With less than two weeks left in the 2014 legislative session, here’s where sh*t stands on four key issues.
We’ll start with the “unthinkable”: a Republican lobby team (Nick Iarossi), a Republican governor, Republican legislature, Republican environmental agency leadership, and a Republican CEO of the Everglades Foundation (Erik Eikenberg) will end session with two of the best years ever in regards to restoration funding efforts. Take that, (fill in any number of names here)!
Side note: This is not the session wrap-up story you will read from advocates of ballot amendment No. 1, who will tell voters that the Legislature has failed in its duty to protect the environment and that no amount of spending on land and water conservation is quite enough.
Then, there’s Sen. Jack Latvala. He’ll also emerge (yes, again) as the most powerful player in the Senate. He knows numbers and details like a machine and will begin next year as the No. 2 guy under Andy Gardiner. In Latvala’s hands, that’s a spot that is arguably as potent than the No. 1 spot itself.
Speaking of Senate presidents, let’s check in on Sen. Don Gaetz. The Solomon-esque figure faces what may actually be a spiritual conundrum in these final weeks. Gaetz and his wife Vickie love dogs and have a genuine affection and passion for “decoupling” dog racing from gambling. The issue has long evolved to be a head-twister: you have dog lovers joined up with dog tracks who want to stop running dogs and operate stand alone “racinos.” And you have groups like Disney and No Casinos who hate the idea, because, well, it means one less requirement for facilities to abide by in the attempt to operate card rooms. Gaetz and the Florida Greyhound Association are aligned on the issue. But Gaetz and the FGA’s lobbyist Jack Cory — you know about that story, right?
Let’s just say, according to many insiders, as much as Gaetz cares for dogs, he has an equal disdain for Cory. This contradiction presents another baby you can’t quite divide. So, how will Gaetz handle it?
Finally, here’s some transportation food for thought. All Aboard Florida — a project that was to be privately financed at no cost to taxpayers — is still working out how it will go about paying for and maintaining an intercity passenger rail service connecting Orlando, Tampa, West Palm Beach, Miami, and Jacksonville. And (who guessed it?) taxpayer costs associated with the project continue to grow. In today’s FDOT budget proviso, Specific Appropriation 1890 would grant $10 million for Quiet Zone improvements in response to the use of locomotive horns at highway-rail grade crossings. The funds would go into a department grant program for quiet zones requested by local agencies. Simultaneously, All Aboard Florida has its fingers in other taxpayer-funded pots, such as the 528/Innovation Way Interchange with OOCEA to accommodate train traffic underneath.
I’ll spare the details, but here we have what was to be a privately financed project that had its necessary funds to begin implementation back in 2010, but has since racked up the potential for a substantial taxpayer hit.
These are the types of issues that illustrate how important proviso and the budget process is in setting policy. It’s not the way the textbooks tell you policymaking goes down. But it sure does keep lobbyists employed. And makes for a great story, later.