Thursday, February 3, 2011

Florida Governor Hits Road to Sell His Budget Overhaul

Does this sound familiar to what I have been Blogging about for the last 3 years!

Aivars Lode

POLITICSFEBRUARY 3, 2011.Florida Governor Hits Road to Sell His Budget Overhaul Text By ARIAN CAMPO-FLORES
LEESBURG, Fla.—Gov. Rick Scott is crisscrossing Florida this week, offering glimpses of what he says will be one of the nation's most fiscally conservative budget proposals this year.

In his push to close a $3.6 billion budget deficit and make good on his promise to create 700,000 private-sector jobs in the next seven years, the Republican governor aims to slash spending, cut property and corporate income taxes and overhaul state government, making Florida an example of limited government.

In an interview with WSJ's Arian Campo-Flores and Betsy McKay, Florida Governor Rick Scott outlines his plans for mending the state's budget crisis by cutting the size of government and reducing business regulations.
.Among the proposals he has unveiled this week is a goal of cutting $1.4 billion annually from the budget by requiring state employees to contribute to the state's public pension system for the first time, and by channeling new hires into 401(k)-style plans that wouldn't guarantee set benefits upon retirement.

"We're going to be the model," Mr. Scott said in an interview at this central Florida town's airport, where his personal private jet was parked. (He plans to sell the state's planes.)

The 58-year-old former health-care executive undoubtedly faces significant obstacles, with opposition coming from unions and environmentalists, and skepticism from some in his own party.

Mr. Scott's pension proposal amounts to a pay cut for public workers, said Mark Pudlow, spokesman for the Florida Education Association, the teachers union. "While [Gov. Scott] wants to cut corporate and property taxes, it seems he wants to do it on the backs of state workers," he said.

Environmentalists are howling about Mr. Scott's intention to unleash more development.

In the legislature, Republican dominance of the state House and Senate would seem to boost Mr. Scott's chances of pushing through his agenda. Yet some members of his own party have cast doubt on his plan to cut taxes now, along with spending.

"We need to cut spending first," said Senate President Mike Haridopolos. "If he can show us the budget to make those cuts, we're all ears." But, Mr. Haridopolos added, "it's one step at a time."

Mr. Scott isn't cowed. He is promising to slash Florida's budget by $5 billion, a feat he says he will accomplish by cutting spending and streamlining government. Some of the savings are expected to come from the pension overhaul, and he says a proposal to reorganize various state agencies would save $500 million, on average, a year. Among its provisions: a recommendation to fold the state's Department of Community Affairs, which oversees land planning and development, into the Department of Environmental Protection.

Mr. Scott also wants to purge the budget of what he considers frivolous spending items. He harbors particular disdain for "alligator marketing," a $150,000 pet project that lawmakers inserted in last year's budget to help sellers of alligator hides and other products promote their goods. "The state shouldn't be in that business," he said.

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Ben Fredman for The Wall Street Journal

Florida Gov. Rick Scott with first lady Ann Scott and building contractor Richard Murray during a tour of a home in The Villages, Fla., Monday.
.Some economists doubt there are billions of dollars in waste lurking in the budget, as Mr. Scott says. Lawmakers have been hacking at state outlays for years, as Florida's finances have steadily deteriorated. "I'm not sure there's that much left to cut," said Sean Snaith, a University of Central Florida economist.

Mr. Scott's job-creating plans center on making Florida the most business-friendly state in the U.S. "We're competing with 49 states and a variety of other countries now where people are willing to invest their dollars," he said. "My job…is to make this the place where people want to do business."

For starters, that means making it cheaper to operate in Florida, he said. He proposes cutting the corporate income tax to 3% from 5.5%, and eventually phasing it out. He also intends to eliminate what he deems burdensome regulations. By combining the community affairs and environmental protection agencies, for instance, he hopes to create "one-stop shopping," Mr. Scott said. "If the state's going to be involved, then let's have one place where you can get the answer" to a permitting issue and "an honest time frame for how long it's going to take."

Mr. Scott highlighted the frustrations of many real-estate developers during a visit Monday to a construction site in The Villages, a sprawling retirement community north of Orlando. As he tramped through sandy lots and ducked through the skeletal frames of new houses, he quizzed a construction manager about the number of agencies and permits he had to deal with to get the project under way. Too many to count, the manager replied.

"How much should the state be involved in regulating the growth in communities when you already have a county doing it, or a city doing it?" said Mr. Scott afterward.

Mr. Scott has embraced his role as Florida's pitchman-in-chief. He says he cold-calls five to 15 chief executives a day, urging them to consider setting up shop in the Sunshine State. One state he hopes to poach from is Illinois, which, he noted, recently raised taxes—and also happens to have freezing weather. "Let me turn my air-conditioning down, it's so hot here," he said he told one company official in a recent call.

