Category Archives: Florida Budget

Preserve The St. Johns River Ferry

It’s amazing, sometimes, how you can find yourself in the center of something that can really make a difference in your community. Such is the case with the task force to save, and then preserve, the St. Johns River Ferry Service.

Ferry Task Force Beaches WatchThe ferry, often referred to as the Mayport ferry, is in danger of being permanently docked. And as 13th district councilman Bill Guliford said at Wednesday night’s Beaches Watch meeting, if the service ends, it will be very difficult to resurrect it. So, led by former council president Elaine Brown, long a champion of beach community issues and beaches businesses, we are embarked on a mission to see that it is not allowed to come to that end.

Jacksonville Port Authority spokesperson Nancy Rubin says that the ferry carries an annual operating deficit of some $600,000 to $700,000, and is in immediate need of about $4 million in repairs and upgrades to the berths at either end of the short trip across the river. JPA executive director Paul Anderson has said that the continued operations of the ferry is not consistent with the port’s business model, and is not sustainable in its present form. At a meeting on February 27th, he will ask the board for guidance as to how to proceed, but he has been very clear that he hopes to return the ferry, and the associated land, to the city. The city has been reluctant at best to agree to consider re-assuming responsibility for the service. The state, which most believe should be the entity operating the ferry, washed its hands of the service several years ago. Basically, it’s like they determined that they were no longer going to pay to maintain a bridge over a waterway that connects a state highway … which the ferry does.

Ferry DockingAll of that to say that, I’ve been asked by Elaine to lead the media and PR efforts for the task force. We will have a website, Facebook presence, and other social media components to the effort. If you ride the ferry, occasionally or regularly, you can expect to see very shortly volunteers at both landings asking you to take a brief survey and sign a petition. I’ll be posting about the issue here, and producing some video pieces to illustrate the issue.

If you care about the ferry, and there are a multitude of reasons for you to do so, from its historic significance to the economic impact is has on Mayport, the beaches communities, and many other businesses that line A1A between St. Augustine and Fernandina Beach, consider signing a petition, making a donation, contacting the Mayor’s office and your representative of the City Council to make your opinion known. Do keep in mind that all e-mails sent to the Mayor and City Council are public records. If … I probably should say when … we go to the city for funding for the ferry, it will require the votes of 10 council members to get it back in the budget.

But most importantly, tell your friends. I can’t imagine the First Coast without the ferry. Let’s see that it doesn’t happen. (Pictured L-R Elaine Brown, Task Force Chair; Val Bostwick, President, Friends of the St. Johns River Ferry; Nancy Rubin, Jacksonville Port Authority spokesperson; Sam Floyd, Mayport Waterfront Partnership Chairman; Councilman Bill Guliford presenting at Beaches Watch)

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Filed under Atlantic Beach, Beach Living, City Budget, City Council, Florida Budget, Jacksonville Beach, Jacksonville City Council, Mayport, Mayport Ferry, Neptune Beach

Randomness

Michigan State seems to be way overmatched by North Carolina in the National Championship Game.  14 minutes and change to go and UNC leads 61-43.  MSU might as well be playing at home, as the game is in Detroit … but Carolina just seems to be too much for the Spartans to handle.  Still a lot of time to go, but it’s a big, long hill to climb.

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Over in Tallahassee … the legislature is past the halfway point, and a body controlled by conservative Republicans, many of whom have taken a “no new taxes” pledge, are facing a deficit of $6.1 billion.  So, to provide political cover, they’ll turn to “user fees”.  From “Florida Capital News“:

If approved, they would hit everyone who drives a car, files a lawsuit, goes fishing or takes out the garbage. College tuition could zoom 15 percent.

The legislature has also “zeroed out” “Florida Forever” … the state’s signature preservation and conservation program.  It’s $300 million budget gone.  Still to come is a potential complete re-write of the business tax code.  It would be difficult to imagine a Republican legislature increasing taxes on businesses during a recession, but I suppose not impossible.  About 1200 state jobs are likely to be cut, 800 currently vacant but that still leaves a lot of state employees in a bind, and the rest likely facing salary cuts.  The session ends in 26 days.

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The committee studying the City Budget begins crafting it’s recommendations tomorrow.  I joined this study late, but I’ve learned an incredible amount about how the city crafts it’s budget.  There are so many challenges in our consolidated government, and Jacksonville has been, by almost any measure, fairly fiscally responsible, but still finds it’s self with some serious challenges.  I think when the report is released that people will be surprised at how involved the process is, and yet how basic some of the issues are.  I know I have been.

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I’ll likely spend some time Thursday at City Hall at the committee meeting discussing the city’s landfill dilemma.  I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few days talking to people about the issue, from longtime political observers to current city councilmen and one who voted on the original contract.   There will be public comment on Thursday, along with another iteration of the Mayor’s presentation.  No matter what, it’s going to be close.

