Gov. Rick Scott was in Tampa on Thursday morning to tout the state's sales tax holiday, but it was no holiday from reporter questions.
At a press conference at Educational Outfitters, a school supply store, Scott blamed the federal government for the blooming mess that is Lake Okeechobee, said he has no conflicts of interest when it comes to SunPass and declined to say whether he will set up a blind trust if he becomes senator.
On Lake Okeechobee and the algae blooms:
Scott: We've had two issues We had the red tide issue on the west coast. We are putting money in Mote Marine to do research on that. But it is something that's been happening for a long time in the Gulf. That's one issue. The second issue is we have the algae down in the Caloosahatchee and the Indian River Lagoon. What's been frustrating to me is that is a federal project, the dike at Lake Okeechobee. Under the prior administration, they wouldn't give us the money to fix it. That's been something that's been going on for a long time. And the federal government just hasn't done their job.
What happens is this is the year we've gotten extra rain, we've had probably three of the last five years extra rain. And so what I did, is I fought to get money in the state budget, so this is the second year in a row that we've gotten $50 million in the budget. No governor has ever done this before. To try and push the process along to get the dike fixed.
We signed the contract yesterday with the (Army) Corps (of Engineers) on what projects and how that is going to move forward.
On top of that, I worked with the Trump administration as soon as he got elected to see if I could finally get the federal government to do their part. They have committed to do that now. It is still going to be frustrating for a while, but at least the federal government is putting the money up now to finish the dike. They've committed that money and it is there.
The White House has approved the EAA Reservoir, which is the storage south. Congress has to fund that, so Congress still has to do that. I've done a couple of emergency orders with regard to this one with the Corps and the dike, which the dike is completely controlled by the federal government with the Corps, and the South Florida Water Management District so we could move water south. We probably did that now six weeks ago, five weeks ago, something like that. Then two weeks ago I did an emergency order and part of that was to put up $3 million in grant funding out of DEP and yesterday, we gave $700,000 to Lee County to try and clean up the algae.
So the state's doing our part. The federal government has not been a good partner. And we are going to keep doing everything we can. I always tell everybody that DEP, I talked to DEP and I talked to our water management districts and if anybody has anything, any other ideas, but it has been frustrating that the federal government has not been a good partner.
Q: But less oversight with DEP means more pollution going in to some.
A: Yeah, we
Q: If there is less oversight, how are we supposed to monitor what is going in?
A: DEP and the water management districts have been doing their job. What's happened is the federal government has not been a partner. The federal government has gone for decades and not fixed that dike and that has caused the water to come out and we've seen it either two of the last four or three of the last five years. So it's been frustrating.
On SunPass, where Channel 10 reporter Noah Pransky asked:
Q: On SunPass, why hasn't there been an investigation done on what may have happened at FDOT?
A: Well, the right thing to do first off is to get the problem fixed. And that's what we are doing. We are holding the vendor accountable. We are making sure nobody has any fines or penalties. We are going to come up with a process where I think anybody who has had any overdrafts that DOT will reimburse them if it's been caused by this. My expectation is the vendor will be held accountable. We'll find out exactly what happened.
Q: But something went horribly wrong in your department. Why has no investigation into that been launched yet?
A: We are going through, we are holding the vendor accountable (Scott's voice gets slower). We are not paying them. We are finding out exactly what happened, but the way, if you look at the process, which is what we want to do, let's go fix the problem. Then we will find out what happened and then try to make sure it never happens again.
Q: Are you threatening fines on the vendor?
(Spokesperson, trying to end questioning: Thank you.)
A: I am going to do everything I can to make sure I hold them accountable.
Q: There have been no fines or penalties assessed.
A: What we're doing – if you think about it – what we are doing is the first thing we are saying is we're not going to pay them anything. We are going through the backlog. Nobody has any fees, any fines or penalties, and we are going to make sure if anyone has an overdraft we'll reimburse them.
(Spokesperson, again trying to end questioning: Thanks everybody.)
Scott: Thanks everybody.
Q: You were at a fundraiser with the founder of the company. Did you ever respond to the allegations that you are connected to the company?
A: I'm running for the U.S. Senate. I ran for governor. Anybody that wants to contribute – when they contributed in my governor's race or if they want to contribute in this race – they know exactly what I stand for and what I'm going to do. I don't work for special interests. I don't take a salary. I paid the state planes. I paid my own way to fly around the state. I put my assets in a blind trust. You know, other people aren't doing this. I'm doing everything I can to make sure there's no conflicts.
(Spokesperson: Thanks guys.)
On whether he will set up a blind trust if elected Senator:
Q: Will you set up a blind trust if elected Senator?
A: Well, as you know I put assets in blind trust, so I didn't have any conflicts as governor. I have to get through this race and win this race and I will make a decision then.
Q: Can you say now because this is a race and the question is still out there?
A: So when I get through the race I will make a decision.
Scott asked employees of the store what they wanted to do when they grew up, they said doctor, lawyer, artist and physician's assistant among other jobs.
"None of them said they would be a journalist, right?" Scott said.
The reporters guffawed.