On time and in high spirits, a unified Florida Legislature finished its annual session Friday, passing the biggest budget in state history and handing one last defeat to Gov. Rick Scott by firing the state’s top health official.
Lawmakers adjourned Sine Die at 6:46 p.m. as hundreds of people cheered the dropping of two handkerchiefs to the Capitol’s terrazzo floor that traditionally marks the end of the session.
If Scott was disappointed in the rejection of his priorities by his fellow Republicans, he didn’t show it.
At a post-session gathering with legislative leaders, Scott repeatedly used the pronoun “we,” praised them for “a good budget” and dismissed talk that the Legislature might return for a special session to override his line-item vetoes.
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“I’m going to look for duplicative services. I’m going to look for things where we can save money, where we can’t get a return on investment. But I think we have a good budget,” Scott said.
Speculation has been rampant that Scott would use his veto pen more aggressively than ever, and lawmakers in a sign of emerging bipartisanship have talked about getting even with him by overturning his vetoes. But that scenario seems much less likely after Scott’s conciliatory tone.
“I haven’t heard anything about that and I’m hoping not to,” said Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami.
Scott also announced plans to invite legislators to join him on a five-city victory tour next Monday, including stops in Tampa and Miami, to tout $1 billion in tax cuts over two years.
The governor claims he kept his promise to cut taxes by $1 billion over a two-year period. But to make that claim, he must include a reduction of $428 million in local property taxes that he strongly opposed when the Senate proposed it — as a way to prevent Scott from raising local property taxes that help pay for schools.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Tom Lee, R-Brandon, said Scott “technically” accomplished his $1 billion-over-two-years goal when the local property tax cut is included.
‘Pork’ still passed
Lee conceded that the budget is again stuffed with “pork” in the form of aquariums, festivals, museums, parks and water projects, designed in part to make politicians look good back home in an election year.
Scott last year vetoed a record $461.4 million, much of it for hometown projects in lawmakers’ districts.
With only a single “no” vote, both houses passed an $82.3 billion budget that’s nearly $4 billion more than the current budget and $3 billion more than Scott had proposed.
For the first time in memory, every Democrat in both houses voted for a budget written by Republicans.
“We listened to what you said,” Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, told Democrats.
Only Republican Rep. John Tobia of Melbourne Beach voted against the budget.
Democrats took credit for the defeat of Scott’s agenda.
“We reclaimed our place in the checks and balances of our democracy by reining in a governor who’s out of touch with the people,” said Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner of Tampa.
On the environment, legislators sent a message to voters Friday that they are committed to helping the state’s ailing Everglades ecosystem and polluted springs by passing a bill that will carve out at least $250 million a year for those programs for the next 20 years.
The so-called Legacy Florida Act builds on Amendment 1 that voters approved by a 75 percent margin in 2014 and earmarks part of that money for the state’s most fragile ecosystems.
It was the last bill that passed.
“This is an historic commitment by the Florida Legislature,’’ said Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, sponsor of the bill. “Tell my constituents, ‘Help is on the way.’ ”
In one of the final moves of the session, Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, persuaded the House to require insurance companies to offer coverage for people with Down Syndrome.
Gardiner and his wife, Camille, have a son, Andrew, with Down Syndrome, and he has been a popular presence in the Capitol this session. Gardiner first proposed the Down Syndrome mandate on the closing night of a House session eight years ago when Marco Rubio was speaker but was unsuccessful.
Gardiner, who will leave office in November, has made expansion of programs and services for people with unique abilities the hallmark of his two-year agenda as Senate president, and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, said he quickly agreed.
“We were happy to oblige,” Crisafulli said.
The peaceful conclusion to the election-year session was a marked contrast from the rancor and Republican infighting of a year ago that led to a meltdown over the budget and forced three special sessions.
But with all 160 legislative seats up for grabs in the fall elections, lawmakers were well-behaved and did as little as possible to antagonize voters back home.
The 2016 session may have been the last opportunity for Scott to achieve his goals of cutting taxes and creating new incentives to attract jobs. Scott struck out in his high-profile efforts to win approval for a new $250 million fund for Enterprise Florida to recruit companies to Florida.
By November, a new team of legislators will be in charge, and led in the House by Corcoran, who likened Scott’s incentive fund to “corporate welfare” and voted against a bill to set up a framework for how the money would be spent.
By the time the next session begins in March 2017, the next campaign for governor will be underway.
Scott’s final defeat unfolded in silence at the close of session.
As the handkerchiefs fell to the floor, one of Scott’s most trusted advisers lost his job.
For the first time in 21 years, the Senate failed to confirm a state agency head within the required two years.
Sent packing was Dr. John Armstrong, a former top health official at the University of South Florida who served as surgeon general and secretary of the Department of Health, even as he battles colon cancer.
Scott named Dr. Celeste Philip, the agency’s second-in-command, as acting surgeon general.
“He decided to move on,” Scott said of Armstrong. “He’s going to do well.”
Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau reporters Michael Auslen, Kristen M. Clark, Jeremy Wallace and Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this report.
