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Some Question Motives Behind Governor’s Budget Announcements

Governor's office

Florida Governor Rick Scott spent the week releasing details of his proposed 2014 budget in dribs and drabs. He’s expected to unveil the full plan next week, but some say it’s already clear the governor is courting votes from certain groups of people.

Governor Scott announced Thursday his proposed budget includes $30-million for science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, training – and increasing STEM jobs and education has long been one of the governor’s goals. But, it’s the announcements the governor made Wednesday and Tuesday that has some people raising their eyebrows.

Scott also announced his budget proposal includes $130-million for Everglades spending and $55-million for cleaning up the state’s springs.

“It would have been nice and far more sincere last year,” said Senator Darren Soto (D—Kissimmee.)

Soto is the sponsor of a bill aimed at cleaning up the state’s springs.  He’s planning to throw his weight behind another bill a group of senators is working to draft that would direct nearly $400-million to springs clean up. While Soto said the governor’s announcement is a step in the right direction, he questions Scott’s motives.

“Many of the things we see this year reek of politics and trying to reimage himself. The environment in particular was a huge issue and a huge legacy for former governor Charlie Crist, obviously his current opponent,”  Soto said.

And Florida A&M University Political Science professor Keith Simmonds said Soto’s argument makes sense.

“Politicians are going to try to appear to be responsive so that the people who they expect to be voting in November will say, this person or that person, this candidate or that candidate is speaking my language, is thinking the way I’m thinking, so therefore, I will vote for him or her,” Simmonds said.

Simmonds says political scientists use three categories to describe politicians – the delegate, the idealist and the maverick.

“And that individual is more or less putting his finger in the wind to see where the wind is blowing in terms of voter’s choices or preferences,” Simmonds said.

Simmonds says lately Scott has been looking more like a maverick.  The governor’s office refused requests for an interview responding to Soto and Simmonds’ statements.  And while environmentalists, like The Spring Institute’s Bob Knight, say they’d be happy to see more money funneled toward the state’s waters, Knight believes the governor’s motives are pretty clear.

“Everything that was done in the first three years of the administration, first two years of the administration, was tearing down the environmental protection in the state and not making any of those stronger and now when there’s a growing outcry from the public in Florida about out polluted estuaries, dying manatees and drying up springs it’s like the governor and his staff have found religion,” Knight said.

The governor’s $55-million proposal is just a fraction of the Senate plan Darren Soto plans to back that includes about $400-million to help the state’s springs. Knight says neither of those plans contains enough money completely fix the springs problem the state is facing, but both could help. His biggest worry is the lack of specifics in the governor’s plan.

“Once again, let’s spend some money on springs, but let’s don’t waste it. What I’m really afraid of is that $55-million, the majority of that will go to big business, big agriculture and public utilities for developing alternative water supplies,” Knight said.

Knight says what he’d really like is a reboot of what was known as the Florida Springs Initiative. He says the program included a clear plan to address the state’s springs issues, but started tapering off and finally ended near the beginning of Scott’s administration.

Follow @Regan_McCarthy

Regan McCarthy is the Assistant News Director for WFSU Public Media. Before coming to Tallahassee, Regan graduated with honors from Indiana University’s Ernie Pyle School of Journalism. She worked for several years for NPR member station WFIU in Bloomington, Ind., where she covered local and state government and produced feature and community stories.

Phone: (850) 645-6090 | rmccarthy@fsu.edu

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