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PHCC land purchase escapes governor's veto

When Gov. Lawton Chiles cut $96-million from the Legislature's budget Wednesday, he spared $150,000 designated for a swimming area at the Weekiwachee Preserve.

He didn't cut the $175,000 that will go to start a Boys and Girls Club in Hernando County or the $50,000 for street lights in Brooksville.

Chiles' veto pen also passed over $1-million to buy land for a new Spring Hill campus of Pasco-Hernando Community College.

In fact, Chiles allowed all the Hernando County projects _ a total of more than $1.7-million _ to remain in the budget. His decision came one day after Florida TaxWatch recommended that virtually all of these projects be vetoed, calling them "potential turkeys."

"I'm just glad that Hernando County did a lot better than we did last year," said Rep. Jeff Stabins, R-Spring Hill; Chiles vetoed about $1-million in money that was to go to Hernando County last year.

The most expensive of this year's projects was the one that came closest to being axed, said April Herrle, the governor's spokeswoman.

"There was a lot of discussion about that one," Herrle said, of the appropriation to buy land for PHCC.

Florida TaxWatch recommended a veto partly because it was not included on the Public Education Capital Outlay (PECO) list put out by the state Department of Education. Nor was it in the House of Representatives' budget.

Chiles left it in the budget, Herrle said, after his staff researched it and became convinced it was worthy.

"TaxWatch looks solely at process, the governor looks more at merit," Herrle said.

Sen. Ginny Brown-Waite, who secured the PHCC money as well as most of the other projects, had an additional explanation.

"Hard work. Damn hard."

"I talked to the governor's office personally and reminded them that we wouldn't be flush with tobacco money if it hadn't been for my vote," she said, "and I didn't think any of the projects in Hernando County should be a target."

The Brooksville Republican cast the deciding vote in 1996 when Chiles asked the Senate to support his lawsuit against the tobacco companies, which was settled for more than $11-billion last year.

"Certainly the governor has a great deal of respect for Sen. Brown-Waite and appreciated her support on that issue, but this was decided on its merit," Herrle said of the campus money.

Brown-Waite and the PHCC Board of Trustees say the campus is needed, at least eventually. The campus is now on a few acres donated by Deltona Corp. 31 years ago, said Hugh McGeehan, a trustee and Spring Hill real estate agent.

He mentioned, as did Brown-Waite, that Spring Hill's population is expected to grow rapidly in the next few years, especially after the Suncoast Parkway is completed in three years.

"I'm very happy about it," McGeehan said.

"It's not that they're going to build it tomorrow; it's just in anticipation of the growth in that area."

Not only will the parkway mean more students, it will mean that large plots of land _ and the college says it needs 100 acres _ will become scarcer and more expensive.

"Down the road it's not going to be available," McGeehan said.

Stabins said earlier that one of his projects might be vulnerable to being vetoed: the money for the Brooksville lights. It was considered by the Transportation and Appropriations Committee, and denied, he said, partly because the city did not have a detailed plan.

He got it on the budget by a lot of "finagling, begging and arm-twisting," he said.

City Planner Lynne Bolton said the city still doesn't have any "hard-and-fast site plans." Nor does she know how many lights $50,000 will pay for. The city has been intending to improve the looks of downtown Brooksville for years, and lights that fit in with the old buildings there have always been part of the plan.

"We're looking at Main Street between Fort Dade (Avenue) and Liberty (Street)," she said. "Also on and Jefferson and Broad (streets) next to the courthouse."

"Maybe we can get Lawton to come down and pull the switch," Stabins said.