Thursday, December 14, 2017
Politics

Hillsborough, Pasco largely spared from Scott vetoes

Gov. Rick Scott's veto pen mostly spared Hillsborough County on Monday, sending millions to local projects big and small, while leaving people behind the few projects Scott did veto wondering what they did wrong. The big winners included Tampa International Airport, Port Tampa Bay, and the University of South Florida.

The new state budget includes $194 million for the biggest infrastructure project in the region: the expansion of TIA.

The airport is set to build the Tampa Gateway Center, a 2.3-million-square-foot car rental facility south of the main terminal that will be connected to the airport by a 1.3-mile automated people mover. The third-floor main terminal also will be expanded and renovated. Groundbreaking is set for 2015.

The total cost of the project is $943 million. The rest will be paid for by airport bonds financed by airline ticket fees and increased rental fees.

TIA spokeswoman Janet Zink called the project, expected to create up to 9,000 temporary jobs, "transformative for the airport and for the region."

Port Tampa Bay got $12 million for two new 300-foot gantry cranes for the container terminal at Hookers Point. The new cranes would give the port the ability to unload a bigger generation of cargo ships.

The crane and $5 million awarded to the University of South Florida's Morsani College of Medicine for a new building had previously been included on a different list: Florida TaxWatch's annual catalog of "budget turkeys."

Criticism of the spending did not temper enthusiasm at USF, which also got $15 million for the new USF Health Heart Institute and $10 million for construction of the USF St. Petersburg College of Business.

"We are thankful our state leaders are making a significant investment in our state university system which will pay dividends for decades to come ," said USF president Judy Genshaft in a news release.

The three Hillsborough projects Scott vetoed: $50,000 for the Tampa Bay Baseball Museum at the Al Lopez House honoring the local baseball legend; $100,000 for YMCA Tech Smart, a program to help children in Sulphur Springs learn computer programming; and $375,000 for Grow Tampa Bay Tech, a program run by the nonprofit Tampa Bay Technology Forum to try to increase the local information technology workforce.

"We're a little disappointed," said Chris Cate, a technology forum board member. "It would have allowed us to go a little faster, and grow the ecosystem of local technologists quicker."

Pasco County also came out ahead in Scott's budget, with plans for a performing arts and convention center in Wesley Chapel getting the green light.

Scott approved the $10 million funding request, a down payment on a project that's expected to run $60 million and take several years.

The idea is to bring more performing arts, tourism and conventions to east Pasco as the area emerges, developing its own identity. "There's a great need for it in our area," said House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel.

It didn't hurt that Weatherford backed the center at the same time Scott was seeking re-election. Last year, Pasco didn't get any of its $5 million in requests.

Also approved, among other items, in Pasco: $1.5 million to create an aeronautics academy at Sunlake High School in Land O'Lakes; $1.2 million for a fire hydrant line in Zephyrhills; $1 million for conservation in the Pithlachascotee-Anclote area; $1 million for transitional housing for Metropolitan Ministries; and $1 million for renovations at the former Hacienda Hotel in New Port Richey.

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