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Voters unsure of Gov. Rick Scott but like his tax, pension plans

TALLAHASSEE — In his first month in office, Gov. Rick Scott is barely known and barely liked by voters, yet they approve of his job performance and are optimistic about Florida's future.

Those are the results of a new Quinnipiac University survey — the first major poll of the Scott administration — and it's destined to become a benchmark for measuring the political newcomer's progress.

So far, Scott is doing relatively well, with voters favoring two of his major budget proposals by big margins: cutting taxes and making state workers contribute to their pensions for the first time ever.

But that's no guarantee of success.

Though the Legislature is likely to approve his plan to overhaul state workers' pensions, Republican leaders have reacted coolly to Scott's idea of making $2 billion in tax cuts at a time when the state faces a budget shortfall of up to $4 billion.

"His challenge is to get through what he wants through, and that's dealing with the Legislature," said Quinnipiac pollster Peter A. Brown. "Obviously public opinion plays a role in it."

Right now, public opinion is cool — but not cold — toward Scott.

The poll shows 28 percent view him favorably, while 24 percent see him unfavorably. A plurality of voters — 45 percent — say they haven't heard enough about him.

Also, voters like Scott's job performance more than him — 35 percent approve and 22 percent disapprove.

In contrast, Scott's predecessor, Charlie Crist, had a 69 percent approval rating in a Quinnipiac University poll taken the first month after he assumed office in 2007.

Unlike Crist, Scott barely won office, despite the fact that fellow Republicans dominated Democrats across the state and nation. Scott became the first successful gubernatorial candidate in recent decades to garner fewer votes than all of the individual members of the Florida Cabinet who appeared on the same ballot. Also, the percentage of people who failed to cast a ballot in the governor's race doubled from 2006 to 2010.

Another difference between the two governors: Crist was a seasoned politician and instantly produced results upon assuming office by forcing a somewhat-recalcitrant Legislature into session to stabilize property insurance rates.

Scott's transition is still ongoing after a month in office, and he has yet to produce any concrete results. That will start to change Monday when he presents a proposed budget for the next fiscal year. Floridians might be watching, with 94 percent saying the budget situation in Florida is serious.

Scott plans to unveil his budget plan at a tea party rally that his administration helped establish in Eustis, a small Central Florida town far from Tallahassee. Many see the event as a way to build public support — especially among activist conservatives who will petition the Legislature.

But Scott said he's just talking to citizens.

"I'm trying to travel the state and talk to people all around the state," he said. ''And it's just another opportunity to talk to a group of people about what I'm trying to do and get their feedback."

In other poll results, voters slightly disapproved of his plan to lay off 5,500 employees, or about 5 percent of the state work force. But they're wild about his decision to forgo his salary (technically earning a penny yearly) and to pay for his own travel by using his private jet.

By a 53-6 percentage-point margin, voters say that makes them have a more favorable view of the independently wealthy political newcomer.

By a percentage-point margin of 64-28, voters say state workers should contribute to their pensions, just like private-sector workers.

Scott has been vague on whether he'd support expanding gaming to increase state revenue. But Florida voters like the idea by a 56-43 percent margin.

Voters also like Scott's talk of cutting property and business taxes to lure jobs, with 50 percent saying they favor the plan and 43 percent disapproving. And by 52-34 percent, voters say they'd prefer to cut services rather than taxes. Yet voters by a 58-26 percent margin don't think Scott will be able to make good on the promise.

Brown, the pollster, said Scott will be measured on how much he gets done, not on whether he's really liked. Brown pointed out that Crist was well liked but still lost his race for the Senate in 2010.

Unlike Crist, Scott has clashed with the news media, but the poll suggests it won't affect him too much.

Scott said he hasn't seen the poll of 1,160 registered voters, which has a 2.9 percent error margin. He said he's concentrating about delivering on his campaign promises.

"I ran on a platform of getting our state back to work," he said. "The real key is we're going to get our state back to work. So that's why I work on it every day."

Voters unsure of Gov. Rick Scott but like his tax, pension plans 02/02/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 2, 2011 10:22pm]
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