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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Rick Scott and his "troublesome" budget

From the

On Monday, Gov. Rick Scott unveiled his first state budget. Being a biennial budget, it fits the Scott mold by breaking the rules. Those in a business-world frame of mind might find such extracubular thinking brilliant.

For the business of Florida's people, there is a more stark term: unconstitutional.

The first paragraph in Section 19 of the Florida Constitution, paragraph (a), is entitled ANNUAL BUDGETING. Subsequent paragraphs specify many budgeting details. All are tied to an annual process.

If only it were as easy as ruling the budget out of bounds and having the Legislature build an appropriate budget of its own, although that is permissible.


Legislative budget leaders could just as readily transplant many of Scott's troubling two-year budget items into an annual form. In so doing, they would retain the essence of his budget and accomplish much of what Florida's tea party Republican governor seeks.

Budget leaders have intimated reluctance at that approach. The reason is Scott's promise of cutting taxes at the same time the state must cut a budget deficit of $3.6 billion. That may not be workable if the Legislature is to meet constitutional funding requirements and also meet constituents' expectations for state services.

Keep in mind, though, that plenty of legislators latched onto Scott's libertarian-conservative coattails during the November election. They rode right into Tallahassee with Scott. Those legislators would be likely to oppose any anti-Scott action.


Here are a couple of examples of why Scott's budget initiatives are troublesome.

His budget cuts more than $3 billion from education -- a 10 percent cut for each student. In Polk County, spending of $6,780.69 per student this year would be cut to $6,067.05 per student next year. Florida's public schools get the bulk of their funding from Tallahassee. Local funding must meet legislative edicts.

"That's absolutely insane," said Polk County School Board member Frank O'Reilly about Scott's education cuts. "Even before his proposed cuts, we are looking at trying to cover a $20 million-to-$25 million shortfall in the district."

As for teachers (as well as others in the state pension plan) being required to pay 5 percent of their salaries into their pensions, Marianne Capoziello, president of the Polk County Teachers Association, said: "We have done a study of teachers paying 5 percent of their wages to the state pension. Many are single parents and not the-most-well-paid. If it happens, it would take $1.9 million of discretionary spending out of the Polk County economy. The big picture is that, with this, everybody, not just teachers, suffers."

- A failure by the governor and his budget director to be forthright about which items are cuts and which are not. The governor claims to have cut $5.2 billion in "reductions and savings" in his budget. However, budget details show that Scott would transfer $1.7 billion of expenditures outside the budget while related income would remain within the budget. Senate Budget Chairman J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, called the Scott administration on the subterfuge.

In testimony before the Senate Budget Committee on Wednesday, Scott Budget Director Jerry McDaniel was asked this by Alexander: "I think that's more like about $3.5 billion in reductions you're actually proposing that are real reductions inside the budget or spending reductions. Is this accurate or not?"

"Yes sir, that's accurate," said McDaniel.

From failing to meeting the most basic of constitutional requirements for an annual state budget to fudging the facts on what would be cut and what would not, Scott has proved himself untrustworthy.

Given his history of being CEO of the Columbia/HCA hospital conglomerate at a time when it committed massive Medicare fraud -- for which the company paid fines of $1.7 billion, the largest fraud fines in U.S. history, and at which time Scott resigned from the company while receiving more than $300 million in stock, options and severance pay -- we must examine Scott's every move, every proposal and every assertion.

In short, distrust and verify.

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