DeSantis budget cuts hit Cape Coral, Fort Myers Beach, Marco Island, Bonita Springs, Sanibel, Venice—Updated

Times Square in Fort Myers Beach, Fla., above, had $1 million for upgrades and improvements vetoed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in actions announced yesterday. (Photo: City of Fort Myers Beach)

June 3, 2022 by David Silverberg

Updated June 4, with addition of Sanibel, Venice, Charlotte County Utilities and new totals

On Thursday, June 2, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) vetoed $7.825 million for projects in Southwest Florida communities.

The vetoes were part of an overall line-item cut that sliced $3.1 billion from the $109.9 billion state budget that takes effect on July 1 for the next fiscal year. The budget was the product of extensive legislative work and negotiation. (The full list of vetoes can be seen here.)

Of all of Southwest Florida’s communities, Cape Coral lost the most with $1.625 million in cuts. Those cuts were:

  • $1,000,000 for North Wellfield Expansion, a project to improve water treatment;  
  • $375,000 for a Tactical Intelligence and Analytics Center to improve police response times and fight crime;
  • $250,000 for boardwalk replacement at the Four Mile Cove Ecological Preserve along the shore of the Caloosahatchee River, so residents can enjoy the wild local environment.

Fort Myers Beach lost $1 million for Times Square renovation, a project to improve and upgrade the town’s prime gathering place, commercial center and tourist attraction.

Marco Island lost $1.5 million for the Marco Island South Water Treatment Plant West High Service Pump Station, which processes brackish well water into potable water for residents.

Bonita Springs lost $750,000 for Phase 2 of the Bonita Springs Community Park Baseball Complex, which builds on prior upgrades to landscaping, storm water management and pedestrian access.

Sanibel Island lost $100,000 for slough dredging and muck removal.

Venice lost $850,000 for a water treatment plant 2nd stage membrane phase 1.

Charlotte County Utilities lost $2 million for improving communications and cybersecurity.

Another regional recipient was not tied to a specific community: Fakahatchee Strand State Park lost a $3 million appropriation.

Some $350 million was taken from appropriations for unspecified grants and aids to local governments for water quality improvements and Everglades restoration.

The region may also feel indirect impacts from a $750,000 cut to training for the Florida Association of District School Superintendents and a $250,000 cut for teacher retention.

When DeSantis unveiled the vetoes at a press conference at The Villages, a retirement community northwest of Orlando, he did so in front of the Republican House and Senate leaders who had constructed the initial budget. He told them “that’s just the way it goes” as they applauded his vetoes of projects for the communities they represent.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Editorial: Rep. Byron Donalds has failed Southwest Florida and can’t be allowed to do it again

PBS reporter Lisa DeJardins interviews Rep. Byron Donalds on his refusal to request earmarks for his district. (Image: PBS Newshour)

March 16, 2022

Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) has utterly failed the people of Southwest Florida. He has done this defiantly, deliberately and knowingly and will do it again if returned to office.

By refusing to request any earmarks from Congress when he could have done so, he deprived the people of Cape Coral, Fort Myers, Fort Myers Beach, Estero, Bonita Springs, Naples and Marco Island—the 19th Congressional District—of millions of dollars in improvements, resources and funding to which they and their communities were entirely entitled.

These people, like all Americans, pay their taxes. They have a right to get the benefits of what those taxes can buy. But Donalds, by his blind fanaticism and incompetence denied them those benefits. It is as though he reached into their pockets and stole their cash.

Getting these people, his constituents, their rightful benefits is his job. When everything else that comes with congressional office is stripped away, when all the titles are put aside and the campaign hoopla dies down and the media’s spotlights are turned off, a core function of a congressman is to get his constituents everything from the federal government to which they have a right.

In this, Rep. Byron Donalds has failed spectacularly.

It is not as though this is a man who doesn’t love money. He said so directly and brazenly when he went before the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) in Orlando: “Folks, I like money. Can we be honest about this? I like money!”

He loves money for himself, for sure. His fundraising is relentless and incessant. He loves the money from his corporate political action committees and has raised over $3 million for his 2022 campaign.

But when there was $1.5 trillion on the table for the benefit of Americans in their local communities, he refused to make even the slightest effort to get Southwest Florida what it was due. Indeed, he voted against the entire package.

His neighbor to the north wasn’t so shy: Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), a far right-wing conservative, requested $38 million in earmarks for the communities he represents. As a result, Lee County, among other recipients, stands to get $720,000 for managing a nature preserve.

His neighbor to the east wasn’t shy, either. Rep. Mario Diaz-Dalart (R-25-Fla.) submitted $12 million in earmark requests. Thanks to his efforts, Immokalee in Collier County will get badly needed sidewalks and Everglades City will get a new wastewater plant and pump station, finally repairing damage done by Hurricane Irma in 2017.

But the coastal communities of Southwest Florida in the 19th District will get nothing—nothing! Nada! Zip! Zilch! They will get nothing from the federal government to build resilience for climate change, nothing to make repairs to their infrastructure, nothing for improvements for their people in any way, shape or form.

