Northwest Florida — often seen as a “stepchild” in Tallahassee compared to more high-profile regions in the south and east — fared quite well in the budget coming out of the 2014 legislative session.
So says Senate President Don Gaetz from Niceville.
In an after-session email synopsis, Gaetz offered a laundry list of Panhandle-centric accomplishments in the just-completed 60-day annual session, like so many Christmas gifts to eager children.
In addition to providing “substantial appropriations in transportation, economic development, education, arts, health care and environmental initiatives,” Gaetz was generous in doling out credit to other area legislators supporting him in his agenda — and proud to do so.
As for the Northwest Florida talking points, Gaetz ticks them off one-by-one, giving each one its own regional spin: Okaloosa County’s STEMM Middle School Academy and Northwest Florida Ballet Academie will receive $250,000 in recurring funding apiece The E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center in Walton County was appropriated $100,000 for teacher training in natural sciences.
Water and environmental projects, beach nourishment and protection of coastal dunes in south Walton County each received a slice of the budgetary pie. Healthcare and children’s issues get a shout out — through supplemental payments out of the Low Income Pool (LIP) going to eight hospitals in Northwest Florida for a total of $26.3 million.
Gaetz also proclaimed it a “good year” for cultural programs, including $3.4 million for twenty-five music, museum, and performance organizations, historic preservation projects, and libraries in the region. And for the first time, every project proposed by the Florida Fine Arts Council state-wide received funding.
The Panhandle will also benefit from nearly $2 billion dollars in infrastructure projects and improvements to eight regional counties in the next five years, with $1.94 billion currently in the Florida Department of Transportation’s Work Program, counting $527.5 million to come in the next fiscal year.
In all, it seemed to be a wonderful time to be one of Gaetz’s constituents, as the Niceville Republican finished his final year as Senate President.
If every budget year could be so good.