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Bob Buckhorn and Bill Nelson call on Donald Trump to back up plans on infrastructure spending

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is calling on President Trump to stand by his campaign pledge to spend up to a trillion dollars on improving the nation’s infrastructure needs.

“If there ever was an opportunity for us to potentially find common ground with the new president, it would be over infrastructure,” Buckhorn said at a press conference held in Senator Bill Nelson’s Tampa district office on Wednesday. “Because for us, infrastructure is the lifeblood of what we do. We can’t grow this country’s economy, I can’t grow this city’s economy without adequate roads, bridges water and sewage systems.”

You don’t need a weatherman to know if you’ve lived in the Tampa Bay area over the past two summers that both Tampa and St. Petersburg need hundreds of millions of dollars to improve their stormwater systems, after they were overwhelmed by major floods in 2015 and 2016.

“I am basically dealing with 100-year-old pipes, trying to push 2017 growth patters through 100-year-old pipes. It doesn’t work,” complained Buckhorn. “We haven’t had an infusion of capital in our infrastructure system for decades. And so for us, the ability to fix what we have, and then to grow and add additional capacity, for what we need…is absolutely critical. This should not be a partisan issue.”

It may not be.

On Tuesday, Nelson joined Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and other Senate Democrats in calling for a $1 trillion proposal that would potentially create 15 million jobs over 10 years. It includes $210 billion for road and bridge repair, $110 billion for water and sewer programs, $180 billion for rail and bus systems, $200 billion for new projects deemed as vital, $75 billion to rebuild schools, $70 billion for ports and $100 billion for energy grid upgrades. Democrats say they want to use taxpayers money to pay for the package, but Republicans have floated a plan to give tax credits out to private industry to help in the building.

“The question is: how is this going to be funded?” Nelson asked on Wednesday.  He said that’s where his GOP colleagues “are just in a war” about how they will figure that question out in the coming months.

Nelson said that there are over 200 bridges that the Florida Dept. of Transportation has ruled to be “structurally deficient,” including the 22nd Street Bridge in Ybor City near Ikea that crosses over the CSX rail line that takes over 25,000 cars a day; the 9th Street Bridge over Brooker Creek in Pinellas County, and the bridge at State Road 684 into Bradenton Beach.

Nelson dismissed the notion of public-private partnerships to pay for all of the nation’s infrastructure needs (as the Trump team has floated), saying that won’t help add broadband to underserved areas of the country.

Regarding possible funding for transit, Nelson bemoaned Rick Scott’s veto of the billions of dollars he single-handedly rejected for high speed rail between Tampa and Orlando back in 2011.

Buckhorn said federal funds could help Tampa with a much desired transit system.

Meanwhile, Nelson says the consequences of President Trump’s announcement earlier this week that he will impose a federal freeze on all government jobs is potentially “terrifying.”

Trump announced on Monday that he was imposing a freeze on all sectors of the federal government, with the exception for the military and other positions affected national security and public safety.

But Nelson says there’s already a shortage of air traffic controllers,  and says a lack of sufficiently trained new staffers in that department “could really harm our nation’s safety.”

Speaking in Tampa, Nelson also says that while the Pentagon is exempt under the new policy, the Dept. of Veterans Affairs is not, which he says makes little sense, alluding to the much reported on problems with that federal agency in recent years. “Not only do they need people working in the hospitals, but they desperately need people to do the administragive things to get the veterans the appointments that they need. That’s where we’ve had so much fo the problems over time that you’ve read about it,” he said.

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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