June 02--TALLAHASSEE -- The Tampa Bay region largely escaped Gov. Rick Scott's veto pen on Monday as he turned in a final state budget for 2014-15.
Scott struck only $68.9 million in hometown projects out of a $77.1 billion spending plan handed to him by lawmakers. That's his smallest-ever amount of vetoed funding.
That said, several Tampa Bay projects got cut, including $375,000 for the "Grow Tampa Bay Tech" information-technology training program and $25,000 for the Corporation to Develop Communities of Tampa toward work readiness training.
A line-item list also shows vetoes for the Tampa Bay Baseball Museum at the Al Lopez House ($50,000) and for the Largo Cultural Center ($500,000).
"Needless to say, we're disappointed," said Chantal Hevia, president of the Ybor City Museum Society, which is developing the baseball center at the hall of famer's former home.
The money would have gone toward the $1 million needed for the new museum.
"I think we'll just have to work a little harder" on fundraising, Hevia added.
Joan Byrne, the Largo Cultural Center's director, was also disappointed.
The center, which hosts an array of theater, dance and musical events, needs a new roof and upgraded audio equipment and lighting, she said.
"We seldom ask the state for anything," Byrne said. "Our center is an economic driver; it does bring people to our city."
The biggest hit locally was to the city of St. Petersburg, which saw $1.6 million slashed for its plan to reduce poverty by 30 percent in the next six years.
"He clearly failed to see the value of this community initiative ... and its rich potential to get Floridians back to work -- the hallmark of the governor's platform," St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said in an email. "Unfortunately, election-year politics appears to have trumped the needs of the people today."
There was good news for the Port of Tampa Bay: $12 million earmarked for its gantry crane project was left untouched. The project had been labeled the state's biggest budget "turkey" by a taxpayer watchdog group because it wasn't vetted through normal budgeting processes.
The new cranes will allow the port to offload cargo from newer, bigger ships.
The University of South Florida saw all of its budget requests approved, including $10 million toward building of the St. Petersburg campus' College of Business and $15 million for the USF Health Heart Institute. "We are thankful our state leaders are making a significant investment in our state university system which will pay dividends for decades to come," USF President Judy Genshaft said in a statement.
"The USF System will benefit from additional funding that will support our students, help us maintain our campus infrastructure and expand our scientific and research capacity," Genshaft added.
Scott also OK'd $15.5 million toward completion of the Coast to Coast Connector, a 275-mile bike and pedestrian trail across Florida, $194 million for the Tampa International Airport expansion and $10 million for Pasco Hernando State College's new performing arts center.
Hernando County will get $3 million from the state to help build an educational-tourism center. The County will match that $3 million, propelling the "Nature Coast Experience" -- the working name for the proposed center -- closer to reality.
Hernando commissioners at their last meeting supported plans to locate the facility in the 11,200-acre Weekiwachee Preserve, on Osowaw Boulevard and west of U.S. 19. County Administrator Len Sossamon has said such a center will attract tourists and boost the local economy.
The budget passed with bipartisan support, winning with unanimous approval in the Senate and by a 102-15 vote in the House thanks to a number of Democrats who joined the GOP majority.
The most hotly contested portion of the budget was education funding, which receives a mix of state, federal and local funding.
The Scott administration notes the state is kicking in $10.6 billion this year, a record. Democrats, though, stress that next year's budget will spend $6,937-per-student, down from the record $7,142-per-student in fiscal year 2007.
Democrats have also hit Scott's education budget for requiring $400 million more in local funding -- what's called the "required local effort."
This will mean slightly higher property taxes in many counties so Democrats have branded it a tax hike, while the Scott administration stressed it has not increased the local tax rate. The added revenue is a reflection of increased property values.
This year marked the first time Scott signed off on the budget without a public ceremony. The new budget is more than 3 percent bigger than last year's.
Lawmakers wrote a number of local projects and programs into the plan after coming into the yearly legislative session with a surplus of roughly $1.2 billion.
Scott had previously OK'd tax and fee cuts totalling $500 million, including the current sales tax holiday on hurricane-preparedness products and a rollback of auto registration fees.
The budget covers the next fiscal year, July 1-June 30.
In one offbeat line item, Scott vetoed more than $400,000 for "lionfish bounty payments."
Lionfish are an invasive species from the Indian and Pacific oceans that compete with species native to Florida Florida waters such as grouper, lobster and snapper. Current eradication efforts include a yearly lionfish derby in Key Largo.
Reporters Chris O'Donnell and Laura Kinsler and editor Julio Ochoa contributed to this report.
Tampa Bay region budget vetoes
Agenda 2020 (for city of St. Petersburg): $975,000
Largo Cultural Center improvements: $500,000
Grow Tampa Bay Tech (Tampa Bay Technology Forum): $375,000
Tune into Reading (reading software for elementary school children): $250,000
Corporation to Develop Communities of Tampa (work readiness training): $200,000
YMCA "Tech Smart" Tampa Bay: $100,000
Tampa Bay Baseball Museum: $50,000
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