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Scott finishes with a flourish — vetoing final bills before him

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott vetoed Tuesday the final three bills sent to him by the 2013 Florida Legislature, rejecting proposals that would have expanded the authority of obscure special districts, including one in Palm Beach County.

The South Indian River Water Control District measure (HB 855),  sponsored by fellow Republican Rep. Pat Rooney of West Palm Beach, ran afoul of Scott because it would have let district managers spend tax dollars on playground equipment. Scott said that’s a role usually played by cities or counties.

“The bill’s expansion of the district’s authority allows multiple local governments to provide the same or similar services, resulting in duplicative taxation and an increased cost of living for families in Palm Beach County,” Scott said in his veto message.

The other measures vetoed by Scott (HBs 1009, 1281) involved giving more authority to local districts serving Indian River County, Hendry and Lee counties.

Scott’s action was reminiscent of his veto of the only explicit fee increase approved by the Republican-led Legislature: a $10 boost in the cost of buying the $15 wildflower specialty license tag.  Scott, who is seeking re-election next year, clearly is wary of being accused by Democratic opponents of waffling on taxes.

“Although buying a specialty license plate is voluntary, Floridians wishing to demonstrate their support for our state’s natural beauty would be subjected to the cost increases sought by this bill,” Scott said in stamping out the tag hike.

Florida Dems continue to bring heat on Scott over driver’s license veto

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Florida Democrats continued Wednesday to bring the heat on Gov. Rick Scott for vetoing legislation aimed at making it easier for children of undocumented immigrants to obtain drivers’ licenses.

Several Orlando-area House and Senate Democrats gathered outside the county courthouse to blast the Republican governor for what they see as a backward step on immigration.

“This bill would have helped the diverse communities of Central Florida,” said Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando. “The governor missed an opportunity to embrace the Floridians of today.”

Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, also said that Scott’s action was in sharp contrast to the approach of the Obama administration with its support for the so-called Dream Act aimed at creating an eventual path to citizenship for undocumented residents.

“The Dream Act driver’s license bill passed with overwhelming bipartisan support,” Soto said, of the measure approved 115-2 in the House and 36-0 in the Senate. “It passed because we as a legislature understand these young Floridians receiving deferred action require a driver’s license to pursue the American Dream.

“Scott’s veto yesterday flew in the face of this fundamental belief, and has effectively denied this opportunity for thousands of young Hispanics, Haitians, and other immigrants legally here in our great state,” Soto said.

Scott is likely to draw strongest support for his action from conservative groups already wary of federal efforts to ease sanctions against illegal immigrants. The 2012 elections, marked by the Republican Party’s struggle to attract minority voters, seemed to soften the GOP-ruled Legislature’s stance on the issue.

But Scott held firm.

In his veto, Scott said the bill’s reliance on an untested federal policy was alarming. In June 2012, the Obama administration said children brought illegally to the country would not be subject to deportation under most circumstances. But Scott said standard that doesn’t carry the authority of law.

Florida already allows immigrants legally allowed to work the opportunity to receive temporary drivers’ licenses. For now, Scott said that was enough.

In his veto letter, Scott wrote, “Although the Legislature may have been well-intentioned in seeking to expedite the process to obtain a temporary driver license, it should not have been done by relying on a federal government policy adopted without legal basis.”



Scott readies for budget signing, with Palm Beach State cash on fence

Monday, May 20th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott is scheduled to sign the state budget into law shortly after noon today, likely trimming back the $74.5 billion spending plan approved by lawmakers with a few million dollars worth of vetoes.

A 3 percent tuition hike for college and university students already looks doomed. Scott’s staff has leaked to a wire service details about the governor’s intention to veto the increase — which he has signaled for months.

In Palm Beach County, much of the focus is on the fate of $6.5 million approved for Palm Beach State College to begin work on a new Loxahatchee Groves campus. Scott vetoed money for the western campus two years ago — as did former Gov. Charlie Crist before him. But college officials hope the third time proves the charm for the campus cash.

