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House moves to merge state agencies

By Sascha Cordner

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wfsu/local-wfsu-961941.mp3

Tallahassee, FL – The House is looking at ways to save Florida money, and have already proposed a 66-point-5 billion dollar proposal to do just that, which is just a few billion shy of the Senate's proposal of 69.8 billion dollars. Hot button issues, like the budget and pension plan reform, are just some of the many appropriation bills on the agenda. As Sascha Cordner reports, one bill regarding the combination of trust funds as a cost saving measure was the most debated bill in the earlier part of the session.

State Representatives held a session to move most of their cost-saving measures forward for the state. Some of these bills on the agenda include the controversial House pension proposal, House Bill 1405, which lawmakers say would save the state close to 800-million dollars. Under the bill, state employees would be required to contribute 3-percent of their salaries towards their retirement accounts. The measure would also increase the retirement age for new hires, AND special risk employees like firefighters and law enforcement officers would also have their retirement age pushed back as well.

The House had a number of bills on the agenda, including bills relating to Tax Credit, Sales Tax, and many regarding trust funds earlier in the 7-hour session with more than 20 bills.

But, after those bills went by in the House without much debate, House Bill 7205 served to be a hot topic, it would consolidate trust funds into one 426-million dollar trust controlled by the Governor. The Bill's Sponsor is Republican State Representative Gary Aubuchon of Cape Coral.

His bill would create the State Economic and Enhancement and Development Trust Fund within the office of Tourism, Trade, and Economic Redevelopment of the executive office of the Governor.

"This seed trust fund will be used for transportation and housing infrastructure and economic development incentives to attract new business to our state and retain and grow existing businesses, revenues sources for the seed trust fund will come from six combined trust funds, coming from areas of economic development, transportation, and affordable Housing."

But, one person who spoke in opposition to the bill is Democratic representative Dwayne Taylor of Daytona Beach.

"How do we ensure transparency and oversight for this particular office, when we re just going to allocate the money and we won't know how's it's being spent, the method about why it's being spend, and we're just going to give them a blank check book and say here's 400-million, go and do good for the state Could you help me understand this a little bit better then?"

And, the answer to Taylor's questions: Representative Aubuchon says that's most likely will be in the hands of a future legislature about how the funds are going to be allocated. But, Aubuchon says there are no guarantees that Taylor's scenario would happen.

"Your assumption is that the future legislature would simply give the governor all the money with no specific appropriation tied to it, and if that's the decision that a future legislature wants to make, it certainly gives the legislature the ability to do that, but they don't have do that, Rep Taylor, they could just as easily line item by line item issue where the money is going and leaving the Governor with no discretion at all."

Another representative Democrat Geraldine Thompson of Orlando questioned if there were any safety measures in place for Florida's tourism industry ...

"I'm concerned with sweeping the tourism promotion trust fund into a larger fund where there is not dedicated amount that would go to tourism, and I would like to know what safeguards would be in place to continue to allow Florida to compete with New York, Las Vegas, etc."

To which Aubuchon replied, the reality is each of the six trust funds that are combined into one will have to continue their own advocacy going forward in order to get the funded dollars they want. He also addressed the consolidation of the funds does have positive benefits.

"But, here's the beauty of this fund. If we in future legislative years decide that in fact the amount of money we should be spending on tourists and tourists promotion should be greater than what would have been just simply would have been available to us in the prior fund, we can do that."

The act is expected to take effect on July 1st of this year, but it cannot be enacted, UNLESS by a three-fifths of the House Representatives vote favorably for the measure.

The House is expected to finish discussing their appropriation bills with votes expected to take place on Thursday. Afterward, joint committees from both the House and Senate will meet to come to a solution between the chambers regarding different issues among their proposals.