It's good to be running for re-election with a budget surplus on hand.
In his latest Bay area press conference to announce where he is showering tens of millions of dollars on transportation projects, Governor Rick Scott today said he is recommending the largest infusion of cash for infrastructure improvements to Tampa International Airport since its creation in 1971.
He's calling for Florida lawmakers to approve $194 million in state transportation funds for the airport's master plan, which includes a 2.3 million square-foot rental car center with a transit stop and a 1.3 mile Automated People Mover which will connect the economy parking garage and rental car center to the terminal.
"You want your tax dollars invested where you’re going to get a return," Scott told reporters when asked why he finds himself returning to make such announcements in the Tampa Bay region in 2014. "The Tampa Bay area is a hot market. Tourists want to come here, people want to live here. People want to buy homes here. It’s your money, it’s the citizens of this state's money."
The funds need to be approved by the Florida House and Senate, which Scott says he doesn't believe will be a problem.
In addition to the state funding, TIA CEO Joe Lopano says the airport will invest $749 million to build what officials call the "Tampa Gateway Center." The remainder of those funds is expected to come through low-interest federal loans and airport bond issues.
The project is expected to create the need for 7,000 jobs,1,000 of them permanent, a proposition that has united local lawmakers and local economic development officials.
When asked if he thought it was fortuitous timing that the airplane's master plan coincides with a governor striving to win re-election, Lopano wasn't about to go there. "I gotta tell you, long before any election talk came up this governor has been a great supporter of our efforts," he replied, referring to his lobbying for $63 million in funding for Visit Florida, the official state agency regarding tourism in 2013. And this year Scott is asking for another $100 million for that agency. That helps TIA when they recruit carriers such as Alaskan Airlines to do more business with the airport.
The airport was looking for a total of $272 million from the Department of Transportation, but Scott said, "What you have to do is to allocate the dollars around the state. And spend them where they get the best return. Those are the dollars that we thought were appropriate for the airport."
Along with Lopano, other officials getting speaking parts at the press conference — held in the Aviation Authority's meeting room — included Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Hillsborough County Commission Chairman Mark Sharpe, Commissioner Victor Crist ("The other Crist," Victor said when introduced), Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad and Aviation Authority Chairman Robert Watkins.
All were lavishing the governor with praise. Mayor Buckhorn said that "infrastructure matters," specifically jobs for steelworkers, ironworkers, plasterers and others who "will have a better life because of this decision today."
Last month in Clearwater, Scott announced his $131 million proposal to build an elevated expressway linking Interstate 275 and U.S. 19.