Pasco County shouldn't be raising taxes to hire lobbyists. On Tuesday, that scenario will unfold as commissioners consider their proposed budget for the coming fiscal year which includes a five-cents-per-gallon increase in the local gas tax. Separately, commissioners will rank the firms seeking to lobby state lawmakers in Tallahassee for the county – a contract largely financed with gasoline tax revenue.
The juxtaposition is absurd. Commissioners can't cry poor mouth in their road maintenance fund while simultaneously setting aside $50,000 annually for lobbying work that past and current legislators say is unneeded. "There is absolutely no reason or need to spend dollars for a lobbyist when you have more than enough representation in the Legislature,'' said former Rep. Mike Fasano, now Pasco's tax collector, echoing prior comments from Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O' Lakes.
It is advice commissioners should heed. Their current legislative delegation includes the speaker of the House, a future speaker and two state senators one of whom is a candidate for Senate president. Exactly how is a lobbyist more influential than Pasco's own high-powered delegation?
A handful of lobbyists are seeking the county's work with proposals carrying annual costs ranging from $40,000 to $65,000. Currently, the county spends $65,000 a year, plus $5,000 for expenses for Slater Bayliss of the Advocacy Group at Tew Cardenas LLC. That cost is financed by a $75,000 allocation in the county budget with two-thirds coming from gas taxes and the remainder from the county's general fund.
It's a relatively small appropriation considering each penny of additional gasoline tax is projected to generate $1.6 million annually to maintain the county's road network, beautify medians, pay highway street-lighting costs and replenish a residential street-paving fund. But, commissioners shouldn't be asking Pasco motorists to pay more at the pump until they've exhausted their search for savings. A renewed lobbying contract shows they've failed that responsibility.
Killing the lobbying position provides savings elsewhere, too. Two weeks ago, commissioners learned their elderly nutrition program faced a $40,000 annual deficit because of an unexpected federal funding cut. It will translate to 14,000 fewer meals yearly for senior citizens in a program that already has a waiting list of 120 people. Commissioners said there was little they could do to help. It was a pitiful response.
Here's a suggestion: Take $25,000 from the general fund previously spent on Tallahassee lobbying and use it to feed hungry seniors in Pasco.