All Byron Donalds had to do was ask. He was encouraged to ask. He had a clear and unambiguous way to ask. But he couldn’t be bothered.

As has been clear from the day he took office, Byron Donalds doesn’t care about his district. He doesn’t even live in its boundaries. On Election Day he can’t even vote for himself because the ballot he gets shows Diaz-Balart as his congressman.

For Donalds, the 19th District is nothing more than a stepping stone to higher office. His involvement in its affairs and the needs of its people has been halting and hesitant and only the result of outside prodding. In his weekly newsletters he counts his local activities under the heading “community engagement” as though drudgingly marking them off a checklist.

Instead, Donalds would rather play the cultural, ideological warrior. He’d rather slam President Joe Biden and Democrats than make any kind of constructive contribution. He’d rather disparage scientists like Dr. Anthony Fauci than tend to the actual health and wellbeing of the people he represents. He’d rather take money from PACs than get Southwest Floridians the federal benefits they’re due. And he’d rather take the time to make endless rounds of fringe right-wing talk shows and bask in their hosts’ flattery and empty adulation than do the actual labor of working for his district and its constituents.

Surely, there were at least 10 worthy projects and priorities that Donalds could have submitted to Congress. Surely he could have asked for aid for the people whose homes were devastated by storms and tornadoes in Cape Coral. Surely, he could have gotten the City of Naples $900,000 to fix its sagging seawall. Surely there were new schools and roads that could have been built or repaired if he had the energy or imagination or willingness to just ask.

There’s no way to know how many millions of dollars Southwest Florida lost this year because of Donalds’ refusal to do his job—and this as the region comes out of the economic pain and damage caused by two years of pandemic.

This is not a culture war question. This is not part of the debate over wearing masks, or critical race theory or personal freedom. This is a clear, unambiguous, tangible issue of getting cold, hard cash and having enough of it to do what needs to be done.

But wait! There’s more!

Not only did Donalds refuse to submit earmarks this year because of his ideological blindness and rigidity but he will likely not submit them if he’s re-elected. In fact, it’s not certain that the opportunity to request earmarks will even present itself in the next Congress.

This may have been a once in a lifetime opportunity and he blew it.

For the sake of Southwest Florida, Donalds should not be returned to office for another term. If he is, he will doom Southwest Florida and the district he represents to perpetually lagging all the surrounding congressional districts—indeed, lagging the entire country—in getting its rightful and legitimate help from the federal government. He will turn the Paradise Coast into an eternal sucking swamp of expenses and needs without any aid from any outside agency.

The boundaries of the newly redistricted Florida have not yet been drawn; they’re hung up in litigation and contention between the governor and the legislature. It’s not clear that the 19th District will still be the 19th or where its lines will run by Election Day.

However, wherever the lines land, whatever the district that emerges, the people of Southwest Florida should be aware that Byron Donalds, if he runs for representative office, will not represent them effectively but will only represent himself.

What’s passed is past. But being forewarned is being forearmed for the future.

We sometimes forget that our elected representatives are our employees. As voters we hire them at election time, we pay their salaries with our taxes and when their contracts are up, we vote whether to renew them. They work for us.

Byron Donalds has not done his job. On November 8, his contract should not be renewed

* * *

To read full coverage of earmarks and Southwest Florida, see: “SWFL loses out on federal millions when Donalds won’t ask for cash.

Liberty lives in light

©2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate!

SWFL loses out on federal millions when Donalds won’t ask for cash

Diaz-Balart, Steube seek money for Everglades City, Immokalee, Lee County

President Joe Biden signs the Consolidated Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2022 in the Indian Treaty Room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House Campus in Washington, Tuesday, March 15, 2022. (Photo: AP /Patrick Semansky)

March 16, 2022 by David Silverberg

Yesterday, March 15, President Joe Biden signed a $1.5 trillion spending bill covering government expenditures for the next fiscal year.

Ukraine will receive $13.6 billion. Billions of dollars will be provided for all federal agencies, public schools, healthcare, housing, child care, climate change, veterans, police and a host of other causes including specific projects in towns, counties and states across the country.

But amidst all this, Cape Coral, Fort Myers, Fort Myers Beach, Estero, Bonita Springs, Naples and Marco Island won’t see a dime.

That’s because Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), whose district covers those towns, refused to request any money for them even though he had the opportunity and was encouraged to ask for it.

Such requests are called “earmarks.”

In contrast to Donalds, Southwest Florida’s other representatives energetically pursued the money available for their districts.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) requested nearly $12 million in earmarks for his district, the area roughly from Rt. 75 in the west to Hialeah in the east including Immokalee and Golden Gate in Collier County.

Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) requested nearly $38 million for projects in his district covering six counties including Charlotte and parts of three others, including Lee.

To fully appreciate and understand the consequences of Donalds’ refusal to request funding for his district, a brief explanation of the nature and history of earmarks is in order.

A quick primer on earmarks

When it comes to cattle and hogs, an “earmark” is a distinctive cut on an animal’s ear that designates it as some human’s personal property.

When it comes to budgeting and management, “earmark” means money set aside for a special purpose.

