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Gov. Rick Scott's budget vetoes cut deeply in Pasco County

Gov. Rick Scott's historic trimming of the state budget included several Pasco initiatives, upset local politicians and left affected groups wondering where to turn to for money they thought they could count on.

"His pen is going crazy today," County Commissioner Ann Hildebrand said of Scott's record $615 million in vetoes from the $69 billion spending plan.

Pasco projects that got the ax include $6.9 million for a planned Wesley Chapel campus of Pasco-Hernando Community College, $1.2 million for the community health center in Hudson and $100,000 in job training money. Tampa Bay's regional transportation agency also lost about a quarter of its budget.

One bright spot is $4 million in road money that is part of a package to lure Raymond James Financial to build a satellite campus in the Wiregrass area of Wesley Chapel. Scott allowed that money to stay in the budget.

The money for PHCC was secured by House Speaker-designate Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and was to be the final installment for a new campus.

Weatherford declined to criticize Scott's move, saying only the veto would not keep officials from starting construction on time.

But the college said in a statement that "the completion may be delayed." The proposed 700-person campus has already secured about $45 million in state funds. It was slated to open in January 2014. It's unclear when the campus will now open or how officials will come up with the final amount of money.

Another major project that lost funding is the Pasco community health center in Hudson. More than $1.2 million had been approved by a previous Legislature to reimburse Premier Community Healthcare Group for providing indigent care. The money had not yet been spent because Premier hadn't moved into the new center. Scott's veto means Premier isn't moving in — at least for now.

"You're going to have an unused space that was designated for a community health center for the uninsured," said state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey. Fasano said he was most upset about the decision because the money was previously approved and didn't affect this year's budget.

The Dade City nonprofit was waiting on Scott's decision "with bated breath" to see if it would move into the health center, said spokeswoman Sue Hutson.

"I think we're just trying to catch our breath before we move to the next option, if there is an option," she said.

Fasano said he also was disappointed by Scott's move to veto $100,000 for Connections Job Development Program. The money would have provided job training help to the unemployed, which he argues is sorely needed in a tough economy.

Also included in the vetoes was nearly $1 million for the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority. That's what is left from $2 million in state funding TBARTA received in 2008. Those state funds are about a quarter of the seven-county agency's budget.

Asked why he struck the TBARTA cash, Hildebrand said, "the supposition is because of the people that drink tea." The agency would have helped administer local light rail lines and the Tampa to Orlando high-speed rail line. Tea party groups lobbied Scott this year to nix federal funding for high-speed rail.

But Hildebrand said the agency works on many other transportation issues, including bus transit.

"How does a new business want to come here if you're impacting the social services, education and transportation?" she asked. "What kind of a message does that send to the guy in the Northeast and the Midwest who is looking to relocate his corporate headquarters?"

Weatherford helped win support for a Pasco project that survived Scott's veto pen — the incentives to lure Raymond James. He said he talked with the governor Monday night about the project.

"He made us justify it," Weatherford said. "He did a thorough examination of it. He wanted to make sure he wasn't just writing a blank check."

Weatherford told him of the project's importance to Pasco — a projected 750 financial services jobs would be created — and said approving it was in the state's best interest.

"We are competing with other states," he said. "We need to have tax incentives to get companies like Raymond James to stay."

J.D. Porter, whose family owns the Wiregrass property where Raymond James says it intends to build, said people "understand that this is a place that is happening and a market that can pay dividends for years to come"

Lee Logan can be reached at llogan@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6236.

by the numbers

$6.9 million — Vetoed funds to complete the Wesley Chapel campus of Pasco-Hernando Community College

$1.2 million — Vetoed for a community health clinic in Hudson

$1 million or so — Vetoed for the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority

$100,000 Vetoed from the Connections Job Development Program in Pasco

Gov. Rick Scott's budget vetoes cut deeply in Pasco County 05/26/11 [Last modified: Thursday, May 26, 2011 9:30pm]
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