When Rick Scott was running for Florida governor, he tagged his “let’s get to work” jobs plan “777.” Now that he’s in office and has issued his first budget, the numbers that come to mind are more like “666.” How bad is Scott for Florida? Let me count the ways …
1. He doesn’t understand the difference between campaigning and governing. Scott unveiled his budget plan at a tea party gathering. And while that might make Florida’s tea party activists feel important, the election is over. Scott is going to have to come to terms with the fact that while he didn’t win a majority of Floridians’ support, he is stuck governing everybody, including people who are not part of the tea party movement. By unveiling his plans at a highly partisan gathering that represents perhaps a third of Floridians at best, Scott revealed that he’s more interested in positioning himself ideologically than in behaving as a statesman. From the Miami Herald:
Scott’s initial budget roll-out in Eustis had the look and feel of a highly partisan, heavily scripted campaign event. The venue underscored Scott’s eagerness to make what is normally a staid, policy-laden event into one that turned the budget into a political declaration. Inside the cavernous First Baptist Church of Eustis, Scott stood in front of a made-for-TV backdrop that said “Reducing Spending & Holding Government Accountable.”
The church, which seats 800, was filled to overflowing, and people waved miniature American flags and sang God Bless the USA and God Bless America. Warm-up speakers criticized President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, and praised Roger Vinson, the federal judge in Pensacola who last week struck down the Obama health plan as unconstitutional.
Before the public event, Scott hosted a private lunch for tea party activists at a nearby civic center. Activists said they would push for Scott’s budget in the same way they fought health care reform.
“This budget will reshape the state, and we want all of our legislators to know we’re behind this,” said Apryl Marie Fogel, state director of Americans for Prosperity Florida.
And if you’re not in the tea party? Well, there’s always 2014.
2. He thinks he’s above the law. That’s no surprise given his history of presiding over record Medicare fraud, then skating with a giant bag full of cash while his underlings took the fall with the feds. But Scott’s flagrant defiance of even the simplest strictures — like the Sunshine Laws — places him at the far authoritarian end of the spectrum, even further on that scale than Jeb Bush. Scott’s officiousness extends to the press, whom he thinks should treat him like a regent, and even to the cabinet, whom he treats like the court of petty dictator, “suggesting” that they run their regulations by him as if they were not themselves elected statewide (they rather curtly declined.) That kind of thing might fly for a petty dictator, but Scott, thankfully, is no dictator. Petty is another matter.
3. Scott is bad for eduction. Florida in order to attract good jobs needs to have a world class education system. The state already struggles with low graduation rates, especially for minority students, and Scott in his new budget breaks a campaign pledge to hold education harmless in his quest to cut spending. Scott’s proposed budget slashes education spending in Florida by 10 percent – which he said just a week ago he wouldn’t do. (He’s now trying to claim that he never said he wouldn’t cut eduction funding, to which Politifact Florida replies: FALSE.) Even Republicans, who have total control over Florida’s government and thus could pass Scott’s plan quite easily seemed taken aback by the plan. Even the most ideological among them apparently understands that cutting education at a time when Florida is trying to attract high tech and other businesses to the state to diversify the tourism-agriculture based economy, and just months after the state was awarded federal Race to the Top dollars as a reward for efforts during the Charlie Crist era to reform the state’s public schools is short sighted at best. Scott is even proposing to slash funding for the state’s colleges and for research, which would damage Florida immensely and make the state less competitive for top high school seniors as well as businesses.
It ‘s a lack of foresight that’s equal to Scott’s already established lack of basic human compassion. And coupled with the coming plans that will chase good teachers out of the state by reviving the teacher mercenary bill SB6 (a joint project of Scott and the right wing Republican legislature) Florida is likely headed back to the bottom of the heap in national education rankings.
4. He’s not so good at math. Maybe Scott is so quick to cut education because it’s not his personal strong suit. The budget that the governor unveiled to his tea party friends purports to close the state’s massive, $3.6 billion budget gap by cutting taxes (read “revenues”) and to grow jobs by cutting them. The lowlights:
… Eliminating 1,690 jobs from the Department of Corrections
Despite earlier pledges to cut $1 billion from prison spending, Scott has only targeted $82 million in corrections cuts. But that will mean the loss of nearly 1,700 jobs, the most of any state agency.
… An 8,700 overall reduction in the state government workforce
In addition to the almost 1,700 jobs Scott wants to eliminate from the Department of Corrections, he plans to cut approximately 7,000 more positions throughout the state government. The Miami Herald notes that despite these drastic reductions, Scott has budgeted for increased personnel in his own executive office. Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith has already issued a press release calling Scott’s plan a “jobs-killing budget.”
