Last Friday, Florida Governor Rick Scott and the public caught their first glimpse of the Legislature’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year. The $83 billion package is expected to go to the governor’s desk this week after formal votes in the senate and house. Three reasons support those hoping that Governor Scott will exercise his option to veto the full budget. In contrast, two arguments suggest he’s just as likely to slash individual spending items instead.
Full Veto—Reason #1: Lack of Sunshine
Objections echoing through the halls in Tallahassee last week bemoaned the lack of transparency in the final stages of budget negotiations. Those voices belong to advocates for governing in full view of the public—or “in the Sunshine”—as the most effective way to protect the budget from manipulation by individual interests. Proponents of transparency cried foul when Senate President Negron and House Speaker Corcoran secluded their final budget discussions from the public.
Among those most unhappy with the result? Governor Scott. Despite weeks of traveling the state to make a case for his budget recommendations, the legislature largely ignored his requests, including a $200 million fix for the Herbert Hoover Dike at Lake Okeechobee, as well as economic development funding. Among the casualties, the state’s public/private tourism marketing firm, VISIT FLORIDA, faces a drop in state support from $76 million to $25 million. In contrast, the spending priorities of the senate president and house speaker made it into the final budget. Strike one.
Full Veto—Reason #2: Fiduciary and Constitutional Obligation
Governor Scott’s arguments for continuing the full funding VISIT FLORIDA pointed to the tourism industry’s critical role in driving Florida’s economy and job creation. He also distributed a letter from Ben Watkins, director of the Division of Bond Finance, warning that cutting VISIT FLORIDA’s budget could damage the state’s credit rating.
“Even a 2 percent reduction in visitors would result in a loss of $2.2 billion in travel spending and $225 million in tax revenue,” Watkins claimed.
That kind of economic threat certainly should compel the one officer charged by Florida’s Constitution “to procure and secure protection to life, liberty, and property of the inhabitants of the state, also to protect the property of the state.” While the Florida Constitution charges the legislature with its only duty of crafting and presenting an annual budget to the governor, this power is balanced by the governor’s constitutional standing as the chief administrative officer “responsible for the planning and budgeting for the state.” The most powerful administrative tool placed in the governor’s hands is the veto pen.
Veto power can be exercised two-way. The governor can reject the entire budget or veto individual spending items. However, he is prohibited from adding to the budget. This ties his hands in terms of saving the state from the economic damage many expect from a cut to tourism marketing back to appropriation levels that resulted in Florida losing market share to California and Texas. A one percent loss in market share equates to about $4.6 billion in lost tourist spending. Strike two.
Full Veto—Reason #3: A Double-Dog Dare
A governor’s veto isn’t the final word. The legislature can override a veto with two-thirds of the votes in both the senate and the house. On Friday, Speaker Corcoran told reporters that he expected enough legislators were prepared to invoke such an override should Governor Scott choose to exercise the full-veto option.
In revealing such a position at this stage of the process, the speaker has double-dog dared the governor to veto the budget. I’m not suggesting the governor should veto the budget simply because of the speaker’s challenge. A better motivation is forcing both the senate and house to take absolute and irrevocable ownership of the consequences of their budget. Strike three.
A full veto addresses the lack of sunshine, fulfills the governor’s constitutional responsibility to protect the economy, and forces the legislature to own the jeopardy the state may face.
Two Reasons Why He’s Not:
With three reasons to veto the full budget, there are at least two reasons he will instead choose to cancel individual spending items—most of which are associated with the legislators own agendas. First, funds saved by his line-item veto could be made available for subsequent appropriation as carry forward revenue to the Budget Stabilization Fund. This rainy day pot of money provides emergency resources in the event of a catastrophe or unanticipated shortfall of revenues. By just vetoing pet projects, particularly those belonging to legislators who turned a deaf ear to his requests, Governor Scott can bolster the state’s preparedness for the downturn he’s warned against. It also provides a taste of political vengeance.
The second reason the governor is unlikely to veto the full budget? He wins anyway. State-wide media events have made clear Governor Scott’s warnings to legislators and citizens alike of the dangers associated with ignoring his recommendations. In essence, he’s shackled the legislature with the blame for anything that goes wrong. As I’ve already suggested, a veto override tattoos responsibility on their voting fingers.
Unfortunately, that hurts Florida residents who will have to live through the pain of a self-inflicted economic downturn. However, Florida voters will likely vent their anger on their local senators and representatives. Wearing the shield of “I told you so!” the governor—widely expected to run for the U.S. Senate in 2018—can march forward with his job-creation credentials intact.
Dr. Dale Brill is the founder of Thinkspot (link to www.thinkspot.co), a Florida-based public policy research and consulting firm. He has previously served as president of the Florida Chamber Foundation; director of the Office of Tourism, Trade & Economic Development; and chief marketing officer for VISIT FLORIDA. You can reach Dale by e-mail at [email protected]