Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Steve Bousquet: Rick Scott is no Jeb Bush

Gov. Rick Scott’s legislative agenda can almost literally fit on a bumper sticker. He himself pared it down to 11 words.

Miami Herald

Gov. Rick Scott’s legislative agenda can almost literally fit on a bumper sticker. He himself pared it down to 11 words.

TALLAHASSEE

As a Florida governor, Rick Scott will never be confused with Jeb Bush.

Both men are Republicans, but the similarities largely end there. As Scott begins his fourth year as chief executive, his agenda in the Legislature is again modest, anchored by a couple of tightly focused, feel-good priorities: cutting fees and taxes by $500 million and increasing public school spending by $542 million.

The proof of Scott's play-it-safe approach is that Republican lawmakers, for all their love of spirited combat with the governor, quickly blessed both requests. It would be foolish not to in an election year, and besides, those Republican lawmakers also want Scott, their standard-bearer on the November ballot, to get re-elected.

As an entrepreneur, Scott was a risk-taker, gambling his $125,000 savings on two struggling Texas hospitals and becoming rich enough to finance a successful run for governor in his adopted state.

But as governor, Scott plays it safe. He has to hoard his limited political capital at a time when a recent poll showed a majority of voters don't want him to win re-election.

Bush, by contrast, relished spending his abundant political capital as he barnstormed the state in pursuit of big, often controversial ideas in two terms from 1999 to 2007.

Backed by a Legislature controlled by Republicans eager to exercise their newfound muscle, Bush created the nation's first statewide tuition voucher program, a public school grading system based on student performance (now under attack), eliminated some civil service protections for state workers, expanded outsourcing in government and restructured the governance of Florida universities.

"BHAGs," Bush called them, or "big, hairy, audacious goals."

Scott similarly has the wind at his back in the Capitol, with a Legislature dominated by fellow Republicans, but his vision is more limited.

He could offer ambitious (and no doubt risky) plans to deal with the festering problems of his era: housing foreclosures, income inequality and a justice system that many Republicans say unfairly locks up too many nonviolent drug abusers, with skyrocketing societal and financial costs to Floridians.

If Scott has an audacious goal, it may be that he believes he can win re-election with such relentlessly mediocre poll numbers.

His legislative agenda can almost literally fit on a bumper sticker. Scott himself pared it down to just 11 words in his big announcement on Jan. 29 when he proposed a $74.2 billion budget: "Tax and fee cuts, eliminate government waste and pay down debt."

That's it.

If Scott fails to win a second term, that, along with his relentless pursuit of jobs, will be his legacy as the 45th governor of Florida.

By advancing a short legislative wish list, Scott is increasing the chance that he'll get what he wants: a couple of victories that will help him on the campaign trail next fall.

"He's going to be able to put good policy points and political points on the board. I think it's going to be a very good year for the governor," says House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel. "I think they're being strategic with their initiatives."

Democrats see it much differently.

They say Scott is using a $400 million reduction of car and truck tag fees to literally buy goodwill with voters (a typical Florida motorist would save $25 a year).

"It's a Herculean effort to try to mask the terrible things that he's done the past three years to average, everyday Floridians, and it's not going to work," says Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth. "People won't forget all the things that he's done to them just because he did something good this year."

A favorite Democratic example is public education: Scott proposed cutting it by $1.3 billion in his first year, before supporting increases of $1.2 billion and $1 billion the past two years.

Scott's call for a $542 million increase "barely moves our investment to the level it was when he took office," says teachers union leader Joanne McCall, vice president of the Florida Education Association. Scott's proposal also would be $177 less per student than the high-water mark of 2007-08.

Scott's small-ball strategy is sure to be on display March 4 when he delivers his annual State of the State address to a joint session of the Legislature.

He will hammer home those well-practiced themes of cutting fees and taxes, eliminating waste, reducing debt and loosening regulation on business, while taking credit for the big drop in the state's unemployment rate and other signs of an economic turnaround.

Scott's top policy adviser, chief of staff Adam Hollingsworth, says the small-ball notion misses the point. He points to Scott's biggest promise, to create 700,000 jobs in seven years.

"That's all reflective of setting really significant goals and I think, even more importantly, having tremendous focus and achievement," Hollingsworth said.

Contact Steve Bousquet at bousquet@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263.

Steve Bousquet: Rick Scott is no Jeb Bush 02/20/14 [Last modified: Saturday, February 22, 2014 4:03pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Florida education news: School grades, teacher pay, transgender lawsuit and more

    Blogs

    SCHOOL GRADES: Florida's school grades showed improvement as the state's revised accountability system entered its third year in its current form. …

    Bear Creek Elementary principal Willette Houston celebrates her school's A grade with students in a summer program at the school.
  2. Whiskey wasn't my thing, but then I visited the Teeling Distillery in Ireland

    Travel

    DUBLIN

    If you drink your way through a four-day trip to Ireland, can you make an honest recommendation on anything?

    The focal point of the Teeling Whiskey Distillery in Dublin is the copper pots used in the process.
  3. Faulty AC leaves Chinsegut manor house, supporters steaming

    Human Interest

    BROOKSVILLE

    As summer temperatures climb, volunteers at Chinsegut Hill Manor House say a faulty air-conditioning system has put them in a hot spot.

    Thomas Hoops of Tampa, left, takes a breather with his 1-year-old daughter, Zoe Hoops, on the porch of the Chinsegut Hill Manor House.
  4. Looking Back: Adele and her baby koala come out of hiding (December 27, 1991)

    Attractions

    This story appeared in the pages of the St. Petersburg Times on December 27, 1991. What follows is the text of the original story, interspersed with photos of the event taken by Times staff photographer Tony Lopez.

    BABY KOALA IS NOW OUT OF POCKET

    By Amber Grimes

    Times staff …

    Kunara, Busch Garden's shy baby koala, has been working his way out of his mother Adele's pouch since his birth.

TIMES | Tony Lopez
  5. Large brush fire burning in Brooker Creek Preserve near Westchase

    Fire

    A large brush fire is burning early Thursday morning in the Brooker Creek Preserve just north of Oldsmar near Westchase, but appears to be contained, according to reports.