Saturday, May 26, 2018
Politics

Gov. Rick Scott holds power with budget veto pen

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott must soon sign the new state budget, and he's getting intense feedback on all sides: from lawmakers protecting hometown projects, hospitals worried about losing money and a business-backed group criticizing pork-barrel spending.

Scott, who campaigned on a pledge to shrink the size of government, must decide by next Friday how much to prune from the largest budget in state history, $74.5 billion. Already, he has taken the unusual step of asking four possible recipients of tax money to give it back if they fail to meet promises to generate tax revenue for the state.

With Scott in control of the state's purse strings, safety net hospitals that treat many of the poor and uninsured have intensified their lobbying, fearful that Scott will veto $65 million in transitional funding.

When Scott visited Miami earlier in the week, Rep. Eddy Gonzalez, R-Hialeah, lobbied him on the value of hot meals for elderly residents of his inner-city district. "We hope you don't veto a lot of our things," he told the governor.

Florida TaxWatch, which for three decades has produced an annual and notorious "turkey list," wants Scott to veto 107 budget line items worth $107 million. The group said the projects were added to the budget at brief, last-minute meetings with little public review, were not recommended by state agencies or are being steered to specific vendors without competition.

"Our general feeling is that member projects should get more scrutiny instead of less," said Kurt Wenner of TaxWatch. "But unfortunately they tend to be added late in the process. … That is the reason we have a turkey report."

Eighteen Miami-Dade projects made the TaxWatch list, far more than in any other county.

They include $1.5 million for the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis and $1 million each for a jobs program for children with disabilities championed by quarterback Dan Marino, a social services center in southwest Dade and a Bay of Pigs Museum.

TaxWatch flagged $4 million for a film sequel to Dolphin Tale, $1 million for the Clearwater Marine Aquarium itself and $250,000 for Tampa's Museum of Science and Industry.

The budget on Scott's desk also contains more than $23 million in instructional grants for students, including $1 million for Communities in Schools, which made TaxWatch's list even though TaxWatch CEO Dominic Calabro is on its board.

Overall, TaxWatch said, the Legislature crafted a responsible budget and the turkeys amount to less than one-half of 1 percent of the budget. But it brought angry denunciations from Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, who during the session touted an intensive Senate review of spending with a goal of greater fiscal responsibility.

Gaetz said TaxWatch's view that projects should be recommended by state agencies is an "unconstitutional perversion," which he called "an arrogance of the elite who spend too much time in Tallahassee. … It is little wonder that TaxWatch is irrelevant 364 days a year."

As Gaetz noted, projects called "turkeys" by TaxWatch would fund mobile medical and dental units in poor areas, programs for disabled veterans, senior centers and Holocaust education.

But TaxWatch, which is backed by some of the state's largest businesses, emphasized that its concern is with the way the projects were funded, not their worthiness.

Safety net hospitals, meanwhile, are scrambling to save $65 million in funding Scott could veto. The money was added to the budget to reduce losses for hospitals created under a new Medicaid funding formula.

If Scott vetoes the spending, Miami's Jackson Memorial Hospital would lose $23.3 million, Shands Teaching Hospital in Gainesville would lose $11 million and Tampa General Hospital would lose $2 million.

Scott has until May 24 to sign the budget, but he will be in Chile on an official trade mission from May 20-23, so he may act before he leaves the country.

The governor's handling of the state budget is always a closely watched decision, and this year it gives the re-election-minded Scott a chance to make a clear political statement: Is he willing to endorse the spending choices of his fellow Republicans, or is he a fiscal conservative who's willing to veto hundreds of millions of dollars in local projects?

Scott alienated some conservative supporters in February when he endorsed a three-year expansion of Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act.

Scott defended a decision to force some groups to return state money if promised tax revenues fall short.

"There's a lot of things in the budget," Scott said. "I've asked them to make sure that if they don't get the returns, they give the money back to the state."

Scott sent letters to a horse park in Ocala, IMG Academy in Bradenton, a rowing center in Sarasota and the Tampa Bay Innovation Center, a technology incubator in St. Petersburg, due to receive $400,000.

The letter said that if the group does not provide $1 million in state tax revenue by 2018, it must write a $400,000 check to the state. It's unclear if the letters are legally binding.

