All Aboard Florida gets federal OK for $1.75 billion bond financing

Arnie Rosenberg, (@TCPalmArnie)

All Aboard Florida has won federal approval to borrow $1.75 billion, clearing a critical hurdle in its plan to build a high-speed passenger railroad linking Miami and Orlando.

The U.S. Department of Transportation on Thursday gave All Aboard Florida the OK to sell private-activity bonds to help finance its $2.25 billion project. The Department of Transportation on Friday declined to confirm the action by its Credit Council, but members of Congress whose districts are along the rail corridor confirmed being notified of the approval.

Michael Reininger, All Aboard Florida president and chief development officer, called the federal approval “another step forward toward realization of the project.”

Federal approval was the first step in the funding process. All Aboard Florida now will continue working with the Florida Development Finance Corp., a state agency which will issue the bonds.

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Supreme Court won’t stop gay marriages in Florida

Associated Press – The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday refused to block gay marriages in Florida, the latest of about three dozen states allowing same-sex weddings.

In a one-paragraph order, the court decided not to step into the Florida case. A federal judge previously declared Florida’s ban on gay marriage unconstitutional and said same-sex marriage licenses could start being issued in the state after Jan. 5 unless the Supreme Court intervened.

Most federal judges and appeals courts have ruled against state bans, but the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati has upheld the right of four states to decide whether to allow gay marriage.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi has fought to uphold Florida’s constitutional ban, which voters approved in 2008.

Bondi said if the ban was struck down, some, but not all, county clerks in Florida would begin issuing marriage licenses, causing confusion throughout the state. She said that would happen because the lawsuit against Florida’s ban only named the clerk in tiny Washington County in the Panhandle.

The state clerks association has warned its members that they could be risking misdemeanor prosecution under state law if they issue licenses before the question is fully settled. It is unclear how many plan to take that advice.

State judges in four South Florida counties have declared the same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional, but those decisions are also being appealed by Bondi and no marriage licenses have been issued.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle in August declared the state’s ban unconstitutional, but he put his ruling on hold until after Jan. 5 pending appeals.

Like many other judges and appellate courts, Hinkle ruled the state’s gay marriage ban violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection.

Legislature: Political consultants ‘sought to influence’ redistricting, but it didn’t work

Matt Dixon, (@Mdixon55)

Political operatives “sought to influence” the state’s 2012 redistricting process, but no lawmakers were aware, or worked with those operatives, according to court documents filed Friday by attorneys for the state Legislature.

It’s part of an ongoing redistricting lawsuit filed by a coalition of plaintiffs who said that Florida’s congressional maps were drawn to favor the GOP, which is at odds with anti-gerrymandering provisions in the state constitution.

The congressional maps were tossed this summer by Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis, but he approved a different map redrawn by lawmakers during an August special legislative session. That map is now being appealed by plaintiffs.

In a 169-page brief, attorneys for the Legislature are asking that the second set of maps approved by Lewis are upheld, that the court not consider maps drawn by the plaintiffs, and if changes are needed that the Legislature, not court, make them.

The filing does not deny that political consultants tried to influence the process, but said they failed.

“Without question, the operatives sought to influence the redistricting process,” it read. “But at no time did the Legislature participate in their efforts.”

During this summer’s trial, maps drawn by political consultants and submitted by former FSU student named Alex Posada came under fire. Some districts passed as part of the final maps closely mirrored those on the Posada-submitted map. Plaintiffs said that proved GOP consultants had improper influence over the process.

Legislative attorneys point to the fact that the plaintiffs claim lawmaker’s and staff relied on Posada’s map, but were unable to quote anyone admitting they did so.

“They do not quote the admission because there is no admission to be quoted,” read the brief.

In a separate document dump last month, emails from Gainesville-based GOP consulting firm Data Targeting show that consultants were actively recruiting third-parties to submit maps drawn by political consultants.

That firm fought the release of those emails. Its legal bills are being paid for by the state GOP, but attorneys say the Republican-led Legislature was unaware of that process.

“The repeated assertion that operative “secretly” provided maps to legislators or staff members is without the slightest factual support,” read the filing.

Attorneys for the Legislature did take issue with Kirk Pepper, a GOP consultant who worked in the House speaker’s office during the redistricting process. During trial, it was discovered that Pepper had been giving non-public maps to Republican consultant marc Reichelderfer, his personal friend.

“While Pepper’s conduct is inexcusable, it does not evidence a conspiracy,” the filing read.

Scott claims victory on 700k jobs pledge, but 2010 comments continue to dog him

Matt Dixon, (@Mdixon55)

Gov. Rick Scott said Friday that his promise to create 700,000 jobs has been fulfilled, while Democrats continue claim the governor has moved the finish line.

The 700,000 number comes from Scott’s first campaign in 2010. Both sides agree that Scott said he would create 700,000 jobs, but the agreement ends there.

In a news release making the announcement, Scott said the state met his goal early.

“Four years ago, we unveiled an ambitious plan to fix Florida’s economy,” he said. “Our goal was to create 700,000 jobs in seven years. Today our goal was reached three years early, with 715,700 private-sector jobs created.”

Democrats say that Scott’s claim that the overall goal was 700,000 jobs is false because he said during the campaign they would be created “on top of what normal growth would be.” At the time, state economists predicted the roughly 1 million jobs would be created naturally as the economy slowly rebounded, which means Scott would need 1.7 million jobs to meet his pledge.

Shortly after Scott claimed victory, the Florida Democratic Party hit back, emailing a story done by Tampa’s Fox affiliate during the 2014 campaign. In three clips it shows Scott in 2010 talking about his jobs pledge.

“It will be 700,000 plus what would be normal”

“It’s on top of that”

“On top of what normal growth would be”

After those clips, the story shows Scott later backtracking from the above “normal growth” promise.

“I don’t know who said that”

Here’s the video:

Regulators approve FPL’s ‘fracking’ exploration plan

By James L. Rosica (@jlrosicaTBO) in Tallahassee

The state’s utility regulators Thursday approved Florida Power & Light Co.’s request to charge its customers millions of dollars to explore for natural gas to run its power plants.

If successful, the project could save an average FPL residential customer nearly $2 per year, according to commission staff.

The South Florida-based utility sought permission to pass on the cost of a $191 million exploratory fracking project to its ratepayers. It will be a joint venture with Louisiana’s PetroQuest Energy.

The five-member Public Service Commission, which regulates the state’s investor-owned utilities, approved the request 4-1.

Commissioners Eduardo Balbis, Ronald A. Brisé, Julie I. Brown and Lisa Edgar voted for the proposal; commission chairman Art Graham was opposed.

“If customers are going to pay for gas that comes from unconventional sources, it should be cheaper,” Balbis said. “We have to protect customers from price fluctuations … I think this is a good contract.”

Utilities that serve Tampa Bay – Duke Energy and Tampa Electric – filed as “parties of record” in the case, commission dockets show. That signals that they could follow FPL’s lead.

Without elaboration, Duke Energy spokeswoman Jennifer Zajac said in an email that the utility “will review” the commission’s decision.

And TECO spokeswoman Cherie Jacobs last week the company has “not decided whether we will pursue this activity.” She couldn’t be reached Thursday.

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