And when it comes to the Congress of the United States, an earmark is money intended for a specific use in a particular member’s state or district.

For years, congressional earmarks were in disrepute. Everyone made them but there were abuses, sometimes spectacular.

For example, in 2005, when Alaskans proposed a bridge between the town Ketchikan and tiny Gravina Island, the powerful Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) inserted a $225 million earmark to fund what came to be known as the “bridge to nowhere.” It was seen to be the most egregious example of pork barrel earmark spending. (The opposition was so strong that the bridge has not been built to this day.)

Many of the earmarks were made in the dead of night, slipped into enormous, must-pass appropriations bills at the last minute, without hearings or notice, using obscure or confusing language. Members didn’t have to identify themselves as requesting the earmarks or clearly state their purpose.

What was more, the possibility of their passing depended on the clout of the members seeking them. Powerful representatives or senators sitting on key committees had a much better chance of getting their earmarks included or approved than freshmen or back-benchers.

Yet for all the abuses and allegations of waste, earmarks played an important role in aiding local communities. Congressional representatives understood their local communities’ very specific needs and could seek funding to meet them.

Further, earmarks were a way for taxpayers to get a return for the taxes they paid. After all, taxes are not a one-way street. The taxpayer pays into a collective pot—in this case the federal treasury—but has a right to expect and receive government benefits and services in return. Earmarks made by a local representative were a way to get those benefits down to the grassroots. While the abuses got all the attention, many of the local needs were legitimate and pressing.

The abusive aspects of earmarks and the clamor against them led Congress to reform its earmark process beginning in 2007. In 2009 members of Congress had to post their earmark requests online along with a signed letter certifying that they and their immediate families had no direct financial interest in the earmark.

In the 2010 election, Republicans took control of the House and banned earmarks within their caucus. In 2011 President Barack Obama furthered the anti-earmark movement in his State of the Union address by threatening to veto any spending bill that contained earmarks. Then, in February of that year, earmarks were formally banned by the entire Congress.

Last year Congress lifted the ban on earmarks for the 2022 fiscal year. It started with Democrats recognizing the urgent and desperate needs of local communities as a result of the pandemic. The House and Senate appropriations committees invited members to make earmark requests. In the House, these earmarks were called “Community Project Funding” and in the Senate, “Congressionally-Directed Spending.”

To prevent abuses, new rules govern earmarks: They must be posted online, be searchable, fully explained, the members have to certify that they and their families have no financial interest in them, and members must provide evidence of community support for the project. From an administrative standpoint, for-profit entities can’t receive earmarks and members were limited to 10 requests. The overall percentage of earmarks in spending bills was limited. To further ensure compliance, all earmarks are audited by the Government Accountability Office.

The change to allowing earmarks again did not happen painlessly. Republicans in particular had to wrestle with the legacy of their anti-government spending creed. Almost exactly a year ago the Republican caucus held a vote that, unusually for them, was closed and secret. The result was a decision to bring back earmarks by a vote of 102 to 84.

And so earmarks have returned.

Earmarks and Southwest Florida

Few Republican members expressed as much torment in accepting earmarks as Rep. Greg Steube. In fact, so excruciating was the change for him that Steube was the poster child for Republican angst in a May 5, 2021 article on the subject called “GOP’s earmark schism evident in ‘earmark’ disclosures: The return of home-state projects has many Republicans pitching for funds,” in the congressional newspaper, Roll Call.

On March 10, 2021, Steube was a signatory to a Republican letter urging top Democrats not to bring back earmarks.

“Nothing epitomizes what is wrong with Washington more than pork-barrel spending in the form of congressional earmarks,” stated the letter, signed by 35 Republican representatives and senators.

Nonetheless, when earmarks were approved, Steube dug right in. In fact, so vigorous was his earmarking that he came up with 11 projects—one more than permitted—for his district. His requests were:

  • $720,000 for Lee County to implement best management practices at the Bob Janes Preserve Restoration Project (the reserve is a massive 5,620 acre nature preserve north of the Caloosahatchee River on a portion of the former Babcock Ranch);
  • $500,000 for the Army Corps of Engineers in Jacksonville to study shoreline erosion in Charlotte County;
  • $3.2 million for Charlotte County to convert 2,135 septic lots to sewer systems to reduce water pollution;
  • $3.5 million for North Port to build a child advocacy center;
  • $2 million for DeSoto County to use sewer rather than septic systems in new developments;
  • $1.5 million for the Florida Endowment Foundation for Florida’s Graduates in Flagler Beach to help at-risk youth;
  • $1 million for the Okeechobee Utility Authority to convert septic tanks to sewer systems on Treasure Island to reduce water pollution;
  • $1 million for Sarasota County to lower the risks of water delivery disruption to residents;
  • $2.5 million for the Army Corps of Engineers to dredge sections of the Intracoastal Waterway;
  • $21 million for Charlotte County to widen Harborview Road;
  • $1 million for Sarasota County to widen the River Road Regional Interstate Connector.

A much more experienced legislator than the two-term Steube, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart was far less tormented by the notion of earmarks and celebrated passage of the spending bill.

