MARIANNA -- Gov. Rick Scott toured the Panhandle Monday, visiting with community and business leaders in a series of “roundtable” meetings focused on the unique challenges Florida’s small counties face in creating jobs.
The meetings were held in a part of the state where gubernatorial visits are rare occurrences. Scott used the opportunity to outline his economic development vision and learn about the unique challenges that Gadsden, Jackson, Walton, Calhoun, Washington and Holmes counties face.
“Today really is your day,” the governor told the group in Gadsden County. “I’m here to try to answer any questions.”
Although the governor requested the meetings in each county, the local chambers of commerce were relied upon to invite the guests. The attendees were generally local government officials, school administrators and area business owners.
That means Scott, known for his pro-business agenda, was in mostly friendly company throughout the day. But he still faced some of tough questions about education policy, school funding and workforce development.
Gadsden County Commission Chairwoman Sherrie Taylor lamented the state’s controversial plan to force counties to pay years of unpaid and disputed Medicaid bills and asked Scott for additional flexibility. The governor has repeatedly said that he supports the plan but will ensure safeguards are in place so counties pay only what can be proven that they owe.
Gadsden County could be forced to use its reserves if it isn’t given additional time to pay the $900,000 the state says it owes, Taylor said.
“Will there be any light, governor?” she asked. “Will there be any savings that could come in and help us on this end?”
Scott responded to her question by outlining some of his long-term plans for reducing Medicaid costs, such as managed care plans and requiring recipients to pay small copayments.
The governor will continue his tour next week, according to his staff, and will hold additional “business roundtables” in counties in the southern part of the state. None of those visits have been finalized yet.
It was Scott’s first official visit as governor to all of these counties except Gadsden, according to his staff. They are part of his efforts to gain insight about the resources businesses and community leaders say they need from the state in order to create jobs.
“You’re going to see more of this,” press secretary Lane Wright said. “This isn’t just happening today in the Panhandle.”
Tom Kinchen, president of the Baptist College of Florida in Graceville, attended the roundtable meeting in Jackson County and asked the governor about support for private colleges. It was his first time meeting Scott, and Kinchen said the governor came across as genuine and open-minded during the hour long discussion.
“It’s always helpful to cross outside the city limits of the Capitol and get out where the folks are because after all we do have representative government,” Kinchen said.