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CJG urges lawmakers to abolish Triumph Gulf Coast and disburse BP damages directly to local governments

 

Citizens for a Just Government urges Florida’s legislature to abolish Triumph Gulf Coast and divide 75% of the total damages awarded to Florida between counties and municipalities in the eight disproportionately affected counties referenced in Florida Statute 288.8012, allocated by population size.

In its role as custodian of “other people’s money,” government is inherently susceptible to fraud, waste and abuse.  Tracking taxpayer money is a key part of Citizens for a Just Government’s ethical oversight mission. 

Triumph Gulf Coast’s distance from local economic conditions and its reliance on a political appointee Board, which includes officials from a monopoly power company with its own vested interests; exacerbates the potential for fraud, waste and abuse. 

The original settlement included no stipulation that a third party receive or allocate the money.

CJG thus opposes funneling any funds through Triumph and urges legislators to ensure maximum effectiveness by distributing damages directly to the officials already vested with authority over economic improvement and diversification decisionmaking by the affected populations in question.

Citizens for a Just Government opposes Gulf Power rate hike

Citizens for a Just Government opposes Gulf Power rate hike

 

Gulf_CMYK-LogoCitizens for a Just Government opposes Gulf Power’s proposed base rate hike, and supports any efforts by Florida’s Public Counsel to lower the company’s base rate instead.

Tracking taxpayer money is a key part of Citizens for a Just Government’s ethical oversight mission.  In its role as custodian of “other people’s money,” government is inherently susceptible to fraud, waste and abuse.  Ill-used revenues can become a self-perpetuating problem that will eventually grow government to unsustainable levels.

As a government-sponsored monopoly, Gulf Power enjoys many of the benefits of a government agency, such as a captive customer base; but escapes the responsibilities, such as transparent recordkeeping, open meetings and public accountability, of government entities.

According to Florida’s Public Counsel, Gulf Power is requesting the rate increase to cover unnecessary costs for which the company is not accountable to ratepayers; including excessive profits, Georgia-based Scherer Coal Plant expenses, salary and benefit overages and excessive payments to Gulf Power’s parent company, Southern Company.

CJG objects to Gulf Power raising rates to cover unmerited expenses.

CJG supports a government that imposes the least constraint on individual, entrepreneurial, and property rights freedoms. 

Solar power allows citizens to bypass Public Service Commission utility monopoly rate hike approval, thereby reducing government control over individual energy consumption.

According to the Public Service Commission, in December 2015, Gulf Power saw a 1.25% increase in customers for the year; but a 1.15% decrease in average annual energy consumption; which suggests customers are using less energy per capita.

It’s clear that Gulf Power is requesting the base rate hike to ensure customers who conserve energy and use alternative forms of power don’t cut into the company’s bottom line.  In effect, the rate hike would reward customers who use more energy at the expense of those who conserve.

Citizens for a Just Government opposes any taxing above and beyond the minimum needed to support the least amount of government necessary.  Debt creates a burden hard-working citizens inevitably end up having to cover. 

In the case of Gulf Power’s quasi-governmental operation; it’s clear that the company is raising rates to pay for a Georgia power generating plant that they have not demonstrated is the most cost-effective option to provide local power.  The Georgia plant would also place responsibility for future environmental cleanup costs on the shoulders of local customers, who do not participate in purchasing and operations decisions.

Citizens for a Just Government recognizes that free markets are the keystone of a healthy economy, and by extension a free and open democracy.  CJG opposes crony capitalism and avenues of government interference that rig the free market by “picking winners and losers.”

Despite the fact that they operate as a nominally “private sector” company, Gulf Power had the highest residential base rate of all Florida municipal and investor-owned utilities as of December 2015, per the Public Service Commission.

For that reason, CJG supports efforts, as described by Florida’s Public Counsel, to reduce Gulf Power’s rates, rather than increase them.