“This year’s spending package is a tremendous win for our nation’s defense priorities and national security interests,” he stated when the bill passed. Praising the money spent on defense and $14 billion in aid to Ukraine, he noted: “Although not perfect, these bills are a huge win for Republicans who were successful in eliminating left-wing, radical policies while prioritizing funding to enhance our infrastructure, reinforce our military, strengthen our national security, bolster school safety initiatives, and support our nation’s veterans.”

Diaz-Balart was not shy in making his earmark requests:

  • $3 million for Everglades City to build a new wastewater plant;
  • $2 million for Everglades City to replace the Chokoloskee Master Pump Station;
  • $750,000 for Miami Dade County to install new sewer systems for Doral and Sweetwater;
  • $1 million for Miami-Dade County to extend water mains;
  • $987,000 for Collier County to build sidewalks and drainage in Immokalee;
  • $999,858 for Clewiston to improve portions of Ventura Avenue;
  • $500,000 for Hendry County to rehabilitate and improve the Harlem Academy;
  • $1.135 million for Florida International University in Miami to establish the Aquarius Coral Reef Observatory.

In the final bill, Diaz-Balart had something to crow about when his requests were granted:

“I am especially proud of the $5 million secured for much-needed infrastructure improvements to a wastewater treatment plant and master pump station in Everglades City and Chokoloskee, which were both damaged after Hurricane Irma,” he stated. “In addition to funding for infrastructure projects in Sweetwater, Doral, Immokalee, Clewiston, and Harlem.”

Donalds’ denial

Donalds chose not to submit any earmark requests. When asked by PBS Newshour’s Lisa DeJardins, why not, he replied: “We don’t have any money. Like, we are deficit-spending in Washington, DC.” When she pointed out that earmarks have a long history and have done good for communities, Donalds replied: “With all due respect to my colleagues who’ve been up there longer, I’m here now. And so my job isn’t to look at what has always happened.”

When the entire bill came up for a vote, Donalds voted against it.

Donalds was not the only Republican to eschew earmarks. Of 435 members of the House, 332 submitted earmark requests and 103 did not. (Interestingly, five of the seven freshmen members of the Republican “Freedom Force,” the conservative Republican answer to the Democratic “Squad,” of which Donalds was a founding member, requested earmarks. Only Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-20-Ind.) joined Donalds in not making any requests.)

The change to allow earmarks is not necessarily permanent and could be changed in the next Congress, so members who didn’t have their requests granted may not get a second chance to get funding in 2023.

(For commentary on Donalds’ refusal to seek funding for his district, see: “Editorial: Byron Donalds has failed Southwest Florida and can’t be allowed to do it again.”)

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate!

Congress votes to keep government open; Diaz-Balart breaks with Donalds, Steube, Republicans to approve bill

The US Capitol.

Sept. 30, 2021 by David Silverberg

The US House of Representatives today approved a bill to fund the government until December 3 by a vote of 254 to 175.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) joined 33 other Republicans to vote for the bill, the Extending Government Funding and Delivering Emergency Assistance Act.

Reps. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) and Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) voted against the bill. Had the bill failed, the government would have shut down at midnight.

For Southwest Florida, passage of the bill means that federal parks, facilities and offices will remain open and operating, including the US Coast Guard and the Social Security Administration.

The bill, House Resolution 5305, also known as a Continuing Resolution, concurred with a Senate bill and now goes to President Joe Biden for signature.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

US House votes to keep government open; SWFL Reps. Rooney, Steube oppose, Diaz-Balart approves

The US House vote to keep govenrment open. (Image:C-SPAN)

Sept. 23, 2020, by David Silverberg

By an overwhelming majority, the US House of Representatives voted last night to keep the government operating until Dec. 11.

The bill, House Resolution 8337, known as a Continuing Resolution (CR) continues to fund the government at existing levels past the Oct. 1 start of the new 2021 federal fiscal year at roughly $1.4 trillion.

The vote in the House was 359 to 57, with one member, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-14-NY), voting “present.”

Of Southwest Florida’s representatives, Reps. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) and Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) voted against the bill. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) voted in favor.

The bill was the subject of long and contentious negotiations, with the White House insisting on including aid to farmers through the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC). Democrats were concerned the farm aid would actually be used by the administration to assist the oil and energy industry and also feared that President Donald Trump would use the CCC funds as what some termed a “slush fund” to buy votes with aid to farmers hurt by his trade wars.

The final agreement reached between House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Republicans added safeguards against abuse of CCC funding and added $8 billion in nutrition assistance for needy families and schoolchildren.

“To help the millions of families struggling to keep food on the table during the pandemic, Democrats have renewed the vital, expiring lifeline of Pandemic EBT [Electronic Benefits Transfer] for a full year and enabled our fellow Americans in the territories to receive this critical nutrition assistance,” Pelosi said in a statement.

