Tens of millions of dollars for museums, memorials, parks and theaters in South Florida have survived the first round and are in the initial state budget proposals.
The Miami Underline Project, improvements to the Design District, completion of the Military Museum for South Florida and the Holocaust Memorial Miami Beach are among dozens of projects tucked into more than 800 pages of budget documents that are now part of the House and Senate’s final budget negotiations.
While there is no guarantee any listed projects will be in the final state budget, it's a key starting point to keep many of them even at the negotiating table as the Legislature hits crunch time in trying to complete a budget by its March 11 deadline.
“We are still alive,” state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, said of the Miami Underline Project that has $2 million in the Senate budget, but nothing in the House.
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The Underline project would create a 10-mile urban trail and linear park under Metrorail from the Miami River to the Dadeland South Station. Diaz sought $5 million for the project.
Another big winner stands to be the SEED School of Miami, which has a big toe-hold in the budget. In the Senate, lawmakers have proposed almost $4.7 million for the nearly 2-year-old charter school. The House has proposed $2.6 million.
Both budgets also include significant funding to help remove tires from Osborne Reef in Broward County. In the House, $1.8 million has been put into the budget to help remove 700,000 tires that were tossed into the ocean in a failed attempt to create an artificial reef in the 1970s. The Senate has proposed $900,000 for the project.
For a second year in a row, Miami-Dade lawmakers are trying to get funding for a military museum for South Florida and for programs with the Holocaust Memorial Miami Beach. Last year, funding for both passed the Legislature, but were vetoed by Gov. Rick Scott.
Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, said the military museum is a great project and deserves state funding, but he said in the legislative process he’s learned that just because something is in the budget now, doesn’t mean it is going to stay in the budget.
“I’ve learned to never fall in love with anything in this process,” said Artiles, assigning 50-50 odds to getting the military museum funding.
State Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach, said the governor’s veto pen was particularly harsh on South Florida in 2015. He said he worries that partisan politics hurt some worthy projects back home that should have been acceptable. This year, Richardson has encouraged groups and organizations that have projects in the budget to plead their cases to the governor’s office. He said he and other legislators are doing the same, trying to show Scott any potential return on investment or rationale for statewide funding.
So worried about a veto, Richardson declined to comment on any specific local projects to avoid drawing attention to anything that could lead to a veto.
Last year Scott slashed a record $461 million out of the budget, including hundreds of millions in local projects that he said were not fully vetted. Legislators have questioned the merits of those vetoes, and in many cases have submitted the same projects for funding, and often with more money attached.
Diaz said resubmitting makes sense this year because of timing. Last year the Legislature finished its budget in a special session in late June, giving Scott less than a week to make veto decisions before the new budget went into place on July 1. Diaz said this year with the budget expected to be done in March, legislators will have time to answer questions the governor’s staff might have on individual projects. That, he said, should improve chances on many projects.
How much money is even available for local projects is a big question with less than three weeks left in the session. House and Senate budget negotiators have yet to come to agreement on how much money should be set aside for tax cuts and job incentive programs that Scott has championed. What lawmakers decide on those issues will go a long way toward determining how much money is left in the budget for local projects.
Notable projects in proposed budgets
Military Museum of South Florida
Design District improvements
Osborne Reef (tire removal)
Lauderdale Lakes NW 31st Ave. Corridor
Mourning Family Foundation