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So far, budget has projects for Pinellas

But don't celebrate yet; Gov. Jeb Bush used his veto power last year to kill more than $300-million worth of local projects.

By BRYAN GILMER

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 3, 2000


The Legislature's budget, finalized Tuesday, includes plenty for North Pinellas County: for example, $750,000 for beach renourishment at Anclote Key and Honeymoon Island, $400,000 to replace septic tanks near Lake Tarpon with municipal sewer lines, and $3-million to build a shared library for Seminole residents and St. Petersburg Junior College.

The House and Senate came to an agreement on the budget that includes those and many other Pinellas County projects early Tuesday.

But there has been little rejoicing so far: Gov. Jeb Bush can veto such direct appropriations of money.

Last year, he used his pen like a machete on more than $300-million in local projects he felt served no state purpose, even ones that had the backing of powerful members of his party like Senate Republican majority leader Jack Latvala of Palm Harbor.

Latvala was furious last year.

This year, he said he worked with state agencies and got them to request many projects he thought were important, such as the Lake Tarpon sewer project and the Honeymoon Island renourishment.

Many homes on the western shore of Lake Tarpon now use septic tanks, and there is evidence that they allow nutrients to seep into the lake that can cause algae blooms. Latvala got $400,000 included from the very beginning.

"It shows how state, county and city governments can work together," Tarpon Springs Mayor Frank DiDonato said. "I think we have been very, very fortunate in having excellent representation from Sen. Jack Latvala and state Rep. Rob Wallace (R-Tampa). They have had big ears for Tarpon."

For one project Bush vetoed last year, the restoration of the cast-iron lighthouse on Anclote Key, Latvala took an extraordinary step.

"I have also half-a-million hidden in the budget for the Anclote lighthouse restoration," Latvala said. "I'm not going to tell the governor where, either."

Latvala said a state agency included the money in a line item of its budget request at his behest.

Other legislators shepherded their projects through with more care after the governor embarrassed them last year.

"I think the appropriations process actually jumped through a lot more hoops this year that hopefully give the governor's staff and him more knowledge of these projects," said Rep. Lars Hafner, D-St. Petersburg. "Hopefully he won't be as inclined to broad-brush veto them."

Legislators tried to show that projects do have a statewide purpose, or at least that local initiatives are pilot projects of programs that could be expanded statewide.

An example is the $225,000 appropriation for Pinellas County to run the Healthy Beaches program. Hafner, a supporter, said the idea is to test water at the beach and detect any bacterial contamination early, so "we won't have to close down beaches, which would be an economic disaster for us."

The Legislature also included money for Miami-Dade and Escambia counties in the pilot program.

Other funding for Pinellas County in the legislative budget includes:

$50,000 for the Upper Pinellas Youth Sports Association.

$426,000 for a Neighborly Senior Services adult day care center in Largo.

$1.25-million to support Meals on Wheels in Pinellas and Pasco counties.

$500,000 for remediation of polluted land in Clearwater.

$150,000 for a preliminary study of a route for the proposed Clearwater Beach monorail.

$1.1-million to bring Smithsonian Institution exhibits to St. Petersburg's Florida International Museum.

$50,000 for the Greenwood Community Health Resources Center.

$2.2-million to add professors so that students can complete bachelor's degrees at the University of South Florida's St. Petersburg campus, without having to take some courses in Tampa.

Rep. Frank Farkas, R-St. Petersburg, said the Pinellas County legislative delegation has made its best pitch to Bush to keep the programs in the final budget.

"He's been non-committal about everything," Farkas said. "We've talked with the governor and the lieutenant governor and we're hoping for the best."

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