Florida Gov. Rick Scott seeks public support for student job skills program

Published Oct. 13, 2015

TALLAHASSEE — Rejected by Florida lawmakers last spring, Gov. Rick Scott is barnstorming for public support for education programs he wants to revive in next year's state budget.

He's not alone. Legislators are making their own priority lists of projects that died in 2015 because Scott vetoed them.

Scott paid visits Monday to high school technical centers in Orlando and Miami Lakes to renew his push for a modest $20 million grant program called "a career in a year," to encourage centers to teach skills to match emerging needs in Florida's workforce. It's another way for Scott to emphasize his signature priority of creating jobs.

"We need this $20 million so they can enhance their programs, create new programs," Scott said at the Miami Lakes Educational Center and Technical College. "You can see the excitement here, because in less than a year, these students can get a great job."

The tech-center tour will be followed by more "roll-outs" in the coming weeks as Scott highlights his spending priorities.

Scott is less than halfway to his promised goal of $1 billion in tax cuts over a two-year period and wants to establish a record for per-pupil funding in public schools.

He also faces pressure to give the state prison tens of millions of dollars to hire correctional officers after an audit found staffing levels so low that they violate state standards. In addition, a Miami federal judge has said Florida has for years violated the law by underfunding Medicaid, the health care system for needy and disabled people.

Scott wanted the technical center money in this year's budget, but it was one of many casualties of clashes between the House and Senate last spring that led the House to prematurely shut down the regular session.

"It wasn't controversial. It just got beached," said Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, chairman of a Senate budget subcommittee for education.

Despite frequent clashes with Scott, Gaetz likes the governor's proposal for career technical education and said he will support it as long as state grant money is tied to how many students earn industry certifications to qualify them for jobs.

"It has to be tied to performance," Gaetz said.

The sudden collapse of the spring legislative session led to a special June session to pass a budget, from which Scott quickly sliced away $461 million in line-item spending by lawmakers for hundreds of projects in their districts.

Four months later, Scott's fellow Republicans in the Legislature are still talking about the governor's budget vetoes.

Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, cited frustration by lawmakers and their supporters who never had a chance to advocate for their projects because Scott swung his veto ax with breakneck speed, just four days after he got the budget.

"It all happened so quickly," Gardiner told the Times/Herald. "That caused some frustration. But there's another year, and I have no hard feelings at all."

Gardiner tells constituents that friction is not necessarily bad. "I say, 'You should want the friction. You should be more nervous if we come up here and just rubber-stamp what somebody wants.' "

Still, a sign of lingering tension in the Capitol is that for the first time in four years, the leaders of the Senate and House will not appear side-by-side to present a joint "work plan" at Wednesday's Associated Press government and politics seminar held annually in Tallahassee.

Instead, Gardiner and his Capitol counterpart, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, will speak separately to discuss their individual priorities.

For Gardiner, entering his final year in office, that means trying to revive initiatives for special needs children such as a $250,000 state information clearinghouse called "Bright Expectations" to inform families what services exist.

"The governor vetoed that," Gardiner said. "Now it's on me. I've got to go convince the governor that that's good policy."

Crisafulli is expected to hit familiar themes including the need for a long-term water policy, and statewide regulation of ridesharing services.

Miami Herald writer Joseph Busatto contributed to this report. Contact Steve Bousquet at or (850) 224-7263. Follow @stevebousquet.