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Heat, lightning in the air as economic development dollars shift

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Two $10 million dollar line items were at issue in today’s meeting of Transportation & Economic Development budget conference panel, the third this weekend as lawmakers from both chambers of the Legislature sit down to hash out their considerable budget differences.

The controversial public-private “All Aboard Florida” rail plan favored by Gov. Rick Scott made progress in securing full funding, as $10 million was agreed to for a “Quiet Zone Improvements Grant Program” that would help mitigate noise along the proposed tracks that would bolster passenger rail in South Florida.

The Senate adopted the House position on the grants, bringing this year’s total spending for rail development and related grants to $191.4 million.

But not every item was so agreeable.

The House in its initial offer — which the Senate responded to in Sunday’s sole meeting of the panel — budgeted another $10 million for Space Florida, a program designed to induce businesses to set up shop near Cape Canaveral and the Space Coast, which as panel co-chair Rep. Clay Ingram noted, was adversely effected by the recent loss of federal money for the NASA shuttle program.

“$10 million is what ya call real money,” said Latvala on Sunday, objecting to the addition of such a large expenditure so late in the process.

“I don’t think the Senate will be comfortable agreeing to that particular item until we get some more information,” Latvala told Ingram.

An area of concern for two panel Democrats was the “cultural facilities” program, administered through grants to local governments and entities.

Rep. David Richardson expressed dismay at its current $5 million level of funding, far below last year’s appropriation which goes to a list of projects scored and ranked by the Department of State.

Latvala explained that last year’s total was the result of a post-budget “bump” move by presiding officers, who had money left over after finalizing their priorities — “sprinkles from heaven,” he later called it — and suggested that “lightning could strike again” on the grants issue.

“I just want some lightning to strike on this side of the table,” responded Miami-Dade’s Richardson, desirous of cultural dollars for South Florida.

Latvala’s Zeus-like response:

“I think that can be arranged.”

Ryan Ray writes about campaigns and public policy in Tampa Bay and across the state. A contributor to FloridaPolitics.com and before that, The Florida Squeeze, he covers the Legislature as a member of the Florida Capitol Press Corps and has worked as a staffer on several campaigns. He can be reached at ryan@floridapolitics.com.

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