In a rebuke to Gov. Rick Scott, the Florida Senate on Wednesday voted to override vetoes of some $75 million in higher-education projects, although House leaders appear reluctant to back the move.
Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said Scott's $410 million in line-item vetoes in an $82 billion budget passed last month “disproportionately” impacted the higher-education system.
“The Senate has every intention of looking at ways to make sure its higher-education priorities get funded,” Negron said before the Senate took up the veto overrides early Wednesday evening.
The largest veto overrides, which require a two-thirds vote, sought to restore funding for two $15 million building projects at Florida International University and Florida Gulf Coast University.
The overrides also sought to restore $5 million for a gymnasium project at Miami Dade College and $13 million in building projects at Florida State University, including $5 million for STEM teaching lab.
Medical marijuana research projects at the Moffitt Cancer Center and the University of Florida were also supported in the override votes.
But the override votes, which were the first for the Republican-led Senate since Scott took office in 2011, will not be successful without the House's support.
House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, and House Appropriations Chairman Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, said they have little interest in overriding the vetoes, saying they agree with the governor's call to use the vetoed funding to support the public-school budget.
“The governor has the prerogative to veto anything he sees that is not in the best interest of Floridians,” Trujillo said.
Trujillo said the 2017-18 budget passed last month by the Legislature put “hundreds of millions” of dollars into higher-education initiatives, including construction projects. He said the governor's vetoes would allow lawmakers to shift some of that money to the K-12 system, which Scott said was inadequately funded in the budget.
“That's a bona fide, legitimate policy position to have,” Trujillo said.
Scott called a special legislative session, which started Wednesday, to boost spending on public schools and economic development. The special session is scheduled to end Friday.
The Senate veto overrides were opposed by Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, and Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville.
Lee, a former Senate president and budget chairman, questioned the strategy of carrying out a series of override votes that are not likely to be successful.
“A veto override is an extraordinary measure. I think we're unnecessarily escalating conflict at the plaza level (Scott's office) and with the House of Representatives, which isn't inclined to take up any of these veto overrides,” Lee said.
“You're just legislating for your exercise here. This isn't going anywhere. Why insult people and make it harder to prosecute your business?” he added.
Scott vetoed nearly $60 million of university construction projects in the annual Public Education Capital Outlay, or PECO, program.
Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, said she supported an override of Scott's decision to reject $15 million in PECO funding for Florida International's School of International and Public Affairs. She said the funding is linked to a private donation to carry out the project. “That's why it's really important,” she said.
Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, said the 15-member Democratic coalition would support broader override votes encompassing more than just higher-education projects.
“We had a budget that we voted for and now $410 million of it is gone,” Clemens said. “From our perspective, there is a reason why (the vetoed projects) were in the budget. They were good ideas then and they're still good ideas.”
Scott vetoed most of the higher education projects saying there were not the top priorities of the university or state college systems.
He vetoed the medical-marijuana research projects at the Moffitt Center and the University of Florida because he said the schools could fund the projects out of sizable increases that they are receiving in the new budget.
Prior to the higher education veto overrides, the Senate in a series of votes earlier Wednesday overrode Scott's veto of $11.4 billion in state funding for the $20 billion public school system. Scott's veto of that money was part of the plan to increase school funding during the special session.
But the K-12 overrides, like the higher-education overrides, will not take effect unless the House agrees. The last successful overrides occurred in the final months of former Gov. Charlie Crist's administration in 2010.