Outraged senator slashes Space Florida budget
Space Florida, the state's aerospace-development agency, could pay a very high price for its decision to spend $300,000 last year on lobbyists -- most of it to an out-of-state lobbying firm. A budget conference committee chaired by Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, slashed the agency's state appropriation by nearly half on Wednesday, from $3.8-million to $2-million.
Fasano cited a news story detailing the lobbying payments in Wednesday's Orlando Sentinel and had a copy of the article in front of him. In a room filled to overflowing with lobbyists, he made a point of noting that Space Florida hired a Pennsylvania lobbying firm under a no-bid deal. "Even the lobbyists in the audience would agree with me on this. That is an absolute misuse of funds," Fasano said.
Sen. Thad Altman, R-Melbourne, whose Brevard district relies heavily on space-related jobs, did not speak during the meeting, but said the lobbying firm, Blank Rome, is a "strong firm" with close ties to decision-makers in Tallahassee and Washington. "There's need to have some real lobbying power working with our state (Congressional) delegation," Altman said. He said it was important for Space Florida's president, Steve Kolher, to get to the Capitol as soon as possible "to clear the air."
Left unsaid at the meeting but known to most of those in the audience: Gov. Charlie Crist and Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp are the co-chairmen of Space Florida's board of directors.
[Photos: Top, Senator Mike Fasano, chairman of the Committee on Transportation and Economic Development Appropriations, speaks to committee members. Middle, The Conference Committee on Transportation and Economic Development Appropriations. Bottom, Senator Thad Altman speaks about a proposed cut in Space Florida's budget. Scott Keeler, Times]