Florida Legislature's state budget lacks big wins for people

Florida's Legislature will likely celebrate tonight's expected passage of a $79 billion state budget and boast about their accomplishments, such as they are.

In rushing to the deadline for adjournment this week, though, lawmakers pumped up the budget with hometown projects. That occurred during closed doors negotiations between the budget committee leaders from both chambers.

But between the regular and special sessions, the 2015 Legislature will be best known for serving political and ideological stands on two major policy issues, health care and environmental spending. As we have repeatedly decried here, lawmakers served their own interests on both, not the people's.

On health care, the House rejected the Senate's reasonable proposal to accept Medicaid expansion money in order to create private-market insurance policies for more than 800,000 working poor Floridians.

Instead, the two chambers came to an agreement to spend $400 million in order to draw down $1 billion in federal funds to divide among hospitals to partially offset charity care. In effect, the House insisted on spending millions in taxpayer money simply because the Medicaid money was linked to Obamacare.

On environmental spending, the chambers ignored Amendment 1's intent and allocated an amount less than before voters overwhelmingly passed the citizen initiative. Instead, the dollars dedicated to the environment by Amendment 1 are covering the recurring costs of salaries and overhead that had previously come from general revenue.

Lawmakers failed the people on both issues. Any celebration tonight is not warranted.

On hometown projects, Manatee County fared well on several fronts.

One allocation, though, did not result from the efforts of Rep. Jim Boyd and Sen. Bill Galvano, both Bradenton Republicans. IMG Academy, a for-profit global sports powerhouse and an economic boon to Manatee County, saw a $50,000 allocation soar to $2 million just before Monday's midnight deadline. This comes on top of the $7 million IMG got from the state over the past two years.

There's no denying IMG's value to both this community and the state, and the academy's $197 million campus expansion project will boost its economic impact to more than $320 million.

IMG can thank the powerful House speaker, Rep. Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, for the allocation, one he justified for it economic development impact.

But the public-private partnership responsible for Nathan Benderson Park got nothing this year despite a request for at least $5 million to further develop the site. The park holds immense value to Manatee and Sarasota counties as a world-class rowing center whose economic impact continues to rise -- the same justication for IMG's allocation.

While the park collected $5 million in both of the past two years for infrastructure and other improvements, to be ignored this year is tough as the facilty prepares to host the 2016 U.S. Olympic Rowing Team Trials and the 2017 World Rowing Championships.

Several other worthwile local projects should be celebrating tonight:

The Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine in Lakewood Ranch is in line to receive almost $1.7 million to support Florida residents enrolled in either the osteopathic medicine or pharmacy programs.

The City of Bradenton won a $500,000 allocation for a "tournament sports park," which includes a new baseball field and other improvements at Pirate City, the Pittsburgh Pirates training facility.

Manatee Glens is positioned to receive $300,000 for its Graduate Medical Education residency program in psychiatry. With the number of practicing psychiatrists declining, this program is vital to the community's mental health care services.

The South Florida Museum, in the midst of a $12 million capital campaign to cover a major expansion, is poised to get $250,000 for its Backyard Universe project. This intriguing addition to the museum will teach children from ages 3 to 8 about science, technology, engineering and math in both indoor and outdoor settings.

While the Legislature's passage of the budget is virtually assured tonight, Gov. Rick Scott holds veto power over every line item. He hasn't been hesitant to strike some hometown projects, too. Only when his signature graces the budget will there be certainty.

Given the governor's agenda took a beating in the Legislature, he'll need powerful allies in the 2016 session -- like Senate Majority Leader Galvano and House Majority Whip Boyd. We suspect Manatee County projects will pass muster.