By Kate Rogers | @katerogersnews
www.CNBC.com

At Panther Coffee in Miami, no worker is paid under $10 an hour. In fact, including tips, entry-level employees take home about $15 an hour on average, well above the state's minimum of $8.10 an hour. Husband-wife owners Joel and Leticia Pollock say lower wages just aren't an option if they want to be successful.

"To me minimum wage is offensive," Leticia said. "For our business, it's important that people take home a living wage, because we want the team to feel respected, we want people to stay long-term, and we want to build a culture where they're coming to work and they know that we understand that you can't live with less than that."

But the Pollocks' outlook isn't shared by all on Main Street, where wages are a key concern as the pendulum swings in favor of a higher minimum nationwide. In fact, conservative lobbying group the National Federation of Independent Business finds wages are a top-10 issue for its small-business membership.

Despite the federal minimum remaining stagnant at $7.25 an hour, more than half the states across the country now have wage floors above the federal minimum, and big cities from Seattle to Los Angeles and New York City also have taken matters into their own hands to raise pay for low-wage workers, much like the Pollocks have at their own small businesses in Miami and Miami Beach.

Miami Beach is at the center of an ongoing battle of its own over raising the minimum wage. Earlier this year, a judge struck down a local ordinance that was set to hike the city's minimum to $10.31 in January 2018, eventually hitting $13.31 by 2021. Oral arguments begin in appeals court in October. Democratic Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine believes the case could reach the Florida Supreme Court but that ultimately the higher wage will prevail.

"I believe its necessary, and our entire commission as well as our business community felt it was necessary, because we felt that we need to make sure that our workers in our city get properly paid," Levine said. "We all know that no one can live on $8.10 an hour. So the question is, How do you live? The government is going to help you — they are funding you with subsidized programs, welfare programs and social programs. So, basically, the taxpayers are subsidizing the cost of businesses."

The Florida Retail Federation, which was one of the business groups that took on the minimum-wage ordinance in Miami Beach, said the hike stands to negatively impact small companies and future business in the city.

"If the minimum-wage proposal was approved, you'd see a number of other cities and municipalities follow along with that — then you're looking at an impact on local businesses in Florida that would be devastating," said James Miller, spokesman for the Florida Retail Federation. "You're looking at lost jobs, higher prices, millions of Florida families impacted by this one decision."

For some entrepreneurs, raising the minimum wage isn't so clear-cut, and it means making tough business decisions. At Daily Creative Food in Miami Beach, entry-level positions begin at $10 an hour in order to attract and retain talent, according to owner Adam Meltzer. But the business has 85 employees, and Meltzer believes mandated higher wages should be reserved for more skilled workers.

"If we were to increase the minimum wage to above $13, $14 or $15 an hour, we might run into some problems where we would actually have to decrease the amount of hours our minimum-wage employees work," Meltzer said. "We might also have to raise menu prices, which would affect customers and possibly affect the overall business."

If the state or local minimum were to go above $13, Meltzer said he may try to have a manager perform some of the duties that a minimum-wage worker would typically perform to decrease the number of minimum-wage workers on staff. But he also sees the potential positive in higher pay.

"We might notice an increase in productivity, in employee morale," he said. "But it might also affect us in a negative way. ... We'd have to be a bit more creative with our staffing needs."

Panther Coffee's Leticia also recognizes the challenges small-business owners face when it comes to raising pay but said ultimately for her business, it's necessary.

"Business owners have a lot of debt, a lot of risk, and in the end we are the ones that have to pay the bills, the bank or investors," she said. "But we also need to share what comes in so that everyone benefits from the work we are doing together." read more

Three days of tax-free, back-to-school shopping starts Friday, Aug. 4, and stores are expected to be packed despite the internet’s growing encroachment on brick-and-mortar retailers.

“Back to school shopping is a great example of the social experience that shopping is,” said Steven Kirn, a retail professor at the University of Florida. “Especially when you have parents and children shopping together, it shows one of the continuing strengths of stores.”

Nearly three times as many shoppers plan to visit stores compared with shopping online for back-to-school sales, according to a survey from New York City-based research and auditing firm Deloitte. Mostly, consumers will go online to purchase items such as computers and computer hardware such as printers and hard drives.

Parents, store managers and researchers said brick-and-mortar has the advantage on back-to-school shopping, for now, because prices are lower in stores for school supplies and picking the correct sizes for kids can be difficult.

That means aisles will be crammed with parents and students next weekend when the back-to-school shopping season culminates Aug. 4-6. Shoppers won’t pay the 6 percent to 7 percent state and local sales tax on clothing, shoes, backpacks, school supplies and computers under $750 starting at 12:01 a.m. that Friday until 11:59 p.m. Sunday.

The sales tax discount is also good on many online purchases for Amazon.com, Walmart.com and Target.com.

Adding to the crowds, retailers also tend to pile their own discounts on top of the sales tax relief, pulling more shoppers into stores.

Many will be heading to mass merchants such as Wal-Mart and Target, according to Deloitte’s survey.

School supply lists in hand, Christina Doolittle and her two elementary age sons grabbed a cart at SuperTarget on Millenia Plaza Way in Orlando Wednesday. Jack, 10, and Grey, 8, crossed off items as they picked through erasers and highlighters and decided which folders to buy among a rainbow of options.

“I haven’t bought anything online for back to school, even though I order a lot of stuff on Amazon at Christmas,” said Doolittle, who lives in Orlando.

