When asked about a $14 million line item for a college building in his home district that started out at $300,000, Senate President Don Gaetz responded, I would expect it doesnt hurt that the senator from Northwest Florida is also the president of the Senate."
The Niceville Republican often peppered his comments on his votes or views on an issue by saying he takes into account that he has to go home to the "folks" of Northwest Florida.
As with other legislative leaders overseeing the state's purse strings, the Senate president departed from the Capitol at the end of the legislative session with plenty for the folks back home.
When budget leaders hammered out allocations for the Florida College System in the last weekend of the session, numbers jumped quickly for a couple of schools.
Gulf Coast State College in Panama City went from a $300,000 earmark to $17.5 million for the construction of a 70,000-square-foot STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) classroom and lab building before both chambers settled at $14 million.
Gaetz said the $300,000 was a placeholder, seeking the increase with his son Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, doing the same on the House side after seeing how the budget was shaping up.
Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, snapped when asked about funding a project that wasn't in the list of priorities submitted by the Department of Education.
"If you check the Florida Constitution, it's the responsibility of the Legislature to write the state budget," Negron said.
In those same budget conferences, Fort Pierce-based Indian River State College -- in Negron's backyard -- landed $2 million to remodel buildings on its Ken Pruitt Campus in St. Lucie West.
Not everything was direct funding.
Lawmakers approved a bill that could help clear the way for approval of a trauma center at Fort Walton Beach Medical Center, which is in Okaloosa County --- the home county of Gaetz.
Tama Van Decar, chief medical officer at the Fort Walton Beach hospital, said in a prepared statement that the legislation is "a great first step for providing quality trauma care in some underserved areas of our state."
Traumatically injured patients from Walton and Okaloosa counties have to endure transport times to the nearest trauma center 50 miles away,'' Van Decar said. "These long transport times put too many lives at risk. As soon as the legislation becomes law, Fort Walton Beach Medical Center will evaluate the situation in our trauma community here on the Emerald Coast."
As the session came to a close, tucked into a sweeping transportation package (HB 7007) that included Gov. Rick Scott's manufacturing sales tax exemption, was the creation of Triumph Gulf Coast Inc., a nonprofit corporation that would award money anticipated from Florida's $5.48 billion lawsuit against BP that was filed April 20.
The nonprofit, a priority of Gaetz, would spread out most of the money the state recoups from the lawsuit over a 30-year period for projects and programs in counties most impacted by the spill: Bay, Escambia, Franklin, Gulf, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, Walton and Wakulla.
Like other lawmakers, leaders managed to get local projects in the budget for their districts -- Gaetz even joked once during the session about the return to the budget of local projects after a few years absence, noting that there was "a water project in Mossy Head that looks pretty good."
Here are individual projects in the districts of the legislative leaders:
Don Gaetz -- District 40, covering Walton, Bay, Washington, Holmes, Jackson, southern Okaloosa counties
Walton County, coastal dune lakes environmental assessment, $500,000
Walton County, Mossy Head wastewater treatment facility, $3 million
Walton County, U.S. 98 waterline extension, $1 million
Mossy Head Industrial Park infrastructure, Walton County, $1.8 million
Noma, Holmes County, system-wide waterline replacement, $300,000
Chipley, drinking water system improvements, $400,000
Gulf Coast State College, STEM Building, $14 million
Okaloosa County Health Department, two mobile dental units, one mobile medical unit, $1.725 million
Bay County Health Department for BayCare, $610,000
Okaloosa County, renovations, health department facilities, Fort Walton Beach and Crestview, $500,000
Bay County Airport, crosswind runway project, $500,000
Bay County, domestic security K-12 target hardening, $145,000
North Bay Village, John F. Kennedy Causeway, $125,000
Fort Walton Beach restoration, $3.44 million
Fort Walton Beach dune restoration, $2.9 million
Panama City shore protection, $174,222
Chipola College, underground utilities, $5,106,813.
Appropriations Chairman Sen. Joe Negron -- District 32, eastern Martin, St. Lucie and Indian River counties, northeast Palm Beach County
Palm Beach County, Loxahatchee River Preservation Initiative, $1.3 million
Indian River County, Florida Atlantic University Harbor Branch Indian River Lagoon Observatory, $2 million
Martin County, Danforth Creek stormwater retrofit and wetland treatment, $3 million
Indian River State College, St. Lucie West campus, building renovations and remodeling, $2 million.
Martin County Healthy Start Coalition, $100,000
Martin County Health Department, St. Lucie Estuary weekly water testing, $30,000.
House Speaker Will Weatherford -- District 38, Pasco County
Pasco County, Lacoochee/ Trilby water system improvements, $500,000
Zephyrhills, Zephyrhills-Dade City interconnect, $1.925 million
Pasco-Hernando Community College, classrooms, labs, Wesley Chapel Center, $6,935,170
Pasco County sheriff's office, Department of Children and Families grant to conduct child protective investigations, $5,591,619
Metropolitan Ministries Transitional Family Housing Project, Pasco County, $1.3 million.
Appropriations Chairman Seth McKeel -- District 40, western Polk County
Lakeland, Skyview water and wastewater modifications, $3.75 million
Polk County, Lakeland Regional Medical Center, graduate medical education planning, design and construction, $2.5 million
Salvation Army Transitional Housing project, Polk County, $500,000
Restoration of the Annie Pheiffer Chapel, Florida Southern College, Lakeland, $350,000
Frank Lloyd Wright Tourism and Education Center, Florida Southern College, Lakeland, $750,000.