TALLAHASSEE -- In a $75 billion budget stuffed with hometown goodies, lawmakers Tuesday agreed to fund the expansion of a bike trail through Central Florida, a gun range in Brevard County, and a raft of other pet projects.
Those two projects demonstrate the clout of the next two presiding officers.
Incoming Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, has inserted language directing the Department of Transportation to kick-start the 275-mile bike trail project into a half-dozen different bills. Tuesday, House and Senate budget negotiators agreed to include spending authority to start filling in gaps in the trail, called the Coast to Coast Connector. The project is a top priority this year for the Orlando Republican, a cyclist who was lobbied on it by former Orange County Mayor Linda Chapin.
When finished, it would be an unbroken bicycle path stretching from the Gulf of Mexico in St. Petersburg through Metro Orlando east to the Canaveral National Seashore on the Atlantic Ocean. Most of the trails throughout the Central Florida and Tampa Bay areas are already built. They just don't connect to one another.
Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a $50 million earmark for the project last year, but Gardiner has been lobbying his office and thinks this time the governor will spare it. This year's budget will only set aside $15 million for the project, with the expectation the rest of the money will be funded in future years.
"It's good to have the trail done. Now the governor gets a shot at it," Gardiner said. "Hopefully, we're going to get there."
Budget-writers also agreed on spending $1 million to help build an NRA-backed gun range in Palm Bay called The Range, which would feature 300-degree simulators, moving targets, a tower and "shoot house" for law enforcement -- at the behest of future House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island.
Lawmakers have agreed to steer $2.5 million to the IMG Academy in Bradenton, where top NFL, tennis and NBA athletes train. They'll spend $250,000 for Latin American marketing of South Florida’s largest Hispanic fair, the La Feria de Las Américas held at SunLife Stadium in November.
They'll steer $750,000 to Bethune-Cookman University’s “Entrepreneurship Institute,” an effort to provide business training to women and minorities.
Hernando County has landed $1 million for a "nature coast educational plaza," $2 million for a Clearwater Marine Aquarium, $750,000 for the Florida Holocaust Museum in St Petersburg, and and $50,000 for electronic signs at the Mims memorial complex dedicated to slain civil rights leaders Harry T and Harriette V Moore.
But there are still many projects included in only one chamber's budget, including $2 million for the Urban League of Broward County in the Senate's budget, $2 million for a five-acre “Field of Dreams” sports park for the disabled in Melbourne in the House plan, and $1.5 million for an Oviedo Amphitheatre project favored by the Senate.
Negotiators have untiil tomorrow to work out differences before the spending plan gets handed over to the budget chairmen for both chambers. Lawmakers will have until early next week to finalize the entire budget, which still has minor differences over tax cuts, environmental spending and classroom funding.