In touting his budget outline for fiscal 2013-2014 last week, Gov. Rick Scott stressed job creation and smaller government as in years past -- but this year's proposal is the largest budget in state history. A rosy revenue forecast and state spending savings allow reinvestments in his favored programs while he suggests cuts or flat funding elsewhere.
Remarkably, his $74.2 billion budget proposal increases spending by $4 billion over the current fiscal year -- his tea party popularity likely waning as he maneuvers for a more popular position for his 2014 re-election bid.
After slashing state spending on public schools his first two years in office, he seeks an extra $1.2 billion on top of last year's $1 billion additional allocation to make up for a then $1.3 billion cut the previous year.
Plus, after with this year's $300 million reduction in higher education, he's handing an olive branch to university and college presidents with a restoration of some of that funding.
It's telling that in unveiling his budget blueprint, he surrounded himself with teachers, superintendents and higher education leaders while he spoke.
Even lawmakers couldn't help but comment about the obvious political implications of Scott's courting of the education community with his budget.
But the Legislature determines the budget, and there's been a tepid response to the governor's newfound conversion to education.
Scott's budget implications for Manatee County are varied.
n With the county's economic development position on the manufacturing sector, the governor's proposal to eliminate the sales tax on purchases of new equipment is most welcome.
This would put Florida on a level playing field with other southern states and remove a competitive barrier to jobs and growth.
n In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School carnage, the national consensus in the debate over violence and mass shootings zeroed in on proactive mental health treatment as a prevention tool.
But the governor remains tone deaf to mental health, providing no additional money for this critical service -- especially for children.
Last year, Scott vetoed the Legislature's $750,000 allocation for Manatee Glens, the county's primary mental health care provider. That money was targeted for children's services and a crisis stabilization unit.
The governor's woeful public policy ignores facts: almost two-thirds of Florida's mentally ill are left untreated; many end up behind bars, a more expensive proposition than treatment.
Scott put a simple title on his budget, one that doesn't fit this overlooked issue: "Florida Families First."
n Also on the plus side, the governor wants $60 million for Everglades restoration and $75 million for the excellent Florida Forever land preservation program.
Manatee County has long been dedicated to accumulating land and creating nature preserves, valuable assets that create value to our quality of life and economy.
n At the same time Scott continues to show indecision on accepting expansion of Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act, he suggests cutting Medicaid money to most hospitals by 2 percent as well as reducing allocations for county health clinics. Those costs don't disappear, they get pushed down.
n Following his ideology as the jobs governor, Scott wants to boost spending on colleges to $1.1 billion (this doesn't county university money) -- with an increase in competitve workforce programs, one of the driving forces at State College of Florida. Hopefully, some of that money will land in Manatee County.
While politics come into play with much of Scott's budget blueprint, there's much to appreciate. The Legislature begins tackling the state budget this week, and we look forward to improvements.