Florida Governor May Reject Money from Jobs Plan

Sep 9, 2011

The following article was published in the Miami Herald on September 9, 2011:

Fla. Governor may reject money from jobs plan

By Gary Fineout

Gov. Rick Scott and top Florida Republicans are sending early signals they could reject the billions in federal aid that could flow to the state under President Barack Obama’s jobs proposal.

Florida has a 10.7 percent unemployment rate that is higher than the national average. But Scott and GOP legislative leaders said the plan outlined by President Obama was too similar to the nearly $800 billion stimulus package that was approved by Congress back in 2009.

“It sounds like President Obama still doesn’t get it,” House Speaker Dean Cannon said Friday. “The answer to the current economic problems is not spending more money.”

State legislators eagerly spent Florida’s share of stimulus money when the state’s economy first went into a tailspin.

But the stimulus soon became political poison for GOP voters. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio won his race last year partly by badgering then-Gov. Charlie Crist, his opponent in the Senate race, over his strong support of the stimulus package.

The governor and the Republican-controlled Legislature have the power to block parts of Obama’s proposal if it’s enacted by Congress. That’s because some federal aid intended for the state would have to go through Tallahassee first where political pressure could build against doing anything that could help Obama carry Florida during next year’s election.

Florida legislators this past spring were forced to make deep cuts in education and health care spending in order to balance a $69 billion state budget. Now, the state is forecast to have a small surplus heading into 2012 but that could change if the economy continues to worsen. Florida’s tax collections were off by roughly $70 million the last two months.

A state-by-state breakdown of the president’s plan shows that Florida could stand to receive more than $7.5 billion for schools, roads and other projects. The White House estimates that the funds under the plan would support more than 60,000 jobs in Florida, including those held by teachers, cops and firefighters.

The breakdown shows that $2.7 billion that could flow to Florida would go to hiring construction workers to rehabilitate thousands of vacant and foreclosed homes and businesses. Florida has had one of the highest foreclosure rates in the nation. Another $1.28 billion would go to upgrade public schools while $1.66 billion would be used to reverse and avoid layoffs in state and local governments.

But Scott has already shown he is willing to reject federal aid.

He turned away more than $2 billion for high speed rail that came out from the first stimulus package. The governor is a fierce critic of Obama and he sounded off on the campaign trail about using stimulus funding to balance the state budget.

While Scott has not taken an absolute stance against all stimulus-related aid, a spokesman said Friday that the governor would be opposed to any additional federal spending if it added to the federal debt. Obama said that he would propose additional budget savings in order to pay for his jobs plan.

“Where is that money coming from?” Brian Burgess said. “The governor’s position is pretty clear about shoveling federal dollars out when they don’t have federal dollars to shovel out.”

Rep. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring and the House budget chairman, said it would be premature to comment since the state doesn’t “have specific details as to how the federal government would fund those projects.”

Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, sent out his own statement on Obama’s job plan, saying the majority of it “sounded like stimulus part two.” He said Obama should reduce taxes and repeal the federal health care reform instead of pushing for additional federal spending.

House Democratic Leader Ron Saunders, however, said he would be surprised if Florida legislators would actually vote to reject additional help from the federal government.

“If they are serious about reducing unemployment in Florida, I don’t know if they have any choice but to take the money,” Saunders said. “To put politics over employment would not be a wise political choice.”