LAKEWOOD RANCH -- For once, state Sen. Nancy Detert had a budget surplus to work with following the 2014 state legislative session, and ironically, she had trouble figuring out how to spend it.
Detert, a Republican from Venice, told about 100 people attending the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance lunch Wednesday it's more trouble having money than not having it, when referring to the state's $500 million budget surplus -- the first time Florida had extra money to spend following several lean years of deficits.
The $77 billion budget, approved by Gov. Rick Scott earlier this month, is the largest in state history.
"I had a big line outside my door. Everybody had a good idea about how it should be spent," said Detert, a guest panelist at a legislative wrapup panel at the Polo Grill Ballroom in Lakewood Ranch. Detert was accompanied on the panel by state Reps. Jim Boyd and Greg Steube, Republicans from Bradenton,
Detert, who chairs the Senate Committee on Commerce and Tourism, predicted a strong state economy, particularly for the real estate industry.
"The outlook for our economy should be good for real estate over the next five years," Detert said. "It won't be a bubble. There are 100 million tourists projected to visit our state next year, and a lot of them do their business on the Internet, so they can live anywhere. Why not live here?"
A proponent of developing the entertainment industry in Florida, Detert said she spent a good part of the past legislative year revamping tax incentives to lure film and television production companies to the state. She called it a good money package despite its defeat.
Boyd echoed Detert's optimism about Florida's economy. He pointed to the creation of more than 600,000 new jobs since 2010 and cutting taxes for residents and business this legislative session while still putting aside money for projects. Boyd also applauded the Legislature for replenishing the housing trust fund supporting the state construction industry instead of resorting to a past habit of sweeping money earmarked for builders into the state general fund.
"For our builders, we replenished your trust fund that we took from you a few years ago when times were lean, so that's a good thing," Boyd said.
The audience immediately applauded Steube's mention of $60 million in renovations to the Interstate 75-University Parkway interchange, which the Florida Department of Transportation has pledged to ease traffic congestion near the exit where the new Mall at University Town Center is scheduled to open Oct. 16. FDOT officials say engineering is in the final stages for the project.
"I feel very confident there will be shovels in the dirt by the end of this year," Steube said.
Steube also said he is working to repeal a state sales tax business owners pay on commercial leases in addition to real estate taxes. Florida is the only state in the nation with this tax, Steube said.
"Take Bealls, for instance, here in Bradenton," he said. "A repeal would save them $14 million, which could help them open new locations and hire new employees, This is something I will continue to advocate for."
Kathryn Moschella, Lakewood Ranch reporter can be reached at 941-745-7010. Follow her on Twitter @MoschellaHerald.