August 5, 2014

Gov. Rick Scott touts environment plan, says he’s not scared of billionaire activist

As Gov. Rick Scott talked in Miami about his promises to improve the environment, rival Charlie Crist was in Fort Lauderdale pitching a plan to help the middle class.

Gov. Rick Scott gave a one-word response when asked Tuesday if he was worried that billionaire climate-change activist Tom Steyer is targeting him.

“No,” Scott, a multi-millionaire who isn’t shy about spending his own fortune, smiled during a Miami campaign stop.

“No,” he repeated.

But Scott is still taking precautions.

Just as the Miami Herald reported Sunday on Steyer’s plans — including Democratic buzz that he might spend $10 million in Florida — Scott’s campaign announced his “Let’s Keep Florida Beautiful Tour” highlighting his environmental record.

At the same time, Democrat Charlie Crist was in Fort Lauderdale unveiling his “Fair Shot Florida” plan that, he said, was geared toward the middle class and students.

The two candidates traded shots at each other through the press and their campaigns. Scott said Crist, a Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat, is a poll-driven candidate who will say anything to win. And Crist and his surrogates bashed Scott for not doing enough to help struggling workers.

Steyer’s group, NextGen Climate, also chimed in by email, calling Scott “governor sweet tooth” over recent Herald/Times stories concerning the governor’s decision to join other lawmakers on a secret hunting trip to Texas with sugar-industry officials, who last year sought and received a break on Everglades clean-up costs.

Steyer told the Herald Sunday that the choice between Crist and Scott is stark when it comes to climate change: Scott has doubted the science behind man-made climate change while Crist, as governor from 2007-2011, passed a bill designed to limit carbon emissions.

“We have one of the people running who passed the cap-and-trade bill. The other got rid of the cap-and-trade bill,” Steyer said. “This is a state that really matters because it’s a very important state in terms of population and in terms of where it’s located and what goes on here.”

But Scott, pointing to the bigger budgets on his watch, said Crist’s record on the environment is worse. Scott underscored how he settled longstanding Everglades litigation that had continued under Crist, his predecessor.

“It’s sort of laughable when somebody says they’re going to back Charlie Crist over the environment. He had this job for four years,” Scott said. “Did he put any money into the Keys to deal with the Stan Mayfield Grant program? No, he didn’t. Did he focus on springs? No. He didn’t.”

Scott, though, cut his share of environmental programs — including a springs-restoration initiative launched by former Gov. Jeb Bush.

Under Scott’s new plan, he’s promising to spend $500 million on springs over 10 years — though that’s six years longer than Scott would be in office, if re-elected.

Crist said he wasn’t to blame for the global recession and Scott can’t take credit for the economic bounce-back happening on President Obama’s watch.

“Rick Scott talks a lot about jobs but it’s just that: all talk,” Crist said, echoing Scott’s claims about him.

“He spends hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on incentives to bring companies here and they’ve only created 4 percent of the jobs they promised they would bring.”

Crist’s plan calls on the Legislature to raise the minimum wage to $10.10, which he didn’t make an issue when he was a Republican governor.

Crist also wants Medicaid expanded to provide health insurance to as many as a million Floridians. However, as governor, Crist repeatedly signed budgets that limited Medicaid spending far below what advocates and health care providers wanted.

And Crist said higher education and vocational training should become more affordable, but he didn’t mention that he signed off on a plan to raise tuition rates at state universities. Crist also made some reductions to the Bright Futures program. Scott, too, made Bright Futures cuts.

Crist’s “Fair Shot” plan has relatively few details and Scott’s “Keep Florida Beautiful” initiative has only a few more.

Like Crist, Scott doesn’t dwell on the cuts he made as governor.

In his first budget in 2011, Scott vetoed the entire $305 million annual appropriation for the Florida Forever, land-buying program that partly protected Florida’s drinking supply. To help deliver tax cuts, Scott also trimmed $700 million from the budgets of the state’s water management districts, which oversee withdrawals from the aquifer and issue permits for filling wetlands.

Now Scott says he wants to spend $150 million a year for Florida Forever. But it has a new focus instead of concentrating on environmental purchases: to “protect and take care of working agricultural landscapes.”

Scott has also taken flak for his stance on climate change. In 2011 he said he did not believe humans could alter the planet’s temperature, but more recently he has modified that to simply saying, “I’m not a scientist.” His environmental plan makes no mention of climate change.

Scott, though, mentioned climate change on his own Tuesday for the first time at a South Florida event. He said he planned to meet with climate scientists, but the researchers’ schedules have made that difficult recently.

Scott has been under fire this past week after the Herald/Times revealed that he, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Florida legislative leaders had been taking secret hunting trips to King Ranch in Texas.

Asked about the propriety of the trip, Scott recalled it fondly.

“I had a great trip to Texas. I shot a buck at about 190 yards,” Scott said, adding that he takes no freebies and flies on his own plane.

“I paid my own flight. I paid for my meals. I paid for my [hunting] license,” he said. “I had a great trip.”

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