Sunday, July 22, 2018
Opinion

Ruth: Scott’s election-year transformation from miser to spendthrift

As a new year dawns, the Florida Legislature, otherwise known as an open bar of lounge lizards, is preparing to open its annual legislative session next week. Cue the Love Boat theme.

Given the Legislature’s recent portrayal as a den of groping, leering men who can’t keep their hands to themselves, it would seem the first order of business should be hiring chaperones. Dream on.

Perhaps House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron could retain the services of retired nuns armed with rulers to patrol the halls of government. It’s just a suggestion.

For there is work, work, work to do.

Blind ambition is a joy to watch.

It was only seven years ago when Gov. Rick Scott grandly entered office as a sort of Cleopatra of penny-pinchers, vetoing this expenditure here, turning his nose up at almost any item in the state budget that had Barack Obama remotely attached to it.

In those long-ago days, Scott was less the governor of the third-largest state and more the poster boy of the tea party. Why, he practically moved the state capital to The Villages.

That was then. And this is now. It is 2018. And the term-limited governor, who is expected to run for the U.S. Senate despite his coy answers, wants to loosen the purse strings as he flies off in his private plane.

Why, there is money galore for all! Scott’s proposed $87.4 billion budget for 2018-19 is a love letter to many groups the governor previously regarded as little more than panhandlers. Teachers, once sneered upon by Scott, are now treasures to behold and be lovingly compensated. Mental health, once a drain on the exchequer, is now a looming social crisis to be attacked. Affordable housing is a must priority from a governor who once declined to spend so much as a bus token to a lean-to for the downtrodden.

And the resident motherboard of the Governor’s Mansion, who blanched at the prospect of giving a lousy, stinking $2,000 raise to state firefighters as recently as 2016, now wants to honor their service with a 10 percent bump in their paychecks along with new equipment. Whatta pal!

Indeed, as Scott gets ready to pack up, his new budget is $4 billion more than last year and $21 billion higher than his first budget seven years ago. This guy really wants to be a senator.

Of course, some of those grumps in the House and Senate are aghast at Scott’s sudden transformation from It’s a Wonderful Life’s Mr. Potter to The Millionaire’s J. Beresford Tipton.

To be sure, Scott’s Mr. Money Bags budget is merely a proposal. And by the time the Florida Legislature gets done slicing and dicing, it’s entirely possible the governor’s largess will be considerably reduced.

Let the disingenuousness begin!

Still, it is going to look awfully weird for House Republicans to get their ascots in a wad over Scott’s Mother Teresa-channeling budget, including any effort made by Corcoran to feign fiscal responsibility.

Corcoran has never met a fancy cigar he didn’t like. During his reign as speaker, the Land O’Lakes Republican has used money contributed to the Republican Party of Florida and his political committee to run up hundreds of thousands of dollars on chartered jets, gourmet meals, five-star hotel rooms, custom-made cuff links and other perks of power — all in the name of promoting responsible government.

It won’t be easy to oppose raises for teachers, or first responders, or money for affordable housing, or mental health treatment as reckless excesses when you’ve dropped $8,000 on a single meal at the ritzy French Laundry restaurant in Napa Valley. But that doesn’t mean Corcoran won’t try.

After all the dickering and posturing, by the time the session ends in March everybody will get something. Budget smudget.

This is an election year. Scott wants to be a senator. Corcoran thinks he can be governor. Everybody else wants to continue to be something or move on to being something else.

In China, years are named after animals.

In Tallahassee, 2018 might well be regarded as the Year of the Trough.

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