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Payne reviews legislative session with Lake Region business group

Rep. Bobby Payne speaks to the Keystone-Lake Region Business Association on Aug. 14. Photo: Dan Hildebran for the Monitor.

Monitor Editor

State Rep. Bobby Payne gave the Keystone-Lake Region Business Association a review of the 2017 legislative session during the group’s Aug. 14 meeting.
Payne said the high point of the session for the Lake Region was funding for the Black

Creek Water Resource Development Project: $13.3 million for the 2017-2018 fiscal year and $5 million per year over the following five years.

The project will capture water from the north fork of Black Creek near Penny Farms and pipe it to Alligator Creek, north of Lake Brooklyn for aquifer recharge and the recovery of minimum flows and levels for Keystone Heights-area lakes.

“With…restoring property values, lake levels and recreational areas, and recharging the Floridan Aquifer and the lower Santa Fe River basin, this project will help us prepare for growth and we won’t get into the mess they’ve got in South Florida,” Payne said.

The Palatka Republican also said he was assigned to five committees last session: economic development, commerce, energy and utilities, transportation and infrastructure and pre-K through 12 education.

The first-term representative said he spent his first weeks in Tallahassee listening and getting his bearings in his new role.

“I asked somebody what a freshman legislator was supposed to do during the first few weeks of the session,” Payne recalled “and they said just sit there, shut up and listen.”

Education and economic development
Payne said his priorities are to continue to work on issues that affect District 19, which covers Putnam, Bradford and Union counties, as well as the southern portion of Clay County.

“I think it’s very important that we look at three of those counties (Putnam, Union and Bradford) as having terrible economic conditions and poor educational problems,” he said.
Payne said that intergenerational poverty is one root cause of the poor economic conditions in the district.

“The cycle of generational poverty has been going on for some time,” he said. “We try to break that cycle…It doesn’t happen quickly. It took us 30 years to get there. It was a slow process, but we need to lay the base now so that we can continue moving in the right direction in the future.”

He said one way to break the cycle is to invest in pre-K through Grade 12 programs that work and can turn schools around.

“We have a lot of kids in our rural areas that aren’t college-bound,” Payne said. “They don’t want to go to college, so we need to develop tech-prep programs — career-tech programs — where these young people, like my son, can work with their hands: farm, ranch or grow blueberries — that’s what he does for a living.”

Enterprise Florida
Payne also addressed the conflict over Gov. Rick Scott’s push to heavily fund Enterprise Florida and the House’s resistance to such funding.

Enterprise Florida is the state’s public-private partnership that works to attract employers to Florida through economic incentives.

Payne explained that he and his House colleagues wanted to closely watch the downstream effect of incentivizing out-of-state companies to relocate to Florida.

He said the state could create competition for home grown businesses if it gives money to an out-of-state competitor to move to Florida.

“We believe in incentivizing,” he said, “but we have to do it in the right manner.”

He also said several employers attracted to the state by Enterprise Florida incentives relocated jobs here, and later reneged on their commitments.

“They took that money and after six months to a year they left,” Payne said. “So, we are giving your money to people to use for their (own) prosperity and they leave. We didn’t think that was the right thing to do.”

Payne added that during the special session that followed the regular session, House leaders and the governor reached a compromise for Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida: the state agency that spends around $76 million a year to promote tourism.

He said the compromise included measures to increase transparency in the agencies’ spending and increase fiscal control.

Payne said one example of questionable spending by Visit Florida was the agency’s $1 million contract with Pitbull for the South Florida rapper to appear in a commercial promoting the state.

“When I told taxpayers in our area that your tax dollars — whether it was a dime, a penny or a quarter — went to a rapper in South Florida, they weren’t too happy about it,” Payne said.

Water policy
Payne said that water policy will continue to emerge as a critical issue in Florida as the state population is projected to grow by six million people over the next 13 years.

He said that one idea gaining traction is to impound water instead of allowing it to drain into the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico.

“If we can impound that water and use it for beneficial reuse, we’re not pulling it out of the (aquifer) for irrigation and other commercial uses,” he said.

Charter schools
Payne also talked about his support for House Bill 7069, the controversial measure that funnels more public money to charter schools.

The bill was fiercely opposed by teachers and other supporters of traditional public schools. The new law also faces a lawsuit by several school boards.

“I’ve got a lot of great friends who are principals and school teachers,” Payne said. “The way I had to address it is, if I had a child that I knew had to sit in a failing school, I would look for another option, and that’s what we are trying to do.”

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