PolitiFact Florida: Gov. Scott's record belies his environment claim

Published March 10, 2014

So we know Gov. Rick Scott likes to portray himself as the jobs-promoter-in-chief but what about tree-hugger-in-chief?

During his fourth State of the state speech last week, Scott began by reeling off a list of recent accomplishments.

"A lot has happened since I spoke to you last year. I can talk about how our unemployment rate is now down to 6.3 percent. How our crime rate is at a 42-year low. How we have invested record funding in protecting our environment."

The environment claim caught our attention.

Spokesman John Tupps told PolitiFact Florida in an email that Scott was referring to his proposed budget that includes a "record $55 million" to protect and restore springs — "building upon last year's investment of more than $37 million."

Funding for springs is only a subset of funding for environmental protection, so we asked the Department of Environmental Protection for the bottom-line budget total for each year during Scott's tenure. We found similar figures back to 2004, during the tenure of his predecessors, Govs. Charlie Crist and Jeb Bush.

2004-05: $2.1 billion

2005-06: $2 billion

2006-07: $2.9 billion

2007-08: $2.4 billion

2008-09: $2 billion

2009-10: $1.3 billion

2010-11: $1.4 billion

2011-12: $1.8 billion

2012-13: $1.4 billion

2013-14: $1.3 billion

These are appropriation numbers, not actual expenditures, and they combine state and federal dollars. In several years, the numbers included debt service payments of more than $400 million.

It's no surprise that the dollar amounts were higher in flush financial times under Bush and part of Crist's term and then plummeted along with the economy in the second half of Crist's tenure and Scott's tenure. We have seen the same pattern for other state spending priorities.

Spokespersons for DEP and Scott also cited other environmental projects Scott has supported — including an $880 million water quality plan to provide clean water to the Everglades.

Now the total DEP budget doesn't tell the full story because other agencies do work that relates to protecting the environment.

We interviewed several environmentalists who pointed to examples of Scott's lack of investment in protecting the environment:

• In 2011, Scott and the Legislature abolished the Department of Community Affairs, which for decades reviewed development plans in cities and counties.

• In 2011, Scott and lawmakers forced state water management districts to slash property tax collections. The South Florida Water Management District's total budget dropped from about $1 billion in 2011 to $622 million in 2014. Water management districts handle planning for water resources and wetlands protection, among other environmental issues.

• In December 2012, DEP laid off 58 employees.

• The number of enforcement cases handled by DEP has dropped dramatically, from 2,289 in 2010 (Crist's final year) to 799 in 2012. As of the end of May, only 145 new cases had been filed.

• For many years the Legislature invested $300 million a year in Florida Forever, a program to buy land with money from a tax on real estate transactions. During the economic downturn, the Legislature pulled back. In 2010, Crist's final year, the program received $15 million. In 2011, Scott proposed zeroing out Florida Forever (it ultimately got $744,000), and then in 2012 he signed a budget that included about $8 million. In 2013, lawmakers approved $20 million and directed the state to sell off $50 million worth of land to generate additional dollars. In March, DEP scrapped the program without selling an acre.

Frank Jackalone, Sierra Club's senior organizing manager in Florida, said Scott's claim is "disconcerting" because of the various cuts.

"You have to take all that into account when you run budget numbers," he said. "It sounds to me like Scott's people are coming up with their own selective set of budget figures. … He doesn't have environmental creds as far as I am concerned."

Scott tried to take his spending recommendation for one particular environmental project — springs restoration — and portray that as an overall record, and that's not the case. We rate this claim False.

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