Citizens for a Just Government opposes Amendments 1 and 2; supports Amendments 3 and 5

Citizens for a Just Government opposes Amendments 1 and 2; supports Amendments 3 and 5

Citizens for a Just Government opposes Amendments 1 and 2; and supports Amendments 3 and 5 on the November 8 ballot. 

CJG advocates adherence to original Constitutional principles and checks & balance-based government process to ensure a system that works for citizens instead of the other way around. 

Florida’s Constitution is intended to set down basic governmental principles on which laws are based.  Amendments 1 and 2 address issues that more appropriately fall under the purview of Florida’s Legislature. 

Amendment 1 deals with power customers’ relative subsidization of grid costs, a matter of regulatory authority.  Amendment 2 addresses the sale and distribution of a substance that is illegal under Federal law – a decriminalization issue that falls under Florida lawmakers’ purview. 

CJG urges Florida lawmakers to carry out their elected responsibility to address all issues that impact their constituents in a thorough and timely manner. 

CJG supports Amendments 3 and 5.

Amendment 3:  Citizens for a Just Government opposes any taxing above and beyond the minimum needed to support the least amount of government necessary.  CJG agrees with legislators that disabled first responders merit a property tax exemption if legislators so choose to enact one.

Amendment 5:  Citizens for a Just Government opposes any taxing above and beyond the minimum needed to support the least amount of government necessary.  CJG agrees that this measure is necessary to ensure that low income seniors don’t lose tax exemptions they already qualify for if their homes increase in assessed value.

NEW: CJG endorses Amendment 4 in Florida 2016 Primary

Photo EPA

Photo EPA

Citizens for a Just Government endorses Florida Amendment 4 in 2016 Primary

Citizens for a Just Government supports proposed Amendment 4; titled “Solar Devices or Renewable Energy Source Devices; Exemption From Certain Taxation and Assessment;” slated to appear on Florida’s August 30 Primary ballot.

The Amendment would give Florida Legislators the option to exempt solar or renewable energy equipment from Tangible Property Taxes.

Citizens for a Just Government opposes any taxing above and beyond the minimum needed to support the least amount of government necessary.   CJG particularly opposes Florida’s Tangible Property Tax, which penalizes entrepreneurs for the basic activity of operating a business.  Tangible Property Taxes are not levied against profits generated or even gross revenues.  Nor are they levied against individual residents.

Because Tangible Property Taxes specifically assess equipment and other materials used to conduct business; not once, but every year the equipment is in use; they unjustly punish business owners for the basic activity of running a business and constitute an example of government overreach that ultimately interferes with economic growth and free markets.

Amendment 4 would also let Legislators exempt solar equipment from ad valorem property tax assessments.
CJG supports a government that imposes the least constraint on individual, entrepreneurial, and property rights freedoms.  Solar power allows citizens to bypass politically motivated Public Service Commission utility monopoly rate hike approval, thereby reducing government control over individual energy consumption.

CJG thus supports giving Legislators the means to reduce Tangible and other property taxes related to solar power use, as provided for in proposed Amendment 4.

CJG urges Governor Scott to empanel Statewide Grand Jury to probe Law Enforcement Trust Fund spending

escambia sheriff logoCJG urges Governor Scott to empanel Statewide Grand Jury to probe Law Enforcement Trust Fund spending

State Attorney investigating Escambia County & Sheriff:  Sheriff donated thousands in LET funds to non-law enforcement groups, including Pensacola Opera, Pensacola Little Theater and a “Florida Embassy” in Washington, DC

Citizens for a Just Government, July 15, asked Governor Rick Scott to empanel a Statewide Grand Jury to investigate the use of Law Enforcement Trust Funds, statewide.

CJG concerns stem from a District 1 State Attorney investigation into LET fund spending in Escambia County, Florida.

The letter to the Governor reads:

Dear Governor Scott,

Citizens for a Just Government respectfully requests that you empanel a statewide grand jury to investigate the use of Law Enforcement Trust Funds throughout Florida, in the same manner that Florida’s Nineteenth Statewide Grand Jury conducted an investigation of public corruption.

