Rep. Tommy Gregory holds series of Town Hall meetings in East County.
Rep. Tommy Gregory (R-District 73) believes the Florida Department of Transportation wants to do everything in its power to make roadways safer in East County as well as the rest of the state.
"The roads we have now, people are unhappy," Gregory said. "But the FDOT is doing everything it can under the restrictions it has to work under. I don't feel we are ahead of the curve."
When the Florida House goes back into session next January, Gregory wants to find ways to cut those restrictions so the FDOT can address dangerous roadways, such as intersections along State Road 70, in a shorter time span.
Besides feeling that way himself, Gregory has heard the same opinions from his constituents, such as those who came to Bethany Baptist Church in Myakka City on Aug. 13.
"What they want, No. 1, is the repair of these dangerous intersections at (County Road) 675 and Verna Bethany," Gregory said. "These state roads are not built to handle the traffic we've got, or at least not the traffic patterns we've got. The elected officials, we all know it.
"I want to draft and file a bill on transportation, and specifically target these dangerous intersections. We need to shorten the timeline that FDOT has no choice but to operate under. FDOT has mandatory timelines they go through. The FDOT officials are available and receptive, but they are restrained by Florida law. Transportation infrastructure is the responsibility of the government."
Gregory said a local voice needs to go into what dangerous intersections that involve state roads are fixed first.
Besides fielding questions about roadways, Gregory said Myakka City area residents had concerned about not having enough state law enforcement in the area to patrol their roads. He said in discussions with the Florida Highway Patrol, he has been told there simply isn't enough manpower to go around.
He said that should be a fundamental responsibility in government and he said he will be pursuing a request for more resources.
"I will be talking about it in Tallahassee from a budget perspective," he said. "The (Florida Highway Patrol) needs more money to hire more people, and I will be asking."
Along with helping the FDOT to find ways to streamline projects, Gregory also discussed a couple more of his own priorities — he said he has three "no-kidding top projects" — when the next legislative session begins.
He wants to present an outdoor Florida bill that would give state residents more access to the more than 10 million acres of state-owned land. He said he has heard from citizens that the state owns land right down the street from them, but it is posted and they can't hunt, fish, camp or hike there.
"I don't think that makes sense," he said.
He said the key is finding ways to manage those lands if they are opened to the public. Is there a gate, or a check-in process needed? However, he said increasing access would be a net positive for preserving those lands.
Besides access to land, he wants to stimulate interest in outdoor activities.
"We need to appreciate our natural resources," he said. "We have this amazing state. I would love to have a free hunting day, or week. We would have to coordinate it with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. You know, I love the back-to-school sales tax holiday, like all parents do. It's a great program and a great idea. We should do the same thing with these recreational activities. Hunting ... fishing ... get the stuff needed with no sales tax so you can try it for a week."
A third priority will be taking a look at the way Florida is handicapping the manufacturing industry. He said the way Florida taxes companies across the board is hurting the economy and is artificially limiting the number of good and high-paying jobs available.
He said an example is the state's commercial lease tax at 5.5% that he calls "an extra tax" that has an end effect of making small manufacturing companies unable to compete and leaves areas unable to compete against states without such a tax.
"In a competitive market, you can't overcome a 5.5% handicap. If we aren't proactive in these kinds of things, we will be a state only for the retired or in the service industry for people who are retired. That is not a sustainable way to build a community. You need to have room for manufacturing jobs other than the food and hotel industries. We don't need to give them more money to be here, just stop making it more difficult. Level the playing field."
Gregory hosted a second Town Hall meeting Aug. 20 at Goodwill in Bradenton. He has two more, the next Aug. 23 at the Parrish YMCA and the final one Sept. 12 at Keiser University in Lakewood Ranch.
"We can only do better with more involvement," he said. "There is a core of active people and their voice will be heard. But we all would benefit if more people would voice their ideas."