TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – Groundhog Day might not be until Monday, but Gov. Rick Scott probably doesn’t need a rodent to tell him that his winter of discontent is going to last awhile longer.READ MORE: Man Who Suffered Severe Burns Returns To Miami To Reunite With Medical Staff Who Helped Save His Life At Kendall Regional Medical Center
If Scott somehow thought that one of the most difficult periods of his governorship was about to end, the Associated Press’ annual legislative planning day last week was proof that it was likely to continue.
On one hand, his three fellow Republicans on the Cabinet continued to suggest that Scott, or at least his administration, had mishandled the forced resignation of former Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey. Meanwhile, the pixels on Scott’s budget were barely dry when legislative leaders started casting doubt on whether the governor’s proposed tax cut on cell-phone and television services would be as large as he wants.
But some issues have been lingering even longer than Scott’s troubles – including how the state handles medical marijuana, something that would change under a bill filed by a Republican lawmaker.
THE BLAME GAME
What did the governor know, and when did he know it? That was the question perhaps inadvertently added to the saga of Bailey’s firing when Attorney General Pam Bondi floated the idea that maybe Scott’s staff acted without his knowledge in the way that the FDLE commissioner was pushed out last month.
“Did I know that Jerry Bailey was going to be told he was fired and have his things packed up, his entire life as a career law-enforcement officer in a cardboard box, and be told to be out of the office before the end of the day? Absolutely not. Nor do I believe the governor knew it,” Bondi said to reporters and editors gathered at the Capitol for the Associated Press event.
Of course, even Bondi acknowledged that she didn’t have any proof to back her opinion, and it seemed to conflict with how Scott’s office has explained the events that led to Bailey’s ouster. But it was about the nicest thing that a Cabinet member said about the controversy during Wednesday’s planning session.
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam described the treatment of Bailey as “shabby.”
Putnam and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater both said they had been advised in December by Scott’s staff that the governor was interested in making a change at FDLE, but expected the change to come up at a January Cabinet meeting. Instead, Scott office announced in December that Bailey had left the agency.
“I wasn’t aware that it was accelerated,” said Atwater, who declined to say he was “misled.”
Scott stuck to his guns. He acknowledged that his office asked Bailey “to step down.”
“Gerald Bailey was given the opportunity to step down, he did,” Scott said.
WHICH TAXES MAKE THE CUT?READ MORE: New Study Finds Growing Number Of Young People Suffering From Climate Change Anxiety
The governor was able to avoid answering too many questions about the Cabinet issues during Wednesday’s legislative planning session because he formally unveiled his nearly $77 billion spending plan for the budget year that begins in July. But legislative leaders were already raising questions about a $470.9 million tax cut that lies at the heart of the proposal.
Overall, Scott is proposing $673 million in tax reductions, on everything from cell-phone bills to college textbooks. But the lion’s share of that money would go to relaxing the communications services tax applied to cell-phone, cable and satellite television services.
“The benefit of the CST (communications services tax cut) is that it impacts pretty much everybody in the state. It’s going to go to everybody,” Scott said.
But House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, told the AP gathering that Scott’s plan on the communications tax was higher than what the House had in mind. And Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said there are “plenty of ideas” about how to reduce taxes in addition to Scott’s request.
“Certainly, that will be on the table,” Gardiner said. “But there will also be quite a few others.”
There were few surprises in Scott’s budget plan, which he’s spent several weeks rolling out in piecemeal fashion. The proposal would reduce state spending by about 0.1 percent from the current budget year.
To cover the tax cuts and a record level of per-student education spending while keeping the overall budget relatively flat, Scott’s proposal calls for deep reductions in other areas. Spending on transportation would fall by almost $235.5 million, though Scott’s office said the Florida Department of Transportation’s work plan is smaller this year and fully funded. The proposal would also cut nearly $120 million from the Department of Health and the Agency for Health Care Administration.
The plan would reduce the state’s payroll by more than 1,000 full-time positions. Scott’s office said that the “vast majority” of those jobs are expected to be unfilled by the time the budget takes effect. Most of the positions would come from the Department of Health; the agency would shed 758 full-time positions.
Some agencies would gain jobs. For example, the Department of Corrections, recently plagued by reports of suspicious inmate deaths, would add 163 full-time positions.
Lawmakers will consider Scott’s proposal as they negotiate a budget and tax cuts during the legislative session that starts March 3. In preparation for the session, House and Senate committees will receive presentations about the proposal next week.
Scott also had some apparent suggestions this week for how to spend a hefty chunk of the billions of dollars earmarked for land and water conservation efforts under a constitutional amendment approved by voters last year.
The proposal, outlined on Tuesday, would devote $5 billion to the Everglades, beginning with $300 million in the upcoming year. It would include money for building water-retention reservoirs and maintaining the upland habitat of endangered Florida panthers.
Lawmakers are working to determine how to carry out the constitutional amendment, which designates 33 percent of the revenue from a type of real-estate tax to conservation for the next 20 years.
Scott didn’t support or publicly oppose the amendment but the Everglades proposal, if funded through the amendment, would require about a third or a quarter of the money.MORE NEWS: Texas-Style Abortion Bill Filed in Florida
The News Service of Florida’s Brandon Larrabee contributed to this report.