Before The Ball Drops: A Countdown Of Challenges For Rick Scott

December 31, 2010

With 2010 almost ready to be counted out, one of the year’s top Florida stories – Republican Rick Scott’s election – will turn a new page, morphing into one of the New Year’s first major political events.

As the governor-elect readies for his Jan. 4 inauguration, the our Tallahassee bureau asked a dozen lobbyists, elected officials and academics to look ahead and take stock of the early hurdles facing Scott.

As 2010 fades, let’s count down from 10 the top challenges facing the incoming governor in ’11.

10: A High Bar: Scott takes office promising to add 700,000 jobs to Florida’s feeble economy. Sure, he’s giving himself seven years to do this. But the new executive also says he’ll reach this goal on top of the roughly million jobs economists say Florida will add during that time, through normal growth and business expansion. Scott’s job creation promise will sit like a thermometer on the windowsill of the new administration. And it better keep going up. Still, a University of Central Florida forecast this month warns the state’s unemployment rate won’t drop below 10 percent until early 2013.

9: An Impatient Public: Winning the closest governor’s race in modern Florida history means Scott doesn’t have a deep well of popular support. A survey this week by Public Policy Polling shows Scott’s unfavorability rating dropped from 54 percent when he was elected to 43 percent now. But Floridians, mired in a three-year economic downturn, likely won’t give the new guy a lot of time to make good on his campaign promises. If Scott wants proof, he just has to check how President Obama’s political fortunes turned in two years. “Scott has plans that go out seven years, but I think he’s only going to get seven months to make things happen,” said House Democratic Leader Ron Saunders of Key West.

8: Finding the Money: Scott’s got billions of dollars he wants to give away. A property-tax break would save Floridians $1.4 billion; eliminating the corporate income tax would slice more than $1.8 billion, and the incoming governor also wants to reduce unemployment taxes and cut more than $3 billion in electric utility costs for businesses. The state’s pension and employee health care system are vast repositories of money that could yield savings even with relatively modest changes. But while Scott wants to give money back – especially to businesses and homeowners – the state’s $3.5 billion budget shortfall shows the leaky ship of state is going to demand plugs.

7: Staffing his Administration: As a candidate, Scott fueled visions of America’s best and brightest flocking to Tallahassee eager to reinvent government. But with inauguration around the corner, the ‘help wanted’ sign is still the most prominent feature on the new administration’s door. Scott’s transition teams have released hundreds of pages of proposals to revamp agencies, instill efficiencies, and eliminate wasteful spending. But the uncertainty about coming to work for an outsider CEO who doesn’t particularly like government seems to be slowing down the hiring process. After all, today’s agency job may look nothing like what it will if Scott gets his way with the Legislature. Scott also is discovering what lawmakers, corporate recruiters and local government officials have long known: Tallahassee can be a tough sell.

6: Fighting Red Tape Fanatics: Scott gets plenty of mileage deriding regulations he says are hampering the state’s economy. Growth management and environmental standards seem to commonly land in his crosshairs, along with duplicative regulations between competing state agencies. But the Capitol’s fourth-floor rotunda is frequently a swirling sea of lobbyists representing industries or individual companies seeking to get a leg up on a rival by imposing a department rule or landing a request for proposal. When Scott takes on regulations, he may also be taking on some influential lobbyists and their legislative patrons. The governor could soon be schooled in why some special interests are more special than others.

5: A Workforce Insurgency: Scott’s talked of slicing at least 5 percent of the state workforce. He’s also expected to push for more privatization of prisons, ending teacher tenure, and consolidating a handful of state agencies. All told, Scott’s efforts appear poised to create a vocal cadre of self-avowed policy victims – some of them well financed by the Florida Police Benevolent Association, Florida Education Association and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). If Scott instills reforms deftly, he may avoid creating a loud and unified opposition. But wholesale changes involving large numbers of public employees could yield fierce pushback that overwhelms the new administration.

4: The Media Funnel: Scott’s a kind of do-it yourself guy when it comes to the media. He spent $73 million of his own money to win election – with the bulk of the cash going to saturation television advertising in which he starred. Meanwhile, Scott the candidate declined to meet with the state’s newspaper editorial boards, apparently seeing no benefit in having his policies or positions distilled through the media funnel. In turn, none of the state’s major papers endorsed his candidacy.

