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Senators hand in budgetary wish lists

Few of lawmakers' pet projects for their districts are likely to get funding.

By ALISA ULFERTS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 28, 2003

TALLAHASSEE -- The bleakest budget forecast in a decade hasn't stopped state senators from asking for $1.9-billion in pet projects for next year.

The requests, released Monday, came a week after Gov. Jeb Bush outlined his $54-billion budget that would require hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts for universities, juvenile crime prevention and health care for the poor.

But senators moved forward with requests for such things as $500,000 for a water taxi service in Broward County and $11.2-million to restore the Edison and Ford estates in Fort Myers. Sen. Jeff Atwater, R-Palm Beach Gardens, asked for $100,000 for a PGA museum in Palm Beach Gardens. Sen. Jim Sebesta, R-St. Petersburg, asked for more than $400,000 to "weatherize" Pinellas Park City Hall and police station.

Few expect these wish lists to be fulfilled.

"This is not the year to be wishing on a star," said Dominic Calabro, head of the government watchdog group Florida TaxWatch. Each year the nonprofit group puts out a list of budget "turkeys," projects that benefit one lawmaker's district, and urges the governor to veto them.

The projects haven't made it into the Senate's proposed budget, much less the final budget the Legislature sends to the governor.

Senate Majority Leader Dennis Jones, R-Treasure Island, said many senators included projects in the hopes that March revenue estimates will bring good news.

Bush has slashed more than $1-billion in local projects the past four years.

Some projects are included to make a political statement. For example, Sen. Durrell Peaden, R-Crestview, requested $4.8-million for dialysis for people with chronic kidney failure who aren't sick long enough to qualify for regular Medicaid or disability. "They die before they can qualify and I think that's a disgrace," Peadon said.

Sen. Les Miller said this is the third year he's asked for money for health care services for low-income constituents. He asked for $250,000 for prescription drug and $2-million for a stroke care and research program at the University of South Florida and Tampa General Hospital.

"These are very close to my heart, because I've been down that road before when I didn't have insurance and got sick," said Miller, D-Tampa.

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