PBSC last fall spent $4.5 million finalizing the purchase of land for the new site. Supporters think that could make a difference when it comes to dodging the governor’s veto pen.

“Hopefully, this is the year,” PBSC spokeswoman Grace Truman told the Palm Beach Post last week.

Scott vetoed $142.7 million in spending last year, a year after he set a record by vetoing $615 million just months after taking office. The state budget year begins July 1.

State budget work finished — and a sales pitch begins

Sunday, April 28th, 2013 by John Kennedy

With a flurry of late-hour deal-making, House and Senate budget negotiators wrapped up work late Sunday on a $74-billion-plus state spending plan.

Senate budget chief Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said the plan could be on lawmakers’ desks as early as Monday. Florida’s constitutionally required 72-hour cooling off period begins when the budget hits the desks, clearing the way for a likely vote early Friday — the session’s final scheduled day.

Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, were quick to praise the $1 billion boost in public school spending included in the proposal. Gov. Rick Scott had sought $1.2 billion, including $480 million to provide for $2,500-across-the-board pay raises for teachers.

Lawmakers have included the $480 million. But they teacher pay raises will be distributed based on job performance, not across-the-board, as the governor sought.

The statements by Gaetz and Weatherford seemed aimed at trying to woo Scott over to their side on the teacher package.

“This is an incredible win for the teachers and students,” Weatherford said.

Gaetz called Scott  a “constructive and strong partner” who “led the way” on the teacher proposal.

“Neither the House nor the Senate nor the governor “won” in these budget negotiations,” Gaetz said. “The winners were Florida’s teachers who will be better compensated, Florida’s students who will be taught by educators recognized and rewarded for their performance.”



House health insurance vote deepens deadlock with Senate, Scott

Friday, April 26th, 2013 by John Kennedy

The House approved its state-financed plan Friday to extend health insurance to more than 100,000 Floridians, shunning billions of dollars available from the federal government for a more ambitious effort backed by Gov. Rick Scott and the state Senate.

The House 71-45 vote broke along party lines, with Democrats opposing the measure (CS/HB 7169) as unworkable and driven by ideological opposition to President Obama’s federal health care overhaul.

The House debated the measure for six hours over two days, with many Republicans ridiculing the promise of federal dollars as unreliable. But Democrats said the House plan was useless.

“This bill is wrapped in a beautiful box,” said Rep. Mia Jones, D-Jacksonville. “But when you open the box…it’s filled with empty promises.”

Still, Republicans said those criticizing the legislation were missing their best chance to help low-income Floridians. With the Legislature entering its final seven days, the House and Senate have deadlocked over relying on federal Medicaid dollars to cover uninsured.

“If you vote no on this bill, you are voting to deny Floridians the opportunity to buy health insurance,” said Rep. John Wood, R-Winter Haven.

The House proposal would extend health coverage to 115,000 parents, children and disabled Floridians living below the federal poverty line and cost state taxpayers $237 million annually.

Called Health Choices Plus, the House plan would cost low-income Floridians $300 a year, letting them choose from a variety of insurance options supplemented by $2,000 annually in taxpayer contributions.

A family of three earning less than $19,530 would qualify for coverage. But critics say out-of-pocket costs would prohibit many poor from taking part.

Unlike the Senate proposal, Health Choices Plus wouldn’t cover childless adults.

The Senate’s Healthy Florida would cover families with income up to 138 percent of the poverty level, or $26,300 for a family of three, along with single adults earning as much as $15,586. Like the House plan, it also would require those in the program to pay modest monthly fees and co-payments.

The Senate proposal positions Florida to receive $51 billion in federal aid over the next decade, while costing state taxpayers $3.5 billion. The House plan would cost Florida taxpayers more than $2 billion in the same period, while covering one-tenth of those without coverage.

Florida has almost 4 million uninsured residents, one of the largest populations in the nation.

The Senate plan has been praised by supporters for helping cover many low-income workers in the state’s tourism, health care and service industries who currently have no health insurance.

