BRADENTON, Fla. - Florida Gov. Rick Scott quietly signed a $78.2 billion budget into law Tuesday, the third straight fiscal year of record spending for the Sunshine state.
Setting aside the usual fanfare accompanying the budget signing, Scott simply issued a press release from his office briefly outlining certain priorities in the budget such as $427 million in broad-based tax cuts that he touted in a seven-city tour of the state on Monday.
The tax cuts include a reduction in the communication services tax on cellphones and television, a 10-day back-to-school sales tax holiday, and $88.6 million in business tax credits.
In a letter transmitting the budget to the secretary of state, Scott said he set aside $1.2 billion in the primary general fund reserve account, though there are additional reserves in designated trust funds.
Scott provided no details on how much the budget authorized in bond financing, and his office did not respond to a request for the information.
"The Governor's Keep Florida Working budget fully complies with Amendment 1 by including over $740 million for Florida's Land Acquisition Trust Fund to support land and water programs," Scott's transmittal letter said, referring to a voter-approved measure requiring 33% of taxes on real estate transfers be used to purchase and improve land for conservation and recreation.
On Monday, Florida environmentalists filed a lawsuit challenging $300 million in Amendment 1-related spending in the fiscal 2016 budget. They said lawmakers "defied the constitutional mandate" by devoting the funds to unauthorized expenses.
Scott, a Republican, vetoed $461.4 million of expenditures placed into the budget largely at the last minute for lawmakers' special hometown projects. In contrast, he axed just $69 million last year, the final year of his first term as he faced a re-election bid.
The governor's action on the budget drew praise from House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, whose chamber sided with Scott against a Senate plan to expand Medicaid that prolonged this year's legislative session.
"Our balanced budget keeps Florida's economy growing, provides record funding for our children's education, fully complies with Amendment 1, cuts taxes for families by $400 million, and will include even more than the $3 billion in reserves we anticipated," Crisafulli said in a brief statement.
The budget cuts provoked the ire of Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, whose chamber unsuccessfully pushed a program to expand Medicaid to provide health insurance for 800,000 low-income Floridians.
Gardiner, a hospital executive, said Scott's veto of nearly $10 million in funding for free charitable clinics would force more of the state's working poor without health insurance toward hospital emergency rooms.
He also said that Scott's line-item vetoes would mean that Florida state firefighters would not get a pay increase, and critical funding would be missing to implement Amendment 1, "including money appropriated to improve the water quality of our springs, acquire conservation land, and preserve historic sites.
"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," Gardiner said.