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Former Gov. Jeb Bush talks to business leaders during a roundtable discussion in Portsmouth, N.H., on May 20, 2015. (AP photo) Former Gov. Jeb Bush talks to business leaders during a roundtable discussion in Portsmouth, N.H., on May 20, 2015. (AP photo)

Former Gov. Jeb Bush talks to business leaders during a roundtable discussion in Portsmouth, N.H., on May 20, 2015. (AP photo)

Joshua Gillin
By Joshua Gillin May 26, 2015

The saga of state spending enforcer Jeb Bush's one-time alias, Veto Corleone

Former Gov. Jeb Bush has resurrected an infamous moniker from his days in Tallahassee on the campaign trail in an attempt to show he is the godfather of fiscal conservatism.

During a meeting with business leaders in Portsmouth, N.H., on May 20, 2015, Bush pointed out he was well-known for using the line-item veto at his disposal as governor.

"They called me Veto Corleone, which was something I was quite proud of," Bush said, citing a reference to Marlon Brando’s character in The Godfather. He added that he vetoed 2,500 separate line items totaling $2 billion over his eight years.

Bush has brought out that anecdote several times during the run-up to a presidential campaign, implying he would again focus on cutting wasteful spending. We wondered if he was accurate in claiming that nickname. We made our own inquiries and found that yes, pork projects really did sleep with the fishes.

Offers he could refuse

Bush came into office in 1999 vowing to use his line-item veto on state spending he didn’t like, and he followed through with a vengeance. He also wanted the state to focus on building reserves.

That first year, he shocked lawmakers by slashing $313 million out of the $48.6 billion budget approved by the Legislature. It was more than double the previous veto record of $150 million set by Republican Gov. Bob Martinez in 1988.

The Senate was so angry about the cuts, they sued Bush over his partial veto of funding for an extended school year. The Florida Supreme Court eventually ruled Bush defied the state Constitution by cutting $16 million out of a $40 million appropriation to keep schools open longer. They said he either had to cut all of the program or none of it.

Media reports said John Thrasher, then speaker of the House, dubbed Bush "Veto Corleone" after the fictional mafia don (spelled Vito Corleone) for his liberal use of the power. Thrasher, who is now president of Florida State University, confirmed to PolitiFact Florida that he coined the nickname, which seemed to be something of a friendly dig.

Thrasher’s collegial relationship with Bush was apparent in 2000, when Thrasher brought the budget to Bush’s office while wearing a white lab coat and a stethoscope  "to make sure the governor has a heart." Bush answered by approving a couple of Thrasher’s pet projects, then chopping another $313.7 million out of appropriations.

Here’s a look at how much Bush vetoed from each year’s budget:

Year

Total state budget

Amount Bush vetoed

1999

$48.6 billion

$313 million*

2000

$51 billion

$313.7 million

2001

$48.3 billion

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$288.8 million

2002

$50.4 billion

$107 million

2003

$53.5 billion

$33 million

2004

$57.3 billion

$349 million

2005

$64.7 billion

$180 million

2006

$73.9 billion

$448.7 million

* The state Supreme Court ruled a $16 million veto in 1999 unconstitutional.

The first year of Bush’s second term, in 2003, Bush cut a low of $33 million, but $7.2 million of that was funding for high-speed rail. Bush later led an effort to repeal a constitutional amendment requiring the creation of high-speed rail transit in the state.

Bush also saved the most for last, hacking $448.7 million out of the 2006 budget, including a university tuition increase, spending on parks and police vehicles, as well as job training and education programs. That year state spending was up to $73.9 billion, a 52 percent increase from his first year in office.

"It's never easy," Bush said in 2006. "You always hurt people's feelings. I don't enjoy that. And I'm always surprised that people are surprised. I've been consistent. There should be no surprises. And the people who really follow the budget knew that."

We should note that if Bush wins the presidency, he likely won’t get to whack as much. A president doesn’t have a line-item veto and has to either accept or reject an entire piece of legislation.

Our ruling

Bush said "they called me Veto Corleone" as governor for his frequent use of the line-item veto.

He did have a fondness for ruthlessly slashing projects he deemed wasteful or not in line with his agenda. Thrasher confirmed he nicknamed the governor after the fictional mobster.

This is one favor we grant Bush. We rate the statement True.

Our Sources

MSNBC, "Jeb Bush: ‘They called me "Veto" Corleone'," May 20, 2015

Tampa Bay Times, "Bush vetoes $313-million for projects," May 28, 1999

Orlando Sentinel, "Bush Breaks Record For Vetoes," May 28, 1999

Orlando Sentinel, "Senators Sue, Say Bush Veto Illegal," July 8, 1999

Tampa Bay Times, "‘Doc’ Thrasher delivers budget," May 20, 2000

Florida Times-Union, "Bush poised to veto budget items," May 28, 2000

South Florida Sun Sentinel, "Bush Signs $51 Billion State Budget," May 31, 2000

Florida Times-Union, "Bush's Budget Vetoes Make for a Confusing State Picture," June 1, 2000

South Florida Sun Sentinel, "Bush Signs $48.3 Billion State Budget," June 16, 2001

South Florida Sun Sentinel, "Governor Goes Easy On Vetoes In Signing Budget," June 6, 2002

Florida Times-Union, "Bush signs $53 billion budget, but vetoes fast train funding," June 23, 2003

Tampa Bay Times, "Bush budget trims most rail money," June 24, 2003

Orlando Sentinel, "Vetoes Trim State Budget," May 29, 2004

St. Augustine Record, "Gov. Bush signs budget, vetoes some local projects," May 27, 2005

Gainesville Sun, "Bush signs record-high budget bill," May 27, 2005

South Florida Sun Sentinel, "Bush Signs Last Budget," May 26, 2006

Orlando Sentinel, "After `Veto Corleone,' expect Crist to have lighter budget touch," May 20, 2007

Politico, "Jeb Bush says Florida years show he’s no moderate," Feb. 26, 2015

Associated Press, "Jeb Bush was an aggressive governor who pushed 'the limits of executive authority'," March 23, 2015

Concord Monitor, "Jeb Bush widely used executive authority in Fla.," March 24, 2015

Interview with Matt Gorman, Right to Rise PAC spokesman, May 18 & 20, 2015

Interview with Browning Brooks, Florida State University assistant vice president of communications, May 20, 2015

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The saga of state spending enforcer Jeb Bush's one-time alias, Veto Corleone

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