The 2017 regular session of the Florida Legislature is in its second week. To get an early update, and to discuss some bills and projects of local interest, WUWF called on District 1 Republican Rep. Clay Ingram of Pensacola.
Ingram was first elected in 2010. Due to term limits and last year’s election shuffle, he’s now one of the senior members of the Northwest Florida Legislative Delegation.
One of Ingram’s key committee assignments is Chair of the Transportation and Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee, which held its first meeting of the regular session last Wednesday.
“Good morning everyone, the Transportation and Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee will now come to order,” said Ingram, as he asked for the roll call.
The panel’s agenda included two local bills presented by freshman District 2 Republican Rep. Frank White, also of Pensacola.
One of the measures seeks funds for a new Interstate-10 interchange in Beulah.
“Like many of your counties, my county, Escambia County, struggles with generational poverty,” said White. “And, this project will help remove a major constraint on economic growth in this part of the county. The $700,000 appropriation will complete the planning and design for the southern segment of the project.”
Escambia County already has matched that, spending $700,000 in local option sales tax funds on the project.
“We have a major corporation that moved its headquarters to Pensacola; 10,000 jobs in an area that really had very little infrastructure to start with and this would be a huge relief and allow people to get to and from work,” Ingram said. “It’s been an incredible boost to our economy.”
The Beulah Interchange bill received a favorable vote in the subcommittee, as did the other measure from White. HB 3775 seeks $100,000 to help fund a monument to Spanish General Bernardo de Galvez in Pensacola.
Elsewhere, another big job for Ingram is service as Vice-Chair of the House Select Committee on Triumph Gulf Coast, which will oversee distribution of $1.5 billion dollars to counties in the Florida Panhandle over the next 16 years.
The money, which Ingram called “game-changing,” is aimed at mitigating economic damage caused by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, particularly in the eight most affected counties, including Escambia, Santa Rosa and Okaloosa.
“The first thing was to keep the Triumph funds from getting caught up in the salvo back and forth between the Governor and the Speaker of the House with regards to how the money can be spent,” said Ingram. He expects that the only restriction from House Speaker Richard Corcoran will be to keep it from being spent on cash incentives directly to business; a practice Corcoran has referred to as “corporate welfare.”
Ingram is also excited about the work that he’s done to help secure funds for a local project known as “The Bluffs: Northwest Florida’s Industrial Campus” being developed in central Escambia County. The 6,000 acre master plan projects 60 companies and 15,000 jobs upon completion.
Ingram suggests it may be on a 10-year track, but he believes that at some point soon, it will be a cluster of industry.
“It will grow; I feel pretty safe making that assumption,” said Ingram, pointing out that for each of the past few years, the state has provided some level of funding to support The Bluffs project to include planning and infrastructure. “So that’s something I think we will continue to support.”
Last year, Ingram helped bring in $2 million for The Bluffs.
This year, the University of West Florida is hoping to score big with a request (HB 4277) for $2 million (nonrecurring) to fund the Intelligent Systems and Robotics PhD, a joint doctoral program with the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition.
According to Ingram, some of the big picture issues facing the legislature include House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s plan to kill the state’s business recruitment agency, Enterprise Florida; and to substantially cut the state tourism arm, Visit Florida.
And, then there’s passage of the state budget. The proposal from Gov. Rick Scott totals more than $83 billion dollars.
Ingram believes they’ll have more overall money this year, but adds that there’s concern the budget may shrink in the out years. “So, it’s something we’re being mindful of now and we’re looking at ways to start cutting responsibly now, rather than waiting until we’re actually in a budget crunch.”
The take away from Ingram is that agencies and programs seeking state funding should consider it a win if they’re able to secure the same level of funding they received last year.