Gov. Bush lops off $290-million
By ALISA ULFERTS, JULIE HAUSERMAN and BARRY KLEIN
© St. Petersburg Times,
TALLAHASSEE -- Even the most powerful state lawmakers were hit by Gov. Jeb Bush's vetoes on Friday.
The Republican governor vetoed $290-million in the state budget that lawmakers passed this spring, including more than $25-million for projects in two counties -- Manatee and Sarasota -- represented by Senate President John McKay.
Bush vetoed $1.17-million earmarked to make New College, the 650-student liberal arts program in Sarasota, into the state's 11th university. That was McKay's project, as was a $6-million program to help children with learning disabilities that Bush vetoed.
Senate Majority Leader Jim King lost $1-million for a chiropractic college at his alma mater, Florida State University. House rules chief Johnnie Byrd lost the $700,000 he wanted for a softball field in Plant City.
"McKay had some independent thoughts during the session, and apparently the governor didn't like it," said state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Palm Harbor, refering to McKay's refusal to go along with all of Bush's proposed tax cuts this year.
In handing out the vetoes, Bush also signed the $48-billion state budget. The budget includes a 7.5 percent tuition increase for state university students and what Bush said is an increase of $201 per student in public schools and $78-million to improve nursing home care.
It marked the third year in a row that Bush angered legislators by cutting out many of the road repairs, reading grants and other pet projects they had tucked into the budget. He has vetoed a total of $916-million -- projects he said either did not get an adequate review or had no statewide benefit -- in the last three years.
"There's no rhyme or reason to it," complained Latvala, who added that he would support a veto override of some of the governor's cuts. "The governor and his staff have substituted their judgment for the judgment of 160 people and the people who voted for them."
In 1999, state senators took Bush to court over some of his vetoes, and the lawmakers won. This year, there could be another showdown in court, this time over Florida Healthy Kids, a joint county-state health insurance program for needy kids.
In Pinellas County, failure to raise enough local money left 1,900 children on a waiting list for the insurance, until the county Juvenile Welfare Board voted this year to add about $200,000 of local money to pick up the tab.
Lawmakers took up the matter this spring and eliminated the local match requirement for the program in a part of the budget that Bush cannot legally veto. That would cost $11.8-million.
But Bush, who thinks counties should share in the costs, wants to veto the money and hopes to get a judge to agree that he can.
"If this is a high priority, local communities should contribute," he said.
For his part, Latvala was particularly incensed by Bush's veto of $6-million for Learning Gateway, a pilot program to help small children with learning disabilities. That program was a top priority for Senate President McKay of Bradenton.
McKay, a Republican moderate, refused to support some $300-million in tax cuts this year because he felt the budget was too tight. The final tax cut was a little more than half that amount.
McKay was unavailable for comment. But he released a statement saying he was "deeply disappointed" by many of the cuts.
"In the Senate's view, the governor's process is highly subjective and flies in the face of smaller government," McKay wrote. "That process empowers career bureaucrats not accountable to the voters of the state to make funding decisions that the state Constitution clearly requires the Legislature to make."
McKay, who still has one more year as Senate president, also lost several million dollars in higher education money he had hoped to steer to his district. That included the New College start up money and a $6-million appropriation that would have helped pay for an expansion of the Ringling Museum in Sarasota, which is run by Florida State University -- McKay's alma mater.
University system officials said they had no warning the New College veto was coming.
"I guess the university can still start up, but it'll be on a shoestring," said Bill Edmonds, a spokesman for the state Board of Regents. "At this point, we don't know what this means."
Bush never liked the idea of making New College into a full-fledged university. But it was a top priority of McKay, who forced the governor's hand when he tucked the bid for independence inside a must-pass bill -- the Republican-led reorganization of Florida's education system.
Lisa Gates, a Bush spokeswoman, said the $1.2-million was vetoed because it was intended to benefit the state's regional campuses. New College no longer is a "regional campus" because its independence severs its longstanding ties with the University of South Florida.
"That line item was simply not appropriate for a university," Gates said. "We understand the college will need some money, and we will work on that."
New College officials were in meetings late Friday and did not return calls seeking comment.
The cuts also included $302,843 for family planning services provided to poor women through local Planned Parenthood affiliates, money that had been provided each year for more than a decade.
