By Paul Scott Abbott, AJOT
A member of the Florida House of Representatives is advancing legislation aimed at raising some $500 million for port-related infrastructure and logistics development and education.
State Rep. Lake Ray, R-Jacksonville, said he is introducing a pair of bills that he anticipates will be wrapped up into a single piece of legislation to generate jobs related to ports and logistics.
The proposed legislation would direct Florida port authorities to provide master plans that show development costs and potential jobs creation for priority projects. Port officials would be asked to work with state environmental authorities to ensure fast-tracking of permitting. Private port users also would be able to go through a similar process.
Ray’s proposal calls for financing some of the priority projects through a special fund to be supported by Florida corporations buying incentivized future tax credits in advance – a mechanism Ray said could garner about $500 million.
Seventy percent to 75 percent of that sum – or $350 million to $400 million – would go toward port infrastructure under Ray’s proposal, which calls for 20 percent of generated funds going toward economic development grants and/or low-interest loans for distribution centers and other operations that support the movement of goods through Florida ports. The remaining 5 percent to 10 percent would be used for logistics education, with an eye to generating well-paying blue-collar jobs.
“This bill provides our port authorities and port communities opportunities for expanding to meet our future international trade opportunities,” said Ray, who is a member of the Florida House Roads, Bridges and Ports Policy Committee, in which the legislation is to be initially reviewed.
Unlike many U.S. Southeast states, which each have a single statewide port authority, Florida has separate authorities for each of its deepwater ports.
A January white paper from the Tallahassee-based Florida Ports Council, “Florida Economic Action Plan: Investing in Florida’s Seaports to Promote Job Growth and State and Local Revenues,” reported that, in 2008, maritime cargo activity at Florida’s ports was responsible for generating more than 550,000 direct and indirect jobs and $66 billion in total economic value.
The white paper said the average annual wage of seaport-related jobs in Florida is $54,400, more than double the average annual wage for all other nonadvanced-degree workers ($26,933) and nearly $16,000 more than the average annual wage for all occupations ($38,470).
“It’s really about jobs right now,” said Mike Rubin, vice president of the Florida Ports Council. “Investing in Florida seaports means investing in good-paying blue-collar jobs.”