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Local Earmarks Aplenty in Florida's Record $77 Billion Budget


State lawmakers came into the 2014 session with a surplus topping $1 billion and a mandate from Gov. Rick Scott to cut $500 million in taxes and fees.

On Friday, the lawmakers handed Scott a $77.1 billion budget, the largest spending plan in state history.

But while much of the money went to must-have programs such as education, health care and prisons, smaller items are littered through the more-than-400-page document (HB 5001): Here are some examples:

BUNGEE JUMPING BAYSIDE: During budget talks, the Senate wasn't as enamored as the House about helping build a 1,000-foot-high office and amusement center to dominate Miami's skyline. But that didn't keep SkyRise Miami, backed by some powerful lobbyists, from getting into budget.

As part of the economic-development road fund, $2 million would go to public transportation improvements so people can get to the planned R-shaped, waterfront glass and steel tower.

SkyRise Miami is intended to offer an observation deck, a nightclub and a bungee jump-like platform.

Lawmakers included language in the budget that says the money is contingent upon developer Jeff Berkowitz showing that $400 million in private-sector funding will go to the project. Berkowitz has estimated the project at $430 million.

The House wanted $10 million for the project, which Miami-Dade County commissioners have said would be a "public asset" that creates $1.3 billion annually in economic benefit by attracting more than 3 million visitors a year.

TRAVEL FLORIDA: Spend your free time seeing how your Sunshine State neighbors live.

The budget's travel plans include $500,000 for Visit Florida to team with the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association to "promote Florida tourism by residents of the state."

The earmark, equal to last year's marketing allocation, comes from the Hotel and Restaurant Trust Fund.

DEER BAN DISSECTED: Now that the state has closed the door on the importation of out-of-state deer, lawmakers want to know the economic impact of the move.

In September, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission prohibited the importation of deer and other cervids in an attempt to keep Chronic Wasting Disease from reaching the state's deer population.

Using $50,000 from the Game Trust Fund, the state would hire the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences to conduct a study and address issues such as what causes the disease, the economic impact of prohibiting the importation of live captive deer into Florida and "options for deer management that would have been available at the time the importation prohibition was adopted."

The disease has been described as similar to Mad Cow disease, with animals becoming emaciated and often being found isolated and trembling. If an animal is found with the disease, the entire population in the area, free-ranging or farmed, is put down.

BARKING IN THE PARK: The furry friend lobby fetched some points, and cash, for Jacksonville.

The budget includes $123,000 for the Riverside Avondale Preservation dog park, with the money coming out of the State Transportation Trust Fund.

The two-acre park, an effort of the private, non-profit Riverside Avondale Preservation Inc., is slated to include a large dog area that is shaded by an Interstate 95 overpass.

GET IN THE WATER: But don’t get wet. As a boost to ecotourism, lawmakers want to make it easier for people to ride the waters of Wakulla County in Florida's Big Bend region.

The budget includes $525,000 to develop canoe and kayak launches along public trails, $1 million for work on the St. Marks municipal dock and $735,000 for the Shell Point public-access boat launch facility.

Meanwhile, the state would float $1 million to help maintain operations of the St. Johns River Ferry, which takes people and cars between Duval County's Mayport Village and Fort George Island. Another $1 million has been set aside to restore the 6,500-seat Miami Marine Stadium. The stadium, which once served as a floating stage for powerboat races and concerts, has largely sat idle since Hurricane Andrew.

ALL I WANT TO DO IS BICYCLE: Incoming Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, landed $15.5 million to complete the Coast-to-Coast Connector, a bicycle and pedestrian path across Central Florida. A $50 million allocation for the connector was vetoed last year by Scott, and Gardiner has been working to change the governor's opinion of the trail.

For those seeking a faster and more challenging pedal, lawmakers parked $1.27 million from the State Economic Enhancement and Development Trust Fund for the BMX --- bicycle motocross --- Olympic Training Facility in Oldsmar.

The training facility is expected to include a starting hill for amateur riders, in addition to a 26-foot-tall hill for those seeking to confront the more-challenging obstacles.

ALLIGATOR MARKETING: No longer apparently on Scott's list of threatened species, lawmakers have designated $150,000 from the State Game Trust Fund to the Department of Agriculture's alligator marketing.

Scott vetoed the line item in 2011, highlighting the expense as budget fat after telling The Wall Street Journal, "We’re not doing alligator marketing, things like that."

The past two years, the marketing money, voluntarily paid by alligator farmers, has survived Scott's veto pen.

PALM BEACH WATER SHOW: The ritzy barrier-island community of Palm Beach wants to makes its Town Hall Historic District more pedestrian-friendly.

So the state is chipping in $350,000 for the restoration of the Addison Mizner-designed fountain.

The 1929 fountain, which features a group of sea horses, isn't the only fountain in the spending plan.

North Miami Beach is in line for $205,000 to help renovate the historic Fulford-By-The-Sea Monument. The subdivision entryway fountain was built in 1925.

FREE OJ: Actually, it's not in the budget as it has been listed in past years. But the Florida Department of Citrus assures that money in the budget for the agency will allow orange juice grown in the Sunshine State to continue as a free staple of the state's highway Welcome Centers along Interstates 10, 75 and 95 and on U.S. 231.

The money, $240,000 last year, comes from the Citrus Advertising Trust Fund, which has $37 million this year for advertising and promotion. In past years, the funding specifically for the Welcome Center OJ has appeared in the fine print of the budget.


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