In a brief statement, Rooney explained his opposition vote:

“This continuing resolution contains an excessive amount of spending which far exceeds what we need for Covid relief at a time when the government is already trillions in debt. Congress has not passed a budget for three years.  This abject lack of fiscal responsibility has pushed our country to the brink, with over $26 trillion in debt. Our children and grandchildren will suffer from our profligate spending. We have corrupted the ethic upon which our country was built; this wasteful spending must stop.

“I have continually fought against the irresponsible, excessive and injudicious appropriations from both parties. I have voted against legislation like this in the past and will continue to vote against it in the future. We simply cannot afford to be increasing government spending when we should be making cuts to reduce the deficit.”

Neither Diaz-Balart nor Steube issued statements explaining their votes.

The government shut down for 35 days in January 2019 following a similar budget standoff. At that time, Trump was insisting on funding for his border wall.

In Southwest Florida the government shutdown also meant a shutdown of national parks and preserves like Everglades National Park and a halt to US Coast Guard operations in local waters. It was also responsible for an estimated $11 billion in costs to the US economy, of which $3 billion was permanent.

This year, among its many other effects, a shutdown had the potential to disrupt federal monitoring of conditions leading to harmful algal blooms in Southwest Florida.

The bill has gone to the Senate, where it is considered likely to pass, given its overwhelming approval in the House and the desire of members to avoid a government shutdown on the eve of the election. Trump is expected to sign it.

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

Trump budget harms SWFL seniors, Medicare, Social Security; local politicos react–or not

02-11-20 Trump budgetCongressional staffers unpack fiscal year 2021 budget documents.

Feb. 11, 2020 by David Silverberg

Southwest Florida seniors are likely to suffer if President Donald Trump’s fiscal year 2021 budget request is enacted as proposed.

The president’s $4.8 trillion budget, officially unveiled yesterday, Feb. 10, would cut Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

Medicare spending would be reduced by 7 percent or $756 billion between 2021 and 2030. Doctors, hospitals and hospices would receive lower reimbursement rates for the services they provide.

Two Social Security programs, SSDI and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which pays monthly benefits to people with limited income and resources who are disabled, blind, or age 65 or older, would lose $75 billion over the same period, with $10 billion in cuts coming from retroactive benefits a person can receive after he or she is considered disabled.

Other programs important to seniors like Meals on Wheels, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, the Senior Community Service Employment Program and legal services for seniors would be cut or eliminated.

These cuts and reductions would fall heavily in Lee and Collier counties, which have double the national percentage of people 65 or older.

According to 2018 Census statistics, 28.6 percent of Lee County’s 618,754 people are 65 or older (which works out to 174,488 people). Of Collier County’s 321,521 people, 32.2 percent are 65 or older (103,530 people). Both counties’ populations have been steadily increasing.

According to DataUSA, a private consortium that repackages government data, 14.7 percent of Lee County’s population is on Medicaid and 20.8 percent is on Medicare. In Collier County that is 12 percent on Medicaid, 24.9 percent on Medicare.

These are significant populations that could be significantly, adversely affected by Trump’s proposed budget cuts.

Southwest Florida reactions

This will be Trump’s last budget proposal before the 2020 election, making it particularly significant and politically impactful.

However, reaction in Southwest Florida from both candidates and sitting representatives was surprisingly mixed.

The only congressional candidate in the 19th Congressional District to immediately comment was Democrat Cindy Banyai.

“The thing that is so disappointing about the #TrumpBudget and every similar austere fiscally conservative move, is that SS, Medicare are macroeconomic drivers that other countries wish they had. Funding only the ‘deserving’ is crippling,” she tweeted as soon as the budget was released.

Among Republican candidates for the 19th District seat only State Rep. Dane Eagle (R-77-Cape Coral) issued any sort of comment at all and his was a generic partisan tweet urging people to vote Republican if they believe in strong borders, lower taxes, low oil prices, law enforcement and the military. He made no mention of the budget or the cuts to social safety net programs.

Sitting SWFL Republican members of Congress were active on Twitter as the budget was released—but each addressed topics as far from the budget and constituent impacts as possible.

Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) was concerned with events in El Salvador: “Reports of armed police and soldiers entering #ElSalvador’s National Assembly are deeply concerning. I urge all sides to come together in a peaceful and constructive manner to address the needs of the Salvadoran people,” he tweeted at the time.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) thanked President Trump for funding Everglades restoration. “As my colleagues from the Everglades Caucus & I stated in our recent letter to POTUS, the #Everglades is a national treasure & fundamental to Florida’s economy. I thank @POTUS  for including the requested $250 million in his proposed budget to Congress.”

Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) was more concerned with the costs of investigating President Trump’s high crimes and misdemeanors: “Now that @realDonaldTrump has been acquitted, I am proud to announce I am co-sponsoring the SHAM Act. It is time we audit that entire bogus process to figure out exactly how much taxpayer money was wasted.” (The Statement of Harm to the American Majority Act or SHAM Act, House Resolution 5769, would initiate an audit of the costs of the presidential impeachment inquiry.)

On a national level, House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) issued a statement saying: “President Trump’s latest budget continues his relentless attacks on the health and economic security of hard-working Americans.  It is a complete reversal of the promises he made in the campaign and a contradiction of the statements he made at the State of the Union.”

