Jobs still best as Manatee County's legislative priority

March 3, 2013 

When Florida's Legislature convenes on Tuesday morning for the 2013 regular session, Manatee County's delegation figures to be front and center on a variety of major state issues while also advancing various Manatee County interests. From the county commission and school board to the Manatee Chamber of Commerce and State College of Florida, legislators are well stocked with lists of local priorities and agendas.

Statewide, job creation and economic development remain top priorities alongside education and health care. Manatee County interests target these issues with specific recommendations, many focused directly or indirectly on jobs. All of the following earn our full support as a way to continue the county's rebound from the Great Recession:

n Growth opportunities at Port Manatee would be enhanced with the completion of the connector road study, finalization of the route and federal highway approval.

This link between the port and interstate would speed up the delivery of freight to regional markets and allow the port to take greater advantage of international trade growth arising out of the widening of the Panama Canal, expected to be complete in 2015.

n And fully fund Enterprise Florida's international budget to promote the state's ports as efficient gateways for moving freight and thus increase international trade.

n Manatee Technical Institute and the school board fought for years to secure equitable funding for MTI, finally achieving that goal two years ago with legislation that set aside an outdated and disproportionate funding formula for the state's workforce education programs.

The performance-based funding formula for adult, career and technical centers should be fully implemented. Centers with higher enrollment and superior outcomes merit more money.

This is the final year of a three-year plan to correct inequities, and Manatee legislators should be on the alert for any attempts to derail this reasonable change.

n The University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee unveiled an ambitious $50 million expansion plan last August with the goals of creating an academic hub, building student housing and doubling enrollment over the next five years. That will be difficult to accomplish since the state fund for capital improvement and infrastructure projects at universities and colleges is essentially empty.

But a bill sponsored by Rep. Greg Steube promotes public-private partnerships whereby investors could fund projects that USF envisions. That would be a tremendous boost -- as would another proposal. The implementation of an Economic Development Zone along U.S. 41 at the USF campus would promote more mixed-use development and complement the university's growth. As a key southern gateway into Manatee, revitalization here could spark growth up Tamiami Trail.

n The state should adopt "sports performance" as a targeted industry in let those enterprises qualify for incentives. With Manatee's large and expanding sports industry, this would provide further momentum for economic diversification.

n As Manatee's tourism industry enjoys a banner year, plans for future beach renourishment projects must move forward.

With the county ranked near the top of the state's priority list, Manatee's request for state cost sharing grants is modest -- amounting to only $265,000 for three separate Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key projects, mostly for planning and design.

Passage of all of these legislative initiatives would propel Manatee County's economy forward as would a number of other recommendations by various interests here. We hope our legislative delegation can deliver results that will benefit their constituents.

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