Florida House Members Want More Than $700 Million In Local Spending Projects

Feb 20, 2017
Originally published on February 17, 2017 5:41 pm

As part of assembling Florida’s budget for the next year, legislators are pushing local pet projects. But there’s a new vetting process for House lawmakers this year intended to add more transparency.

More than sixty kids and their instruments are crammed into a classroom at Florida State University Schools. Sometimes space is so tight at the charter school that the orchestra practices outside in a field. Director Stacy Chambers said the school needs another building and she’s hoping Rep. Loranne Ausley, D-Tallahassee, can get $20 million from the legislature so she can build one on that field.

“This is the elementary wing, alright," Chambers said. "So, you’re looking at it being on this corner. They have a courtyard so they can enter and exit through the courtyard. They wouldn’t even need to come out here, you could just fence it off.”

The building is just one of more than 300 projects Florida House members want money for. The toal of all the bills is $708 million. House Speaker Richard Corcoran changed the rules for the House this year by mandating all proposed one-time spending projects be filed as separate bills.

Passing laws has famously been compared to making sausages, a process that can turn some people’s stomachs.

Corcoran said he hopes to turn a light on "so called" member projects to avoid the tradition lawmakers have of adding more spending to the budget late in the appropriations process. Corcoran said the move will weed out projects he says would just waste money. But what’s waste and what’s vital is in the eye of the beholder.

“So, what we’ve said all along, which is real, is that what we have in this state is a spending problem," he said in January. "If we could take out some of those pork barrel projects. If we can rein in and then do an assessment of what is really working, then we’ll have money that we can put to where they really transform people’s lives.”

Representative Ausley praises Corcoran for adding more transparency.

“At the outset of the session, we know what projects have been requested and they’ll go through the process," Ausley said. "What remains to be seen is how does this match up with Senate requests that don’t have the same rules.”

The most expensive project is sponsored by Cary Pigman, R-Sebring. He’s asking for $62 million to tear down and replace an aging high school. Meanwhile David Santiago, R-Deltona, is asking for $25,000 for an elementary school science lab.

Pasco County's Sheriff’s Office also has a science-related request. It wants $4.3 million to build a statewide forensics training center. Assistant Executive Director Chase Daniels said the facility could help solve cold cases.

“We believe there are over 16-thousand of these cold cases in Florida that we think we could help solve," he said. "As well as also training with Doctor Kimberly, learning the latest and the greatest on forensic sciences."

Rep. Ramon Alexander, D-Tallashassee, said he intends to convince the House speaker that the more than $60 million in projects he’s asking for are worth the investment.

“Our focus is to laser in on our priorities and make sure we are taking very seriously our responsibility to articulate the value of these particular projects and we’re going to do everything necessary to communicate that to members and get it through the process,” he said.

While the House is showing how the sausage gets made, the Senate is keeping its rules the same. It doesn’t require filing projects as separate bills. Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala said there’s different ways of achieving transparency.

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