By BRUCE RITCHIE
Gov. Rick Scott spared legislators’ prized water projects on Monday while vetoing $68.9 million in the state budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
“I looked at every line to say are we getting a return for our taxpayers, is this good for citizens,” Scott told reporters in Pensacola.
But key environmental programs that were cut during the budget hard times since 2009 have not been restored, leaving environmentalists feeling mixed about the budget.
The 2014-15 state budget includes, $172 million towards Lake Okeechobee and Everglades restoration (not including $60 million over the following two years), $17.5 million for land conservation plus $40 million from the possible sale of non-conservation lands, $50 million for Florida Keys wastewater improvements, $30 million for springs water quality improvements and $35.7 million for expanded agricultural water programs.
Water projects in the budget increased by nearly $51 million in this year’s budget to $88.5 million next year. While those projects have been the subjects of vetoes in the past, none were targeted by Scott on Monday.
In 2011, Scott vetoed more than $600 million of what he described as “special interest earmarks” including $16.5 million in water projects.
In 2012, Scott vetoed $12.6 million of the $19 million for water projects.
Last year, Scott vetoed $32 million while approving others totaling $27.3 million.
On Monday, Scott vetoed $8.4 million in spending within the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Department of Environmental Protection budgets.
Those vetoes included $2.5 million in the FWC budget for a beekeeping research center, a project that a Florida TaxWatch report said would have a net positive impact. Other vetoes included $2 million for a Cocoa Beach seawall and $1 million for Gasparilla Island State Park land acquisition.
Florida spent at least $300 million a year on land-buying from 1990 until 2009, when the Florida Forever program received $0. Last year, the program received $20 million.
The budget has more spending for projects that will improve water quality than in recent years but land conservation was left on the sidelines, Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon Florida, told Florida Environments.
“Florida is growing and we still have 2 million acres we have the opportunity to preserve and keep from getting developed,” Draper said. “But we are going to start seeing some of that land converted very quickly.”
While Associated Industries of Florida said the budget helps families and businesses in a myriad of ways including water initiatives, the Florida Conservation Coalition issued a statement pointing out that the governor previously had cut funding to water management districts.
“Compared to previous budgets by this administration, this one shows modest increases in conservation funding,” the group said in a statement. “That said, it pales in comparison to the funding and commitments to Florida’s water and land resources of past administrations.”
Another $15.5 million for the Coast to Coast Connector, which would help link bike trails in Central Florida, was spared after the governor vetoed $50 million for the project in 2013.
(Story and photo copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Floridaenvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)