The budget takes effect July 1.
TALLAHASSEE – Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an almost $91 billion state budget Friday and made good on his pledge to pare back a modest level of spending – vetoing $131.3 million in programs and projects tucked-in by the Republican-led Legislature.
Although lawmakers approved the spending blueprint in early May, they took their time in sending it to the first-year governor. The budget takes effect July 1.
“I think it’s a fiscally responsible budget. I think we put taxpayers first. But I think the key things that Floridians care about, things like the environment, things like education and things like transportation, we were there to really make a difference,” DeSantis said.
The largest earmark targeted by DeSantis was $8 million for a Jacksonville workforce housing apartment complex being developed by Vestcor Cos., whose chairman, John Rood, is a major Republican fundraiser.
Vestcor gave $25,000 to DeSantis’s political committee in February, records show.
But the development, dubbed the Lofts at Cathedral, was believed to be the first time state affordable housing money has been earmarked for a specific project.
“I don’t know if that’s the precedent we want to go down,” DeSantis said, in explaining why he axed the dollars.
Among the bigger projects axed:
University and college projects erased:
Other big-ticket vetoes included $6 million for the University of Florida’s Music School and another $2 million for UF’s Lastinger Center’s emergency response program; $3.4 million for South Florida State Hospital in Broward County; $4.6 million for building a regional public safety training center in Highlands County; and $2 million to improve pedestrian and bike routes along Bradenton Beach’s State Road 789.
A handful of college and university building improvements, city water and sewer projects and road-building initiatives also failed to earn the governor’s approval. Many had been slipped into the budget because they had an influential backer, although DeSantis didn’t mention that as a reason for attracting a veto.
Indeed, one project that had been targeted as a legislative “turkey” by Florida TaxWatch, a business-backed organization, was $10 million for extending 44th Avenue East in Bradenton, which had the support of Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton. The proposal wasn’t recommended for funding by the Florida Department of Transportation.
But that didn’t seem to matter to DeSantis. It dodged a veto and survived in the spending plan.
Still, another project — $3.5 million for a youth sports complex in the Clay County home of both the House and Senate budget chiefs, Rep. Travis Cummings and Sen. Rob Bradley, both Republicans, was vetoed by the governor.
“When I looked at local projects I wanted to see if there was a real connection to overall state policy. And there were in many cases,” DeSantis said.
The almost $91 billion budget had plenty of what DeSantis wanted. Included among the biggest budget items is $682 million for water improvements and Everglades restoration, which tops the $625 million sought by the governor to combat water quality problems that plagued the state last year.
The spending blueprint includes a $242-per-pupil increase in school funding, a roughly 3% hike for Florida’s 2.8 million students, also slightly above what DeSantis had sought from a Legislature controlled by fellow Republicans.
The governor’s $131.3 million in vetoes was about the size of the scale-back DeSantis said he had in mind on May 4, when talking with reporters moments after the Legislature adjourned the two-month session, one day into overtime.
Governors can often get sideways with lawmakers by leveling a barrage of vetoes. DeSantis’s predecessor, now-U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, antagonized fellow Republicans in the Legislature by vetoing a then-record $615 million from his first-year budget.
As recently as 2017, Scott vetoed $11.9 billion from the budget and testily called lawmakers back into special session to re-do the spending plan. Last year, with his eyes already on his U.S. Senate run, Scott was far more compliant, axing a tidy $64 million and signing the budget just days after lawmakers had approved it.
DeSantis said he had no reason to go to war with the Legislature.
“I’ve got more in the budget than many first year governors,” DeSantis said. “You know, if I had not been so successful, there probably would’ve been more projects in there that I would’ve vetoed. But I think we worked well together, so there wasn’t a need for me to exact any type of retribution.”
Galvano offered muted support for the governor’s action.
“I respect the governor’s prerogative to exercise his line-item veto authority,” Galvano said. “While we do not agree with every decision, it is clear that Gov. DeSantis takes his responsibility very deliberatively.”
Galvano added that with next year’s legislative session set to begin in January, lawmakers could revisit some of the issues tossed onto the veto pile.
“We will have another opportunity to address the needs of our constituents,” Galvano said.
Some environmentalists praised DeSantis for holding true to his campaign promises of pumping up spending aimed at tackling the state’s widespread water problems.
“Without Gov. DeSantis’s environmental leadership and bold request for $2.5 billion over four years for Everglades and clean water initiatives, we would not be welcoming a budget with this record level of funding,” said Eric Eikenberg, chief executive officer of The Everglades Foundation.