Richter, Aubuchon address likely legislative issues
State Sen. Garrett Richter and State Rep. Gary Aubuchon came to Sanibel on Tuesday morning, mingling with residents and local leaders before the start of the last City Council meeting of the year.
“Clearly, the key issue for all of the Gulf Coast communities is offshore drilling,” said Aubuchon, R-Cape Coral, who was heading to Tallahassee only hours later. “I was opposed to (drilling) last year, but this year I’m approaching it with an open mind. We need to weigh all of the facts before we make any decision.”
Both Aubuchon and Richter, R-Naples, were invited by the city to meet with their constituents and talk about issues with which residents of Southwest Florida are most concerned. On Sanibel, that issue remains offshore oil and gas exploration in the Gulf of Mexico.
“I do believe that offshore drilling will be a lively topic of discussion during our upcoming legislative session,” Richter told a crowd of about 50 islanders attending the meeting. “The key issue that it’s going to come down to is the economy versus the environment.”
However, the potential of beach goers seeing large, towering oil rigs from their shoreline wasn’t the only subject brought up during the session.
“There is only one single mandate in the Florida legislature, and that is passing a balanced budget,” said Richter. “The challenge for all of us in Tallahassee is that 91 percent of our budget is tied up in education, healthcare and jails. That leaves us only 9 percent to pay for everything else.”
Among the other topics discussed at the meeting was the Central Florida Commuter Rail Line — SunRail — which Aubuchon said could have a significant impact on Lee County.
“Everything we’re focusing on right now has to do with creating jobs and expanding the economy,” said Aubuchon. “With SunRail, we would see an increased density for residential development along the rail corridor. We know that the population is going to increase in Florida, but this allows for some smart growth, which should help keep environmental-conscious communities like Sanibel intact.”
SunRail proposes the use of existing railroad tracks for high-speed (65 to 79 mph) commuter transit along a 61-mile stretch between Deland and Poinciana, running parallel to the heavily-travelled Interstate 4 in Central Florida. During Phase I of the proposed implementation, a dozen stations along the route are planned, with 17 stations budgeted at build-out.
“The economy is my No. 1 issue,” added Richter. “It’s paramount in every legislative discussion we have. Right now, because sales tax revenues are down and real estate isn’t doing well, that’s something we have been focusing on.”
Richter also requested that people contact him with any issues or concerns they deem important, on or off Sanibel.
“I consider the voice of all citizens important,” he said. “The concerns of the citizens of Sanibel are even more unique because of their dedication to the preservation of nature and the environment.”