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Wreck 295 cropDriving to improv rehearsal tonight, traffic was at a crawl on I-295 from I-95 to Old St. Augustine Road.   Why?  Someone had managed to flip an SUV in the eastbound lanes.  That’ll make for a really bad evening.  The only camera I had was the iPhone, and since we were staring to get moving again, it was difficult to get any composition on the shot.  I had to make sure I didn’t have a wreck myself while trying to get a shot of this carnage.  I hope everybody was OK.

And speaking of improv … yes we rehearse and I’m getting a little disappointed with people making the “you rehearse improv?” joke.  We rehearse to build trust among the players, to learn the structure of the games, to develop characters, to learn new games, and to laugh and have fun.  All to make sure the audience has the best possible experience.  And if you don’t believe it, just give it a shot sometime with no rehearsal.  Stand up in front of 50 to 100 people with someone you’ve never been on stage with before.  Get a relationship and location suggestion.  Build a scene.  Make it funny.

Go!

Nah, I wouldn’t want to do that either.

And now, with 10 minutes until midnight, and North Carolina running out the clock on their 5th national championship (tying Indiana), it’s time to get this up to the server and call it a night.

Sig

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Filed under Florida Budget, Florida Legislature, Improv, Improv Comedy, Local Government, Local Issues, Thoughts

Tallahassee Tribulations

florida As Florida’s legislative session turns the corner to Sine Die, I imagine both chambers are looking at the gaping $6.1 billion budget hole, and wondering how in the world they arrive at a balanced budget.

Here’s a selection of what came out of Tallahassee today.

The Tallahassee Democrat is reporting that the Senate Finance and Tax Committee has all but given up on closing some sales tax loopholes on Super Bowl Tickets, ostrich feed, and probably bottled water, among other things, in favor of an $800 million tobacco surcharge (on top of the new federal taxes what went into effect Wednesday) and a restructuring of the corporate tax structure that dates back to the 1970’s.  I haven’t seen the details on the corporate tax yet,so I can’t comment, but I’m sure there are lobbyists for the business community pouring over it at the moment, so we’ll see.  Florida has traditionally (at least recently) been kind to business, and a Republican legislature is unlikely to impose sweeping new taxes or tax increases on business in the depth of a recession.  Or so it would seem.

Also in the Tallahassee Democrat today is the report of a proposal in the House Natural Resources Appropriations Committee for a $1.25-per-ton “Landfill Disposal Charge” to be assessed against landfill owners … which one legislator likened to taxing the legislature for coming up with a budget.  The logic being municipal governments are required by their charters to dispose of trash, and landfilling is still far and away the most economical way to do that.  Basically it’s charging a fee (or a tax, it becomes semantics at some point) to local governments for something they’re required to do.   That money has to come from somewhere, and local governments can’t print it.

Of course, both of these proposals are just coming out of committee, and there is plenty of vigorous debate to be had in the full house and senate, and for companion bills, and if it gets that far, from any reconciliation that would have to be done in conference.

Perhaps a better idea, or at least one more appealing to those of us who have been downsized, or had pay reduced, or had involuntary unpaid furloughs, is a proposal in the Senate Ways and Means Committee to cut the salaries of the highest-paid state employees:

Senate Ways and Means Chairman J.D. Alexander, R-Winter Haven, said his committee will produce a bill that would impose a 1 percent pay cut for everyone making more than $100,000. Alexander said it wouldn’t apply if the reduction would take an employee’s salary below $100,000 — for instance, if an employee made $100,700 a year, the cut would only be $700.

Still, symbolically that’s something.  There would be a larger 6 percent reduction in pay for the legislators themselves.  A plan floating around the house but “not settled policy” would cut state employees as much as 5 percent.  Today, The Florida Capital News reports that as many as 2000 state jobs could be cut under a new Senate plan.  1,200 of them are currently vacant, but that’s 800 people out of work.

It’s a major problem, and one that doesn’t seem to have any end in sight.  David Letterman is fond of saying he “wouldn’t give (fill in the blank’s) problems TO A MONKEY ON A ROCK!!!”  I’m not sure what that means, but it seems to fit with what’s going on in Tallahassee.

State Senator Jim King, who represents the district in which I live, said in response to an inquiry about his interest in the job of University Chancellor that he’d have no problems leaving the Senate with a year left in his term because (and I’m paraphrasing) it’s as bad in Tallahassee as he’s ever seen it.

And he’s been there a long time.

So, with 30 days left in the legislative session, our elected state officials seem to at least be working on the things that matter.  I don’t know if it’s because I haven’t had the steady diet of legislative news this session, or if there’s just been less … but I don’t notice the more frivolous bills being debated that we’ve seen in previous years.  A $6.1 billion budget gap seems to have gotten their attention.  I just hope when the dust settles and the smoke clears that something substantive and real has been done … even if I don’t necessarily agree.

Sig

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Filed under Florida Budget, Florida Legislature, Florida Taxes, Thoughts