BRADENTON, Fla. - Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Monday announced that he vetoed $368 million in special projects from the fiscal 2014 budget he received from the Legislature.
The cuts reduced the final amount to $74.1 billion, though it still remains the Sunshine State’s largest budget ever.
The budget Scott dubbed “Florida Families First” surpasses the current year’s appropriations by $3.92 billion. It takes effect July 1.
The higher spending reflects projected improvement in revenues, notably the sales tax. Florida does not have a state personal income tax. Revenues that declined in the wake of the economic downturn have been slowly climbing since fiscal 2010 but are about two years away from exceeding the state’s peak collections in 2006.
The budget also includes nearly $800 million of new bonds, the largest amount of debt spending in several years.
“We made strategic investments in this budget, while holding the line on spending that does not give Florida taxpayers a positive return on investment,” Scott said in his veto letter. “We are also holding the line on tuition by vetoing the Legislature’s recommended 3% tuition increase on our college and university students.”
The new budget includes $20.3 billion for K-12 education, which is the largest portion of the general fund. It represents an increase of $1.08 billion over last year, and includes $480 million to fund pay raises for teachers.
Though Scott disallowed the 3% tuition increase, state law requires higher education institutions to raise tuition annually based on the rate of inflation, which is nearly 2% for the coming year.
Scott axed many pet projects lawmakers funded in the waning days of the session mostly because they did not go through the established review process or failed to meet the “core” goals of state government, he said.
Scott also approved a $9.5 billion budget for transportation, a category in which he vetoed few projects.
“The Florida Families First budget will help ensure we stay number one by fully funding the Department of Transportation’s Work Program, including projects to maintain and improve our roads and bridges,” he said. “The budget also includes more than $278 million for development and enhancement of our seaports. We must build on the work we’ve started at our seaports to prepare for the post-Panama Canal expansion which will support job creation.”
Scott’s budget message to the Department of State, and itemized list of vetoes, do not mention any cuts in debt service or bonds passed by the Legislature.
Lawmakers authorized up to $790 million in new bonds for transportation and seaport funding, which is $50 million higher than Scott proposed. It is also the highest amount of bonding since he took office in 2011.
The bonds authorize $370 million for the state’s turnpike enterprise, $164 million for right of way acquisition, $56 million for the transportation infrastructure bank, and up to $200 million for seaport improvement projects across the state.
House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said Scott signed a balanced budget that funds the state’s essential priorities without raising taxes.
“We provided Florida’s education system with more than $1 billion in new funding and ensured all of Florida’s high performing teachers will receive a significant merit raise,” he said. “While we did not agree on every line item, [Scott] signed 95% of our budget, which is a resounding endorsement of the House and Senate work product.”