TAMPA -- With New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie at his side, Florida Gov. Rick Scott pledged Thursday to spend $1 billion upgrading the state's ports over his two terms in office if he is re-elected.
Speaking at Port Tampa Bay to about 50 hard-hatted port employees, Scott made a campaign speech that called for dredging the port's channels and improving its container yard and petroleum facility.
"It's all about jobs for our families," Scott said.
The projects would create 525 construction jobs, retain 2,500 existing ones and potentially create an additional 1,400, Scott said. He said the state has already spent more than $640 million on Florida's ports since he took office in 2011.
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Carlos Buqueras, executive director of Port Manatee, said Scott's campaign promise is good news for all of Florida's 15 ports. He said the governor, in his first term, has been "so supportive" of the ports, and that he is making a good investment. Citing a Florida Department of Transportation study, Buqueras said the state's ports generate more than $7 of economic activity for every public dollar invested.
If Scott's funding proposal becomes reality, Port Manatee will take advantage of it.
"We're not shy about making sure we invest those dollars," Buqueras said.
Port Manatee officials knew Scott was visiting Port Tampa Bay, but did not participate in the event. Scott last visited Port Man
atee in August 2012 for the Berth 14 ground-breaking celebration.
The port plan is the first of several political initiatives Scott plans to announce as he works on his re-election campaign.
Christie, chairman of the Republican Governors Association and a possible 2016 presidential candidate, vowed to come to Florida as much as Scott feels is necessary to help him win re-election.
Scott and Christie took turns taking shots at former Gov. Charlie Crist, who was elected as a Republican in 2006 but is now seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge Scott.
"Unlike other races across the country, you have a clear choice," Christie said. "You've seen what happened when Crist was in office."
Scott blames Crist for the state's economic downturn, which saw unemployment rise from 3.5 percent when he took office in January 2007 to 11.1 percent when he left office four years later -- about 2 percentage points above the national average. The state's latest unemployment rate of 6.2 percent is just below the national average.
Crist campaign spokesman Kevin Cate issued a statement Thursday criticizing Scott's "desperate attacks," pointing out that the state's unemployment rate had started to fall during Crist's final months in office.
"Florida's economic recovery began under Charlie Crist because he had the right priorities -- education, the middle class and saving the jobs of first responders," Cate said. "As soon as Rick Scott was elected, his first budget cut education by $4.8 billion so he could give tax breaks to his corporate contributors. Because Rick Scott only cares about handouts for his friends, our economy has lost jobs that would have been created through high-speed rail, expanding access to affordable care, and investing in education."