June 9, 2015
Tia Mitchell (PolitiJax)
The House and Senate have been wrangling over how much to fund infrastructure improvements at the spaceport at Cecil Airport on Jacksonville's Westside, along with hundreds of other budget items still in dispute. Until this evening, the dispute was over whether to give the repurposed military base $1 million or $2 million in new funding.
Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, surprised Cecil Spaceport supporters this evening during a budget subcommittee meeting when he said that Cecil had $2 million in unspent funding that would be carried over into the next year instead of giving the spaceport any new state dollars. Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, sprang into action and insisted that Cecil Field's existing dollars were spoken for and new money was needed.
That is when things got interesting. A representative from Space Florida was called to testify and told the budget committee that Cecil Spaceport had not spent its money and would not be able to do so anytime soon. Then Michael Stewart, spokesman for Jacksonville Aviation Authority that operates the spaceport, came forward and said that the money was indeed spoken for.
He said later that the infrastructure projects at the spaceport had moved slower than expected, but a taxiway and ramp should be completed by August and would eat up the entire $2 million in the current year's budget. Stewart said he plans to prove the existing $2 million was spent and that Cecil needs another $2 million for additional improvement, such as installing utilities and beginning to build an access road.
After several minutes of discussion during the budget subcommittee meeting, Chairman Latvala said he would give both sides time to come to agreement about Cecil Airport's spending prior to the next meeting. Both sides will powwow in Gibson's office Tuesday morning, and the budget subcommittee will likely reconvene sometime later in the day.
Latvala hastily appointed Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, to mediate the dust-up. Clemens said he hopes to help Gibson, D-Jacksonville, save Cecil Airport funding as long as the money is being spent as Stewart says.
"It's almost a waste of the first year dollars" if you don't give them more to continue improvements, he said.
This is how the sausage is made, folks. Stay tuned.