Scott defends bid for teachers’ raises
TAMPA - Gov. Rick Scott, several of whose legislative priorities are falling by the wayside in this year’s session of the Legislature, today said he intends to stand by his guns in the conflict over a pay raise for teachers and issued what sounded like a veiled warning to legislators. “I’ve got my priorities, I’ve been crystal clear on my priorities,” Scott said in a Tampa Tribune editorial board interview. “I know the House and Senate have theirs, and I think everybody wants to have a good session.” Asked whether he would “go to the mat” on the issue, he said simply, “Yes.” But he declined to talk about whether he was threatening a veto, saying, “I don’t want to talk about that stuff.” Asked by reporters in Tallahassee whether he was sending a warning to the Legislature in such comments, he simply repeated, “I’ve got my priorities, they have their priorities … We’ll see how well each of us get our priorities, we’ll see how our session ends up.”With the session scheduled to end May 3, Republican legislative leaders so far are ignoring several of the Republican governor’s wishes. The Legislature is likely to pass one of Scott’s two top priorities – ending the sales tax on manufacturing equipment, in hope of luring more manufacturing jobs – but isn’t going Scott’s way on the other, a $2,500 across-the-board pay raise for teachers. The House and Senate have reached an agreement to provide a roughly similar total amount, $480 million, but for raises based at least partly on merit. The Legislature also appears headed toward a university tuition increase, which Scott opposes. It’s not likely to confirm his appointment of state health secretary and Surgeon General John Armstrong, who’s already serving in the post. And it’s an open question whether they’ll approve expanding the state Medicaid program with $51 million in federal money, which Scott and the Senate favor but the House, under Speaker Will Weatherford of Wesley Chapel, opposes. Scott’s office has issued a flyer listing reasons to support his manufacturing equipment tax cut and the across-the-board teacher raise. It says Florida’s public schools are doing well in measures of quality; a merit pay system is to go into effect next year; and what has been called “tenure” has been abolished, meaning teachers have to reapply for their jobs every year. Asked whether he’s prepared to compromise on the pay raise, Scott replied, “I think the right thing is across-the-board.” Later in the day, his office issued a news release quoting from a television news story noting, “The proposal to base raises on merit would require the governor’s signature.” Spokesmen for both Scott and Weatherford said the proposal is part of the state budget. Vetoing the state budget would be a drastic step for Scott to take in thwarting the efforts of House and Senate legislative majorities of his own party. Weatherford, meanwhile, has played down the conflict, predicting an amicable result. "Our budget supports our teachers and ensures that those who are working the hardest for Florida's children receive merit pay,” he said in a statement in response to Scott’s comments. “There are about one billion reasons why the governor should be happy with our education budget," referring to the House’s inclusion of a $1 billion-a-year spending increase for public education, which Scott wanted.
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