The new transportation budget recommended Thursday by Gov. Bob Martinez relies on borrowed money for $800-million of the $2-billion program. With the borrowed money, road spending for the next fiscal year would be 20 percent more than this year's budget. But Martinez has failed four times in the past year to win legislative approval for two major programs financed with borrowed money, and the Legislature is showing no sign of a change of heart.
Martinez recommends borrowing $604-million for expansion of the Florida turnpike, including $127-million for the first stages of the Northwest Hillsborough Expressway. He also wants the Legislature to authorize the borrowing of $205-million to buy right-of-way for roads.
Voters approved a constitutional amendment in 1988 to allow the state to borrow up to $500-million for road right-of-way. Lawmakers have refused to authorize the borrowing.
Without the borrowed money, Martinez's transportation budget next fiscal year will be almost $500-million less than the current bare-bones budget.
Democrats in the Legislature have opposed the issuance of turnpike bonds unless the borrowing is done along with an overall gas-tax increase. The Republican governor opposes a gas-tax increase.
"The biggest number in there (for turnpike expansion) is not a real number," said Carroll Lance, a lobbyist for Florida paving contractors. "And the $205-million, the Legislature has got to authorize sale of those bonds."
The stakes are particularly high in the Tampa Bay area. The Northwest Expressway, a 17-mile connector from Interstate 275 to N Dale Mabry Highway, is one of two expressways recommended in the governor's turnpike plan. The proposed budget also includes widening or right-of-way money to upgrade several crowded commuter routes in the area.
If the Legislature kills the turnpike plan again, does that mean the Northwest Expressway is dead? "No," said Rep. Mary Figg, a Lutz Democrat, "because that will be funded one way or another. If we don't, it's going to be unfeasible."
Legislators and Martinez have faced pressure to improve roads for a year now and remained deadlocked on the issue of the gas tax. During last year's regular session and three special sessions on roads, the stalemate has been unbroken. House Democrats say the governor can have a turnpike plan paid for with borrowed money as long as he's willing to accept a gas-tax increase of at least 4 cents a gallon. The state tax on gasoline now is 9.7 cents per gallon. In addition the federal tax-per-gallon is 9 cents, and some counties levy a local-option tax.
"If you were really going to keep pace with the transportation needs of Florida, you could put another $1-billion in the transportation system a year and do a good job," House Speaker Tom Gustafson said. "Of course that's missing in his budget."
Martinez said the right-of-way money ought to be approved because voters endorsed the idea. The turnpike plan, which relies on borrowing large amounts paid back over 30 years from toll baskets, is a valid user fee approach, he said.
Martinez's budget calls for raising money with hefty increases in motor vehicle tag fees, registrations and drivers' license fees. But the money raised wouldn't go to roads. Most of it would go to the Highway Patrol.
Here are road projects contained in the budget recommended by Martinez: PINELLAS
State road and bridge maintenance, $6.9-million.
Upgrade Skyway Bridge approach to interstate standards, $18.8-million.
Right-of-way acquisition for State Road 580 from Countryside Boulevard to McMullen-Booth Road, $1-million.
Right-of-way acquisition for State Road 580 from Oldsmar bridge to State Road 584, $7.8-million.
Widen Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard from U.S. 19 to Bayshore Boulevard,
Resurface Ulmerton Road from 125th Street to U.S. 19, $2.3-million.
State road and bridge maintenance, $9.3-million.
Right-of-way for Buffalo Avenue from Interstate 4 to U.S. 301,
Right of way acquisition for Buffalo Avenue from U.S. 301 to Pine Street, $1.25-million.
Right of way for Ruskin-Wimauma Road from U.S. 41 for 1 mile east,
Repave 50th and 56th Street from State Road 599 to Fowler Avenue,
Widen State Road 60 from I-75 to Knight Avenue, $8.8-million.
Repave 22nd Avenue Causeway from U.S. 41 to Maritime Boulevard, $1-million.
Right of way acquisition for N Dale Mabry Highway from Cheval Trail to Pasco County line, $1.95-million.
Repave Busch Boulevard from west of Florida Avenue to 56th Street,
Right of way acquisition for U.S. 41 from Fletcher Avenue to Florida Avenue, $5.7-million.
Repave I-275 from Westshore Boulevard to Himes Avenue, $1-million.
Right of way acquisition for Florida Avenue from Bougainvillea Avenue to Fletcher Avenue.
Widening Hillsborough Avenue from East Double Branch Creek to Pistol Range Road, $5-million.
Right-of-way acquisition for the Northwest Hillsborough Expressway from Courtney Campbell Causeway to N Dale Mabry Highway, $127.6-million.
Right-of-way acquisition for U.S. 41 from Bearss Avenue to the fork of Florida and Nebraska avenues, $2-million.
State road and bridge maintenance, $2-million.
Right-of-way acquisition for State Road 52 from Hicks Road to Moon Lake Road, $4.9-million.
Widen U.S. 19 from Fivay Road to Hernando County line, $8-million.
State road and bridge maintenance, $1-million.
Widen U.S. 98 from Lockhart Road to Croom-Rital Road, $4.13-million.
Right-of-way acquisition for U.S. 41 from Pine Cabin Road to Benton Avenue, $3-million.
State road and bridge maintenance, $625,000.