Wednesday’s Target trip was her last back-to-school-shopping stop, as she hoped to buy supplies and clothes before the crowds of the tax-free weekend.

Buying school supplies is tough online, she said, because items aren’t available in small quantities. Schools and teachers also have specific requirements for items such as folders. It’s safer to head to the store, she said.

Physical stores have some distinct advantages, Kirn said.

“The existing model of shipping items to stores, to be distributed to the masses is very efficient for things like school supplies,” Kirn said. “There just isn't the margin to sell things like one or two pencils or erasers on Amazon in the quantity that people want to buy them in.”

Kirn said online sellers could have an advantage on items such as computers and hardware, where size and processing power is more important than touch and feel.

“A computer is a computer no matter where you are in the country,” Kirn said.

The Florida Legislature sets the tax-free period every year. This year’s holiday is three days and gives an exemption on shoes and clothing items up to $60 each, school supplies less than $15 each, and computers less than $750. Backpacks also must cost less than $60 to qualify. Shoppers can also skip the sales tax on dozens of related items from tuxedos and diaper bags to coats and cleats.

The program is expected to save Florida consumers about $33.2 million in state and local sales taxes, according to estimates from the Florida Office of Economic & Demographic Research. As recently as 2015, Florida shoppers were given a 10-day sales-tax holiday, but that cost state and local governments about twice as much in sales tax revenue.

Most shopping still happens in stores and back-to-school season is a good example of where brick-and-mortar has an advantage, Florida Retail Federation spokesman James Miller said.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 8 percent of all retail sales happen online, including grocery sales.

Another reason, Miller said, is that children can grow quickly and make it difficult to buy accurate clothing sizes online.

“When it comes to clothes, there is a large segment of the population that still wants to try on items in person,” Miller said. “That may change over time, but we’re a long way from that point.” read more

Kyle Arnold This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Orlando Sentinel
http://www.orlandosentinel.com/business/consumer/os-bz-tax-free-weekend-20170725-story.html

This summer, more than 215 million gallons of wastewater poured into the Floridan Aquifer when a sinkhole opened up at the Mosaic fertilizer plant in Polk County.

Also this summer, Hurricane Hermine flushed tens of millions of gallons of raw and partially treated sewage into Tampa Bay.

Governor Rick Scott swung into action with an emergency rule forcing polluters to notify the public within 24 hours of a major spill. But last week an administrative law judge sided with business groups and said Scott had no legal authority to act.

Republican Representative Kathleen Peters of South Pasadena says she’s working on legislation to fix that.

“Because that’s the goal and I know that’s the governor’s goal to ensure that there’s transparency and that the citizens have the opportunity to protect themselves if they need to.”

The heavy hitter of the Tallahassee lobby corps, Associated Industries of Florida, the National Federation of Independent Businesses, and the Florida Retail Federation, fought to kill the emergency rule. They argued it would force convenience store owners to call a press conference every time a customer overfilled a gas tank.

Peters says she’s still working on thresholds for triggering public notice, and what the warning should say. But she thinks boil water notices are a good model.

“It’s amazing how when a water main breaks the media is reporting on that so quickly. And it seems to be quite seamless. And so can’t we get the same kind of system on a spill if it’s a health issue so that we can get the word out quickly.”

NFIB Florida executive director Bill Herrle said small business owners had a lot of concerns about the emergency rule. A diesel mechanic, Herrle says, isn’t always going to be the best interpreter of toxic thresholds.

Florida Retail Federation spokesman James Miller agrees, saying business owners would much rather notify regulators and leave the public relations to someone else. “We feel that DEP, they’re the experts in this kind of situation. And they’re the ones that know the appropriate media to call and they’re the ones that have the best examples of getting this information out to the locals in an area.”

However, Miller and Herrle insist they’re not opposed to the legislation. Herrle says he’s eager to help sponsors craft the language.

Legislative process as resulting in better public policy than just letting a state agency have a go at it.”

And that’s what worries Clean Water Network activist Linda Young the most. She’s afraid business interests will water down the legislation until it’s practically meaningless. A “may” instead of a “shall,” could make all the difference in the world, Young says.

“If this legislation is going to be meaningful, if it’s going to be protective and it’s going to accomplish what the public would like to have in place, there’s going to have to be very, very close scrutiny of every word.”

Governor Scott can be expected to do just that with every bill that crosses his desk. read more

Jim Ash
usf.edu
http://news.wfsu.org/post/lawmakers-vow-rescue-emergency-pollution-rule

A Florida administrative law judge says a rule requiring companies to notify the public of pollution events within 24 hours is invalid.

The new rule was pushed by Gov. Rick Scott after it took weeks for the public to be notified about a giant sinkhole at a fertilizer plant that sent millions of gallons of polluted water into the state’s main drinking water aquifer.

Administrative law judge Bram Canter on Friday ruled that the new rule, which would result in fines for companies who failed to report pollution within a day, was “an invalid exercise of delegated legislative authority.”

Five business groups – Associated Industries of Florida, Florida Farm Bureau Federation, Florida Retail Federation, Florida Trucking Association and the National Federation of Independent Business – challenged the rule in court, saying it would create excessive regulatory costs.

Scott’s office says he is reviewing the ruling and that he still believes the current rules are outdated and need to change.

Associated Press
http://saintpetersblog.com/pollution-notification-rule