State Politics

Tax watchdog: Gov. Scott’s budget vetoes let some ‘turkeys’ slip through cracks

When Gov. Rick Scott vetoed $461 million in state spending on Tuesday, he said that he was looking out for taxpayers and cutting projects that didn’t receive proper vetting.
When Gov. Rick Scott vetoed $461 million in state spending on Tuesday, he said that he was looking out for taxpayers and cutting projects that didn’t receive proper vetting.

When Gov. Rick Scott vetoed $461 million in state spending on Tuesday, he said that he was looking out for taxpayers and cutting projects that didn’t receive proper vetting.

But Florida TaxWatch took exception with him on nearly $37 million worth of projects they say are “turkeys” that were not properly vetted but still made it into the budget that Scott signed. On the other hand, about $330 million worth of projects that Scott vetoed were not singled out as turkeys.

Take, for example, $1 million for the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, one of the few items Scott didn’t veto in northern Pinellas County, which TaxWatch says was added unexpectedly near the end of budget negotiations. Or $2 million toward the Tampa Innovation Alliance which Scott nixed, but it didn’t make it on the TaxWatch turkey list.

Kurt Wenner, TaxWatch’s vice president of research, was reticent to call out the governor on a difference of opinion.

“Calling it a turkey doesn’t necessarily say it’s a bad project,” Wenner said. “If it’s something he feels should be funded, he has every right not to veto it.”

Among the items on the TaxWatch list is a priority for House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merrit Island, who remained closely allied with Scott through the debate this spring over health care funding and Medicaid expansion.

TaxWatch labeled a $10 million appropriation for school uniforms as a turkey because most of it was added to the budget at the 11th hour and because it was the subject of legislation that didn’t pass in the regular session.

Scott refused to kill that project, while vetoing $8 million for a program to help students with disabilities earn college degrees, a top priority of Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando. Gardiner opposed both the governor and the House in the health care fight that made this year’s legislative session so fraught with disagreement.

Scott said Tuesday that his disagreement with the Senate didn’t factor into his veto decisions.

Many of the appropriations he axed included admonishments for going around other established grant programs.

“If you look at the budget,” he said Tuesday, “I went through it trying to find what was the best thing for our state.”

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

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