Last week, Gov. Rick Scott singlehandedly vetoed funding for a 10-page list of local and statewide projects. The last-minute grinching cut $461 million from the $78 billion state budget that takes effect on July 1.
That may not sound like much removed from a huge amount, but these vetoes are roughly 0.6 percent of the entire 2015-2016 budget, a far greater cut than in most years. Last year, during the election, Scott vetoed only $69 million (or less than 0.1 percent). Since many of this year's cuts will cost local education and health programs, the statewide effects are just starting to sting.
Of the 49 counties receiving cuts, Orange County's $38.5 million is the second-highest overall and the highest per resident, at $30 each.
The highest-profile cuts here were $15 million for the University of Central Florida's new downtown campus, and $5 million for the next construction phase of the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.
The governor explained that his vetoes were intended to weed out projects that don't benefit all Florida taxpayers, but the list provides plenty of inconsistencies.
The University of South Florida, for instance, was spared. USF will still receive $17 million to move its Morsani College of Medicine to downtown Tampa, and $12.3 million to finish construction of its business college.
The vetoes provide insight into the governor's true political priorities.
Free of any electoral consequences until his presumed 2018 U.S. Senate run, Scott can mete out inhumane budget cuts that restrict access to healthcare, while green-lighting projects that open doors to new donors. Then, presumably in the 2018 budget process, he can restore funding to the most popular programs, in order to win back voters.
One example of an item that wasn't cut: $7 million to replace state law enforcement radios that have "reached their end-of-life or end of support date."
The funding was most likely added to the budget by House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, and not at the request of law enforcement agencies. Harris Corp., the state's current radio vendor, asked for the provision. Harris is just now completing the latest year of an $18.2 million annual state contract from 2001 that runs through 2021.
Harris also donated $2,500 to Gov. Scott's re-election campaign last year.
That amount was apparently enough to attract the governor's interest, but not enough to provide Harris with an easy contract. The bidding process will invite a handful of new vendors to participate, creating a handful of new corporate donors who can easily beat a paltry $2,500.
This says nothing of the glimpse into back-room political bullying that takes place during budgeting – for instance, Scott cut Senate President (and Scott nemesis) Andy Gardiner's $2 million allocation for Winter Park water quality improvements, while approving of $2 million for a seawall for a golf course in Crisafulli's district.
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