It's understandable that Gov. Rick Scott wanted to get a handle on spending and regulation the minute he took office. After all, he had no idea how state government works and campaigned on cutting costs and reducing red tape for business. But the real-world impact of his unilateral, top-down approach that requires his office to approve all pending state rules and contracts over $1 million is hitting home: Hundreds of routine regulations are in limbo, and hundreds of millions in road projects could be stalled. Scott is learning on the job, but this is a bureaucratic nightmare.
In an effort to streamline government and create jobs, Scott has bogged down Tallahassee and placed countless workers at risk in less than two weeks. His spokesman, Brian Burgess, says the new governor merely "wanted to make sure nobody tried to buy another state airplane or build another Taj Mahal courthouse during the transition period." But Scott's executive orders are sledgehammers when scalpels would have been more useful.
The governor didn't tailor his efforts to catch only those contracts or rules under consideration since Election Day. He did not set reasonable thresholds on the types of rules or the size of contracts. Nor has he been transparent on how he will apply his subjective economic criteria on spending and rule proposals already authorized by the Legislature and the previous administration. Scott's net has caught nearly $2 billion in government spending — much of which would flow into the Florida economy to hire everyone from road builders to mental health specialists — and 900 proposed rules.
Stuck in the bureaucratic bottleneck are implementation of measures Republicans touted just months ago as good for Florida: limits on communication between state regulators and electric utilities; tougher background checks for nursing home workers; mercury pollution standards for water; regulation of pain management clinics; and lower regulatory fees for some professions.
The Governor's Office on Thursday announced roughly $100 million in transportation contracts and a handful of rule changes have been allowed to go forward. But $400 million more in transportation projects — including money to widen I-75 in Pasco County, repair Tampa Bay bridges and improve U.S. 19 in Pinellas County — hang in the balance.
Scott's gesture of signing these executive orders just minutes into office was a grand one. But the clock is ticking. The more he dallies on second-guessing his predecessors and the professionals in his state agencies, the more questions will be raised about his management style and intentions. The governor who pledged to get the state back to work should be looking forward, not backward.