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MEMO TO GOV. SCOTT: VETO ENTIRE EDUCATION BUDGET

Gov. Rick Scott declared victory Monday. But he didn't win, and neither did Florida's teachers.

Senate and House leaders agreed over the weekend to spend $480 million to raise some of the nation's lowest teacher salaries as Scott proposed. But the pay raise is tied to pay-for-performance plans not yet in effect in most school districts.

That's not the across-the-board increase Scott has sought for months.

Teachers won't see any more money in their paychecks until the end of the next school year in June 2014, making them the only group of public employees who are not guaranteed a pay increase in the new budget.

So the time has arrived for Scott to take a bold step - the boldest since he decided to run for governor three years ago.

What he should do is congratulate his fellow Republicans who wrote the budget on a good first try, then veto the entire education budget and tell lawmakers that he's dead serious about an across-the-board raise for teachers.

But Scott has shown no sign of taking such decisive action. In fact, he released a statement Sunday night congratulating the Legislature for budgeting a teacher pay hike, and even added laudable rhetoric from Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association, a teacher union.

A few hours later, FEA put out a new statement emphasizing its "disappointment" with the delayed implementation. "House and Senate leadership have thwarted those efforts by delaying any salary increases," the union said.

Referring to the governor's initial statement quoting the union, Ford said Monday: "He put out part of it."

Republican lawmakers would be appalled by a Scott veto of the education budget, which is all the more reason why Scott should do it - and then invite hundreds of teachers to a rally on the steps of the Capitol. It's not as if Scott and lawmakers enjoy a warm working relationship. They basically tolerate each other.

A little historical perspective: Scott's poll numbers haven't budged since he took office. In the latest Quinnipiac University survey last month, fewer than one-third of Florida voters (32 percent) said he deserved a second term.

His job approval rating was a horrific 36 percent and his favorable/unfavorable rating remained deep underwater: 46 percent unfavorable, 33 percent favorable. The more ways pollsters ask people if they like Scott, the worse the numbers look.

It's obvious that Scott's numbers have calcified to the point where he needs to do something to fundamentally alter the way people view him.

In that same Quinnipiac survey, the Legislature's approval numbers were lower than Scott's (25 percent approval, 52 percent disapproval). There's no political downside here.

And as it turns out, Scott has even more reason to stick his veto pen in the Legislature's eye.

Lawmakers also included a 3 percent hike in tuition for college and university students, which Scott has no alternative but to veto. For more than a year he has emphasized his opposition to higher tuition, so to approve a tuition increase would be the height of hypocrisy.

In 2007, then-Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed a tuition hike and lawmakers questioned the constitutionality of Crist's action, but they didn't take him to court, so the veto stuck.

Scott needs a game-changer - and the Legislature just handed him one.

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

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