Rick Scott Goes to War With a Republican Legislature

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Tim Padgett, our guy in Florida, chronicles the unrelenting governor’s knack for vexing friends and foes alike in Tallahassee.

Like [Former South Carolina Governor Mark] Sanford, the multimillionaire Scott is a fan of my-way-or-the-highway gestures. Florida’s legislature, like most in the U.S., is hardly a heroic institution. But it was generally lauded in 2009 when, realizing Florida had become a national leader in prescription-drug abuse — overdose deaths from the painkiller oxycodone alone had more than doubled that year to 1,185 — it voted to create a database to detect illicit prescriptions and crack down on so-called “pill mills.” It was set to begin operation this year, and looked all the more urgent last week, when the feds raided numerous clinics in South Florida and arrested 20 people, including five doctors.

But Scott has vowed to repeal the measure and has already eliminated the state’s Office of Drug Control, which was supposed to help manage the database. One reason, he says, is that the database is too costly — even though its budget is just $1.2 million, and even that is being picked up by federal grants and private donations. Scott — who in 1997 resigned under a cloud as CEO of Columbia/HCA, the world’s largest hospital corporation, when it was busted for massive Medicare fraud (although he wasn’t charged personally) — calls the database an invasion of privacy, despite the fact that no such concerns have been raised in the 34 other states that have similar monitoring systems. “I’m extremely, extremely disappointed in the governor,” GOP state senator Mike Fasano, who sponsored the legislation, said this month.

Fasano isn’t the only Sunshine State Republican fuming.

State senate budget chairman J.D. Alexander has told Scott that the governor violated Florida law when he recently sold two state airplanes and redirected the sale proceeds without consulting the legislature. Although Alexander too had supported selling the aircraft, he scolded Scott in a letter for “not respecting the Legislature’s constitutional duty.” Scott says his counsel told him the unilateral move was legal, but Alexander appears to have the state constitution on his side. 

But few actions have angered Florida pols in both parties more than Scott’s rejection this month of $2.4 billion in federal stimulus money for a $2.7 billion high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando. It would have been the first component of a proposed bullet-train system to alleviate traffic woes on Florida’s long, car-clogged peninsula, as well as a local incubator for the sorely needed high-tech enterprise. The GOP-led state legislature had spent the past two years laboring to win the federal funds, which the Obama Administration may now hand off to California. But Scott, who made his contempt for all things public sector clear during his campaign last year, called it a wasteful project that would end up putting “state taxpayers on the hook” despite the federal largesse. Two-thirds of Florida’s 40 state senators rebuked him — most of them Republicans — including the senate majority leader.

Read the whole thing.