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Gov. Scott Wields Veto Pen On New Budget

Gov. Rick Scott on Friday used his veto pen to slash $410 million in legislative projects across the state, saying they failed to “provide a great return for Florida families.”

In signing the bulk of an $80 billion-plus budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1, Scott told reporters the savings from vetoes will help cover a planned increase in public school funding, tourism marketing and economic-development efforts. Those issues will be a focus of a three-day special legislative session that will start Wednesday.

The cuts include such things as $300,000 for the Historic Gulfview Hotel restoration in Fort Walton Beach; $500,000 for the Miami Downtown Development Authority's Baywalk; $89,435 for repairs to the Port Boca Lighthouse; $3 million for infrastructure improvements at Daytona Beach International Airport; and $4 million for the St. Leo University, Florida Hospital Wellness Center.

Also on the chopping block were $20.9 million for citrus canker payments in Broward County and $16.5 million for similar payments in Lee County.

Scott wrote in a letter to Secretary of State Ken Detzner that he vetoed the citrus canker money due to ongoing litigation.

Legislators had agreed to pay the money to compensate residents in a class-action suit who had lost orange, grapefruit and other citrus trees as part of a Florida Department of Agriculture program to stop the spread of deadly citrus-canker disease. Attorneys for the homeowners raised property-rights arguments in challenging the department's actions, and a judgment was entered in 2008.

Lawmakers passed an $82.4 billion budget on May 8 and sent the spending plan Wednesday to Scott, who has line-item veto power. The exact amount of the budget after the vetoes Friday was not immediately clear.

Also, along with the targeted projects, Scott eliminated the $20 billion public-school financing program, by vetoing the state's $11.4 billion share. The remainder of the funding for 67 school districts comes from local property taxes.

The veto came after education advocates said the Legislature had not provided enough money for public schools in the new budget.

That veto means lawmakers will have to pass a new Florida education finance program, or FEFP, bill during next week's special session. Scott and legislative leaders have agreed to add $215 million to the program, increasing per-student spending by some $100 in the coming academic year.

In vetoing $410 million in projects, Scott approached the veto totals of 2014, when $461.4 was struck from the spending plan.

A number of educational initiatives, from $1 million for Florida Gulf Coast University's academic and career attainment program to $1.05 million for Florida Atlantic University's Max Planck Scientific Fellowship Program, were removed from the budget as Scott said the schools could cover the costs through their state allocations.

He eliminated $15 million for Florida International University's School of International and Public Affairs and $15 million for the School of Integrated Watershed and Coastal Studies at Florida Gulf Coast University. Scott said both projects were “low priorities” for the Florida Board of Governors, which oversees the university system.

Among state colleges, Scott vetoed $5 million for a Miami Dade College gym renovation and $4 million for a building renovation at St. Johns River State College.

He said the schools could use local fees to carry out the projects.

Scott eliminated a host of university initiatives funded in the budget, by arguing the 12 schools can use a sizable budget increase they are receiving to fund the projects.

For instance, Scott eliminated $1.9 million in funding for two University of Florida education learning centers, arguing the school could fund the projects out of the $741 million it would receive in the coming year.

Scott vetoed state funding for a number of private colleges because the schools had recently raised tuition, a move that has often drawn the governor's ire.

St. Leo University lost $4 million for a wellness center because the school had raised tuition by 3 percent.

In the public-school budget, Scott eliminated $14 million for “standard student attire” program, saying the initiative was “not a core education mission” for state.

In other fields, Scott and his staff found no statewide return on investment.

In the case of the $854,677 that was slated to go to the Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens as part of a partnership with Seminole County to build a teaching facility to serve middle and high schools and colleges, Scott said there was no return from the construction of a facility that isn't owned by the state.

The work at Daytona Beach International Airport was removed from the budget, as the proposal reportedly didn't follow the proper evaluation process for aviation projects.

A proposal for $750,000 for medical cannabis research at the Moffitt Cancer Center was snuffed as the money was tied to a failed effort (SB 406) by Legislators to carry out a voter-approved constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana.

Another $4.3 million, designated for the Thomas Varnadoe Forensic Center for Education and Research in Pasco County, was cut because the training center “should be under the management of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement,” Scott wrote.

The building was named after a victim of a notorious Panhandle reform school as part of a bill Scott signed on Friday. Varnadoe died after being sent to the now-shuttered Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna in 1934.

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