When it came to social safety net programs affecting seniors, Pelosi stated: “President Trump has broken his promises to seniors and families by slashing half a trillion dollars from Medicare, taking $900 billion from the lifeline of Medicaid, and cutting Social Security Disability Insurance.”

She concluded: “The federal budget is supposed to be a statement of national values.  Once again, the President is showing just how little he values the good health, financial security and well-being of hard-working American families.  The President’s budget is anti-growth, does not create good-paying jobs and increases the national debt.”

The budget proposal will now be considered by the House of Representatives, where it is likely to be substantially altered.

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

SWFL environment: On budgets and birds, Trump giveth and taketh away

02-07-20 Everglades birdsA flock of ibis on the wing.

Feb. 7, 2020 by David Silverberg

When it comes to Southwest Florida’s natural environment, President Donald Trump’s administration is both giving and taking away.

The giving consists of a reported $250 million request for next fiscal year’s federal budget.

The official request is scheduled to be revealed on Monday, Feb. 10 with the rest of the federal budget. The Everglades funding was widely reported in Florida media, attributed to a “senior administration official.”

The taking consists of a proposed rule that reinterprets the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) to decriminalize the unintentional killing or injuring of migratory birds—a major consideration for the wildlife that inhabits Southwest Florida and the Everglades.

The money

The report of the $250 million request comes in advance of release of the Fiscal Year 2021 budget, which is scheduled to be released Monday, Feb. 10.

If the $250 million is in fact requested as reported, it would provide a stark contrast with last year when Trump requested only $63 million of the $200 million the federal government had promised to provide Florida for Everglades restoration.

The inadequate $63 million request so alarmed Florida’s senators and representatives that on March 14, 2019 Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) and Rep. Brian Mast (R-18-Fla.) joined Florida’s Republican senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott to issue a letter to Trump calling for full funding. It was the third time since Trump took office that he had failed to meet federal funding obligations.

Trump took a trip to Lake Okeechobee on March 29, were he was lobbied by Florida officials and made vague promises to provide more money. Following the lawmakers’ complaints Florida did receive $200 million in the 2020 fiscal year budget.

This year is an election year and Florida is crucial to Trump’s re-election chances. Additionally, he is now officially a Florida resident.

When he announced his retirement after stating that he was open to hearing impeachment evidence against the president, Rooney stated that he had done what he had set out to do in Congress by getting the $200 million. Everglades restoration was a Rooney priority since his election in 2016.

The Paradise Progressive has requested comment from Rooney’s office regarding the budget request.

The birds

On Jan. 30 the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced that it was proposing a new rule that decriminalized unintentional injuring or killing of migratory birds under the MBTA.

While the rule will not directly affect the large migratory bird populations of Southwest Florida, it does peel back one more layer of regulatory protection for them.

In the previous administration, the MBTA was interpreted as covering accidental killing and injury of migratory birds, making such injuries and deaths a criminal act.

While prosecutions were few, the rule provided regulators and prosecutors with an additional tool to prevent harm to migratory birds. For example, when birds were killed due to the British Petroleum Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, BP was charged with criminal acts in addition to civil damages, providing further inducement for the company to settle with the government.

The rule has long been appealed by industry, which argues that it should not be held criminally responsible for accidental bird killings in the course of normal operations.

“With five federal circuit courts of appeals divided on this question, it is important to bring regulatory certainty to the public by clarifying that the criminal scope of the MBTA only reaches to conduct intentionally injuring birds,” Rob Wallace, assistant secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks stated. “That said, we will continue to work collaboratively with states, cities, conservation groups, industries, trade associations and citizens to ensure that best practices are followed to minimize unintended harm to birds and their habitats.”

The rule is in the proposal stage and members of the public have until March 19 to comment on it.

According to the FWS statement, comments for or against the rule can be made by going to:

  • Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Follow the instructions for submitting comments to Docket No. FWS-HQ-MB-2018-0090.
  • U.S. mail or hand-delivery: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-HQ-MB-2018-0090; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; MS: JAO/1N; 5275 Leesburg Pike; Falls Church, VA 22041–3803.

We will not accept email or faxes. We will post all comments on http://www.regulations.gov, including any personal information you provide.

 Interested readers can follow the links to view the proposed rule and notice of intent.

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

The Rooney Roundup and Mario Monitor: Mum on Mueller — and Rooney and Bernie agree (?!)

07-26-19 Sanders-RooneySen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who introduced the Raise the Wage Act in the Senate and Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.), one of only three Republicans who voted for it in the House.

520 days (1 year, 5 months, 5 days) since Rep. Francis Rooney has met constituents in an open, public town hall forum.

July 27, 2019 by David Silverberg

Congress has now adjourned for its August recess, so it’s time to look back at the activities of Southwest Florida’s two representatives since our last Rooney Roundup and Mario Monitor in April.

This period provided a very mixed bag. Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) proved to be something of an odd and unpredictable maverick. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) continued his record of unimaginative, party-line votes.

