Monthly Archives: December 2015

5 posts

Florida: 20 Million People and Counting

Florida aerial photo
NASA satellite photo of Florida, which now has a population of 20 million.

 

Wow, Florida now has 20.2 million residents, placing the state after California and Texas as the nation’s most populous states, according to the latest estimates from the census.

The figures are not too surprising. Last year, Florida surpassed New York as the state with the third largest population, which was saying a lot considering that New York is one of the original 13 colonies with a significant immigrant past. Now, many New Yorkers are bumping into each other in the Sunshine State.

Notably, “Florida added more people than California for the first time in nearly a decade,” according to the census press release.

“Growth” has long been Florida’s primary economic engine, all made possible by air conditioning in the early 20th century, helping to make bearable the swampy, soupy, humid heat.

Who is “growing” Florida today?

Baby boomers and Latinos – and not necessarily in that order. Northern and Midwestern boomers head south to escape the harsh winters and higher costs of living. Hispanics  –who, frankly, are keeping the state younger than it might otherwise be – are fleeing mostly economic stagnation and sometimes political upheaval, opting to forge a future here.

Today, the state’s largest Hispanic groups are, in order, Cubans, Puerto Ricans and Mexicans. But this may get scrambled up in the near future. A fiscal crisis in Puerto Rico is sending many Puerto Ricans to Florida – the island’s population fell by 61,000 in the past year and Florida is the largest receiving state.

“The exodus, specifically of puertorriqueños, has been growing since 1990-2015,” wrote Julio García on Facebook.

Meantime, many Cubans are entering the U.S. via Texas instead of Florida. Plus, we don’t yet know how normalized relations between the two countries may affect Cubans’ favored immigrant status. As for Mexicans, contrary to popular opinion, net migration is below zero, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. More Mexicans are going home than coming to the U.S.

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Brouhaha over Osceola Court Clerk’s Christmas Bonus

 

 

Armando Xmas bonus story
Osceola County Court Clerk Armando Ramírez was in the news this week for paying Christmas bonuses to staff. / screenshot of WFV-Channel 9 story

Osceola County Clerk of the Court Armando Ramírez was in the news for paying Christmas bonuses to his staff this year, according to a 9 Investigates story by WFTV-Channel 9.

The story doesn’t state the holiday bonus amount and apparently Ramírez broke no law. But the move did raise eyebrows because the Florida Clerk of Courts earlier this year asked county court clerks to reduce expenses by 5 percent due to state budget cuts. In Osceola, Ramírez responded by laying off five staffers, according to an Orlando Sentinel report dated July.

“I feel as though I am the general in this office and my employees are the army, and I feel we need to always reward our soldiers,” Ramírez told Channel 9 anchor and reporter Jorge Estevez.

I wonder if Ramírez, who is Osceola’s first Hispanic and Puerto Rican court clerk, was following the Puerto Rico tradition of government and the private sector awarding Christmas bonuses.

It’s part of a 1969 island law, requiring that “employers pay bonuses to all employees who have worked more than 700 hours” during the previous 12-month qualifying period.

More specifically,  Act 148 states companies with fewer than 15 qualifying employees must pay holiday bonuses equal to 3 percent of earned wages but no more than $300. Companies with over 16 employees pay 6 percent, or a maximum of $600. Bonuses must be paid before Dec. 31 each year.

Companies “in a net loss position” can opt out by making their case to the island’s labor department no later than November 30.

It may surprise people to know that Puerto Rico’s central government this week paid bonuses to its employees despite the island’s ongoing fiscal crisis and negotiations with holders of more than $70 billion in debt. (Puerto Rico has a $1 billion debt payment due in January 2016.)

Two justifications stand out.

First, it’s the law and perhaps the government didn’t want to set a bad example or precedent for private industry to opt out as well.

Second, the holiday bonuses inject much-needed cash in the island economy as workers buy Christmas food and gifts, boosting retailers’ year-end prospects.

Puerto Rico wages are low relative to the states, with median household income of $19,158, according to census data. The island’s economy has been sinking under an economic recession for nearly 10 years with no end in sight.

Read more about Puerto Rico’s Christmas bonus law here.

