Is Adam Putnam seizing the education spotlight from Gov. Scott?
As Gov. Rick Scott continues to push the need for new jobs and a rollback of auto tag fees, another statewide official is keeping a sharp focus on another hot-button issue in any election year: education.
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam will launch a statewide awareness campaign next week to create a new revenue source for construction and renovations at schools, colleges and universities. He wants the Legislature to cut the 7 percent statewide sales tax on electricity paid by businesses by half and dedicate the remaining revenue to school construction to replace the rapidly-shrinking revenue source for PECO, or Public Education Capital Outlay, which is funded by a tax on cable TV, phones and electricity.
The state university system board of governors in 2012 said the unfunded backlog in construction programs had become a "crisis," and Putnam agrees.
"The mechanism that Florida uses to fund classrooms and laboratories and dorms in state colleges and universities and our schools is broken," Putnam told reporters during a roundtable meeting. "We all drive by schools, or in my case have kids in schools, whose playgrounds are dotted with portables. We see how early in the day kids are eating lunch ... If we want to be a pre-eminent higher education system, if we want to have a globally competitive work force, we need to have a funding mechanism that is sustainable, bondable, long term. We're offering a proposal to do that."
Putnam's mention of a "globally competitive work force" is guaranteed to get the attention of Scott's people, as is his reference to the need for a "bondable" revenue source. Scott takes great pride in having lowered Florida's bond debt during his three years in office and generally opposes new borrowing programs of any kind. Putnam is leading the charge for new revenue, a stance Scott has consistently avoided.
Putnam, who like Scott is a Republican facing re-election this year, said the statewide coalition that will support his plan will include school boards, state colleges and state universities -- groups that any Florida politician would love to stand alongside. Scott has not publicly taken a position on Putnam's plan.