzalez of Venice and Kathleen Peters of Treasure Island in the column with House Democrats supporting a special session. Both voted against the proposal, the state agency noted on Tuesday.

NEXTERA STILL HUNGRY AFTER GULF

Expect utility giant NextEra Energy, the parent company of Florida Power & Light, to want more after moving in on the Panhandle’s largest electricity provider, Gulf Power, and Florida City Gas.

Chief executive James Robo said Monday that with the $6.475 billion transaction to buy Gulf Power, Florida City Gas and stakes in two power plants from The Southern Company, Next Era’s “strategy hasn’t changed.”

“We’re going to be, as we always are, on the hunt for attractive opportunities,” Robo said during a conference call. “We continue to be focused on finding things, opportunistically, that make sense for our shareholders.”

Still, NextEra has struggled at times during the past couple of years as it scoured the country for places to expand.

In April 2017, the Public Utility Commission of Texas rejected NextEra’s proposed $18.7 billion proposed pickup of Dallas-based Oncor Electric Delivery Company. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission had approved the move.

In July 2016, NextEra announced it had terminated its plan to merge with Hawaiian Electric Industries, as the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission sought to dismiss the companies’ merger application.

Under the terms of the merger agreement, NextEra Energy had to pay Hawaiian Electric a $90 million break-up fee.

NextEra’s deal with The Southern Company doesn’t require approval from the Florida Public Service Commission.

The Gulf Power acquisition, and the ownership interests in the two power plants, require federal approvals.

But in announcing the deal, Robo said, “We look forward to updating the Florida Public Service Commission and other key stakeholders in the state and believe our deep operating expertise in Florida, strong financial profile and track record of and commitment to making smart, long-term capital investments offer uniquely compelling advantages for Gulf Power and Florida City Gas customers."

The Florida City Gas portion of the deal is expected to be completed in the third quarter of this year, with Gulf Power moving under the NextEra banner in the first half of 2019.

GAETZ BAY BRIDGE

Sen. Doug Broxson, R-Gulf Breeze, is working on legislation for the 2019 session that would name a new span over Pensacola Bay after former Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville.

However, if the House holds to its latest stance, the honor may have to wait. Gaetz, might also hope there is a long wait.

In the 2018 session, Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a measure (HB 382) that named 38 roads and bridges across the state after 41 people and families.

All the people honored in the bill, including former state Sen. Greg Evers, a Baker Republican who died Aug. 22 in a traffic accident, are dead.

To get the bill on Scott’s desk, the Senate had to support the position of House leaders in removing two names from the bill because those people are alive.

It should be noted Gaetz, as a member of the Constitution Revision Commission, voted for a proposal this year that sought to prevent state and local elected officials from naming buildings and other facilities after themselves.

The measure failed to advance to the November general election ballot, but there was talk of amending the proposal to require people being honored to first be dead.

Meanwhile, another effort is underway to simply transfer an existing memorial from the 60-year-old Pensacola Bay bridge linking downtown Pensacola with Gulf Breeze, known locally “three-mile bridge,” when the new $400 million structure is completed in 2020.

Kirke Beall, a former Pensacola resident who now lives in Deer Park, Texas, has started a Facebook campaign to transfer the long-forgotten memorial to his grandfather, former Senate President Philip D. Beall, Sr., to the new span.

“In 1989, someone came forward trying to have the bridge dedicated to Andrew Jackson,” Kirke Beall wrote on Facebook. “The city council wasn’t even aware that it was a memorial bridge for Sen. Beall. Our family actually had to come forward to stop it from happening. My strong concern is that if we don’t transfer his memorial to the new bridge, his memory will soon fade out of Pensacola History for good.”

The older Beall reached the Senate leadership position in 1943, the year he died. One of his sons became a judge, the other Philip D. Beall, Jr., followed him in Florida Senate.

TWEET OF THE WEEK: “#GOP Florida congressional candidate #JohnWard says #PuertoRicans displaced by #HurricaneMaria & living now in Sunshine State should not be allowed to vote & should be encouraged to ‘go home’. He seems not to understand US citizenship. They are home.” --- Fox News personality Geraldo Rivera (@GeraldoRivera), commenting on a statement last month by Ward, a candidate in Congressional District 6 who said Puerto Rican evacuees from Hurricane Maria now in Florida shouldn’t be allowed to register to vote.