BRADENTON – Florida Governor Rick Scott signed a record $77 billion budget on Monday. The budget increases spending on schools and the environment while sparing hundreds of millions in projects from his veto pen.
Scott used his veto sparingly this year, cutting only $69 million from the budget for the fiscal year starting July 1, as opposed to $368 million in line item budget vetoes last year and $142 million the year before. The governor emphasized the $500 million in tax and fee reductions in the budget and increases in education spending.
Larger vetoes included a $2 million seawall intended for Cocoa Beach, $3.25 million for a Stetson University science center and $1 million for land acquisition at Gasparilla Island State Park, as well as $2 million for a Miami observation tower. $15 million for a coast-to-coast bicycle trail in Central Florida that was vetoed last year survived this year's cuts.
Locally, Scott axed $1.6 million for New College of Florida, $1 million for the Circus Arts Conservatory, $250,000 for the Sarasota Fairgrounds and $50,000 for Bradenton charter school Visible Men Academy. The planned FDOT operations center on SR Road 64 East in Manatee County survived, as did IMG Academy, who will get $5 million in state funds.
Florida Democrats called it a "pork-filled" election-year budget, pointing out that while spending for education is higher, the per-pupil state spending remains $177 below its 2007-08 peak, which was also the first budget year of ex-Governor Charlie Crist, who will be Scott's opponent in November.
The improving economy gave legislators more than $1 billion in new revenue to work with and they were able to put $3 billion in reserves, despite the record spending.
Scott is having to balance election year spending against the wishes of his conservative base, who elevated him into contention in 2010, after he began as a GOP outsider who was seen as having very little chance to get the party's nomination when he first entered the governor's race.
The fanfare surrounding this year's budget has been minimal. Unlike previous years, there was no press conference for signing the budget, just a series of press releases.
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