A zoo, Black History event and university funding: Ron DeSantis under fire after vetoing local funding because lawmakers didn’t endorse him

Florida governors can veto individual spending items from budget bills

Andrew Feinberg
Friday 16 June 2023 21:44 BST
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A pair of Florida elected officials are livid after Governor Ron DeSantis used his budget veto power to retaliate against them for not supporting his bid to become the GOP’s nominee in next year’s general election.

Mr DeSantis, who under Florida law can use a line-item veto to slash individual projects from the Sunshine State’s annual budget, cut more than half a billion dollars from the budget passed by the Florida legislature earlier this month, including $160,000 appropriated for a Black History Month celebration in Orlando and millions in funds for Florida Polytechnic University.

But the cuts in the budget ordered by the governor appeared to specifically target ex-Florida GOP Chair Joe Gruters, a state senator who saw millions of dollars cut from projects in his district, which includes the city of Sarasota.

Mr Gruters is just one of 14 state legislators who failed to endorse Mr DeSantis before his official entry into the Republican primary last month.

In a text message to Politico, the state senator said Mr DeSantis was “clearly upset” because he’d “endorsed Donald Trump for president”.

“So he took it out on the people of Sarasota County … simply because I support his political opponent, the governor chose to punish ordinary Floridians who want better water quality, less traffic congestion and increased for resources for disabled children to grateful employment,” he said.

“It’s mean-spirited acts like this that are defining him here and across the country,” he added.

The Florida governor also took his veto pen to line items favoured by Wilton Sampson, the state’s Republican agriculture commissioner.

Specifically, Mr DeSantis cut from the budget a $100 million line-item used to compensate farmers who choose not to sell their land to developers, as well as $30 million from what Politico described as “energy programs” under Mr Sampson’s purview.

The commissioner said there was “no conceivable reason” for Mr DeSantis to target his programs when the state has “billions of dollars” in budget reserves.

He added: “Agriculture was harmed today and so was the state of Florida”.

In addition, the governor heeded a request to dock a $2m appropriation for the Brevard Zoo from a Republican in the Florida House of Representatives, Randy Fine, who has expressed ire over the zoo’s management considering an end to allowing political campaigns to rent space for events there.

According to Florida Today, Mr Fine explained his opposition to the funding by claiming the facility’s consideration of a ban on campaign fundraisers was “woke”.

“Why would we give taxpayer money to an organisation that’s so successful that they turn away business? In the state of Florida, if you go woke, you go broke,” he said.

Mr DeSantis’ budgetary decisions are consistent with the way he has routinely used the power of his office to reward friends and harm enemies, real or percieved.

The most prominent example of this pattern is the governor’s ongoing feud with Disney, which touched off after the company’s previous CEO criticised his decision to sign into law the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which banned any classroom discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity for young elementary school grades, though Mr DeSantis later signed a separate bill to expand the ban to all grades in all Florida public schools.

A spokesman for Mr DeSantis, Jeremy Redfern, said the governor had vetoed the agricultural preservation programme because there is $240m currently available in unspent funds for it.

He also accused Mr Gruters of “turning conservative governance and fiscal responsibility into a political statement”.

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