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Saturday, Oct 25, 2014
Columnists

Jackson: Scott’s muddled message

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If, as is widely presumed, the governor’s meticulous carving of the state budget was designed to send a message to leaders in the Legislature, it’s going to take a team of interpreters skilled in everything from tea leaves to smoke signals to hieroglyphics to game theory to gain its true meaning.

After all, when Rick Scott at last autographed the Legislature’s handiwork, it was still a record $74.1 billion. And the amount excised, $358 million, amounts to less than one-half of 1 percent.

In some well-respected boroughs of the news media, Scott’s modest exercise of constitutional authority was described as a slashing, a fairly dramatic term for what really went down.

Freddie Krueger, the “Nightmare on Elm Street” ghoul, was a slasher. In hockey, the penalties for slashing include immediate forfeiture of the game, and rightly so, because slashing suggests outrageous violence.

None of that existed here. Instead, playing Floyd the barber to the budget’s sheriff of Mayberry, Scott trimmed a little off the top. So little, in fact, nobody who wasn’t watching closely would have noticed the difference.

But if you’re attempting to establish a narrative about political paybacks, trimming just won’t do. You need a slashing.

So, projects got slashed. Not just any projects, either, but among them projects intended for the counties the speaker of the House and the Senate president call home.

We’ll leave it to Panhandle residents to sort through whether Scott shortchanged them for Don Gaetz’s apparent transgressions. Around here, however, those eager to link Pasco’s loss of $6 million in legislative baubles to Speaker Will Weatherford form a queue stretching from Dade City and Lacoochee (where the state will not be paying for design of a water project) to Holiday (where Metropolitan Ministries’ plans for a transitional housing complex were dashed).

Throw in seven-figure cuts to the sheriff’s prescription drug initiative and a proposed Science, Technology, Engineering and Math magnet academy, and even Weatherford’s allies sniff a vendetta wrapped in a sinister back story.

It was Weatherford, after all, who clashed with Scott — and, to a lesser degree, Gaetz — over some $51 billion from Washington to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. After Scott became a late convert, the Senate under Gaetz hatched a hybrid premium-support compromise.

But Weatherford, a young guy with a superior appreciation for the history of how federal initiatives implode to become black holes for state budgets, wouldn’t budge.

It’ll be years before we know the wisdom of Weatherford’s resolve, but veteran legislator Mike Fasano, back in the House after 10 years in the Senate, wasn’t waiting. You want to know why Pasco “got hit pretty hard,” the governor’s cudgel lives in Wesley Chapel.

Well. That’s one interpretation. Here’s another: Pasco is one of 67 Florida counties, making it 1.4 percent of the total. Pasco’s estimated 470,391 residents amount to 2.4 percent of the state’s population. Compare those numbers to Pasco’s $6 million share of $358 million projects vetoed, 1.7 percent, and the apportioning sounds not at all inequitable.

Look, I get that Pasco has never been more formidably represented in Tallahassee. But we didn’t need former state Sen. J.D. Alexander’s flogging of the state university system in a legacy-building flourish a year ago to appreciate why we should strictly limit backyard projects paid for by taxpayers in Ormond Beach and Pensacola and Jupiter.

Especially considering Scott waved through Pasco-centric projects (for Pasco-Hernando Community College’s Wesley Chapel campus, for a water project linking Dade City and Zephyrhills, and for improvements to Interstate 75) surpassing $152 million.

Maybe the governor really is extremely put out with Weatherford over this Medicaid expansion thing. And maybe that’s why Pasco will have to wait a year for its STEM academy and its transitional homeless shelter, although the logic is slippery how either amounts to a state responsibility.

Meanwhile, we could really use that team of interpreters. Aw, Scott probably would veto them anyway.


email: tjackson@tampatrib.com

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