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    Local projects benefit from Byrd's role in House

    The state budget still contains funds for an Alzheimer's research center and the cancer center.

    By BILL VARIAN, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published May 11, 2002


    TAMPA -- This is what happens when the next speaker of the Florida House hails from your home county:

    You get $20-million to plan for and start building an Alzheimer's research center at the University of South Florida. You get $5-million in operating money to kick-start its work.

    You also get a commitment of $50-million over the next decade for research at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center.

    Those items highlight the list of Hillsborough County spending projects approved by state lawmakers and included in the state budget released Friday. They now go to Gov. Jeb Bush for his signature.

    Incoming House Speaker Johnnie Byrd, a Plant City Republican, said he is optimistic his proposals will survive the veto pen.

    "I am committed to taming the beast called Alzheimer's," said Byrd, who is slated to take over the House in November. "I believe that the governor is, too."

    Byrd, whose father died of Alzheimer's in 1998, held a summit on the disease during a legislative session earlier this year. He said that one in 10 people older than 65 suffers from Alzheimer's or some form of dementia. That ratio climbs to 50 percent for the population older than 85, which Byrd said is Florida's fastest-growing age group.

    "We need to start focusing our dollars on things like curing Alzheimer's," he said. "We need to decide what is the most important thing, and go after it, like the Manhattan Project."

    Byrd said the money for the Moffitt Center would come from the $200-million collected annually from state cigarette taxes. Spending at the cancer center would increase by $1-million for the next two years, and then by $5.4-million starting in the 2004-05 fiscal year.

    Other local projects included in the budget are less expensive, but each has its constituency. They range from $1-million to study water conservation at the USF golf course to $100,000 to expand care for people with Alzheimer's at Hillsborough senior centers.

    The Legislature set aside $27-million for seaport security, but it was unclear how much would go to the Port of Tampa. Officials there say they need from $15-million to $18-million to make upgrades required after Sept. 11.

    "I doubt we're going to get half of that," said Hillsborough Commission Chairwoman Pat Frank, who sits on the Port Authority board of directors.

    The $1-million for the study of water conservation at the USF golf course will examine the feasibility of extending reclaimed water lines there, as well as other means of slowing groundwater pumping, said Southwest Florida Water Management District spokesman Michael Molligan.

    Golf courses consume large quantities of water, and the USF course is within the parched Hillsborough River water basin.

    "It's reached a critical state where we're trying to reduce the overall water usage in that area," Molligan said.

    Swiftmud also is earmarked for another $250,000 that would go toward the continued cleanup and flood-control effort at Lake Thonotosassa.

    Tampa General Hospital lobbyists were still trying to figure out how they fared in the allotment for indigent care. But the hospital and USF got $200,000 to be used as matching funds for the establishment of a center for stroke study and treatment.

    Other local projects include:

    $50,000 for a Tampa/Hillsborough Urban League and skills training center.

    $1-million for acquiring rights of way to widen Paul's Drive as part of the ongoing Brandon Main Street project.

    $2.35-million for a strawberry research center in Dover.

    $5-million to study and develop a technology corridor along Interstate 4.

    $5.56-million for renovations to laboratories and dental studies classrooms at Hillsborough Community College's Brandon campus.

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