Republican U.S. Senate candidate Marco Rubio wants voters to see his independent opponent Gov. Charlie Crist as a repeat flip-flopper who vetoed a project out of political spite. In one of Rubio's most recent claims, posted to his campaign website June 2, 2010, he says that Crist "bizarrely vetoed" $9.7 million for a teaching hospital at the University of Florida "despite having previously argued the budget request had merit."
Here is what Rubio wrote:
"For his latest astounding flip-flop, Charlie Crist on Friday vetoed nearly $9.7 million in state funding for a teaching hospital at the University of Florida despite having included the funding as part of his budget recommendation in January. As part of his proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2010-2011, Charlie Crist’s office even wrote a justification for the budget request that can be read HERE. Yet, Crist bizarrely vetoed the funding despite having previously argued that the budget request had merit. Was this political payback for Republican leaders no longer supporting him? Is there anything else that could explain a seemingly inexplicable flip-flop?"
There is no dispute that Crist vetoed $9,673,569 for Shands teaching hospital -- line item 185. The veto on May 28 was one of about $371 million in budget vetoes. So the only question is if he had "previously argued the budget request had merit."
Some background: Shands at UF is a teaching hospital in Gainesville that serves many uninsured patients and draws patients from throughout the state. In the last fiscal year, Shands UF provided about $49 million in unreimbursed financial assistance. But Crist's veto could cost the hospital at least $12 million in matching federal funds, according to a June 2 article in the Gainesville Sun.
Now, some political context leading up to Crist's veto. Crist included $9,673,569 for Shands in his recommended budget that was released in January. When he proposed his budget, Crist -- a Republican at the time -- was in a battle for the Republican Senate primary with former House Speaker Rubio. During the spring legislative session, his relationship with some Republicans soured over disagreements about abortion, teacher tenure and other issues. He found himself lagging behind Rubio in the polls and announced April 29 that he would ditch the GOP and run as an independent. So that means Crist was an independent by veto day.
Rubio provides links to Crist's budget request for the hospital funding. It includes the appropriation bill showing the money for Shands hospital.
Shands officials were surprised by the veto.
"We had no idea this was coming," Shands spokeswoman Kim Rose said in a June 3 interview. "We had not been asked any questions about it. This appropriation was included in his last three budgets and he had recommended it for this one."
A May 29 press release from Shands stated: "This line item in the governor’s budget has been in place for three decades and historically has been funded through a recurring general revenue allocation. As one of the state’s largest charity care providers, these state funds were the only source available for Shands at UF to be eligible for additional federal funds since it is not part of a local taxing district."
A May 30 article in the Gainesville Sun, one day after Crist's veto, quoted from a memo written by Shands HealthCare CEO Tim Goldfarb.
"Goldfarb said in the memo that the veto was unexpected because Crist had recommended the funding as part of the budget and approved it in his previous three proposed budget plans,'' stated the article. "Goldfarb added the total impact could be even greater because the state cut could lead to a reduction in federal money."
The Florida Times-Union had a direct link to Goldfarb's memo.
Crist spokesman Sterling Ivey told Health News Florida and the Gainesville Sun that the governor vetoed the money because it was targeted at a single hospital and no other hospitals received the same type of additional funding. Crist wrote in his May 28 veto message that his budget would protect the most vulnerable -- though he vetoed money for Shands, a hospital that serves many poor patients.
"While economic recovery is on the horizon, General Revenue dollars are still scarce and spending has to be carefully prioritized to provide the most critical services to the citizens of our state," Crist wrote.
The governor defended his veto, according to a Miami Herald/St. Petersburg Times June 4 article: “The concern was more with the process of it, to be honest with you. And the lateness of it. I didn’t want things that came late and didn’t have the complete committee vetting opportunity.”
Crist denied that his veto was political: “It’s motivated by being an appropriate process (and) the economic reality that we’re living in.”
Michelle Todd, a spokesperson for Crist's campaign, replied to PolitiFact Florida in an e-mail:
"The majority of the budget provides funding for essential state services, protects our most vulnerable, keeps our citizens safe and provides for education of our children. As stipulated in the Governor's budget signing letter on May 28, 2010, he directed staff '...to provide a thorough review of each item in the budget. Through this process we have identified projects in the budget that were inserted late in the process; funded outside of established processes; and earmarked funds benefiting a select group or geographic region.' The Shands Teaching Hospital line item falls into this last category and is the only Teaching Hospital in the state receiving a distinct general revenue recurring line item in the General Appropriations Act. While it is true that this item was contained in previous Governor's Recommended Budgets, the current economy and outlook for the near future dictated a thorough review of all projects."
It's clear that Crist vetoed $9.7 million for Shands, though it had previously been in his budget. His campaign argues that Florida's weak economy led to the veto decision. We rate Rubio's claim as True.