Hurricane budget proposals continue piling up

Photo: James E. Wyatt
Photo: James E. Wyatt(WCTV)
Published: Feb. 18, 2019 at 2:23 PM EST
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February 18, 2019

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Repairs to the Mexico Beach pier and Florida State University, after damage in Hurricane Michael, are among the latest storm-related proposals that House members hope to add to next year’s state budget.

As of Monday morning, more than 100 proposed projects seeking nearly $500 million were directed at recovery from the October hurricane in Northwest Florida, along with other projects to bulk up facilities statewide against future storms.

The proposals are among the more than 1,300 budget bills already filed for the annual legislative session, which begins March 5. The bills collectively seek $2.5 billion for projects across the state.

Rep. Jayer Williamson, R-Pace, proposed about $85 million in storm-related requests during the past week. That included requesting $21 million for Panama City municipal operations (HB 4349), $6.25 million for road repairs and traffic safety in Bay County (HB 4359) and $8.5 million to repair the city of Mexico Beach pier (HB 4453).

Hurricane Michael, a Category 4, storm, made landfall with peak winds of 155 mph at Mexico Beach on Oct. 10. As of Feb. 8, the state Office of Insurance Regulation reported that more than 144,000 claims had been filed from the storm, with nearly $5.6 billion in estimated insured losses.

Rep. Jay Trumbull, a Panama City Republican who is up to $387 million in proposals tied to the storm recovery, has recently asked for $1.73 million for hurricane-related repairs at Florida State University (HB 3887) and $54.9 million over the next two years to cover employment impacts in Bay County district schools (HB 3109 and HB 3111). The Florida State University money would go to work at the school’s Panama City campus and at its main Tallahassee campus, according to backup material submitted to the House.

Along with sustaining damage to buildings, the Bay County school district has shuttered three schools because of a sharp decline in students as vast areas of housing remain uninhabitable. The hope is that the schools would reopen when the population returns.

Trumbull had earlier pitched $10.8 million for stormwater repairs in Mexico Beach (HB 3853) and $25 million for beach recovery work in Mexico Beach (HB 2359).

The House projects are separate from proposals such as a bill (SB 376) by Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, to designate $50 million a year from the state’s Land Acquisition Trust Fund to help with Hurricane Michael recovery.

Also, Rep. Brad Drake, R-Eucheeanna, has proposed a measure (HB 191) to create the Northwest Florida Rural Inland Affected Counties Recovery Fund, which would receive a portion of money from the state’s share of the BP settlement related to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Meanwhile, the board of Triumph Gulf Coast --- a legislatively created organization that oversees three-quarters of the BP settlement money --- is expected next week to finalize the creation of a $15 million Triumph Gulf Coast Hurricane Michael Recovery Fund, which will be available for bridge loans, property-tax assistance and other relief for local governments in Bay, Franklin, Gulf and Wakulla counties.

House members, unlike in the Senate, are required to file individual bills to try to get money for projects. The bills will be considered as lawmakers work on a budget for the 2019-2020 fiscal year, which starts July 1.

Among the non-storm bills that have been filed in recent days was a $3.5 million request by Rep. Kristin Jacobs, D-Coconut Creek, for Parkland recovery projects tied to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (HB 4581).

The school was the scene of a mass shooting a year ago in which 17 people were killed and 17 others were injured.

Among the largest non-hurricane-related requests are $45 million for a Sumter County jail expansion (HB 2949) by Rep. Brett Hage, R-Oxford, and a $38.1 million for utility and infrastructure improvements at the University of Florida (HB 2637) by Rep. Chuck Clemons, R-Newberry.