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  1. Pinellas

Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed more than $3.9 million in Pinellas budget requests. What's the impact?

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, right, greets Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, as he enters the House chamber in March. The governor later vetoed $131 million in budget requests around the state, including more than $3.9 million from Pinellas County organizations. Among them was a $1 million request from the Dunedin fire department, which DeSantis vetoed despite Sprowls’ support for the allocation. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
Published Jul. 17

Dunedin Fire Chief Jeff Parks thought everything was finally aligned.

His department's funding request was ambitious: $2 million in state money for improvements to Dunedin Fire's planned emergency operations center and training facility.

Parks had won the backing of powerful local state representatives, including future Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls, a Palm Harbor Republican. With their help, the Legislature had approved $1 million for the projects as a part of its $91.1 billion Florida budget.

RELATED: Ron DeSantis signs $90.9 billion state budget

But in late June, the fire chief got bad news. The agency was one of several Pinellas County organizations to be included on Gov. Ron DeSantis' list of line-item vetoes.

When Floridians apply for state money, they know that a veto is possible. DeSantis, in his first year as governor, turned down requests totaling $131 million. And this year, as always, Pinellas was not immune.

Although the state forked over millions for county transportation projects and social programs, others who made requests saw at least $3.9 million disappear thanks to vetoes.

In Dunedin, Parks was happy with the $1 million allocation from the Legislature because it would have at least helped his department build its own burn tower for training. Currently, the city's firefighters have to train at a facility about half an hour away, Parks said.

"We thought we had everything all set," he said, "and it came down to the last second and the governor vetoed it."

Now the department hopes to get county funding for the facilities, Parks said. If next year rolls around and they still haven't gotten what they need, he said they'll go back to the state.

"The governor was pleased to work with the Legislature and approved numerous, important projects for Pinellas County," Helen Ferre, a DeSantis spokeswoman, said in an email. "In total, residents of Pinellas County received $35,720,160 in projects that the governor approved for the budget."

The vetoes landed all over. SPCA Tampa Bay saw $250,000 meant for a shelter expansion disappear. A spokeswoman for the Largo-based organization declined to comment.

Local colleges saw some programs cut, too. USF St. Petersburg won't get the $200,000 it requested for its Joint Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies. In June, former USF College of Marine Sciences dean William Hogarth told the Tampa Bay Times that the university wouldn't have the funding to move forward with the program.

But in an email this week, USF St. Petersburg spokeswoman Carrie O'Brion said the program would live on.

"We're confident the good work will continue, particularly through the St. Petersburg Ocean Team," O'Brion said. "We also have funds available to continue important research, thanks to the Florida Legislature's decision to increase USFSP's operating budget by $3.5 million this year."

The Veterans Law Institute at Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport also lost out on $250,000. Sprowls, a longtime champion of the institute, could not be reached for comment. A Stetson spokeswoman declined to comment.

Despite approving hundreds of millions in Pinellas infrastructure projects, DeSantis vetoed $481,000 slated to go to the Palmetto Roadway Project in Belleair. In addition, the governor axed a $1 million Tampa Bay Watch environmental project.

Some cultural institutions also took hits from DeSantis' veto pen. St. Petersburg's Carter G. Woodson African American Museum had hoped for $250,000 in state money to help with its facility expansion. But DeSantis' veto left the organization waiting until the next budget cycle for help from the state, Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, said in June.

Finally, there was Ruth Eckerd Hall. DeSantis vetoed the nonprofit's request for $500,000 because, he said, the organization has the ability to raise money on its own.

Susan Crockett, Ruth Eckerd Hall's president and CEO, said the governor was correct: Her group has raised $24 million of its targeted $34 million as a part of its capital campaign.

The state money would have gone to facility upgrades that are harder to advertise to donors, Crockett said in an email.

"Of course, we are deeply disappointed," she said, "but we understand the governor must make tough decisions."

Contact Kirby Wilson at kwilson@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8793. Follow @kirbywtweets.

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