Keys Day fete in Capitol may lead to Keys dollars, officials say

Florida Keys Day 2017, held Tuesday at the Florida Capitol as part of the two-month legislative session, drew a large and appreciative crowd, local officials say.

Now it remains to be seen whether those good feelings, full stomachs and, of course, the lobbying translate into support for Monroe County’s priorities before the Florida Legislature.

“In a situation like this, only time will tell,” Monroe County Mayor George Neugent said after his fourth trip to Tallahassee for the current legislative session.

“This is the strangest thing I’ve seen in my 20 years of politics here,” Neugent said, referring to still unresolved differences over the pending state budget.

The Florida Senate has passed its version of the state budget, coming in a reported $85 billion. The Florida House leadership is pushing for a budget closer to $81 billion. The Legislature is expected to have its overall budget done by May 2.

Gov. Rick Scott’s recommendation to the Legislature in March outlined an $83.5 billion budget, which included $5 million of Florida Forever money allocated for purchases of Keys conservation land under the Florida Keys Stewardship Act, along with $10 million toward Monroe County water projects that deal with canal restoration, stormwater runoff or sewer work.

“They’re still a long way apart,” Neugent said.

“After my third trip, I was not very optimistic about even the $5 million and $10 million,” Neugent said. “Now I’ve got my fingers crossed that we’ll get the $5 million and $10 million. If we do, that would be something in light of what’s been going on.”

Islamorada Village Councilman Mike Forster said his trip to Florida Keys Day “has me feeling more positive. Our state Rep. Holly Raschein has been working in a proactive manner, trying to get Monroe County what we need.”

“I’m hopeful we’ll at least get what we got last year,” Forster said. “But that amount hasn’t been figured out yet.”

Forster said he was “feeling very good” that both houses seems committed to give Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers a 5 percent raise, “their first since 1999.”

“Our FWC guys here are so deserving, especially considering what it costs to live here,” he said. “I’m happy for them, but not so happy that the FWC hasn’t increased our boots on the ground. That hasn’t changed since 1999, either.”

County officials reported having positive meetings with state legislative leaders and agency chiefs, include Florida Department of Transportation District 6 Secretary Jim Wolfe.

“We discussed some issues on construction and our traffic congestion that we’ve been experiencing for three years,” Neugent said.

Florida Keys Day seemed to attract more people than ever in its seven-year history, welcomed by a large Keys contingent, Neugent said.

“The whole [Florida Capitol] was full of elected officials and staff members enjoying the Key lime pie and conch chowder,” he said. “It can’t imagine they could have fit any more people in there.”

Kevin Wadlow: 305-440-3206