On the campaign trail, Gov. Rick Scott launched his latest themed tour. This one is pleasantly named “Let’s Keep Florida Beautiful.” What a lovely thought!
His initiative includes:
♦ $50 million a year for alternative water-supply projects.
♦ $50 million a year for natural springs restoration.
♦ $150 million a year for Florida Forever.
That sounds great. Those of us who have worked hard to preserve our natural resources, restore our degraded water bodies, develop alternative water supplies and provide and promote nature-based recreation should be ecstatic, right?
Well, not so much.
Under current law, funding for an alternative water supply and other restoration projects is supposed to be $100 million a year, and Florida Forever, the wildly popular land acquisition program, is to receive $300 million yearly to be fully funded, double the amount Scott is proposing.
And although his proposal is less than what is expected, it’s more than what he has provided during his four years as governor.
Let’s take a look at the history of Florida Forever funding as an example.
Under Gov. Jeb Bush, Florida Forever was fully funded at $300 million in each of the budgets from 2000 to 2007, totaling $2.1 billion over seven years.
Gov. Charlie Crist fully funded Florida Forever the first two years of his term and cut funding to zero and $19 million the next two years when the state budget itself was drastically cut. Crist’s total was $619 million over four years.
Even though Scott took office during the economic recovery, there was zero funding for Florida Forever in his first two years, and although the next two years brought the largest budgets in state history, Florida Forever received minimal cash of $10 million and $17 million.
Scott’s cash total was $27 million over his four years.
Scott also undertook an ill-fated plan to identify and sell “unnecessary” conservation lands in state ownership to fund “better” lands for purchase. The list was controversial, no lands were sold and the hare-brained idea was abandoned.
There were many other questionable decisions and actions by Scott that riled environmental advocates. They included hiring a shipyard executive to head the Department of Environmental Protection; firing science-based DEP employees for not being lax enough on permitting; replacing experienced water management district directors with more developer-friendly ones; cutting WMD revenues and decimating their staffs; and abolishing the state’s Department of Community Affairs, the agency responsible for comprehensive planning based on available resources such as water.
The list goes on.
Scott also showed his lack of environmental curiosity by denying climate change even though Florida is particularly vulnerable to sea-level rise. To address questions, Scott simply repeats the non-answer, “I’m not a scientist.”
In response to his declaration of scientific ignorance, a group of scientists from various disciplines generously offered their services to educate him. First he declined their invitation, then he agreed to have his staff meet with them. After Crist met with one of them, Scott stated that he, too, would personally meet with them. Weeks later, no such meeting has taken place.
The governor has proudly touted his record of cutting funding for environmental programs and regulations that were in place to protect the environment. This greatly pleased his tea party base.
Isn’t Scott afraid this latest election-year conversion will alienate the base?
In the most bizarre event of the tour, a little-known Democratic Miami city commissioner claimed Scott’s environmental record rivaled Teddy Roosevelt’s. While Teddy is turning in his grave, I’m certain his stellar environmental record remains unmatched.
So why profess his newfound love of the environment?
It could be because a day earlier, billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer hinted at spending $10 million or more in the governor’s race to defeat Scott — a boon to Crist. Steyer’s interest is in climate change, an issue Scott has neglectfully dismissed.
Or it may be a preemptive strike against Amendment 1. The popular citizens’ initiative that restores environmental funding with no new taxes is on course to pass overwhelmingly in November. It should provide about $10 billion over the next 20 years. Scott’s iffy promise is a fraction of that.
Or it might be in response to recent negative press reports of Scott’s hunting trip to King Ranch in Texas, courtesy of U.S. Sugar. A month later he appointed one of its executives to the powerful South Florida Water Management District Board that oversees Everglades restoration. No conflict of interest there!
Environmentalists are smart to welcome Scott’s comments and may hope that he has seen the light. After all, most previous governors — Bob Graham, Bob Martinez, Lawton Chiles, Bush and Crist — have been strong supporters of protecting Florida’s beautiful but fragile environment.
Perhaps we should take it on faith that Gov. Scott really has embraced his inner green — just three months out from a tight re-election. Although I’d like to believe he is sincere, based on his actions over the past four years, color me skeptical.
Paula Dockery is a syndicated columnist who served in the Florida Legislature for 16 years as a Republican from Lakeland. She can be reached at [email protected]