Gov. Scott vetoes $37.4 million for citrus canker plaintiffs


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) Gov. Rick Scott nixed a $37.4 million payout on Monday that would have gone to homeowners in Lee and Broward counties.

Scott vetoed a budget measure that was to have compensated those homeowners for healthy citrus trees that were torn down in a failed attempt to eradicate citrus canker.

“We thought he would do the right thing and get this thing over with,” said Lisa Stroh, a plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit against the state. “It’s been going on for 12, 14 years, and the longer that the state puts it off, the more money it costs them in the end, because there is interest.”

More than 33,000 trees were cut down in the early 2000s in Lee County as part of a statewide effort against citrus canker, which could spread by wind.

“It is unfortunate what happened to these Floridians over a decade ago and Governor Scott sincerely understands their concern,” governor’s office spokesman McKinley P. Lewis said. “Due to ongoing litigation, the $37.4 million in the budget was unable to be approved. We are hopeful that all litigation regarding this issue will be completely resolved very soon, allowing the issue to be addressed comprehensively across the state.”

Scott on Monday defended his latest round of budget vetoes, which set a modern-day record for a governor but came from a long list of spending projects, including money intended for public universities.

Scott late last week vetoed nearly $11.9 billion from the state budget as part of a private deal he worked out with legislative leaders.

Legislators will return to the state Capitol for a three-day special session where they are expected to pass a new budget for public schools that will be higher than the one they adopted in early May.

Scott’s veto total – which was about 14 percent of the entire $82.4 billion budget – included the main state account that goes to public schools. But the governor also vetoed roughly 400 projects worth nearly $410 million that were placed in the budget by Republicans and Democrats.

For weeks, Scott had feuded with legislators because they refused to set aside money for his top priorities, and he had threatened to veto the entire budget. But under the deal, legislators will use money vetoed by Scott to pay for tourism marketing, a new fund aimed at attracting businesses to the state, and to increase school funding by $100 for each student.

Scott’s vetoes hit hard, especially for the state’s public universities, which lost more than $108 million.

Some counties that are home to top Republican legislators – including Miami-Dade, Pasco and Pinellas counties – had a long list of budget vetoes. Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, who had several projects vetoed, tweeted out that “we won’t stop fighting for the worthy projects Floridians need, want and deserve.”

During a stop in Panama City, Scott maintained that his vetoes did not target any legislators who had upset him this year.

“We look at every line to see whether it’s good for Florida families,” Scott said.

Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, a Miami Republican who had pushed for the canker payments, downplayed the vetoes and said that a lot of other things he pushed escaped Scott’s veto pen.

“I’m an optimist,” said Diaz, who lost nearly $54 million to budget vetoes. “There were a lot of important things for my community that did not get vetoed.”

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