When Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the state’s $109.9 billion budget Thursday and announced a whopping $3.1 billion in line-item vetoes, he was flanked by smiling Republican leaders whose local projects took some of the heaviest hits.
That’s despite the fact that the Legislature passed many of the governor’s often controversial legislative priorities, including during two recent special sessions DeSantis called that required lawmakers to come back to Tallahassee to tackle property insurance issues, Disney’s special taxing status and redistricting.
On that last topic in particular, legislative leaders passed a congressional map drawn by the governor’s office even though they initially questioned his legal rationale.
But DeSantis “did not reciprocate,” said Mike Fasano, a former longtime Republican lawmaker who is now the Pasco County tax collector. “You would think the governor would look at that and say, ‘I appreciate it, thank you very much. What can I do for you?’”
Instead, DeSantis on Thursday jokingly acknowledged that his vetoes may not make some of the Republicans on stage with him happy, “but that’s just the way it goes,” he said.
The move by DeSantis was the latest show of power from a governor who not only is comfortable bucking Tallahassee tradition, but who is also a highly political executive willing to use his national clout to get what he wants, even when other Republicans are in the way.
For their part, the state’s legislative leaders offered little public response to the vetoes of some of their pet projects and focused on the broader implications of what they said was a historic budget.
Both House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, and Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, praised DeSantis during the news conference at The Villages on Thursday, with Simpson calling him “America’s governor.”
In Simpson’s backyard of Pasco County, DeSantis rejected $600 million over the next 30 years for a new H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute campus, plus road and water projects and $35 million for a potential Tampa Bay Rays spring training facility. One Sprowls priority that fell victim to DeSantis’ red ink was $75 million for an oceanographic science center at the University of South Florida.
Neither Sprowls nor Simpson responded to texts Friday asking if they had further comment on the vetoes. Some of their priority funding still made it through alive, including more than $244 million worth of projects funded at USF.
DeSantis, who is widely seen as eyeing a run for president, cast his vetoes as the inverse of the policies of President Joe Biden, whom he called “Brandon” and said has been recklessly spending, causing record inflation.
“What we’re doing in the budget is ... protecting the state against what very well may be a Biden-induced recession,” DeSantis said. “We don’t want to be in a situation where we’re repeating the mistakes of Washington.”
Fasano said he has approved of DeSantis’ job performance, but was shocked by the deep cuts to bread-and-butter local government projects like roads and water treatment facilities.
“I understand the leadership isn’t going to say anything ... but I can assure you they’re not happy campers this morning,” Fasano said. “The extension of a road in Pasco County has zero effect on the possibility of a recession.”
April Schiff, a Tampa Republican political consultant who represents Hillsborough County in the state party, said DeSantis’ vetoes show a continuance of his style that’s often departed from the status quo.
“It is a little unusual, but I also think this governor is unusual in that he does things he thinks is the right thing to do, and they’re not the traditional manner,” she said. “It’s led to a lot of his successes.”
Some Democratic lawmakers said they were amused at how the projects of the minority party fared the same as those championed by Republicans.
“I had to laugh, myself,” said Rep. Dianne Hart, D-Tampa. “He cut so many projects, even for people who carried his water.”
Politics aside, she said she was disappointed that in a year when the state is flush with cash from the federal government and high tax revenues, important initiatives got quashed.
“This is a time we could have really helped people,” she said.
Rep. Michele Rayner, D-St. Petersburg, celebrated that one of her priorities, The Woodson African American Museum of Florida, will still be getting $500,000. But she said the many vetoes show how DeSantis “didn’t negotiate in good faith.”
“For folks who say, ‘oh, if I just play the game and lay down, he’ll do this’ — he doesn’t,” she said. “It’s really about his own prerogative.”
Sen. Jeff Brandes, a Republican from St. Petersburg, said DeSantis’ vetoes were responsible, and that he wasn’t overly surprised at the cuts when both Sprowls and Simpson are about to leave the Legislature.
“Do I find it unusual that leadership projects got cut in the year they basically have no ability to retaliate because they’re all termed out? No,” he said.
“He has all the carrots and all the sticks.”