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Requests for Pasco projects decrease

By JAMES THORNER

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 13, 2001


Whether you call them pork, bacon or turkeys, state-funded projects that would benefit Pasco County in next year's budget appear to be leaner than normal.

Although state senators and representatives have recently larded the county with goodies -- $600,000 for a new coastal state park, a total of $400,000 to fix Dade City's Crescent Theater -- Gov. Jeb Bush's budget priorities are suppressing appetites during this year's budget cycle.

Pasco's seven-member legislative delegation has requested a collective $68-million. But that number, according to state legislators and their aides, is shooting wildly high. What's more, most of that $68-million is destined for counties other than Pasco.

The laundry list for state Rep. Ken Littlefield -- the founder of the Crescent Theater feast -- is a case in point.

For the 2001-2002 budget year, Littlefield, a Republican from Dade City, lists four projects, including money to combat domestic violence, accidental poisoning and children's tumors.

None specifically targets Pasco.

"I'm finally getting the message that those parochial issues are not going to make it all the way through, that they're exercises in futility," Littlefield said. "My efforts are better spent in the statewide issues that stand a better chance."

The two state representatives covering most of west Pasco, New Port Richey Republicans Mike Fasano and Heather Fiorentino, blessed Pasco with several projects on their wish lists.

Fasano's requests totaled about $19-million, partly a product of his powerful position as House majority leader.

Leading Fasano's requests: $4.3-million for design and construction of a New Port Richey reclaimed water system, $1.65-million for the Eckerd Youth Alternatives anger management program for juveniles and $651,000 for a new school for the Marine Institute in New Port Richey.

Although many of Fasano's requests are for statewide projects, Fasano aide Greg Giordano said, "Those projects that benefit Pasco are most important to him."

Fiorentino's two top spending priorities are $500,000 for a new CARES senior center in Hudson and $4-million for free and reduced-cost statewide epilepsy treatment.

Next in her rankings are two other west Pasco projects: $200,000 to build an emergency hurricane shelter at Port Richey City Hall and $750,000 for Harbor Behavioral Health Care Institute for an emergency treatment center.

Fiorentino's chief legislative aide, John Legg, said the hurricane shelter, which would hold 399, may have a hard time getting funded.

Gov. Bush has frowned on capital construction projects, which he feels are better left to local government, Legg said.

"The governor and speaker have indicated it's a very tight budget year," Legg said. "We didn't put in a lot of requests this year."

Republican state Sens. Ginny Brown-Waite and Jack Latvala requested a combined $30-million, but almost none is destined for Pasco.

Although she represents northern and eastern Pasco, most of Brown-Waite's requests target the bulk of her constituents who live in Hernando County. One big exception is the CARES center, which she co-sponsors with Fiorentino.

Latvala, from Palm Harbor, showered most of his $8-million in proposed projects on his home turf of Pinellas County.

That's a contrast to last year, when Latvala lobbied for and received $600,000 for the new state park and $1-million to dredge Hudson Channel.

State Sen. Victor Crist and State Rep. David Russell, whose districts nip Pasco, reserved their requested millions for non-Pasco projects.

Legislators had to submit their final list of projects by Feb. 16. They will whittle the list during budget talks this spring.

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