Senate budget bill includes $100 million for Piney Point cleanup

Senate budget bill includes $100 million for Piney Point cleanup
The Piney Point site in Palmetto. (Source: WWSB)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (News Service of Florida) - Senate leaders Wednesday offered a plan for using part of new federal stimulus money, including spending $100 million to clean up the former phosphate plant at Piney Point and providing $300 million to the Florida Forever land-preservation program.

The offer came as Senate and House leaders negotiate a roughly $100 billion budget for the fiscal year that will start July 1. Lawmakers are weighing how to use about $10 billion the state will receive through the American Rescue Plan Act, a stimulus package signed last month by President Joe Biden.

The Senate offer Wednesday spelled out a proposal for spending $3.29 billion of the federal money, after the House earlier made a $7.94 billion proposal.

“What you see before you is kind of what our thoughts are,” Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, told reporters. “But it’s still going to be an ongoing discussion.”

Neither proposal includes a request by Gov. Ron DeSantis to use stimulus money to provide $1,000 bonuses to teachers, principals and first responders.

Stargel said bonuses are still in the mix of discussions, adding that rewards for educators working during the COVID-19 pandemic could also come from money in the public-schools portion of the budget.

American Rescue Plan dollars that are unallocated would go into state general revenue.

“There’s a possibility there’ll be a significant amount of non-allocated GR,” Stargel said. “So, we don’t have to make all the decisions right now, right in this moment, this year, especially when it’s contingent on funds we haven’t even received yet.”

The Senate and House proposals both would use $2 billion of the federal money to offset losses during the pandemic to the state transportation trust fund.

Both also call for spending money on converting from septic tanks to sewage systems, as the state looks to prevent contamination of waterways. But the Senate would spend $500 million on the projects, while the House has proposed $140 million.

The Senate also proposed nearly $264 million for higher-education construction projects, $100 million for the state Emergency Operations Center and $30 million for an African-American cultural and historical grant program. The House proposal didn’t address those issues.

The House also didn’t propose using stimulus money to clean up the former phosphate plant at Piney Point in Manatee County or to provide more money to Florida Forever.

The state rushed recently to prevent a potential catastrophe at Piney Point, as a reservoir leak threatened to lead to a deluge of contaminated water being released.

The House’s proposal for the stimulus money is topped by $3.5 billion to catch up on long-delayed state building maintenance, a priority of House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor.

Another $1 billion is proposed for an emergency preparedness and response fund; $350 million would go to the state’s Budget Stabilization Fund, which is a reserve fund; and $92.6 million would be used to update the state’s troubled unemployment system.

Among other things, the House has pitched $100 million for beach management and $140 million for the Resilient Florida Trust Fund, which would be part of efforts to address sea-level rise and flooding.

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