Sunday, December 17, 2017
News Roundup

Hernando Rep. Rob Schenck is missing on springs issue

Where's Schenck?

That's always a valid question when it comes to Rep. Rob Schenck, who has a reputation for elusiveness — even invisibility — in his Hernando County district.

But his absence has never been more noticeable than it is now, with a big political push on to help the state's springs and a related, nar­row­ly targeted effort to fund improvements at the county's best-known landmark, Weeki Wachee Springs State Park.

Both are moving along nicely in the Senate, where Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, is one of five co-sponsors of a bill that would set aside $378 million for springs protection; the bill already has passed through two committees. Simpson also requested $750,000 to get started on an $8.7 million improvement plan at the park.

So what's going on in the House of Representatives?

Not much of anything.

There is a House version of the springs bill, HB 1313, with a sponsor and two co-sponsors, none of whom, of course, are Schenck.

And this bill could really use the help of a veteran lawmaker such as Schenck, who would seem to be due some favors for his long service as a Republican foot soldier. The House bill hasn't made it to a single committee vote. And one sign of how it is viewed in that chamber may be the amount set aside for springs in the budget recently approved by the House Appropriations Committee — a paltry $45 million.

So the House leadership, apparently, is not excited about springs, which is probably why Schenck has shied away from the bill.

Why go out on a limb if it's got no chance?

Well, because it's his last session before he's term-limited out of office, one last opportunity to show that he cares as much about a crucial issue for his district as he does his post-legislative career.

Seeking money for the Weeki Wachee park would seem to be even more of a natural for Schenck, who has had some success when it comes to bringing home cash, including, last year, $1.5 million for the Chinsegut manor house.

The Friends of Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, which is seeking the money for the park system, didn't get greedy — just asked for enough to design an interpretive center at the park and to plan and build a children's splash pool.

And in an email to Schenck in February, the group provided a solid argument for this relatively modest request: The park is a major tourist draw and could be a much bigger one with a few upgrades.

So, if it's a turkey, it's at least a turkey that's well justified, certainly more so than the education/arts center planned — very vaguely — for Hernando Beach.

But while Schenck has asked for money for that center, the Friends never heard back from him about Weeki Wachee, said president Denise Tenuto. It also placed several phone calls to his office, "maybe as many as five," she said, and never got a reply to those, either.

Simpson said he has talked to Schenck about Weeki Wachee, and expects him to seek funding for it later in the session.

Even so, there's no excuse for him to ignore the Friends. With so little time left in office, you'd think he would jump at the chance to be remembered for working with residents on such a worthy project.

Instead, there's a big local issue on the table. And he's nowhere to be seen.

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