Rick Scott as defender of Florida’s lands, air and waters? Seriously?
The Florida governor whose mantra is jobs, jobs, jobs? Who rode to office on a wave of tea party support and has pushed for limiting government and gutting regulations, including those that protect the environment, in the name of giving business a freer rein?
Yet here he was this week, proposing to boost spending on Florida’s natural resources and environmental programs by $220 million.
The $1.7 billion environmental package for lawmakers to consider in 2018 includes funding for the state’s springs, beaches and parks, along with $355 million for Everglades restoration, $50 million to help the federal government speed repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee and $50 million for Florida Forever, the state’s most prominent land-preservation fund. (News Service of Florida)
And on Thursday, he touted news that his good friend President Donald Trump has ordered expedited federal spending on the Herbert Hoover Dike. Although, this might not fall under the category of “environment” so much as “disaster avoidance,” given the life-threatening dangers of a shaky levee in a major hurricane; we’re only a few weeks removed from when it looked like Irma was going to rake the center of the state and roar over Lake Okeechobee.
It’s almost enough to make you forget that Scott launched a thousand late-night TV jokes when his administration scrubbed the words “climate change” and “global warning” from official communications, according to the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.
Because, you know, Florida doesn’t have much coastline to worry about.
It’s an easy guess why the governor is now making sure that we all know that he cares a great, great deal about our natural resources. The 2018 race for U.S. Senate is warming up. And Scott, his second term coming to an end, is expected to try to unseat Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who has won the statewide office three times already. Current polling shows they’re virtually tied.
Florida voters are as divided as the rest of the country on most issues, but we’re in general accord when it comes to protecting the environment. Just look at 2014’s Amendment 1, which established a huge fund for land and water conservation by setting aside a portion of an existing real-estate tax. It passed with 75 percent of the vote.
In Scott’s two victorious races for governor, by contrast, he couldn’t win 49 percent of the vote.
So painting yourself as an environmentalist is good politics in this state. The trouble is, Scott has a record that looks like this:
- With the Legislature’s help, he ordered water management districts to slash their property tax collections soon after taking office. The South Florida Water Management District, which oversees Everglades restoration, had its budget cut by almost half. It operates with less money today than it did in 2008. Experienced scientists and engineers who did solid work for the water district are gone.
- In 2011, Scott abolished the Department of Community Affairs, which oversaw development and tried to promote rational growth. To Scott, the department created too much red tape for developers.
- Under Scott, Florida has eased up on enforcing rules against polluters. The Department of Environmental Protection has opened 81 percent fewer pollution-regulation cases since 2010, the year before Scott took office, according to Florida Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.
- That $50 million request he’s now making for Florida Forever land conservation purchases? Big deal. Until the Great Recession, the program got $300 million a year. Since Scott’s reelection in 2014, his requests for the program peaked at $25.1 million. Even after voters passed Amendment 1 in that 2014 landslide, budget allocations haven’t surpassed $15.2 million, and this year Florida Forever was zeroed out. All of these sums look pretty paltry when you consider how much money Amendment 1 generates from the documentary-stamp tax. For next fiscal year, it’s an estimated $862.2 million.
There was another time when Scott talked a lot about the environment. That was 2014, when he was running for re-election.
He campaigned “on a $1 billion, 10-year environmental blueprint that in many aspects mirrored the environmental spending amendment that was also before voters at the time. The platform item included plans to request $150 million a year for Florida Forever.” (News Service of Florida)
Once Scott was returned to office, that $150 million a year never materialized.
There’s a reason that Democratic foes are calling Scott an “election year environmentalist.”
Florida needs leaders who are every-year environmentalists.