TALLAHASSEE — Florida Gov. Rick Scott, seeking to bridge a rift with the Republican-controlled Legislature, announced Tuesday that he would veto more than $256 million from a new state budget that legislators just passed days ago.
Scott made the unusual move to announce his budget vetoes before the Legislature had even formally presented him with the more than $82 billion spending plan. Legislators approved the budget last Friday before ending their annual session.
While Scott says he will zero out money for dozens of projects ranging from roads, cultural projects, health care and law-enforcement programs, this year’s total amount of budget vetoes is less than half of what the governor eliminated last year. Last year his nearly $500 million worth of budget vetoes sparked the ire of top legislators since they came with little notice.
Sen. Tom Lee, a Brandon Republican and Senate budget chief, said at first glance that many of the projects targeted by Scott were local projects that should rely on local tax dollars instead of state money.
“I think it’s a pretty reasonable, pretty justifiable list of vetoes,” Lee said.
Senate President Andy Gardiner in a statement echoed Lee’s sentiments and said the governor’s “initial review appears very fair and we look forward to his final approval.” House Speaker Steve Crisafulli said Scott had used his veto pen in a “prudent and fair manner.”
Scott wanted lawmakers to set aside $250 million in economic incentives and approve nearly $1 billion in tax cuts that would be spread out over the next two years. Instead legislators gave him zero for incentives and the tax cut package pared back to $400 million – much of which was set aside for a slight property tax cut. Scott wanted to use a rise in local property taxes to boost school funding.
Despite the setbacks Scott showed up at the session end to congratulate legislators and praised the budget overall. He kept up the conciliatory tone in announcing that he would sign the budget once it formally hits his desk.
“Before I came into office, Florida was raising taxes and fees and there is no doubt that I will always want more tax cuts and more jobs,” Scott said in a statement. “I look forward to continuing to work with the Legislature to find more ways next year to return money back to families all across Florida.”
Melissa Sellers, Scott’s chief of staff, added that the governor had succeeded in his 2014 campaign promises on tax cuts and higher funding for schools.
Scott’s approach this year appears likely to end any speculation that lawmakers would return to the Capitol to override his budget vetoes. Many legislators, including Lee, had speculated that his veto total would rival what he did in 2015. Democrats and Republicans were united in approving this year’s budget and there was only one no vote out of 160 legislators.
Scott’s biggest proposed veto is $55 million legislators wanted to take out of an account dedicated to economic development projects and use for other parts of the budget. Scott’s action would mean that the money will remain unused until next year. Another large veto was $10 million legislators wanted to use for quiet zones near railroad lines.
The governor also said he planned to veto everything from $8 million for land acquisition for Florida International University to $1.5 million for primary care access in three Southwest Florida counties to $50,000 for a cold case task force and money for sewer and water lines.
But Scott also said he would let stand other items that he vetoed last year including a pay raise for Florida’s forest firefighters sought by Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. He also said he would approve $20 million being sought by the University of Central Florida for a new downtown campus.