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Politics

House Transportation Trust Fund Draws Fire

March 22, 2011 - 7:00pm

The seemingly annual battle over funding for road projects is set to resume, with the House on Tuesday proposing a budget that would drain $330 million fromthe State Transportation Trust Fund to help plug a $3.75 billion budget hole.

But the move is already running into resistance from transportation advocates and road-builders, who are likely to once again look to the Senate to push back against the trust fund sweep in an effort to minimize or eliminate the transfer.

House Transportation and Economic Development Subcommittee Chairman Mike Horner said Tuesday morning that the sweep is in line with Gov. Rick Scotts recommendations for transportation funding, but conceded it would still trigger some delays in the Department of Transportations five-year work plan.

A $300 million sweep is a big deal, Horner said.

The sweep is just part of $518.4 million Horners committee would draw from trust funds, including affordable housing, highway safety and work force accounts. The House Government Operations Appropriations Subcommittee released a separate plan that would sweep more than $57 million from 13 trust funds.

In a blistering statement responding to the road fund proposal, Bob Burleson, president of the Florida Transportation Builders Association, accused the House of nothing less than theft.

In his memo, Speaker [Dean] Cannon stated the House would not increase taxes or fees, Burleson said, referring to Cannons memo Monday outlining allocations for House budget subcommittees. What he failed to mention, however, is the Houses intent to steal user fees from citizens who believe their gas taxes are being spent to remedy traffic-stricken roadways.

Doug Callaway, president of Floridians for Better Transportation, was slightly more measured Tuesday. He pointed out that the sweep is down from a House budget exercise that would have pulled $880 million from the fund, even though he said thats still too much.

It misses the point, which is: You shouldnt be taking any money at all, Callaway said.

Supporters of the fund contend that now is a particularly bad time to slice money from transportation projects, which they say can create jobs as the state economy tries to recover from the worst downturn since the Great Depression.

According to DOT estimates, the sweep would have a $900 million impact on actual projects.

Burleson said that job-killing sweep would cost the state up to 25,000 jobs.

The best economic development tool that the state of Florida has is the Department of Transportation work plan, Callaway said.

Opponents of raiding the trust fund are now likely to look for help from the Senate, which has no trust fund sweep in the latest draft of its budget and has fought similar moves before. The upper chamber resisted larger House raids the last two years, finally settling on $115 million in 2009 and $160 million last year -- the latter raid having been vetoed by then-Gov. Charlie Crist.

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