Local Leaders See Fair Share Of Wins From Legislative Session
By Sherri C. Ranta
While the Florida Marlins’ and Orange Bowl stadiums did not fare well this legislative session, local officials said many municipal and Miami-Dade County projects did better than expected, though the governor still veto some of them.
The Miami-Dade Empowerment Zone is expected to receive $1 million from Tallahassee, a small victory, though officials said they were hoping for more after a complete shutout last year.
"We went there seeking $10 million, but in a realistic sense we expected between $1 million and $3 million. In a major cutback year for the state, it’s not a full victory but clearly a win," said Philip Blumberg, chairman of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, and president/CEO of American Ventures Corp.
Created in 1999 by federal legislation, the Empowerment Zone Trust coordinates private and public investment to create jobs and revitalize poor neighborhoods. Federal funding for the zone remained high this year with $12.3 million expected for the 2001-2002 funding cycle, local officials said.
Other chamber legislative priorities representing key community organizations are also expected to receive state money this year. Those include:
Miami-Dade County Juvenile Assessment Center, $729,000.
Miami River Commission, $2.25 million for dredging the Miami River.
Miami-Dade Community College, $5.2 million for the Emerging Technologies Center of the Americas, a telecommunications and computer training center to be established at the Wolfson Campus near Overtown.
Barry Johnson, AT&T vice president for corporate affairs for Florida, who led a chamber trip to Tallahassee during the legislative session, said the chamber is encouraged by the many positive things that came out of the legislature but added the group "is disappointed the empowerment zone was not funded as we hoped."
Chamber officials continue sorting through the bills and analyzing the group’s successes for the year, he said, ever mindful that Gov. Jeb Bush could still use his veto power.
Upon receiving bills from the legislature, the governor has 15 days to approve with signature, veto or approve without signature. The budget bill is expected to take several weeks before hitting his desk, a spokesman said. Legislation can be tracked online at www.myflorida.com.
The Greater Miami Chamber is also expected to be a recipient of Tallahassee’s generosity. The Export of Services Program, Mr. Blumberg said, received $400,000, doubling previous funding.
The 3-year-old chamber program has facilitated $400 million in contracts for exporting professional services in industries such as law, accounting, engineering and manufacturing. Officials from Chile, Spain, North Carolina, Texas and the US Department of Commerce have inquired about the program.
Lobbyist Ron Book said Greater Miami – the city and the county – fared well this year, allowing, of course, for their stake in the failed funding to help build a stadium for the Marlins and a tax rebate to maintain and improve the Orange Bowl.
Mr. Book, who lobbied for the City of Miami, the county and the Florida Marlins, complimented the county legislative delegation.
"Lobbyists can only do so much. Those guys made sure the City of Miami got its fair share, which has not always been the case," he said.
Expected funding for the City of Miami includes:
$1.25 million for storm-water improvements.
$600,000 for infrastructure repairs and expansion for the Allapattah Produce Market. The project, in preliminary design and engineering stage, is expected to improve city streets and lighting in the area at Northwest 20th Street and NW 12th Avenue. The city requested $600,000.
$600,000 for the $1.2 million Legion Waterfront Enhancement Project, a bay walk for Legion Park on Northwest 69th Street. The city requested $650,000.
$200,000 for a new Internet project to make city services more accessible to the public. The $1 million project would put one Internet kiosk in all 13 city service centers. The city requested $500,000.
$200,000 for Miami Love Youth-at-Risk, a city park program for at-risk kids that includes sports leagues and homework help. The program got no state funding last year.
$200,000 for the police/fire telecommunications system.
Special assistant to the Miami city manager Marva Wiley, in charge of legislative affairs, said the city did better than expected.
"We did very well in terms of levels of funding. Not only did almost every project we submit get funded, but most of them got funded at higher levels or very close to what we asked for," she said.
Miami-Dade County, Mr. Book said, basically got everything it wanted. "I think overall the county did extraordinarily well. I think the delegation having Ron Silver and Carlos Lacasa in key places helped," he said.
Javier A. Soto, director of Miami-Dade County Intergovernmental Affairs, agreed.
