Charlie Crist says Marco Rubio attempted to insert $1.5 million for a rowing institute into the state budget back in 2007.
In a new TV ad called "Vetoed," Crist says Rubio tried to sneak millions of dollars of earmarks and pet projects into the state budget while Rubio was House speaker.
"Have you seen Marco Rubio's ads attacking me?" Crist asks in the ad, which began airing on Sept. 20. "Here's what he's hiding. Rubio tried to sneak almost $500 million in earmarks into the budget. I vetoed them. One and a half million dollars for a rowing institute. Vetoed.''
Is Crist's claim about the rowing institute right?
Rubio served as House speaker during Crist's first two years as governor in 2007 and 2008. As speaker, Rubio wielded great influence over the state budget.
"The House speaker has absolute power to direct the appropriations staff, subcommittee chairs or appropriations chair to put in the appropriation or take it out," said Steve Geller, a retired Senate Democratic leader. "If the speaker said, 'put it in,' it's in. If he said, 'take it out,' it's out.''
Balancing that, Florida's governor has the power of a line-item veto, so Crist can strike a specific program or project from the state budget without having to reject the spending plan entirely.
In 2007, Crist vetoed what was said to be a record $459 million in projects from the budget.
"We are trying to lead by example," Crist said at the time. "Honoring the fact that the people across the state are pinching their pennies, so are we."
In Rubio's second year as speaker in 2008, Crist's vetoes to a smaller budget were also much smaller — axing a $300,000 lake restoration program and $840,000 for a Miami festival.
Added together, that's roughly $460 million in budget vetoes in Rubio's two years as speaker, or, as Crist says in the ad, "almost $500 million" that Crist claims Rubio tried to sneak into the budget. It's a stretch in itself to link every project Crist vetoed in two years specifically to Rubio, as if he was personally pushing every item in the budget.
It's also a pretty big stretch to use the word "sneak." The projects are listed within the budget, and the governor's office keeps a spreadsheet that tracks what each request is for.
But looking back at that rowing institute claim: The $1.5 million budget request was to build a boathouse and improve a boat launch ramp on a water management district canal in Indian River County.
The canal runs between Indian River and Brevard counties, and has high dirt and grass mounds on each side. The mounds protect the water from being exposed to the wind, making the canal a good venue for competitive rowers. The state would have helped create a training center for rowing.
The request came from state Rep. Ralph Poppell, R-Vero Beach, who hoped it could become a training center for the U.S. Olympic rowing team.
Crist vetoed the $1.5 million appropriation in 2007 when Rubio was speaker, and a request for $500,000 for the canal this year, after Rubio had left the state House.
We asked Poppell what role Rubio had in adding the $1.5 million to the budget.
"I think all I did with the speaker, if I remember correctly, I made him aware of what we were trying to accomplish," Poppell said. "I don't think I went to him to ask him for any special favor. In his thought, he was supportive if we could find the money to do it. … He believed in it, but he also was very clear we were dealing with a tight budget."
If Crist "needs to pin it on the person who did it, that's me," Poppell said. "I'm the one that pushed it. … Did it have to meet the muster of the leadership? Sure. But I didn't spend hours beating on Marco's door."
We also asked the Crist and Rubio campaigns about connections between Rubio and the $1.5 million rowing appropriation.
"The speaker's budget that was presented to the governor for signature or veto with the speaker's vote and support included $1.5 million for a rowing institute," Crist spokesman Danny Kanner said.
Rubio spokesman Alex Burgos said there is no direct connection between the rowing center and Rubio.
Crist claims that Rubio tried to sneak almost $500 million into the state budget for pet projects, including "$1.5 million for a rowing institute." We find a lot lacking in the claim.
Rubio did vote for the 2007 budget with the $1.5 million included for the rowing center. And as speaker, he could have likely killed it before a floor vote. But that's the extent of the link between Rubio and the money.
We found no evidence in news accounts, for example, that Rubio lobbied or pushed for the money. We also found no direct benefit to Rubio for funding a project 150 miles north of his Miami-area House district.
The clear suggestion from Crist's ad is that Rubio tried to sneak the money into the budget. But there's no evidence of that, either. The request was submitted on Jan. 12, 2007, months before the budget was agreed to, and the initial request made clear what the money was for. Also, the request wasn't made by Rubio, but Poppell.
To tie Rubio to the rowing center is an oversimplification of how the budget process works — a process Crist, as a former state senator, knows quite well. We rate his claim Pants On Fire!