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While Gov. Scott focuses on his Senate campaign, how well is Florida working?

Florida Gov. Rick Scott visits Interstate Beverage Corp in Hialeah as part of his campaign rollout for the U.S. Senate on Tuesday, April 10, 2018.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott visits Interstate Beverage Corp in Hialeah as part of his campaign rollout for the U.S. Senate on Tuesday, April 10, 2018. cmguerrero@elnuevoherald.com

Gov. Rick Scott travels to Jacksonville Friday for his latest U.S. Senate campaign event as part of his plan to "Make Washington Work."

It raises a question: Lately under Scott, how well is Florida working?

While Scott was raising campaign money in Dallas this week, his Department of Corrections was canceling or reducing three dozen contracts for inmate re-entry, substance abuse and probation services.

That was needed to patch a $28 million shortfall in a budget Scott signed in April, a budget that did not fully fund the prison system but sets aside $3.3 billion in reserve for emergencies.

Advocates for inmates call it an avoidable travesty, a result of years of bad decisions like "a prison population that remains stubbornly high and a refusal to take these issues head-on," said Greg Newburn of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, a sentencing reform group.

Scott opposed the cuts, which FAMM said could force inmates to go back to prison, a point the state disputes. He could have vetoed the prison budget and forced the Legislature to fix it, as he did when he vetoed last year's public education budget.

"For five years, it has been one crisis after another," Matt Puckett of the Florida Police Benevolent Association said of the prison system during Scott's seven-plus years. The PBA bargains for correctional officers.

Puckett praised Scott for improving the pay of officers, but said chronic understaffing has created a "severe crisis" that places officers' physical safety in jeopardy on a daily basis.

Puckett said Scott's prisons chief, Julie Jones, is in an impossible situation. "She has to pick the least of a lot of bad choices," he said.

Scott is a perpetual campaigner who has seven months left in his term as governor. His hard-charging campaign style quickly put his opponent, Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, on the defensive.

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Scott proudly tweeted that he has had 30 campaign events in the first 30 days and that his rival has had none.

Politico reported that Scott's office was unaware of a time lag that could result in someone with a mental illness obtaining a gun because of delays in nearly 20 percent of mental health records being entered into a background check database.

Also this week, Scott's Medicaid agency was forced to acknowledge that it gave wrong information to the federal government that the state received no opposition to proposed cuts to Medicaid.

"They didn't tell the truth," said Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, who questioned the state's action.

Gibson said Scott's schedule shows he's focused mainly on getting elected to the Senate. "He is done being governor," she said.

"The governor has continued to be dedicated to the responsibilities of his office," said a spokeswoman for Scott's campaign, Lauren Schenone.

This also was the week that the Herald/Times revealed a pattern in the Department of Revenue, a Cabinet-level agency, of replacing several tax administration experts with staffers from Scott's budget office, who faced losing their jobs after the election.

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Two top jobs were not advertised. The governor's office said DOR makes its own personnel decisions.

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