By Bill Cotterell
TALLAHASSEE Fla. (Reuters) - Florida Governor Rick Scott used his veto pen sparingly on Monday, signing a record $77 billion state budget that balanced spending on programs favored by his Republican supporters in the state legislature against the concerns of fiscally conservative voters.
In announcing his fiscal decisions, Scott emphasized the budget's tax cuts and increases in state education support.
Democrats still called it a "pork-filled" election-year budget, pointing out that, although the bottom line for education is higher, the per-pupil state spending is $177 below its level of 2007-08, the first budget year of ex-Governor Charlie Crist, a former Republican now running against Scott as a Democrat.
Scott, who dubbed his plan a "tax-cut budget" when he sent it to the legislature early this year, used his line-item veto to axe only $69 million from the budget for the fiscal year starting July 1.
Vetoes included items such as a $2 million seawall intended for Cocoa Beach, or $3.25 million earmarked for a Stetson University science center.
By contrast, he vetoed $368 million in budget items last year and $142 million the year before. Rather than staging a public announcement, Scott's office simply issued a press release in the Capitol while he was at a hurricane preparedness meeting in Pensacola.
Scott cited $500 million in tax and fee reductions in the budget.
For months, Scott has been hammering Crist on the tax and fees, especially $400 million in auto registration and licensing costs that were raised when Crist was governor. While the $18.9 billion in public school spending is a one-year record, Democrats said Scott was trying to make voters forget cuts to education made early in his term.
"Yes, there was a modest increase in the budget for public schools, but we're spending less per student than we spent in the 2007-2008 school year," said Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association.
The improving economy gave legislators more than $1 billion in revenue to work with and, after making the $500 million tax and fee cuts, they stashed $3 billion in reserve. But they still budgeted some hometown projects, known as "turkeys" in an election year.
The non-partisan government policy group, Florida TaxWatch, last week identified $121 million in line-items that either did not go through the customary vetting process in appropriations committees or showed little to no statewide benefit for taxpayers.
(The story corrects Florida TaxWatch line-item figure in last par from $127 million to $121 million)
(Editing by David Adams. Editing by Andre Grenon)