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Millions of dollars in local projects still must survive Rick Scott’s veto pen

The biggest state budget in Florida history is headed to Gov. Rick Scott, who will have the final say on hundreds of millions of dollars in local projects in cities and towns across the state.

They include roads, water and sewer repairs, festivals, fire stations, street lights, a manatee hospital, a cattle call, and even a quilting museum — all courtesy of Florida taxpayers.

Many are championed by a single legislator or a powerful lobbyist.

The $88.7 billion budget, approved in a rare Sunday session, pays for dozens of projects in the Tampa Bay region.

They include a $1.5 million study of extending the Suncoast Parkway toll road from Crystal River to Georgia for use as a hurricane evacuation route; $1 million for the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority for a long-range regional transit plan; $1.5 million to move sediment from Lake Seminole in Pinellas; and $885,000 for a special needs emergency center in Hillsborough.

"I hope (Scott) would see these as worthy items like the Legislature did," said Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, who secured millions for numerous projects, such as a Day on Service at St. Petersburg College, $3.5 million in construction money for that college, and $250,000 to expand the Carter G. Woodson African-American Museum.

Some other beneficiaries of the Legislature's election-year largesse include Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg, Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, the Florida State Fair in Tampa and the Brooksville Fire Department.

Lawmakers included $500,000 in the budget for the Ruth Eckerd Hall improvements, which were requested by impresario Zev Buffman, the Broadway producer and chief executive officer of the hall.

Eckerd also hired a lobbying firm that included Michael Corcoran, the brother of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes.

The project, called the "Expanding the Experience" campaign, includes an expanded lobby, a 250-seat cabaret theater, a redesign of the hall's facade, main entry and ticket office and other improvements.

The project's House sponsor, Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater, said he has no idea whether Scott would approve it or veto it.

"I don't know where his mind is on a lot of these appropriations projects," Latvala said.

If Scott is faithful to his past record, many projects are doomed, because the two-term Republican governor will again use line-item veto power to reject them as wasteful and unnecessary.

That's what Scott did last year, the year before, and the year before that.
He has vetoed more line-item spending than any governor in Florida's history, including last year's entire public school appropriation, which forced the Legislature to redo it to his liking.

The line-item veto is one of the Florida governor's most powerful tools.
It's one that Scott can use to reward friends, punish enemies and make political statements as he embarks on a likely run for the U.S. Senate.

Not counting last year's school budget, Scott has vetoed about $2.3 billion in line-item spending during his seven years as governor.

Undaunted by the threat of Scott's veto pen, lawmakers now want Scott to approve some of the very same projects he vetoed a year ago.

For the second straight year, Rep. Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills, secured $15 million in the budget for a highway interchange at I-75 and Overpass Road in Pasco County.

Burgess' application said the project will create jobs and ease traffic woes, but Scott axed the project a year ago because he said it bypassed the state Department of Transportation's five-year work program.

The project is still not in DOT's long-range program. But it's a priority of the Pasco County Commission.

Sometimes criticized by critics as budget "turkeys," other local projects with state funding include:

  • A $4.3 million grant for a Pasco County forensic research center named for Thomas Varnadoe, who died under suspicious circumstances at the Arthur Dozier School for Boys in Marianna. Scott vetoed the project last year and said such a facility should be run by the state, not a county. It is backed by Scott’s ally, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes.
  • A $250,000 grant for a family study center at the University of South Florida’s St. Petersburg campus. The self-sufficiency and family mental health project was championed for a second year by Rouson. Scott vetoed the money last year, saying USF St. Petersburg already had enough money.
  • $1 million for the Pasco County Fair Association, whose champion is Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby. He hopes that his persistence will pay off this year.

Last year's Legislature set aside $860,000 for the fair. Scott vetoed it and said it "did not go through, or ranked low, on the established competitive process based on measurable and positive outcomes."

"This year hopefully he'll see the value in what we're trying to accomplish," Simpson told the Times/Herald. "This is my sixth session, and I don't know that there's any way to predict that."

Simpson also sponsored a $270,000 budget item for the state to acquire a quilting museum in the town of Trenton, located in Gilchrist County, near Gainesville.

Legislative budget documents indicate the museum is in Trenton's oldest commercial building, in a restored 1910 dry goods store next to the city's historic railroad station.

Scott has the final say on $1 million for the revamped TBARTA regional transportation authority to create a 10-year plan for transit projects in a five-county region.

The plan outlines the projects the region should focus on over the next decade, such as bus rapid transit, streetcars and rail, and on when they should be constructed in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando and Manatee counties.

Times staff writer Caitlin Johnston contributed to this report.

