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  1. Florida Politics

Romano: A ruse by any other name still stinks

Gov. Rick Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, left, reveal their budget agreement Friday at Miami International Airport.
Published Jun. 4, 2017

The governor was angry. Very, very angry.

We know this because he traveled the state explaining it to anyone who would listen. It was his own version of a pique behind the curtains tour.

In Naples, he said legislators failed residents by coming up with a last-minute budget nobody had seen. In Lake Mary, he said lawmakers passed a budget in the dark. In Pensacola, he said he was shocked that the Legislature was operating in secrecy.

In Panama City, he said politicians were turning their backs on constituents. In Fort Myers, he said it was frustrating that the budget was done behind closed doors and unveiled as a complete surprise.

"This is your budget; this is your state,'' he said. "You should know all these things.''

So, how did Rick Scott rescue us from this secretly crafted budget?

By negotiating a brand new, secretly crafted budget.

Problem solved, apparently.

This might be amusing if it wasn't also deceitful. Day after day, week after week, Scott has been complaining about how House and Senate leaders made a mockery of the state's Sunshine Laws.

Massive bills were born and a budget was pulled out of a hat in the legislative session's final hours. And that just wasn't fair to voters, the governor told us over and over again.

But it turns out, Scott wasn't miffed that lawmakers were being sneaky.

He was offended because they were being selfish.

Once Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron included Scott in on the negotiations, the governor seemed not to care that this new deal was also magically resolved without any input from legislators or 20 million or so residents.

You go to bed one night with the governor threatening vetoes, and wake up the next morning to discover he just made a $400 million switcheroo.

Obviously, these things happen in politics. Deals and trade-offs are de rigueur in every Capitol. And no one is saying the governor and legislative leaders shouldn't have the authority to negotiate.

The problem in this case is the distasteful way it was done. Corcoran was hellbent on getting his education bill approved, even though it didn't appear to have enough support to pass.

So he bypassed the normal channels and instead threatened proposals that were near and dear to others. Negron eventually caved in exchange for his pet projects, including higher education funds.

With the Senate on board, the governor now appears poised to accept Corcoran's education bill (HB 7069) in exchange for tourism and economic development funds that have long been a part of Scott's governing strategy.

In one sense, you could call this normal horse trading. Yet it feels as if there was a deeper level of cynicism involved in this negotiation. A complete disregard of public will.

What Scott and Negron have done is allowed Corcoran to hijack the future of public education in the state in return for their own agendas. That isn't negotiation; it borders on malfeasance.

Reasonable people can argue about the pluses and minuses in HB 7069, which greatly benefits the expansion of charter schools. Nothing wrong with disagreeing about policies or philosophies. The injustice is that large parts of that bill would not have passed without Corcoran's manipulations.

And that means one man has just determined the future of education for all of the state's children.

In a few days, legislators will return to Tallahassee for a special session to approve a budget they had virtually no say in crafting. Meanwhile, they are not scheduled to talk about the medical marijuana constitutional amendment more than 70 percent of voters want implemented.

So if you're keeping score at home:

Scott got what he wanted.

Negron got what he wanted.

Corcoran got what he wanted.

And you got played.

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