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Politics

Fiscal Answers Needed as Florida Transit Leaders Push Global Hub Visions Forward

February 10, 2013 - 6:00pm

The message to business leaders on Monday, gathered at a remote rural resort near the Georgia state line, was that Floridas reliance upon gas tax revenues to pay for transportation projects is in decline while the call to build the air, road, rail, and sea cargo infrastructure grows.

So for a state where lawmakers are more than reluctant to raises taxes, business and political leaders say creative ideas are needed to generate more revenue for the state to pay for desired upgrades to the states ports, rail lines, airports and roads.

And instead of simply following a compass which gives a general direction, the intent of the conversation was to set the final destination -- one that takes advantage of Floridas natural geographic location -- as if setting the GPS before the trip begins.

This has to be about future opportunities, not things weve lost in the past, but how do we keep looking forward, said Florida Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Mark Wilson during a transportation summit Monday hosted by the Florida Chamber Foundation at the rural Honey Lake Plantation in Greenville.

While the answers remain scarce to most of the questions now confronting lawmakers and transit leaders, Wilson said a collective effort is needed from the business community to improve the states infrastructure network in order to increase job opportunities and thus the economy.

Jobs make the cash register ring and drive the revenue into the state that allows us to have surpluses that we can invest more and more into this conversation, Wilson said.

The search for creative means to generate revenue is becoming more and more paramount as the state seeks to grasp what leaders call a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make Florida a hemispheric hub as global trade grows.

To generate additional money, talks ranged from luring more international air travel, seeking private investment, to redirecting license and tag fees, and even further consideration of a mileage-based user fee that would require drivers to report their mileage when renewing tags.

Later this week, Florida will unleash an $8.5 billion fiscal plan for 2013, its largest ever nonfederal-stimulus year transportation budget, said Department of Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad.

The next 16, 18 months are going to be very critical for the state, Prasad said. A lot of things are pointing in the right direction. We just have to work tirelessly to try to leverage that.

Besides getting businesses all in, thedifferent state ports and airports need to work together, collectively taking the approach that out-of-state ports and airports are the competition rather than each other.

U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Winter Park, and Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said a key for any plan is determining where the money is to come from.

Both pointed to using tag and license fees, which were increased in 2009 to raise money for the general revenue.

Weatherford, in declaring the Legislature wont raid the transportation trust fund in the coming session, said any shift in the license and tag fees would take time.

Now is the time to start putting that back where its intended use should be, Weatherford said. We cant do it overnight, because youre talking about hundreds of millions of dollars. But I think systematically we can start moving that money over.


Reach Jim Turner at jturner@sunshinestatenews.com or at (772) 215-9889.

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