Among the local projects in the $88.7 billion state budget:

BROWARD

  • Dania Beach Emergency Operations Center, $100,000
  • Lauren’s Kids, $1,500,000
  • Margate Fire Station No. 58 Replacement, $1,000,000
  • Margate Sewer Piping Rehabilitation Project, $500,000
  • Memorial Healthcare All Hazards Response & Recovery, $1,000,000
  • Natalie’s Cove at Flamingo Gardens, Cooper City $500,000
  • Pompano Beach Blount Road Streetscape Improvements, $250,000
  • Southwest Ranches Green Meadows Drainage Project, $500,000
  • Sunrise Emergency Lift Station, $500,000
  • Tamarac Commercial Boulevard Gateway Improvements, $734,764
  • Tamarac, The Boulevards Storm Water Drainage Repair, $500,000
  • Urban League of Broward County, $2,437,835
  • Urban League Regional Entrepreneurship Center, $710,000
  • West Park Pedestrian Lights on State Road 7, $650,000
HERNANDO
  • Brooksville Fire Department Renovations, $353,150
  • Calienta Street Stormwater and Roadway Improvements, $260,000
  • Cyril Drive Bypass Roadway Creation Project, $1,300,000
  • Hernando County Fire Rescue Station No. 6, $1,200,000
  • Hernando School District Project Seahorse, $205,000

HILLSBOROUGH

  • Florida Aquarium Center for Conservation, $500,000
  • Florida State Fair, $500,000
  • Hillsborough County Big Bend I-75 Improvements, $5,000,000
  • Hillsborough County School Sidewalk Safety, $2,000,000
  • Lowry Park Zoo Manatee Hospital, $500,000
  • McIntosh Regional Park in Plant City, $300,000
  • Orient Road Improvements, $2,000,000
  • Regional Special Needs Emergency Center, $885,000
  • South Coast Trail Enhancement Project, $450,000
  • TBARTA Regional Transit Development Plan, $1,000,000

MIAMI-DADE

  • Allapattah Homebound Meals For At-Risk Elderly, $361,543
  • Alonzo Mourning Family Foundation, $500,000
  • Aventura NE 183rd Street Seawall Restoration, $200,000
  • Bal Harbour Village Infrastructure Improvements, $500,000
  • Biscayne Green, $1,000,000
  • Biscayne Park Infrastructure Improvements, $915,000
  • Coral Gables Emergency Operations Center, $1,500,000
  • Coral Gables Fire Station at Cartagena Park, $1,500,000
  • Cuban-American Bar Association, $200,000
  • David Lawrence Center, $100,000
  • Doral Canal Bank Stabilization Year 7, $950,000
  • First South Florida Holocaust Museum Exhibition, $500,000
  • Hialeah Elderly Housing Improvements, $2,100,000
  • Holocaust Memorial Miami Beach, $333,499
  • Little Havana Activities & Nutrition Center, $100,000
  • Medley 96th Street Drainage Improvements, $500,000
  • Miami Beach North Beach Business Incubator, $200,000
  • Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust, $250,000
  • Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Mobile Command Vehicle, $400,000
  • Miami Design District Infrastructure Improvements, $500,000
  • Miami Lakes Royal Oaks Drainage Improvements, $500,000
  • Miami Lakes West Drainage Improvements Phase 3, $500,000
  • Miami Military Museum, $800,000
  • North Miami Arch Creek North/South Drainage Improvements, $496,750
  • North Miami Beach Master Force Main Installation, $400,000
  • Opa-locka Airport Service Center, $2,500,000
  • Palmetto Bay Multi-Modal Transit Station, $328,912
  • SEED School of Miami, $2,000,000
  • State Road 826/N.E. 163rd Street Improvements, $1,000,000
  • Sweetwater Fire Station, $200,000

PASCO

  • AmSkills Apprenticeship Expansion Program, $50,000
  • Dade City Morningside Drive Extension, $4,700,000
  • Pasco County Fair Association, $1,000,000
  • Thomas Varnadoe Forensic Center, $4,300,000
  • Zephyrhills Route Alignment Study, State Road 56, $750,000

PINELLAS

  • A Day on Service at St. Petersburg College, $650,000
  • Bill Edwards Foundation Arts & Education Program, $750,000
  • Carter Woodson African-American History Museum, $250,000
  • Florida Holocaust Museum, St. Petersburg
  • Great Explorations Children’s Museum, $200,000
  • Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, $250,000
  • Lake Seminole Sediment Removal and Restoration, $1,500,000
  • Pinellas Park Pinebrook Estates Pond Improvements, $310,000
  • Ruth Eckerd Hall Expending the Experience Campaign, $500,000
  • Tarpon Springs Anclote River Dredge Project, $676,046

CITRUS

  • Historic Hernando School Restoration, $396,400

Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the county for the Historic Hernando School Restoration.

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