Gov. Rick Scott will soon receive a $74 billion budget larded with the most local projects in lawmakers' districts in years, and he said Thursday he's concerned about the level of pork-barrel spending for parks, aquariums, museums and other projects, even in a year with a big budget surplus.
"In this budget, I've started to see a lot of special member projects," Scott told reporters after a bill-signing ceremony Thursday. "This is the first time since 2006 we have a surplus. I want to make sure that we spend the money well, so I'll expect, like I have the past two years, legislators to come explain to me what their rationale for this is. I'm responsible for all 19.2 million Floridians and I want to make sure we get a return on investment ... Legislators, I'm sure, want to come and explain why they make sense for the whole state."
Scott is coming to grips with the potential reality that he won't get his No. 1 priority -- a $2,500 across-the-board pay hike for teachers -- while lawmakers fund their priorities, from industrial parks to community festivals. Lawmakers budgeted $480 million for the teacher raises but they are tied to performance pay plans not yet in effect.
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Senate Appropriations Chairman Joe Negron, R-Stuart, the architect of the Senate budget, said Scott is right, and every lawmaker with a hometown project should be ready to defend it to the governor's staff. "It's the responsibility of every legislator to advocate their funding decisions. The legislator has the burden of proof to make that case."
Negron emphasized that the legislative branch is responsible for making appropriations.
Earlier, in a meeting with the Tallahassee Democrat editorial board, Scott spoke about the state's increasingly robust economy. "Now the goal is, don't spend it on things that are not going to be helpful to the state," Scott said. "I worry about special member projects ... It's your money."
As he prods lawmakers to approve a sales tax break for manufacturers and a $2,500 across-the-board pay raise for teachers, he said he has a better sense of what lies ahead in the state Capitol, too. "You can't feel bad until after the session ends," Scott said. "One thing I found out that's interesting in the last two years is how much happens in the last week. I guess the process works this way, where so much happens in the last week in the Legislature."
On other topics, Scott said he won't sign a bill taxing online sales of books, clothing and other items unless it does not add new taxes to Floridians. "I won't sign anything unless it's not increasing what comes out of your pocket," Scott said.
Bullish on himself, Scott said he has done exactly what he said he would do as a candidate: create jobs and improve the economy.
"I'm an incrementalist," Scott said. "You sort of work your tail off every day, and at some point you become an overnight success."