The share earmarked for Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, which includes the Tampa Bay area, was $125,800 for services for 1,258 women. The other regional affiliates affected by the cuts are based in Jacksonville and Naples.
"Many of our patients have no health insurance nor are eligible for Medicaid. They absolutely depend on clinics like ours," said Barbara A. Zdravecky, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida.
Democrat leaders in the Legislature criticized the budget Friday, saying it did much for the rich while average Floridians got little help at all.
"It's all about give and take with Jeb Bush -- giving to the rich and taking from everyone else," said Senate Democratic leader Tom Rossin. Rossin of Royal Palm Beach in particular found fault with Bush's approval of an additional cut in the state intangibles tax.
"Gov. Bush has shown his true colors once again by taking $175-million that could have been spent on things like reducing class sizes or prescription drugs for seniors and instead spending it on another tax cut for the rich," Rossin said.
Before he announced the vetoes, Bush led a presention on what the budget did pay for, including a 6.3 percent increase in education spending, almost $50-million for community-based elder care and $78-million for improved nursing home care.
Budget officials changed their accounting format this year, which slightly lowered the budget's bottom line because not every program was included. Had the old format been used, the budget would be $54.7-billion instead of $48-billion.
Bush axed $1.6-million that King, a Jacksonville Republican, wanted for a fishing park and fish hatchery at the controversial Rodman Dam on the Ocklawaha River. Bush has sided with environmentalists who want to tear down the dam, which is the last vestige of a defunct public-works project called the Cross Florida Barge Canal. King is fighting to keep the dam in place.
State Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said it took a flurry of last-minute lobbying of Bush to get some of his most expensive pet projects approved.
Bush okayed Fasano's $2.5-million pilot program to help Pasco County acquire private utilities that serve more than one-third of the county residents.
Approval came despite the fact that Fasano said he had "great concerns" the utility money wouldn't make the cut.
"We did have to work a little bit harder this week in making certain these projects were secured," the House majority leader said Friday after Bush approved more than half of his projects to benefit local constituents.
- Times staff writers Lucy Morgan, James Thorner, Dan DeWitt and Wes Allison contributed to this report.
Tampa Bay projects vetoed Friday by Gov. Jeb Bush:
NW Sixth Street stormwater drainage project: $100,000
Boys and Girls Club in Citrus: $200,000
Brooksville downtown traffic project: $1-million
Brooksville elementary school security: $80,000
Center for Independence group homes: $500,000
New Port Richey Marine Institute: $500,000
Plant City airport renovations: $967,150
Urban League skills center: $500,000
Stevenson Creek estuary: $1-million
U.S. 19: $1.7-million
Florida Holocaust Museum: $250,000
McKay's bad day
Gov. Jeb Bush vetoed at least $25-million in projects that were headed for Manatee and Sarasota counties, represented by Senate President John McKay, R-Bradenton.
State Road 70 in Manatee: $7.5-million
Mote Marine Jason Project (educational program) in Manatee County: $100,000
Mote Marine Sea Trek (distance learning): $900,000
Mote Marine Keating Maritime Center: $500,000
Mote Marine Sturgeon Program: $500,000
Mote Marine Shark Sawfish Research: $125,000
Manatee County Emerson Point Environmental Center: $600,000
Manatee County Community High School Planning: $1.5-million
Manatee Children's Group Home: $1-million
Manatee County Nursery School: $450,000
Regional Senior Resource Center of Manatee County: $2-million
Manatee Rural Health Services Dental Program: $200,000
Manatee Rural Health Services, Prescription Drugs: $500,000
Manatee Rural Health Services, Obstetrics: $320,000
Foundation for Dreams: $80,000
Special Needs Shelter Generator, Manatee County: $300,000
Emerson Point Classroom, Manatee County: $600,000
South Florida Museum/Bishop Planetarium: $750,000
New College: $1,177,500
Ringling Museum addition/Florida State University: $6-million
Senior Community Outreach: $170,000
Planned Parenthood Contracts in Collier and Sarasota: $187,084
- Source: Gov. Jeb Bush's budget
490 First Avenue South St. Petersburg, FL 33701 727-893-8111
From the Times state desk
From the state wire