Scott this week began hinting to lawmakers that he may wield his veto pen heavily — killed coveted spending priorities, if they fail to embrace his legislative agenda.  Scott’s salesmanship on the health insurance plan, however, has been low-key.

But Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek, said the Republican governor should retaliate if he is sent the House health insurance proposal.

“Gov. Scott, this Legislature has failed you,” Waldman said Friday. “This House of Representatives has failed you.”

Waldman said, “You need to veto this budget and send us back here to do our job.”

Scott’s budget-signing to focus on new school cash

Monday, April 16th, 2012 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott plans to sign the 2012-13 state budget at noon, Tuesday at a public school near St. Augustine.

The $70 billion spending plan approved last month by lawmakers includes a $1 billion boost for Florida’s classroom, coming after a year in which schools absorbed a $1.3 billion reduction and per-pupil spending fell to its lowest level in six years.

Scott also will unveil budget vetoes, which he has said are likely to prove well below the record, $615 million total he eliminated from last year’s spending plan.

The budget-signing is scheduled for Cunningham Creek Elementary School, an ‘A” rated school in St. Johns County.

The school ceremony follows a pattern. Scott last week visited three schools touting the $1 billion increase, which bumps per-pupil spending up an average $150 statewide, or 2.4 percent.

But the average $6,375-per-student spending in the budget slated to take effect July 1 will be the second lowest level since 2005-06. It’s still well off the average $7,143-per-student Florida was spending in 2008 — when the recession tightened its grip on the state.

While school officials generally welcome the cash, the state’s largest teachers’ union ridiculed the approach by Scott and the Republican-ruled Legislature.

“Rick Scott and legislative leaders will bombard you with happy talk about their commitment to public education,” the Florida Education Association said in a statement. “But they haven’t even begun to clean up the mess they made last year.”


State’s debt level declines for first time in at least 20 years

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Florida’s debt level dropped this year for the first time in at least 20 years — helped along by Gov. Rick Scott’s veto of some $135 million in university construction borrowing and a two-year halt on environmental land buys, the governor and Cabinet were told Tuesday.

Florida’s debt level slid to $27.7 billion this year — down $500 million from last year’s record high. That’s a sharp contrast from a year earlier, when $2 billion in additional borrowing pushed state debt to double what it was in 2000, according to the state’s Division of Bond Finance.

Ben Watkins, head of the division, said the state still will have to spend $2.2 billion in next year’s budget just to cover payments on the IOUs. That’s actually up $100 million from last year because of timing of the state’s bond issues. But refinancing of existing debt has saved the state millions this year, Watkins told Scott and the Cabinet.

Fifty-seven percent of what the state owes stems from school, college and university construction. Scott last year, took steps to rein-in that spending with his veto of university building projects, including $3.2 million for new roofing and other work at Florida Atlantic University.

 The only significant university construction work Scott allowed to become law was $35 million for work at the University of South Florida Polytechnic’s Lakeland campus, which was advanced by Senate budget chairman J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales.

Scott, who was elected with strong tea party support, has been outspoken in his push to stem Florida’s rising tide of red ink. 

Since former Gov. Jeb Bush took office in 1999, ushering in a dozen years of Republican leadership, Florida’s borrowing has climbed by $12 billion. Roughly $10 billion more debt is expected to be issued through 2019, to cover currently authorized programs, the bond finance division said.

Public school and university construction projects, roadwork and environmental land purchases have driven much of the borrowing, records show. Major tax cuts enacted during Bush’s two terms and recession-forced budget reductions also helped steer lawmakers away from a pay-as-you-go approach in many spending areas.

The economy, however, has helped change the state’s spending policies. The Florida Forever land-buying program, which formerly used to borrow $300 million annually to preserve environmentally sensitive lands, has been mostly on hold the past two years.

The state’s gross receipts tax, which supports school construction projects, also has been declining. The tax is built on levies imposed on utilities — but the economic downturn and societal shift away from land-line telephones has dramatically reduced the dollars available for campus construction.

