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Sunday, Sep 21, 2014

Gov. Scott vows to target legislators’ projects in budget

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TALLAHASSEE — Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who has been ratcheting up his criticism of the Republican-led Legislature the last few days, warned today that he could veto projects legislators have stashed in the state budget.

Scott made his comments amid the final frantic days of the 2013 session when many of his priorities have stalled or lawmakers have refused to carry them out in the way Scott wants.

Budget negotiations are still underway but legislators flush with the first budget surplus in seven years have already set aside money for everything from a state-wide multi-use trail to lighthouse renovations and ballet academies.

The GOP governor said he expected legislators to come to him and justify why state taxpayers should spend money on these hometown projects.

“I'm responsible for all 19.2 million Floridians and I want to make sure we get a good return on investment,” Scott said shortly after a bill signing today.

Scott's tone may only worsen relations between him and lawmakers.

He has already questioned a bill that raises campaign contribution limits and hinted that he might veto it. Lawmakers responded by shipping the bill to him on Wednesday night. This means Scott must act on the legislation by May 1, which could be before legislators have acted on his priorities.

Scott's top priorities include both a $2,500 across-the-board pay raise for teachers and a tax break for manufacturers who purchase equipment. Both appear to be in jeopardy with a week left before lawmakers adjourn the session on May 3.

Legislators have agreed to set aside money for the teacher pay raise but have continued to insist the raise be tied to teacher performance instead of giving all teachers the same amount. Scott has responded to this news by pointing out that all teachers deserve a raise because Florida's national education rankings have improved.

Senate President Don Gaetz said that Scott — who was elected in 2010 —has to learn that the legislative process requires “compromise.” He said that neither he nor House Speaker Will Weatherford, Wesley Chapel, have gotten everything they want this session.

“I would suspect that another thing the governor will learn is that he will not get everything he wants,” Gaetz said.

And to emphasize that point the Senate did not take up several bills today that are being pushed by the governor's office even though they are not his top priorities. One of the bills sidelined was a measure that would help carry out an agreement that Scott forged with the federal government over the Everglades.

Lawmakers have until May 3 to pass a proposed $74 billion budget. They have agreed already on many items, but they still need to finalize spending recommendations on everything from tuition hikes to the level of pay raises for state workers.

But legislators have also used final negotiations to sprinkle in spending on items that had not been deliberated before — or had been included in Scott's budget recommendations. House negotiators, for example, proposed setting aside $13 million for springs restoration even though the item was not included in either the House or Senate budgets that passed earlier this month.

Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart and the Senate budget chief, defended the process, saying that a project doesn't need to be included in those budgets in order to still have merit. But Negron also said that it is the “responsibility” of every legislator to advocate for their projects if they want to ensure the governor does not veto them.

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