Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (I) wielded his veto on May 28, returning $160 million in funds to the state Transportation Trust Fund and $19 million to the Tampa-Hillsborough County Expressway Authority.
“It’s awesome,” says Bob Burleson, president of the Florida Transportation Builders’ Association (FTBA) in Tallahassee. “He sent a strong message to the Legislature and future legislatures to keep their hands off the trust fund.”
Dick Kane, communications director for the Florida Dept. of Transportation in Tallahassee, issued a statement responding to the governor’s veto, saying, “We appreciate that the Governor recognizes the value and job opportunities the Florida Dept. of Transportation provides. The department will use this money to continue to enhance and improve the state’s transportation system."
Because the proposed $160-million transfer would have raided the trust fund’s cash balance, Burleson estimates that, if it had been enacted, next year’s state work program could have been cut by as much as $400 million.
Approximately $40 million of the proposed $160-million sweep would have been returned to the trust fund if the state received its expected allotment of Medicaid funding, making the final deduction $120 million.
The state Legislature caught the Tampa expressway authority by surprise when it proposed and later approved a requirement that the agency use a portion of money received from a recent court settlement to immediately repay $19 million in state loans.
Burleson credits FTBA members’ efforts in calling and writing the governor’s office with helping to convince him not to use transportation funds for other purposes. The group rallied against the trust-fund sweep when the Legislature was considering it in late April.
To make up for the nearly $180 million restored to transportation funding, the governor focused on several higher-education projects. Among the vetoed budget items were $35 million for a University of South Florida Polytechnic project in Lakeland, $10 million for a USF pharmacy and health building in Tampa, $32.5 million for a Florida International University/Miami-Dade County Health Department/Florida Department of Health facility in Miami, $21 million for a renovation and addition at Miami Dade College in Miami and $19.7 million for site acquisition and construction at Palm Beach State College in Lake Worth.
The governor’s office issued a written statement saying vetoed projects either did not receive adequate review, did not follow established processes or benefited only select groups.