… Tax cuts worth $4 billion
Perhaps the most striking feature of Gov. Scott’s budget plan is a call for tax cuts totaling nearly $4 billion over the next two years. These include a $1.4 billion reduction in property taxes and a 1.5 percent drop in the corporate income tax.
Per the Miami Herald:
* Proposes eliminating 1,690 employees from Department of Corrections by closing two prisons.
Corrections houses more than 100,000 inmates in 146 facilities, employing 18,200 employees.
* State-set school property taxes would be cut by $1 billion over two years. Scott had pledged a $1.4 billion cut in the first year, but is phasing in a lesser tax cut over two years.
* Water management districts would be asked to take a 25 percent reducting in their annual property tax levy for two years, contributing $178 million and school districts would be expected to rollback taxes $507 million in first year.
Corporate Income Tax
* Corporate income tax would drop from 5.5 percent to 3 percent in 2011-12 and be phased out by 2018.* * The first year savings would be $458 million statewide.
* Motor vehicle fees would be scaled back, saving $235 million.
* The Department of Community Affairs would be merged with the Department of Environmental Protection, eliminating 530 jobs over two years. DCA staff will decrease to 40 employees within two years; budget drops to $70 million.
So Scott’s plan to grow jobs starts by cutting nearly 10,000 jobs, and his plan to close the budget gap starts with slashing state revenues. And how would Scott make up the revenues? Scott doesn’t say, and that’s even got Republicans scratching their heads and demanding actual details. Perhaps he’ll give the 411 to his tea party friends at some point, so they can tell the rest of us.
5. Scott’s proposals would harm Florida’s most vulnerable. Cutting Medicaid, and gutting the corrections department and the Department of Children and families… those are just three of the awful proposals Scott is putting on the table. And as even Republicans are pointing out, his cuts net out to relatively small cost savings to go with the loss of jobs and services. The Herald once again:
The criticisms and tough questions weren’t limited to Democrats; Scott’s fellow Republicans were skeptical of what many thought were skimpy details in his $65.9 billion budget.
The bipartisan concerns underscored a growing sense in the Legislature that Scott’s proposal is rooted in unrealistic political calculations, not the subtle calculus it takes to run the nation’s fourth-most populous state. In the House K-12 budget committee on Tuesday morning, eyebrows arched and heads shook as lawmakers tried digesting Scott’s plan to slash state-paid per-student spending by 10 percent.
“A 10 percent reduction is a significant cut,” said committee Chairwoman Marti Coley, R-Marianna.
Coley and Rep. Janet Adkins scolded Scott’s office for trying to “have it both ways” with the education budget. Scott said he’s against the use of federal stimulus money, but his office tacitly encourages school districts to use the money to boost per-pupil spending.
“It’s imperative that you go back and you redo the numbers,” said Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach.
In the House health appropriations committee, Republicans and Democrats flummoxed another Scott aide who had difficulties explaining his plans to cut $3 billion from Medicaid over two years.
Rep. Jose Diaz, R-Miami, said he struggling with the idea of deeply cutting the Department of Children and Families and privatizing mental-health facilities.
“My math tells me that the 2,500 jobs that you’re getting rid of only leads to a 4 percent reduction in the budget,” Diaz said. “It’s only an $8 million savings in an almost $3 billion budget. That seems like a significant loss of jobs for a very small gain.”
More on those Medicaid Cuts: Scott is proposing to slash $3 billion from the state-administered federal program over two years, “including $1 billion in cuts to provider reimbursement rates,” according to the Herald.
Savings are expected by receiving federal approval to transfer all 3 million Medicaid patients into a managed care program which would control costs and crack down on fraud.
TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott’s $65.8 billion spending pitch to lawmakers includes privatizing veterans homes, mental health facilities and developmental disability centers, which the governor’s budget staff has concluded will save $103.9 million.
Scott health-care policy coordinator Jane Johnson said the governor’s office was still working with Veterans Affairs director Bob Milligan on the specifics of how to hand veterans homes over to private enterprise, a concept she called “public instrumentality.”
“The homes would be operated as a private entity and the employees would not be public employees,” Johnson told the House Health Care Appropriations Committee on Tuesday.
The Veteran Affairs budget would get cut $38 million as part of the plan to hand over those nursing homes for vets to a quasi-public organization like the state’s housing finance corporation. Johnson said 80 percent of the department’s budget goes to 700 veterans in nursing homes, and that the department felt its funding would be better-spent on the other 1.8 million Florida veterans.
But lawmakers’ first-blush reaction to the idea of privatizing veterans’ nursing homes was muted.
