Florida House Speaker Dean Cannon embraces Gov. Rick Scott's philosophy and work ethic, but he's keeping some of Scott's biggest proposals at arm's length.
While calling the governor gracious and smart Friday during an hour meeting with the St. Petersburg Times editorial board, Cannon described Scott's budget as an unorthodox plan that he's perplexed by.
"I think, again, a lot of people including me, as you see the proposal and you roll it out in Eustis, it was a weird — no one knew quite what to make of it in many respects," Cannon said.
"But I haven't had any signal that he's trying to pick a fight. I haven't had any signal that he's doing anything other than trying to make good on what he said he was going to do on the campaign trail."
Cannon, R-Winter Park, raised questions about the chances and framework of prominent parts of the budget proposal by Scott, a former health care executive. For example, Cannon reiterated that tax cuts Scott seeks will be very difficult this year because of the state's tight finances.
While Cannon backs Scott's planned reorganization of economic development agencies, Cannon ruled little else out — or in.
Other issues where Cannon has questions:
• Scott originally said education would be spared from cuts. But his proposal cuts per-pupil funding by $703, and Cannon said the spending plan needs scrutiny. "I think the notion of just not replacing the federal stimulus money is, I think, a bitter pill. I mean, it's too big a pill," he said.
• Scott also has proposed collapsing the Department of Community Affairs — the state's growth management arm — and combining it with the Department of Environmental Protection. Cannon cautioned against the restructuring, though he said development decisions need to be made more quickly. "I think that it's more important that we look at the regulations themselves than we move agency deck chairs around. I would rather focus at leaving agencies intact" and rewriting regulations, Cannon said. "They approve 95 percent of the things that come to them, but they take 13 months to do it."
• Cannon left open the possibility of backing President Barack Obama's offer to let the state delay paying back billions of dollars borrowed for jobless benefits. On Wednesday, Scott balked at it, but Cannon called it intriguing.
Cannon downplayed any hardening of his relationship with Scott, saying they have different roles in government. Staff members talk regularly, and Cannon said he believes in Scott's "bona fides." But Scott's arrival as an outsider in Tallahassee has created questions about how their relationship will be going forward.
"That's the question mark — he does have some people in that office who are familiar with the process. But I think most of them are from outside of Tallahassee, and that poses a challenge," Cannon said.
David DeCamp can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8779.