Budget talks near end in Florida Legislature

TALLAHASSEE -- Hundreds of millions of dollars in college and university construction projects remained up in the air in down-to-the-wire budget negotiations at Florida's Capitol Monday, but Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, predicted that the budget would be finished by Tuesday in time for a scheduled Friday adjournment.

Lawmakers have reached a tentative agreement on several projects in the Manatee-Sarasota area, both for new developments and for improvements to existing projects.

Manasota Goodwill is set to receive $600,000 for a pilot employee training program for the developmentally disabled.

Mote Marine Laboratory will also receive $600,000, down from $1 million, for infrastructure expansion.

The city of Bradenton is getting $500,000, reduced from $1 million, for a tournament sports facility, which

will be developed with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Boys and Girls Club of Manatee County is getting $500,000 in nonrecurring funds.

Manatee Glens will receive $300,000 to fund its Graduate Medical Education residency program in psychiatry.

Port Manatee will receive $300,000 for security improvements.

The city of Palmetto will receive $250,000 for a Palmetto Bay Park girls softball field.

The South Florida Museum will get $250,000 for its Backyard Universe project, which will use both indoor and outdoor facilities to teach children ages 3 through 8 about science, technology, engineering and math.

The Modern Pentathlon will receive $250,000; and IMG Academy will get $50,000 for unspecified projects.

Political influence plays a role in hometown spending decisions and every state university has powerful political supporters. Gardiner's hometown school is the University of Central Florida, and he told reporters that the Legislature can't possibly fund the $450 million worth of total projects on a list approved in January by the Board of Governors. The biggest project on the board's list is $58 million for UCF's new downtown Orlando presence -- which Gardiner and other Orlando-area lawmakers strongly support. The estimated three-year cost of funding the Orlando project is $164 million.

"We want to have some guiding principles in dealing with which projects are ready to do and which ones are still in the planning stage," Gardiner said.

Gardiner singled out the UCF downtown project and $17 million to relocate University of South Florida's Morsani College of Medicine as part of a major downtown Tampa redevelopment project as priorities because they can generate economic activity.

"I'd like to see the state be a partner with them," he said.

Even if the Legislature approves the USF project funding and Gov. Rick Scott doesn't veto it, the Florida Board of Governors still must approve the relocation of the USF Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute to the downtown location, university system spokeswoman Brittany Davis said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times.

Lawmakers are in the final days of a special session after the health care stalemate derailed their regular session that ended in May. State government will be partially shut down if a new budget isn't in place by July 1. House and Senate leaders said they expect lawmakers to vote on a budget this Friday.

The Florida Constitution requires a 72-hour delay from the time the budget is completed until lawmakers can vote on it.

-- Bradenton Herald reporter Kate Irby, Tampa Bay Times staff writer Richard Danielson and Associated Press reporter Gary Fineout contributed to this report.