“Licking my wounds,” Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, tweeted after he learned the governor had deleted $14 million in funding for a science and technology building at Gulf Coast State College in Panama City. The college is in the district of Gaetz’s father, Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville.
Scott hailed the final spending plan as the “Florida Families First” budget, highlighting his push for $2,500 pay raises for public school teachers, a record investment in K-12 education, pay increases for the state workers and a three-day back-to-school sales tax holiday.
From August 2 through 4, the state’s 6 percent sales tax will be eliminated for school supplies less than $15, clothes worth less than $75 and new computers costing less than $750.
As expected, Scott vetoed a 3 percent tuition increase for state colleges, universities and workforce education. His letter included comments of support from three community college presidents and University of Florida President Bernie Machen.
“As a result of the additional funds contained in the budget, the University of Florida will not be seeking a tuition increase for next year,” Machen said.
Scott had hoped all 12 state university presidents would collectively sign a letter rejecting any tuition revenue increases, but they refused. Although Scott said his intent is to maintain tuition and fees at current levels, state law requires tuition to rise at minimum to keep up with the rate of inflation, which is 1.7 percent this year.
Universities have already said they won’t ask the state Board of Governors to raise tuition up to 15 percent, as allowed by state law. But none have committed to refusing the inflation adjustment. Scott said Monday he hopes they will, but he avoided the question of whether it’s legally possible.
“I don’t believe tuition ought to be going up at all,” he said. “Tuition has gone up way too fast the last few years.”
One of Scott’s largest veto items: $50 million for the state’s Coast-to-Coast connector, a bike trail stretching from St. Petersburg to Titusville. Scott said the state’s ongoing transportation budget already includes more than $57 million in statewide funding for transit greenways and bike paths, and that the connector could be completed over time.
“The worthwhile project contemplated by the Coast-to-Coast connector,” Scott wrote in the veto letter, “can be built incrementally and consistent with a prioritization of gaps in the existing trail system.”
Though his veto pen struck down funding for a Broward County Holocaust education center, job training for “displaced homemakers” and a “Building Homes for Heroes” program for veterans, Scott was more friendly with some local projects. He approved $1 million in funding for a Bay of Pigs museum in Miami, $5 million for a rowing center in Sarasota and $5 million for the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, which is looking to film a sequel to the 2011 movie Dolphin Tale.
In addition to signing the budget, Scott also signed off on 16 related bills that implement the state’s spending plan. Among them is a measure to create a new Medicaid payment system for hospitals and $65 million to ease that transition and another that extends health insurance coverage to contract employees who work full-time.
Scott also signed the government transparency bill that makes more state contracts and data accessible via the Internet.
He was leaving Monday on a three-day trade mission to Chile. More bills will await the governor’s signature, including a Friday deadline for elections reform legislation, HB 7013. Dozens of other bills approved by the Legislature still haven’t been sent to the governor for approval.