Florida Lawmakers bring home the bacon

Heading into the 2019 legislative session, lawmakers have already filed more than 2,500 bills and budget requests to bring taxpayer dollars to local attractions, education programs, transit needs, regional improvements and other projects for constituents.

In the House, the proposals total more than $3.13 billion. Senators are pursuing $1.8 billion.

Many of the proposals have been submitted in both chambers. In the House, members must submit each request as a bill. In the Senate, each request is filed as a local funding request but not as a bill.

Most requests won’t get included in a final budget that House and Senate leaders will finalize near the end of the 60-day session, which starts Tuesday.

Critics have long labeled such funding requests as pork or “turkeys,” with the group Florida TaxWatch going so far each year as to release a “turkey list” of questionable projects that wind up in the final budget.

This year’s asks are highlighted by more than $600 million sought to help Northwest Florida communities recover from Hurricane Michael, which caused billions of dollars in damage when it crashed through the region in October.

Rep. Jay Trumbull, a Panama City Republican whose Bay County district was heavily damaged in the storm, has filed numerous Michael-related requests. Among his proposals are $54.9 million for the Bay County school district in the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years (HB 3019 and HB 3111); $35 million for Springfield Elementary School in Panama City (HB 2827); $25 million for Mexico Beach restoration (HB 2359); and $25 million for Merritt Brown Middle School in Panama City (HB 2853).

The smallest request (HB 4569) is for $10,000, by Rep. Jackie Toledo, R-Tampa. The money would help guardian advocates for dependent children with developmental disabilities. The request is among 35 Toledo has made for the Tampa Bay region that collectively ask for $36 million.

Among the top funding requests heading into the 60-day session on Tuesday:

— $45 million for a Sumter County jail expansion (HB 2949 and Senate request number 1409). The proposal by Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, and Rep. Brett Hage, R-Oxford, is touted as providing “the additional resource areas needed for improved programs to fight opioid and other drug addiction problems and reduce recidivism.”

— $38.1 million for utility and infrastructure improvements at the University of Florida (HB 3031 and Senate request number 1901.) The proposal by Rep. Chuck Clemons, R-Newberry, and Sen. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, is intended to “address critical deferred maintenance issues as identified by independent consultants,” according to the Senate proposal.

— $32.4 million for a Winter Park Public Library and Events Center (Senate request number 1814). Proposed by Sen. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando, the request seeks “construction of a public library and event center to provide public access to information, promote literacy, provide public access to Wi-Fi and provide a multi-use space for the community.” Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, has requested $500,000 (HB 3153) for the facility.

— $31.52 million, for a Sumter County Multi-Purpose Event Center (HB 2485 and Senate request number 1121) The measure by Hage and Baxley proposes an “enclosed multi-purpose arena to encourage tourism and economic development in Sumter County and surrounding communities, while expanding the overall capacity of local government to support disaster recovery operations.”

— $30 million for a multi-purpose community center in Miami-Dade County (HB 2769 and Senate request 1790). Proposed by Rep. James Bush, D-Miami, and Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, the center, along with arts and artifacts, would “support education, performing arts programs and other social programs.”

— $29.65 million for a Broward College STEM Center on the college’s North Campus (HB 4759 and Senate request 1213). The proposal by Rep. Chip LaMarca, R-Lighthouse Point, and Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, seeks money to replace two existing buildings to “reallocate and expand instructional space at North Campus with an emphasis on enhancing and expanding STEM programming.”

— $19 million for a Fort Myers reclaimed-water expansion project, (HB 3801 and Senate request 1337). The proposal by Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, and Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, would help build a reclaimed-water expansion project in support of a 2018 water agreement between Fort Myers and Cape Coral.

— $15 million for a University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee Academic STEM Facility (HB 4925 and Senate request 1938). The proposal by Sen. Joe Gruters and Rep. Tommy Gregory, both Sarasota Republicans, is aimed at the planning and design of an academic facility “dedicated to the teaching of STEM related fields and other programs of strategic emphasis.”

— $10 million for a UF Health Jacksonville trauma-center project (HB 3931 and Senate request 1838). The proposal by Rep. Clay Yarborough, R-Jacksonville, and Senate Minority Leader. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, is touted as helping to modernize the only level 1 trauma center in Northeast Florida.