State Politics

Legislature to governor: We’ve got a budget deal but you’re not going to like it

It appears the Legislature is going to send a budget to Gov. Rick Scott that will leave him empty-handed because he isn’t getting the funding he requested for Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida.
It appears the Legislature is going to send a budget to Gov. Rick Scott that will leave him empty-handed because he isn’t getting the funding he requested for Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida. AP

Gov. Rick Scott traveled the state the last two months calling out legislators for opposing his top budget priorities.

He spent more than $1.2 million on ads trying to win the public over to his thinking.

And on Thursday he was even seen making rare house calls to Senators and House members in their offices to persuade them.

It all failed.

When the House and Senate announced they reached the framework of a budget deal it, they all but rejected Scott’s top three demands. There was no new funding for the state’s job incentive program. Tourism marketing was slashed by $50 million. And there was no money for speeding up repair work on the dike around Lake Okeechobee. Scott sought $200 million.

It all made for a jarring rebuke courtesy of the Republican-led Legislature to the sitting Republican governor.

And there is little Scott can do to stop any of it short of vetoing the entire state budget and forcing the Legislature to return in a special session to pass a new budget. It’s an extreme step that some of Scott’s top allies in the Legislature say he should consider, but others say that would be a disaster and could trigger a government shutdown.

“The governor has the right to veto the entire budget, but I would sure try my best to get him not to do that,” said Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater.

Latvala has been a champion of Scott’s plan to increase funding for Enterprise Florida for job incentives and Visit Florida for tourism marketing. But he said in the name of compromise, the Senate could not hold on to either. He said at least both were not eliminated, like House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, had first sought.

READ MORE: “House votes to abolish one of Gov. Rick Scott’s prized agencies, Enterprise Florida”

Scott has said Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida have been essential to the state’s job growth since he was elected. But Corcoran has labeled both corporate welfare that is not a proper use of tax dollars.

One of Scott’s most loyal allies, Rep. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, said the Republican governor should consider vetoing the whole budget.

“The most important thing for the governor is jobs,” Gruters said. “That’s the one thing that he wants. And they’re not giving it to him. What other options does he have? I don’t know what the governor will do, but I hope somehow, the House and Senate will come together and fully fund the governor’s wishes.”

Scott hastily called reporters to his office on Thursday to express his frustration at what he was seeing from the Legislature.

“I feel like this Legislature is turning their backs on their constituents,” Scott said. “I can tell you — I travel the state — people care about jobs, they want the dike fixed.”

Scott refused to say if he is upset enough to veto the entire state budget, something a Florida governor hasn’t done since the 1980s. When asked directly about that option, Scott would only say: “As you know, the governor has lots of opportunities.”

If Scott does veto the state budget, Republican leaders in the Legislature would need the support of at least a few Democrats to override him.

House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz of Tampa says her members might be willing to go along with a veto override, but they want a seat at the table in negotiations on the budget and other issues, including Medicaid expansion, legislation targeting undocumented immigrants and looser restrictions on gun rights.

“I’m not interested in giving the governor what he wants on [Enterprise Florida], but I’m also interested in taking care of core values that are important to the Democrats,” Cruz said. “Something has to give somewhere. If you need us, you have to listen to us for a change.”

Democrats in the Senate are bracing for a veto.

“The governor has been very clear that this is the most important thing to him,” said Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, the next leader of Senate Democrats. “If that’s what matters to him, and the Legislature doesn’t respect the governor’s role in this process, why wouldn’t he veto the budget?”

If Scott vetoes the entire budget, it would antagonize many of his fellow Republicans, throw state government into chaos and force the Legislature into a special session. If the state has no budget in place by July 1, some state services would cease.

For example, state parks likely would be closed over the Fourth of July.

Clemens said he doubted that the Senate could muster the 26 votes — or two-thirds of the chamber — needed to override Scott’s veto of the entire state budget. The Senate has 15 Democrats and 23 Republicans, with one senator ill and absent and one seat vacant, making 26 two-thirds of the 39-member body. If all 15 Democrats voted against Scott’s veto — which is unlikely — the Senate would still need 12 Republicans to fight their own party’s governor.

“I can’t see the Legislature overriding a budget veto when the governor hasn’t asked for a whole lot,” Clemens said.

Scott had asked for $100 million for Visit Florida, more than $100 million for Enterprise Florida and $200 million for the dike repairs. In the Legislature’s new deal, Visit Florida would get $25 million, Enterprise Florida would be just under $24 million and dike repairs would get no money.

Why couldn’t Scott win over legislators for the three items that impact jobs?

“I have no idea,” Scott told reporters.

Scott said he’ll use the final eight days of the scheduled annual session to convince the Legislature to give him what he wants. That seems unlikely as House and Senate leaders see their own once major policy divide over Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida resolved.

The Legislature is still not finished with a budget. House and Senate budget writers are expected to meet into the weekend to hammer out funding for hundreds of other programs and resolve differences between spending plans passed earlier this session.

The tentative deal includes across the board pay raises for all state workers, $800 million to start work on a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee and more money for universities, key Senate priorities. Also both chambers have agreed not to collect more property taxes from Floridians for public schools, and to spend $200 million to expand charter schools, a House priority.

Herald/Times staff writers Steve Bousquet, Mary Ellen Klas, Michael Auslen and Kristen M. Clark contributed to this report.

Contact Jeremy Wallace at jwallace@tampabay.com. Follow @JeremySWallace

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