Time for some inside the bubble news here in Tallahassee:
LATVALA DONATIONS....Five years ago in the immediate aftermath of the Allied Veterans of the World charity gambling scandal, the Republican Party of Florida donated $300,000 to a veterans charity. That was the same amount that Allied Veterans had given the state party. The party made the move after the arrests of dozens of people connected to Allied Veterans and the resignation of then-Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll. (Carroll was never charged with any wrongdoing and in the end no one did any lengthy jail time in connection with the incident.)
But times have changed.
Republican Party of Florida chairman Blaise Ingoglia says that his party will not return - or offset with a charitable donation - the money that the party has received from a political committee controlled by former State Sen. Jack Latvala. Latvala resigned after a investigation concluded there was probable cause that he had engaged in sexual misconduct. Latvala has denied any wrongdoing, but the matter has been turned over to state law-enforcement authorities.
Latvala's political committee has donated $190,000 since late 2015 - and gave $100,000 in the final quarter of 2017. It's been well-documented that the party isn't raising as much money as it used to because Gov. Rick Scott and Senate Republicans have their own fundraising organizations now. Latvala himself promised to help the party out amid those reports.
In an interview, Ingoglia says that money from Latvala has already been spent or budgeted by the party. But he also argues that it will be .put to good use by the party.
"I would say that the money being used in the Republican Party coffers, helping to get Republicans elected and putting the infrastructure in place for 2018 is probably a better use for the money,'' Ingoglia said.
Ingoglia added, however, that he would be willing to consider donating or returning the money if the Florida Democratic Party were to return donations it received from former Chairman Stephen Bittel. Bittel resigned after Politico reported that he had made demeaning comments to women.
Campaign records show that Bittel during his time as chairman gave more than $212,000 to the party. In the months ahead of the 2016 election, Bittel also donated $150,000.
OFFICE FOR SALE...One of Tallahassee's most influential lobbying firms - Ballard Partners - recently moved from a historic home on Park Avenue to a brand new office building located at the corner of Park and Monroe Street.
Property records show that Ballard's old offices was bought for $1.35 million by Rubus Idaeus LLC. That's a company that was set up by Tallahassee attorneys Tor Friedman and Eric Abrahamsen. The firm, which has moved into the old Ballard Partners office, handles criminal defense cases, employment law, and personal injury cases.
The roster of attorneys at the firm also includes Tiffany Cruz, who has been in the news lately because she is representing Rachel Perrin Rogers, the Senate employee who filed a formal complaint against Latvala that led to his resignation.
The firm is also representing Farhan "Ronny" Armed - one of the victims at the 2014 shooting at Florida State University who was paralyzed as a result- in a lawsuit against the FSU Board of Trustees. The lawsuit that was filed last year contends that FSU was negligent in providing security.
Kathryn Ballard is a member of the FSU trustees and is married to well-known lobbyist Brian Ballard who runs Ballard Partners. Property records show that both Kathryn and Brian Ballard were listed as co-owners of the office building that was acquired by Rubus Idaeus.
WAITING FOR THE NUMBERS....For the third time this decade, Florida legislators are holding their annual legislative session in January.
One of the prime reasons for the move was that legislators said they liked being able to spend spring break with their children instead of spending it in the halls of the state Capitol.
This year, however, the timing is causing a bit of a potential hiccup.
House and Senate budget writers are having to start work on a new 2018-19 budget without the latest estimates on tax collections. That's because state economists have pushed back the date of their annual estimating conference until Feb. 9th, the fifth week of session.
Amy Baker, one of the main economists, said the reason is primarily due to Hurricane Irma. Irma ripped through the state in September and was responsible for nearly 100 deaths and caused widespread devastation.
Baker explained that sales tax collection data received by the economists generally has a lag in it. So the economists are waiting for a new round of data that will be released Jan. 25th that will show December tax collections, but in reality is more an accurate reflection of November sales.
If economists had scheduled their conference earlier, it was "too close to the hurricane to be useful to us." Baker said that the additional month gives economists "cleanly into the recovery period." The House and Senate agreed to the change, but in order to keep the session on schedule they will begin work on new budgets prior to getting the updated numbers.
This could create a scenario where budget negotiators have to change the budget during the conference period where House and Senate legislators work out differences.
But Sen. Rob Bradley, the Senate budget chief, last week said he was not concerned that the new numbers would show big changes from the previous forecast.