Scott signs budget at St. Johns school

Governor to sign Florida's $70 billion 2012-2013 budget on Tuesday


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Only one thing is clear about what will happen after Gov. Rick Scott signs the budget Tuesday at a St. Johns County school: An increase in state funding for education will stand.

The event at St. Johns County's Cunningham Creek Elementary School marks the second time the governor has confronted the annual spending plan, which this time weighs in at a shade over $70 billion. It also comes after a much-touted overhaul of Scott's public image and relations with lawmakers in the wake of a rocky first session.

Scott has touted the extra $1 billion -- which school districts gripe will mostly cover enrollment growth and the loss of funds from other sources -- since unveiling the budget proposal late last year. And in his radio address last week, Scott gushed about the Legislature's decision to go along with his priority.

"Increasing education funding in Florida is the best investment we can make for our state's future. ... I look forward to signing this billion-dollar increase in funding next week," he said.

After Scott's administration vetoed a record $615 million from last year's budget,  the governor has signaled there will be fewer vetoes in this budget, although he has not yet indicated which projects he may cut.

Critics pointed out that the number was significantly inflated by slicing more than $300 million in authorized spending for Florida Forever, much of which was never expected to materialize.

Scott faces pressure to do more of the same after facing some discontent from his tea party base. He got a cool reception over the weekend at a tea party event, though some leaders of the movement contend that the governor is still doing a good job overall.

To please members of the tea party, Scott will likely have to once again wield a heavy veto pen, striking much of the $171 million and 159 spending items that TaxWatch listed in its annual "Turkey Watch" report last week. TaxWatch did not recommend that the govern eliminate all of the projects, singling out 16 economic development projects worth $21.3 million that the group said simply needed "further review."

Everett Wilkinson, chairman of the South Florida Tea Party, said even some of those economic development projects should be sliced, pointing to a Major League Soccer facility that would benefit Disney. Still, the governor has some room to maneuver.

"If he gets 90 percent of that ... he should get a decent grade from us," Wilkinson said.
Wilkinson said he expects Scott to veto somewhere between $100 million and $200 million in spending.

But the governor has acknowledged that this year is different, at least in part based on lawmakers willing to reach out in an effort to avoid a repeat of last year.

"I know more people, which is a positive," Scott said earlier this month. "I'm getting a lot more phone calls this year, too."

Also unresolved: What Scott plans to do about tuition increases the budget would allow and whether he plans to announce a decision on the drive by Senate Budget Chairman JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, to accelerate the independence of the University of South Florida's Lakeland campus.

Scott has signaled his hesitance about both measures, but it's not clear that he could veto the tuition increase. And while the bill creating Florida Polytechnic University was one of several tied to the spending plan, he still has until the end of the week to announce his decision.