TALLAHASSEE – When Gov. Rick Scott was first elected, he campaigned on a pledge to cut state spending, and was critical of federal spending as well – even to the point of vetoing a project that was being funded by federal stimulus money, a proposed high speed rail train from Orlando to Tampa.
On Thursday, the governor sent a letter to Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, asking them to avoid cuts in federal spending that, the governor insists, could hurt Florida’s fragile economy.
That’s particularly true, the governor said, of possible cuts in defense spending.
“I respectfully request your careful consideration of the impacts of the estimated $500 billion in anticipated defense cuts,” Scott wrote.
Throughout his tenure as governor – Scott was elected to the governor’s office in his first bid for public office in November 2010 – he enacted deep cuts in state spending, including cutting $1 billion cut from the state’s education spending.
He’s been similarly critical of federal spending, including the Universal Health Care program passed by Democrats in 2010, and the proposed high speed bullet train that the Obama administration had agreed to finance through the federal stimulus bill.
At the same time, Florida’s economy remains one of the hardest hit in the nation, with an 8.6 percent unemployment rate, above the national average of 8.2 percent.
Last month, Gov. Scott touted the fact that Florida created 9,000 new jobs in the month of June, which he said was a positive sign. The state’s Department of Economic Opportunity, though, noted that there are 800,000 Floridians who are still unemployed.
In his letter to the two congressional leaders, the Republican Boehner and the Democrat Reid, Scott said Florida’s slow recovery could take a sharp hit if congressional leaders move forward with proposed budget cuts that will almost certainly hit the Sunshine State.
“I am pleased to report that Florida’s unemployment rate has dropped 2.5 percentage points to 8.6 percent since December 2010,” Scott wrote, crediting that to his efforts to lower taxes, cut spending to balance the state budget, and pay down state debt.
“This formula has created jobs for Floridians, and our state’s unemployment rate is dropping at a faster pace than the unemployment rate of the nation and of every other state but one,” Scott wrote.
What he is concerned about now, Scott said, is how the state will be impacted by decisions made in Washington.
“This fall, the United States Congress will be faced with many major fiscal decisions, including consideration of a fiscal year budget, potential tax increases on millions of Americans, and budgetary sequestration that is designed to reduce discretionary spending by $1.2 trillion over ten years,” Scott wrote. “I appreciate the difficulty of these decisions.”
Florida, though, is home to 20 major military installations and three unified commands, the governor noted – all financed by the federal government.
“Florida plays an important role in our nation’s defense because of its diverse economy, strategic location, and exceptional military and support personnel,” he said. “For fiscal year 2008, defense-related spending accounted for 681,181 direct and indirect Florida jobs, according to the Florida Defense Alliance. Clearly, the defense presence in Florida plays a critical role in protecting our nation and in supporting our economy.”
Cutbacks in defense spending, Scott said, could be “devastating” to Florida’s economy. He called the proposed defense cuts “dramatic.”
“In the first year alone, more than 39,000 Floridians could lose their jobs because of the automatic cuts under sequestration according to a Center for Regional Analysis study,” Scott wrote. “United States Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has called the upcoming defense cuts ‘unworkable’ and ‘a disaster’ and insisted that they will ‘inflict severe damage to our national defense.’ This kind of threat to our defense capabilities and economy must be taken seriously.”
In addition to costing thousands of jobs in Florida, Scott cautioned that the proposed job cuts could “jeopardize the safety of Floridians.”
The cuts could also weaken Florida’s position when it comes to exporting and international trade, the governor claimed.
“Florida was ranked fourth among the nation’s top exporting states in 2011, and Florida’s ports provide an entry and exit point for United States businesses and their trading partners around the world,” he wrote. “For this reason, it is vital to our state’s economy, as well as the nation’s, to keep these commerce centers secure.”
Scott has been popular with Tea Party activists who favor reduced state and federal spending, although the governor lost some of that luster last year when he agreed to support SunRail, a proposed commuter rail line that would run in Central Florida. Although the federal government is picking up a large share of the construction price tag, the state and local counties would be covering the long term maintenance costs of the project. A lot of Tea Party activists have claimed SunRail is a wasteful boondoggle, and that nobody will ride the train.
Scott said he agrees that “the federal government must reduce spending, reduce taxes and create an environment conducive to private sector job growth,” but he also urged Congress to “prioritize the safety and security of our nation and the strength of our economy as you focus on resolving the issues related to the budget and sequestration. I encourage you to replace the impending and disastrous defense cuts with reductions in other non-essential government programs. For example, repealing the job-killing ObamaCare legislation will save close to $1 trillion by itself. This action would be a far more responsible and sensible step toward balancing the federal budget.”
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