Scott’s evolution as governor
We may not agree with all of Gov. Rick Scott’s vetoes, but we credit him with demonstrating more consistency and insight in his budget decisions. The governor vetoed $368 million in projects Monday, reducing the Legislature’s $74.5 billion budget to $74.1 billion, still a state record, but hardly representative of a spendthrift government. After years of revenue shortfalls that required sweeping cuts, the budget surplus this year allows the state to meet some pent-up needs. Teachers and state workers will receive raises for the first time in six years. The budget will increase public school funding by $1.08 billion. It will restore $300 million in recurring funding to the state university system that was cut last year.Scott even provides for up to $81 million in spending for Florida Forever, the land acquisition program, although $50 million of that will be dependent on the sale of surplus state lands to supply the revenue. All this contrasts sharply to Scott’s first year in office, when he slashed recklessly. It’s notable that he managed to claim a record $615 million in budget vetoes two years ago, only by wiping out a $305 million authorization for Florida Forever. The cut was illusionary. The budget only authorized the spending, and all the money would have had to come from the sale of state surplus lands, which everyone knew would never generate a fraction of that amount. The veto record was a bit of a sham. The governor’s vetoes this year don’t look to be marred by such smoke and mirrors. It was no surprise he vetoed a 3 percent tuition increase for universities that he warned was coming. While Florida’s tuition remains a bargain compared to most states, we can’t fault Scott for wanting higher education — and the job prospects it opens — to remain as accessible as possible. He vetoed items where he thought there were alternative sources of revenue, where there had not been competitive bids and where he found services were duplicative. We were disappointed to see the governor kill $50 million for the state’s Coast-to-Coast Connector trail, which would run from St. Petersburg to Titusville. We believe this unique resource would be immensely popular and boost tourism and commerce. But at least Scott acknowledged the value of the venture and said he would work to fund it incrementally. This reflects a more thoughtful approach than when he took office. While he retains his commitment to a lean government, he also seems to recognize the necessity of investing for the future. He approved $9.5 million for research on the devastating citrus greening disease that threatens the state’s signature crop. Scott, who initially seemed almost disdainful of the environmental programs, won the praise of conservation groups this year by supporting Everglades restoration and the protection of state springs, which are threatened by nutrient pollution. Scott didn’t worry about political payback in vetoing $14 million for a science and technology building at Gulf Coast State College, a priority for Senate President Don Gaetz. We wished the governor had shown such moxie last year, when he failed to veto the creation of the 12th state university, Florida Polytechnic, which former Senate Budget Chair JD Alexander rammed through the Legislature. But Scott, who had never held political office prior to becoming governor, is very much a work in progress and it seems to us he now is more in command of the process and the state’s needs.