Final weigh-in: $64.7-billion
Gov. Bush removes $180-million from what he called a "really good budget." The cuts anger some lawmakers.
By STEVE BOUSQUET
Published May 27, 2005
TALLAHASSEE - Gov. Jeb Bush signed Florida's record-high $64.7-billion budget Thursday, praising legislators for a job well done as he used his veto power to eliminate $180-million of their prized hometown projects.
Bush raved about a "really good budget," with its $1.3-billion increase in spending for public schools, a landmark $1.5-billion program to control growth, another $1-billion saved for future emergencies and $225-million more in tax cuts.
Much of the new school money will come from a rapidly expanding local property tax base, and the budget requires a small property tax hike for some counties.
Bush used the annual budget bill-signing ceremony to tout Florida's strong economy, job growth and low unemployment that stoked an unprecedented one-year surge of $5-billion in new money. With tourism at record levels, Bush said he expects a 13 percent increase in state tax collections this year, stimulated in part by sales following last year's hurricanes.
"This state has busted loose," Bush said.
But the bounty of new money won't reach some places where legislators hoped it would.
Even some of Bush's fellow Republicans voiced anger and frustration at his decisions to veto hundreds of projects including roads, health clinics, hurricane shelters, cultural centers and crime prevention programs in their districts.
"The governor seems to think he's the only one who knows what's best for Floridians," said Rep. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach. "You'd almost think that this state has no needs."
Across the Tampa Bay region, Bush axed state money for building improvements at the University of South Florida, road widening projects in traffic-choked Hillsborough, restoration of downtown Tarpon Springs and water reclamation projects in Clearwater and Oldsmar.
Bush said the vetoed projects didn't follow the rules. He said they sidestepped qualifying programs, were not reviewed by state agencies, did not share costs with the state or were not a wise use of state tax dollars.
"In general, these are well-intended projects," Bush said. "I do not believe that it is a statewide purpose to fund a lot of the programs that you saw there.'
The vetoed projects total less than half of the $349-million of a year ago, but more projects vanished this time - nearly 300 in all.
Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, saw several projects vetoed, including a summer camp for disadvantaged children, a special needs hurricane shelter and a health clinic. Fasano said he believed the action was payback for his decision to eliminate state funding for one of Bush's priorities, making Miami a hemispheric headquarters of the Free Trade Area of the Americas.
"I guess this is what happens when you don't fund the FTAA," said Fasano, who accused FTAA officials of wasteful spending.
Bush responded: "I'm sorry he feels that way, because it's completely inaccurate. He should have funded the FTAA. It's a good program."
Bush's critics accused him of a power grab. Democrats suggested Republicans should convene a special session and use their power to override Bush's vetoes by a two-thirds vote.
The sponsor of the Pinellas water projects, Rep. Kim Berfield, R-Clearwater, said it was "frustrating" to live daily with the area's water and transportation problems only to find Bush unwilling to help.
Rep. Charlie Justice, D-St. Petersburg, faulted Bush for vetoing $179,400 to replace windows and a generator in a building used by the Pinellas Association for Retarded Children as a hurricane shelter.
Rep. Anne Gannon, D-Delray Beach, criticized Bush for vetoing $30,000 for a task force on cervical cancer. She said the decision shows Bush "is detached from the health issues that face women."
For the first time in his seven years in office, Bush acknowledged that political influence did play a role in his veto decisions. He said he showed "deference" to the Legislature's presiding officers and chairmen of the budget committees.
"We strive to make this process based on principle," Bush said. "There are some (projects) that should have been vetoed and weren't."
As a result, Senate President Tom Lee, R-Brandon, saw some of his priorities escape the budget ax, such as $7-million for USF to acquire land on Fowler Avenue from Tampa General Hospital for a research park, and $250,000 for a cultural center in Brandon.
Bush also spared $4-million for the Salvador Dali Museum to relocate from its waterfront warehouse to a new site further inland. The Dali project survived only after the city of St. Petersburg agreed to build a 7-acre waterfront park.
"I almost did" veto it, Bush said. He called it "troubling" that the Legislature used land-conservation funds to pay for the Dali project, and said he told city officials not to make a similar request next year.
"To me, it's a win-win," St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker said, "because you end up building a 7-acre waterfront park that's going to be the largest expansion of the downtown waterfront in close to 100 years, and at the same time you're getting funding for the Dali, which will be built right across the street from the park."
Bush's largest single veto involving state tax dollars was $5-million to expand a 3-year-old program that offers legal services to the poor. The Civil Legal Assistance program, run by the Florida Bar Foundation, received $1-million this year to operate in about a third of the state's 20 judicial circuits.
Bush said the expansion was too great.
"I'm not sure it's the appropriate role for the state to expand, in such a dramatic fashion, paying lawyers to do their work," Bush said.
In vetoing the project, Bush upset its champion, Rep. Dudley Goodlette, R-Naples, one of the Legislature's most respected members. Goodlette said the program helped the poor with landlord-tenant disputes, domestic violence, immigration and abuse cases but prohibits any legal work in criminal cases.
"I don't understand his view that we shouldn't be paying lawyers to be lawyers," said Goodlette. "We need these kinds of programs, to reach those people who otherwise are not going to have access to legal advice."
Times staff writers David Karp and Leonora LaPeter and researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Steve Bousquet can be reached at email@example.com
[Last modified May 27, 2005, 00:49:33]
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