However, once he’s sworn-in as governor Tuesday, Scott will likely have to deal with the press. His proposals will draw media scrutiny, critics’ views will be aired. And there’s a good chance Scott won’t often like what he reads or hears on television and radio. Will he occasionally try to sidestep the press and run his office like the campaign, maybe with help from the Florida Republican Party? “We know that raising money here is going to be a fulltime job for the next party chairman,” said outgoing state GOP Chairman John Thrasher, a St. Augustine senator.

3: Ambitious Legislators: Florida’s legislative leaders supported Scott’s Republican primary rival, Bill McCollum, and spent four months running a scorched earth campaign against the governor-elect last summer. They’ve now spent an equal amount of time as his ally. But Scott is aware of the thin ice on which he stands. Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, has U.S. Senate ambitions of his own for 2012 against Democrat Bill Nelson. And with redistricting hitting at the midpoint of Scott’s term, there will be plenty of legislators angling for higher office. That can work both ways for Scott, with some seeking the governor’s support and others looking to cross swords with him to assert their independence and gain political leverage. Scott clearly has more to fear from hungry Republican allies than he does from outnumbered Democrats at this point.

2: Runaway Rhetoric: Scott’s already promised plenty. But in one of his first acts, he may want to keep his inaugural address vague and lofty, since whatever he says on Jan. 4 is likely to linger for the next four years. Late Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles’ “covenant with the people,” and Republican Jeb Bush’s wish to “make these buildings around us empty of workers and silent monuments,” rattled long after their inaugurals. So far, Scott has spoken mostly of “jobs, jobs, jobs.” But Gary Mormino, a University of South Florida historian, said, “I’d like to hear him Tuesday talk about the new Florida dream. What we had in this state now seems like it’s in the ash can of history, with this economy. But how does he connect our past with the future?”

1: Obama, Again: Scott ventured into politics leading Citizens For Patients Rights, the campaign opposing President Obama’s health care overhaul. CPR failed to derail the initiative. But as a gubernatorial candidate, Scott managed to seize on the president’s rising unpopularity in Florida in defeating Democrat Alex Sink. He also ridiculed the federal stimulus money used to balance Florida’s budget the past three years. Scott remains devoted to keeping federal health care requirements out of Florida, and there’s no more stimulus to spread around – or criticize. But Scott may have to play a central role courting the Obama administration’s support for a Medicaid waiver needed to enact the Legislature’s sweeping, cost-saving attempt to put more low-income Floridians into managed care.

By John Kennedy
The News Service Florida


4 Responses to “Before The Ball Drops: A Countdown Of Challenges For Rick Scott”

  1. David Huie Green on January 2nd, 2011 4:24 pm

    He’s no king, there are all kinds of limitations on his power.

    One of those is that the Republican Party didn’t want him in the first place, so they won’t favor his proposals just because he calls himself a Republican.

    Another limitation on his power is that there are things he simply can not do because the state constitution delegages them to other elected officers.

    Another limitation is the Sunshine Law which can get him in trouble if he even tries to operate in the darkness.

    He may do a crummy job, he may do a wonderful job. Let;’s judge after he has taken office, perhaps?

    David for a proper time and place for all things

  2. eab on December 31st, 2010 10:09 pm

    “While I may not have voted for the man, he’s doing what he can before taking office by spending lots of money to improve the economy. You should be grateful.”

    Yeah…good point. The caterers are making out like bandits. Florida now has a king. I guess we should all be grateful for that.

  3. David Huie Green on December 31st, 2010 2:49 pm

    “All this with a million unemployed folks in the state. At least they will get to see how the other half lives.Looks like Scott is going to be a real man of the people.”

    While I may not have voted for the man, he’s doing what he can before taking office by spending lots of money to improve the economy. You should be grateful.

    David hearing thunder in the distance

  4. eab on December 31st, 2010 10:37 am

    Mr Scott’s coronation will include 26 marching bands and he will host a black tie dinner for 2100 people featuring grilled Key West shrimp with a Florida avocado dipping sauce. He received nearly 3 million dollars in donations from Florida companies *after* his election to pay for his crowning. Can you say “special interests”? Can you say “extortion”?

    Tickets for the black tie dinner will start at $95.00. He’ll have a country and western concert with Lee Greenwood and Rockie Lynne as part of the list of activities for this egocentric love fest.

    All this with a million unemployed folks in the state. At least they will get to see how the other half lives.Looks like Scott is going to be a real man of the people.

    Here’s an idea…let ‘em eat cake!

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