By the time Gov. Scott was done vetoing $310 million out of Florida’s $82.4 billion budget this week, Flagler County had paid a steep price.
Most significantly, Scott vetoed the $100,000 appropriated for what would have amounted to a second county judge in Flagler for a year. But he did more: he also vetoed $50,000 for additional help, presumably for circuit judges, which would be a departure from the current budget, which includes at least some money for retired judges putting in $350-a-day stints to help overloaded dockets.
The veto will severely affect County Judge Melissa Moore-Stens, whose docket even the Supreme Court recognized as one of the most burdened, if not the most burdened for a single judge, proportionally, in the state.
Ralph Lightfoot, the Flagler County chairman of the Democratic Executive Committee, who campaigned on Moore-Stens’s behalf to secure additional money, termed himself “disappointed” by the governor’s veto.
“Our judge will continue to be over worked and our citizens’ right to a speedy trial will be negatively impacted,” Lightfood said. “This will only get worse with our expected County growth. I have no facts to back this up. But I believe that every decision Governor Scott makes, is based on what actions will help him win his Senatorial race. He can deny funding to Flagler and still win Flagler.”
Scott also vetoed $450,000 earmarked for the third phase of Flagler Beach’s wastewater treatment improvements. Last year, Scott let pass a $200,000 appropriation for the project.
And he vetoed $50,000 earmarked for the long-dragging Bunnell-bypass project that would open a highway on the east side of town, from Commerce Parkway’s intersection with State Road 100 (at the Wendy’s) to U.S. 1 at the south end of town.
On the other hand, key appropriations survived, among them $13.5 million for dunes repairs to be split between St. Johns and Flagler, a vital part of county government’s funding plan to recover from Hurricane Matthew. The Flagler County school district’s Adults With Disabilities program’s half-million dollar appropriation survived (as did similar appropriations for about 20 counties), so did appropriations for early learning and subsidized child care. And a few additional road projects for the county, in the appropriation pipeline of the Department of Transportation, are unscathed.
Scott this week reached a deal with Senate and House leaders to reopen the budget in a three-day special session and restore some of his priorities, which the legislature had cut, including a return to $76 million in funding for Visit Florida (the Legislature had cut that budget to $25 million) and a newly defined pot of money for economic development–$84 million’s worth–to replace the budget lawmakers had eliminated for Enterprise Florida, the troubled economic development agency. Lawmakers had criticized both Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida for a lack of transparency and for profligate spending on dubious items. Scott called both essential pistons in Florida’s economy.
The compromise also included a significant increase in per-student funding, from the $24 per student lawmakers had initially agreed to, to the $100-per-student Scott pushed for. The $24 increase would have meant that per-student funding adjusted for inflation would have decreased.
But the compromise between Scott and legislative leaders, especially with House Speaker Richard Cocoran, had its price: the governor had to come up with enough money to pay for the restored funding. He did so largely through those vetoes. But even a cursory look at the line by line vetoes reveals the extent to which Scott was willing to veto local needs with immediate impacts for at least some of his more amorphous priorities–as critics of spending on Visit Florida and economic development had seen it–that may or may not yield tangible results.
The compromise also allows both Scott and Corcoran to save face and boast of having served constituents as each term-limited politician heads into what’s expected to be his next race: Scott for the U.S. Senate, Corcoran for governor.
The vetoes are not necessarily set in stone, as the Legislature will be drawing up what amounts to a new budget in those three days. But absent newfound money, it is very unlikely that lawmakers will again pump up the budget with pet projects, knowing that Scott’s veto pen is still unsheathed.
The full veto list appears below.