All four projects Scott cited in his letters were approved by a panel of budget-writers chaired in the House by Rep. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater, who said he was persuaded that the IMG Academy attracts enough visitors that it deserves $2.3 million.

"Less than one half of 1 percent? That's not extravagant," Hooper said. "The Legislature is simply trying to make this state a better place to live."

Times/Herald staff writers Tia Mitchell and Amy Sherman contributed to this report.

 
Comments
More LGBT issues loom as justices near wedding cake decision

More LGBT issues loom as justices near wedding cake decision

WASHINGTON — A flood of lawsuits over LGBT rights is making its way through courts and will continue, no matter the outcome in the Supreme Court’s highly anticipated decision in the case of a Colorado baker who would not create a wedding cake for a s...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Carlton: Sometimes taxpayers pay for not doing the right thing

Carlton: Sometimes taxpayers pay for not doing the right thing

I may have cracked the code. Found a way to sell doing the right thing. Discovered a method of persuasion in certain matters of fairness, conscience and the greater good.Like giving our fellow Americans a second chance.When morality-based arguments d...
Published: 05/26/18
North Korea demolishes nuclear test site as journalists watch

North Korea demolishes nuclear test site as journalists watch

PUNGGYE-RI, North Korea — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made good on his promise to demolish his country’s nuclear test site, which was formally closed in a series of huge explosions Thursday as a group of foreign journalists looked on. The explosi...
Published: 05/24/18
Trump violated the Constitution when he blocked his critics on Twitter, a federal judge rules

Trump violated the Constitution when he blocked his critics on Twitter, a federal judge rules

President Donald Trump’s decision to block his Twitter followers for their political views is a violation of the First Amendment, a federal judge ruled Wednesday, saying that Trump’s effort to silence his critics is not permissible under the U.S. Con...
Published: 05/23/18
All those city services that fuel Lightning fever? Team, not taxpayers, foot the bill

All those city services that fuel Lightning fever? Team, not taxpayers, foot the bill

TAMPA — All those public watch parties during the Tampa Bay Lightning’s postseason run? And how about the rally at Joe Chillura Courthouse Square Park with the big white Lightning logo spray-painted on the grass? You need police to prote...
Published: 05/23/18
Romano: A pathetic legacy for Florida’s all-or-nothing Democrats

Romano: A pathetic legacy for Florida’s all-or-nothing Democrats

Explain this to me: In the world of partisan politics, how is being an independent thinker a bad thing? When it comes to general elections, we seem to like rogues and mavericks. We want outsiders and swamp scrubbers. Folks appreciate a good finger-...
Published: 05/22/18
‘World’s most expensive Witch Hunt’: Trump lashes out at New York Times, Democrats

‘World’s most expensive Witch Hunt’: Trump lashes out at New York Times, Democrats

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump lashed out Sunday at "the World’s most expensive Witch Hunt," trashing a new report in the New York Times that said an emissary representing the governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates offered help...
Published: 05/20/18
Obama’s education secretary: Let’s boycott school until gun laws change

Obama’s education secretary: Let’s boycott school until gun laws change

Former Education Secretary Arne Duncan pushed a radical idea on Twitter: Parents should pull their children out of school until elected officials pass stricter gun control laws.His tweet came hours after a shooting rampage at a Houston-area high scho...
Published: 05/20/18
China offers to buy more US products to reduce trade imbalance

China offers to buy more US products to reduce trade imbalance

WASHINGTON - China offered to boost its annual purchases of U.S. products by "at least $200 billion" Friday as two days of talks aimed at averting an open breach between the two countries ended in Washington, a top White House adviser said.Larry Kudl...
Published: 05/19/18
Hillsborough candidate falsified contract for fund-raising gospel concert, lawsuit says

Hillsborough candidate falsified contract for fund-raising gospel concert, lawsuit says

TAMPA — A concert organizer is accusing Hillsborough County Commission candidate Elvis Piggott of falsifying a contract and prompting the headline act to pull out of a gospel show.In a lawsuit filed in Hillsborough Circuit Court, Corey Curry claims h...
Published: 05/18/18