Republican Gov. Rick Scott is defending himself against criticism that he was overstating how much the federal health care overhaul would cost his state.
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Gov. Rick Scott signed into law Tuesday a $70 billion state budget, while vetoing $142.7 million in spending and warning universities against seeking 15 percent tuition hikes next fall.
The budget for the year beginning July 1 includes a $1 billion increase for Florida classrooms. Scott signed the budget at the ‘A’ -rated Cunningham Creek Elementary School in the St. Augustine-area to underscore his newfound commitment to public schools.
A year ago, Scott signed a budget which cut $1.3 billion from schools. But on Tuesday, Scott called education, “the lifeblood of our state.”
But Scott’s urging universities to rein-in spending may set him at odds with Florida’s 11 public universities, which face a $300 million reduction in state funding this year. Scott let stand a budget item that allows Florida’s 28 colleges to raise tuition by 5 percent this year, but suggested Tuesday that universities should go no higher.
The State University System’s Board of Governors will decide tuition rates in June.
The $142.7 million in vetoes is a sharp dropoff from last year, when Scott vetoed a record $615 million. A year ago, Scott clashed with lawmakers through most of the session. But this year, legislators aimed early on at the $1 billion boost for schools that he called for in releasing his budget recommendation in January.
“Over the last year I have traveled the state to hear from Floridians what issues they care about most,” Scott said Tuesday. “That’s why this budget should be known as an education budget. The two issues that Floridians care most about are jobs and education, and the two go hand-in-hand since a good education is critical to getting a good job.”
School officials say they welcome the $1 billion increase. But they acknowledge it doesn’t bring per-pupil funding back to levels of even two years ago. The state’s largest teachers’ union, which had supported Scott opponent, Democrat Alex Sink, in the 2010 governor’s race, was especially critical.
Florida Education Association President Andy Ford said Scott and the Republican-led Legislature are still shorting schools, even with the new money.
“At the same time the governor and lawmakers doled out more tax giveaways for corporations, more money for unaccountable voucher schools and more support and autonomy to for-profit charter schools, our public schools are given a budget nowhere close to adequate and light years away from a true investment in our children,” Ford said.
Palm Beach County didn’t have too many favored projects in the budget. But Scott vetoed most Tuesday, including $250,000 to reimburse local law enforcement agencies and others for security costs related to a presidential debate this fall at Boca Raton’s Lynn University; $50,000 toward developing a master plan for the Glades’ Torry Island; and $1 million for water treatment work in the Glades area.
But Scott allowed $500,000 in state funds to go toward roadwork on Riviera Beach’s 13th Street, which local officials said was needed to help link the Port of Palm Beach with nearby industrial sites.
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