Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a $74.1 billion state budget for the year beginning July 1, after vetoing $368 million Monday from the proposal approved by lawmakers earlier this month.
Erased with the vetoes was $6.5 million sought by Palm Beach State College for a new campus in Loxahatchee Groves — the third time such funding has been wiped out by a Florida governor. Another $325,000 in projects along the Lake Worth Lagoon sought by Palm Beach County officials also was vetoed.
Sheriff Ric Bradshaw also had wiped out $1 million he had sought for a special unit aimed at heading-off potential violence.
But the “violence prevention” program’s plan to have neighbors anonymously tip law enforcement to possible troublemakers drew widespread controversy. Critics likened the tactic to those used in Nazi Germany or seen in the writing of George Orwell.
An email campaign urged a Scott veto.
“Given the lack for funding, the Sheriff’s Office will re-evaluate the feasibility of going forward, and continue with existing programs to combat violence in the community,” the Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.
Critics, though, hailed Scott’s action.
Delray Beach resident Jim Tingler, who had started an on-line petition urging Scott to veto the $1 million, said he didn’t care why Scott axed the funding.
“As long as they do what I want them to, that’s all that matters. I think it needs to be scrapped,” Tingler said.
Palm Beach State College officials also said they were looking for a Plan B after the latest veto of money for a Loxahatchee Groves campus.
The school spent $4.5 million on acquiring the site last fall, and lawmakers included $6.5 million for it in the budget. But the State College System did not list the campus as a priority, dooming the effort.
“The governor’s veto is disappointing,” PBSC said in a statement. “But we will continue to explore funding options so that this campus can be built.”
In statewide issues, Scott vetoed a 3 percent tuition increase proposed for college and university students that had been pushed by House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel.
The governor for months has said he opposed tuition hikes and repeated Monday that he wants to reduce the cost of higher education in Florida.
Dozens of water and sewer projects, along with state money for community programs and cultural centers were axed, even big-ticket education spending in the backyards of Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville.
Meeting with reporters after signing the spending plan, Scott touted the budget’s additional $1 billion for public schools, including $480 million for teacher pay raises.
He also laid out his rationale when it came to deciding whether spending items in the budget lived or died.
“One, is it going to help our families get more jobs? Two, will it help improve our education system in our state? And three, will it help make government more efficient so we keep the cost of living low in our state?” Scott said.
Singling out the tuition increase, Scott said, “I am absolutely committed to keeping tuition low. This is not a political decision. This is a decision for Florida families.”
Tuition increases are still possible, when the State University System’s Board of Governors meets in coming weeks. But Scott said in his veto message that he has gotten assurances from some of the state’s leading colleges and universities that they will hold the line next year.
Even with Monday’s vetoes, the state budget for 2013-14 will be $4.1 billion bigger than the one that expires June 30, a roughly 6 percent increase.
The budget is the largest in state history, with the $74.1 billion blueprint topping the previous record $73.6 billion spending plan approved for 2006-07, during former Gov. Jeb Bush’s final months in office.
For public schools, the budget boosts per-pupil spending to an average $6,779, a $404 increase. But that’s still below the state’s high-water mark, $7,126 per-student, reached during the pre-recession, 2006-07 school year.
Along with the $1 billion boost for public school spending, pay raises and bonuses for 160,000 state workers and higher education employees are included for the first time in seven years.
Lawmakers also included $2.8 billion in budget reserves. With the $368 million from Scott’s vetoes, reserves will swell now to more than $3 billion.
Todd Bonlarron, Palm Beach County’s lobbyist in Tallahassee, said the county secured a robust share of state dollars for a half-dozen beach restoration projects, $4 million for flood control work near J.W. Corbett State Wildlife Management Area, and $1.3 million for improvements along the Loxahatchee River.
“I think it took a storm the size of Tropical Storm Isaac to make officials realize the potential risk,” said Michelle Damone, a board member of the Indian Trails Improvement District, the agency that owns the decrepit Corbett berm
Scott toured the flooded area in a helicopter after Tropical Storm Isaac dumped as much as 14 inches in the area. Damone said the state money was the last big hurdle to replacing the berm after it was nearly breached last year, but that she had belt confident Scott would approve funding after speaking with him last week.
But Scott also swept through much of the county’s take-home list, vetoing $1 million budgeted for Glades Utility Authority pipeline improvements, another $1 million for two road projects in Riviera Beach, $200,000 for shoreline work in Lake Park and $75,000 for the master plan of Torry Island, a Lake Okeechobee marina that also had funds vetoed by Scott last year.
Losing money for the Lake Worth Lagoon projects will hurt, but county officials said they would find other means of completing many efforts.
“Obviously we’re disappointed but we’re not down,” said Robert Robbins, director of the county’s Department of Environmental Resource Management. “Certainly it will diminish projects we want to do. We do have other funding sources.”
Bonlarron noted Palm Beach County was not alone. “There were plenty of hits to go around,” he said. “Nobody got spared.”
Among the bigger single-item vetoes was $14 million for a new science and technology building at Gulf Coast State College, which had been shepherded into the budget by Gaetz.
Gaetz had railed against Florida TaxWatch last week for including the STEM building in its annual “turkey watch” of budget items worthy of veto. But on Monday, Gaetz was stoic.
“While many will disagree with some of Gov. Scott’s line item vetoes, that is his constitutional role as chief executive,” Gaetz said.
“The next budget and policy cycle begins at sunrise tomorrow and we in the Senate look forward to our role as partners with the House…and the governor,” Gaetz said.
Staff writers Dara Kam, Christine Stapleton and Jennifer Sorentrue contributed to this story.
VETOED FROM BUDGET
Palm Beach County projects
- Palm Beach State College, Loxahatchee Groves campus: $6.5 million.
- Bethesda Memorial Hospital, special Medicaid payment: $3.6 million.
- Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, violence prevention unit: $1 million.
- Glades Utility Authority, pipeline improvements, $1 million.
- Riviera Beach, stormwater work: $1 million (two projects).
- Lake Worth Lagoon, monitoring, seagrass, shoreline: $325,000 (three projects).
- Rural dental health initiative, including Palm Beach and nearby counties: $250,000.
- Lake Park, drainage work: $200,000.
- Scripps Research Institute, nicotine addiction grant program: $100,000.
- Torry Island, master plan: $75,000.
Other notable cuts
- Multi-use trail, Central Florida: $50 million.
- Restored sweep of State Economic Enhancement and Development trust fund: $24.9 million.
- Enhanced payments to HMOs: $23.3 million.
- State college system, 3 percent tuition increase: $26.4 million.
- State university system, 3 percent tuition increase: $18.5 million.
- State university system, military base realignment: $15 million.
- Gulf Coast State College STEM building: $14 million.
- Aid to local governments, primary care residencies: $5.2 million.
- Hendry County airport, water main improvements: $3 million.
- Walton County, wastewater treatment, $3 million.
- Indian River County, Florida Atlantic University Harbor Branch lagoon observatory: $2 million.
Source: Gov. Rick Scott’s vetoes to SB 1500, the state budget for 2013-14