Scott stops in Riviera, talks up money for veterans in budget proposal

Florida Gov. Rick Scott touted his proposed state budget for 2018 as a boon to military veterans during a post-Veterans Day stop in Riviera Beach Monday morning.

The governor’s proposed budget — which the Legislature usually considers but is under no obligation to use when it creates the state’s annual spending plan — includes $178 million for programs and initiatives aimed at helping first responders, active duty military service members and veterans.

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“Our military, first responders and law enforcement members make the courageous decision to put their lives on the line every day to protect our country, families and communities, and I look forward to working with the Legislature during the upcoming session as we continue to do all we can to support these heroes,” Scott said in a press release describing the military and first-responder spending proposals.

Speaking at Cheney Brothers Inc., a food distributor located between Interstate 95 and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Scott noted his own service in the U.S. Navy and the service of his late father, a U.S. Army veteran who served in World War II.

As he has at other locations in Florida, Scott awarded employees who served in the military with service medals. They stood behind him as he spoke Monday and, when summoned by the governor, each stepped forward so he could drape a medal around his or her neck.

Cheney Brothers participates in a state program set up to help subsidize the training of veterans as they seek civilian jobs. The firm has hired 42 veterans through the program over the past year, said Warren Newell, a former Palm Beach County commissioner and director of development at Cheney Brothers.

Those hires pleased the governor.

“I want to congratulate them for all of the veterans that they hire,” Scott said of the company.

The budget battle during the upcoming legislative session is expected to be more even more intense than normal as lawmakers struggle to weigh the desire for tax cuts and program funding against revenue. And the politics of the budget is likely to be impacted by the fortunes of Scott, state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land-O’Lakes.

Scott, a Republican, is expected to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson as he seeks re-election. Latvala, the former Senate Budget Committee chairman embroiled in a sexual harassment scandal, has announced plans to run for the Republican nomination for governor. And Corcoran is exploring his own Republican gubernatorial run.

Scott’s budget proposal includes:

  • About $8 million to begin operations at the Lake Baldwin State Veterans Nursing Home.
  • $2.7 million to support veterans looking for employment or starting their own businesses.
  • $2 million to build and modify homes for veterans who were severely wounded during service in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • $200,000 for search and rescue vessels and protective equipment for National Guardsmen to use during deployments.

Scott also announced his support for a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would call for free college tuition for family members of first responders, law enforcement officers and military service members who die in the line of duty.

The proposal calls for a surviving family member to get 120 credit hours — enough for a four-year degree — at a Florida state college, university or participating technical school.

If the Constitution Revision Commission approves the proposal, it would be placed on the ballot in 2018. The proposal would then have to get 60 percent of the vote to go into effect.

“We will never be able to repay our fallen officers or service members who have bravely given their lives, but it is our duty to ensure that their families are supported as if they were our own,” Scott said.

Palm Beach County Mayor Paulette Burdick, a Democrat, was among those at Cheney Brothers who greeted Scott. She, too, praised veterans and first responders, but after the governor had made his remarks, she called on him to do more for veterans and other citizens struggling to afford housing.

Over the past decade, she said lawmakers have used $1.2 billion in housing trust funds for other purposes as they balanced the budget. Burdick urged Scott to push lawmakers to use housing funds for housing.

“Housing in Palm Beach County and other areas of the state is in a crisis situation,” Burdick said. “It’s a critical situation. We need the governor’s leadership.”

As Burdick spoke, Scott, out of earshot, was making his way back through the Cheney Brothers facility to a vehicle that would take him out of town.

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