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Cabinet to Rick Scott: No, you can't veto our regulations

TALLAHASSEE — Thirty minutes after taking office last week, Gov. Rick Scott signed an executive order requiring his approval for any new state rules in departments under his purview.

Three days later, he sent an e-mail asking agencies that are not under his control to voluntarily "consent to the pre-authorization process" as well.

That request went to Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam — state Cabinet members who were elected in their own right.

Their response?

Thanks, but no thanks.

A spokeswoman for Atwater said his office will review its rules and regulations "following their own standards."

Putnam took a similar stance.

"We are not sending our rules to the governor's office," said Putnam spokesman Sterling Ivey. "We are looking at all of our rules internally to make sure they align with the direction the commissioner wants to go with the department."

Scott has said he wants to review all state regulations to evaluate their relative benefit to consumers vs. their cost to business. It's an effort to follow through on his campaign promise to make Florida more business-friendly and create 700,000 jobs in seven years.

The order dumped 900 rules on Scott's newly-created Office of Fiscal Accountability and Regulatory Reform. As of Thursday, five of those rules had been approved. One allows lottery officials to create new scratch-off games each week. Another amends rules regarding installation of utilities on state roads. The others involve purchasing, Medicaid reimbursements and prescription drug coverage.

Among the hundreds still on hold: rules that would allow the state to better monitor pain clinics and require nursing home workers to undergo rigorous background checks.

A spokeswoman for Bondi said the attorney general supports Scott's call for a cost-benefit analysis of rules. But she'll take care of it herself.

"Consistent with the intent and spirit of Gov. Scott's executive order, the attorney general has ordered that her staff review all of our agency's existing and proposed rules to ensure that they are necessary and justified," said Jennifer Krell Davis in a prepared statement. "Because our agency will be conducting this independent review, we will not be submitting our rules to the governor's office."

Observers say Scott's request of the Florida Cabinet shows an attempt to run the state as a corporate CEO would, having the final say on all decisions.

But as a leader in state government, that's not possible.

"Governors always like to have control over all the executive agencies. But constitutionally, they simply can't," said Susan MacManus, a political science professor at the University of South Florida.

Richard Scher, a University of Florida political science professor, called it a power grab.

"My guess, and it's purely a guess, is this is a very calculated move on Scott's part. I would say he is interested in grabbing as much power as he can in an attempt to control the direction of the state," he said. "He's trying to show these guys that he intends to be the boss."

But he's not.

"They are independent political executives," Scher said. All are elected statewide, just like the governor, and they are in some ways competitors, he said.

"They have their own constituency, they have their own base of support, they have their own political agenda,'' Scher said. "None of them owes a thing to the governor."

And nothing in the Constitution or tradition of state politics indicates that Cabinet members would allow a governor to review their agency's rules, he said.

"They all have a good sense of what they want to do with their offices," he said. "They're not going to let Mr. Scott derail their plans."

The same executive order also requires Scott's okay of contracts involving more than $1 million. A glut of such agreements are awaiting his approval, and some are beginning to trickle out.

The sweeping order encompassed more than 150 transportation projects worth at least $500 million and 69 contracts worth a total of $2 billion that cover everything from home weatherization for low-income residents in Hillsborough and Miami-Dade counties to construction of a stormwater treatment facility in Pinellas County and support for a mental health treatment center in Miami-Dade.

Many of the contracts are to be paid for with money awarded to Florida through the federal stimulus package.

So far, according to documents provided by the governor's office, Scott has sanctioned five non-transportation related contracts, including a $450 million agreement with Bank of America that allows state agencies and local governments to make small purchases using credit cards.

Scott also gave the thumbs-up this week to 77 transportation contracts, including $4.2 million of additional work for the ongoing construction of a link between Interstate 4 and the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway in Tampa.

Among the agreements still awaiting his nod: $22.5 million to widen Interstate 75 in Pasco County; $2.9 million to resurface a portion of U.S. 19 in Pinellas County; $84 million for express lanes on Interstate 95; and $1.3 million for repaving portions of the Palmetto Expressway and NW 36th Street in Miami-Dade County .

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

Cabinet to Rick Scott: No, you can't veto our regulations 01/13/11 [Last modified: Thursday, January 13, 2011 10:28pm]
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