Our colleague Tim Padgett reports on the red ink battle raging in sunny Florida:
…last week Scott — speaking not from the state capital, Tallahassee, but from the Tea Party hotbed of Eustis, Fla., to show his disdain for all things public sector — delivered a budget proposal that slashes $4.6 billion (7% of current spending) and pink-slips 8,700 state employees, while gutting services like aid for disabilities and juvenile justice.
“Reviewing a government budget is much like going through the attic in an old home,” said Scott, a health care industry multimillionaire who resigned in disgrace as CEO of the world’s largest hospital corporation in 1997 when it was accused of massive Medicare fraud (though he never was). “And I’m cleaning it out.” That drew roars from the Tea Partiers jammed into the First Baptist Church of Eustis, who like Scott believe that bulldozing the budget has to be part of his “7-7-7” mission — seven steps to 700,000 jobs in seven years.
But in a state where unemployment topped 12% last year, the idea of jettisoning such a large number of workers didn’t go down as well outside Eustis, no matter how loudly Scott insisted that his way will beget far more employment in the private sector. Back in Tallahassee, even fellow Republicans, who control the legislature and are trying to plug a more than $3.5 billion hole in the budget, considered Scott’s budget nonsensical, including his rejection of remaining federal stimulus dollars. “It’s imperative that you go back and you redo the numbers,” GOP state Representative Janet Adkins told a Scott aide at a hearing. Adkins was questioning Scott’s 15% cut, or $3.3 billion, in education spending, at a time when the school reforms and funding of his predecessors in office, Republican Jeb Bush and independent Charlie Crist, are starting to yield improvement.
It was an especially important warning, not just for Florida, but for the rest of a nation trying to absorb the meaning of November’s Tea-phenomenon. That’s because while closing perilous budget deficits certainly has to be a priority today, there’s a big difference between mopping up red ink and rubbing out state government.