Despite Slim Revenue Estimates, Lawmakers Still Pursue Money for Local Projects


Lawmakers are already seeking about $120 million for projects and programs in their local communities, while the latest state revenue estimates have spurred the House budget leader to urge “restraint” as the 2020 legislative session nears.

And based on past sessions, the number of local funding proposals — sometimes derided by critics as “pork” or “turkeys” — will soon explode.

As of Monday morning, 55 proposals had been submitted on a variety of projects, from a $10,000 request to fund Art in the Workplace in Broward County (HB 2021) to a $5.5 million projects for right-of-way improvements in the Lacoochee Industrial Area in northeast Pasco County (HB 2099).

The biggest-ticket proposal has been for $50 million (HB 2053) to create a matching grant program for water-quality improvements along the Indian River Lagoon.

“We will never solve this problem if we do not get vulnerable areas off of septic systems that are not designed to stop pollution and if we do not upgrade our municipal wastewater systems to remove nutrients from wastewater,” Rep. Randy Fine, a Brevard County Republican who is sponsoring the bill, said in a prepared statement. “This is a multibillion (dollar) problem, and it will require a multibillion-dollar solution.”

House Appropriations Chairman Rep. Travis Cumming, R-Fleming Island, expressed a need this month for “restraint” from lawmakers as they seek tax dollars for projects and programs in their communities. That came after Amy Baker, coordinator of the Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research, advised lawmakers that the state is on the verge of an economic slowdown that will result in it bringing in about $867 million less in revenue over two years than previously projected,

“Clearly, we can’t fund but even a small fraction of those (proposed local projects and programs),” Cummings said.

The 2020 legislative session will start Jan. 14.

During the 2019 session, which ran from March to May, House members pitched more than 1,600 projects that combined would have required $3.7 billion. Senators sought more than $3.2 billion in funding, also in more than 1,600 proposals.

Most proposals never got heard. Still, nearly 600 proposals, worth a combined $400 million, were approved by the Legislature.

Gov. Ron DeSantis removed more than 160 of the member projects as part of $131 million in vetoes from the $91 billion fiscal plan.

In considering local projects, DeSantis said after announcing his vetoes that he wanted to see if there was a “real connection to an overall state policy.”

Among the larger items vetoed were $8 million proposed for a workforce housing project in Jacksonville; $4.57 million for a public-safety training center in Highlands County; and $1.69 million for a University of Central Florida downtown project. Many projects cut were for less than $1 million.

House members file appropriations bills proposing money for local projects, while senators file request forms. Here are examples of some of the proposals filed for the 2020 session:

— $9,856,145, by Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, to renovate two of the oldest buildings at Florida SouthWestern State College. (Senate request form 1003).

— $3.25 million, by Rep. Ardian Zika, R-Land O’ Lakes, for a berm along Boggy Creek at Pasco-Hernando State College (HB 2015).

— $3 million, by Rep. Anthony Sabatini, R-Howey-in-the-Hills, for the Green Mountain Connector, part of the Coast-to-Coast bicycle and pedestrian trail northwest of Orlando. (HB 2009).

— $2.2 million, by Rep. Mel Ponder, R-Destin, for the extension of Denton Boulevard in Fort Walton Beach (HB 2039).

— $1.5 million, by Rep. Michael Gottleib, D-Davie, for a Plantation Police Department gun range and training facility (HB 2055).

— $865,200, by Sen. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, for the Victory For Youth/Share Your Heart, which provides food, clothing and supplies to people, victims of domestic violence and families in crisis or distress (Senate request form 1002).

— $760,000, by Sen. Bobby Powell, D-West Palm Beach, to increase the size of the Jerome Golden Center, which treats people with concurrent psychiatric and addiction diagnoses. (Senate request form 1001).

— $578,000, by Rep. David Silvers, D-Lake Clarke Shores, for safety infrastructure at the Palm Beach Zoo (HB 2045).

— $400,000, by Rep. Wyman Duggan, R-Jacksonville, for home-delivered meals by the Northeast Florida Area Agency on Aging. (HB 2033).