Scott finds a bill he doesn’t like; vetoes background screening exemption

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott cleared another milestone as chief executive Thursday – vetoing his first bill passed by the Legislature since whacking a record $615 million from the state budget last month.

Scott has been remarkably supportive of the Legislature’s actions, signing about 150 bills without a single veto. But Thursday he rejected a measure (SB 1992) that would have eased criminal background-screening requirements for volunteers working with seniors.

Scott said eliminating such oversight posed a threat to vulnerable older Floridians.

“That is a risk not worth taking,” Scott said in his veto letter.

The legislation had been pushed by Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Brandon, and a pair of Senate committees as a cost-saving move. Supporters said a 2010 law revamping background checks requires even volunteers to undergo screening and fingerprinting – which can cost close to $45 per-person.

Watch Scott whack the budget live

Thursday, May 26th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott‘s got the $69.7 billion budget to sign today, but the state’s spending plan will likely be considerably leaner after the first-year governor is done.

Scott is expected to make history by red-lining in excess of Gov. Charlie Crist‘s record-setting $459.2 million in vetoes in 2007, also the governor’s first year as state CEO.

Scott’s turned the budget signing ceremony into a public spectacle in The Villages, a favorite stumping ground for the conservative Republican, where he’ll be surrounded by tea party supporters. Previous governors have held more subdued signing events inside the Capitol.

Those who can’t make it to Central Florida can watch Scott wield his veto pen via the internet.

Log onto shortly before 1 p.m. to join in.

Will records fall today, along with budget turkeys?

Thursday, May 26th, 2011 by John Kennedy

With Rick Scott poised to sign into law a new state budget, the focus Thursday morning remains on whether the first-year governor might also be out to set a new state record.

Scott has said — without providing details — that he plans to veto portions of the $69.7 billion spending plan approved earlier this month by lawmakers.

Tea party activists are expected to form a large share of the audience at today’s signing ceremony. And leading lawmakers think Scott could make a political statement by axing hundreds of millions of dollars in proposed spending.

Could he top former Gov. Charlie Crist’s $459.2 million record for vetoes?

“That wouldn’t surprise me,” said Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, chairman of the Senate’s Health and Human Services budget committee. “I think there’s a real possibility that the veto amount exceeds $459 million.”

The budget approved by lawmakers cuts $2.6 billion from schools, health and social service programs, bringing per-pupil funding to its lowest level in six years, while imposing deep cuts to hospitals, nursing homes and HMOs. Some economists warn the spending plan, which takes effect July 1, could slow the state’s recovery by adding more Floridians to the jobless ranks.

But among conservative tea party voters, who helped vault Scott to a narrow victory over Democratic opponent Alex Sink last fall, the Legislature’s spending plan is a failure.

“We were all disappointed that the House and Senate came out with a much higher budget than Gov. Scott proposed,” said Robin Stublen, a leader of the Charlotte County Tea Party, who helped draw supporters to Thursday’s signing event at The Villages, the Central Florida retirement community.

“But I think (Scott) will do what he thinks is right,” Stublen added. “He’s not concerned with his poll numbers or his next election.”

Road builders turn up pressure on Scott

Monday, May 23rd, 2011 by John Kennedy

Road builders are upping the pressure on Gov. Rick Scott to veto the Legislature’s decision to pull $150 million out of the state’s transportation trust fund and scatter it across the budget, filling holes.

The Florida Transportation Builders Association delivered close to 3,600 petition signatures to Scott on Monday, urging he strike the fund shift. Builders say losing the money will hurt construction efforts and cost 8,400 jobs.

The association’s president, Bob Burleson, said in a letter to Scott the move “will only add to Florida’s strained unemployment compensation and healthcare systems.’

Joining Burleson in the pitch are six transportation building organizations, along with Associated Industries of Florida and Florida TaxWatch. The $69.7 billion budget now before Scott is almost certain the cause more layoffs in Florida economists warn,  even as the state’s April unemployment level fell to 10.8 percent, its lowest level since September 2009.

