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Central Florida makes out like a bandit in budget plans
House and Senate budget proposals are $500 million apart, but they have one thing in common -- Central Florida, thanks to its influential lawmakers, is poised for a windfall.
The Senate and House have approved their versions of the roughly $50 billion budget, with senators packing in more money for schools, social programs and projects than House members. The differences will be hammered out in the coming weeks in negotiations between the lawmakers and Gov. Jeb Bush.
So far, many Central Florida projects have survived calls in both chambers for cuts in a tight budget year, though some still hang in the balance.
Although Miami-Dade County is in line for almost no road money, Seminole and Volusia counties would share a $101.9 million Interstate 4 bridge over the St. Johns River. Both budgets also include: $500,000 to begin work on widening John Young Parkway and $23 million to expand and reconstruct Orange Blossom Trail from the Osceola County line to Taft-Vineland Road.
The road projects were a priority of Sen. Daniel Webster, R-Winter Garden, who is the powerful chairman of the Senate Reapportionment Committee. Websters committee will work in the next year to redraw legislative districts in the wake of new population figures released by the Census Bureau. That kind of clout makes it difficult for any other lawmaker to attack Websters project list -- including the St. Johns River Bridge thousands of motorists use each day.
"It is safe and secure," Webster said.
The bridge could be built in fewer than three years if both chambers agree to the full cost.
In the House, where Speaker Tom Feeney, R-Oviedo, enjoys the support of a 77-43 Republican majority, budget writers included money for theater renovations, road widenings and juvenile crime prevention.
Both chambers fully fund Orange County Sheriff Kevin Bearys Juvenile Arrest and Monitoring program, which is set to receive $750,000. The program helps counsel and keep track of young offenders without putting them in jail.
The Orlando-UCF Shakespeare Festival theater space, now being renovated in Loch Haven Park, is in line to get all $500,000 requested. DeLands Athens Theatre restoration project in Volusia is budgeted for $50,000.
Senate, House differ
But there are differences too. Although the House set aside $1 million to plan a west Orange County airport, the Senate did not. The Houses allocation came in large part because of Rep. Randy Johnson, R-Celebration, chairman of the House Transportation Appropriations Committee.
Missing in the House budget, but included by the Senate, is $200,000 for improvements at the Osceola County Agricultural Center. The center, between Kissimmee and St. Cloud, dates to World War II and "needs some repairs," said Sen. Charlie Bronson, R-St. Cloud.
Whether these projects survive or fall to the budget ax is anyones guess.
"Itll be a very interesting budget conference this year," said Bronson, alluding to the states lean finances in a year when sales tax receipts have slimmed and budget holes abound. More than $1 billion, for instance, is needed this year to shore up gaps in the states Medicaid program.
Take a little, give a little
Different ways of filling those gaps produced different numbers from the legislative chambers. Seminole Community College, for instance, received the full $2.75 million from the House to remodel and expand computer labs. The Senate included $1.69 million.
Although both chambers allotted nearly $900,000 to expand Stone Islands sewer system in Volusia County, the Senate found $2.3 million to bolster Bethune-Cookman Colleges teacher recruitment and retention efforts. The House earmarked none.
Some projects win OKs
There was plenty of agreement, however. Both chambers included $2.1 million to widen Colonial Drive. They also signed off on $3 million to begin planning and construction of a bus, train and truck center on International Drive. The center would serve as a transportation and cargo hub, in theory linking roads and rail systems, including the Lynx bus system.
"Were pretty happy about this," said Rich Crotty, Orange County chairman, after surveying millions of dollars of road projects approved by both chambers.
Jon Steinman can be reached at 850-222-5564 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.