Gov. Rick Scott: first session, port funding and vetoes

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  • | 12:00 p.m. May 13, 2011
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Gov. Rick Scott was elected the 45th governor of Florida in November and recently finished his first legislative session Saturday. With the months-long task in the rearview and a submitted budget to review before signing, Scott has traveled around the state the last couple of weeks and spent time in Jacksonville Thursday and today. This morning, he met with Daily Record reporters for a question-and-answer session on topics ranging from the session and judicial selection to education reform and the future of Jacksonville’s port.

You just went through your first Legislative session as governor. What are your thoughts on how it went?
We had a good session. I said all along that my budget, what I wanted, was tax reductions because my belief is the more money you put back into business owners’ hands, homeowners’ hands, they’ll spend that money and build businesses. I’ve never met a business person that didn’t want to build their business. If you give them back their tax dollars, they’re going to go hire people or buy more equipment. So, we got that done. And then, I wanted the size of government to come down and the cost. I’m going to sign the budget but then I get, I have contrast to the (U.S.) president, I have line item veto.

Anything in particular you know you’ll veto?
My filter will be if I think it helps the economy or not. If it doesn’t help the economy, I’m not going to approve it.

Can you grade Legislature… on the scale of an A to an F on the job they did, in your opinion?
I don’t know about grades, but if you think about it we had a good session. We modernized the pension plan. We drug screened welfare recipients. Education is being reformed for the benefit of kids. We improved the economic development efforts. If you take all those things, we had a heck of a session.

Anything you didn’t get to you would have liked? Any disappointments?
Well, something that doesn’t impact Jacksonville as much but it impacts rural areas, there was a septic tank repeal bill that we should have gotten passed. We should have gotten something done on immigration reform. Those are two things we should have gotten done.

As a first time governor, looking back at first year, first session, is there anything you could have done better?
You don’t know because you’ve never done it before. I think that next session will be different in that I know more of the people. I’ll have spent more time with House members. The more you know people, whether they’re going to agree with everything you do, at least you know that you have better opportunities. That’s something I think will be better next session.

The Port and funding has been a big issue in Jacksonville. Will there be any funds for the Port coming from Tallahassee? And specifically, Mile Point?
Here’s what I think about it. I know the state should do well with tourism. I know we should do really well with the agricultural community. We should be a big shipping state with the ports proximity to the Panama Canal and the economies of Central and South America. So, we’ve put a lot of time into the ports. As you know, to finish up the dredge project in Miami it took $77 million dollars, so I allocated money out of the Florida Department of Transportation. Port by port, I’m sitting down with them because what I want to do is have a long-term strategy with every one of the ports. I’ve spent a lot of time with JaxPort. What we’ve got to do is solve the Mile Point issue. I’ve spent time with the individuals of JaxPort and the Army Corps of Engineers on a plan. I want to have a good plan and then we’ll figure out where we’ll get the funding. It’s a big dollar amount for the whole project.

In those discussions, what’s the dollar amount?
Assuming the Navy does their part, it’s another $600 million or so. Some of that will come from the feds, some will come from the state and some will come from local. Everyone is going to have to show up.

Education has locally been a hot topic in Jacksonville. The Duval County School Board just finished two days of workshops working on budget issues. From a business standpoint, they’re being forced to rethink how they educate students. What’s your long-term vision for education in Florida?
We keep thinking about kids having to sit in a classroom. How do we all learn? I’ll give you an example. I decided to learn how to fly about seven years ago. When’s the last time you had something brand new you had to learn, then had to take a half mental, half physical test on it? You step back and kind of learn how you learn. In my case, I learned a lot by watching these CD-ROMs. I learned a lot doing that and just by doing it. Then I learned a lot reading. I think every child is different. Every child is going to learn differently. In this session, the right things happened. No different than what is happening in business, step one is you’re going to be able to pick the most effective teachers because of the tenure bill. Step two, we ought to be able to differentiate how we pay, and the merit pay has started and it’s a positive. So, over time, how you pay teachers is going to spread out more and more. One of my daughters teaches special needs. That might be something that gets paid better or it might not. It’s going to be more tied to supply and demand in the future, which I think is a positive. We’ve expanded the use of virtual education, which I think is going to be outstanding. For some kids it will work for them, some kids it won’t. But everybody is going to have that opportunity and it can reduce the cost. We’re going to have more competition. When I grew up, you went to your school based on what street you lived on. That’s going to change and we’re going to have way more competition. The way we can do that now is through charter schools.

