TALLAHASSEE — When ZooTampa at Lowry Park had a $500,000 budget request denied by Gov. Ron DeSantis last year, executives were not surprised.
Just a few months into the coronavirus outbreak, Florida’s financial picture looked grim. In the face of a devastating pandemic, investing six figures on the zoo’s panther habitat was not at the top of DeSantis’ priority list. He vetoed the zoo’s project — along with more than $1 billion in total budget vetoes.
“I think all of us understood last year,” said Mark Haney, the zoo’s chief advancement officer. “It took the sting out of being vetoed a little bit knowing that we were in good company.”
This year, ZooTampa requested $200,000 from the state for its panther habitat and is among several Tampa Bay groups hoping to see a reversal of fortune. With both House Speaker Chris Sprowls and Senate President Wilton Simpson hailing from the Tampa Bay area, they might be in luck. Legislators approved at least $245 million for specific projects affecting the region in the state’s record $101.5 billion budget. (As governor, DeSantis has the power to veto individual budget items approved by the Legislature.)
Some of the repeat budget requests grew in size from the projects DeSantis vetoed last year.
The $50 million lawmakers approved to build a new Second District Court Of Appeal courthouse in Pinellas County — a Sprowls priority — far surpasses the $21 million DeSantis vetoed for a similar project in 2020. The site of the courthouse was also the source of a rare intra-party fight among GOP senators, with the Senate’s budget chief wanting to build it in her hometown of Lakeland.
The $4.7 million lawmakers approved to expand the Zephyrhills’ Sarah Vande Berg Tennis Center is nearly five times the $1 million DeSantis vetoed for that project last year. If DeSantis leaves the money intact, it would go toward an ambitious expansion of the existing complex, including the addition of a roughly 15,000-square foot indoor sports facility.
Billy Poe, Zephrhill’s city manager, said the new complex would be a major economic driver for his city. He gave credit to local lawmakers, including Simpson, for advocating for the city’s interests in the state budget. But he noted that if DeSantis vetoes the money, the sports complex will be put on hold.
“It all depends on if we get the money,” Poe said.
Notably, only three projects are being paid for out of the $10.2 billion in American Rescue Plan funding Congress is allocating the state this year.
Lawmakers devoted $100 million to the cleanup and closure of the Piney Point phosphate plant that nearly became an environmental catastrophe this year.
Of the $30 million the state is spending on African-American cultural and historical grants, the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum in St. Petersburg and the historic Jackson House in Tampa, where famous Black musicians stayed during Jim Crow, could apply for grants of up to $1 million. More than a dozen historic buildings and programs across the state could qualify, said Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, who helped make sure the funding made it into the budget.
“This $30 million could be spread quite appropriately and be one heck of an infusion in telling the story of a people and a state,” Rouson said.
And lawmakers are spending $25 million in federal dollars on a new National Guard armory in Zephyrhills.
Here are some of the other Tampa Bay area projects included in Florida’s 2021-2022 budget, which are subject to DeSantis’ veto:
$2 million to renovate the Police Athletic League of St. Petersburg
$550,000 to recruit an orthodontic specialist to Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital
$370,000 for the St. Pete Urban Youth Farm
$1.5 million for St. Pete Beach roadway improvements
$750,000 for the Florida Holocaust Museum
$500,000 for Pathfinder Outdoor Education’s “Bringing Science Back to Life” program
$250,000 for a Ruth Eckerd Hall renovation
$50 million to build a 2nd District Court of Appeal courthouse in Pinellas County, to be called the Bernie McCabe Courthouse.
$500,000 for the Pinellas County Youth Advocate Program
$1.5 million so Pinellas County can acquire the Gladys Douglas property
$108,550 for the City of Pinellas roadway safety project
$242,000 to improve the guest experience at the Great Explorations Children’s Museum
$306,176 for the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg Citizen Scholar Partnership
$510,000 for the St. Petersburg College Law Enforcement Simulation City
$674,484 for St. Petersburg College Midtown Campus Digital Inclusion and Enhancements
$306,176 for University of South Florida, St. Petersburg Citizen Scholar Partnership
$1.1 million for Indian Rocks Roadway improvements
$1.5 million for Oldsmar’s Douglas Road Improvement Project Phase 2
$549,000 for Madeira Beach roadway improvements
$1.5 million for 13 more crisis stabilization beds in Hillsborough County
$2 million to fund 250 more participants in the Program for All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) program
$500,000 for the Ready4work-Hillsborough re-entry program
$600,000 for the Drug Abuse Comprehensive Coordinating Office, Inc.
$960,000 for the Hillsborough County Fair Association
$1 million for New Life Village’s expansion of affordable housing for at-risk children/families
$100,000 for Miracles Outreach’s alternative community education services program.
$575,000 for a new safe boat for the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office
$1 million for integrated water projects at Plant City’s McIntosh Preserve
$250,000 to help more families in Hillsborough County’s High Risk Adoption Support Program
$8 million to complete the construction of the Judy Genshaft Honors College at USF
$400,000 for Feeding Tampa Bay’s FRESHforce program, which provides on-the-job training for people who are food insecure
$250,000 for the NO MORE Foundation to help more victims of human trafficking
$1 million to install a drain system along each side of the roadway near Hyde Park
$200,000 for an upgraded panther habitat at ZooTampa
$350,000 for safer crosswalks near Tampa-area schools
$350,000 for enhanced pedestrian and bicycle use of Lois Ave in Tampa
$1.5 million for the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority’s operating costs
$600,000 to restore the fourth floor of The Cuban Club in Ybor City
$250,000 for the Prodigy Cultural Arts program to keep young people out of the juvenile justice system
$750,000 for the Big Brothers Big Sisters “Bigs in Blue” program, which pairs young people with police
$500,000 to preserve the historic Jackson House
$6.5 million for water and wastewater improvements on Handcart Road
$3.8 million for Lindrick utility system sewer and water system upgrades
$200,000 for drainage improvements on Ackerman Street
$1.25 million for a new building for the CARES One-Step Senior Center in Dade City
$4.7 million for the Sarah Vande Berg Tennis Center in Zephyrhills
$3 million to extend a runway at the Zephyrhills Municipal Airport
$1 million for a new bachelor of science program in robotics at Saint Leo University
$1 million for a new performing arts center at Pasco-Hernando State College in Wesley Chapel
$550,000 to renovate the AmSkills Workforce Training Innovation Center in Holiday
$900,000 for a new building for K9 Partners for Patriots, a service dog training program for veterans and service members
$5 million to add 24 units for homeless families at Metropolitan Ministries
$350,000 for a new Hernando School District criminal justice program at Nature Coast Technical High School
$1.1 million to build a new life skills center for The Arc Nature Coast in Brooksville
$3.5 million for a new building for the Pace Center for Girls
$175,000 to upgrade the Lamar drinking water plant in Brooksville
$360,000 for upgrades to Brooksville’s sanitary sewer collection system
$387,500 to buy two sanitary and sewer trucks for Brooksville
$107,000 to upgrade Brooksville’s city council chambers so it can also function as an emergency operations center
$500,000 to build a new “recovery through work” mental health center for Vincent House
$1.6 million for Florida A&M University’s Brooksville research station to teach new farming techniques to small farmers
Times staff writers Josh Solomon and C.T. Bowen contributed to this story.
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