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Miami-Dade Easily Brings Home Most Money In Budget

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TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/News Service of Florida) – Miami-Dade County has the most money on the line among Florida’s counties as Gov. Rick Scott decides what to veto from a record election-year budget.

Unlike in sparsely populated counties, where officials can count their budget projects on one or two hands, South Florida lawmakers were able to pack 323 separate line items into the spending plan for Miami-Dade, according to a list of county-by-county allocations released by the House.

Collectively, Miami-Dade is set to draw $1.82 billion from the state for various transportation- and water related projects, schools, cultural amenities, historic preservation, economic development and community services.

And as with Orange, Alachua, Leon and Hillsborough, the other counties that top the funding list, Miami-Dade is home to a state university and a college that require considerable dollars to operate.

The fortunes for each item will be known by June 4, the deadline for Scott to sign the $77.1 billion spending plan.

Scott’s office is offering little detail about its review process and when the fiscal plan will be signed.

“Our office will work within the June 4 deadline to produce a final tax cut budget that invests in Florida’s future, puts the state on a path toward continued job growth, and provides Floridians with half a billion dollars in tax relief,” Scott spokesman John Tupps said Tuesday in an email responding to questions about the budget.

Scott, who has line-item veto power, cut $368 million last year from what had been a $74.5 billion budget.

He cut $142.7 million from the spending plan in 2012, after nixing $615 million his first year in office.

Brian Ballard, one of 25 registered lobbyists for Miami-Dade County, said he’s optimistic that most of the items will survive Scott’s veto pen this year as the governor’s office appears to have been “receptive to much of the county’s initiatives.”

Part of Ballard’s confidence comes from people learning, after several lean years of budget allocations, how to work with Scott, who came into office promising to cut spending and reduce legislative earmarks.

“People have had the experience of working with this administration and understanding what standard of proof is needed and how you cross the various checklists off,” Ballard said. “I know it’s been a work in progress for us and the folks we work with.”

Line items in Miami-Dade range from $20,000 for the non-profit arts advocacy Cannonball Miami Inc., to $10 million to help people access the planned SkyRise Miami tower, to $137 million so a nearly three-mile section of the Homestead extension of Florida’s Turnpike can be widened from six to 10 lanes.

Broward County was second to Miami-Dade in terms of individual lines items in the budget with 145.

However, the items, bolstered by several high priced highway projects and $86 million for Broward College, weren’t enough to put the South Florida county in the top five for funding from lawmakers in the next fiscal year.

After Miami-Dade, the counties in line for the most money are Orange, $1.32 billion; Alachua, $1.12 billion; Hillsborough, $936 million; Leon, $891 million; and Duval, $847 million.

Broward is slated for $786 million.

As a sign of the high cost of higher education, more than $950 million is heading to Alachua County through grants and aid to the University of Florida.

The neighboring campuses of Florida State and Florida A&M universities in Tallahassee could bring Leon County more than $730 million.

The University of Central Florida accounts for $566 million of Orange County’s money.

At the low end of funding among the state’s 12 universities, New College of Florida landed $24 million, while Florida Polytechnic University, set to open this fall, accounted for $38 million of the $191.1 million heading to Polk County.

Among counties, North Florida’s Gilchrist County would receive the lowest amount at $1.3 million spread over six projects. As with Gilchrist, those counties at the bottom of the funding spectrum are often rural and in most cases inland, sitting either across the northern end of the state — Liberty, Lafayette, Hamilton, Dixie, Union, Jefferson — or abutting the northern or western edges of Lake Okeechobee — Okeechobee, Highlands and Hendry.

Of those counties, Highlands at $23 million was the highest, while Liberty and Lafayette were both under $4 million.

For those in the middle of the funding pack, the county-by-county numbers show it also helps to have top lawmakers in your corner.

Pasco County —- home to House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and House Health and Human Services Chairman Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes —- has landed 38 projects that total $157 million.

Pasco County total includes nearly $37 million for Pasco-Hernando State College, of which $10 million is for the construction of a performing arts center that was included among $121 million in vetoes recommended Friday by Florida TaxWatch.

Meanwhile, six Panhandle counties — Bay, Holmes, Jackson, Okaloosa, Walton and Washington — that are fully or partially represented by Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, are in line for a combined 145 projects worth $455 million.

Bay, with $90 million heading for work related to the Hathaway Bridge, and $5 million for a science, technology, engineering and math building at Gulf Coast State College, drew the most money, $181.7 million, among the Gaetz-linked counties.

The county-by-county funding doesn’t include multi-county appropriations, such as $9.9 million for artificial fishing reef creation and restoration off Bay, Escambia, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Walton counties.
This report is by Jim Turner with the News Service of Florida.

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