Trump to tout Lake Okeechobee dike project after proposing Everglades funding cuts

President Donald Trump is heading to Lake Okeechobee on Friday after proposing $63 million in federal funds for Everglades restoration when Democrats and Republicans from Florida asked for $200 million.

Trump is scheduled to land at an undisclosed location near the lake to tout a project to fix the Herbert Hoover dike around Lake Okeechobee by 2022, according to a White House official. The dike’s rehabilitation has been mostly funded after the federal government approved about $675 million for the project last year, though more federal funds could speed up the dike’s construction.

But there’s a host of other Everglades efforts that need funding.

Sen. Marco Rubio said he hopes the president will consider requesting more money for various Everglades Projects, including a multi-billion dollar project to build a new reservoir south of the lake. Congress, not Trump, has the power to allocate federal dollars for the effort.

“They cut everybody,” Rubio said when asked why the White House offered a much lower funding amount than requested. “They just asked every agency to take huge cuts so that’s where that comes from. We’ve got to get that fixed. The lower their number, the harder it’s going to be to get it done.”

This is the third straight year that the president’s Everglades request fell short of expectations from Florida lawmakers. Congress itself also hasn’t matched the $200 million ask from Florida lawmakers when it divvies up federal spending projects. Last year, Congress allocated $138.97 million for Everglades projects.

A White House official said Thursday that Congress in the past two years allocated more money than the White House requested for Everglades funding, and that this year will likely be no different.

Congressional Democrats also blasted the proposed funding cut but gave Gov. Ron DeSantis credit for upping state funding for Everglades restoration. In January, DeSantis announced $360 million per year for Everglades restoration, money that could go toward fixing the dike and the reservoir, along with other projects like raising the Tamiami Trail to allow for more water to flow through the Everglades to Florida Bay instead of being discharged from Lake Okeechobee.

“The fact that our new governor has stepped up is extremely important and in many ways we’re counting on him to educate the president on the importance of this project,” said Rep. Donna Shalala.

DeSantis told the Florida Phoenix on Thursday that he was “not sure” why the president is visiting the lake. White House officials later said DeSantis, Rubio and Sen. Rick Scott along with U.S. House members and local officials will visit the lake with the president for about an hour.

Democrats are also worried that Trump could use the Lake Okeechobee visit to announce a larger amount of Everglades funding as a way to score political points in a state he must win if he wants a second term as president. In January 2018, then Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke visited Tallahassee to announce that Florida was “off the table” for an expansion of offshore drilling thanks to the efforts of then Gov. Scott months before he successfully ran against Sen. Bill Nelson. The move was criticized by Democrats as a play by the Trump administration to boost Scott.

“I truly hope that this president sees the error of his ways with this budget and I hope he works with us and the governor,” said Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell. “I truly hope that his visit to Lake Okeechobee is not a campaign political stop and that he will support our needs in Florida.”

Scott avoided criticizing Trump on Thursday, though he noted that he asked the White House’s budget director about the funding gap and will continue to push for $200 million in federal funds.

“I’m going to continue to be appreciative of what the president did by continuing to take the lead to get the dike finished and I’m going to be aggressive in saying I want the $200 million, so I’m going to do both,” Scott said. “But I’ve told the president they should [increase] it and when I was at the Budget Committee two weeks ago when the acting director of OMB was there I told him the same thing.”