Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Rick Scott circa 2013: It's about teachers, not tea party

Gov. Rick Scott’s new budget is Florida’s biggest ever in sheer dollars at $74.2 billion.

Gov. Rick Scott’s new budget is Florida’s biggest ever in sheer dollars at $74.2 billion.

TALLAHASSEE — For Gov. Rick Scott, it's now about teachers, not the tea party.

Cutting spending is out. "Investing" is in.

The governor who once showed indifference to state workers now wants to give them cash bonuses, in addition to his $480 million plan to give every teacher a $2,500 raise.

Scott's messaging is completely different, too.

When he unwrapped his first budget two years ago, he did it at a rally of flag-waving tea partiers under a stylized sign that said "Reducing Spending and Holding Government Accountable."

His new budget is Florida's biggest ever in sheer dollars at $74.2 billion. Scott unveiled his latest spending plan Thursday with a supporting cast of grateful educators and a sign that read "Florida Families First."

As Scott seeks a second term, he's embracing education as never before and seeking $4 billion more in spending — and some Republicans don't like what they see.

"It's perplexing," said Henry Kelley of the Tea Party Network in Fort Walton Beach. "To say we're going to give $480 million more to teachers from someone who ran on accountability and changing things? Three years later, and it's 'Let's make government bigger in Tallahassee.' "

Kelley said paying teachers more is a great idea, but it shouldn't be dictated by Tallahassee.

At the same time, some Democrats, who say Florida schools are chronically underfunded, praise Scott's budget for seeking $1.2 billion more for schools.

"(It) clearly responds to the unprecedented challenges facing school districts," said Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee.

In an interview with the Times/Herald Friday, Scott insisted his pro-education philosophy is the same as when he became governor two years ago.

"It has not changed," Scott said. "Look at my life. Any success I've had in my life is tied to the fact that I was able to get an education." What has changed, he said, is that times are better and more money is available. "Our biggest resource is our teachers," Scott said, a year after he reduced their salaries by 3 percent.

One of those who stood alongside Scott at his budget-unveiling event was Mary Beth Perkins, an elementary school art teacher from Orlando, who noted that a $2,500 raise only makes up for last year's pay cut.

"But I'm glad he's listening," Perkins said. "We at least feel like we're part of the solution."

To those who accuse him of wanting to grow government, Scott says he wants to keep shrinking it. His new budget plan would eliminate another 3,600 jobs.

His messengers are pushing back against a perception that Scott is a big spender, saying that when population growth is factored in, Scott's budget increase isn't as large as any of Jeb Bush's. To make such a comparison requires making Bush look like the big spender, not Scott.

The governor's office also highlights a figure that repeated cuts to the state work force have left Florida with 5.2 state workers per 1,000 residents, lowest in state history.

In the coming weeks, Scott will hit the road for a campaign-style promotion of his budget, including highlighting money for road projects, increased services to disabled adults and performance-based incentives for state universities.

With Scott's low job-approval ratings, his standing has nowhere to go but up. Some say he has never received sufficient credit for progress such as a 3 percentage point drop in the state's jobless rate.

"He gets a really bum rap in terms of popularity," said business lobbyist Rick McAllister of the Florida Retail Federation, citing the tough stands Scott took in his first two years, when the state was losing tax revenue.

McAllister also says Scott is still learning. "Since he's been governor, I think he has a broader appreciation of the role of education in Florida," he said. "Not that he didn't before, but I think he's learned a lot about what the education system requires."

Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, criticizes Scott for refusing to expand Medicaid under the federal health care law to expand the number of people with health insurance.

Even though Scott has not definitively said no to Obamacare, Fasano called it a "cop-out" for Scott to delay. Fasano said Scott's actions reveal a governor desperate to shore up his popularity for a re-election bid.

"With his poll numbers, no other politician would even consider running for re-election," Fasano said. "He's doing this because his political life is hanging by a thread. This is more politics than it is policy."

Rick Scott circa 2013: It's about teachers, not tea party 02/01/13 [Last modified: Friday, February 1, 2013 11:36pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. GOP's new repeal bill would likely leave millions more uninsured, analyses suggest


    WASHINGTON — The latest Republican bid to roll back the Affordable Care Act would likely leave millions of currently insured Americans without health coverage in the coming decades, and strip benefits and protections from millions more, a growing number of independent studies suggest.

    Vice President Mike Pence listens as President Donald Trump talks to reporters about the Graham-Cassidy health care bill during a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi at the Palace Hotel during the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017, in New York. [Evan Vucci | Associated Press]
  2. Mueller casts broad net in requesting extensive records from Trump White House


    WASHINGTON — The special counsel investigating Russian election meddling has requested extensive records and email correspondence from the White House, covering the president's private discussions about firing his FBI director and his response to news that the then-national security adviser was under …

    In a photograph provided by the Russian foreign ministry, President Donald Trump meets with Sergei Lavrov, left, the Russian foreign minister, and Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, May 10, 2017. Special counsel Robert Mueller is interested in this meeting, where Trump said dismissing FBI Director James Comey had relieved "great pressure" on him, the New York Times reported on Sept. 20. [Russian Foreign Ministry via  New York Times]
  3. 'We will find our island destroyed': Hurricane Maria demolishes Puerto Rico


    SAN JUAN — Sleepless Puerto Ricans awoke Wednesday knowing to expect a thrashing from the most ferocious storm to strike the island in at least 85 years. They met nightfall confronting the ruin Hurricane Maria left behind: engorged rivers, blown-out windows, sheared roofs, toppled trees and an obliterated electric …

    Rescue vehicles from the Emergency Management Agency stand trapped under an awning during the impact of Hurricane Maria, after the storm  hit the eastern region of the island, in Humacao, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017. The U.S. National Hurricane Center says Maria has lost its major hurricane status, after raking Puerto Rico. But forecasters say some strengthening is in the forecast and Maria could again become a major hurricane by Thursday. [Carlos Giusti | Associated Press]
  4. Obamacare repeal bill offers flexibility and uncertainty


    The latest Republican proposal to undo the Affordable Care Act would grant states much greater flexibility and all but guarantee much greater uncertainty for tens of millions of people.

  5. Manafort offered to give Russian billionaire 'private briefings' on 2016 campaign, report says


    Less than two weeks before Donald Trump accepted the Republican presidential nomination, his campaign chairman offered to provide briefings on the race to a Russian billionaire closely aligned with the Kremlin, the Washington Post reports.

    Paul Manafort, then Donald Trump's campaign chairman, talks to reporters on the floor of the Republican National Convention at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. [Associated Press]