State Politics

Oil drilling opposition tops Manatee wish list

MANATEE — The Manatee County Commission has listed its opposition to offshore oil and gas drilling as its chief legislative concern for this year.

With Tuesday’s formal opening ceremony of the Florida Legislature, and the start of its 60-day session, county officials hope that oil drilling plans will either never see the light of day or will be defeated if they do surface, according to Nick Azzara, county information outreach coordinator, who is tracking legislative action for commissioners this year.

And they hope to prevail with other parts of their wish list, which includes, among other things, according to board documents:

n A requirement for all remote vendors, including Internet retailers, to remit Florida state and local option sales taxes. Also requested is a thorough review of Florida’s sales tax exemptions and exclusions.

n Support of the proposed Port Connector Road linking Port Manatee with Interstate 75.

n Flexibility to accommodate some golf cart use on sidewalks along state and county road rights-of-way.

n A fix in the funding formula to financially help Manatee Technical Institute.

The board has renewed the contract of its Tallahassee lobbyist, Cari Roth, to help accomplish its goals.

Roth, 52, with the law firm Bryant, Miller, Olive, is a familiar presence among local legislators, several of whom Tuesday gave her high grades for her long experience in the Capitol and her expertise on complex topics such as growth management and regional transportation.

So what does she think the top issue this session will be?

“Most assuredly,” the oil drilling issue, Roth said.

She said House Speaker Larry Cretul, R-Ocala, has said publicly he will come out with a drilling bill, although she was unwilling to guess whether it might pass.

“I have no crystal ball on that,” Roth said. “When you’re $3 billion down in state revenues, it might be attractive.”

Manatee County this year has a leg up on its ability to get what it wants because it boasts an experienced legislative delegation with plenty of leadership clout in both chambers, she said.

“They know the issues of the county, and it’s a matter of those issues getting heard,” Roth said.

Another priority is continuation of dedicated funding for beach re-nourishment.

Asked if legislators seemed able to come up with the money, Roth said, “We sure hope so, but it’s one of those pots of money in a down budget year — it will be difficult.”

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