When the dust cleared in Tallahassee on Tuesday, one thing was clear: Pinellas was on top when it comes to the state’s funds.
Republican Sens. Jack Latvala and Jeff Brandes, who represent parts of Pinellas, landed some plum appointments. Latvala will be the chair of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee and alt. chair of the Joint Legislative Budget Commission. Brandes will have a seat on the Appropriations Committee and be the chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development.
The news was welcomed by local elected officials who expect to ask Tallahassee for money in 2017.
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman’s office issued a statement, saying, “Their appointments are great news for the city of St. Petersburg, and the Tampa Bay Region.”
Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long, who will chair the commission in 2017, agreed, saying, “I’d like to think it would be very good for Pinellas County.”
Long said the county has just begun work on its legislative package for the coming year.
The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority has also begun work on its legislative package. St. Petersburg council member Darden Rice, the PSTA chair, said two projects high on the agenda are rapid transit from the Tampa airport to Clearwater and Clearwater Beach and a bus lane on the Clearwater causeway.
Both Latvala and Brandes are aware of the need for the projects, she said. And Brandes, in particular, has already been supportive of innovative PSTA programs that involve partnerships with companies like Uber and Lyft.
The PSTA, Rice said, “is very fortunate to have two such strong senators. I think this will be very helpful.”
That help, she said, can extend to other issues. One such is the sewer and infrastructure problems facing Pinellas. Although St. Petersburg has taken the brunt of criticism after dumping thousands of gallons of raw and partially treated sewage in the bay during two storms this year, the problem with infrastructure is countywide. Latvala has called two delegation meetings for fact finding.
“I think they had a very clear picture of St. Petersburg’s struggles,” Rice said. “We need help from the state to fix our fragile infrastructure.”
Rice said she’s not talking only about St. Petersburg’s infrastructure. It’s the entire county, she said. That’s another place that the senator’s appreciation for regional solutions will be helpful.
Rice noted that Latvala is known for fighting for what he believes in. That’s good for the county.
“He’s a bruiser,” Rice said. “He’s not afraid to go in and fight for what’s right.”