To lure businesses, Mr. Scott also wants to centralize all economic development activities in one office run by one individual who's accountable to him. "That person will be two offices down from me," he said, "so then it'll be part of what I'm thinking about every day."

Signs that the U.S. economy is strengthening could help Mr. Scott. "His timing is impeccable," said Mr. Snaith, the UCF economist. "He's got the business cycle in his favor right now. I think he will hit 700,000 jobs before seven years, maybe five."

Write to Arian Campo-Flores at

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Scott vows to merge 5 agencies' functions

I have commented before that in Aussie during the 90's the focus was on cutting costs and that is what is happening here now in the USA!

Aivars Lode

Scott vows to merge 5 agencies' functions

By Zac Anderson

Published: Tuesday, February 1, 2011 at 1:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 31, 2011 at 10:32 p.m.

THE VILLAGES - Gov. Rick Scott's first concrete proposal to cut state spending Monday was heavy on symbolism and light on specifics.

Using one of the state's mega-developments, just south of Ocala, as a backdrop, Scott announced he would merge the functions of at least five state agencies, including the department that regulates growth and development.

The proposals to "streamline" government will spark growth and save the state $1 billion, Scott said while standing in front of three new homes under construction in this sprawling Central Florida retirement community.

The event was the first time Scott has released any details of his much-anticipated budget, and it marked the beginning of the new governor's push to deliver on a series of highly ambitious campaign pledges to cut taxes and slash government spending.

Scott summarized his plan to save $1 billion over two years in a 270-word press release, but provided no details on how the savings would be accomplished. His aides said the details will be in his formal budget proposal, which he will submit to state lawmakers on Monday.

They added that the total $1 billion in savings would come from the overall agency consolidations and mergers — not just the ones mentioned Monday.

It remains unclear how Scott will resolve a budget shortfall of more than $3.6 billion and provide more than $2 billion in promised cuts — including a reduction in the corporate income tax and a $1 billion cut in school property taxes — while still meeting state needs for schools, health care, roads and other programs.

Scott said he would take the "regulatory functions" away from the DCA, the state's top agency for land-planning decisions. He has called the DCA, which has a $780 million budget and 358 employees, a "job-killing" agency.

The DCA duties, which currently involve oversight of local land-use plans and major regional developments, would be shifted to other state agencies. But Scott did not specify which agencies would take over those duties.

His transition team had advanced the idea of combining the DCA with Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Transportation and calling the new agency the "Department of Growth Leadership."

The idea is to "expedite the review of local comprehensive plans by minimizing the state's role and defer to local governments, local businesses and local communities," Scott said, without indicating whether he would cut staff or permitting requirements.

The governor also plans to consolidate tax collections by moving alcohol and beverage tax authority from the Department of Business and Professional Regulation to the Department of Revenue, the largest state agency involved in tax collections. The Department of Business and Professional Regulation would pick up responsibility for licensing and the regulation of drugs, devices and cosmetics from the Department of Health — which has a $2.9 billion annual budget and 17,400 employees — under the governor's proposal.

On the surface, some of the moves look like little more than a shuffling of the deck, but Scott said they will generate big savings.

The timing and setting of the announcement appeared designed to build positive momentum for the release of the full budget plan next week. Efforts to cut government red tape tend to have broader popularity. By announcing such proposals before the rest of his budget, Scott may be hoping to build up a reserve of public goodwill in advance of what are likely to be deep — and potentially unpopular — cuts to everything from parks to health care and education.

Villages residents Frank and Joan Kraft said they support many of Scott's proposals to reduce taxes and state spending. But Joan Kraft said the budget cutting can go too far.

"I don't like education being cut," said Kraft, 78, a former teacher, as she exited The Villages library Monday.

Some cuts may be less controversial. Scott pointed to a handful of state functions that he considered excessive, including alligator marketing and breeding and the state Office of Recreation.

"If you go through the budget, you just go piece by piece," Scott said. "No different than if you were taking over a company and you start looking at every dollar spent. You just find things here and find things there and find things there."

Scott has hinted for months that he would eliminate or vastly reduce and consolidate a variety of state agencies. Doing away with an independent DCA is one of the more controversial mergers. The agency is loathed by developers but widely supported by environmental groups and slow-growth advocates.

Environmental groups pointed out that thousands of homes are currently vacant across the state and the glut of homes that have been permitted but not yet built in arguing that regulation has done little to inhibit growth.

Scott quizzed a Villages employee about the multitude of state agencies and regulations he had to contend with during a tour of a new 1,600-square-foot three-bedroom home. Villages development director Tom McDonough dutifully ticked off the various agencies, from state water regulators to those who monitor threatened gopher tortoises.

Home building at The Villages has slowed from a peak of 4,000 units in 2005 to 2,000 last year.