Florida Gov. Rick Scott expressed his happiness that Donald Trump was elected president and backed a pair of controversial tourism and business agencies in his State of the State address Tuesday.
Speaking to a joint meeting of the state House of Representatives and Senate at the opening of this year’s legislative session, Scott made no mention of the opioid and heroin epidemic that has ravaged families in Palm Beach County and throughout the state.
Palm Beach County officials said they were pleased by aspects of the governor’s speech but were disappointed he did not mention the opioid epidemic.
The governor’s support for Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida puts him on a collision course with some state legislators, who have criticized those agencies as havens of waste and corporate welfare.
Florida’s debt dropped $1.6 billion last year to its lowest overall level since 2007, Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet were told Tuesday.
The state’s Bond Finance Division Director Ben Watkins pointed out the decline returned Florida to its more recent course of reducing the level of red ink, after a one-year increase spawned by major borrowing for road work on Interstate 4.
The $24.1 billion owed by Florida is its lowest level since 2007. Lawmakers were forced to include $2.1 billion in taxpayer money in the state’s $82 billion budget just to service the debt.
The decline has been helped by favorable interest rates, which have prodded the state to refinance some of what it owes over the past six years, saving about $2.5 billion, Watkins told the Cabinet.
About half of the state’s debt stems from bond financing to for school and university construction, with another 40 percent attributed to transportation work.
The land, mostly in western Palm Beach County, would be turned into a reservoir that would help cleanse farm-polluted water from the lake, which he said has “poisoned” the waterways of surrounding communities.
Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, haven’t said much about Negron’s initiative, which totals $2.4 billion, including an anticipated federal match.
Scott, though, has been intent on reducing Florida’s debt. Since he took office in 2011, debt has dropped $3.6 billion, from $27.7 billion.
Scott also effectively reversed a long period of borrowing that spiked when Gov. Jeb Bush took office in 1999 and state borrowing climbed about $10 billion over the next decade.
Scott has been a big fan of Visit Florida, the public-private promotions agency that is drawing almost $80 million in taxpayer money, up 169 percent since 2009.
Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, killed Scott’s pitch for $250 million in business incentives last year and still opposes the state offering such handouts to companies. Now, he’s set his sights on Visit Florida as another agency poised for trimming.
Scott on Monday spoke to Associated Industries of Florida, touting the state’s tourism numbers. Afterwards, Scott told reporters he was still optimistic that Visit Florida money would be maintained.
“I’m comfortable the Legislature is going to continue to be supportive of Visit Florida,” Scott said. “Let’s look at the numbers. We have increased funding for Visit Florida since I’ve been elected. And look what’s happened: tourism has skyrocketed.”
Scott said Florida was drawing 82 million tourists annually before he took office in 2011. This year, he’s hoping that figure tops 110 million visitors.
Rick Scott said he wants a 5 percent pay raise for state law enforcement officers included in next year’s state budget, reflecting a demanding 2016 when the governor said responders “were put to the test like never before.”
The $11.7 million proposal would cover 4,000 sworn officers across nine state agencies, including the Florida Highway Patrol, state fish and wildlife officers, and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Scott said June’s mass shooting at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub severely challenged state law enforcement agencies, which later in the year also responded to a pair of hurricanes and a tropical depression that swept across parts of the state.
The governor also noted that he has been to the funerals of 32 officers who died in the line of duty since he took office in 2011.
“I’ve cried with their families and seen the pain and grief in their eyes as they laid their loved one to rest,” Scott said in announcing the initiative at a FHP headquarters in Orlando.
“Becoming a law enforcement officer is a special calling and one that requires a conscience choice each and every day to put your life on the line to protect our communities. We must always do everything we can to recognize our law enforcement officers and let them know how much we appreciate their service.”
The proposal is the first roll-out of portions of the governor’s 2017-18 budget blueprint, with the full document expected to be unveiled next month in advance of the legislative session, which begins in March.
Prospects of a pay raise for the state’s entire, 113,000-person workforce will likely be part of a House-Senate budget battle next year.
While House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, warns that the state’s budget picture is tighter than economists predict, Senate budget chief Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, has pledged to provide some kind of raise for state workers.
The state’s full workforce has drawn only one pay hike in the last decade, increases in 2013 of $1,400 for workers making under $40,000 a year and $1,000 for those making more. The last straightforward, three percent pay raise came in 2006.
Even the increase three years ago, for many, only partially offset what they’d lost when in 2011, Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican-led Legislature ordered state workers to contribute 3 percent of their pay to their state pension fund.
With Florida’s population poised to climb by 15 million people in coming decades, demand for water – already one of the state’s scarcest resources — is poised to spike 54 percent if development goes unchecked, a new report shows.
The agriculture region east of Lake Okeechobee already is one of the state’s biggest users of water. But as the site of big residential developments already approved in Palm Beach County, the demand will intensify by 2070, analysts said.
A similar threat to the availability of fresh water also exists across Central Florida and in Southwest Florida, where thousands of new homes are planned in areas once considered off-limits to development.
“I agree that the situation does look dire,” said Ryan Smart, president of 1,000 Friends of Florida, which joined with the Florida Department of Agriculture and University of Florida’s GeoPlan Center in preparing the report.
