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Florida’s municipal utilities could be limited in the funds they can transfer to general revenue

A number of entities opposed the bill, including the Florida League of Cities and the Florida Municipal Electric Association
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A number of entities opposed the bill, including the Florida League of Cities and the Florida Municipal Electric Association

Florida’s city- and county-run utilities could be limited in the amount of money they can transfer to their general revenue funds. Under a bill moving in the Legislature, transfers from a municipal utility to its general fund would be capped.

Backers of House Bill 1277 say they’re concerned about residents who live outside city limits but are customers of the city’s utilities. They say those customers can be forced to pay surcharges but can’t vote for the municipal officials who make those policies. Republican Representative Demi Busatta Cabrera of Coral Gables calls this “taxation without representation.” Her bill would change that.

“It provides that a municipality that generates revenue from the provision of utility, may not use more than 10 percent of the gross revenues generated from such services to fund or finance general government functions,” she said.

The measure also would require a public meeting in the service area before policies affecting customers outside the municipal boundaries could be put into effect.

Last year Busatta Cabrera co-sponsored a similar bill that died in committee. This year it’s doing better.

A number of entities opposed the bill, including the Florida League of Cities, several individual cities, and Earth Justice. House Commerce Committee Chair Bob Rommel, a Naples Republican, noted the unbroken line-up.

“Congratulations. You had everyone waiving in opposition.” [Busatta Cabrera laughs.]

Ryan Matthews spoke for the Florida Municipal Electric Association, also in opposition.

“For instance, the 33 electric utilities throughout the state provide affordable and reliable low-cost power to over 4 million Floridians," he said. "Municipalities have invested billions of dollars to provide water, wastewater, natural gas and electric services. One good example of this is the city of Tampa, who recently has pledged 3 billion dollars to implement a water and wastewater pipe renovation program.”

But Republican Representative Mike Giallombardo of Cape Coral praised Busatta Cabrera for her persistence in adapting the bill to other members’ concerns this year.

“The issue that we’re trying to address … all these municipal utilities, they do provide services outside," he said. "The rate increases on non-voting citizens in some areas are just ridiculous.”

In closing, Busatta Cabrera said municipal governments will still have authority over their general revenue funds within their own boundaries.

“It does not limit how much they can transfer into GR from what they gain within their municipal boundary.," she said. "It only limits it for those who are beyond their municipal boundary, that don’t have a voice, that don’t have a seat at the table, that can’t vote for them.”

HB 1277 has cleared 3 committees and now heads for the House floor. A similar bill in the Senate, SB 1510 by Republican Senator Jason Brodeur of Lake Mary, hasn’t faced any committees.

Follow @MargieMenzel

Margie Menzel covers local and state government for WFSU News. She has also worked at the News Service of Florida and Gannett News Service. She earned her B.A. in history at Vanderbilt University and her M.S. in journalism at Florida A&M University.
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