Saturday, December 16, 2017
Editorials

Editorial: Funnel lobbying money toward greater needs

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.

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