“But I take hope in the fact that there are relatively simple things that we can do as Floridians, to dig us out of the hole,” he added.
The Florida House’s incoming-speaker Thursday unveiled new rules aimed at loosening the powerful bond between state lawmakers and lobbyists who finance political campaigns and shape public policy.
Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, set to take command of the House this month, borrows heavily from the “drain the swamp” message used by President-elect Donald Trump in his own campaign.
“Those who cannot live up to the highest ethical and professional standards will find the Florida House a difficult place to work or visit,” Corcoran said in unveiling the rules, set to be adopted at the Legislature’s Nov. 22 organization session.
“Now it is time to live out the trust placed in us by the citizens of our great state,” he added.
With Election Day nearing, Florida elected officials from both parties have found something to agree on: They want more money from the Obama administration.
Republican Gov. Rick Scott started the demand for dollars Tuesday — saying the president should move more swiftly to free money for states to combat the Zika virus.
Congress broke a months-long deadlock in September by approving $1.1 billion to fight the virus. But Florida hasn’t received any money yet, Scott said.
“While Florida continues to work through the bureaucratic and highly complex approval process for federal funding, there should be an expedited award to Florida given the fact that we are the only state currently battling local transmission of Zika through mosquitoes,” Scott said.
Soon after, Democratic and Republican members of the state’s congressional delegation sent Obama a letter asking him to quickly total a request for emergency funding for Florida and other states hit last month by Hurricane Matthew.
Florida is having to rebuild part of A1A in Flagler County that was wiped out by the storm.
“If your administration believes that emergency funding is necessary, we strongly urge you to submit a request to Congress as soon as possible so that it may be considered in the next government funding bill that Congress needs to pass by December 9, 2016,” the delegation wrote.
And if that wasn’t enough to get the attention of eye-rolling, Florida storm veterans, Scott called Matthew a “monster” and warned, “This storm will kill you.”
With 1.5 million Floridians under evacuation orders and the biggest hurricane in more than a decade threatening to devastate the state’s entire Atlantic Coast, Scott this week repeatedly sent sobering – some say scary – alerts to residents.
It worked. And was worth it, many experts said.
“It wasn’t scary, it was acting out of a sense of awareness that this storm could turn very badly very quickly,” said Kathleen Tierney, director of the Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado, who researches disaster response.
“We have all these models and forecasts of where a storm will go,” she added. “But if you wait until you think you’re sure of what it’s going to do, it can be too late to react. You need to get people out of the way.”
But the deal approved late Wednesday did give Scott a chance to once again tee-off on Congress and the Obama administration.
“What was frustrating is everybody said they were funding,” Scott said, recalling that he made two trips “walking the halls” of Congress, lobbying for a deal on dollars to fight the mosquito-borne virus.
“Not one person said they were against it. But nothing happened, time and time again…It just shows you why people are frustrated with the incompetence of Washington,” said Scott, who is widely thought to be considering a U.S. Senate run in 2018.
He conceded, though, “it was refreshing something passed.”
Scott also said, “I don’t know how much Florida is going to get and when we’re going to get our funding.”
The governor pointed out that he has already allocated $61.2 million from the state treasury for efforts to combat the virus, including $25 million in long-range research money. Some of those dollars could be replaced once the federal cash arrives, he said.
Scott repeated his call, however, for 10,ooo Zika prevention kits from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with better guidance for mosquito control in the 4.5-square-mile area of Miami-Dade County where local transmission of the virus has been identified.
With $1.1 billion to fight Zika tucked into a stopgap spending bill, Florida’s U.S. senators said Wednesday that a more aggressive approach was coming to the virus touching almost 1,000 people in their state.
“The emergency spending approved today will help increase local mosquito-control efforts to contain the spread of the virus and allow federal researchers to continue their search for a vaccine,” said Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat.
“The threat we face from Zika is a true public health emergency and we need our local, state and federal agencies working together to put this money to use as quickly as possible.”
President Obama requested $1.9 billion in Zika funding in February. But the Republican-led House and Senate have deadlocked for months over finalizing money to help states fight the virus.
Florida has had almost 800 travel-related cases of Zika, along with more than 100 cases contracted locally.
The $1.1 billion anti-Zika package is part of a larger measure that would finance the government through Dec. 9. According to Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, $15 million is specifically targeted for states with local transmissions, with Florida being the only such state so far.
The spending plan also includes $60 million for territories like Puerto Rico, which has the highest number of infected American citizens.
Both Nelson and Rubio voted in support of Wednesday’s proposal.
“I’m glad these critical resources are now moving forward so we can help the thousands of Americans suffering from this virus, step up our mosquito eradication efforts, and develop a vaccine to eradicate Zika for good,” Rubio said.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott has already dipped into the state treasury for $36.2 million for various Zika-fighting efforts. He also has approved spending another $25 million for research into a vaccine against the virus.
Scott has acknowledged being frustrated with the long standoff in Washington and has blasted Congress for months. He was cautious in his comments about the pending deal.
“Every day that Congress fails to act, more cases are diagnosed in our state,” Scott said.