BRADENTON, Fla. — Florida Gov. Rick Scott last week signed a $69.1 billion budget into law while vetoing a record $615 million for various projects, some of which would have been funded by bonds.
Around $305 million of what Scott vetoed would have been funded from the proceeds of selling public lands, and represented no reduction of cash or bonding amount in the fiscal 2012 budget, which goes into effect July 1.
Another $168 million of capital projects that Scott axed would have been accomplished through the sale of bonds. Many of the projects were for state colleges and universities. The total remaining bonding authority in the budget was not immediately available.
In a 30-page veto letter, Scott criticized both Florida and the federal government for using debt. He said that dependency “poses a risk to our economic security.”
“Today, our state currently is burdened with $23.1 billion worth of tax-supported debt, an amount about equal to the entire state’s 2011 general revenue budget,” the freshman Republican governor said. “Therefore, I am vetoing almost all projects in the budget that would only be afforded through additional borrowing and increasing the debt burden that must be paid in the future.”
Florida’s fiscal 2012 budget is about $1.3 billion less than the current spending plan. It will require the elimination of 4,500 jobs.
For the first time, public employees who participate in the Florida Retirement System will be required to contribute 3% of their pay to the plan, while receiving no salary increase for the fifth year in a row.
“It is the governor’s constitutional authority to veto line items in the budget, and I respect his decisions,” said House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park. “The vetoes of general revenue appropriations will further increase the more than $2 billion the Legislature set aside in our state’s reserves, which will help protect our bond rating and ensure that we have ample reserves in the event of an emergency.”
Scott also struck $11.15 million in funding from the state’s Transportation Trust Fund for lease-purchase agreement payments to the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority, the Tampa-Hillsborough County Expressway Authority, and the Osceola County Expressway Authority.
Of the total amount vetoed, around $8 million goes toward an agreement with the Orlando-Orange County Expressway, which obligates the Florida Department of Transportation to pay for operations and maintenance on at least two roads in the authority’s system as long as bonds for those roads are outstanding.
“We are evaluating the legal issues around the governor’s veto, but even without the $8 million reimbursement from the state our debt-service coverage is strong,” authority spokeswoman Lindsay Hodges said Friday.
Susan Chrzan, spokeswoman for the Tampa-Hillsborough County authority, said the loss of the funding is under review.
Under the lease-purchase agreements, the authorities would reimburse FDOT once their bonds are paid off.
The expressway authorities have accumulated $364 million of debt over the years that they have not repaid FDOT under the agreements, said Scott’s spokesman, Lane Wright.
“Their contract is subject to appropriation by the Legislature,” he said. “Gov. Scott has chosen to veto their appropriation this year.”
Scott also said in his veto letter that he is reviewing the roles of the regional authorities with the goal of consolidating them with the Florida Turnpike Enterprise.
Such a measure was proposed by the Legislature this year, but it was withdrawn during budget negotiations after most of the regional authorities lobbied heavily to remain independent.