A decade after Rick Scott refused $1.25 billion from feds, a Florida lawmaker proposes $50 million for private passenger rail between Tampa and Orlando

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Rail tracks by Sergei Ramiltsev via iStock for WMNF News.

By Jim Turner ©2023 The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — Florida lawmakers are championing hundreds of projects and seeking billions of dollars as they prepare for the start of the 2024 legislative session in January.

Topped by $50 million requests for expanding water storage and treatment in the Lake Okeechobee and Caloosahatchee River basins and for speeding up private passenger rail between Orlando and Tampa, House members as of Monday morning had filed just under 1,500 separate proposals that would require $3.1 billion to fund.

The rail proposal (House Form 1989), filed by Rep. Karen Gonzalez Pittman, R-Tampa, would boost the Brightline passenger service, which recently completed a Miami-to-Orlando line and has eyed the Interstate 4 corridor for a link to Tampa.

“Advancing structure improvements within the I-4 Corridor will accelerate the passenger rail connection from Tampa to the Orlando International Airport, West Palm Beach, Boca Raton, Ft. Lauderdale, Aventura and Miami,” the request form said. “Upon completion of this effort, it will provide access to nearly 16 million Florida citizens and 118 million visitors throughout the service area.”

In 2010, then-President Barack Obama offered Florida $1.25 billion for a public high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando. But the following year then-Governor of Florida Rick Scott declined the funds.

The water storage and treatment proposal (House Form 2445), filed by Rep. Kaylee Tuck, R-Lake Placid, involves a project in Glades County.

“This will provide significant nutrient removal, reduce discharge to the Caloosahatchee with high nutrient levels and provide a clean source of water to supplement dry season flows to the Caloosahatchee River,” the form said.

Meanwhile, senators had submitted 332 projects that call for about $675 million in funding.

Among large Senate proposals is $26.2 million (Senate Form 1203) sought by Appropriations Chairman Sen. Doug Broxson, R-Gulf Breeze, to construct a research wing for the Hal Marcus College of Science and Engineering at the University of West Florida.

“Currently UWF is leasing research space in downtown Pensacola,” Broxson’s request said. “When constructed, the building addition will allow for labs currently housed in remote off campus leased facilities to be brought back to campus.”

The wing received $21.1 million in the state budget for the 2023-2024 fiscal year, which started July 1.

Lawmakers will consider the new batches of requests as they draw up a budget for the 2024-2025 year during the upcoming session. Many of the requests will not get funded or will not receive the full amounts sought by lawmakers.

Requests will continue to roll in over the next month as lawmakers hope to bring home money for their districts. Many proposals, for example, are aimed at helping local sports, historic and arts organizations and increasing funding for schools and environmental and transportation projects.

Among the other big-ticket proposals already submitted:

  • A $43 million proposal (House Form 2447), filed by Rep. Wyman Duggan, R-Jacksonville, to develop a riverfront plaza project in Jacksonville.
  • A $40.2 million proposal (House Form 1862), filed by Duggan, for a construction project at the University of North Florida.
  • A $40 million proposal, filed by Rep. Chase Tramont, R-Port Orange, for a project on West International Speedway Boulevard in Volusia County.
  • A pair of $36 million proposals (Senate Form 1116 and House Form 1998), filed by Sen. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, and Rep. David Smith, R-Winter Springs, to build a new workforce training building at Seminole State College of Florida.
  • A $25.65 million proposal (Senate Form 1112), filed by Sen. Shevrin Jones, D-Miami Gardens, that would help Florida Atlantic University with issues such as increasing enrollment at its medical school.
  • A $25 million proposal (Senate Form 1186) by Sen. Jay Collins, R-Tampa, to help Tampa General Hospital with the cost of a 160-unit housing development for healthcare workers.
  • A $20 million proposal (Senate Form 1145) by Sen. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, for land acquisition and development at SeaPort Manatee.

Before the 2023 session, senators made 2,288 requests, totaling $5.63 billion, while House members made 2,333 requests that would have required $5.36 billion.

More than 1,500 legislator requests made it into a $117 billion budget that lawmakers sent to Gov. Ron DeSantis. The governor vetoed $510.9 million in spending, including 309 individual lawmaker projects that totaled $324.3 million.

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