Thursday, January 18, 2018
Politics

Gov. Rick Scott faces jarring rebuke in legislative budget deal

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott traveled the state the last two months calling out legislators for opposing his top budget priorities.

He spent more than $1.2 million on ads trying to win the public over to his thinking.

And on Thursday he was even seen making rare house calls to Senators and House members in their offices to persuade them.

It all failed.

When the House and Senate announced they reached the framework of a budget deal, they all but rejected Scott's top three demands. There was no new funding for the state's job incentive program. Tourism marketing was slashed by $50 million. And there was no money for speeding up repair work on the dike around Lake Okeechobee. Scott sought $200 million.

It all made for a jarring rebuke courtesy of the Republican-led Legislature to the sitting Republican governor.

There is little Scott can do to stop any of it short of vetoing the entire state budget and forcing the Legislature to return in a special session to pass a new budget. It's an extreme step that some of Scott's top allies in the Legislature say he should consider, but others say that would be a disaster and could trigger a government shutdown.

"The governor has the right to veto the entire budget, but I would sure try my best to get him not to do that," said Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater.

Latvala has been a champion of Scott's plan to increase funding for Enterprise Florida for job incentives and Visit Florida for tourism marketing. But he said in the name of compromise, the Senate could not hold on to either. He said at least both were not eliminated, like House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, had first sought.

Scott has said Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida have been essential to the state's job growth since he was elected. But Corcoran has labeled both corporate welfare that is not a proper use of tax dollars.

One of Scott's most loyal allies, Rep. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, said the Republican governor should consider vetoing the whole budget.

"The most important thing for the governor is jobs," Gruters said. "That's the one thing that he wants. And they're not giving it to him. What other options does he have? I don't know what the governor will do, but I hope somehow, the House and Senate will come together and fully fund the governor's wishes."

Scott hastily called reporters to his office on Thursday to express his frustration at what he was seeing from the Legislature.

"I feel like this Legislature is turning their backs on their constituents," Scott said. "I can tell you — I travel the state — people care about jobs, they want the dike fixed."

Scott refused to say if he is upset enough to veto the entire state budget, something a Florida governor hasn't done since the 1980s. When asked directly about that option, Scott would only say: "As you know, the governor has lots of opportunities."

If Scott does veto the budget, Republican leaders in the Legislature would need at least a few Democrats to override him.

House Democratic leader Janet Cruz of Tampa says her members might be willing to go along with a veto override, but they want a seat at the table in negotiations on the budget and other issues, including Medicaid expansion, legislation targeting undocumented immigrants and looser restrictions on gun rights.

"I'm not interested in giving the governor what he wants on (Enterprise Florida), but I'm also interested in taking care of core values that are important to the Democrats," Cruz said. "Something has to give somewhere. If you need us, you have to listen to us for a change."

If Scott vetoes the entire budget, it would antagonize many of his fellow Republicans, throw state government into chaos and force the Legislature back in a special session. If the state has no budget in place by July 1, some state services would cease.

For example, state parks likely would be closed over the Fourth of July weekend.

Clemens said he doubted that the Senate could muster the 26 votes — or two-thirds of the chamber — needed to override Scott's veto of the entire state budget. The Senate has 15 Democrats and 23 Republicans, with one senator ill and absent and one seat vacant, making 26 two-thirds of the 39-member body. If all 15 Democrats voted against Scott's veto — which is unlikely — the Senate would still need 12 Republicans to fight their own party's governor.

The Legislature is not finished with a budget. House and Senate budget writers are expected to meet into the weekend.

The tentative deal includes across the board pay raises for all state workers, $800 million to start work on a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee and more money for universities, key Senate priorities. Also both chambers have agreed not to collect more property taxes from Floridians for public schools, and to spend $200 million to expand charter schools, a House priority.

Times/Herald staff writers Steve Bousquet, Mary Ellen Klas, Michael Auslen and Kristen M. Clark contributed to this report. Contact Jeremy Wallace at [email protected]

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