Legislative leaders target top state jobs to win power for region
To emphasize its new focus on regionalism, the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce ended its annual goals conference Sunday with a call from tri-county legislative leaders to set aside partisanship and band together to win funds and power for South Florida.
They agreed the key to those funds is to elect either the speaker of the state house or president of the senate from one of the three South Florida counties by uniting the votes of the 40% of the legislature that is elected from south of Lake Okeechobee.
"Our cries are not heard in the office of the speaker of the house or the senate president when the real decisions are made," Sen. Kendrick Meek, who heads the Miami-Dade delegation, told chamber members and guest leaders from the Broward and Palm Beach chambers of commerce.
As a result, he said, South Florida is being short-changed in state funding. Others agreed.
Panelists said power in the legislature has devolved to those two offices, so if South Florida's issues aren't supported there they will not be adequately handled. The tri-county legislative leaders agreed to ignore party affiliations to elect the head of at least one branch of the legislature from South Florida.
"The only position that really matters for South Florida is the top," said Rep. Stacy Ritter, chair of the Broward County legislative delegation, "because you then will get your issues funded."
Ms. Ritter pledged that Broward Democrats would set aside party affiliation to elect a speaker or senate president from South Florida.
Part of the problem - hence the cry for help - is that South Florida's lawmakers do not think regionally but parochially, panelists agreed.
But the North Florida legislative delegation certainly thinks of South Florida as a region with similar needs and interests, said Rep. Ritter. "If they think we're a region, it's time for those of us in this room to start considering ourselves as a region."
The answer, she said, is to promote trust among South Florida's legislators, and also its county commissioners, school board members and chambers of commerce. "It starts with that first step, which is trust."
That request for trust drew a barbed comment from Miami-Dade County Commissioner Jimmy Morales, who said he would not heed the chamber's call for creation of a regional transportation authority to help unsnarl the area's gridlock while the Broward County Commission funds efforts to lure companies 15 miles north of Miami-Dade. The county commission could block formation of a regional transportation authority.
Legislative lobbyist and panelist Ron Book asked Mr. Morales to set aside some disagreements to win bigger victories.
"We cannot allow any longer singular issues to derail big-picture issues," Mr. Book said.
The business communities of Tampa and Jacksonville have poured millions into the campaigns of legislative leaders, Mr. Book said. He said the region's financing of campaigns could make a difference in winning funds for health care, universities, road construction and other needs of those regions.
"We have to do this together. And we can only do this, commissioner, if we put some of those issues aside," he told Mr. Morales.
After the Jacksonville business community funded Senate President Jim King in a big way to get him into the office, Mr. Book said, Mr. King brought big funds back to Jacksonville - including $56 million this year for Shands Hospital in that city, the top hospital funding in the state. Yet, Mr. Book said, Shands is not as good as the top South Florida hospitals.
"We're barely getting the scraps because we're not banding together on matters of mutual interest," Mr. Book said.
"None of us can go it alone," said Rep. Jeffrey Atwater, who chairs the Palm Beach County legislative delegation.
Calling for creation of a regional transportation authority, new chamber First Vice Chair Allen Harper asked county commissioners to link across county lines.
"Our county commission needs to understand we are not alone in the world," Mr. Harper said. "They must overcome their parochialism. The politics of ego, the politics of power, do not solve everyday-people's problems."
To list those top five or six issues is the next step, said Philip Blumberg, who is spearheading the South Florida Initiatives, an effort at regional cooperation among business, universities and government. The group is moving to create a political action committee or similar group to funnel campaign funds to legislators who support the regional agenda.
South Florida Initiatives, he said, will meet at least quarterly to move projects forward.