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While Lawmakers Feud, Scott Visits Ferris Wheel, Wawa

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Associated Press
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

When it became clear that the House and Senate wouldn’t agree on a budget, Republican Gov. Rick Scott was in California trying to get shipping companies to move to Florida.

And when the Legislature was at the point of no return to either pass a budget or go home without completing the one task it’s legally required to do each year, Scott was at a Wawa gas station opening in Fort Myers.

When the Senate threatened Wednesday to bring legal action against the House for adjourning three days early with more work to be done, Scott was visiting a giant Ferris wheel in Orlando.

“Clearly this is not going to be featured in the ‘Profiles In Courage’ book in the future about political leadership, that’s for sure,” said Republican Sen. Rob Bradley on Wednesday, the day the Senate came back to session after the House went home over an impasse on the budget and a feud over whether to expand health care coverage for the poor.

Scott did go to the Capitol three weeks into the 60-day session with Florida State football coach Jimbo Fisher to show people how much they’d save if the Legislature passed his cellphone and TV tax cut. The $40 annual savings equates to the price of a cup of Starbucks coffee once a month for the average Floridian.

And he ran television ads to build public support for those same tax cuts. But lawmakers say he was not as engaged as he should have been considering the severity of the budget dispute.

Scott also sued President Barack Obama to force the federal government to give the state more than a billion dollars for hospitals to treat the poor. But he did so after the House left town and he only wants the money if he isn’t forced to expand Medicaid.

The Senate wants to expand health care, while the House refuses. Scott says he doesn’t want to expand Medicaid, even though two years ago, when he was getting ready to run for re-election, he said he did want to expand the program to provide care for the poor. His current position reflects the one he held before that.

“It’s probably the most bizarre type of external behavior,” House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford said about Scott. “When this Legislature is screaming for leadership, he’s on a Ferris wheel, he’s opening up the Wawa, he’s in another state on a private plane. It’s really remarkable how bad this governor has been.”

Today, when neither chamber was at the Capitol and two days after the House went home, Scott announced that he wants to work with lawmakers to resolve the situation. On a day when his public schedule showed zero activity, Scott’s communications office sent out a statement on his behalf.

“We must immediately turn our focus to how we can work together to craft a state budget,” Scott said in the release.

It’s a far cry from the days of Gov. Jeb Bush, who would routinely walk through House and Senate halls during the legislative session and hold impromptu meetings with lawmakers to push them on important issues.

Republican Sen. Tom Lee, the Senate’s budget chief, said he spoke to Scott’s chief of staff early in the session and said Scott should have a role in budget negotiations. But his thoughts on that have changed.

“Perhaps they were right to let the Legislature work on this, because when he did get engaged on Monday night in week eight, it didn’t go well,” Lee said. “Just exactly what value he might have added to the process I don’t know, but clearly we weren’t able to do it on our own.”

When Senate President Andy Gardiner was asked if Scott should have played a bigger role in helping the Legislature bridge differences, he said “You’d have to ask him.”

Scott’s spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond when asked the same question.