This column is a vehicle for a number of items in a bits-and-pieces, strictly opinion, sometimes irreverent format. Look for "Just Sayin'" to run once a week in this spot.
A New Bond Issue for AAF? Why the Hush-Hush?
In 2015, after the U.S. Department of Transportation authorized All Aboard Florida to pursue $1.75 billion in tax-free bonds, it took the Florida Development Finance Corp. (FDFC) a record six months to crash through a mountain of red tape and get the bonds issued.
Unfortunately, the statewide financing authority isn't as johnnie-on-the-spot when asked to step out into the sunshine.
It's taken a month and a half and a kick in the backside from Sen. Debbie Mayfield for the FDFC's executive director, William Spivey, to answer Sen. Anitere Flores' letter asking about new financing for the Miami-Orlando high-speed rail service.
Both Flores, R-Miami and Mayfield, R-Melbourne have every right to question the FDFC. Flores is chair of the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee and Mayfield, who admits she opposes 32 trains a day traveling at speeds in excess of 111 mph through the Treasure Coast, is chair of the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee, the committee that provides legislative oversight to the FDFC.
"It has come to my attention that the Florida Development Finance Corporation acted as a bond issuer in the approval of a new $600 million Private Activity Bond (PAB) application for the All Aboard Florida (AAF) passenger rail project," said Flores. "As a bond issuer to this new $600 million application, did the FDFC take the position that AAF can simply rely upon previous FDFC actions taken with respect to the bonding process?" she asked.
Flores concluded, "... I am concerned that the FDFC has informally agreed that it can simply transfer its previous actions and approvals to the new application, without any further consideration of the economic and social impacts of the project it would help fund."
If you've been following the AAF story, you'll remember that in 2015 Martin and Indian River counties and two individual members of Citizens Against Rail Expansion (CARE FL) filed a lawsuit in federal court. The suit was the subject of a key judicial ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Christopher Cooper. In August 2016 Cooper found the $1.75 billion in PABs previously issued by the U.S. DOT and the FDFC contained a subsidy valued at $600 million that would have benefited AAF because the federal government forgoes receiving tax payments on the securities. Martin and Indian River also argued that the National Environmental Protection Act was violated as soon as the $1.75 billion in bonds was approved, because no final environmental report had been completed.
Bottom line, Judge Cooper ruled against U.S. DOT and AAF and denied motions to dismiss the case against them.
In November 2016, and as a direct result of Cooper’s ruling, AAF and U.S. DOT agreed to take action to avoid having the environmental laws apply. Before the court could issue a final ruling, U.S. DOT withdrew the prior $1.75 billion approval -- a major victory for Treasure Coast counties.
But U.S. DOT then provided AAF a "new” $600 million PAB allocation that will finance only Phase I -- the portion of the project that would run from Miami to West Palm Beach. However, AAF also filed papers in court indicating it was seeking an additional $1.15 billion in bonds for Phase II of the railroad, the West Palm to Orlando portion opposed by the Treasure Coast.
It was this, the rail service's shuffle-ball-change, that likely prompted Flores' letter of inquiry.
Though the senators still hadn't seen a reply by end of the week, Gannett's Treasure Coast Newspapers report FDFC's outside counsel did send a letter dated April 6, according to Finance Corp. spokesman Ray Casas.
In the letter provided by Casas, attorney Donna Blanton said All Aboard Florida has not submitted a new proposal for consideration by the Finance Corp.
"It would be improper to speculate on what AAF may or may not ask of the FDFC's Board of Directors and how the board may respond," Blanton said in the letter the newspaper quoted.
Casas said Mayfield will get a letter from FDFC later. Hope she's not holding her breath.
Either the FDFC is a pretty arrogant outfit, or it's way chummier than it should be with a business it's supposed to be evaluating for major funding. If Florida Development can permit $1.75 billion in bonds in six months, surely it can answer a senator's letter in six days.
Poor Iowa: Down to 29 Voting Days
When somebody somewhere loses a few early voting days, invariably "suppressed" Democrats grab the smelling salts and call a lawyer, and lazy Republicans whine like spoiled brats. It always kills me.
Well, it's happened again.
After weeks of contentious debate, the Iowa Legislature approved a new measure last week, reducing early voting and requiring voters to show identification at the polls -- and can't you hear the ACLU and League of Women Voters howling bloody murder from here.
When (not if) Republican Gov. Terry Branstad signs the bill, Iowans will only have 29 days to vote instead of the previous 40 -- oh, my! Only 29! And no more straight-ticket voting, an option that allowed a voter to check one box instead of working their way down the entire ballot. That's in the bill, too.
Twenty-nine days to vote and something like five different kinds of identification poll workers can accept, but just you wait -- lawsuits challenging the new law are probably already tumbling out of the woodwork.
If you've read me over a long period of time, you know early voting is one of my pet peeves. No, it's worse than that. I think we're more polarized as a nation because of it. I think we've ruined the kind of patriotic occasion our forefathers had in mind for Voting Day by creating an ever-elongated "voting season" captured in mostly yawningly empty buildings from Virginia to California. Look what we do, instead of inspiring in American hearts one day, focused-for-all, with liberty and justice, etc. It's a big, costly bipartisan brawl year after election year, ending in court or the threat of it.
Our horse-and-buggy-limited forefathers -- not one with a fleet of cars parked in front of the house -- did very nicely without a "voting season." Imagine that. How did they do it?
Good for you, Iowa. You made a start.
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith