Scott plans big changes for Fla.
Privatization, school vouchers and tax cuts are among the items on the agenda.
Published: Saturday, January 1, 2011 at 11:10 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 1, 2011 at 11:10 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE — Rick Scott built his campaign for governor on the theme of rebooting Florida's economy and creating hundreds of thousands of jobs.
Scott's inaugural schedule
Incoming Gov. Rick Scott started celebrating his inauguration with a two-day, campaign-style tour around the state last week. The festivities continue Monday and Tuesday. (Events are private except where noted.)
Salute to Women in Leadership Breakfast, 8:30 to 10 a.m., Florida State University, Alumni Hall grand ballroom.
A Tribute to the First Lady: Honoring Ann Scott, noon to 1:30 p.m., Mary Brogan Museum of Art and Science.
Military Appreciation: Honoring Those Who Serve, 2 to 4 p.m., Leon County Civic Center Arena. (Open to the public.)
Forging a Path to Prosperity reception, 5 to 6:30 p.m., Goodwood Museum and Gardens.
Celebrating Florida's Future youth concert, 6 to 7:30 p.m., Leon County Civic Center Arena. (Open to the public.)
Friends of the Inaugural Candle Light Dinner, 8 to 10 p.m., Mission San Luis.
Inaugural prayer breakfast, 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., Florida A&M University, Al Lawson Jr. Multipurpose Center.
Swearing-in ceremony, 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Old Capitol, 400 S. Monroe St. (Open to the public.)
The Governor's Let's Get to Work Leadership Luncheon, 12:30 to 2 p.m., the Capitol, 22nd floor.
Inaugural parade, 2:15 to 4:15 p.m., Monroe Street. (Open to the public.)
Governor's Mansion open house, 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., Governor's Mansion. (Open to the public.)
Celebrating Florida's 45th Governor Inaugural Ball, 7 p.m., Leon County Civic Center, 505 W Pensacola St. (Tickets can be purchased for $95 at flinauguraltickets.com/public.php.)
But in the weeks leading up to Tuesday's inauguration, it has become clear that Scott's ambitions for Florida go far beyond economic development. The 58-year-old Naples businessman, entering elected office for the first time, is pushing for broad changes that would affect almost every aspect of life in the Sunshine State, from creating a voucher system for students to privatizing prisons to merging the state's environmental agencies with the road-building department.
The ambitious agenda contrasts with the narrowness of Scott's victory, by just 1 percent over Democrat Alex Sink. Polls before the election showed 54 percent of voters had a negative view of Scott, an astonishing number for any elected leader, let alone a newcomer.
But on the eve of his ascent, Floridians appear ready to give Scott a chance.
A new poll by a Democratic-leaning organization showed that Scott's ratings have improved 10 percent since the election. Scott has worked hard to consolidate support, traveling the state to meet with legislators and business groups. He also has made clear that he does not intend to settle for the status quo. From appointing a former Wal-Mart executive to head the state's emergency management department to declaring he will cut billions in property taxes despite a huge shortfall already facing the state, Scott has all but called for a revolution.
Supporters herald a needed shakeup for Tallahassee, which will yield a leaner state bureaucracy, fewer government regulations and a stronger economy.
Critics, including Democratic legislative leaders who represent the minority bloc in Tallahassee, predict Scott will get bogged down in controversial legislative fights over side issues such as school vouchers and immigration laws, while the problems of the state's more than 1 million jobless residents go unaddressed.
"If you invest your energies into something that is very controversial and you don't have a mandate, it undermines the main goal that I believe he is coming into office with, which is creating jobs," said state Sen. Nan Rich, D-Weston, leader of the Senate Democrats.
Don't expect Florida's 45th governor to back down from his ambitious agenda. Calling himself the "jobs governor," Scott said the myriad proposals, including school vouchers, is all linked to his campaign promise of creating nearly 700,000 new jobs in Florida in the next seven years, on top of those that would naturally be produced in an ordinary economic recovery.
"We don't have too many things. Everything really gets tied back to jobs, having an educated work force," a relaxed and frequently smiling Scott said in an interview Thursday evening at the Governor's Mansion. "People won't want to build their companies here if they don't have an educated work force. If you sort of look at it all, it all fits together."
Where Scott sees a cohesive agenda, critics see an inexperienced politician overreaching before he has even taken the reins of power.
Illustrating the potential quagmire is a series of recommendations from his transition team to radically reorganize state agencies. One calls for merging the state Department of Transportation, which focuses on road building, with two agencies focused on environment and growth management — the departments of environmental protection and community affairs. The new mega-agency would be dubbed the "Department of Growth Leadership." Environmentalists see the move as a blatant statement that protecting Florida's natural resources falls behind boosting business.
In another move, Scott is reviewing a recommendation to merge four health care agencies into one department — a move that has drawn opposition from the politically influential Florida Medical Association, which supports leaving the state Department of Health under the control of a doctor who reports directly to the governor.
Gov. Charlie Crist had tried to merge the Department of Health with another agency that oversees the Medicaid program and hospital regulation — only to be rebuffed by lawmakers.
Scott said he is serious about revamping the way state government runs and how it regulates activities in the state. And he says that his outside perspective will allow him to take on sacred cows that veteran politicians have failed to face.
"I think I got elected to do this job, to not waste state money, not to waste taxpayers' money, to make logical decisions, and I'm planning on doing it," he said.
At the same time he is overhauling state government, Scott has signaled that he also plans to dramatically slash state taxes. He has promised to cut more than $2 billion in property taxes and corporate income taxes in his first year in office.
Those tax cuts are expected to be offset by equally deep cuts in state spending, including a less costly Medicaid program for the state's poor and disabled, and deep cuts in the state prison budget.
Some question how immediate those savings will be since Scott will need approval from the Legislature and federal government before making major changes in Medicaid. And his aides say his promise to cut more than $1 billion in prison spending will be achieved over a seven-year period.
Scott will outline the details of the tax and spending cuts when he presents his first budget to lawmakers in early February.
Rep. Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland, one of the House leaders, said Republican lawmakers, who have overwhelming majorities in the House and Senate, support Scott's agenda of streamlining state government, balancing the budget and "putting Floridians back to work."
But McKeel said lawmakers have seen only the broad recommendations from Scott's transition team and have not yet been given "concrete proposals" by the new Republican governor.
And McKeel said the governor's first-year agenda as well as the 2011 Legislature will have to take into account a projected $3.5 billion budget shortfall. "That's no small task," McKeel said.
Scott's message that he is ready to aggressively take on the Tallahassee bureaucracy is resonating with some key constituencies, including state business leaders.
Barney Bishop, head of the Associated Industries of Florida lobbying group, said business leaders welcome Scott's effort to rein in the cost of government while also making Florida more attractive to new or expanding businesses.
"There are efficiencies that can be wrung out, and this governor is going to move aggressively forward to do that," Bishop said.
As the cost of government is lowered and regulations and taxes are curbed, Bishop said it will make Florida more competitive with other states such as South Carolina, which recently secured a Boeing aircraft assembly line.
With the current regulatory scheme, Florida is more restricted in its ability to attract companies like Boeing, Bishop said. He said Scott's plan to reorganize state government and cut regulations and spending will improve that.
"That's a message to the business community that Florida is serious about bringing development to the state," Bishop said.
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