FORT LAUDERDALE — Gov Rick Scott said Friday he'll need Republicans from across the state, and especially tea party activists, to come to his aid during the upcoming legislative session.
During his two months as governor, Scott has set out to radically reshape Florida government. And, speaking to a Broward Republican Party fundraiser four days before his first legislative session, the new governor said he expects he'll get the kind of public pushback that's erupted in Wisconsin and Ohio as those states' new Republican chief executives have sought to cut spending and extract concessions from unionized government workers.
"You've got to stay active in this campaign," Scott said. "Just like what's happened to Scott Walker and John Kasich in Ohio is going to happen in Florida." When that happens, he said, "I'm sure the tea party will show up."
The governor received polite applause during his 13-minute address, but it didn't equal the enthusiastic ovation that went to U.S. Rep. Allen West, R-Plantation. West praised rags-to-riches business successes, Ronald Reagan and the tea party movement, and called for a "renewed commitment to love America."
Scott said he'll need help to overcome resistance to his plan to force government employees to contribute 5 percent of their salaries to help cover the cost of their pension benefits.
State employees "don't pay a dime for their pensions," something Scott said isn't fair when everyone in the room probably pays more toward their 401(k) retirement programs than their employers contribute on their behalf. He received no applause for his comments on state employee pensions.
Scott touted one of the major decisions of the first two months of his term: rejecting $2.4 billion of federal money to help build a high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando.
"It's like all the federal government programs. They give you some money and they suck you in and you're stuck with it," he said, describing U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood as "furious" when Scott told him he wasn't taking the money. "He thought I was crazy and would come to my senses and kept giving me extensions."
He repeated the evidence he often uses against the proposed high-speed rail line: the experience of Tri-Rail in South Florida. Tri-Rail has $65 million a year in operating costs, but gets only $10 million a year from fares. The state provides $35 million, and local taxes chip in, he said. "The same thing is going to happen if we get the high-speed rail project."
The governor suggested that anyone in the room who uses Tri-Rail turn to their neighbors and thank them for subsidizing their rides.
After the speech, he said the $35 million in state money for Tri-Rail needs to be examined, but declined to say if he thinks it should be reduced or eliminated.