Fla. Gov. wins OK of priorities after fight
Published: Saturday, May 4, 2013 at 9:45 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, May 4, 2013 at 9:45 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE — Florida Gov. Rick Scott came into his third legislative session as governor with a very short list of things he wanted to accomplish.
In the end he got most of them — but it didn't come easy.
The Republican governor needed horse-trading and thinly-veiled veto threats in the final days before the Republican-controlled Legislature delivered. And it's a sign that Scott may continue to have a rough road as he heads into a crucial re-election year, even with members of his own party.
The former health care executive turned politician was unable to convince House Speaker Will Weatherford and House Republicans to accept billions in federal aid to cover roughly 1 million uninsured Floridians despite his insistence it was the "right thing to do."
Still the session end on Friday brought smiles between Scott and the two legislative leaders.
The governor and top lawmakers crowed they had passed a pay raise for teachers and approved a tax cut for manufacturers. The two items were Scott's top priorities for 2013.
"We had a great session," Scott said. "We're going to have the next 12 months getting more people back to work and improving the education system."
But Scott only won his passage of both items after dropping hints that he might veto high-profile bills being sought by Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz.
The governor waited until shortly after the Legislature passed the tax cut bill before choosing to sign into law an ethics overhaul and hike in campaign contribution limits the two leaders pushed.
Scott signed the bill to raise campaign contribution limits from $500 to $3,000 in statewide campaigns even though just days earlier he had complained that no one had given him a good reason for the bill.
Gaetz praised Scott for showing a "willingness to accommodate the interests" of legislators.
"This process is not about getting your way about everything, it's not about anybody having a monopoly on truth," Gaetz said. "It's about finding solutions and listening to people who might be able to help you improve on your idea."
Legislators did deliver on other items that Scott wanted including a bill that carries out an Everglades restoration plan the governor negotiated with the federal government. The Legislature also passed a bill that adds more early voting days and sites in an effort to end ridicule over the state's elections system.
But they also refused to give Scott the amount of money he wanted for economic incentives and instead passed a bill designed to place economic development deals under more scrutiny.
Legislative leaders also rebuffed Scott on his firm stance against tuition hikes and instead approved a $74.5 billion budget that includes a 3 percent tuition increase. Scott may veto those hikes - as well as millions legislators placed in the budget for hometown projects.
The Florida Senate refused to confirm some of Scott's appointees - including the state surgeon general and the director of the department charged with helping create jobs in the state. Scott will be required to reappoint both in order to keep them in their posts.
Scott also did not get exactly what he wanted on his top priorities.
The elimination of sales taxes on equipment bought by manufacturers lasts only three years. Additionally, legislators asked school districts to give out pay raises to teachers based on performance instead of giving a flat across the board pay raise to everyone.
Democrats, while applauding Scott's push to give teacher pay raises, were less enthusiastic when it came to how much effort he put into carrying out the federal health care overhaul. They faulted the governor, who was initially opposed to expanding Medicaid until this spring, for not pushing more aggressively to get something passed.
U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, who made a quick visit to the Capitol this week, ripped into Scott failing to use his clout to get House Republicans to accept a Senate proposal. The Senate passed a bill that would have used federal money to place Floridians into private health insurance plans instead of expanding Medicaid.
"While it's very nice that Gov. Scott has had a deathbed conversion and decided that he does want to accept the federal funds, it's time for him to get off the sidelines," said Wasserman Schultz, who is chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.
Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart and the senator who tried to craft a health insurance proposal that relied on some level of federal aid, rejected assertions that Scott was not engaged. He said that Scott was in constant communication with him about possible alternatives in an effort to reach a consensus with the House.
Democrats on Friday called Scott to call a special session to readdress health care coverage for low-income Floridians. But Scott sounded uninterested.
"The Legislature has made their choice, they have said no," Scott said.
Associated Press writer Bruce Schreiner contributed to this story.