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Business Observer Thursday, Jul. 21, 2011 9 years ago

Government Digest: July 22

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A summary of governmental action from around the Gulf Coast, including: Charter board rejects voter approval measure, U.S. House targets EPA water quality standards and Sarasota bonds down, Florida's rating is up
by: Jay Brady Government Editor

Charter board rejects voter approval measure
ST. PETERSBURG — At the urging of business leaders, the nine-member Charter Review Commission rejected a proposal July 12 that would have required voters' approval for the construction of convention centers, museums, theaters, professional sports facilities, parking garages and office buildings on downtown waterfront parks and on the approach to the city's pier.

Last month, the commission denied a proposal that would have required voters to approve public projects that cost more than $100 million, an idea that opponents claimed targeted a future new Tampa Bay Rays stadium. The commission, however, tentatively approved placing a measure on the ballot to require the city prepare a downtown waterfront master plan that would define criteria for development in the area. The proposal requires the city council to review the plan every seven years. The commission plans to consider the measure again at its July 26 meeting.

U.S. House targets EPA water quality standards
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. House passed a bill July 13 that would restrict the Environmental Protection Agency's power to require tougher water-quality standards, known as numeric nutrient criteria. U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Winter Park, was a key sponsor of the measure, which passed 239-184. Mica and other supporters argue the EPA has overstepped its authority in Clean Water Act disputes with states. The Obama administration has signaled that the president will likely veto it if it gets to the White House. The measure also faces difficulty in the Senate.

Water-quality standards have been a major issue in Florida during the past couple of years as business groups and many state and local leaders have fought EPA efforts to impose strict numeric standards. Opponents, including many Florida municipalities, contend that the criteria would require expensive upgrades of facilities such as sewage-treatment plants, which discharge water into rivers and streams. Ratepayers would bear the added cost. But supporters say the standards would help clean up the state's waterways, including the Caloosahatchee River, preventing harmful algal blooms and other health and environmental problems.

Sarasota bonds down, Florida's rating is up
SARASOTA/TALLAHASSEE — Moody's Investor Service reduced its rating from Aa2 to Baa2 on $93 million of Sarasota County's bonds to finance the purchase of environmentally sensitive lands. The new rating is at the low end of investment-grade ratings and comes with a negative outlook reflecting the drop in the tax base. The county property appraiser's office's preliminary estimate for the Jan. 1, 2011 tax roll shows a 6.5% decline from last year to $39.5 billion. That's down from a 2007 peak of $62.4 billion. Issued in 2005 and 2008, the bonds are secured by a limited property tax of 0.25 mills due to expire in 2029.

As Sarasota County's rating drops, Florida's rating recently improved. Standard & Poor's Rating Services upgraded the state of Florida's outlook from negative to stable, citing the new state budget, which includes increased reserves. The change means the state will be able to borrow at lower interest rates and have easier access to credit “The outlook revision reflects our view of the state's improved revenue environment and a fiscal 2012 budget that is structurally balanced and improves reserve funding levels,” concludes the report.

The state holds a AAA rating, the highest possible credit rating. The revised outlook indicates that a credit rating downgrade is not likely to occur immediately. The rating agency gave the state's long-term education bonds a AAA rating while maintaining a AA+ rating for legislative bond issues. The state's general obligation bond rating remains at AAA.

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