Ron DeSantis signs $90.9 billion state budget

He said on the last day of the legislative session that he planned to veto at least $100 million’s worth of line-items.
CHRIS URSO  |   Times
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a stop at Tampa Bay Academy Monday, April 15, 2019 in Tampa. DeSantis made a stop at Tampa Bay Christian Academy to urge lawmakers to pass his voucher plan.
CHRIS URSO | Times Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a stop at Tampa Bay Academy Monday, April 15, 2019 in Tampa. DeSantis made a stop at Tampa Bay Christian Academy to urge lawmakers to pass his voucher plan.
Published June 21, 2019|Updated June 24, 2019

TALLAHASSEE — Only nine days before the start of the next fiscal year, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed his first state budget on Friday, which significantly boosts the state’s investment in environmental spending, relieved some previous shortfalls in public schools but also dealt some last-minute disappointment to cities, districts and universities whose projects were vetoed.

“I think it was a successful budget,” DeSantis told reporters Friday afternoon. “It’s a fiscally responsible budget. We put taxpayers first. But the things that Floridians care about, education, the environment and transportation, we were there for that.”

The more than $90 billion budget will give schools in the 2019-2020 school year a funding boost of $242 per student, set aside $682 million for environmental cleanup, fund $45 million for a massive toll road project and largely avoid major cuts to health care seen in past years. It also infuses $3.8 billion into state transportation infrastructure, including creating 126 new lane miles.

It also leveled a $35 million blow to university base funding, fell short on DeSantis’ wishes for teacher bonuses and land preservation, and shrank Medicaid reimbursement rates for “safety net” hospitals.

READ THE DETAILS: $91.1 billion: Florida lawmakers consider the budget

The Legislature’s $91.1 billion budget came in about $200 million lower than the budget DeSantis had proposed shortly after his Jan. 8 inauguration. DeSantis had joked last month to lawmakers on the last day of the legislative session that he planned to ax at least $100 million more. On Friday, the final veto number came to about $131 million. Governors have the authority to veto specific line-items.

One project that was cut was Clearwater’s Ruth Eckerd Hall, which was slated to get $500,000 for renovations that makes up a larger effort to raise $34 million.

“They have a foundation," DeSantis told reporters, noting that his high school had held its graduation ceremony there. "That’s something they can do. That’s not the state’s job.”

Beyond the direct impact of each vetoed expenditure, how a governor handles the budget — crafted entirely by the Legislature after he submits his initial recommendations — also reflects the executive’s political style and can telegraph messages to lawmakers. Newly elected governors often are heavy-handed in their vetoes in an effort to assert their dominance. Through that lens, this veto list was light, a reminder of DeSantis’ fairly strong working relationship with lawmakers that contrasts the more aloof, top-down dealings by his predecessor, Rick Scott, who is now in the U.S. Senate.

In explaining his veto methodology, DeSantis said there were things “government just shouldn’t do at all,” or should be a local responsibility: “If I fund something for one county do I have to do it for everybody?” He also referenced past governors going after political foes in the Legislature, saying he did not use the budget for “retribution," and said he often called lawmakers whose projects were on the chopping block.

Here’s some of what got cut:

• A $1 million project in the Hernando County School District that would have gone toward beefing up school security infrastructure, plus a second $1 million to construct a new vocational-technical school.

Hernando County School Board chairwoman Susan Duval alleged that DeSantis vetoed the security money as payback for that county refusing to arm their school staff and choosing instead to hire only sworn deputies.

“We’ve been a little bit penalized here,” she said.

• $1.7 million for the University of South Florida medical school. That money, which has been approved every year for nearly a decade, is part of the medical school’s operating budget and also contributes to student scholarships. Mark Walsh, a lobbyist for the university, said the school will have to “evaluate” what comes next.

• $200,000 for USF-St. Petersburg’s Gulf of Mexico studies program, which former USF College of Marine Sciences dean William Hogarth said will essentially shutter the program. “I guess there will be no funding,” he said. The institute is designed to tackle such thorny issues as toxic algae blooms and the infamous Dead Zone in the gulf.

• Miami’s New World School for the Arts, which became famous after its alumni went on to write the play that served as a basis for the movie “Moonlight” and be the musical director for “Hamilton” on Broadway. After having all its $500,000 in funding cut last year, the school appeared to have eked out with $100,000 from the state this year, until the vetoes were released.

• A $8 million workforce housing project in Jacksonville, which would have benefited big-time developer and Republican political donor, John Rood. DeSantis said Friday that he didn’t like the process of earmarking housing projects outside the designated fund and was leery of the precedent. It was the biggest veto.

• A $1 million request for a rural clinic operated by the Bonifay-based Doctors’ Memorial Hospital. DeSantis also vetoed nearly $300,000 that would have gone to the private prison operator GEO Group for mental health or psychological specialists at five of its facilities.

DeSantis also vetoed some requests involving generators or emergency operations center funding.

The city of Hollywood asked for a generator for its disaster recovery center, as did the city of LaBelle, for generators at City Hall and its civic center. But those, as well as emergency operations centers funding requests from Coral Gables and Dunedin, were cut.

Hollywood’s generator ask was sponsored by Rep. Even Jenne, D-Dania Beach, who bristled at the veto and said he thought it was “much more worthy than a highway that nobody asked for," referencing the toll road project approved by the governor that was a major priority of Senate President Bill Galvano.

Brooksville Fire Chief Ron Snowberger was disappointed the governor vetoed $325,000 that would have helped replace a 20-year-old fire truck and an air compressor used to fill oxygen bottles for the firefighters.

“It would have been a win-win for us,” he said, noting the city had intended to match the state funds. He said he’s hopeful the city will be able to provide funding somehow.

Also, $250,000 for the Carter G. Woodson Museum African-American Museum in St. Petersburg was cut. The money DeSantis vetoed would have been spent on expanding the museum from 4,000 to 10,000 square feet, according to state Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg. Rouson said he was “disappointed ... but undeterred” and vowed to try again for the money next year, calling the museum expansion “a good and worthwhile project.”

DeSantis, also in keeping with his predecessor, vetoed funding for the Miami International Agriculture, Horse, and Cattle Show — making it the third time in three years that the South Florida cow and pony show won’t receive state funding it’s asked for.

DeSantis’ signing of the budget took place later in the year than usual, a delay attributed to giving his staff more time to review it line-by-line. He had apparently still been considering certain vetoes through Thursday.