On June 20, the Florida Legislature’s special session ended without much ado. As anticipated, the Florida House and Senate struck a deal that avoided a state government shutdown. As anticipated, the deal did not include a Senate plan to expand (or, depending upon your preferred rhetoric, transform) the state Medicaid program to help solve the problem of roughly 800,000 uninsured Floridians. And as anticipated, the legislature found ways to partially compensate hospitals for the reduction in LIP funding associated with its phaseout. As a token of reconciliation, the legislature also gave the governor over $400 million in tax cuts (roughly two thirds of what he wanted) to tout around the state.
So it looked as if the kerfuffle of 2015 was about to be smoothed over. And then the governor reached for his veto pen. The $461 million in projects he chose to eliminate from the budget was aggressive under any standards. The total figure was not unprecedented--he has a track record of aggressive vetoing when he’s not in the middle of a re-election campaign. What stood out were the choices made for line item vetoes, their respective justifications and the lack of consistency in which justifications to apply and when to apply them.
Two key justifications given by the governor for his veto choices are the failure of some projects to be appropriately vetted and the failure of others to demonstrate statewide impact and reflect state priorities. And yes, some vetoed projects were clearly vulnerable to one or both rationales. But a number of vetoed projects were projects that Scott endorsed or signed off on funding for the previous year. And other principles appeared to come into play inconsistently as well--redundancy in state capacity, purpose outside of an organization’s core mission, etc.
What appears unmistakable, however, is that many of the projects the Governor chose to veto were those that were championed by the people he has been feuding with during the past few months. Republican Senate leaders appeared to be in the crosshairs. An $8 million program that would help disabled children attend college and $15 million for a new UCF downtown Orlando campus were among Senate president Andy Gardiner’s top priorities. Both were torpedoed by Gov. Scott, along with a range of additional projects in the Orlando area (within and around Gardiner’s Senate district). A similar, if not quite as intense, geographic concentration of vetoed projects appears closer to home in the backyard of Senate Majority Leader Bill Galvano.
The salvos weren’t limited to the Senate leadership. Projects benefiting health care providers that were outspoken critics of the governor’s stance on Medicaid expansion were conspicuously cut. And agriculture commissioner Adam Putnam was incensed at the vetoed raises for state forestry firefighters while similar raises for state troopers escaped the axe. Guess which folks work under Putnam? To add insult to injury, the governor also vetoed $300K in agriculture department funding for a promotional program that Scott deemed outside the agency’s mission. Not that Putnam would understand his own agency’s mission.
What did Putnam do to raise the ire of the Governor? I’ll save that for a future blog.
Suffice it to say that the tensions between the Florida House, Senate and governor will likely get worse before they get better. And the same might be said for at least one member of his cabinet.
Frank Alcock is an associate professor of political science at New College of Florida, one of the nation’s premiere public liberal arts colleges. He appears regularly as a political analyst with ABC News in Sarasota and speaks on a range of political and public policy topics.