State Politics

Lawmakers looking forward to $1 billion in surplus funds during Florida Legislature session

MANATEE -- Manatee County lawmakers were upbeat Monday about this year's Florida Legislature session, partly because they are expecting $1 billion in surplus funds they can allocate to various projects, they said Monday.

Economically, the state is doing well and Florida is on the fast track of growth, said state Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, majority whip in the Florida House.

"The state bird is back -- the construction crane," he said jokingly before an audience at the Pancakes & Politics 2015 legislative roundtable preview at the IMG Academy Golf Club. The breakfast was sponsored by the Manatee County Chamber of Commerce.

Big issues facing lawmakers this year include water policy and how money generated by Amendment 1, which voters OK'd last year, should be spent on environmental and conservation projects, said Boyd.

Education funding is also a big priority along with tax cuts, he said.

State Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, said issues he is targeting include health care, sales taxes on commercial leases and legislation benefiting veterans. Other topics include public-private partnerships and school safety.

State Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, said he is a "pro-business moderate." It's important to stand strong on certain Democratic principles, he said, but finding common ground is important, too.

"It's not just blue and red," he said.

His interests include safety of those in prison, money for education and good water quality, he said.

He noted "the big elephant in the room" is Medicaid expansion, which he favors and the House Republican leadership has opposed.

Florida has the third-largest population of uninsured in the United States and should take the $50 billion offered by the federal government to expand the federal-state health insurance program to cover those without access to health care, he said.

Mickey Presha, president and chief executive officer of Manatee County Rural Health Services Inc., told legislators 15,000 patients who annually use his organization's services would be eligible if Medicaid were expanded. Presha estimated his organization alone would receive about $5.4 million a year from Medicaid expansion.

The Florida Legislature convenes March 3.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.