Gov. Rick Scott’s budget signing was a heavily stage-managed affair.
It was held in The Villages, a predominantly Republican retirement community roughly three and a half hours’ drive from the state capital. The crowd was purged of dissenters before the governor arrived, and they were left standing outside the outdoor town square with signs that read “Pink Slip Rick.”
Charter school students were bussed in from Osceola County to provide an ideal photo op. They held supportive signs, and members of the crowd helped lead them in chants of “Let’s get to work!”
State Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, and Rep. Marlene O’Toole, R-The Villages, were on hand to tout their legislative accomplishments, which included cracking down on frivolous lawsuits. Representatives from the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business, as well as state party chairman David Bitner, warmed up the crowd before Scott showed up, holding the red veto pen he wielded to strike what he said was a record $615 million in spending from the state’s budget.
Scott said the extra money should go to education — a more worthy use than “special projects” supported by “Tallahassee insiders.”
State Sen. David Simmons, R-Maitland, quickly called for a special session to allow lawmakers to shift the money to schools, but House Speaker Dean Cannon blasted the vetoes in a statement, saying Scott had freed up ”less than $100 million in general revenue,” which would only reduce the cuts to per-student spending from 7.9 percent to 7.3 percent.
Most of the money came from dedicated pots of money known as trust funds, many of which Scott sought to pour into the state’s general fund in his original budget proposal.
Here’s a look at some of the budget provisions that met Scott’s red ink:
- Nearly half of his $615 million total came from the Florida Forever program, which sets aside money for the acquisition of conservation lands. The money was supposed to come largely from the sale of “surplus lands,” worth up to $305 million, so the spending was not set in stone to begin with.
- Scott axed the entire line item for public radio and television stations. The $4.8 million total would have included $307,447 for each public television station and $61,715 for each public radio station.
- According to Florida TaxWatch, Scott nixed nearly 90 percent of the projects on its “turkey” list, including tens of million dollars worth of construction projects at state universities and half a million for the Loveland Center, which state Senate health appropriations chief Joe Negron had singled out as an example of a worthy local project that helps people with disabilities.
- Scott killed a pair of $400,000 studies — one backed by Cannon, which would have analyzed the potential benefits of the speaker’s proposed overhaul of the state Supreme Court, and one that would have analyzed the benefits of expanded gambling in the state, which has met opposition from religious conservatives in the Legislature.
- Scott has long railed against government support for “alligator marketing,” a program that promotes products made from gator hide, as an example of unnecessary spending. The industry will have to make do without $150,000 in state funds.
Scott’s full list of vetoed budget items can be found here (.pdf).
Scott also signed a measure cutting property taxes that go to water management districts, and vetoed a handful of conforming bills:
- S.B. 2106, which transfers the Florida Energy and Climate Commission from the governor’s office to the Department of Agriculture. In his veto message, Scott noted that the measure was “duplicative,” because a broader government reorganization bill, which he does support, would do the same thing.
- H.B. 5305, which would have eliminated the watchdog agency for prison health care.
- S.B. 2116, which would have allowed regional conflict councils to solicit private donations. He said in his veto message that the measure had been requested by one of the state’s five regions (Region 3) with one “principal benefactor in mind,” whose identity would not be disclosed to the governor until after he signed it. The bill would also have allowed local governments to help provide staff for the state’s guardian ad litem program, which advocates for abused and neglected children.
- S.B. 2118, which would have transferred oversight of private prisons from the Department of Corrections to the Department of Management Services. Scott opposed that position, noting in his veto message that he wanted to consolidate state contracting within Management Services. The measure would also have increased court fees for people who are convicted of crimes, or who plead guilty or no contest. The fee increase would have gone to support a crime lab run by the Florida Department of Law enforcement.
- S.B. 1738, which would have created a new business services oversight agency within the state’s Department of Management Services. Scott said this measure was also duplicative.