BRANDON, FL (AP) Gov. Jeb Bush June 24 signed into law landmark legislation that overhauls the state’s growth and development guidelines for the first time in two decades and calls for $1.5 billion in state money to be spent during the next year on new highways, classrooms and water facilities.
Accompanied by key lawmakers, cabinet members and other officials in this Tampa bedroom community notorious for traffic snarls, Bush said the new “pay-as-you-go” laws will ensure there are adequate roads, schools and water resources in a state projected to grow by 5 million residents in the next 17 years.
“It’s clear as day,” Bush said before signing the three bills. “If we do not invest in protecting water, building roads, providing adequate education in enough schools, our growth will change and alter, and it will deteriorate, and people won’t be able to pursue their dreams.”
The legislation requires that adequate roads and schools be in place or under construction within three years of a local government’s approval of new development. It also links local and regional water planning and requires that an adequate water supply is available before people move into new developments.
Two of the bills create the Water Protection and Sustainability Program within the Department of Environmental Protection and allocate about $200 million to clean up polluted waterways and develop alternative water sources, such as enclosed reservoirs and desalination plants.
“I’m so excited to see an entire growth management package, one that deals with infrastructure, one that deals with planning ahead and one that actually puts our money where our mouth is,” said state Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, one of the architects of the water bills. “This really is a historic day.”
It’s the first time that lawmakers have set aside a significant sum to pay for some of the tens of billions of dollars in projects intended to reduce crowding around the state. It will also help pay for new classrooms required under a constitutional amendment limiting the number of children in public school classrooms, and closes loopholes in existing growth management laws.
“We have 18 million people living in our state today, and one thing we know in Florida is that we’re going to have more people next year and the year after,” Bush said. “We have a sustainable state right now if we invest in the long-term things.”
Critics say, however, that the laws are not designed to control growth as much as to provide roads, water and schools so more development can take place.
The legislation was a victory for Bush and Senate President Tom Lee, a developer, who both said it was a top priority during the session in the spring.
In order to win consensus on the measure, Lee made several concessions in the final hours of the two-month session, including dropping a proposal that would have made it easier to raise sales and gas taxes by up to $5 billion around the state without voter approval.
The Brandon Republican had high praise for lawmakers in both houses who worked on the measures.
“We don’t really have an opportunity all that often to get together on something this substantial,” Lee said.