TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Attorneys for Gov. Rick Scott argued Monday the Florida Supreme Court should reject a lawsuit challenging the governor's veto of $37.4 million that would compensate homeowners for healthy citrus trees cut down by the state.
Responding to the lawsuit filed last week in the Supreme Court, Scott's attorneys filed a 22-page document that said the governor has broad line-item veto power. The case involves homeowners in Broward and Lee counties who won judgments against the state because of the removal of healthy trees as part of an effort to eradicate citrus canker disease.
Lawmakers included the $37.4 million in the state budget that takes effect Saturday, the start of the 2017-2018 fiscal year, but Scott vetoed the money June 2.
“Petitioners' argument that certain appropriations are categorically immune from the veto power finds no support in the text or history of Florida's Constitution,” Scott's attorneys argued in the document. “And petitioners' claim that they are entitled to the payment notwithstanding the governor's line-item veto is irreconcilable with the constitutional command that `no money shall be drawn from the treasury except in pursuance of appropriation made by law.' “
The lawsuit, however, alleged that Scott' veto violated part of the state Constitution that requires government to pay compensation for “taking” property.
“Governor Scott's veto of the citrus canker final judgment appropriations undermines the state's constitutional obligation to pay full compensation for the taking of private property,” the lawsuit said. “The constitutional provision does not afford the state the luxury of avoiding payment of the full compensation awarded to petitioners.”
Along with looking at the constitutional questions, the Supreme Court likely will have to consider procedural issues about whether it should take up the case. Attorneys for the homeowners filed it directly to the Supreme Court --- rather than in lower courts --- and argued for quick action because of the July 1 start of the fiscal year.
“The importance of deciding this issue before the commencement of the new budget year cannot be overstated,” the lawsuit said. “Absent an immediate decision by this (Supreme) Court, the state will argue that no appropriated funds exist with which to pay and satisfy the constitutional takings judgments held by petitioners, and petitioners will be left holding constitutional takings judgments that cannot be satisfied. The process will continue to recur unless this court puts an end to it once and for all.”
But Scott's attorneys argued in the response filed Monday that the lawsuit “fails to establish any basis for this (Supreme) Court to exercise its discretionary mandamus jurisdiction on an emergency basis.” The attorneys argued, in part, that the judgments against the state are not affected by the start of the fiscal year.
“(The) governor's veto of the specific appropriations in this year's budget has no effect on the petitioners' ability to seek an appropriation in subsequent years,” Scott's attorneys argued. “Petitioners unsuccessfully sought a legislative appropriation in at least one legislative session prior to 2017. Nonetheless, petitioners returned during the 2017 legislative session and their requested appropriation was included in the general appropriations bill transmitted to the governor. Thus, petitioners must recognize that this avenue of redress remains open despite their initial lack of success.”
The Supreme Court case is the latest twist in years of litigation about the removal of healthy trees in Broward and Lee counties and other parts of Florida as the state tried to curb the spread of citrus canker disease. The class-action litigation in Broward and Lee counties involved 167,677 healthy trees destroyed on 70,036 residential properties from 2000 to 2006, according to the lawsuit filed in the Supreme Court.
In vetoing the money from the budget, Scott cited “ongoing” litigation as the reason.
But the lawsuit disputes that explanation, saying the judgments in the Broward and Lee cases are final. It said the only ongoing litigation involves a case in Miami-Dade County.