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Florida’s budget includes millions for Tampa Bay projects

But which ones will survive the governor’s veto pen?

TALLAHASSEE — When state lawmakers passed a budget last week, most of the $91.1 billion went to large programs such as schools and health care.

But lawmakers also sprinkled millions of dollars in pet projects, and many of those are headed for Tampa Bay — as long as they survive the governor’s veto pen.

Among the biggest: $12.4 million to help the University of South Florida finish its Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Health Institute in downtown Tampa.

The amount was $2.3 million less than what the university wanted, but USF lobbyist Mark Walsh said the medical school will still open in December.

“We are really excited that was fully funded,” Walsh said. “That was a lot of hard work, eight years in the making — probably the most important project in all of Tampa Bay right now.”

Lawmakers awarded $2.5 million to the Tampa Bay Regional Transit Authority, including $1 million to study emerging transportation trends, including autonomous vehicles and Hyperloop technology, a concept developed by Elon Musk that involves low-pressured capsules designed to zip through tubes at about 700 mph.

And they gave millions for various water and environmental projects, including $350,000 to transform half of a Plant City park into managed wetlands and $2.25 million for the Southwest Florida Water Management District to acquire land.

One of the top debates during session — whether to pay for Visit Florida for another year — also has local lawmakers satisfied.

The Legislature agreed to keep the state’s tourism arm going with $50 million for another year, even though House Speaker José Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, considered it a waste of money.

More than 1,300 businesses in Pinellas County work with the agency for advertising and promotions, and Rep. Ben Diamond, D-St. Petersburg, said many of them called his office during the session urging him to keep the agency.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, agreed that the agency has broad local support.

“Obviously for your hoteliers, for your restaurants along the beaches, they feel like there’s a lot of value in Visit Florida,” he said.

And the Legislature decided to spend almost 10 times on arts and culture programs than they did last year.

The dollars include $300,000 for instructional “enhancements” and $500,000 to improve security at the entrance of the Florida Holocaust Museum and $250,000 toward a 10,000-square-foot expansion to the Carter G. Woodson African American Museum.

And lawmakers also doled out money for local health care issues.

After the Legislature cut money for 13 beds for people involuntarily held for mental health reasons, they added $1 million to bring those beds back this year.

More than $500,000 is going to provide job training for Feeding Tampa Bay, a non-profit that provides food to struggling families in 10 counties in Central Florida.

Although DeSantis had proposed a larger budget before the session started, he said on Saturday he wanted to trim at least $100 million from it over the coming weeks.

“It’s going to be under $91 (billion) when I get through with it,” he laughed. “Don’t worry about that.”

Times/Herald staff writer Emily L. Mahoney contributed to this report.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated how much money was given to the Carter G. Woodson African American Museum and the size of its expansion.