Florida Politics

State budget is in Gov. Scott’s hands now. What will he veto?

Gov. Rick Scott used Miami’s Jungle Island as the setting for a press conference on May 15 to announce that the number of tourists visiting the state for the first three months of 2017 was about 31.1 million people. He also used the opportunity to criticize the Legislature for not fully funding Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing arm.
Gov. Rick Scott used Miami’s Jungle Island as the setting for a press conference on May 15 to announce that the number of tourists visiting the state for the first three months of 2017 was about 31.1 million people. He also used the opportunity to criticize the Legislature for not fully funding Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing arm. Getty Images

The clock is ticking for Gov. Rick Scott to decide whether to sign the $82.4 billion state budget and just how much of it he should reject.

On Wednesday, Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, sent the spending plan approved in an overtime session of the Legislature to Scott, who now faces a June 15 deadline to act on it. Lawmakers are bracing for hefty vetoes and many believe they will be back in Tallahassee before the end of June in a special session to rewrite parts of the budget or override the governor’s veto.

“What the governor is going to do is purely a guessing game,” Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, said. “You can place a wager on whether it’s more likely for him to veto the whole thing or big parts of it. But I do think that everyone can agree the governor will veto a significant amount.”

Scott’s disdain stems from his top priorities — economic incentive agency Enterprise Florida and tourism marketer Visit Florida — being gutted in the budget.

The question now is just how Scott might exact revenge on House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, and other House leaders who targeted his economic development programs.

While Scott’s office is tight-lipped about when and how the governor will act, he has spent the last three weeks publicly reminding lawmakers that he could scrap their plan altogether.

“I have the opportunity to either veto the entire budget or veto parts of the budget or veto a line item,” is the new Scott talking point on the issue.

It’s a basic fact. But it’s also a reminder to legislative leaders that in his frustration, Scott could use his veto pen more than usual.

He has three options: Veto the whole budget, veto an entire section of it to send a loud message or make lots of line-item vetoes directed at the pet projects of his rivals.

An all-out veto of the budget seems unlikely, said House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz of Tampa. The budget passed both the House and Senate with super-majorities surpassing the two-thirds required to override Scott.

Instead, a possible victim is already emerging: The $23.7 billion K-12 education budget, which Sen. Bill Galvano, a top lieutenant to Negron who has been talking with members of Scott’s staff, says is a possibility.

Such a veto would be historic, the first time in 34 years that a governor vetoed public school funding. It would also come with an order from Scott to bring the Legislature back into session in Tallahassee.

“The onus will be on the governor,” said Galvano, R-Bradenton. “The governor has to be very specific if he is going to veto large segments of the budget and make a case for how we fix it and why that’s more appropriate than what we’ve passed.”

It would also give a rare seat at the table to Democrats, who are in the minority in both the House and Senate. If Corcoran and Negron want to override Scott, they need the Democrats’ support.

Prominent school superintendents and advocates for traditional public schools have clamored for the K-12 budget to be vetoed and rewritten.

The proposed budget — which greatly mirrors what House Republicans originally pushed — increases per-pupil spending by just one-third of 1 percent, or an extra $24.49 per student. But the base student allocation — set by a complex formula, which determines how much school districts actually get to pay for their operations — would go down.

The two-week window for the governor’s action allows Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, to persuade Scott not to be punitive with lawmakers who handed him one of the most embarrassing political defeats of his career.

Scott’s communications director and next chief of staff, Jackie Schutz, has assumed the role of his chief negotiator. And legislators say they hope to resolve the budget standoff in a way that appeases the governor, by finding a way to inject more money into Visit Florida and reviving some of Enterprise Florida.

“The governor needs to strike the right balance of vetoing just enough to get to the number he wants without seeming so punitive he does not have a ally in any legislator to want to come back and fund his priorities,” Flores said.

Cruz said she hopes the governor is “very judicious” with his veto pen if he starts crossing out money set aside for local projects and community organizations.

“He shouldn’t let his personal feelings about individual members and how they voted hurt some of these programs that are so important to the everyday life of his constituents,” Cruz said.

However Scott moves forward, the solution will likely come from within Republican ranks. After all, said Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon of Miami Gardens, the fight was self-inflicted by the majority party.

“I plan to get out my popcorn and see which Republican beats which Republican,’’ Braynon said.

Florida governor Rick Scott announces record tourist visits for early 2017 at Jungle Island on May 15, 2017.Gov. Rick Scott touted record tourism in Florida during the first quarter of 2017 as he considers vetoing a dramatic cut to the state’s tou

Herald/Times staff writer Kristen M. Clark contributed to this report.

Contact Michael Auslen at mauslen@tampabay.com. Follow @MichaelAuslen.

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