Senate, House budgets allocate millions to Florida Keys, disagree on projects, amounts
Image via Jesse Scheckner.

Monroe County Courthouse -- Photo credit - Jesse Scheckner
They have less than a month to agree on a uniform spending plan.

Monroe County, which encompasses all of the Florida Keys, is poised to receive millions in the 2023-24 budget — though exactly how much money, and where the funding will go, is still uncertain.

The Senate and House last week released their versions of the state’s next spending plan. The Senate proposal, which was passed Monday, came in at just under $113 billion, while the House version exceeded $113.6 billion.

Both budgets set aside $20 million for Monroe through the Florida Keys Stewardship Act, which funds projects to protect and improve water quality and fisheries. The funding, which several cities have used to improve canal waters, can also go toward municipal land acquisitions.

Doral Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez and Islamorada Rep. Jim Mooney, the only state lawmakers representing the Keys in Tallahassee, are sponsoring bills (HB 135, SB 54) to create a permanent, yearly $20 million earmark for such activity.

The Senate also allocated $10 million for a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) program to maintain and improve an artificial fishing reef. Both budgets include $1 million — exactly what Mooney and Rodriguez requested — for Mote Marine Laboratory’s ongoing coral restoration program.

Another $5 million is included in the Senate budget for a reverse osmosis plant in Marathon, which is $7.5 million less than what Rodriguez asked for in a March 3 funding request. The facility would supply additional water in the event of emergencies due to water main replacements, natural disasters or other disruptions.

The House budget included no such funding set-aside despite a nearly identical request for the same sum that Mooney submitted Feb. 10.

However, the House budget does provide $805,000 for the Florida Keys Marine Protection Mooring Field project, while the Senate version offered just $500,000.

Rodriguez and Mooney both requested $1.61M for the project, which would fund the design and implementation of 140 new moorings close to the county’s densest population center in compliance with a new vessel-anchoring law the Legislature passed last year.

The College of the Florida Keys, headquartered in Key West, received allocations from both chambers, albeit for different amounts. The House proposal included $9.73 million for operational expenses, $2 million to build generators for two buildings, $748,000 for nursing education grants, $31,000 through Work Florida Student Success Incentive Fund and $22,000 in student success incentives aid.

The Senate offered $9.77 million for College of Florida Keys operations and $748,000 for nursing education grants.

The Senate was alone in offering $2 million for renovations at Bruce Hall in Key West — Rodriguez and Mooney each requested $10 million for the project. It was also the only chamber to earmark $500,000 for Key West Colony Beach City Hall, $250,000 for the Keys Area Health Education Center, and $150,000 for the Monroe Association of ReMARCable Citizens, a nonprofit that provides wrap-around services for adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities.

The House, meanwhile, was the only one to set aside $3.5 million for construction of the Monroe County Emergency Operations Center in Marathon, a planned 28,000-square-foot, two-story, hurricane-hardened facility. Rodriguez and Mooney both requested $6.2 million for the project, which is also receiving a separate $16.6 million state allocation in addition to $13.6 million in federal funding this year.

Both versions of the budget include pay raises for Florida Highway Patrol troopers and FWC law enforcement officers, though the Senate package is more robust than the one from the House.

Miami-Dade and Monroe counties also stand to receive $120M for early learning initiatives through the School Readiness program, $2.7M for the Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten (VPK) program and $623K for workforce education programs.

Senators will also consider amendments to the chamber’s budget that would allocate $1.95M to Florida Keys Habitat for Humanity, $950K for historic restoration enhancement projects in Pigeon Key and $500K to harden and restore the exterior of the Harry S. Truman Little White House in Key West.

The Senate and House must agree on a uniform spending plan before May 2 to meet the requirement for a 72-hour “cooling off period” before lawmakers give final budget approval ahead of Sine Die on May 5.

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.

One comment

  • Billy the Bamboozler McStrip Mall Squatter

    April 3, 2023 at 3:13 pm


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