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  1. Florida Politics

Budget unveiling offers Rick Scott chance to use bully pulpit

Published Jan. 29, 2013

The last time Gov. Rick Scott rolled out his budget plans, the video went viral, with almost 283,000 page views and counting.

Can you believe that there was so much interest in Scott's plans to widen roads in Dixie County? Or privatize some state prisons?

There wasn't, of course.

Unbeknownst to Scott and everyone else, a legman from Jon Stewart's The Daily Show embedded himself in the pack of reporters who gathered in the Cabinet room last Feb. 2. It was at a time when controversy was brewing over Scott's insistence that people seeking public assistance must submit to urine tests to prove they are free of drugs.

Holding a clear plastic cup skyward, Aasif Mandvi shouted: "Would you be willing to pee into this cup to prove to Florida taxpayers that you're not on drugs?"

"I've done it plenty of times," an unruffled Scott replied. Then, eager to switch subjects, the governor turned to another reporter and told The Daily Show's man: "You don't get to run this."

It was a refreshingly unscripted moment at an otherwise stilted news event. It also was clearly a stunt designed to entertain The Daily Show's viewers, at Scott's expense.

On Thursday, in the same Cabinet room, Scott will make a fresh series of budget recommendations to the Legislature — with plenty of pie charts and trend lines by his side.

Scott wants to give every public school teacher a $2,500 across-the-board raise, as well as a $250 debit card to purchase classroom supplies. He wants to give manufacturers a tax exemption on their equipment purchases. He wants to make sure state colleges and universities don't increase tuition next year.

"He's going to have to show how he's funding all these things," said House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, who was clearly not impressed that Scott doesn't propose linking teacher pay to classroom performance. "We're going to take a good look at it. … We have to pass a budget, too."

Submitting a budget proposal is one of two times a year that the governor most aggressively uses the bully pulpit (the other is his State of the State address).

It's also a vivid reminder of the limits of a governor's power. The Legislature decides how taxpayer money is spent. The governor has a veto for ideas he doesn't like.

Legislators take pride in their willingness to ignore the governor's budget ideas. Scott is in for some tough sledding this session, partly because he's seen as very unpopular with lawmakers' constituents. He's an easy target.

This budget will offer the most clues so far as to how Scott thinks he can improve his standing with Florida voters in the hope of increasing the likelihood he can get re-elected in 2014. It's clear that he has decided to cast his lot with the men and women who teach our children.

Scott can only hope that no one in the audience will be waving a plastic cup at him this time.

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

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