Congress returns from a two-month summer recess Tuesday and Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Murphy laid out his to-do list.
Among the items: Keep up the steady stream of criticism aimed at Republican rival Marco Rubio.
“This is probably Marco Rubio’s least favorite day of the year,” said the Jupiter Democrat, in his second term in the U.S. House. “He’s got to go back to the Senate — a place that he says he hates. A place where he doesn’t think he has enough power to solve problems.”
By contrast, Murphy said he is eager to move forward with the White House’s pitch to approve $1.9 billion in funding to fight the Zika virus, enact tougher gun restrictions, and steer more dollars toward easing the algae outbreak on Florida’s Treasure Coast.
Of course, all of these major issues have languished since lawmakers broke camp in July. And few signs of developing agreement, it’s possible Republicans and Democrats continue their deadlock past the November elections.
Rubio’s side revived their criticism of Murphy for having voted against Zika funding measures in the House — where Republicans have put a number of contentious proposals on the table.
Rubio in May joined with Florida Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson to introduce a $1.9 billion funding proposal that basically mirrored what the Obama administration sought. Rubio and several Florida Republicans also have urged their leadership to advance a deal to fight the outbreak.
But efforts have gone nowhere.
Olivia Perez-Cubas, a Rubio campaign spokeswoman, said Murphy is out to “exploit this public health and economic emergency.”
“South Florida is facing a crisis,” Nelson wrote Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Harry Reid. “These algae blooms are the result of historic amounts of rain that has forced the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to discharge billions of gallons of nutrient-laden water from Lake Okeechobee to prevent the aging Herbert Hoover Dike from failing.”
“Since the state refuses to acquire additional land south of the lake to help store and treat this water before sending it south – as Mother Nature intended – it’s imperative that Congress act now to help solve the problem,” Nelson added.
The legislation, which was recently placed on the Senate calendar, includes provisions allowing the corps to continue the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP), which includes moving more water south of the lake.
A new report by Moody’s Investor services concludes most Florida counties “will continue to benefit from robust property value growth, increasing financial stability, and expanding employment opportunities.”
Moody’s rates 31 of Florida’s 67 counties, but those it covers include 82 percent of the state’s population. Palm Beach County is among 11 counties where property values have jumped more than 20 percent since 2012 — after flattening during the recession.
Palm Beach has reached between 85 percent and 95 percent of its pre-recession peak assessed value mark, with two-thirds of Florida’s Moody’s rated counties in Florida now at least 75 percent back to its highest level.
Just last week, The Postreported that taxable property values in the county and its cities jumped nearly 10 percent this year over last, exceeding the $150 billion mark for the first time since 2008.
Miami-Dade, Orange and Alachua counties, though, have already reached 100 percent their pre-recession peak, and Sumter County, home to the retirement mecca The Villages and other communities, is at 150 percent of its pre-crash high, Moody’s found.
Scott said he will ask the Legislature next year to establish a 50-50 grant program between the state and local governments to finance efforts to move homeowners away from using septic tanks and also encourage cities to build new wastewater treatment centers.
Scott said details about the grant program are still being developed. The next regular session of the Legislature begins next March.
Scott also continued to divert blame toward the federal government for failing to replace or rebuild the dike surrounding Lake Okeechobee. Discharges from the big lake, designed to lower water levels and reduce the risk of nearby flooding, is a major contributor to the fouling of the St. Lucie estuary and other waterways with nutrients from farm and housing runoff that leads to the growth of algae.
Environmentalists and many citizens groups, though, also argue that Scott and the Republican-led Legislature haven’t done enough to enforce clean water standards and blunt the impact of the politically powerful agricultural industry on Lake Okeechobee.
“While the state has continued to step up and invest in important restoration projects to help South Florida waterways, it is clear that more work has to be done,” Scott said.
“It is up to all of us – the state, Florida’s local communities and the federal government – to work together on long term solutions to improve the quality of our water.”
In a news release, Scott said he was extending the state of emergency to two more counties to drive “every available resource to address the needs of these communities following yesterday’s emergency declaration.”
A massive blue-green algae bloom in recent weeks has expanded from Lake Okeechobee to the St. Lucie River in Martin County and extended along the county’s oceanfront, leading officials to temporarily close some beaches where the algae was reported. A blog about the size of two fists was found earlier this week on a Jupiter beach, and blue-green algae also has been reported at other locations in Palm Beach County.
Scott also announced that the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity is activating a virtual emergency operations center to determine the effect the algae bloom is having on local businesses.
The DEO’s program will survey any businesses that are affected the algae bloom and share the results with local and state agencies to implement any assistance needed. Scott asked that any businesses that have been affected by the algae complete a survey that will be used to determine which support programs might be most helpful. Click here for that survey. Under “Event/Incident,” choose “Lake Okeechobee Discharge – Algal Blooms.”