PORT MANATEE -- A slate of legislative and lobbying goals for the Manatee County Port Authority may soon get a more aggressive rewrite.
Just weeks after Gov. Rick Scott vetoed $461 million in projects out of the Florida Legislature's budget, port officials Thursday floated their policy agenda for the coming budget cycle. Stripped down from last year's wishes, the list excluded some funding priorities that have been a regular fixture in recent years.
Notably absent was a priority to lobby for a portion of $50 million in seaport grant funds the Florida Department of Transportation makes available every year. Dave Sanford, the port's deputy director, said port staff chose to delete that item after consultation with FDOT officials
For some on the seven-member port authority board, the thin agenda put the $30,000 the port pays to lobby state officials and legislators on the hot seat.
"When I saw our priorities for this coming year I was a little disappointed," said authority member Vanessa Baugh. "Because they seem so blah."
Top items on the port's state lobbying agenda included supporting transportation projects that benefit the port, advocating for full funding for FDOT's seaport grant program and supporting legislation that could allow the port to grow shellfish in its seagrass beds.
On the federal level, Port Manatee will likely have its hand out in Washington, D.C., as it seeks money to maintain its navigation channel and to dispose of the dredge material.
Baugh suggested port staff consult with the port's lob
byist, law firm Lewis, Longman & Walker, to beef up the policy agenda, even if doing so requires the port to add money to its lobbying budget. Authority Chairwoman Carol Whitmore agreed.
"If we're going to play, we have to pay a little," she said.
In all, the port budgeted $72,000 during its current fiscal year for lobbying services in the state capital and Washington, D.C.
Putting more cash toward lobbying for money and legislation in Tallahassee didn't strike a universal chord with the authority. Board member Betsy Benac said she needs to see concrete goals that could bring more funds or favorable treatment to the port before she would be willing to pay more.
"We don't even have an ask for funding," she said of the current priorities list. "I don't even know what we're lobbying for."
Steve Lewis, a principal with Lewis, Longman & Walker who attended Thursday's port authority meeting, said additions to the list are something his firm and port administration will have to negotiate.
"It's kinda hard off the top of my head to come up with something," he said.
Board members agreed to bring the lobbying firm back for its September meeting to present additional policy options for the port to pursue in the upcoming legislative session.
The board's newest member, Charles Smith, expressed misgivings with the port's lobbying that went beyond its policy agenda.
He asked that the board separate its state lobbying operations from its legal representation. Lewis, Longman & Walker provide both under a single $230,000 contract. Smith advocated for writing two separate contracts with the firm.
The board voted on Smith's proposal. It failed on a 5-1 vote in which Smith was the only supporter.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.