By Gary Fineout
So the public and press have a hard time figuring out sometimes where items stashed in the $70-billion plus state budget came from originally.
But there’s one person who legislators make sure to know where items in the budget came from.
And that’s Gov. Rick Scott.
For Scott’s first three years in office he had his budget office led by the same man – Jerry McDaniel – who also helped draw up budgets for Gov. Charlie Crist when he was in charge.
Part of the annual budget process under McDaniel was to make sure that the governor’s office had a fairly comprehensive list of where specific budget projects originated from – and just as importantly – who had an interest in making sure a project was spared a line-item veto.
This process isn’t all that public, but you can see it play out in various public records (meaning it doesn’t really get discovered until after the fact.)
Still you get a feel for how important certain projects are and who they are linked to when you go through emails and other documents.
And emails from May 2013 illustrate that clearly.
On May 6 – the Monday after the end of session Scott’s legislative affairs office had already distributed a spreadsheet that contained a list of budget priorities associated with the various budget chairmen in the state Senate.
On May 7 – McDaniel holds a meeting where he asked Office of Planning and Budget staff to bring “whatever you have regarding budget priorities for the members of the Fl Legislature.”
Later that day McDaniel emails his staff: “As you call to associate projects in the budget with members, please insure that they understand that you are not in search of priorities – just their particular interest in seeing projects occurring in the budget become law. Senior staff are calling separately for top 3 priorities.”
That same day emails start to come in from legislative staff outlining what parts of the budget legislators are interested in.
Of course not everything was enshrined in an email.
On May 10 McDaniel emails top deputies in Scott’s office with the subject line “Need.”
Those emails simply included the names of several legislators including Sen Bill Galvano, Sen. John Legg, and Rep. Richard Corcoran.
Before Scott had finally acted on his line-item vetoes his staff compiled a nearly 400-page document that listed every individual spending item. And next to many lines were the name of a legislator.
$400,000 for a statewide charter school waiting list database? Rep. Erik Fresen
$2.5 million for a Florida State University Center for Reading Research pilot project? House Speaker Will Weatherford.
$1 million for a University of West Florida economic security report? Senate President Don Gaetz.
To be fair, there are many, many pages that list spending items without any legislators names on it.
But there are legislators associated with dozens and dozens of items, from funding for hospitals, mentoring programs, to money for Boys and Girls Clubs.
Gaetz, for example, backed $610,000 to help Bay County pay for indigent health care, while Weatherford was one of three legislators supporting a $250,000 appropriation for the Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa.
But it’s clear that sometimes asking the governor to spare an item doesn’t help.
An aide to Rep. Mike LaRosa, R-St. Cloud, in a May 7 email highlights 6 items included in the budget for Osceola and Polk counties, including money for program for homeless veterans in Osceola County. All six are vetoed by Scott.
Yet Rep. Ken Roberson, R-Punta Gorda, managed to get his two projects spared, including $75,000 for a feasibility study to develop a research education aquarium in Charlotte County.
Some of the other legislators who also reached out in emails include Rep. Bill Hager, Rep. Dennis Baxley and Rep. Marti Coley.
Coley wrote a lengthy email to McDaniel where she defended several projects, including a $400,000 line-item for Liberty Hospital in Calhoun County where she argued the money was needed to help foster economic development in the rural Panhandle county.
From her email:
“Calhoun County is in my former district (Just a side note – I was born in this hospital). When I first came into office in 2005, I worked tirelessly to help keep this hospital open. The citizens rallied together and today it is a vital part of the community’s economy and healthcare system. The upgrades would further help this community to continue to help themselves to attract economic development to the area. They are largely dependent on DOC (Department of Corrections) and this hospital for jobs and are diligently working to attract other industries to the area.”
Scott, whose background includes running a for-profit hospital chain, vetoed the money. In his veto message, Scott said he killed the funding because it was going to pay for construction costs at the hospitaL
Just to note:
Of the 12 projects associated with Weatherford, Scott wound up vetoing five of them including money set aside for the Pasco County sheriff, a medical training and simulation lab for the University of Miami, a STEM Magnet Education Academy in Pasco County and the FSU reading pilot project.
Of the 18 projects associated with Gaetz, Scott vetoed 11 of them including $14 million for Gulf Coast State College, the $1 million for the UWF economic security report, $610,000 for indigent care coverage at the Bay County Health Department, $1 million for Building Homes for Heroes.
– See more at: http://findout.typepad.com/the_fine_print/2014/04/budget-sleuthing-smoke-and-mirrors-part-2.html#sthash.Qwui4yVs.i3bag2et.dpuf