State Legislators Hear Resident Concerns in Several Panhandle Co - WMBB News 13 - The Panhandle's News Leader

State Legislators Hear Resident Concerns in Several Panhandle Counties

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State legislators met with constituents in several panhandle counties on Monday, gathering suggestions and concerns to take back to Tallahassee for the next legislative session.

Some big issues are expected to come up this next year; "game changers" in major job creators and a potential shift in the economic industry ratio of northwest Florida.

Meeting in Gulf and Franklin counties, State Senator Bill Montford and State Representative Halsey Beshears share ten counties in their respective districts, many of which are small in comparison to the South Florida giants, but should not be discounted.

"It's our job not to just stand up and beat the tom tom the loudest, but to say "hey, we need to make a real life comparison here." Dollars to dollars don't always equate equally," said Beshears.

Northwest Florida is looking for dollars (and lots of them) in support for a working port out of Port St. Joe that would service shipments to and from the Panama Canal.

"This is a landscape change for all of North Florida. We're not just talking about Gulf County. You're talking about this changing the whole North Florida feel and what's going to happen up here," said Beshears.

Senator Montford agreed, saying a port just makes sense for Northwest Florida and it's proximity to major southern rail hubs like Atlanta.

"[It will] create a lot of jobs, create a higher standard of living, it's the right thing to do and we'll work very hard on that," he said.

In the meantime, both Montford and Beshears want to lift the burden off of local governments saddled with unfunded state mandates.

"For these small counties where millage rates are almost capped out or capped out, an unfunded mandate can be death by 1,000 cuts, is what it is right here," said Beshears.

In addition to creating new jobs, Montford wants to proceed with caution.

"We've got to protect those jobs we already have and make sure, too, that we don't raise taxes. We've got to be very careful," said Montford.

The 2014 legislative session begins March 4th in Tallahassee.