Roads Among Florida Stimulus Ideas

Fri January 23, 2009 - Southeast Edition
CEG



Merit pay for teachers, road and school construction and business development grants are some of the ideas being floated as Florida begins preparing its wish list for an anticipated federal economic stimulus package.

The chairman of a Senate committee Jan. 13 distributed a list of suggestions he’s gotten from lawmakers and the public.

Gov. Charlie Crist, meanwhile, met with a national teachers union leader who asked him to support education getting some of the federal stimulus cash that’s been promised by then President-elect Barack Obama.

“We had a very positive, productive conversation about working together hand-in-hand, Republican and Democrat, to get this stimulus package passed,” American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said after meeting with Crist.

The Republican governor said he supported dedicating some of the stimulus money to education and that he believed Congress would do so.

“What we are going to do is see what comes out of Washington,” Crist said. “I’ve been working with Gov. Jim Doyle of Wisconsin to have bipartisan support of the stimulus package.”

Senate Select Committee on Florida’s Economy Chairman Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, agreed education should be a key ingredient, but he said the one-time money shouldn’t be used for recurring expenses such as salaries.

“We’ve got to build an education infrastructure that can keep giving us economic development muscle as we go forward,” Gaetz said. “If we spend this money once it’ll feel good, but it’ll be like a Chinese dinner: You walk outside, you burp and you feel hungry again.”

Gaetz said he likes one school superintendent’s suggestion that the money be used to create a low-interest loan fund to replace deteriorating school buildings.

That was among the suggestions on a list Gaetz presented to his committee for future discussions.

Others include teacher merit pay, grants and loans for business development, road and other transportation projects and drinking and irrigation water supply improvements. One suggestion is to put additional money in the state’s Hurricane Catastrophe Fund that serves as a backup for insurance companies.

Another idea is to restore spending for health and human services being cut in a deficit-elimination package.

Lawmakers also are eying stimulus money to replace $700 million to be borrowed from the state’s tobacco settlement endowment as part of the deficit legislation. Legislative leaders hope federal stimulus dollars will arrive in time to make that June loan unnecessary.

Crist has assigned Dale Brill, director of his Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development, to coordinate Florida’s stimulus wish list. He’s been collecting proposals from local governments and other entities.

Most are “the usual suspects” such as transportation projects, he said.

“We feel it is important for Florida to have a coordinated conversation with our congressional delegation and also with the Obama administration,” Brill said. “The bottom line column for us is job creation.”