Through a current District 1 State Attorney investigation of Escambia LET Fund spending, we have become aware of potential widespread misuse of those monies.

State Attorney Bill Eddins’ office is investigating LET Fund spending by the Escambia Sheriff’s Office and the Board of County Commissioners.

SA officials say that inquiry is expected to take several more weeks.  CJG is deeply concerned that, in an election year, local politics may impede the SA’s ability to thoroughly review and if necessary, prosecute the case.

That’s because in recent years, Escambia Sheriff’s Office LET donations to community groups have increased more than tenfold from their FY 2000 levels, and included groups whose primary purpose is not crime prevention, but whose boards include well-connected local residents.

Those groups include the Pensacola Opera ($21,000 total since 2009); the Naval Aviation Museum ($39,500); the Veterans Memorial Park ($10,000); Pensacola Little Theater ($10,500); AFCEA Blue Angels Chapter – an IT industry professional association ($45,000); the National Flight Academy ($15,000); and Florida House on Capitol Hill ($10,000).

Florida House is a “state embassy” in Washington DC that “provides cultural, social, educational and economic resources; showcases Florida’s culture and diversity; maintains and operates Florida House, Florida’s embassy in the nation’s capital; and provides opportunities for Florida’s citizens to enrich their appreciation and knowledge of our nation’s government,” the Florida House website notes.

The AFCEA donation went towards Cyberthon, a Pensacola IT industry promotion event whose organizers included a sitting Escambia Commissioner, for whom the Escambia Sheriff campaigned in uniform.

As you are surely aware, LET funds are supposed to be used for school resource officer, crime prevention, safe neighborhood, drug abuse education and prevention programs and certain law enforcement equipment, additional expertise and investigation purposes.

Between 2000 and 2008, annual Escambia LET Fund community donations averaged around $22,000.  Since 2009, the Escambia Sheriff’s Office has donated about $1.2 million in LET money to community organizations.

Over $300,000 of that was between January and April of this year.

The possible misuse of these funds, throughout Florida, is particularly concerning because they are obtained by taking the property of Florida citizens, who may not have the same influence over justice system seizure decisions as nonprofit officials who are benefiting from them.

Again, we respectfully urge you to conduct a state-level investigation into the disposition of Law Enforcement Trust Fund assets seized from Florida residents.

______________________________________________________________________________________

 

Roper leads in Santa Rosa Sheriff Poll

Roper leads in Santa Rosa Sheriff Poll

 

With just over five weeks until qualifying and after polling 300 likely voters in Santa Rosa County over the last 10 days, Citizens for a Just Government finds Chris Roper holding a 13-point lead in the Santa Rosa County Sheriff race.

CJG found Roper receiving 29% of the vote followed by Robert “Bob” Johnson with 16% of the vote.  Following them are Robert Way with 5%, Henry Shirah III with 4% and the rest, 46%, undecided.

Roper Study­­

The seat is currently held by four-term Sheriff Wendell Hall.  Hall has chosen to not run for re-election.

Police and jail authorities are central elements of community law & order that wield a great deal of power over individual citizens, including the use of deadly force.  CFJG will continue to monitor Sheriff’s races, along with the positions candidates are taking on key issues and general justice system processes to help ensure those institutions exercise power ethically and equally for every citizen.

METHODOLOGY:

CJG used an interactive voice response (IVR) system identifying likely voters from the database of the Santa Rosa County Supervisor of Elections office.  A likely voter is identified as a voter who has voted at least 4 out of the last 5 elections.  This survey has a confidence level of 95% with a margin of error of +/- 5%.

Congressional District 1 favors Greg Evers

Congressional District 1 favors Greg Evers

(April 6, 2016) Per a recent Citizens for a Just Government study of 436 extremely likely Republican U.S. Congressional District 1 (FL) voters conducted between March 24 and March 25, Florida State Senator Greg Evers outscored all other individuals tested in all the categories queried.