Scott, though, has voiced little support for public spending as an economic driver. “I”m focused on building private sector jobs,” Scott said last week, when he raised the possibility of vetoing millions of dollars spending on university and college construction.

At the time, Scott said he worried about deepening the state’s debt — which may help road builders seeking to erase the $150 million trust fund shift. Those dollars are generated chiefly by motorists paying gas tax.

Scott to spend Saturday on budget review until…

Friday, May 20th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott is bearing down on the $69.7 billion budget — scheduling  a full, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday’s worth of work on the spending plan approved by lawmakers earlier this month.

Scott has until June 1 to act on the measure. He’s already said “savings” will emerge from the plan when he’s done — a hint that some level of vetoes are in store. And organizations ranging from environmental groups to educators and transportation industry advocates are offering advice on what to veto, or not.

For what it’s worth, Scott apparently is knocking off an hour before California radio preacher Harold Camping is predicting the beginning of the end of the world.

Education officials urge Scott to put down veto pen

Thursday, May 19th, 2011 by John Kennedy

State education officials are trying to get Gov. Rick Scott to back away from his veiled threat earlier this week to veto millions of dollars in college and university building projects to ease the state’s rising tide of red ink.

Ava Parker, chair of the State University System’s Board of Governors, wrote Scott assuring him Thursday that the robust list of bond-financed projects — topping $123 million– was needed repairs, renovations and expansions by the schools.

Governor, you can be assured that the entire list of State University System PECO projects as listed in the 2011 state budget on your desk adheres to all standards, were approved by their respective university boards of trustees, and are among the top priorities for the State University System,” Parker wrote, urging the chief executive to contact her or Chancellor Frank Brogan before wielding his veto pen.

Locally, among the projects is $3.2 million for new roofs and other maintenance at Florida Atlantic University.

More troubling, however, may be the $46 million worth of campus expansion, new buildings and renovations wedged in by Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, for his favored University of South Florida Polytechnic in Lakeland.

More than $100 million in Public Education Capital Outlay (PECO) projects for the state college system also is getting a close look. Included among them is $7.3 million for a west campus building at Palm Beach State College.

The governor also may be looking toward at least one that could be seasoned with pork: a $7 million classroom building at Pasco-Hernando Community College, included in the budget late and in the hometown of House speaker-in-waiting Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel.

 Scott has until June 1 to act on the $69.7 billion budget approved earlier this month by lawmakers.

Scott gets state budget as he worries about red ink

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011 by John Kennedy

On the same day Gov. Rick Scott fretted about the state’s rising tide of red ink, Florida lawmakers Tuesday sent him the $69.7 billion budget they approved earlier this month.

Scott has until June 1 to sign it and issue his vetoes — which he hinted Tuesday he plans to do, maybe with some gusto.

“I can tell you, though, there will be additional savings,” Scott said – hinting at vetoes that pour more money into state reserves, already at the $2.2 billion level.

 “In these economic times, we must ensure that every hard-earned tax collar is used wisely in a way that we get Florida back to work.”

State government debt climbed to $28.2 billion last year – up almost $2 billion from a year earlier and double what it was in 2000, according to the state’s Division of Bond Finance.

While lawmakers struggled to close an almost $3.8 billion budget shortfall – enacting deep cuts to schools and health and social services programs – almost $2.1 billion had to be taken from the budget just to finance the state’s debt.

 Since former Gov. Jeb Bush took office in 1999, ushering in a dozen years of Republican leadership, Florida’s borrowing has climbed by $12 billion. 

Those who helped write this year’s spending plan know the governor has the ball now.


“I suspect there will be some vetoes, but we have a responsible budget,” said House Appropriations Chair Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring.

 ”The governor will come in and look at different issues, different items. He’ll bring a fresh eye to it.

GOP leaders send warning to GOP Gov

Monday, March 14th, 2011 by John Kennedy

House Speaker Dean Cannon  and Senate President Mike Haridopolos sent memos Monday to  lawmakers, noting they could still consider a number of overrides to vetoes made last spring by former Gov. Charlie Crist.

