Kaylee Tuck seeks millions to lift education, infrastructure in the Florida Heartland
Kaylee Tuck represents the Florida Heartland.

Requests include funds to cover overruns on Okeechobee High School construction and demolition of the Florida School for Boys.

Rep. Kaylee Tuck’s House District spans all or parts of four counties in the Florida Heartland. That makes her office the contact point for a lot of state funding requests, manifested in more than 25 separate appropriations bills filed by the Sebring Republican for the 2022 Legislative Session.

“We have a lot of appropriation requests this year. Some of it is clean up from last year, and a lot are new projects,” Tuck said.

She already has seen a relatively tiny appropriations (HB 147) advance. The transportation bill seeks $2,080 for road markers to designate the Deputy William J. Gentry Jr. Highway in her home county of Highlands and to mark the Sergeant Eric John Twisdale Memorial Interchange in Clay County. The Tourism, Infrastructure & Energy Subcommittee already endorsed the bill, but it awaits an agenda in the Infrastructure & Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee.

But many of Tuck’s bills seek more money for her sparsely populated district and she’s hoping to bring a solid share home during her first term.

For example, she’s seeking nearly $18.6 million in new funding for the Avon Park Executive Airport (HB 4745). The money could cover some staff funding, but would primarily go toward site improvements including water facilities and hangar space. Officials from Avon Park say the city airport could also improve public safety in the state.

“With a focus on public safety and security plus a strong focus on developing a logistical staging area to support Florida Department of Emergency management, these funds will also be are part of a comprehensive package and federal grant program,” wrote Avon Park Finance Director Melody Sauerhafer in a funding request.

Sauerhafer also said the city applied for the Build Back Better Regional Challenge in an effort to spur economic development after COVID-19.

But there’s unfinished business in the Heartland from prior years. The Florida Legislature funded more than $66.8 million in the 2021 Legislative Session to replace Okeechobee High School. But inflation on construction costs means the Heartland school district overseeing the project needs more.

Tuck has filed a bill requesting another $15.6 million for the project. Okeechobee County School District officials in an appropriations request said the actual project costs have ballooned. Original estimates were based on cost per student station numbers calculated in February 2019.

A host of other education and infrastructure needs land on Tuck’s plate. She has filed a $5 million request for the demolition of 96 structures at the infamous Florida School for Boys (HB 4747) and $4.38 million for a sanitation facility in Glades County (HB 4753). She’s seeking $2 million for a 166,000-square-foot livestock and expo structure in Okeechobee County (HB 4763).

And almost all of her requests are awaiting a spot on an appropriations subcommittee agenda. That’s a lot of legislation requiring plenty of lift in a short amount of time.

Millions are requested for work across the Florida Heartland, but Tuck seeks a lot of money at a time when plenty is available thanks to a strong Florida economy and assistance from the federal government tied to pandemic recovery.

“While we have the opportunity, I’m hoping to be able to bring home some funds that would focus on water quality and the infrastructure needs of the Heartland,” Tuck said.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected]


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