"Given what was a tough budget year, we felt the county fared well. We were disappointed the stadium project didn’t go through the legislature on the final day. Hopefully, there will be a way to salvage that project," he said.
The county got quite a bit for flood mitigation, bus replacement and Miami River dredging, he said.
"But they (the legislature) had some tough choices to make with the revenue shortfalls. We understood that. At the end of the day we thought we fared well," Mr. Soto said.
Expected Miami-Dade funding includes:
$20 million for flood mitigation through the South Florida Water Management District. All the funds -except $300,000 for Broward – will be used in the county to support flood-control projects deemed necessary after October 2000 flooding inundated Sweetwater, West Miami, South Miami, Florida City and parts of unincorporated Miami-Dade County.
$750,000 for a Watershed Planning Project, through the South Florida Water Management District. The project is a study of the impact urban growth has on drinking water and stormwater runoff.
$150,000 for operations at Miami River Commission.
$15 million (statewide) for tree canopy restoration – citrus canker tree replacement at $100 per tree. Much of the money is expected to be disbursed in Miami-Dade County.
$287,500 for two beach erosion projects, through the Department of Environmental Resource Management. The funds will support the physical and biological monitoring of beach nourishment projects and help find alternative sources of sand.
$200,000 for the Biscayne Bay Water Quality Monitoring Program, administered through the South Florida Water Management District. The county’s Department of Environmental Resources monitors the health of the bay, identifying changes and trends that could harm life in the bay. The Water District received $6 million for the entire Biscayne Bay Water Quality Monitoring Program.
$1.34 million for a nutrition program for at-risk seniors, through the Department of Elder Care. The new program will give seniors boxed meals at night and weekends when they aren’t in a care facility.
$2.3 million to build the Little Haiti County Health Clinic, Southwest 80th Terrace, through the Florida Department of Health.
$500,000 to upgrade the West Perrine County Health Clinic, through the Florida Department of Health.
$7 million in matching funds for bus replacement through the Miami-Dade Transit Agency.
$4.7 million for Urban Corridor Development through the Miami-Dade Transit Agency. The money will be used to develop new and expand existing bus routes.
$6 million in matching funds for a subsidized daycare program for working families, through the Miami-Dade Community Action Agency and the Department of Human Services. With funds available from the state, the county can get everyone off its waiting list, county officials said.
$7 million for statewide seaport security issues. The Port of Miami will get some of that money.
$480,000 for the Dupont Plaza Project, a new metromover station, through the Miami-Dade Transit Agency.
$251,000 for the Homeless Assessment, Referral and Tracking Program through the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust. The program, an alternative to jail for non-violent homeless offenders, was shut out of the state budget last year by the governor’s veto.
$100,000 for the Homeless Crisis Outplacement Program for the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust.
Miami-Dade Homeless Trust Executive Director Hilda M. Fernandez said funding for the two programs was cut.
"We’re disappointed we didn’t get what we had in the past, but we’re grateful for what we have," she said. After a veto last year, Ms. Fernandez is hoping both programs will survive the trip to the governor’s desk.
"At the end of the day, both programs save community resources and state resources as well," she said.
Overall, the state this legislative session has shown a "huge improvement" in the level of assistance to the homeless, Ms. Fernandez said, "not only financially but in coordination." A 15-member state-level board was created this year to coordinate homeless programs, and $5 million is expected to be available for statewide grants, she said.
South Florida Water Management District legislative representative Frank Bernardino said the county did extremely well in Tallahassee in funding for natural resources.
"For Miami-Dade, the area of natural resources had one of the most successful years in recent memory," he said, The county got just $4 million from the state last year for flood control This year the figure is expected to be $20 million. State funds for Biscayne Bay last year were about $500,000, and the figure is $6 million this year, he said.
After the 2001-2002 session ended, Mr. Book was criticized for simultaneously representing Miami, the county and the Florida Marlins. Critics suggested a conflict of interest may have hindered passage of the stadium’s financing.
But Mr. Book was adamant that such criticism is "absurd."
"In fact," he said, "I not only did the best job for all parties, I kept moving the ball down the field to get to closure."