Palm Beach Post: Scott cuts millions for Palm Beach County projects from budget
Posted on June 24, 2015
By John Kennedy
TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott vetoed $461.4 million in spending Tuesday from the $78.7 billion state budget approved by the Legislature last week, erasing dozens of hometown programs and projects sought by top lawmakers.
The volume of cuts was the largest for Scott since he erased $615.3 million in spending his first year as governor.
With the vetoes, the bounty of spending directed toward Palm Beach County has suddenly shrunk.
Among the items wiped out: $3.5 million for the Lake Worth Park of Commerceand $500,000 for the community’s storm water work; $500,000 for roadway beautification in Riviera Beach; $140,000 for repairs at the Boynton Women’s Club; and $400,000 for roadwork in Belle Glade.
Florida Atlantic University lost the $1 million it had drawn for its tech runway project. The Norton Museum saw the $1 million directed toward it by state lawmakers become history.
Another $10 million for railroad crossing work — so-called quiet zones — linked to the All Aboard Florida line expected to course through Palm Beach County, also was vetoed by Scott.
Palm Beach County lobbyist Todd Bonlarron said there’s always “an initial shock” when vetoes are released.
“But you realize you win some and lose some,” Bonlarron said, pointing out that $12 million in funding for West Palm Beach’s 4th District Court of Appeal survived, along with a number of arts, cultural, road and drainage projects.
“We’ll be back again next year,” he added.
In signing the budget without ceremony in his office Tuesday morning, Scott hailed the spending plan for making room for more than $400 million in tax cuts, the largest being a reduction in the tax Floridians pay on cellphones and television services.
In a letter accompanying the budget signing, Scott also said, “Over the last four years, Florida’s economy has been rebuilt.”
Scott’s actions quickly drew howls from many lawmakers, particularly his fellow Republicans in the state Senate.
Senate President Andy Gardiner Senate President Andy Gardiner, who clashed with Gov. Rick Scott for most of the past three months over expanding health coverage, saw his Orlando hometown hit hard in Tuesday’s long roster of budget vetoes.
He swung back.
“While Gov. Scott will undoubtedly spend the next several weeks traveling the state touting his record number of vetoes as win for Florida’s families, there are many families across Florida who have seen their dreams shattered by his decisions today,” said Gardiner, R-Orlando.
Gardiner spearheaded the Senate’s Florida Health Insurance Exchange, opposed by Scott and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island.
While the governor seemed to tread lightly on projects heading toward Crisafulli’s home Brevard County, vetoing three initiatives from a robust list, some of Gardiner’s most cherished items were axed.
Scott vetoed $15 million for the University of Central Florida’s downtown campus and also wiped out another $5 million for the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center in Orlando. Gardiner, who has championed special needs measures in the Legislature, was angered by the veto of $8 million for postsecondary program for people with disabilities.
The Senate president accused the governor of worsening the plight of the working poor by vetoing $10 million in funding for free clinics and eliminating a pay raise for Florida Forestry Service firefighters, while also erasing a handful of water projects and land purchases under the voter-approved Amendment 1.
The Legislature was sued by environmental groups Monday over its handling of the conservation measure.
“While I respect the governor’s authority to veto various lines within our budget, his clear disregard for the public policy merits of many legislative initiatives underscores that today’s veto list is more about politics than sound fiscal policy,” Gardiner said.
Several senators accused Scott of failing to take time to inquire about local projects, having an inconsistent approach and undermining spending that had economic benefit. They also promised to remember Scott’s action when lawmakers reconvene in January.
“I’m disappointed. I’m hurt and I’m angry for the constituents of this state who have lost projects that were valuable to their communities,” said Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater.
Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, said Scott’s action convinced him it was time for lawmakers to more closely scrutinize the governor’s economic development efforts.
“What he’s done is devastating to some of our counties,” Clemens said.
The level of Scott’s vetoes was a reminder of the governor’s first year in office, when he set a state record padded by $305 million in “spending authority” for the state’s Florida Forever land acquisition program.
That money would have been made available to buy more land for parks and greenways only when the state sold surplus land and buildings.
Discounting the spending authority veto, the $461.4 million Scott wiped out Tuesday would top his opening year total, when he was still a favorite with tea party groups and railed against “Tallahassee insiders.”
Since then, the two-time governor has lost some support from the hard right of the state’s Republican Party. But eyeing a U.S. Senate bid in 2018, Scott may be looking to widen that appeal with his latest policy action.
Americans for Prosperity, the group founded by the conservative Koch brothers, was among those calling for Scott to go heavy on vetoes.
‘BEST FOR ALL OUR CITIZENS’
But House Budget Chairman Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, praised the governor for his close scrutiny of state spending.
“It’s not Monopoly money,” Corcoran said. “These are the hard-earned dollars of Florida taxpayers. And I think he did a good job of guarding taxpayers’ dollars.”
Scott said in issuing vetoes, he gauged whether a project served a statewide purpose, provided a potential good return on the state’s investment, and whether it had undergone review by a state agency or board.
“I go through the budget and I try to find out what is best for all our citizens,” Scott said. “This is their money. It’s not government money.”
Asked if he retaliated against senators for their stand on expanding health coverage – a battle that forced the Legislature into a rare, three-week special session in June to finalize a budget — Scott said, “Absolutely not. I went through it to find out what was the best thing for our state.”