With a Governor from St. John’s County and the House and Senate Budget Chairs from Clay, it seemed Northeast Florida was uniquely well-positioned to survive the veto pen in the 2019 budget.
Especially given that Gov. Ron DeSantis had a light touch with the veto pen, only axing $131.3 million.
Indeed, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry‘s office was touting “big wins” weeks before the veto list.
Curry, you will recall, endorsed DeSantis ahead of the primary, calling the Governor his “brother from another mother.”
Asks were ambitious this year, and renovations for the University of North Florida’s Lassiter Hall, Jacksonville Freedom Park, and Clay County courthouse restoration were all identified as TaxWatch “turkeys.”
“The Jacksonville housing project would bypass the Florida Housing Finance Corporation’s process for selection and oversight of projects funded by scarce Sadowski Fund housing dollars in the face of an affordable housing crisis. This may be the first time a member project would be funded through the housing trust funds and would set a bad precedent,” TaxWatch snipped.
The project was controversial within the Duval Delegation itself, and Gov. DeSantis went against the Lenny Curry machine (and key backer Vestcor) — and vetoed it.
“We vetoed the $8 million earmark. Never been done before. Better off sticking to what we have and do it that way,” DeSantis said.
However, if asked “why a Jacksonville earmark,” he “wouldn’t have had an answer,” and was “leery of setting new precedent.”
Fischer, who otherwise lauded DeSantis for a “fiscally-responsible budget,” said Friday that “the Florida Housing Finance Corporation process is broken, but I fully respect the Governor’s decision to veto affordable housing in our region.”
Fischer did not elaborate further.
Sen. Audrey Gibson and Rep. Tracie Davis, each of whom represents the area where the project would have happened, did not push for the project.
They were somewhat surprised by the veto.
“I was surprised that it was vetoed since it was a workforce housing project,” Davis said. “But obviously it wasn’t on [the Governor’s] priority list for Duval County. There wasn’t a whole lot of information about it. Maybe there wasn’t enough information [for the Governor]/”
“There is something to be said about process,” Gibson added. “If somebody gets a call and it just shows up in the budget, that’s a little different.”
Vestcor’s John Rood was a primary supporter of DeSantis’ opponent, which some sources say may have made the Governor more “leery.”
However, Rood discounted that narrative Monday, saying he and the Governor “are good.”
“The challenge was that it was coming out of the Sadowsky Fund, so I knew the Governor was going to be in a difficult position,” Rood said.
“I had talked to him several times during Session. He supports helping Jacksonville because of some of the really exciting things we have going on in workforce and job growth.”
“I just think that the path that was taken by the Legislature was something he had concern with,” Rood added. “But I’m confident that he will work with the Mayor next year and come up with a solution that doesn’t involve Sadowsky Funds.”
DeSantis also vetoed some other local projects, including the aforementioned Lassiter Hall, and money for fire gear extractor dryers.
However, the affordable housing veto seemed to be the biggest philosophical difference with the Republican machine dominating Jacksonville politics.
There are, DeSantis said, “certain things government shouldn’t do … certain things [that are] a local responsibility … certain processes, whether for land acquisition or affordable housing … some of the ideas were decent, but I didn’t think they were likely to be effective.”
Northeast Florida took roughly $16 million in line item vetoes.
Of that, $8 million was a project the Mayor’s Office wanted, but couldn’t get through.
Another interesting cut: $500,000 for the city’s Real Time Crime Center.
This project was a priority for the city, but was not a state spend per the Governor.