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Gov. Scott Urged To Veto Late Additions To Budget

The Office of Governor Rick Scott

  A conservative-advocacy group is telling Gov. Rick Scott it'll have his back if he vetoes projects crammed into the state budget just before the nearly $80 billion package was completed last week.

"We are making everyone aware that we are not happy with the $301 million in last minute projects," Americans for Prosperity-Florida spokesman Andres Malave said Sunday. "AFP stands with Floridians who wouldn't be disappointed if the governor vetoed projects not beneficial to all taxpayers."

Two days earlier, the group released a statement saying "lawmakers should fight all special projects that have not been vetted properly."

Scott has until June 30 to act on the $78.7 billion budget, which was approved by lawmakers Friday evening. The state's new fiscal year starts July 1.

The projects, which found their way into the spending plan during the final hours of budget talks June 15, included such things as $5 million for a downtown Orlando project for the University of Central Florida, $2 million for the for-profit IMG Academy athlete-training program in Bradenton and $1 million to market Florida's beef industry.

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, defended the IMG Academy funding as economic development and education.

"The appeal to me is the opportunity for more choice in education, an opportunity for a segment of a student population not just from this state but from around the world to come to Florida and take advantage of an opportunity that's provided nowhere else," Crisafulli told reporters last week.

Also drawing late support was Enterprise Florida, the state's public-private economic development agency, for whom Scott requested $85 million for business incentives and $5 million for branding.

Enterprise Florida saw its state funding grow from $32 million on June 8 to $51.5 million on June 15, picking up an additional $8.5 million for marketing and $11 million for economic incentives during the final budget talks.

After the June 15 meeting, House Appropriations Chairman Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, offered a spirited defense of the spending plan, which required a special session because of House and Senate differences over health-care issues.

Corcoran pointed out that the House has returned to an old practice of asking members to put their requests for certain projects in writing, in documents that are publicly available.

"We're back to where if you want something in the budget, you have to own it, you have to submit what that is, you have to give the details of the project, and that has been out there from the get-go, and most of you guys have asked for those sheets and we've given them to you," he told reporters.

AFP isn't the only group expected to focus on the late-added projects and give Scott some input on budget items to veto.

The Tallahassee-based Florida TaxWatch, expected to soon release its annual "turkey" list, is also going through the budget and paying attention to the late projects.

"There has to be some behind-the-scenes negotiations there at the end or we'd never get a budget, but that's why Florida TaxWatch believes that you shouldn't be adding new projects during the budget conference," said Kurt Wenner, TaxWatch vice president of research.

Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said last week he wasn't concerned about TaxWatch.

"It doesn't matter to me what TaxWatch thinks about anything, to be quite honest,'' Gardiner said. "The governor has every right, as governor, to make adjustments to the budget, and I'm certain that he will. But, at the end of the day, every member of the Legislature, whether it's a House member or a senator … they know their district better than some paid group like TaxWatch. For most of us, it just doesn't matter to us. What matters to me is my district."