Contact Steve Bousquet at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @stevebousquet.
South Florida projects
The budget passed by the Florida Legislature includes more than $80 million in projects in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. The Underline linear park, clean up of Osborne Reef, a Museum of Military History in South Florida, and Florida International University were some of the biggest winners.
$8 million, Florida International University land acquisition
$7.1 million, Florida International University satellite chiller expansion
$7 million, Miami Dade College classroom improvements
$5 million, Broward College classroom improvements
$4.6 million, SEED School of Miami
$4.1 million, PACE Miami
$2 million, Urban League of Broward County
$2 million, The Underline
$1.8 million, Osborne Reef clean up — Broward County
$1.5 million, Nova Southeastern health programs
$1.5 million, University of Miami — Sylvester Cancer Center
$1.5 million, University of Miami — Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center for firefighter cancer research
$1.5 million, Military Museum of South Florida
$1.3 million, North Miami water/drainage projects
$1.2 million, City of Hialeah — meals programs
$1.2 million, Lauderdale Lakes corridor and sidewalk improvements
$1 million, Opa-locka airport improvements
$1 million, Lauren’s Kids
$1 million, Mourning Family Foundation
$1 million, Miami Project to Cure Paralysis
$1 million, North Miami Beach NE 163rd Street intersection improvements
$1 million, Vizcaya Museum and Gardens Trust
$850,000, City of Lauderhill Parkway Park — North Fork New River
$750,000, ARC Broward — culinary programs
$750,000, Dan Marino Foundation
$750,000, Miami Beach Intelligent Transportation System and Smart Parking
$750,000, Florida International University — West End startup program
$750,000, Miami Design District infrastructure improvements
$700,000, Miami Springs study erosion control and stabilization of drainage canals
$666,000, Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services, Miami
$650,000, Breakthrough Miami
$600,000, Historic Seminole Theater, Homestead
$525,000, Key Biscayne K-8 storm water improvement, phase 1
$500,000, Lauderdale Lakes storm water Conveyance
$500,000, United Home Care Assisted Living
$500,000, Miami Beach Community Health Center — North Dental Center
$500,000, Fort Lauderdale storm water Drainage Program
$500,000, Fort Lauderdale River Oaks Preserve
$500,000, Miami Beach waterline replacement, Alton Road
$500,000, Fort Lauderdale Rapid Rehousing Project
$500,000, Idea Center of Miami Dade College
$500,000, West End Tech Center, Miami
$500,000, Marjory Stoneman Douglas Biscayne Nature Center
$452,977, Miami-Dade water service connections
$450,000, Sunrise storm water master plan
$400,000, Miami Gardens drainage projects
$400,000, Miami Lakes West Lakes drainage improvements
$400,000, Voices of Children Foundation
$400,000, Broward County Juvenile Justice Center
$400,000, Hialeah Gardens — water therapy program
$400,000, North Lauderdale street and sidewalk projects
$400,000, Baywalk, Miami Downtown Development Authority
$300,000, West Miami Potable Phase 1
$258,750, Miami-Dade flood-control improvements
$250,000, Fellowship House
$250,000, Lauderdale Lift Station 2 rehab project
$250,000, Miami, Wagner Creek dredging
$250,000, Lauderdale Lakes water pollutant reduction boat ramp system
$250,000, Lauderdale Lakes park improvements
$250,000, Palmetto Bay mixed use facility
$230,000, Holocaust Memorial Miami Beach
$215,000, Hialeah Gardens — hot meals program
$212,000, Florida International University — Wall of Wind research
$200,000, Hollywood — day care scholarships for Liberia neighborhood
$200,000, Coral Gables Museum Green City
$200,000, Miami Children’s Museum
$200,000, University of Miami — study on normalizing relations with Cuba
$200,000, Coral Gables, Miracle Mile and Giralda Ave., drainage
$200,000, Hollywood water main repair
$200,000, Lauderdale Lakes water pollutant reduction project
$200,000, South Miami, Twin Lakes sanitary sewer expansion
$200,000, Elements Green Business Incubator Program, Miami Gardens
$190,000, Hialeah Gardens senior center transportation
$189,794, Miami-Dade Homeless Trust
$150,000, Hollywood street lights, Liberia neighborhood
$150,000, Cuban-American Bar Association, Coral Gables
$150,000, Washington Park street lighting, Hollywood
$110,000, African Museum of Arts and Culture, Miami Gardens
$100,000, Pembroke Pines Veterans Home renovations
$100,000, University of Miami — study of Cuban impacts on Florida
$100,000, Little Havana Activities and Nutrition Center’s child care
$100,000, Hollywood Police Department, identity theft prevention for seniors
$83,793, The WOW Center, Miami
$75,000, North Lauderdale City Hall roof
$60,037, Easter Seals South Florida
$50,000, Little Havana Activities Center
$50,000, Villa Serena group referral program
$50,000, Washington Park security upgrade, Hollywood
$40,000, North Lauderdale security cameras
$33,600, Miami Shores electric car charging station