Fate of Florida's budget is now in Rick Scott's hands

click to enlarge Fate of Florida's budget is now in Rick Scott's hands
Photo by Jeremy Reper
With a narrowing deadline and an uncertain outcome, Florida legislative leaders on Wednesday sent the new $82.4 billion state budget to Gov. Rick Scott, as education leaders urge a veto of all or major parts of the spending plan.

Scott has not tipped his hand. But the Republican governor remains angered over the Legislature's decision to slash spending for economic development and tourism incentives, as well as rejecting his call for $200 million to repair the Herbert Hoover dike around Lake Okeechobee.

“I have a lot of options,” Scott said Tuesday in Orlando. “I can veto it. I can veto a section or any line. I'm still reviewing it.”

One certainty is that a new budget must be in place by the July 1 start of the fiscal year or Florida will face some type of a government shutdown, with agencies, ranging from schools to prisons, being forced to operate on an emergency basis.

With the 451-page appropriations bill (SB 2500) delivered to Scott at 12:09 p.m. on Wednesday, the governor has 15 days to act on the legislation.

He may not need the full review period, as he and his budget staff are very aware of what is in the bill and Scott could act quickly. It took him only four days to act on the 2015-16 budget bill, after lawmakers broke an extended deadlock by passing a budget on June 19.

If Scott takes the full 15 days and issues substantial vetoes, it would give lawmakers little more than two weeks to pass a new or revised budget before the start of the fiscal year. And that period would be further narrowed by a required 72-hour “cooling off” period before lawmakers can vote on an appropriations bill.

The budget outcome is complicated by a series of related bills, which are not yet in the governor's possession. Part of the mix includes a key education policy bill (HB 7069) that includes $419 million in charter-school incentives and pay bonuses for teachers and principals but is opposed by major education groups.

Here are some of the possible budget scenarios that could play out in the next month:

—- THE NUCLEAR OPTION: Scott could veto the entire $82.4 billion bill and call lawmakers back into a special session to pass a new budget. It would give Scott a chance to renew his pitch for $85 million in economic-development incentives and $100 million for tourism-marketer Visit Florida. In the budget passed May 8, lawmakers did not provide money for economic-development incentives and included $25 million for Visit Florida.

But a full budget veto is a rare maneuver, last carried out by Gov. Lawton Chiles in 1992.

A budget veto could prompt calls for an override, which would require two-thirds votes by the House and Senate. That last occurred in 1970 when lawmakers overrode Gov. Claude Kirk's veto of the annual budget bill.

And although the new budget bill passed overwhelmingly, an override could be blocked by Senate Democrats, who control 15 of 39 currently occupied seats and could use their leverage to increase spending on public schools.

—- EDUCATION VETOES: Upset by a budget that includes a small $24.49 per-pupil spending increase, the Florida Education Association, the Florida School Boards Association, the Florida Association of District School Superintendents and a number of school boards are urging Scott to veto the $20 billion-plus portion of the budget related to school financing.

If he vetoes the K-12 budget, it would force lawmakers back into session and essentially open up the entire budget, as lawmakers would have to find additional funding for the schools.

A K-12 budget veto last occurred in 1983, and then-Gov. Bob Graham was successful in using his veto power to force lawmakers back into session to increase education funding.

State college advocates are also asking Scott to veto their $1.2 billion portion of the budget, with the hope it would force lawmakers to restore a $30 million cut in remedial-education funding for the 28-school system.

—- LINE BY LINE: As he has done with the six prior annual appropriations bills, Scott can use his line-item veto power to reject individual projects and spending items. Last year, he cut $256 million from the budget, with his record of $615 million in line-item vetoes set in 2011, his first year in office.

If Scott exercises his line-item veto power, it would not prompt the need for a special session. The new budget, with its reductions, would take effect on July 1.

The downside for Scott in such a scenario is that eliminating budget line items does nothing to restore funding for his priorities, including economic incentives, tourism and public education.

—- LET'S MAKE A DEAL: Not surprisingly, lawmakers and Scott are already negotiating on a way to bring the 2017-18 budget in for a landing. The challenge is finding a path for the governor, the House and Senate to each claim a win, or at least, a partial victory.

Scott has clearly outlined his priorities. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, wants the bill with charter schools (HB 7069) to become law while still opposing economic incentives and supporting a reduced tourism-promotion budget. Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, wants to defend his state university initiatives in the budget as well as a related policy bill (SB 374).

Additionally, legislative leaders have said they would use a special session on the budget to try to resolve an impasse over legislation enacting the November constitutional amendment on medical marijuana.


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