TALLAHASSEE -- The room was packed last Thursday with lobbyists and agency representatives when House Speaker Will Weatherford spoke with lawmakers before negotiations began on next years $74 billion budget.
As I walked into the room and took a good look around, whats abundantly clear is that there appears to be a budget surplus this year, Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said. Thats a good thing. We havent seen that in a long time.
Everyone laughed, including the lawmakers who jammed the stage. But everyone got Weatherfords point: After six years of anemic budgets, next years spending plan is healthy enough to pursue money for projects back home.
For the Miami-Dade delegation, thats a good thing. Its better organized than most other counties, with a funded position that oversees what local lawmakers are doing. Other counties, like Hillsborough and Pinellas, slashed that position years ago.
Among the delegations top priorities: $7.5 million for the senior centers known as comedores; $1.1 million for Farm Share, a Florida City nonprofit that collects food from farms and wholesalers to feed the hungry; and $1 million for La Liga Contra El Cancer, or the League Against Cancer.
The delegation also hopes to win $900,000 to build a library in Hialeah Gardens honoring Brigade 2506, the band of exiles who attempted to overthrow dictator Cuban Fidel Castro at the Bay of Pigs, and $750,000 for a new military museum.
If it doesnt go to our community, its going to going somewhere else, said Rep. Eddy Gonzalez, the Hialeah Republican who chairs the Miami-Dade delegation. These are the things that are important to our constituents. If we lose out on those dollars, we arent doing our job.
Broward lawmakers also have a wish list, which includes $35 million for Port Everglades and millions for water and wastewater projects.
Were focusing on infrastructure, said Rep. Joe Gibbons, D-Hallandale Beach, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee. We have an aging underground. Weve got to start doing things to deal with the salt water intrusion and aging infrastructure.
Smaller projects include $500,000 to develop a transportation hub at State Road 7 and Oakland Park Boulevard in Broward County; $500,000 for the Holocaust Documentation and Education Centers rail car project in Hollywood; and $1.2 million for the Urban League of Broward.
Gibbons predicts the Broward delegation will do well, despite having mostly Democratic members.
I knew this year was a real opportunity, he said. Weve maintained relationships and are working closely with [House Appropriations] Chair [Seth] McKeel.
Miami-Dades strategy, Rep. Jose Felix Diaz said, is to have lawmakers at each of the budget conference meetings.
One of the many roles that we have as members of the budget conference is to play defense and make sure there are no surprises, said Diaz, a Miami Republican and the Dade delegations budget chief. If our delegation is not on high alert, we stand to lose much-needed state support for our community.
Diaz said there was no shame in pursuing so-called turkeys.
Every legislator is going to be protecting their hometown, he said. Miami-Dade is no exception.