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With a new budget, old vetoes revisited

TALLAHASSEE – Some "turkeys" are tough to shoot down.

A year after Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed a record $459-million in legislative hometown projects, persistent lawmakers have put some of the same ones in the new hard-luck budget that awaits Crist's approval.

Call it election-year persistence, or in some cases a tweaking of proposals in hopes that the projects — sometimes derisively called turkeys — can evade Crist's veto pen.

Will Crist be as stringent hunting the projects as he was last year? And could pending bad news make that more likely? State economists are soon expected to report that April sales tax collections have fallen short of a downsized estimate.

"We're reviewing the budget right now. I've made no judgments yet," Crist said.

Hanging in the balance, then, is a priority of Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey. He maneuvered for a second time to give Pasco County an exclusive slice of a $26-million statewide program to encourage companies to add jobs.

Fasano set aside $7.5-million for Pasco in the Quick Action Closing Fund last year, but Crist vetoed it. This time, Fasano earmarked $5-million in the 2008-09 budget and would require the county to match the money and reward it following state guidelines for job creation.

"I got good vibes talking to the governor's administration, but they didn't know if it would be approved," Fasano said.

Crist's aides will find a number of familiar projects tucked into the 408-page budget during an unusually bleak year that required cuts to education and health care. Approximately $30-million of last year's rejected projects is back in the budget.

To be sure, the new budget contains vastly less pork than the last one, and some projects, while parochial in nature, are for causes such as providing health care to the uninsured in Clearwater.

Gone are the many sports complexes, performing arts centers and museums that Crist vetoed a year ago, saying the state could not afford them or that they should be financed by local taxes or charitable donations.

But examples of vetoed 2007 projects that are back include:

• A University of Central Florida building known as Partnership III, costing $20-million.

• Exponica International, a Miami exposition highlighting ties between Florida and Latin America, $840,000.

• Beaver Street Enterprise Center, a Jacksonville business incubator, $300,000.

• The Willa Carson Health Resource Center in Clearwater, $50,000 to provide health care to the uninsured, many of them poor and African-American.

Rep. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater, who sought the health grant for a second year, said he appealed to Crist twice to let it stand. If it's vetoed again, Hooper said, he doubts the center can survive.

"It prevents people from having to go to the emergency room," he said. "That center has caught a lot of cases of diabetes, high blood pressure and heart problems."

The $66-billion budget headed to Crist's desk is nearly $6-billion less than the one legislators passed a year ago. But it includes $150,000 for a seafood promotion exhibit in Franklin County, $100,000 for a hot lunch program in Hialeah and $75,000 for the National Caucus of Black State Legislators.

It also includes $2.5-million for the C.W. Bill Young Institute of Government at St. Petersburg College, which Crist has already said he supports. Last year, the institute also got $5-million that escaped Crist's veto pen.

Times staff writer Jennifer Liberto contributed to this report. Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

Birds of a feather

Some projects that were vetoed by Gov. Charlie Crist in 2007 and have resurfaced in the Legislature's budget for 2008-09:

Project Amount

UCF Partnership III building, Orlando$20-million
Pasco County job-creation initiative$5-million
Tampa Bay Regional Transportation Authority$2-million
Exponica International, Miami cultural exhibit$840,000
Goodwill Industries of South Florida$500,000
Beaver Street Enterprise Center, Jacksonville$300,000
Pine Hills Park, Orlando$200,000
Willa Carson Health Resource Center, Clearwater $50,000

Sources: Florida Legislature; Governor's Office

With a new budget, old vetoes revisited 05/15/08 [Last modified: Friday, May 16, 2008 10:01pm]
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