Pensacola, Florida
Sunday January 21st 2018

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Ingram’s Last Session

By Rick Outzen

When the 2018 Florida Legislature convenes on Jan. 9, it will be Clay Ingram’s last session. The Pensacola Republican terms out of the Florida House this year. The newspaper caught up with him before the Christmas holidays and asked him to look back on the 2017 session and talk about the upcoming one.

Rep. Ingram told Inweekly. “I was talking to some folks at lunch, and an elderly couple from church mentioned, ‘You remember knocking on our door in 2010 asking for a vote?’ I said, ‘It seems like just yesterday, but it was darn near eight years ago.’ It really has flown by.”

Ingram chairs the House Transportation and Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee and serves on the Appropriations Committee and Joint Legislative Budget Commission. At the end of the session, he has a seat at the table when the House and Senate work out the state budget. His final budget may be the tightest in years due.

“I think we thought this might be one of the last years of budget surplus and then heading into a little bit of a recession with regard to tax revenues,” he said. “Revenues to the state are still up compared to years previous, but federally-required healthcare and education spending, the growth of those two requirements outpace the growth at which we brought tax revenue in.”

Lawmakers anticipate a budget deficit next year. They will have to beef up the catastrophe fund after Hurricane Irma and the other storms that came through the state wiped it out in 2017. The fund helped the state handle the onslaught of expenditures that rippled throughout state government.

“Every single state agency was impacted,” said Ingram. “The DJJ (Department of Juvenile Justice) and the Department of Corrections, you could imagine, had to move inmates, and they had to shuffle kids that are in those programs from all those parts of the state to somewhere safer. Stuff like that happens to every agency that the state has, having to move people, move technology and resources; it really did a number on the budget. That’s kind of the overarching theme for the upcoming session.”

The sex scandals have also impacted the legislature.

“They have made it a weird feeling at the capitol, just what’s going to be able to get done with so many scandals hanging over so many people, with regard to the overarching but inappropriate touching and comments and that kind of stuff that’s been going on,” he said.

Ingram added, “Those two things seem to be the underlying vibe that will affect everything else.”

2018 Wish List
For the 2018 session, Ingram hopes to get funding to replace the 61-year-old Mary Ellison Baars Building at Pensacola State College. The new 101,000-square-foot facility will house the college’s technical programs in cybersecurity, math, science and applied technology. It will be a significant player in providing mechanics for the VT MAE at the nearby Pensacola International Airport.

“The Baars Building may be the oldest functioning building in the state college system that hasn’t had a significant upgrade concerning not just the facing and that kind of thing, but the gut job,” said Ingram.  “Dr. Meadows (PSC president) has advocated strongly and ardently for it, and we’ve at least gotten some money put toward it.”

He added, “Another thing, it’s very high on the State Board of State College’s list of asks. It’s not something we’re pushing as a pet project; it’s ranked high by the state college system.”

In the 2017 session, the $19 million needed to replace the building became a casualty of the fight between Gov. Rick Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran over economic development. Ingram is optimistic that the 2018 session will be smoother for the project.

“We need the building to do a lot of the training for the VT MAE-type jobs and the cyber jobs,” he said. “Politics got in the way of it last year, and a lot of the money was taken to do some things in South Florida to smooth things over between the legislature and the governor. We would love to keep politics out of that and actually have it funded because it’s vital for us.”

Ingram believes that our area has done an excellent job preparing for the opening of VT MAE later this year.

“George Stone Technical Center has graduated their first class of graduates for VT MAE,” he said. “I think a lot of times around this region we’re accused of being behind the curve, but we have done a good job of gearing up for that particular round of hiring, which is very positive.”

While his chairmanship takes up much of his time as he oversees the budgets for transportation, tourism and economic development, which totals $12-$13 billion, he wants to focus his last session on how to make Florida “very military friendly, very veteran friendly.”

He said, “I have a bill, there’s not a lot of revolutionary things, but it’s things that build upon things we’ve done in the past with regard to making it easier for the military to be here, making it easier on the enlisted folks who are stationed here, not just here in the Panhandle but in the state of Florida.”

Defined by Triumph
Besides the battle between the governor and speaker, the other issue that took up much of the Northwest Florida delegation’s energy last year was ensuring the $300 million from the BP oil spill settlement was given to Triumph Gulf Coast to help our region diversify its economy. Ingram described the 2017 fight as a “monumental lift.”

“Whenever people from other parts of the state knew that we had a billion and a half dollars that we had coming here, there were definitely forces that wanted to take that money and move it other places and siphon it off,” he said. “That was a huge lift; it affected everything we were doing. We looked at every vote through the lens of, ‘will this harm the Triumph Gulf Coast money coming to the Panhandle?’ That’s the absolute truth. At the end of the day, it got done, and it was a huge relief.”

He added, “Looking back on my almost eight years now, a lot of things that I’ve done I felt were important and put a lot of effort and focus into, but I think we’ll be defined by Triumph looking back 20-30 years from now. That will be the generational change, we hope, for our economy that we were all a part of making happen.”

How Triumph Gulf Coast spends the funds will impact how state lawmakers look at future installments of the BP funds, which is a big concern for Ingram. He also serves as the president and CEO of the Greater Pensacola Chamber.

“When we at the chamber were looking at projects we wanted to endorse or get behind and things we really wanted to push, the perspective we took was 30 years from now, 40 years from now, when we’re looking back on the economy and how it evolved, did putting resources behind this particular project, project X, Y, or Z, change the course of the economy. Did it add a leg to the stool of our economy?” he said. “We endorsed those projects that actually were transformative.”

Ingram added, “It’s hard to go wrong when you’re looking at things that way.”