Budget vetoes take aim at South Florida projects

Published April 17, 2012

Gov. Rick Scott said he used his veto pen sparingly this year when he removed $142.7 million in projects from the state's $70 billion budget. But when it came to South Florida projects, the region sustained nearly one fifth of all the cuts.

From vetoing $500,000 for the Bay of Pigs Historical Museum -- on the 51st anniversary of the invasion -- to rejecting a plan to replace aging trucks for the City of Hialeah, the governor vetoed $24.8 million from Miami Dade and Broward alone out of the $142.7 million in projects he cut.

Left in were projects he deemed worthy because of their economic development potential, such as a $500,000 plan to develop a rowing center in Sarasota. Left unsaid were the projects that remained in the budget because of the governor's relationship with its sponsor or other programs that were rejected because of the governor's disagreements with lawmakers.

Scott approved $1 million for the Boys and Girls Club of Pasco County, the hometown of incoming House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, while he removed from the budget $100,000 for Girls Incorporated of Sarasota County. Scott said he considers Boys and Girls clubs student focused programs that provide "measurable results."

Also eliminated were dozens of local programs developed to enhance a university or medical center, such as more than $3.6 million earmarked for the University of Miami's medical school. Other programs that benefited a local government or did not have a statewide benefit were also excised.

Rep. Jose Diaz, R-Miami, said that as a father whose wife is expecting their second child in a month he was especially disappointed to see the vetoes to autism programs that would have helped families of children with autism in South Florida. "It is difficult to see cuts to this special cause that is so near and dear to my heart,'' he said.

The governor left intact least one program that he cut last year, the $750,000 for Farm Share, the Miami-based non-profit that that takes tractor trailers of excess produce from farmers in Florida and distributes the fresh fruits and vegetables to needy elderly and families.

"With our state funding restored, Farm Share will be able to provide more fresh and nutritious food to those in need, instead of it going to waste in the landfills,'' said Farm Share Co-founder and Board Chair Patricia Robbins. "Thank you to the Governor."

The governor also appears to be leaning toward support for funding the development of a 12th university, Florida Polytechnic, the top priority of outgoing Senate budget chief JD Alexander. The powerful business consortium, the Council of 100, urged the governor to veto that project and approve an increase in university tuition to enhance the state's existing schools. Scott will make a decision on Polytechnic by Friday but, by leaving intact the $33 million to start developing the new university, he appears ready to support both the new university and increased tuition.

"Is he becoming a better politician? Yes,'' said Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey. Last year, Scott angered many in the legislature when he rejected millions of pet projects without giving lawmakers any warning.

Fasano, an opponent of usng state money to develop a new university in a tough budget year, said he believes that Scott's decision to approve the Polytechnic earmark is a sign of him being prepared to play politics.

"Gov. Scott ran as a candidate would have vetoed those dollars in a heartbeat because even he knows thts a foolish way to use tax dollars,' Fasano said. "Now, he is probably going to let it become law."

Here's our list of South Florida projects rejected by the governor:

-- Toluse Olorunnipa contributed to this report