TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott hasn’t been afraid of ruffling feathers since taking office in January. With calls for tax cuts, immigration reform and other stances, the former CEO turned GOV has cut his own path in a Republican culture better known, recently at least, for staying on the same script.
Last week was no exception as he signed this first-ever state budget at a Florida GOP-sponsored affair in The Villages, a Republican stronghold in a region that apparently has become Scott’s political home away from home (He released his budget proposal earlier this year at a tea party rally in nearby Eustis).
Thanking lawmakers for their budget-writing efforts, Scott proceeded to cut $615 million from the $70 billion spending plan. The governor’s cuts hit college and university construction project hard. Building efforts for higher education were trimmed by about $120 million. Other cuts hit homeless veteran’s services, Panhandle economic development funds and separate studies looking into casino gambling and rainwater collection.
“Let’s turn these short-sided, frivolous, wasteful spending programs into long-term investments into the future of Florida’s work force,” Scott said of his entire package of cuts. “By doing this, we are prioritizing our children and our grandchildren’s education over special interests, paying as we go and living within a budget.”
Scott’s message that lawmakers didn’t do enough for K-12 public education was a little ironic, given that the governor’s original budget proposal made deeper cuts in public education spending than those agreed to by House and Senate budget leaders.
Feeling that he and his colleagues had been thrown under the bus, House Speaker Dean Cannon issued an unusually caustic statement in response to Scott’s assertion that vetoed funds should be funneled back into education.
The son of a fighter pilot, Cannon, R-Winter Park, is known for keeping his criticisms out of public discourse, a reticence that was broken last week when he made it all too clear that Scott’s comments came a little too late.
“The governor communicated numerous priorities during session, and we did our best to accommodate him,” Cannon sniped. “It would have been helpful if the governor had shared this newfound emphasis with us before the budget was finalized.”
The signing ceremony itself drew fire. Sponsored by the Republican Party of Florida, the event was apparently for the faithful only. A small group of Democrats and Scott critics, some carrying signs, were escorted out of the venue by local law enforcement officials.
A St. Petersburg Times reporter at the scene reported that police were apparently operating under the authority of Scott staffers, who were seen talking to police officials just before the group was escorted away from the venue, which took place on a public square in The Villages.
Scott’s press office has denied any involvement in the altercation. The Times stood by the account.
Email Michael Peltier at email@example.com.