And that’s short-term?
Long term, I think people are going to realize we are way better off to have basically more and more competition when you pick the public school. Schools will be way more innovative. You might be like me, you might learn by watching CD-ROMs or you might learn better by something else. I think the cost is going to come down because of that. Great teachers are going to be able to be leveraged more. Right now, we say a classroom can only have so many kids. If somebody is really effective with more kids, why shouldn’t they be allowed to teach more kids? In some courses, you could have more kids and in some courses you couldn’t. On education, just like government, everything is going to have to be rethought. Just like your business, you have to rethink what people are willing to pay for. They’re asking “what am I willing to pay for?” because people can move. Now people aren’t tied to just America, they can move to another country if the taxes are too high. It’s going to force government to really rethink, and one of the biggest areas is education. It’s about 30 percent of our budget. The same is going to be true for anything that your taxes go to.

Along the lines of thinking of changing processes, what’s wrong with the judicial selection process?
As a governor, I should have more leeway in who I pick as judges. I think we hamstring ourselves as a state, and it’s not just the Judicial Nominating Commissions, but a lot of things. We go through these commissions. People don’t vote for those commissions, but They vote for governors, and so governors should have the ability to pick and some of the things should be subject to Senate approval. It’s no different than these taxing districts. No one elected those individuals and they can raise your taxes. We need to have more accountability.

Even though on these commissions the governor chooses half of the members?
It just doesn’t make sense to me. A governor is elected, the others ones aren’t. So the governor should be the one deciding.

One of the larger criticisms hurled your way has been media availability. In the last few weeks, your schedule has been lined with interviews across the state. Why now?
Since I announced last April 9, I’ve been meeting with media the whole time. If you ask my wife, I know I see media more than I see her. So, I’ve been around the state and the big cities, the small cities, for a year and a month. I’ve met pretty much every media in the state. This is just the ongoing process of meeting people.

The health of St. Johns River is always an important topic here. Can you talk about any efforts to protect its health?
Herschel Vinyard is a really good person to run the Department of Environmental Protection. He’s got a good background in it, he cares about it and the other thing he’s got going for him is he gets along with people. He’s able to solve problems. He’s clearly focused on all the environmental issues. What we’re trying to do with our Water Management Districts is to make sure they go back to their core mission, which is to make sure we have clean water. We’re going to make sure dollars are spent where we have clean, fresh water, we have an abundance of water and we take care of our environment. Whether it’s Herschel or it’s people I’ve appointed to the districts, they’re going to that core mission.

When does it get to the point where the water question is a crisis? When do we get to that point and what are your long-term plans for that?
If we don’t have access to clean, fresh water, we’re going to have a big problem in the state. There are three things you’ve got to do. One, make sure we have a Department of Environmental Protection that does the right things, which I think we do. Two, the individuals I am appointing to the Water Management Districts, make sure they are working with DEP well. Long term, as you know, we have the water wars on access to the water with Alabama and Georgia. We have to find a way to resolve that. All these things take surrounding yourself with smart people and working with them every day.

You mentioned tourism before. What do things like The Players Championship bring to Florida?
We’re the No. 1 golf travel destination in the country. It’s a $7.8 billion industry for us. We get almost 170,000 people working through it. The other things, these events, they’re big local development efforts and they raise money for charity. When you look at how they spend their money, they’re very focused on education, which I like. We know we can build jobs in the state through tourism. And people want to live in Florida. They like the weather, they like the beaches, they like the people, they like the lakes, the rivers. It’s like a new frontier still. There are still so many opportunities here, we just have to make it a good place and not a place where it’s too difficult to do business.

Your name has been thrown out for political positions after your first term. Any aspirations for that? Maybe a run at U.S. president?
No, I like what I’m doing. I like Florida and like living in Florida.

Do you see two terms as governor?

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned on the job thus far?
The thing I’ve learned… (pause) … probably the biggest is — I like working and I haven’t really taken a day off probably since running a year ago — but you have to pace yourself. There’s a lot of people who work with you and you’re responsible for, so you’ve got to pace yourself.

And what about the best advice you’ve received?
(pause) I talk to other governors, because they’ve gone through the same problems on these different issues. I talk to (Texas Gov.) Rick Perry often and I ask him “what else are you working on?” We always talk about it, we’re always competing for these companies, because these are the two states that are going to grow the fastest. And so, I’ve got to figure out how to do a better job than Rick is doing in Texas. I’ve enjoyed the Republican Governors Association because you don’t get to talk to people a lot but you get to learn something from all of them. Just like in business, you like to watch what other people are doing and take their strengths to make them yours. Take their best ideas.