Gov. Rick Scott denied giving consideration to his friends — or retaliating against his enemies — as he threw out more than $460 million spent by lawmakers in this year’s budget.
“Absolutely not,” Scott told reporters Tuesday morning after the Tuesday Cabinet meeting concluded.
But a close look at what was axed and what was not tells a different story.
As lawmakers, state agencies and lobbyists wade through the governor’s hundreds of individual line-item vetoes, they would do well to keep a scorecard of who’s in and who’s out with Scott in mind.
A straightforward, if well-worn example: $15 million for a new University of Central Florida downtown campus was nixed while a similar a project of similar size and scope — $17 million for a new downtown medical campus at University of South Florida — was not.
Scott said the decision was made on procedural grounds, not political ones.
“That’s simple: one went through the Board of Governors process and one didn’t,” the governor said.
An inquiry to the Governor’s Office elicited the same basis for his decision — the project “circumvented the BOG’s campus approval process,” said spokesman Jeri Bustamante on Scott’s behalf.
But such concerns seemed to have little bearing on the governor’s disposition in general.
“There are so many inconsistencies in the ways those things are applied,” said state Sen. Jack Latvala in the Tampa Bay Times this afternoon.
“They don’t even know what he asked for before,” added Latvala in an interview in which he said outright that Scott has “declared war on the Legislature” with the veto list.
The legislative leaders had stark differences in their reactions to Scott’s vetoes.
Senate President Andy Gardiner had several priorities vetoed and he criticized the governor for his actions in a surprisingly terse release. House Speaker Steve Crisafulli didn’t issue an angry release, even though Scott vetoed millions in water projects that were important to him.
Instead, Crisafull thanked the governor and said, “This is a good budget that responsibly meets the needs of Florida families.”
Gardiner, who was at odds with Scott most of the session after the governor reversed his position on Medicaid expansion, said in a statement Scott’s vetoes, such as $9.5 million for the Florida Association of Free and Charitable Clinics and another $3 million for Florida State University Rural Primary Care Clinic, were politically motivated.
“The Governor refused to support the Senate’s efforts to help the working poor in our state purchase private health insurance, yet vetoed nearly $10 million in funding for free and charitable clinics, again depriving these families of the chance for proactive primary care and pushing more and more Floridians without health insurance towards hospital emergency rooms when they are at their sickest and most vulnerable. He also vetoed funding for primary care residency programs and faculty to train physicians who work in rural and underserved areas,” Gardiner said in a news release.
“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. It is unfortunate that the messaging strategy needed to achieve the Governor’s political agenda comes at the expense of the most vulnerable people in our state.”
Senate budget writer Tom Lee said he believes the governor’s vetoes hit the House just as hard as the Senate. “I know who was pushing what. I was at the table, I know about the IMG Academy,” Lee said, referencing a late-night decision to increase funding at the academy from $50,000 to more than $2 million.
“I know about all this stuff, and I’m telling you, the priorities of the House of Representatives, Chair Corcoran and the speaker, were equally affected by his veto pen.”
Lee said the reaction from the Senate most likely stems from when the governor met with senators during the regular session and were threatened during the session.
“That’s what happens when you wear that frustration on your sleeve and members are left to rightfully assume it was personal.”
Non-legislative actors felt the sting of Scott’s record-setting $461 million veto spree, also.
One thing the governor has approved before, funding for a Florida Catastrophic Storm Risk Management Center at Florida State University in Tallahassee, was summarily vetoed.
Was it the process, largely the same as in the past years when the non-controversial item has been fully funded, or was it antipathy towards the item’s primary supporter — CFO Jeff Atwater — who has vocally criticized the governor’s handling of former top cop Gerald Bailey’s exit.
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who along with Atwater serves on the Florida Cabinet, saw a priority of his fall to Scott’s veto pen: $1.6 million to give the state’s 606 Forest Service firefighters each a $2,000 a year pay raise. Putnam, too, questioned Bailey’s departure.