But is the real target here new Gov. Rick Scott?

The memos warning that the Republican-led Legislature is ready to exert its muscle, follows Scott’s decision Friday to freeze at least until July $235 million in contracts for SunRail, the Central Florida commuter rail hailed by Cannon, Haridopolos and most other Orlando-area lawmakers.

 The delay threatens the $1.2 billion rail project. And it comes just weeks after the Republican governor antagonized many lawmakers — and was unsuccessfully sued by two of them — after refusing the federal government’s offer of $2.4 billion for high-speed rail linking Tampa to Orlando.

The two leaders’ notes are worded cautiously. But the intent is clear: Scott can mess with lawmakers, but they can mess right back.

” I am directing the committee chairs to evaluate potential veto overrides in their area and, should they find a candidate for an override, to conduct a public hearing on the bill,” Cannon wrote. ” The House will take up any override formally recommended by a committee.”

Haridopolos wrote, “Over the past few weeks, several members of the Senate have also expressed an interest in considering some of the remaining vetoed bills, and it is my desire to be open and inclusive in considering these requests.”

 Budget vetoes and slightly more than a dozen bills are eligible for override, the leaders wrote. Included are one measure that would shift the state’s Department of Management Services away from sole oversight by Scott and put it under the authority of the governor and the three independently elected Cabinet officers.

Another would create so-called leadership funds. These accounts would give legislative leaders total control of what typically is millions of dollars in campaign cash they raise but must deposit within the state’s political parties.

Hot-button septic tank issue on GOP leaders’ special session list

Thursday, November 4th, 2010 by Dara Kam

A bill that would have required septic tanks to be inspected every five years is on GOP leaders’ short list during a special session later this month.

Candidates throughout the state have heard an earful about the septic tank issue, especially from rural residents who complain about the cost of inspections and a blanket approach in the requirement instead of targeting older tanks.

The state health department estimates that more than half of the septic tank systems in use are more than 30 years old and no statewide inspection system is currently in place.

One solution proposed by House Speaker-designate Dean Cannon would be to delay implementation of the inspection program six months beyond the current Jan. 1 start-up date.

That would also give lawmakers time to come up with an alternative proposal during the regular session that begins in March.

Special session on the day new leadership takes over legislature

Thursday, November 4th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Now that they’ve got a veto-proof majority in both the state House and Senate, GOP legislative leaders will override nine bills axed by Gov. Charlie Crist earlier this year as their first course of business later this month.

Senate President-designate Mike Haridopolos and House Speaker-designate Dean Cannon are holding the special session on the day they officially take over their chambers during the typically ceremonial organizational session beginning Nov. 16.

“We chose issues that had one or two negative votes, most, in the Senate, most of them unanimous,” Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, told reporters this morning. “Once we take these off the table, we can focus on jobs, jobs, jobs, because that’s what people care about.”

Lawmakers steered clear of two controversial measures – a bill that would have required pregnant women to view a sonogram before having an abortion and a measure (SB 6) that would have done away with teacher tenure.

Instead, most of the nine bills they selected received unanimous or near-unanimous approval.


Crist vetoes abortion bill

Friday, June 11th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist has vetoed a controversial health care bill backed by powerful GOP legislators that would have required women seeking abortions to have ultrasounds and listen to detailed explanations of the fetus.

Crist, who abandoned his long ties with the Republican Party and is running as an independent for U.S. Senate, said in his veto message the bill places an “inappropriate burden” on women seeking abortions and violates the right to privacy.

“Individuals hold strong personal views on the issue of life, as I do,” Crist wrote in the message. “However, personal views should not result in laws that unwisely expand the role of government and coerce people to obtain medical tests or procedures that are not medically necessary. In this case, such action would violate a woman’s right to privacy.”

Conservatives and anti-abortion groups stepped up pressure on Crist to sign the measure (HB 1143) into law, and House Republican leaders waited until this week to send him the bill.

The veto will likely garner support from some Democrats and pro-choice Republican women, two voting blocs Crist is wooing to shore up his independent candidacy.

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