State Politics

With $65B state budget in place, what's Manatee's take?

MANATEE — It seemed as if the Florida Legislature bickered over every single dollar this year, but when the $66.5 billion state budget finally passed Friday, the local delegation did bring more than a little spare change to its home counties.

Headed to Manatee is $287,296,627 for the Manatee County School District, an increase in total revenues of $1.2 million, or four-tenths of 1 percent, according to information provided by the district’s lobbying firm, Mixon & Associates, of Tallahassee.

The legislature passed a bill by Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, authorizing a check-off box on hunting and fishing licenses so people can contribute if they choose to Southeastern Guide Dogs, an accredited dog training facility northeast of Palmetto. The legislation will produce $25,000 or $30,000 a year for the organization, which provides seeing eye guide dogs to war veterans who have lost their sight, said Bennett, a volunteer member of the nonprofit organization’s board.

Other goodies included a last-minute insertion of a renewable energy pilot project for Sarasota County, legislators said.

“The only thing we got in at the last minute, we were able to help Sarasota County to be part of renewable energy pilot project,” said state Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Sarasota. ...This doesn’t provide any new money for the issue, but it does get them onboard and puts the language in that, when we’re ready to do that, they’ll be first on the list.”

Other pluses this year include a formal re-name for Manatee Community College, to be called State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota, which the legislature had to OK in order for the college to grant degrees through its new, four-year nursing degree program slated to start next year.

And Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, Inc., developers of Lakewood Ranch, got its wish for a way to finance “green” technology and infrastructure in the same way as it finances other items, such as roads and parks. The bill passed by the legislature would allow the company to finance sustainable technologies through an independent special district that covers most of its undeveloped property, something close to 23,000 acres in Manatee and Sarasota counties.

Legislators were able to put back into the budget $1.2 million for an emergency room diversion program that will send the sick to rural health centers in Manatee, Sarasota and DeSoto counties rather than more expensive hospital emergency rooms, said Rep. Ron Reagan, R-Bradenton.

And Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, was proud of the agreement he helped the legislature to reach on gaming. Friday, lawmakers OK’d legislation directing Gov. Charlie Crist to negotiate an agreement with The Seminole Tribe of Florida that would provide millions of dollars annually in gambling money to the state if the Tribe agrees. However, the legislature’s directive did not allow a full-on expansion of gaming, Galvano noted.

“The governor was very complimentary,” said Galvano, who chaired the House committee that dealt with the gaming issue.

The legislature passed Bennett’s bills on growth management and property insurance.

There were a few disappointments: Reagan was dismayed at the defeat of his bill that would have set statewide parameters for the use of high-tech cameras to snap red-light runners.

Rep. Keith Fitzgerald, D-Sarasota, was disappointed at the failure of legislation he sponsored that would have encouraged renewable energy development and set comprehensive energy policy for the state.

The saga of ousted Speaker of the House Ray Sansom, who was indicted in April on a felony charge in connection with a $6 million appropriation to a community college in his district, hung like a spectre over the whole session.

But as legislators filtered out of Tallahassee, many said they felt they had done their best in a year plagued with recession and money woes.

“It was a very difficult year, without question.” said Reagan. “It started out with the situation with the speaker of the house, and of course, we had no money. That made it difficult.”

“But ultimately, we got the job done.”

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 708-7908 or at skennedy@bradenton.com

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