Rural Districts Could Feel Pinch Under New House Rules

Jan 6, 2017

Credit Nick Evans

House lawmakers are likely to face an uphill battle to get money for projects in their districts.  Rural lawmakers are ready to face the challenge but they’re trying to reset expectations.

House leaders are trying to take a bite out of the state budget, and they’re hoping to find reductions among member projects.  Rep. Halsey Beshears (R-Monticello) says with so little money in the till, state government could revert to small ball.

“Yeah I don’t always get to step up to the plate and knock it out of the park and knock a grand slam, but I’ll take a single every day,” Beshears says.  “And I’ll take a single or two in every county in House district seven all day than knocking it out of the park for one of them and nobody else getting anything.”

Each House member will have to file individual bills for local spending ahead of this year’s session.  Sen. Bill Montford (D-Tallahassee) says the change could hit rural areas like Franklin County especially hard.

“Eighty percent of the property is off the tax rolls, so that means you’ve only got twenty percent left and of that twenty percent a lot of that won’t be eligible for tax purposes because of homestead exemption,” Montford says.  “So even through you’re at the maximum millage the fact is one mill just simply doesn’t raise as much money in these rural areas as it does in the other areas of the state.”

State forecasters suggest lawmakers will only have a couple million new dollars to work with in Florida’s 80 billion-plus dollar budget.  The state is barely in the black after years of tax cuts and rising Medicaid costs, and House leaders are preaching austerity to get the state’s fiscal house in order.