“While creative and out of the box, [it] certainly creates a lot of questions in our minds about how it gets pulled together,” said Health Care Appropriations Chairman Matt Hudson, R-Naples.
Of course, we all remember how well privatization worked out for Walter Reed …
So far, Scott’s plan to raid $600 million from local taxes dedicated to healthcare, particularly in South Florida, and leech the money into general revenues is probably dead on arrival, but the fact that the former hospital executive thought it was a good idea is telling. Scott also wants to shift thousands of inmates to private prisons, along with a few less than awful prison reforms. And that’s not even to get into Scott and his fellow Republicans’ ideas on drug testing the jobless and forcing them to take low wage work, while cutting the taxes businesses pay to cover the unemployed.
6. He thinks corporations have more rights than actual people. Scott’s plan to lower electricity rates for business (while also eliminating corporate taxes) would mean higher utility rates for the rest of us. From the Herald Tribune in December:
TALLAHASSEE – With Gov.-elect Rick Scott promising to save businesses a stunning $3.2 billion on their electric bills, consumer groups are bracing for a fight, fearing his plan will push higher costs onto residential customers.
Scott’s advisers are floating the idea of an “economic development rate” for corporations that agree to relocate to Florida or expand businesses within the state. The level of utility cost savings would be tied to job creation, under the plan.
But Florida’s four big investor-owned utilities would not have to absorb the rate reduction — or ask investors to pick up the tab, said those familiar with the proposal. Instead, rate reductions given these companies would be offset by higher charges imposed on a utility’s overall rate base — with residential customers shouldering most of the costs.
“What’s good for businesses is going to be too bad for consumers,” said Bill Newton, executive director of the Florida Consumer Action Network. “The only thing we can hope for is that a rate increase can backfire on legislators, and they may not want to get involved in it.”
Scott communications director Brian Burgess would not comment on the rate plan. But utility industry officials briefed on the plan by members of Scott’s economic development transition team say the proposal is designed to help him reach a central goal of his campaign: creating 700,000 jobs over the next seven years.
It also would help Scott meet a campaign pledge to “address Florida’s relatively expensive electricity costs so businesses could save approximately $3.25 billion,” part of the Republican candidate’s regulatory reform platform.
Tampa Electric Co. and Florida Power & Light, two of the state’s largest publicly-held utilities, were among the top contributors to Florida political campaigns this fall, with each giving more than $1.2 million, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
And as one columnist pointed out:
It’s a curious plan. If Scott had said this during the election… “We’re going to subsidize electricity rates for businesses by jacking up already high electricity rates for residential customers”… I’m not sure he would even be stepping into the governor’s role next week. The early winter cold spell alone will put plenty of Floridians in shock when they get their next electric bill — without a hike in rates.
Business backers, not surprisingly, like the Florida Chamber of Commerce (surely eager to stay in Scott’s good graces after opposing him in the Republican primary) think Scott’s idea is just peachy. Funny how nobody mentioned this concept as a brilliant way to generate jobs in Florida until the new Guv-To-Be brought it up.
Like his “let us make a profit, so what?” attitude toward privatizing Medicare, it’s a sign that this is a person (or robot) who thinks corporate profits matter more than consumers, or voters. That kind of lack of basic respect for humanity is great for sociopaths, bad for governors.
7. His immigration plans threaten tourism, Florida’s Latin American commerce, and Major League Baseball. Scott, who used to own part of the Texas Rangers with George W. Bush, has said he wants to attract more MLB teams to do spring training in Florida. Ironically, he also wants to mirror the other big spring training state: Arizona, in pushing through anti-immigrant laws that invariably target Hispanics, who happen to make up 30 percent of the MLB’s rosters. And how would Scott’s anti-imimgrant stance play with the Latin American businesspeople who frequent South Florida? Short answer: it won’t help. Now, it seems that immigration could create yet another divide between the no-experience governor and the veto-proof majority in his party:
ORLANDO, Fla. —A month before the legislative session begins in Tallahassee, Republican leaders in Florida are divided over whether to enact an anti-immigration law similar to SB 1070 in Arizona, La Prensa reports.
Last week, the president of the state senate, Mike Haridopolos, R-Merrit Island, said that a law like the one enacted in Arizona would not be good for Florida. Agriculture commissioner Adam Putnam, also a Republican, agreed, saying it would not be financially viable.
Gov. Rick Scott, meanwhile, affirmed his support of an Arizona-style immigration law in Florida, and insisted that police should have the ability to ask people for immigration papers while they go about their jobs, even during routine stops.
Scott, who ran his election campaign on an anti-immigration platform, signed an executive order requiring Florida state agents to use the E-Verify document verification system for all employees, including subcontractors.
