Safety net hospitals, meanwhile, are scrambling to save $65 million in funding Scott could veto. The money was added to the budget to reduce losses for hospitals created under a new Medicaid funding formula.
If Scott vetoes the spending, Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital would lose $23.3 million, Shands Teaching Hospital in Gainesville would lose $11 million and Tampa General Hospital would lose $2 million.
Scott has until May 24 to sign the budget, but he will be in Chile on an official trade mission from May 20-23, so he may act before he leaves the country.
The governor’s handling of the state budget is always a closely watched decision, and this year it gives the re-election-minded Scott a chance to make a clear political statement: Is he willing to endorse the spending choices of his fellow Republicans, or is he a fiscal conservative who’s willing to veto hundreds of millions of dollars in local projects?
Scott alienated some conservative supporters in February when he endorsed a three-year expansion of Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act.
Scott defended a decision to force some groups to return state money if promised tax revenues fall short.
“There’s a lot of things in the budget,” Scott said. “I’ve asked them to make sure that if they don’t get the returns, they give the money back to the state.”
Scott sent letters to a horse park in Ocala, IMG Academy in Bradenton, a rowing center in Sarasota and the Tampa Bay Innovation Center, a technology incubator in St. Petersburg, due to receive $400,000.
The letter said that if the group does not provide $1 million in state tax revenue by 2018, it must write a $400,000 check to the state. It’s unclear if the letters are legally binding.
All four projects Scott cited in his letters were approved by a panel of budget-writers chaired in the House by Rep. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater, who said he was persuaded that the IMG Academy attracts enough visitors that it deserves $2.3 million.
“Less than one half of 1 percent? That’s not extravagant,” Hooper said. “The Legislature is simply trying to make this state a better place to live.”
Herald/Times staff writers Tia Mitchell and Amy Sherman contributed to this report.