When it came to the testimony of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the highlight of this period, neither of Southwest Florida’s representatives expressed an opinion—probably a wise course. While other members of the Florida delegation, some of them members of the Judiciary or Intelligence committees, were quite vocal, neither Rooney or Diaz-Balart, sat on the relevant committees, so they weren’t in the room.

There was a lot of action on the issue of Southwest Florida’s environment, so much so that it will be the subject of a subsequent Rooney Roundup and Mario Monitor.

But here, some highlights from the past two months of congressional activity.

Rooney stands with Bernie Sanders (What?!)

In a surprising vote at odds with President Donald Trump’s position, the Republican Party and his own conservative record, on July 18 Rooney voted in favor of raising the national minimum wage to $15 per hour.

The bill, the Raise the Wage Act (House Resolution (HR) 582), passed by a vote of 231 to 199. Rooney was one of only three Republicans to vote in favor of the measure. (The others were Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-1-Pa.) and Chris Smith (R-4-NJ)). Diaz-Balart opposed it.

The bill increases the minimum wage over a six-year period by amending the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. After the first and second years the wage’s economic impact will be assessed by the General Accounting Office.

In a statement, Rooney explained his position: “This 6-year gradual increase brings the minimum wage in line with inflation. The 6-year increases avoid disruptive changes to the workplace. Earlier this week I offered an amendment, which was rejected, to establish a ‘purchasing power parity option’ which would allow states and cities to adjust the wages for local conditions. What $26 buys in Ft. Myers may cost $50 in New York City.  While this would have been a better option, the bill that passed will provide the gradual increases necessary to improve worker pay, keep up with inflation and mitigate the wage inequality which has increased over the last 20 years.”

In January, the bill was introduced in the Senate as Senate 150 by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a self-described democratic socialist and Democratic candidate for president. It has not yet been reported out of committee.

Two-year budget deal

In another dissent from the Trump line, on July 25, Rooney voted against the two-year budget deal worked out by President Donald Trump and House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) in a rare, bipartisan bit of cooperation.

The bill, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019 (House Resolution (HR) 3877), stabilizes the budget process and wards off possible government shutdowns over raising the national debt ceiling. It sets the budget at $1.37 trillion and suspends the debt ceiling until July 31, 2021.

Trump endorsed it in a tweet: “House Republicans should support the TWO YEAR BUDGET AGREEMENT which greatly helps our Military and our Vets. I am totally with you!” The House duly passed it by a vote of 284 to 149. As of this writing it has gone to the Senate where it was expected to be passed and the President was expected to sign it—although with this president, one never knows until the ink dries.

Diaz-Balart voted for it along with 64 other Republicans. But it was more than Rooney could stomach.

“This budget act fails the American people, especially our children and grandchildren,” he raged in a statement. “Saddling future generations with insurmountable debt instead of making the hard decisions on spending is irresponsible legislating. Just a campaign cycle ago, Republicans across the country ran on a platform of balancing our budget and eliminating our debt. I intend to continue my opposition to out of control Washington spending.”

Humanitarian standards for detainees

Both Rooney and Diaz-Balart voted against the Humanitarian Standards for Individuals in Customs and Border Protection Custody Act (HR 3239) on July 24.

Among a variety of standards of care for detainees, it requires US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to conduct a health examination for every person it takes into custody and provide health care for those who need it. It also requires that detainees have access to drinking water, toilets, sanitation and hygiene products.

The bill passed by a vote of 233 to 195 along party lines. It is likely to die in the Senate.

Rooney skipped an earlier vote on June 25 to provide emergency funding to relieve conditions on the US southern border (HR 3401), which passed the House 230 to 195 and ultimately became law. Diaz-Balart voted against it.

Fallout from disaster relief vote

On June 3, Rooney voted against the Additional Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Act, 2019 (HR 2157), a $19.1 billion spending bill that provided emergency funds for disasters around the country. In Florida it was particularly critical for the panhandle, which had been devastated by Hurricane Michael. Diaz-Balart voted for it.

Rooney voted against it because he said it was fiscally irresponsible. In this he was joined by Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.)

Rooney’s vote created a political storm of its own in Florida where the relief bill was not only popular but deemed essential. The rest of the Florida delegation, both Republican and Democrat, voted for the bill (with the exception of two members who were absent, Reps. Alcee Hastings (D-20-Fla.) and Frederica Wilson (D-24-Fla.)).

“If I was in their district, I’d vote ‘em out,” Jimmy Patronis, Florida’s Republican chief financial officer told reporters in Tallahassee immediately after the vote. “Those individuals that do not realize the harm and suffering that’s happening in Northwest Florida and the recovery that we’re trying to endure right now, for them to put themselves over the better good of the recovery of other citizens in the United States is shameful. Unfortunately, it’s a round world and they’ll probably get what’s coming to them somewhere, somehow.”

When the House leadership was struggling to move the bill, Rep. Neal Dunn (R-2-Fla.), who represents hard-hit Panama City, took to the floor to denounce members who blocked it.

“For those upset at the cost, OK, spending in Washington is a problem, but are you actually willing to make an empty gesture about balancing the federal budget on the backs of Americans who have lost everything?” he said.


