8:36 PM EST, February 8, 2011
After spending more than 24 hours studying Rick Scott's budget proposal, one thing is clear:
Rick Scott lied.
But, hey, it's becoming increasingly clear that not everyone views the truth as that big of a deal. And some people thought Scott's budget was the bee's knees!
So, for today's column, I'm offering a few thoughts of my own — along with grades from a bipartisan panel of political observers whose reactions ran the gamut.
But first, the lies.
That's actually a word I don't use very often. In fact, I checked our archives to confirm that, in all my years of writing a column for the Sentinel, I've never called someone a flat-out "liar."
That changes today.
Rick Scott claimed time and time again that he wouldn't cut school spending.
He said it a variety of different ways. He vowed to "keep the school budgets the same." He said he'd hold education harmless. He even summed up his entire education budget plan in two words: "No cuts."
Those assurances allowed moderate and conservative voters who also cared about education to feel comfortable voting for him.
And yet, on Monday, he unveiled a budget that proposed more than $3 billion worth of cuts to Florida schools.
He cut it based on nearly every measure — total revenue, general state revenue, even per-pupil funding, a category in which Florida already lags the rest of the nation.
Scott tried to rewrite history this week by claiming he never really promised not to cut school funding. But the Pulitzer Prize-winners over at Politifact.com shot down that claim, too, rating it "False."
I suppose, if you want, you can argue that cuts to Florida's schools are needed. But there's no debating he lied.
As for the budget, itself, so many details remain vague that the verdict is still out.
I'm not jumping to conclusions on the content. If Scott truly can find a way to save money while properly caring for elderly veterans, the disabled or the indigent ill, that'd be great.
But we've yet to see the proof. And advocates for everyone from children to the direly ill are nervous.
Many observers also were taken aback that Scott proposed more than doubling his own office's budget while slashing so many others.
Even Scott's own party members seem reluctant to applaud. (All Senate President Mike Haridopolos could bring himself to do was praise Scott for preparing a budget "so quickly" … the legislative equivalent to applauding a child who finally managed to get his shoes on the right feet.)
I did manage to assemble a panel of four politicos — two Republicans and two Democrats — to grade Scott's first budget.
The grades were predictably partisan. But some of the comments were interesting. Take a look:
•Former U.S. Rep. Lou Frey, R-Orlando
Frey said he'd be "shocked" if Scott's budget was actually implemented as presented. Instead, he said he viewed it as more of a "wish list." And on that level, Frey liked it. "We've got a real problem with education, with pensions with tax cuts and more," he said. "These things should be given some consideration and thought."
•Orange County Democratic Party chair Amy Mercado
"As an operations manager … I support a budget that is lean but not mean. Simply put, Gov. Scott's proposed budget is mean. The budget harms thousands of hard-working families while doubling the governor's personal office expenditures."
•Orange County Republican Party chairman Lew Oliver
"I appreciate and applaud his sense of urgency. Rick Scott promised to make Florida the best place in the world to do business, and he certainly appears to mean that. Probably the most ambitious cuts in the budget are to education. … However, I think it's a reasonable place to start. If nothing else, after this budget, you can't say that Florida is sticking it's head in the sand on the budget. Rick Scott is tackling it head on.
•State Rep. Scott Randolph, D-Orlando
"If you drive on the roads, have a child in school, a parent in a nursing home, or would simply like to enjoy Florida's beaches and parks, the budget is an F. However, If you are CEO of a large corporation, Scott's budget is an A."
Overall, these four grades average out to about a C-minus.
You can read all of the panelists' unedited comments at orlandosentinel.com/takingnames.
Scott Maxwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-6141.
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