William Snyder, R-Stuart, who drafted a bill similar to SB 1070 last August, said he is considering making some changes to the bill and that the final version would not be as harsh as what Gov. Scott is supporting.
Scott is also pushing requirements that all government agencies and contractors utilize the E-Verify system. So what’s the problem? Costs:
An Migration Policy Institute report released Tuesday concludes that extending the use of the E-Verify employment program at the federal level may cause more harm to U.S. workers and the economy than it would deter illegal immigration.
Operated by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, ”E-Verify is an Internet-based system that allows businesses to determine the eligibility of their employees to work in the United States. E-Verify is fast, free and easy to use – and it’s the best way employers can ensure a legal workforce.”
The Migration Policy report states that “after five years of dramatic growth is is unclear how E-Verify affects hiring practices, especially in industries that rely more heavily on foreign workers.” (See the full report below.)
On his first day in office, Gov. Rick Scott signed an executive order requiring all state agencies and companies that contract with state agencies to screen employees using the E-Verify system.
State Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, who at one point called E-Verify a “bogus deal,” filedSenate Bill 518 to require every employer to use the “Employment Authorization Program,” prohibit an employer from hiring an unauthorized alien and require every public employer to register with and participate in the E-Verify system.
And then there’s this:
TALLAHASSEE — Florida legislators should think twice before considering an Arizona-style immigration law, a South Florida law professor warned Monday.
Not only would a Florida law likely be struck down by federal courts, it could backfire on the state’s tourism-based economy, Ediberto Roman, an immigration-law expert at Florida International University, told a Senate panel.
“Florida’s population is much different than Arizona’s,” Roman said. “The economy thrives on foreign tourists.”
State Rep. William Snyder has portrayed his Arizona-style immigration bill as a foregone conclusion for Florida.
If he doesn’t push for the law cracking down on illegal immigrants, there are a slew of other lawmakers who will, the Republican from Stuart said earlier this month during a town hall meeting in Palm City.
We had little reason to doubt that — until last week.
That’s when some of the state’s most powerful business lobbies voiced their concerns about the damage such a law could do to Florida’s image and business climate.
During a special Senate committee meeting in Tallahassee on Monday, representatives from the Florida Chamber of Commerce shared a report examining the impact of immigration on the state’s economy.
Among the key points:
Immigration boosts productivity, improves the economy and has a small positive impact on the wages of native-born workers.
Despite the perception that the United States is being overwhelmed by immigrants, the inflow of legal and illegal immigrants “is well within historical norms,” data shows.
Though unauthorized immigrants cost the state money in terms of education and criminal justice, many studies demonstrate a net positive impact on the economy and tax revenues.
“The immigrants that come to the United States come to work,” said Dale Brill, president of the Florida Chamber Foundation and co-author of the report.
The numbers tend to ebb and flow with the economy. He pointed to research that shows the 10 states with the highest concentration of immigrants between 1960 and 1990 had a median unemployment rate that was lower than the 10 states with the fewest immigrants.
Brill was careful not give his opinion on Snyder’s bill or a similar bill already filed by state Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Sarasota.
But the Florida Chamber made no secret of its general preferences. It wants federal-level immigration reform that eases the cost burden for states and provides opportunities to create more legal immigration.
“A state-by-state approach, from our board’s perspective, creates confusion and uncertainty,” said Adam Babington, vice president of governmental affairs for the Florida Chamber of Commerce.
The position was echoed by Associated Industries of Florida, a lobbying organization for businesses that also addressed the Senate committee.
It went a step further by criticizing a federal E-Verify system that would require businesses to determine the legal status of workers before hiring them.
Gov. Rick Scott recently signed an executive order requiring state agencies to use the system. Snyder’s draft bill calls for employing it across the state.
“The fact of the matter is E-Verify will always have an error rate due to the fact that it does not prevent identity fraud,” warned Brewster Bevis, vice president of government affairs for Associated Industries of Florida.
The group pointed out that demand for temporary agricultural workers has outpaced supply through the H-2A visa program.
Considering the essential role immigrant workers play in agriculture, tourism and construction — three of Florida’s biggest industries — the input is likely to carry weight with elected officials. It already has.
One of the state’s top Republicans, newly elected agriculture commissioner Adam Putnam, has shunned the idea of an Arizona-style bill in Florida. Putnam’s office says duplicating Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070, which is being challenged in federal court, “is the wrong approach.”
Even state Sen. Bennett is not sure if he would vote for his own bill. …
Ironically, what might ultimately save Floridians from the disaster that Scott’s policies would inflict on the state could be his own political party, which after all, is the only thing standing in his way.
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