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Mitch Perry Report for 6.11.15 — Picking winners and losers in Tallahassee

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

The Tampa Bay Times’ lead today is a story that we touched upon briefly yesterday as the Legislature is now half-way through its special session in Tallahassee — that being the very real fears among movers and shakers in Tampa that state funding for a USF College of Medicine building ($17 million) and accompanying USF Heart Institute ($15.75 million) is in peril.

There is a dispute about whether the projects should be bonded, since legislators say there’s not enough funding to pay for the projects directly.

The projects were two of the very first announced last fall that would be placed in Tampa Bay Lightning/developer Jeff Vinik’s ambitious billion-dollar plan to revitalize the Channelside District.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn declared the announcement a “game changer,” the theory being that luring university centers into the urban core is as good if not better than any other development you could bring into a downtown. It has become a trend in other cities around the United States in recent years.

“If we are able to pull that off, that’s going to change the whole dynamic,” the mayor told the Tampa Tribune last fall. “Not only will the medical school come down, but probably pharmacy will come down, the Heart Institute, the College of Nursing. You create a whole economic engine there that will fill up the apartments and condos that are being built. It will bring in retail.”

Yes, there is a lot riding on these projects getting funding.

So let’s go to a quote from the mayor in today’s Times. When asked what did he think might happen if the Legislature failed to provide any funding in this year’s budget for the two USF institutions, the mayor said, “I think Jeff’s going to move forward regardless.”

Really? If that’s the case, maybe we can just end the drama right now and let Vinik pay for the buildings, since he’s already offered up the land to the school for free.

Obviously, that’s not what Vinik or the folks at Strategic Property Partners, his development firm, aspires to at all. They are prepared to spend lots of money on this plan, but they don’t want to do it all by themselves. And they’re not — as the city of Tampa is already good for $15 million for new roads, sidewalks and other infrastructure near Channelside, with Hillsborough County expected to fund another $15 million.

Let’s face it — conservatives love to denounce government choosing “winners and losers,” but when you fund certain local projects and not others, that’s exactly what you’re doing. And while public financing for items like sports stadiums and Hollywood productions may be more unsavory to some than giving money to a university medical center, it’s still the same thing.

There will be a resolution on this question within the next week.

In other news…

Transit activists are none too pleased to hear preliminary plans for a half-cent sales tax referendum for 2016 in Hillsborough would include only 30 percent for mass transit projects. 

Two new polls released by St. Leo’s University were interesting: one shows that while Patrick Murphy barely leads Alan Grayson in a potential Democratic race for U.S. Senate in 2016, Murphy blows every potential Republican mentioned as a possible candidate away in head-to-head match-ups, including against Ron DeSantis, the only major Republican candidate who has officially entered the race.

A second St. Leo’s poll shows that while Jeb Bush continues to lead in Florida for the March 15 GOP primary for president, Marco Rubio is catching up to him, and in a direct, one-on-one match-up, now leads Bush, 48-40 percent.

Meanwhile, Florida Family Action President John Stemberger is reportedly neutral in the race between Rubio and Bush, but a new report out says that the top social conservative is definitely favoring the insurgent.

Rick Scott signed a bill allowing for modest reforms at the Public Service Commission.

Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission Chair Kyle Cockream promises that soon-to-be announced new regulations on Uber & Lyft will actually show flexibility toward those controversial share-riding services.

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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