Local projects await Gov. Scott’s approval

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TOM McLAUGHLIN @TomMnwfdn

Will he or won’t he?

That is the question everyone with an interest in anything approved for funding by the Florida Legislature is wondering as Gov. Rick Scott considers using his veto pen on this year’s state budget.

“It’s a big question, whether the governor vetoes the whole bill, signs off on part of it or signs the whole thing,” said Steve Czonstka, whose proposal to create an Okaloosa County museum cooperative stands to be funded for a relatively minuscule $30,000 in the $82.4 billion budget.

Czonstka’s pet project is one of several Northwest Florida appropriation requests that has been approved for funding by the Florida House and Senate but could fall by the wayside if Scott vetoes the budget and the veto isn’t overridden.

It could also die by line-item veto if he chooses to punish individual legislators such as Okaloosa County Rep. Mel Ponder, who didn’t fully support Scott’s call for $100 million each to Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida.

“I think the governor’s a good man, but it’s possible, it’s possible,” Ponder, R-Destin, said when asked if the county could lose projects he sponsored this session. “I think, though, there are people who were more vocal who have a little more at stake. I didn’t do anything that was a direct assault on him.”

Ponder pointed out that he had voted to support giving the governor most of what he wanted for Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing arm.

He sided with House Speaker Richard Corcoran, though, in opposing funding to Enterprise Florida, the state’s business marketing agency.

Local projects that, like the museum cooperative appropriation, await Scott’s approval include:

$2.7 million for building renovation at Northwest Florida State College

$150,000 for expansion of a welding program at Okaloosa Technical College

$3 million for a Northwest Florida State College utilities plant upgrade

$1.96 million for Walton County Road 30A intermodal transportation

$300,000 for relocation of Fort Walton Beach’s historic Gulfview Hotel

$1.75 million for widening PJ Adams Parkway in Crestview

$1.5 million for CR 280A in DeFuniak Springs

$100,000 for a cultural center in the city of Freeport

$350,000 for a mobile mental health unit for the Bridgeway Center in Okaloosa County

$200,000 for a mental health diversion facility

Czonstka, who as Okaloosa County’s elected Republican State Committeeman, has some pull in Tallahassee, said he emailed Scott to solicit his support for the museum cooperative, which would combine the administrative efforts of nine local historical sites.

“I told him it promotes jobs and tourism,” Czonstka said. “It promotes things he’s interested in.”

If Scott does single out projects of those who did not support his spending initiatives but stands behind those who stood by him, Northwest Florida senators George Gainer and Doug Broxson, along with Walton County Rep. Brad Drake, could find themselves among a favored few.

Drake, R-DeFuniak Springs, stood almost alone among Republicans against House Speaker Corcoran and in support of fully funding Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida.

“I believe Gov. Scott is right. Our state is a premium commodity and we need to advertise it,” Drake said.

Although he may pay a political price for it in the House, Drake’s standing by Scott could mean the mighty veto pen leaps over funding items like the proposed intermodal transportation study for Walton County.

Bill Williams, Walton County’s RESTORE Act Coordinator and an advocate for modernizing transportation through technology, said Scott should support the project because it’s worthwhile. It’s a program that looks for innovative new ways to streamline traffic flow that received state funding for preliminary engineering last year.

“I think he’s supportive of this kind of technology,” Williams said of Scott. “We have career opportunities and education tied in. It’s a good project.”

The governor also mulling is over the option of leaving most of the budget intact, but vetoing a $419 million K-12 public schools bill passed near the end of the session.

The Florida School Boards Association joined others Tuesday in calling for the school budget’s veto. The bill is “substantially flawed and unworthy of your approval to be enacted into law,” the School Boards Association said in a news release.

Ponder said although he’s heard the objections to the school bill and sympathizes with its detractors, he believes it’s worth saving.

He said parts of the bill he likes include the millions of dollars set aside to reward teachers judged to be highly effective or effective.

He said 90 percent of Okaloosa County teachers would receive bonuses under the program.

He said he also likes that the bill would push testing assessments back to the end of the school year and add recess as a student requirement.

“There are actually a lot of good things in this bill,” he said.

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