Friday, December 15, 2017
News Roundup

Gov. Rick Scott vetoes St. Petersburg's 2020 Plan funding, other projects survive

Local officials were dealt a serious blow Monday after Gov. Rick Scott vetoed $1.625 million in the state budget for St. Petersburg's antipoverty 2020 Plan.

It was one of only a couple of pet projects from Pinellas County not to survive Scott's pen.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman sounded stunned when talking about the news a few hours later. As of Monday evening, city officials had not received an explanation about the veto, he said.

"Clearly I'm incredibly disappointed," Kriseman said. "The whole plan is all about reducing poverty and getting people back to work."

The 2020 Plan, which seeks to reduce poverty in St. Petersburg's neighborhoods by 30 percent by the 2020 census, doesn't officially kick off until this fall. But officials have spent the last several months lining up funds from governments, grants and charitable organizations.

Magazine publisher Gypsy Gallardo, who has spent years designing the plan, said Scott's veto won't delay the launch but may impact the scope of community-based and employment services that can be provided in the first year.

"It's disappointing, but we remain focused on several funding proposals being prepared for submission to fund over a dozen community organizations, as well as several economic development agencies," she said.

Administration and community officials had been optimistic about the plan's chance of survival.

"These were items that had the support of the speaker of the house, the house budget chair, of our delegation members," said Kriseman, who noted the project wasn't on any "turkey" watch list.

The city was planning to use the money to boost several different programs, including after school jobs and summer intern programs for youth, micro-loans for small business owners and money for mentoring programs.

Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, said he had conversations with the governor's office in hopes the money would be spared, but Scott had other ideas.

"I wouldn't want to be the governor and have to make tough decisions when allocating scarce resources," Rouson said. "While some of the things that didn't make it members of my community have expressed a disappointment about, there were other good things that made it."

Rouson pointed out the $100,000 that made it into the budget to remodel the National Council of Negro Women's Ponder Council House in Midtown.

He said he will try again next year on the 2020 funding.

Kriseman said he wonders if politics played into Scott's decision.

"It is an election year. The opponent (Charlie Crist) lives in St. Pete . . . ," Kriseman said. "You hope that doesn't play a part. This was a very bipartisan effort. We had Republicans and Democrats working together. From our perspective there wasn't politics involved. . . . All appearances would be that unfortunately it did rear its head and that's a shame."

Scott also vetoed $250,000 St. Petersburg wanted for a wastewater project and $500,000 earmarked for the Largo Cultural Center.

"We're disappointed, but that's the political process," said Joan Byrne, director of recreation, parks and arts in Largo.

The money would have been used to replace the center's nearly 18-year-old roof and on equipment upgrades.

"We have not made many 'asks' of the state," she said. "It's not like we send them an annual list of projects we want funded or anything. . . . I guess we'll try again in some future years."

Every other hometown project for Pinellas County survived Scott's veto.

The University of South Florida St. Petersburg will get $10 million for a new business college.

The Clearwater Aquarium will get $2 million to build a downtown home to showcase Winter the Dolphin. Oldsmar will get $1.27 million to build a BMX track and the Tarpon Springs Performing Arts Center will get $500,000.

Also spared: $500,000 for upgrades to St. Petersburg's Mahaffey Theater, run by Scott supporter and city philanthropist Bill Edwards, even though it never formally requested state money and the project had been labeled a "turkey" by Florida Tax Watch last month.

"Even with the victories and successes, I'm obviously very disappointed," Kriseman said.

Tia Mitchell contributed to this report.

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