Scott Claims $615 Million in Budget Cuts
Around the State
UPDATED: Gov. Rick Scott signed the 2011 Florida budget Thursday in the rural setting of The Villages, simultaneously announcing $615 million in line-item vetoes.
The final budget now comes in at $69.1 billion, Scott said. He said the vetoes would have gone to "special interests," but now the majority of the money will go into pre-K through 12 education.
Not so, say some budget analysts. Not all the vetoes, they say, come from "real money."
"There were 3,036 line items in that budget. I know that because I looked at every single one of them," Scott said.
Scott said the hardest decision he made was to cut $150 million from road and bridge construction in order to put the money into education.
"The Legislature forced me to decide whether to spend that money on roads and bridges or to spend those same dollars on quality teachers and textbooks for kids. To me, it wasn't much of a choice," Scott said.
Scott has dubbed the document the "jobs budget," and said it meets his priorities of shrinking government and providing tax cuts. The tax cuts for property owners and business come to more than $300 million, a far cry from the billions in tax relief Scott asked of the Legislature.
“I commend the Legislature for sending me a budget that reduces the size and cost of government and provides tax relief to individuals and business. Special interests probably aren’t happy with the tough choices I made, but I am confident everyone can agree that funding for our children and students is more important than pleasing Tallahassee’s special interests," Scott said.
The biggest chunk of the last-minute cuts, however, came from zeroing out the $305 million in Florida Forever funding. The money was supposed to be derived from selling land that the state already owns.
"It's meaningless, it's no cut at all," said a Tallahassee budget analyst who asked not to be identified. "You can't zero out Florida Forever funding when it comes from money that doesn't currently exist. The land hasn't been sold yet, there's no money to be saved there. It's ridiculous."
The governor's rationale in this veto statement, nevertheless, was this: “This line item does not represent an appropriation of readily useable funds, but rather only authority to spend proceeds derived from the future sale of surplused state lands. According to the Department of Environmental Protection, the average annual proceeds from the sale of such lands is approximately $6 million.”
Said another analyst, "Money taken from these trust funds can't go into education. This isn't going to work." Lane Wright, the governor's press secretary, said Scott "feels comfortable" that he has the authority to move the funds.
About 200 people cheered as Scott signed the budget into law, and passed out veto pens to students at Four Corners Charter School in Sumter County.
"The governor, he seems like our kind of guy," said Diane Tillman, who recently moved to The Villages from Georgia, enticed by the lack of a sales tax and the election of Scott and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. "We are conservatives who believe in low taxes and less government.
Not everyone was happy to see Scott. A smattering of Democratic protesters had signs that read, "We support Medicare without savings," "Pink-slip Rick Scott" and "We support the police." They were escorted away from the event by Sumter County sheriff's deputies.
Before Scott signed the budget, Jan Jackson, an employee of the DeSoto County juvenile correctional facility, was holding out hope for a veto of a budget that she said would close down the facility. But the veto was not included in Scott's list.
Scott said he has spoken with House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, and Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, who enjoy veto-proof majorities in their chambers, about the cuts.
"We respect the constitutional rights of the governor and the Senate will thoughtfully review each of Governor Scott’s vetoes," Haridopolos said in a statement.
Cannon, however, was not hesitant about criticizing Scott's veto decisions. He noted that only about $100 million of the vetoes came from general revenue, with the rest coming from trust funds that can't be put back into education.
"The governor’s vetoes freed up less than $100 million in general revenue. If the Legislature were in session and could reappropriate these funds, they would increase the FEFP by only 0.6 percent, which would move the FEFP reduction from 7.9 percent to 7.3 percent," Cannon said.
He also ripped into Scott for finding religion on funding education, because the budget created by lawmakers put more money into education than Scott originally requested in his initial budget proposal.
"What is more surprising is the governor’s sudden emphasis on K-12 education. The budget we sent him funds education at a higher level than the governor recommended just a few months ago, when he proposed a 10 percent cut to the FEFP. The governor communicated numerous priorities during session, and we did our best to accommodate him. It would have been helpful if the governor had shared this newfound emphasis with us before the budget was finalized," Cannon said.
Although not mentioned by Cannon, Scott also vetoed a $400,000 study of the court system. The study was part of a compromise with the Senate, which would not go along with Cannon's top priority of splitting the Florida Supreme Court into two five-member panels, with one dealing with civil matters and another addressing criminal cases.
Scott rallied some legislative support for the cuts, though, as Rep. Marlene O'Toole, R-Lady Lake, and Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, were on hand to back him. "I'm very proud of the budget that Governor Scott is going to sign," Hays said. "Quite honestly, I didn't get everything I wanted in that budget, but I'm glad Governor Scott made the tough decisions he made," he added.
Throughout the budget process, legislators complained of laboring under a $3.8 billion shortfall, but they managed to cut enough spending to fill the hole without raising taxes.
Click here to see reaction to the governor's signing and vetoes.
Click here to see Governor Scott’s veto message.
Click here to see the complete list of vetoes.
Reach Gray Rohrer at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (850) 727-0859. Nancy Smith contributed to this story.