When Gov. Rick Scott took a butcher knife to the state budget and carved out $461 million in projects and programs -- all this behind closed doors on Tuesday morning, an unusual circumstance by itself -- he infuriated some of his fellow Republicans.
Is internecine political warfare coming?
The governor not only excluded the public from his usual ceremonial event signing the state budget, now at $78.7 billion, he apparently did not brief legislators on his vetoes nor did he offer detailed explanations. Many of his spending cuts covered special interests and line items inserted into the budget at the last minute with little if any vetting, justifiable vetoes. Others, however, rightly baffled lawmakers, such as the loss of funding for mental health care programs, housing for the homeless and aid to the developmentally disabled, among others.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, decried Scott's cuts to family programs, stating: "He's not being consistent with what he'd done in the past. We're trying to figure out his reasons, but he's been erratic."
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One of Scott's cuts, $500,000 for an emergency room diversion program operated by Manatee County Rural Health Services, will have expensive repercussions as patients head to ERs instead of less expensive treatments at walk-in clinics. Galvano noted that Scott previously supported this vital program to reducing health care costs, but his inconsistency shows in this veto.
That is also reflected with the governor's veto of $2,000 pay raise for state forest firefighters who earn only an average of $27,475 annually but approving $5,000 raises for highway state troopers in six counties.
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam fired back at Scott: "I'm profoundly disappointed. ... They're demonstrably underpaid."
Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, issued an angry statement that hinted of the governor's retribution for the chamber's strong stand on accepting Medicaid expansion money to provide health care for the working poor who are uninsured or underinsured:
"While I respect the Governor's authority to veto various lines within our budget, his clear disregard for the public policy merits of many legislative initiatives underscores that today's veto list is more about politics than sound fiscal policy. It is unfortunate that the messaging strategy needed to achieve the Governor's political agenda comes at the expense of the most vulnerable people in our state."
One of Scott's allies, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, no longer appears to be in the governor's corner. With his legislative agenda ripped to shreds, an outraged Latvala remarked: "The governor has declared war on the Legislature."
Meanwhile, House leaders, who backed the governor's opposition to Medicaid money, have complimented Scott on his vetoes. Will the next legislative session, set to begin in January, be as fractious over indigent health care as both the regular and special sessions this year?
Still, both chambers rebuffed one of the governor's cornerstone budget proposals, $700 million in tax cuts that lawmakers slashed to $400 million. Scott's agenda suffered other setbacks, too.
By signing the budget behind closed doors with only his staff surrounding him, Scott showed further signs of his isolation. With his popularity low among voters and now a strained relationship with Senate Republicans, the final three years of his second term could be tumultuous.
In another disappointing loss for Manatee County, the governor vetoed $300,000 for the expansion of the psychiatry residency program at Manatee Glens, the county's primary mental health care provider. Growth of the program is essential to training more behavioral health practitioners in a county that needs more.
Bradenton's IMG Academy lost out on a $2.05 million allocation, but that should have been expected. House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, inserted an additional $2 million for the sports training academy late Friday in a surprise move. That violated one of Scott's primary reasons for a veto -- by circumventing the grant review process. Still, IMG has benefitted handsomely over the past two state budgets, receiving a total of $7.3 million for its massive expansion projects.
The governor did spare the $2.5 million for new beach groins at Cortez Beach in the city of Bradenton Beach. Those groins are vital to shielding the sand from wave erosion, and are valuable to protecting Anna Maria Island's tourism industry.
Intentional or not, Gov. Scott's deep budget cuts sent a message. Political hardball among divided Republicans is now the order of the day.