Gov. Rick Scott signed his budget this afternoon, but not before wielding his “favorite pen” to strike what he said were $615 million in line-item vetoes.

He said he wanted lawmakers to put the money toward education, but would not say whether he wanted them to come back in special session to make that happen, or how much of the freed-up money should ultimately go to schools.

Scott was surrounded by cheering supporters in The Villages, a sprawling retirement community not far from Eustis, where he unveiled his budget proposal in February. A handful of protesters waving “Pink Slip Rick” signs stood outside the gates, but the crowd, and the surrounding community, remained largely sympathetic to Florida governor and his party, even as his popularity continues to sink in other parts of the state.

The Republican Party of Florida took the unusual step of helping turn the event into a political rally. When Scott signed the budget, he was surrounded by about 100 charter school students from Osceola County, who came on a surprise field trip to support the governor’s decision to free up more money for schools.

The students, mostly middle schoolers from Four Corners Charter School and P.M. Wells Charter Academy, carried signs that read “No to Earmarks, Yes to Education” and “We Love the Gov!” They swarmed Scott after he signed the budget, and he signed autographs and handed out souvenir red Sharpies emblazoned with the words “Promises Made, Promises Kept. Governor Rick Scott VETO PEN.”

Asked about the decision to work with the party to help create a political spectacle, Scott spokesman Brian Burgess said it would be “naive” to think the governor’s budget signing — and the ensuing controversy of what did and did not get vetoed — wasn’t heavily politicized to begin with.

“People are going to turn this into a political event anyway,” he said.

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