WASHINGTON – Frustrations bubbled up during a hurricane recovery meeting between Gov. Rick Scott and Florida House members Wednesday morning, with the governor pleading for federal funding for the state’s battered citrus industry and House members expressing a litany of concerns.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, pointedly challenged the Republican governor over debris removal and alleged he was unresponsive to her personal calls and requests for help.
“I have tried to reach you and I have gotten no response from you,” Wasserman Schultz said, charging that Scott’s administration has hindered cities from paying contractors more than pre-negotiated rates, by refusing to submit contracts to FEMA.
“Can you explain why you would stand in the way. There is debris all over the state,” Wasserman Schultz said.
“If you’ve contacted me, I don’t have any evidence that you contacted me,” Scott said.
“I have your cell phone number, governor, and I’ve called you on it. And I’ve also contacted your office,” Wasserman Schultz replied.
Scott said that existing contracts must be honored. “I’m always going to stand on the side of taxpayers and consumers, not on the side of somebody who wants to make extra money after a disaster.”
Finally, Rep. Vern Buchanan, co-chair of the delegation, broke it up. “Let’s work all that out a little later,” he said.
The division came at the same time the delegation – the third-largest in the country -- is seeking a unified front to address the hard-hit agriculture industry, chiefly citrus. The House this week is to take up a $36 billion relief package but Scott and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam pressed the delegation to get $2.5 billion added for citrus.
“I know that’s a heavy lift,” Putnam said. “But time is of the essence for supporting growers who have between 50 and 100 percent of their crop on the ground.”
Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Okeechobee, has already drafted an amendment for the $2.5 billion, though it was unclear if House leadership will be responsive. He and others called for a unified front.
“This is not a partisan issue,” said Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland. “Please, let us stick together.”