After years of getting short-shrift from Tallahassee, South Florida made up some lost ground this year. Miami-Dade and Broward counties ranked first and second statewide in local projects funded, getting more than $2 billion, according to a legislative analysis.
It didn’t hurt college students that Gov. Rick Scott is facing re-election. After previous cuts, he restored hundreds of millions of dollars to higher ed. And he vetoed a university and college tuition increase of about 3 percent, arguing that he does not want to hurt efforts to move students up in key fields and grow the economy.
It’s a popular veto among college students’ families, especially when the state’s jobs picture remains fuzzy.
Nevertheless, Florida’s university tuition rates, among the 10 lowest in the nation, would still be a bargain even with a 3 percent increase. The governor should not have meddled.
Overall, Gov. Scott vetoed $368 million in local projects statewide, slicing out those he deemed do not advance learning or spur economic development. Or they simply were programs, however valuable, that were tacked on the budget at the last minute without proper legislative vetting in committees.
Some good projects fell victim to Mr. Scott’s priority list, including a veto for the third year in a row of $1 million statewide for legal aid to serve the poor.
Local water projects (about $25 million) for small cities, money for school construction and small museums, and millions of dollars in needed local services for the disabled or elderly — the governor’s veto pen scratched them all.
Among the South Florida projects the governor vetoed:
• $500,000, University of Miami, Launchpad;
• $20,000, Hialeah Junior Fire Academy, $20,000;
• $300,000, Barry University, juvenile justice programs;
• $770,096, South Florida Evaluation & Treatment Center;
• $1,043,089, South Florida State Hospital;
• $856,200 PACE elder care;
• $183,000, Mt. Sinai Community Center Brain Bank;
• $1 million, Badia Senior Center;
• 589,468, Coral Gables wastewater collection system;
• $500,000 Hallandale Beach drainage.
Yet even with the vetoes, this year’s state budget was the largest ever and includes $480 million for teachers’ pay raises (a priority for the governor), $152 million to improve water quality and flow in the Everglades, almost $9 billion for transportation projects and $273 million for ports statewide.
Plus, Jackson Health System and other public hospitals will not lose $65 million to help those facilities move to a new Medicaid payment system.
Teachers’ raises will not be automatic, because the House pushed for those raises to include administrators and be worked out by each school district based on merit.
It’s a half-loaf solution for most teachers, who haven’t received a raise in years, but at least it starts to close Florida’s gaping salary disparity with other states.
Mr. Scott says his vetoes went through his “filter” of three priorities: job creation, improving education and government efficiency.
There were some gubernatorial misses and legislative disasters, starting with dunderheaded inaction on Medicaid expansion.
Still, after years of deficits, Florida finally is moving forward.