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Get used to getting less from Tallahassee

Was it just six months ago that Pasco's appropriations in the state budget were bulletproof?

You remember. The current state budget includes $10-million to quiet squabbling between the school district and county government over road improvements near new schools and millions more for incentives to help Pasco land the big fish to diversify its economy. Both escaped budget vetoes from Gov. Charlie Crist.

Well, those days are over. The headline this week that screamed ''Recession'' just confirmed what Floridians already knew. And right now, among the people most familiar with the message are state budget writers, the legislators chairing appropriation committees and the local folks who traditionally seek state funding.

"We all need to be realistic,'' said Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, a champion of bringing home the bacon in times of plenty.

Locally, eight organizations including Community Aging and Retirement Services, the Area Agency on Aging, Pinellas ARC and Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services had hoped to get a piece of next year's state budget via a so-called community budget issue request. That is the spending known colloquially in years past as member initiatives, turkeys or pork.

But, this isn't bricks and mortar stuff. The agencies are seeking to maintain or expand social programs helping seniors, low-income residents or people needing mental health care. All received the same bleak response. Some of the programs could remain in the governor's budget submission.

"But the chance of getting full funding like you did in prior years is probably slim to none,'' Fasano said.

This week, Fasano, beginning his 15th year in the Legislature, again was named chairman of the Senate committee overseeing spending on transportation and economic development. It's the same job he's held the past four years. In better times, that meant lots of Department of Transportation activity for Pasco: funding for U.S. 19 improvements, State Road 52 right of way and the aforementioned millions for school-related roads.

But, sales, gasoline and real estate transaction taxes are down for the second consecutive year. Revenue estimators keep missing their projections and schools and other public agencies will be asked to absorb another $1.5-billion shortfall over the next several months. All that comes before the deliberations begin on the budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

What's the fun of being chair of an appropriations committee if there's so little appropriating to do?

"It's not what we're we going to get, but what are we going to lose and what are we going to do to try to protect those projects,'' Fasano said.

Indeed. In the coming days, DOT is scheduled to release the latest version of its tentative five-year work program for the Tampa Bay region. There have been plenty of disappointments over the years when expenses failed to meet revenues. Widening U.S. 41 through central Pasco and improving U.S. 19 in west Pasco, for instance, have been delayed previously because of budget shortfalls. Just last year the DOT deferred buying right of way for a wider Interstate 75, for the SR 52 corridor in central Pasco and for U.S. 301 in southern Zephyrhills because of declining gas tax receipts.

Expect more of the same.

"It's not going to be limited to any county. Every county is going to get hit,'' Fasano said. "But there's not much anyone can do because if you don't have the dollars you can't build the roads.''

Get used to getting less from Tallahassee 12/06/08 [Last modified: Sunday, December 14, 2008 1:30pm]
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