TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Charlie Crist said Thursday he may veto the Legislature's cut to the state's premier land-buying program.
During a speech, Crist added Florida Forever to a short list of cuts to education and public safety programs that he'd like to take off the chopping block.
"What concerns me is that if you start doing something one year, maybe it takes on a repeat performance in the next year," Crist said. However, Crist quickly added that he believed lawmakers intend to zap the program's funding for only a single year.
The Republican governor has until Jan. 29 to sign or use his line-item veto power to reverse some $1.2-billion in spending cuts that the Legislature passed Jan. 14. Crist said he will have a final decision Tuesday.
The freeze on Florida Forever was among the more controversial legislative cuts, especially since it saved a relatively small $20-million over a year in debt service. Yet cutting that money wiped out the state's ability to issue the remaining $250-million of $300-million in bonds to buy environmentally sensitive lands.
Legislative budget chiefs defended the cut by saying land purchases didn't rank as high as education, road building projects and employee staffing.
Senate President Jeff Atwater said he stands by the decision to suspend Florida Forever.
"That debt service of about $20-million dollars, you can equate that to 800 teachers," said Atwater, a North Palm Beach Republican. "You can equate that to about 1,100 Florida Highway Patrol officers. You can equate that to 18,000 students in voluntary pre-K. I have to make a tough decision in those things we have chosen to continue to invest in."
Environmentalists were elated to hear the governor was reconsidering the funding.
Eric Draper, a lobbyist with the Audubon Society, noted that if the fund is frozen, it would be the first time in more than 30 years that the state didn't set aside money to buy environmentally sensitive land.
Jay Liles, a lobbyist for the Florida Wildlife Federation, said she was encouraged. "If you take it out one year, there's a psychological barrier there."