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Local leaders decry transportation fund cut proposed in Fla.

By Staff | Apr 30, 2009

Some local business leaders are decrying the possible loss of $100 million from a $385 million state transportation trust fund that is part of a compromise among state legislators to pass the budget.
Legislators will hammer out the details of the Florida budget this week after the House and Senate agreed to a deal on the budget after an earlier impasse.
Joe Mazurkiewicz, executive director of the business-minded Council for Progress and the owner of a consulting firm, said the transportation fund is crucial to aiding commerce.
“It’s the worst place they could take money from,” he said.
Facing a $6 billion deficit, the Republican-controlled House and Senate were already considering new fees and taxes that were unthinkable just a few years ago.
Cuts to favored programs are also on the table, and some legislators wanted to raid the transportation fund for more than $200 million.
State Rep. Gary Aubuchon, R-Cape Coral, said he would like to protect the transportation trust fund from any cuts, but given the budget crisis resulting from the economic downturn, he is glad to come away with a reduced cut.
“I don’t like to see any of the money being taken from the fund. But in the context of these economic times, when we’re facing a $6 billion deficit, I do take a little comfort in that (the cut of $100 million),” he said.
Aubuchon also cautioned that monies could be redeposited in the transportation fund in future years as Florida’s economy rebounds.
“This is just a one-time swap, it’s not a permanent redirect,” he said.
The $100 million will help balance the state’s budget, two-thirds of which is spent on education and health care, Aubuchon added.
Sweeping away the transportation dollars, however, could hinder the state’s capacity to rebound quickly from the current recession.
“For every dollar you invest in transportation it has multiple dollars of return,” Mazurkiewicz said. “(The cut) is going to have an amazingly negative impact on transportation and, statewide, our ability to recover.”
One of Aubuchon’s main road projects, the widening of Pine Island Road between Chiquita Boulevard and Burnt Store Road, will not be affected by the slash in transportation funds.
Mazurkiewicz said the cuts will not affect any specific local project, but “the pain will be spread out equally across the state.”
State legislators will likely need a special session to finish the budget. The current session is due to end Friday.
Aubuchon said he expects the special session to be called, with a final budget passed by the end of next week.