TAMPA — Economic development, preserving local ordinances and opposing attempts to increase the local share of Medicaid costs are at the top of Hillsborough County's wish list for the upcoming legislative session.
County commissioners compile a list annually of priorities they hope to accomplish at the state level. Other issues include affordable housing, transportation and animal services. This year's legislative session convenes in March and marks a return to its normal schedule after last year, when it began in January.
The point of the agenda is to draw attention to the causes most important to county residents, said Brandon Wagner, director of intergovernmental relations for the county. That's why economic development is at the top of the list.
"As we start to see an economic recovery, we see there are some opportunities to do some infrastructure development and to expand our economy," Wagner said.
Another big issue this year is preserving what the county has already worked toward.
In recent years, Hillsborough County became a hot spot for personal injury protection fraud and pain management clinics. Local ordinances cut down on both problems. Now the county would like legislators to change state statutes to safeguard those local rules.
"There have been challenges to those ordinances," Wagner said, "so we are talking to the state about ways we can protect those."
As for Medicaid, the county wants to keep an open dialogue on any state changes to Medicaid resulting from the federal Affordable Care Act, Wagner said. Officials also hope to oppose attempts to transfer or increase the county's cost to provide Medicaid.
The city of Tampa has its own wish list.
Mayor Bob Buckhorn would like to see the Legislature allow Florida's largest cities to opt out of the current requirement that sales tax referendums be countywide.
That would allow Tampa to take a second shot at the kind of transit tax proposal defeated in 2010 that could provide funding for light rail.
"We're not asking them to raise taxes," Buckhorn said. "We're just asking them to give our citizens the ability to choose what our future looks like."
The University of South Florida is hoping to get in on the action, too.
Items on its wish list include restoring a systemwide budget cut made last year, adding money and funding two capital projects, said Mark Walsh, USF's assistant vice president for government relations.
The school hopes to receive funding toward the construction of a building for St. Petersburg's College of Business, Walsh said, which is currently housed in several facilities, as well as continued funding for the Heart Institute on the Tampa campus.
Each agency is now working with legislators to see their plans through.
Response has been positive so far, Wagner said. At least one of Hillsborough County's items is already being addressed.
Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa, is working with County Commissioner Ken Hagan on a bill that would allow local governments' animal services agencies to share in the seized assets from animal abuse cases, such as the shutdown of illegal dogfighting rings.
Shelley Rossetter can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3401.