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Nancy Smith

Tempus Fugit, Governor: Stay Home, Fight for Your Priorities

April 30, 2011 - 6:00pm

The White House Correspondents Association Dinner is a fashionable fly-in for Hollywood types looking for a red carpet and a chance to impress the president. But its no place for a governor with ratings on the swoon and less than a week to salvage his priorities.

Rick Scott's place this weekend was here, not there. It was hunkering down with leaders in the Legislature, not making jolly ha-ha at the Washington Hilton.

The problem is, I don't think he's been listening to the right people. There's a real sense among even the folks who helped put the governor in office, that after only 120 days, he's blown his first year.

His priorities are largely missing from the House or Senate budget and they want to know why.

Corporate tax cuts were the centerpiece in his plan to fashion an economy that will lure corporations to Florida. According to the budget he released Feb. 7, he wants to reduce the corporate tax rate from 5.5 percent to 3 percent in 2011-12, then 2.5 percent in 2012-13 and 2 percent in 2013-14 -- the last year listed in the chart.

He has less than five days to make that first phase happen. What he needs to do for the rest of this week is ice the cold calls, ground Air Scott and fire up his budget team. Even at this late date, he can work with the conferencing leadership in the Legislature.

Scott needs to rescue what he can.

It won't work to blame the Legislature when the budget arrives on his desk without the tax cuts he wanted, without enough deregulation, without all the state pension, Medicaid or other reforms he had hoped for. Senators and reps have their own clunkers this session. But somehow Sunday, while Scott was kicking back after his trip to Washington, lawmakers got $33 million more out of the five water management districts than the governor had asked for.

The House and Senate have been working on their budgets since November. That's when Scott should have been knocking on their doors. Instead, with his proposed $4.6 billion budget cut hanging in the balance, he jumped in his plane and announced in speech after speech that he was going to bring 700,000 jobs back to Florida.

He didn't need all the answers, but he did need a plan. That's what made Jeb Bush the strong, if not always the most popular, leader he was in the Capitol a decade ago. In 1999, right after the election, Bush showed up with a plan. The result was Florida's A-Plus accountability system, still one of the most significant education reforms in Florida history.

Bring a plan. Really bring it. Sell it. That's what Rick Scott has to do to get things done. He has to engage the Legislature.

Many legislators tell me they never saw Scott in budget committees at any time during the process. Yet, he had the most fiscally conservative House and Senate in the state's history. Anything was possible -- even a clean sweep. Ask most political operatives in Tallahassee: Scott could have had it all.

Scott was slow in putting his transition team together and that didn't help. In the end he amassed some very good people.

I ask you: All of the firepower, all of the brains and expertise Scott has on his transition teams ... most of them do a lot of research, produce papers, make suggestions -- even today they're active. Where are the fruits of their labor? If anybody is listening to these uber volunteers, nobody in the Scott administration is saying. Good as these teams have been, to my knowledge not one of them was instrumental in making an agency or department or board appointment. Otherwise, we would see competent and committed people at every level of state government. We do not now.

Ideas are great from the outside. That's what I like about Rick Scott's policies -- they're built on tough ideas that work to build something better, that open new doors; they make the impossible possible. That's what Scott the outsider brings to the party.

But after the election, the outsider has to come inside. And to be effective, he has to figure out the rules PDQ. Inside he isn't campaigning anymore, he's governing. He isn't the CEO, he's the executive branch.

Rick Scott is fixable. If he puts the right people around him, he still has time. But he hasn't got as much of that as he thinks. In three months the budget process starts all over again. Let's see if he's learned how to work with the Legislature and make a few appointments that make better sense, that fall in line with his policies.

Columnist Nancy Smith can be reached at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at (850) 727-0859.

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