Gov. Rick Scott’s veto ax hit South Florida deeply Tuesday, cutting projects with both local support and others that were priorities for local government.
Scott cut a record total of $461 million from the $78.7 billion state budget and made the deepest local cut to Florida International University. The state school lost $5 million intended for a land swap that would allow it to move into a portion of a county park currently occupied by the Miami-Dade Youth Fair.
FIU has offered to move the fair, but negotiations are at an impasse as fair executives insist the cost of the project will be several times more than the $40 million estimated by supporters. Last year, Scott approved $10 million in state funds toward the move, but this year the governor appeared to side with fair executives and said the spending was not acceptable because “a total project cost had not been established.”
The veto disappointed members of the Miami-Dade legislative delegation, which pushed for the funding as a top priority.
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“Having this vetoed in the midst of an escalating fight I'm thinking is a wrench in the works,” said Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, the county’s delegation chair.
The governor left intact, however, two local university projects related to autism — $1.7 million for the University of Miami’s Center for Autism and $750,000 for the Dan Marino Foundation. He also agreed to steer $965,000 to the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center and $500,000 to Camillus House to serve sexually exploited adolescent girls.
The governor, however, cut several urban parks and bike trails because they “circumvent the Transportation Work Program.” Among them: $2 million for the Underline Linear Park and Urban Trail in Miami, a 10-mile linear park running under the county's elevated Metrorail system from Miami to Dadeland.
He also rejected $3 million for the Ludlam Trail, a 6.2-mile linear park planned on an old railway line between Miami International Airport and Dadeland Mall, and $200,000 for the Black Creek Trail in Miami Dade.
“I am so sad,” said County Commissioner Rebeca Sosa, a top advocate for the Ludlam Trail funding. “The whole delegation was supporting and was behind the initiative. I don't understand.”
Meg Daly, an organizer of the Underline project, said the $2 million would have gone toward the $8 million needed to start construction of the trail off Brickell Avenue by the end of 2016.
“Everyone is just sort of dealing with the setback and seeing if there are other opportunities,” she said.
Scott rejected several projects because they could not be considered a statewide priority. Among them: $189,000 for the Miami Dade Homeless Trust and $1 million to the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis.
Ron Book, a lobbyist for both projects, said he was surprised by the governor’s rejection of the funds, which would have been used for mental-health beds to save money and keep people out of state institutions.
“We tax our community, our private sector and raise $55 million a year for the Homeless Trust,” he said. “Because of the proven track record, the added support from the state helps make a difference.”
Some legislators said they were confused by the governor’s rationale in many of his vetoes, since he had allowed for funding of many of these projects, such as the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, in previous budgets.
“I think the governor’s office has declared war on the Legislature,” said Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater. “There are projects he vetoed this year that he’s approved in the past.”
Scott punished several private universities that raised their tuition in the past year, a violation of his pledge to hold higher education fees level. He cut $73,000 to Barry University’s school of nursing and social work because the university raised student tuition 2.3 percent. A $4.2 million item for medical programs at Nova Southeastern was cut because that school raised tuition 2.9 percent.
A $200,000 project intended to assimilate elderly Cubans in Florida “into the new information and communication technology era” was axed because “there is not a clear statewide return on investment.”
A $100,000 allocation for the Little Havana Activities and Nutrition Center was cut because the funding was already provided by other statewide school readiness programs. The governor used the same reasoning to cut $200,000 he vetoed for community neighborhood financial assistance at the Haitian Neighborhood Center.
The governor also used the veto message to inject his political messaging.
For example, he said, plans to spend $100,000 on a design education program in Coral Gables and $50,000 on a Holocaust education center in Broward were cut because “school districts have the ability through record high state K-12 funding to implement these programs if desired.”
The governor also used his veto pen to stop the Legislature from helping dental HMOs DentaQuest and MCNA Dental pay nearly $300,000 in health insurance tax under the Affordable Care Act.
Scott, who is ideologically opposed to the idea of tax-supported hospital systems, bristled when legislators added items to benefit certain public hospitals. For example, he rejected $350,000 for HIV/AIDS services at the North Broward Hospital district because, he wrote, “the hospital generates millions in projects to be reinvested into the community for this purpose, receives millions in Low Income Pool funds for this purpose, and receives all of the millions in local tax revenue raised for this purpose.”
He vetoed $125,000 from the Miami Helping Hands Youth Center for at-risk youth because, he said, they were not required to show they used “evidence-based prevention programming.”
He rejected $1 million in seed money for infrastructure improvements to the Miami Design District and $1 million for the City of Opa-Locka Cultural Facility, $500,000 for the Wow Center in Miami, $500,000 to relocate the Miami Boat Show and $70,000 for a waterfront access study in Miami Dade because he said they circumvented the established grant review process.
He rejected $400,000 for the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens Trust because it did not go through a statewide ranking process.
The governor also took the ax to several local water projects: $195,000 for stormwater improvements in Aventura; $280,000 for well and drainage improvements in Coral Gables; $325,000 for Doral stormwater improvements; $500,000 for reclaimed water projects in Coconut Creek; $550,000 for piping in Margate; $750,000 for stormwater in Miami Beach; $8,000 for drainage improvements in Miami Lakes; $675,000 in drainage improvements in North Miami; $400,000 in sewer work in South Miami, and $1 million for water supply expansion in Sunrise.