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Local Money Requests Pile Up In Florida Legislature Amid Budget Warnings

AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

TALLAHASSEE --- Two major local funding requests, including a proposal to help a community devastated by Hurricane Michael, were filed last week, as legislative leaders reminded lawmakers that the upcoming state budget will be tight.

Rep. Jason Shoaf, R-Port St. Joe, put in an appropriations request (HB 3235) for $25 million to help rebuild the shoreline in Mexico Beach, which sustained major damage when the Category 5 Hurricane Michael made landfall in October 2018.

Meanwhile, Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-North Miami Beach, requested $66 million (Senate Form 1182) to shift property owners from septic tanks to a sewer system in the low- to-moderate income Little River area of Miami, where 1,650 parcels are vulnerable to rising groundwater.

“Rain and tidal events result in failing (septic) systems causing backups in homes and the presence of contaminated flood water,” Pizzo wrote in his request posted Friday for the 2021 legislative session.“Pollution from the Little River was a contributor to recent fish kills in Biscayne Bay.”

Despite concerns about state revenue because of economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, the proposals by Shoaf and Pizzo are among hundreds filed by lawmakers as they seek to bring home money to their districts and communities.

As of Monday morning, 653 proposals had been filed by House members, collectively topping $657 million, and 210 forms had been filled out by senators seeking more than $290 million. House members file appropriations requests in bills, while senators file them in forms.

The requests continued to mount last week as House and Senate budget committees questioned various aspects of a $96.6 billion spending plan that Gov. Ron DeSantis proposed for the 2021-2022 fiscal year, which will start July 1. Republicans legislative leaders have warned that lawmakers likely will have to make budget cuts because of hits to tax revenue from the pandemic.

Among other things, the House and Senate committees paid particular attention to DeSantis suggestions to borrow money for climate-change and environmental programs.

Senate Appropriation Chairwoman Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, advised members Wednesday to remain committed to “sound fiscal management.”

Stargel noted that even with recent monthly revenue collections coming in slightly over estimates, the budget-building process for the 2021 session begins with a forecast $2.7 billion shortfall. The session will start March 2.

“No entity should assume that state support will automatically continue this year,” Stargel wrote. “All appropriations, whether recurring or not, will be considered based on their merits.”

Shoaf’s proposal to help Mexico Beach, which is in the Bay County district of House Appropriations Chairman Jay Trumbull, R-Panama City, is part of ongoing restoration efforts from deadly Hurricane Michael. Appropriations chairs typically don’t file requests for project funding.

The shoreline restoration effort, initially sought by the Bay County Tourist Development Council, would include placing 1.25 million cubic yards of sand to “reestablish a protective dune as well as berm providing critically needed future upland storm protection and economic recovery benefits,” Shoaf’s request said.

Shoaf’s district includes Calhoun, Franklin, Gulf, Jefferson, Lafayette, Liberty, Madison, Taylor, Wakulla counties and part of Leon County.

A majority of the local funding requests seek less than $1 million, with the lowest being $16,000 that Rep. Melony Bell, R-Fort Meade, requested to design and construct a building for agricultural educational programs and exhibits in Hardee County (HB 2667).

Last year, senators pitched 1,580 local projects that sought $2.5 billion. House members submitted more than 1,600 separate bills seeking nearly $2.3 billion.

A $93.2 billion budget package legislators sent DeSantis last year included more than 750 line items tied to member proposals that exceeded $400 million. Facing the first impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, DeSantis vetoed $264 million in member projects.

Jim Turner / News Service of Florida
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