Pasco County has a hard time saving money. The commission might trim the travel budget and cut out the annual report, but a majority remains unable to wean itself from paying public money to a private party to lobby a government official. ¶ This week, commissioners talked of austere times, then simply pulled the money from a different pocket. They opted to spend gasoline tax revenue instead of dollars from a reserve account, to pay a Tallahassee-based firm $45,000 to lobby on the county's behalf for transportation dollars.
It is a ridiculous and needless expense, and by the end of the new contract, the cost will have reached $180,000 over four years. The money to Slater Bayliss of the Advocacy Group at Tew Cardenas LLC is in addition to the $85,000 annual agreement the county has with Joe Mannion, who has served as Pasco's lobbyist for 21 years.
Commissioners, except for the correct dissent from Commissioner Pat Mulieri, rationalized the spending by noting the doors their lobbyist has been able to open for them in the capital. A $45,000-a-year doorman is an extravagance the county should be trying to prune in difficult economic times.
During Tuesday's discussion, nobody mentioned that spending money on lobbying takes away $45,000 that could have gone for asphalt, engineering, right of way or other costs tied to roads. Expenses are plentiful. Remember, this is a county that a year ago acknowledged a nearly $1-billion deficit in its short-term road construction plans.
Obviously, the lobbying contract is miniscule compared to the millions of dollars the county receives annually in gas tax receipts, but the symbolism is not.
If commissioners can turn pockets inside out to pay for their own pet spending projects, why shouldn't others (mass transit in Moon Lake, for instance) be afforded similar treatment?
As noted here in the past, the spending is particularly wasteful because the person chairing the Senate committee overseeing transportation spending is right down the street. Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, is chairman of the Senate's Transportation and Economic Development Appropriations Committee, and is not shy about wielding his authority to benefit his district. The only thing he's been shy about is telling the county to save its money on a road lobbyist.
Even with Bayliss, a former aide to Gov. Jeb Bush, on board, the county hasn't escaped the state road-building setbacks. Bush vetoed $10-million for State Road 52 right of way the first year the county retained Bayliss. Since, the state Department of Transportation has had to push back widening of U.S. 41 in Land O'Lakes and improvements on U.S. 19. Exactly what tangible benefits can the commission point to as justification for the expense?
The Pasco residents in the county's legislative delegation — Fasano, Rep. John Legg, R-New Port Richey, and Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel — have made transportation a priority. The central Pasco district of Weatherford, who is a potential future speaker of the Florida House, has an abundance of needs. It doesn't need doors opened. It needs the till opened and that won't be happening this year as the state wrestles with a $3-billion spending reduction.
The county should save its money or spend it on transportation needs more substantial than an automatic door-opener.