The Dali Museum gets $4-million in moving money, but other some projects, like Tampa’s Riverwalk, get vetoed.
By JONI JAMES and ALEX LEARY
Published May 25, 2006
TALLAHASSEE — Wielding his line-item veto power for the final time, Gov. Jeb Bush on Thursday slashed a record $449-million from the state budget.
But he had a surprise for St. Petersburg: he approved $4-million to help the Salvador Dali Museum relocate from its bayfront location.
It is the second year in a row Bush approved money for the project, pushing state funding for it to $8-million. He acknowledged it was a favor to St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker, a fellow Republican and political ally.
Still, Bush vetoed $9-million for a science building at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.
And the governor vetoed $5.5-million for the downtown Tampa Riverwalk, a pet project of Mayor Pam Iorio, a Democrat.
His roughly 430 vetoes touched everything from water mains and swimming pools to child health programs and derelict vessel removal.
The vetoes represent a fraction of the state’s total budget, which grew by 9 percent to $73.9-billion. Included in that increase is 5.5 percent more for state services and 38 percent more for things like roads, prisons, public schools and tax cuts.
Bush was upbeat, praising lawmakers for creating a “phenomenal budget’’ that cuts taxes $278-million, provides $715-million to bail out the debt-ridden, state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp. and includes a record 8.6 percent increase in per student public school funding.
“This budget represents our conservative approach to government,” Bush said. “Spending taxpayers’ hard-earned money demands responsibility and accountability.”
Lawmakers also set aside $310-million for the largest conservation purchase in state history, the 74,000-acre Babcock Ranch in southwest Florida, and nearly $3-billion in reserves.
Democrats, however, argued that the vetoes, many for hospital projects and senior centers, were coldhearted in a year of robust state revenue.
“He’s almost in denial as to the health care problems we have right now,’’ said state Rep. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach. “The seniors, the poor, all those people were left out in the cold.’’
Bush, who leaves office in January after two terms, made no apologies. This year’s veto list tops by nearly $100-million his 2004 record of $349-million. After eight years, Bush contended, lawmakers should have known their projects were vulnerable because they weren’t appropriately screened.
“They have a right to squawk; they have invested a lot of their energy in these projects,’’ Bush said. “But you’d think after a while they’d understand I’m pretty principled about this.’’
The Dali funding was far from certain after Bush suggested last year’s funding was a one-time deal because the money comes from a fund for land preservation. On Wednesday, the project topped Florida TaxWatch’s annual budget “turkey” list.
“I’m very pleased and thankful,” said Baker, who lobbied Bush last week.
In the end, Bush said he could not let a nearly completed project languish when the museum had followed through on its own commitments.
“Half buildings really just don’t make my day,” Bush said.
USF, however, didn’t fare so well. The science building was included on the three-year construction list approved in March by the Board of Governors, which oversees state universities. But the building was not slated to be funded until 2008, so USF leaders were pleasantly surprised when legislators included it.
“The loss of the science and technology building is disappointing to the faculty, staff and students of USF St. Petersburg,’’ said regional chancellor Karen A. White. “It curbs our ability to serve our growing number of students in the quality way we feel they deserve.’’
Also vetoed was a proposal by state Rep. Charlie Justice, D-St. Petersburg, to spend $187,000 to replace windows and add a generator to a building operated by the Pinellas Association for Retarded Children for use as a hurricane shelter. “The governor was just flat-out wrong to veto this money,” Justice said.
But Bush approved a $7.7-million hurricane shelter in Pasco County that will double as a health clinic for the poor.
The veto pain extended to Tampa.
The Riverwalk project was to have included a new Tampa Bay Lightning parking garage.
“I am extremely disappointed in Gov. Bush’s decision,” Iorio said. “He missed a real opportunity to invest in a project that was good for everyone. ... One of the reasons the state is flush with money is because of the growth of cities. You have to reinvest in those cities to keep them vibrant.”
Legislative leaders’ official responses were tempered. And Bush spared projects near and dear to the leaders of both legislative chambers, such as the $3.4-million Brandon community center backed by Senate President Tom Lee, R-Valrico.
Reacting to the vetoes less than a week after Bush endorsed his bid to be the state’s next chief financial officer, Lee said, “Some people view this as a negative; however, I’ve always viewed it as a healthy check and balance.’’
The budget didn’t include everything Bush wanted. Lawmakers ignored his push for nearly $1-billion in property tax cuts, opting instead to pump the money into education.
But in many other areas, the governor won: The state’s intangibles tax on stocks and investments, worth about $131-million annually, was eliminated starting in 2006-07; the budget includes money for merit pay for teachers; and it sets aside $390-million for Bush’s economic development initiatives.
Bush, who is known for his attention to detail, spent a half-hour highlighting parts of the budget during a news conference.
“Call me wacky, but it is important for the governor to be immersed in the details of the budget because money should follow policy, not the other way around,’’ Bush said. “If the same attention to the budget occurred in every jurisdiction in every municipality, I think we’d have better government.’’
Staff writers Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler, Janet Zink, Shadi Rahimi and Steve Bousquet contributed to this report.