Only nine days before the start of the next fiscal year, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed his first state budget Friday, which boosts investment in environmental spending and relieves some previous shortfalls in public schools but also denies some local projects with a round of last-minute vetoes.
“I think it was a successful budget,” DeSantis told reporters Friday afternoon. “It’s a fiscally responsible budget. We put taxpayers first. But the things that Floridians care about — education, the environment and transportation — we were there for that.”
The more than $90.9 billion budget gives schools in the 2019-20 school year an increase of $242 per student, sets aside $682 million for environmental cleanup, funds $45 million for a massive toll road project and largely avoids major cuts to healthcare seen in past years. It also infuses $3.8 billion into state transportation infrastructure, including creating 126 new lane miles.
It also levels a $35 million blow to university base funding, falls short on DeSantis’ wishes for teacher bonuses and land preservation, and shrinks Medicaid reimbursement rates for “safety net” hospitals.
The Legislature’s $91.1 billion budget was $200 million less than what DeSantis had proposed after his Jan. 8 inauguration. DeSantis had joked last month to lawmakers that he planned to ax at least $100 million more. On Friday, the final veto number came to about $131 million. Governors have the authority to veto specific line-items.
Miami’s New World School for the Arts — famous for one alumnus who wrote the play that was the basis for the movie “Moonlight” and another who became the musical director for Broadway’s “Hamilton” — took a six-figure hit. After all $500,000 of its state funding was cut last year, the school appeared to have eked out $100,000 from the state this year, until the vetoes were released.
Beyond the direct impact of each vetoed expenditure, how a governor handles the budget — crafted entirely by the Legislature — also reflects the executive’s political style and can telegraph messages to lawmakers. Newly elected governors often are heavy-handed in their vetoes in an effort to assert their dominance. Through that lens, this veto list was light, a reminder of DeSantis’ fairly strong working relationship with lawmakers that contrasts with the more aloof, top-down style of his predecessor, Rick Scott, who is now in the U.S. Senate.
In explaining his veto methodology, DeSantis said there were things “government just shouldn’t do at all,” or should be a local responsibility: “If I fund something for one county do I have to do it for everybody?” He also referenced past governors going after political foes in the Legislature, saying he did not use the budget for “retribution,” and said he often called lawmakers whose projects were on the chopping block.
Here’s some of what got cut:
▪ Clearwater’s Ruth Eckerd Hall lost $500,000 earmarked for renovations in a larger effort to raise $34 million. “They have a foundation,” DeSantis told reporters, noting that his high school had held its graduation ceremony there. “That’s something they can do. That’s not the state’s job.”
▪ The Little Havana Activities & Nutrition Centers of Dade County saw two separate projects vetoed — $1 million for operational costs and salaries for an adult day care program and $100,000 to provide child care services.
▪ $300,000 for design costs for an over-the-water pedestrian bridge underneath the MacArthur Causeway.
▪ $853,000 for new ADA-accessible walkways, greenways and facilities for a business park in Miami Lakes, home to House Speaker José Oliva.
▪ $255,200 for crime prevention technologies — including tasers, firearms and police radios — for the city of Opa-locka.
▪ $50,000 to increase mental health counseling services at Miami-Dade College.
▪ An $8 million workforce housing project in Jacksonville, which would have benefited big-time developer and Republican political donor, John Rood. DeSantis said Friday that he didn’t like the process of earmarking housing projects outside the designated fund and was leery of the precedent. It was the biggest veto.
DeSantis also vetoed some requests involving generators or emergency operations center funding.
The city of Hollywood asked for a generator for its disaster recovery center, as did the city of LaBelle, for generators at city hall and its civic center. But those, as well as emergency operations centers funding requests from Coral Gables and Dunedin, were cut.
Hollywood’s generator request was sponsored by Rep. Even Jenne, D-Dania Beach, who bristled at the veto and said he thought it was “much more worthy than a highway that nobody asked for,” referencing the toll road project approved by the governor that was a major priority of Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton.
Brooksville Fire Chief Ron Snowberger was disappointed the governor vetoed $325,000 that would have helped replace a 20-year-old fire truck and an air compressor used to fill oxygen bottles for the firefighters.
“It would have been a win-win for us,” he said, noting the city had intended to match the state funds. He said he’s hopeful the city will be able to provide funding somehow.
Also, $250,000 for the Carter G. Woodson African-American Museum in St. Petersburg was cut. The money DeSantis vetoed would have been spent on expanding the museum from 4,000 to 10,000 square feet, according to state Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg. Rouson said he was “disappointed ... but undeterred” and vowed to try again for the money next year, calling the museum expansion “a good and worthwhile project.”
DeSantis, also in keeping with his predecessor, vetoed funding for the Miami International Agriculture, Horse, and Cattle Show — making it the third time in three years that the South Florida show won’t receive state funding it has sought.
DeSantis’ signing of the budget took place later in the year than usual, a delay attributed to giving his staff more time to review it line by line. He had apparently still been considering certain vetoes through Thursday.