˜˜María Padilla – Editor

No Debt Relief for Puerto Rico

 

With Rubio
Sen. Marco Rubio surrounded by Puerto Rican Borinqueneer veterans last year. The senator is against providing Puerto Rico with bankruptcy protection for its over $70 billion in debt. / photo by Maria Padilla

 

Millions of Puerto Ricans here and on the island were disappointed when Congress approved a federal budget without  bankruptcy relief for Puerto Rico to help manage over $70 billion in debt, leaving the island in limbo about what to do next.

Looks like it won’t be until March until Congress takes another look at the island’s fiscal crisis, according to reports. Meanwhile, Puerto Rico has $1 billion in debt payments due in January, just a few weeks away. It’s unclear what it will do now but my best guess is the island will make some kind of payment but it would still be in default for not making an entire payment.

The Puerto Rico government is in talks this week with bondholders of its electric power authority debt as well as its infrastructure debt, totaling more than $50 billion. However, Puerto Rico has been considerably weakened without any negotiating tools at its disposal.

It’s unseemly to watch and read how hedge funds – latecomers to buying the island’s triple tax exemption debt at bargain rates and who now own 30 percent of it –  are forcing huge operating cuts on an island already mired in a nearly 10-year recession.

But it’s also maddening how island officials earlier this year sold $3 billion of bonds to these same hedge funds to raise desperately needed operating cash. In doing so, it sold the island’s soul to third parties notorious for brass knuckle tactics.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has played a shameful role in this unfolding debacle. Rubio  was once for allowing Puerto Rico to have access to Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection but is now against it, stating bankruptcy ought to be a last resort. The senator changed his mind after a certain hedge fund held a fund-raiser for his presidential campaign this summer, state news reports.

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Court Removes Latinos from Congressional District 9

Randolph - Soto
Former Alan Grayson staffer Susannah Randolph and state Sen. Darren Soto are two Democrats vying for Congressional District 9.

Florida desperately needed a resolution to its long and costly congressional redistricting, and thankfully the state Supreme Court delivered last week when it sided with the Florida League of Women Voters, which contested the Legislature’s plan.

The Legislature spent $11 million to defend a redistricting plan that was too Republican leaning. The Supreme Court reset the scales so that more districts favor Democrats. The court decision, however, is likely to be challenged by Rep. Corinne Brown (D) and others.

Latinos have a concern of their own, given that their numbers were reduced by six percentage points to 33 percent in District 9, currently held by Democrat Alan Grayson, who is running for Sen. Marco Rubio’s seat.

Six points is statistically significant. It may impact state Sen. Darren Soto’s campaign for the district, also contested by former Grayson staff member Susannah Randolph. Soto, who is Puerto Rican, remained optimistic.

“I opposed the reduction in the Hispanic vote,” Soto said. “That being said, I believe we still have a great opportunity to win!”

Randolph’s response implied that Soto’s opposition could have been more vigorous.

“I am surprised that no one in the state Senate, which was the only chamber that allowed legislators to propose changes to the maps, filed an amendment to keep the Hispanic community together in the congressional maps,” Randolph said.

Not Your Time or Turn

It’s the second time local Hispanics were told “wait, it’s not your time or turn” in a redistricting case, following an Orange County Commission case more than a year ago in which the county and the court tamped down the burgeoning Hispanic population in Districts 3 and 4, preventing the creation of a “Hispanic district.”

The experience remains painful for a lot of Hispanics who aspire to see themselves represented in local office. For a good chunk of the Puerto Rican population, who are half or more of Hispanics, that person has to be Puerto Rican.

But here’s the thing: The growing Latino population will make up for the artificial cut by the courts, tipping the districts more toward Hispanics, especially as Puerto Ricans, who are citizens with no barrier to voting, continue to migrate to Central Florida.

For instance, Orange County Districts 3 and 4 include the Hispanic southeast quadrant and each is more than 40 percent Hispanic. Congressional District 9, meanwhile, spans all of Osceola and portions of Orange and Polk counties. Osceola is half Hispanic, while the number in Polk is 20 percent. The Orange swath overlaps with county Districts 3 and 4.

By the 2020 census the numbers are bound to be much higher. So while Hispanics have been instructed for a second time to “wait, it’s not your time or turn,” that philosophy will not hold.

˜˜María T. Padilla – Editor