NEW PORT RICHEY — With a few strokes of his veto pen, Gov. Rick Scott slashed funding on Monday for several Pasco projects, including a transitional housing facility for homeless families, a magnet school geared toward science and math, and a rehabilitative program to help those struggling with prescription drug abuse.
Disappointment ran high among local legislators, law enforcement, educators and homeless advocates as the veto list was released.
Metropolitan Ministries had sought $1.3 million to build a 24-unit transitional housing facility next to its outreach center at 3214 U.S. 19 in Holiday. The facility would help families get out of emergency shelters and into more stable arrangements, while also providing job training and counseling.
Scott's veto of that project "baffles the mind," said state Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey.
"What is disappointing is the governor left millions in the budget for a rowing regatta in Sarasota, but could not find funding for a very good project in Pasco that would have helped families most in need," Fasano said.
Pasco has nearly 3,000 homeless children whose families could have been helped by the proposed facility, said Eugene Williams, executive director of the Coalition for the Homeless of Pasco County.
"We are really hurting for emergency and transitional shelters in Pasco, especially for families," Williams said.
State Sen. John Legg also criticized Scott's veto of $1.5-million sought by the Pasco County school district for a magnet school focusing on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
"It seemed in-line with what our national economy is doing and what the governor has been pushing for in education statewide, so I'm very disappointed," said Legg, R-Trinity. "Pasco desperately needs this kind of program, so it's really a punch in the gut on this issue, but we're not going to give up."
Pasco schools superintendent Kurt Browning also voiced his displeasure.
"We remain convinced that a science, technology, engineering and math magnet academy is needed in Pasco County public schools and we plan to continue our pursuit of a viable source of funding to get it started," Browning said in a statement.
Scott slashed several other proposed projects in Pasco, including $1 million to continue the Pasco County Drug Initiative, which provides prevention, intervention and treatment efforts, particularly geared toward the prescription drug epidemic. Scott had approved $1 million for the same project a year ago.
"It is troubling that funding has not been renewed when the need is so great and the program has been proven to be effective," said Doug Leonardo, executive director of BayCare Behavioral Health, which implemented the Pasco program. "Prescription drug abuse contributes to increased crime and to the tragedy of babies born addicted to drugs, placing a huge burden on the community. Additionally, Pasco leads state in children being placed into child welfare due to prescription drug abuse."
Scott also vetoed $120,000 for a pilot program for Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco, who wants to explore having his agency take over felony probation services from the Florida Department of Corrections. Nocco vowed Monday to continue pushing for the plan.
"I would like to thank the legislators who supported the plan," Nocco said. "However, I feel that entrenched bureaucrats in Tallahassee wish to protect their turf at the expense of public safety."
Pasco County Commissioner Ted Schrader expressed dismay over the veto of $500,000 for design costs for wastewater improvements in the Lacoochee/Trilby area. Schrader said the area needs wastewater infrastructure in order to become a viable place for economic development.
"It's troubling the governor doesn't recognize the benefits of bringing industry and jobs to that area," Schrader said. "This is clearly a benefit not only to Lacoochee but to the entire Pasco community."
While Fasano said Pasco was "punished" by Scott's vetoes, not everyone saw it that way. Florida Speaker of the House Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, released a list of projects the governor did approve, including the final $6.9 million installment for Pasco-Hernando Community College's new campus in Wesley Chapel.
"While we did not agree on every line item, he (Gov. Scott) signed 99 percent of our budget, which is a resounding endorsement of the House and Senate work product," Weatherford said.
Among the other items that Scott approved were $143 million to add lanes and rehabilitate pavement on Interstate 75 in Pasco County, $1.9 million for a water connect between Zephyrhills and Dade City, and $36,000 for the Pasco Association for Challenged Kids, which holds a summer camp for children with disabilities.