Gov. Rick Scott on Monday sliced a rafter of turkeys and plenty of other projects out of the formerly $74.5 billion budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, bringing an end to speculation about what the governor would do with the heftiest spending plan in state history.
Two vetoes affect Flagler County directly: Scott vetoed the $2 million appropriated to the Flagler Beach-based Florida Endowment Foundation for Florida’s Graduates, the non-profit run by Heather Beaven and flagged last week by Tax Watch in its annual list of legislative “turkeys.” The foundation counts House Speaker Will Weatherford, the Wesley Chapel Republican, on its board, and the $2 million would have represented virtually the entirety of its budget. But Weatherford was on the losing side of an even bigger veto–the $46 million tuition increase for colleges and universities he’d championed.
Flagler County also lost $150,000 in re-training dollars for a local jobs program. (See the full list of vetoes below.)
In all, Scott cut just shy of $368 million in funding from the budget (SB 1500), bringing its overall total down to $74.1 billion. That’s still the largest that Florida lawmakers have ever approved, but the governor’s office says it’s one of the smallest since 2000 when population and inflation are factored in.
“We made strategic investments in this budget, while holding the line on spending that does not give Florida taxpayers a positive return on investment,” Scott wrote in a letter accompanying his vetoes. “In order to ensure all taxpayer funds are well spent, I have vetoed special legislative projects totaling $368 million.”
Scott announced by email that he had signed the budget and followed up with a brief press conference outside the Florida Department of Emergency Management’s headquarters in Tallahassee. It marked another striking contrast with Scott’s history — his first budget signing, in The Villages, resembled a political rally, while he spoke about his decisions last year at an elementary school in St. Johns County.
Scott also signed 16 budget-related bills, among them an economic development bill (SB 406) that includes a sales-tax holiday for clothing and school supplies from Aug. 2 through Aug. 4.
The largest item vetoed by Scott was a $50 million trail for bikers and pedestrians cutting across the state from St. Petersburg to Titusville, filling in gaps in existing paths. While pointing out that he and Budget Director Jerry McDaniel like to ride bikes, Scott told reporters that he felt state agencies should handle which projects get funded through normal channels.
“We’re doing projects like that out of the Department of Transportation,” Scott said. “That’s the way we should be doing that, rather than have a project like that.”
The governor’s veto of what would have amounted to a 3 percent tuition increase at state colleges and universities removes $26.4 million in funding for colleges and almost $18.5 million for universities, as well as $1.2 million for workforce education programs.
Scott, who has for months pressed for lower higher education costs, brushed away suggestions that he was meddling in universities for political reasons.
“This is not a political decision; this is the decision for Florida families,” he said. “Tuition cannot continue to go up the way it’s been going up.”
The proposed tuition increases were in budget fine print known as proviso language. While vetoing the proviso language could be legally dubious, Scott said he didn’t expect a court challenge.
“But if there is [one], we’re going to fight it,” he said.
Scott also slashed a $14 million building for science, technology, engineering and math at Gulf Coast State College, a project in the district of Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, that ballooned in size during budget negotiations between the House and Senate. Scott listed that and several other projects among those that weren’t on the list of construction projects requested by the Florida College System.
Gaetz was not alone; some projects in Pasco County, home to House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, also got the ax. Scott suggested he wasn’t overly concerned about nixing items that were close to home for legislative leaders.
“I’m responsible for 19.2 million people,” he said. “I’m not responsible for one region by itself. I want to take care of all Floridians.”
Scott’s vetoes in many instances tracked with the list of budget “turkeys” issued last week by Florida TaxWatch. The organization said Monday that more than two-thirds of the items it highlighted were sliced by Scott.
“It is clear from the high number of vetoed projects that the governor carefully scrutinized all of the budget turkeys TaxWatch identified, which is the intent of the Turkey Watch Report,” said Dominic Calabro, president and CEO of TaxWatch.
Reaction to the vetoes broke down largely along party lines. Gaetz, who had blasted TaxWatch’s list of turkeys on Thursday, was far more mild in his reaction to Scott’s decision to actual veto the items.
“While many will disagree with some of Governor Scott’s line item vetoes, that is his constitutional role as chief executive,” Gaetz said.
But Senate Minority Leader Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, flayed Scott’s vetoes.
“His targets reveal a basic misunderstanding of the critical role local communities, and local community projects play in Florida,” Smith said. “Our economy hinges on many facets, and this funding was intended to infuse the areas that contribute to its struggling rebound.”
–News Service of Florida and FlaglerLive