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Rewrite of growth management laws tied to state budget

A group of House and Senate lawmakers tasked with negotiating economic development issues in the budget emerged from a committee meeting this afternoon with deals on a pair of other bills as well: one to provide $10 milllion to Panhandle counties hurt by the BP oil spill and another that repeals the state's growth management laws.

The economic development agency was a priority of Gov. Rick Scott. But before signing off on that, Sen. Don Gaetz tucked in his so-called Oil Recovery Act (SB 248) while House Speaker Dean Cannon's top lieutenants inserted the growth management changes (HB 7129).

The growth management changes, a priority of Cannon's, essentially dismantle the Department of Community Affairs while re-writing a 26-year-old law intended to tamp down strip mall sprawl and suburban development that taxed roads, utilities and water supplies. The manuever means if state lawmakers want to oppose the changes, they'll have to vote against the millions for public schools and health care also in the budget.

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, raised strong objections to the move from Gaetz and a quartet of Republican House negotiators: Gary Aubuchon, John Legg, Steve Precourt and Mike Horner.

"It's just very sad," Latvala said. "I'm not happy about the way this has been done."

Latvala left the committee before the final vote, which was unanimous.

"It wasn't pretty. It wasn't perfect. But it's done," Gaetz said before adjourning the meeting.

The growth management bill passed a divided House and Gaetz said he was certain the measure would have passed the Senate on its own merits. Asked why he didn't give it a chance to do just that, he said putting it in the budget was a priority of Cannon's.

"For two years we've been discussing it, working it through," Gaetz said. "Senator (Mike) Bennett has passed Senate Bill 360 first through the Senate and then he passed a second Senate Bill 360 last year through the Senate.

Gaetz pointed to the unanimous vote on the conference committee.

"So I would believe that any of these matters, if they were separate bills, would pass the Senate," he said.

Rep. Ritch Workman, who sponsored the House growth management bill, defended the deal to put the changes in the budget.

"It's a humongous bill," Workman said. "It's not something we want to get bogged down with special interests."

In return, Gaetz got money for the Panhandle, where he lives. The bill from the Nicevillle Republican bill directs $10 million for economic growth to Bay, Escambia, Franklin, Gulf, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, Walton and Wakulla counties. The money would be dispersed by Florida's Great Northwest Inc.

It also earmarks 75 percent of future cash from BP to the eight counties. A similar House bill had stalled in committee.

Meanwhile, Scott gets a new state agency. The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity would include the governor's Office of Tourism, Transportation and Economic Development, the Agency for Workforce Innovation and portions of the Department of Community Affairs.

The changes merge the Black Business Investment Board and the Florida Sports Foundation into Enterprise Florida. Space Florida retains its special district status under the EFI board and Visit Florida becomes a direct support organization under contract with EFI.

Lawmakers also gave Scott's new state department a $50 million "SEED Fund" for business projects. But that money, scaled back from the original House plan, would not be available until the 2012-13 fiscal year and contingent on Scott's office submitting a "business plan" for the money to the Legislature.