TALLAHASSEE — Local governments were largely spared from vetoes made by Gov. Ron DeSantis as a part of the state’s $100 billion budget.
But some Tampa Bay area programs were among the unlucky few to have funding stripped. DeSantis said Wednesday that he vetoed nearly $9 million in Tampa Bay-area projects — a sum that reflected the small overall number of budget vetoes. In Florida, the state Legislature crafts the annual budget, but the governor can veto individual line items.
The Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority saw the largest cut in proposed funding among local organizations, with $1.5 million slashed.
Critics of the transit authority have argued that the organization does not do enough to live up to its $6.6 million budget. Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, introduced a bill this session to effectively dismantle the organization. That effort wasn’t ultimately successful.
Still, the governor’s veto dealt a blow to the multi-county body, which was created to improve transit in a metro region that has long struggled with the issue.
David Green, the organization’s executive director, wrote in an email that his group had planned for this outcome, and has already begun laying off staff. He said the group’s projects would not be affected.
Other projects vetoed by DeSantis have been chopped before. In 2020, DeSantis vetoed $300,000 from the Lois Avenue Complete Street Project in Tampa. This year, that same project saw a $350,000 veto. ZooTampa got a $500,000 expansion of its panther habitat vetoed in 2020; this year, the zoo asked for less — $200,000 — but still got cut.
Other projects vetoed in 2020 survived this time. Zephyrhills’ Sarah Vande Berg Tennis Center got $1 million in improvements cut in 2020, but DeSantis approved $4.7 million for a major expansion this year.
Despite a $1 million veto from DeSantis, Pasco-Hernando State College President Tim Beard praised top Florida officials for approving $25 million for new facilities at the Dade City campus — the largest allocation ever for the college — and for increasing the college’s overall funding by 18 percent.
Beard said his organization could make up for the $1 million veto. The money would have paid for staffing and furnishings for the Instructional and Performing Arts Center on Old Pasco Road in Wesley Chapel.
Some local lawmakers were less enthused by DeSantis’ decisions. In Hillsborough County, for example, elected officials said they had a hard time understanding the governor’s rationale for cutting relatively small appropriations intended to improve public safety.
In addition to the $350,000 veto for pedestrian and bicycle safety improvements to Lois Avenue, the governor also vetoed $350,000 for an effort to make school pedestrian crosswalks safer.
“He’s nickel and diming us to death,” said Hillsborough Commissioner Mariella Smith.
Another DeSantis veto brushed up against a different controversy. Veterans Alternative, a nonprofit that provides alternative therapies for veterans struggling to return to civilian life, lost a major funding source with the veto of $300,000. The cut comes as its chief executive, Brian Anderson, faces a misdemeanor battery charge after a massage therapist said he touched her inappropriately during a massage session in October. He has pleaded not guilty.
Three other women who have worked for the organization in the past have said he sexually harassed them. Anderson, through his attorneys, has denied all of those allegations.
Caitlein Jammo, the attorney representing Veterans Alternative’s board, said it was “unfortunate” the organization had some of its funding vetoed but said the group would continue to work with other donors.
Here are the Tampa Bay area projects DeSantis vetoed.
$674,484 for improvements to St. Petersburg College’s midtown campus
$100,000 for Baycare Behavioral Health’s remote patient monitoring program
$550,000 for a Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital program to provide orthodontic care for complex pediatric patients
$370,000 for the St. Pete Urban Youth Farm
$735,000 for Gulfport’s Linear Breakwater Park Project
$242,260 for upgrades to the Great Explorations Children’s Museum
$750,000 for the International Institute of Orthotics and Prosthetics Sustainable Expansion
$400,000 for Feeding Tampa Bay’s FRESHforce program
$500,000 for Hillsborough County Public Schools’ summer bridge program
$600,000 for The Florida Orchestra’s Music Education for All program
$200,000 for ZooTampa’s panther medical and habitat facilities
$350,000 for safer pedestrian crosswalks near Tampa schools
$350,000 for Lois Avenue’s complete streets project
$1.5 million for the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority
$1 million for Pasco-Hernando State College’s instructional and performing arts center
$300,000 for a Veterans Alternative wellness program for veterans and active duty military
$100,000 for an AmSkills workforce training innovation center
$107,000 for an upgrade to the City of Brooksville’s emergency operations center/council chambers