Other votes

Predictably, Rooney voted:

  • Against holding Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt of Congress;
  • Against condemning President Donald Trump’s racist comments attacking four members of Congress;
  • Against the National Defense Authorization Act;
  • Against protecting Dreamers.

In the next Rooney Roundup and Mario Monitor: Southwest Florida’s swamp meets Washington DC’s swamp.

Liberty lives in light

© 2019 by David Silverberg

Follow-up: Trump at Lake O — he came, he saw, he left

03-29-19 Trump at OkeechobeeFlorida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Maj. Gen. Scott Spellmon, President Donald Trump, Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen. Rick Scott and Rep. Greg Steube at Lake Okeechobee on Friday.   (Photo: AP)

March 31, 2019 by David Silverberg

As predicted by The Paradise Progressive last week (Analysis: Follow the money when Trump comes to Lake O), when President Donald Trump visited Lake Okeechobee on Friday, March 29, he came, he saw, he boasted—but real results were sparse.

The Paradise Progressive: If he behaves as he has in the past, his visit will be a narcissistic exercise in self-praise…

Donald Trump: “This project was dying until we got involved,” he said. He also called Everglades restoration “very, very important. It was very dangerous and it’s a big project. But it’s a great project for Florida. And Florida is a state that’s a phenomenal state. A very important project.” Exactly in what way Everglades restoration is “very dangerous” remained unexplained.

The Paradise Progressive: …a vicious vilification of enemies real and perceived…

Donald Trump: “They set up these caravans.  In many cases, they put their worst people in the caravan; they’re not going to put their best in.  They get rid of their problems.  And they march up here, and then they’re coming into their country; we’re not letting them in our country.”

The Paradise Progressive: …and digressions into irrelevant or peripheral topics.

Donald Trump: “I want to just thank the Army Corps of Engineers, who’s been fantastic.  I said, ‘Let’s go.  We need a wall also on the border.’  You know that, right?  I’m looking at all these walls; I’m saying, ‘Southern border, too.  Don’t forget our southern border.’  And we’re right now building a lot of wall in the southern border.”

As for the topic at hand, funding Everglades restoration projects and repairs to the Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee, when asked by a reporter about providing more money than currently in his proposed budget, Trump responded: “We’re going to be doing more.  We’re going to be doing more.”

To which the reporter responded, quite correctly: “When?  How much?”

To which Trump replied: “Soon. A lot. More than you would ever believe.”

This prompted the next day’s headline in the Naples Daily News: “Trump makes vague Everglades promise.”

As also predicted, Trump’s visit was an opportunity for Florida officials—all Republicans—to lobby him for more Everglades money, which they did while lavishly thanking and praising him. These officials included Gov. Ron DeSantis, Sens. Rick Scott and Marco Rubio and Reps. Greg Steube (District 17), Brian Mast (District 18), Francis Rooney (District 19) and Mario Diaz-Balart (District 25).

This was a stark contrast to the event on March 14 when Rubio, Scott, Rooney and Mast sent a formal letter to the White House complaining that the latest proposed budget underfunded Everglades projects and failed to meet previous federal promises.

At Lake Okeechobee on Friday, Rubio in particular tried to cajole Trump along. “You have a chance, Mr. President, and your administration, to go down in history as the Everglades President — as the person who helped save and restore the Everglades,” he said.

To which Trump replied: “We have a chance to go down as many things.”

Liberty lives in light
©2019 by David Silverberg

Rooney breaks with Trump again, joins Rubio, Scott and Mast in decrying Everglades underfunding in new budget

03-14-19 os-ne-scott-rubio-trump-everglades-20190313
Florida Republican senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott denounce Trump’s new budget for its lack of Everglades restoration funding.    (Photo: Orlando Sentinel)

March 14, 2019 by David Silverberg

In yet another break with President Donald Trump, Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) has joined Florida’s Republican senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott and Rep. Brian Mast (R-18-Fla.) in criticizing anemic funding for Everglades restoration in the president’s proposed budget.

The full text of their joint statement (their capitalization):

“For the third year in a row, the administration’s budget request underfunds critical projects in South Florida. It is incredibly short-sighted to continue to underfund a series of projects that are absolutely necessary to ensure the environmental sustainability and economic vitality important to the State of Florida and enjoys broad bipartisan support in Congress. Failing to meet the basic federal funding commitments to restore the Everglades is contrary to the administration’s goal of improving project partnerships and cost-sharing with states. Successive Florida Governors have remained committed to this goal, pushing state funding of this 50/50 federal-state partnership to historic highs. Congress and the Army Corps of Engineers envisioned a $200 million per year federal commitment when the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan was first authorized nearly 20 years ago, and it is time for the administration to meet that commitment.”

Neither Rooney nor his office issued a separate statement regarding his position.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.), whose district includes parts of Lee and Collier counties and a substantial portion of the Everglades, did not join the other lawmakers. A request for comment has been made to his office.

(This report will be updated as new developments warrant.)

Liberty lives in light
© 2019 by David Silverberg