Miami-Dade lawmakers bring home big dollars from Tallahassee

State lawmakers from Miami-Dade County secured billions of dollars for local schools, universities, social services programs and development projects.

04/30/2014 6:42 PM

05/01/2014 9:50 AM

Miami-Dade lawmakers had a collective priority for the 60-day legislation session: to protect the funding for Jackson Health System.

They are close to declaring victory.

The $77.1 billion budget negotiated by the House and Senate this week shields Jackson from a potential $140 million hit for at least one year.

The budget also provides billions of state dollars for Miami-Dade schools, universities, parks, social services programs and economic development projects.

“We accomplished what we set out to do, and that’s get what Miami-Dade deserves,” said Rep. Eddy Gonzalez, the Hialeah Republican who chairs the Miami-Dade Legislative Delegation.

Lobbyist Ron Book said Miami-Dade had fared “extraordinarily well as a community” in this year’s budget. “Our delegation worked together for the entire session and it shows in what they are bringing home in the budget,” he said.

The House and Senate published a joint budget proposal late Tuesday.

Lawmakers will vote on the document Friday.

Gov. Rick Scott will have the final say. But Gonzalez said he is not worried about the governor’s veto pen.

“If he looks at the merits [of each project], I think we should be OK,” Gonzalez said. “The truth is, these are things that are important to the community. They are not giveaways.”

READY FOR CUTS

Jackson was bracing for cuts stemming from a complex new funding mechanism known as “tiering.” The measure would have sent millions of federal dollars that previously stayed in Miami-Dade to hospitals elsewhere in the state.

Other Florida hospitals serving large numbers of uninsured and Medicaid patients were also at risk of losing funds.

Miami-Dade lawmakers pushed to have the tiering law to be repealed. But House and Senate leaders ultimately settled on budget language that would delay the law for one year.

Jackson CEO Carlos Migoya called the delay “a positive first step that protects Jackson and lets us all focus on a few critical healthcare policy issues still being debated in Tallahassee.”

“With some $140 million of Miami-Dade taxpayers’ funding at risk for Jackson Health System, we owe the Dade Delegation deep gratitude for championing the dangers of the Medicaid tiering plan,” Migoya said.

The Miami-Dade school system was also protected from a potential funding hit.

Miami-Dade lawmakers fought to include a provision that allows the Miami-Dade district to use some of its debt service money for day-to-day operations.

School system leaders had asked for the language to offset a $40 to $60 million budget gap caused by a logjam in property tax appeals.

Overall, the district received $2.4 billion — a $78.3 million increase over last year.

“This budget continues to build upon the funding gains made last year,” Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said. “It is evidence of the Legislature’s commitment to a continued investment in education.”

Two Miami-Dade charter schools were also included in the budget: the City of Hialeah Educational Academy and a new public boarding school called The SEED School of Miami. The schools received $1 million and $1.4 million, respectively.

South Florida colleges and universities received money, too.

In addition to the state dollars all colleges receive, Miami Dade College’s share of the budget includes $5 million for a North Campus gymnasium.

Florida International University got $10 million for land acquisition, $6.8 million for its student academic support complex, $3.1 million for hurricane mitigation research, $540,000 for its Institute on Aging and Health, and $400,000 for its Small Business Development Center.

“The legislature has answered the call for support of education capital outlay by providing state dollars to maintain and improve our existing facilities and build new ones,” President Mark B. Rosenberg said.

The University of Miami’s Sylvester Cancer Center received $16 million to help become a National Cancer Institute-designated facility. There was also $1.7 million for the UM/Nova Southeastern University Center for Autism and Related Disabilities and $1.2 million for the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis.

The delegation secured funding for one of the more controversial projects in the budget: the SkyRise Miami observation tower.

The $2 million included the budget fell short of the $10 million Miami-Dade lawmakers originally sought. The money can only be used on public transportation infrastructure upgrades, and is contingent on the project securing $400 million in private-sector funding. That wasn’t the only city of Miami project included in the budget.

RENOVATIONS

The long-shuttered Marine Stadium received $1 million for renovation efforts being spearheaded by Jimmy Buffett and Gloria Estefan. And Museum Park and the Miami Design District received $1 million and $2 million respectively for public infrastructure improvements.

Other Miami-Dade projects in the budget include:

$3.2 million for the senior centers known as comedores

$9.9 million for local water projects

$150,000 for the Miracle League Ballpark

$150,000 for the Lighthouse for the Blind

$500,000 for the substance abuse treatment facility Here’s Help Opa-locka

$1.87 million for the Hialeah Gardens Educational Center Programs

$550,000 for the Miami Beach Holocaust Memorial

$500,000 for the Citizen’s Crime Watch program in Miami Gardens

$300,000 for History Miami’s Operation Pedro Pan exibition

$1.5 million for the Homestead-based non-profit Farm Share

$1.075 million for the Military Museum of South Florida

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