Regarding the issue of favorability, Evers bested closest potential opponent State Rep. Matt Gaetz by 18 points.

When respondents were asked “In general, what are your feelings toward Greg Evers,” Evers received 66% when looking at neutral, favorable and very favorable rankings.  Concerning unfavorable and very unfavorable replies, Evers received 13%, leaving 20.6% of those polled with no opinion.

Evers Study Graph 1 jpeg

 

When asked at the same question for Gaetz, 47.7% indicated that they had a neutral, favorable or very favorable opinion of him.  With regard to unfavorable and very unfavorable feelings, Gaetz received a score of 18.6%, leaving 33.7% with no opinion.

Evers Study Graph 2

 

 

When asked to choose from a field of likely candidates that included Evers plus those filed at the time of the study, the results were:

Greg Evers with 23.4%
Matt Gaetz with 13.2%
Brian Frazier with 2.5%
Cris Dosev with 1.5%
Mark Wichern with 1.1%
Undecided with 58.3%

Evers Study Graph 3

Lastly, when given a head to head choice between Evers and Gaetz, again, Evers leads with 25%; followed by 14.9% for Gaetz and 60.1% undecided.

Evers Study Graph 4

METHODOLOGY:

This study was completed using an interactive voice response system (IVR) calling 4,000 households of likely Republican voters throughout U.S. Congressional District 1 (FL).  It was conducted from March 24 to March 26, 2016.   The sampling of 4,000 households was randomized through the Florida First Congressional District of Republican voters. The sample of Florida voters drawn was from a list of registered Republican voters who participated 100% in a primary election in 2010, 2012 and 2014.   The data was supplied by the Supervisor of Elections Offices for the corresponding counties including Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton and Holmes. The resulting data set was then adjusted for the relative populations of likely Republican voters for each county.  The results of this study have a confidence level of 95% with a margin of error of +/- 5%.

Key federal legislative issues in this year’s election cycle include Second Amendment rights, immigration and “free trade” agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

CFJG will continue to monitor key issues in this election cycle, along with the positions Congressional candidates are taking on them.

Watered-down police body cam legislation will do little to improve accountability

cam1Watered-down police body cam legislation will do little to improve accountability

Citizens for a Just Government is concerned watered-down body camera legislation recently enacted into Florida law doesn’t do enough to ensure Florida policing accountability and transparency or protect policing personnel from accusations of misconduct.

Instead of requiring police agencies to use cameras, the law requires police agencies that choose to deploy body cameras to establish individual usage standards and provide training, per legislation signed by Governor Rick Scott, March 24.

Of particular concern, the new law affords policing authorities wide latitude to design “general guidelines for the proper storage, retention, and release of audio and video data recorded by body cameras.”  This may potentially allow law enforcement authorities to withhold key camera footage from citizen scrutiny.

The legislation is similar to a substitute used to neuter legislation, filed in 2015, that would have required the use of the cameras.  The original version never resurfaced.

This new law comes on the heels of a separate measure passed last year that exempts body camera footage taken in venues with a reasonable expectation of privacy from public records law.

As central elements of community law & order, policing authorities wield a great deal of power over individual citizens, including the use of deadly force.

CFJG monitors all justice system processes; from arresting authorities to judges; to ensure those institutions exercise power ethically and equally for every citizen.

CFJG urges Florida lawmakers to enact legislation that requires body cam use by policing agencies and establishes one state standard for records retention and release.

Florida motorist Corey Jones was shot to death October 18, 2015, by plainclothes police officer Nouman Raja as Jones waited for a tow-truck on I-95, in Palm Beach County.  Raja, who was not wearing a camera, was later fired.  The incident sparked calls for mandatory police body cams.  The City of Palm Beach Gardens approved a camera pilot program in January.