TALLAHASSEE -- Governor-elect Rick Scott promises it won’t be business as usual when he takes the reins of the state’s highest office Jan. 4, and if he adopts the giant to-do list from his six transitions teams, there may be no doubt he has kept his promise.
The wide-ranging list of recommendations cover everything from considering the sale of Jackson Memorial Hospital to giving universal vouchers to all parents to send their children to private schools.
The ideas contemplate merging more than a dozen state agencies into two or three departments, raising residential electricity rates in exchange for lower commercial rates, privatizing the state’s mental health facilities, punishing the unemployed for spending too little time hunting for jobs, and even identifying a private-sector employee to run the Department of Juvenile Justice.
Depending on the suggestions, Scott may adopt many of the proposals himself after he takes office, such as creating a “chief reform officer’’ inside the executive office of the governor. But most of the ideas will require legislative or federal approval, budget changes and, in the case of universal vouchers, a possible amendment to the state Constitution. As a result, Scott supporters are urging the new governor to read the recommendations carefully and move methodically before asking lawmakers for approval and support.
“Some of these sound like common-sense ideas and others are going back to the past where things didn’t work,” said Sen. Paula Dockery, a Lakeland Republican and one of two legislators on Scott’s transition team. “After a thorough debate, the Legislature will view some of them positively but will view some of them with great caution.”
For example, a proposal to merge the Department of Community Affairs (the state’s growth management agency) with the Department of Transportation and the Department of Environmental Regulation would create a cumbersome bureaucracy that might cause more problems than it solves, Dockery said.
“The governor will restructure a little bit of government, but I don’t think we’ll see all these massive reforms,” she said, noting that lawmakers “still have some institutional memory left in the Legislature. Term limits didn’t take it all away.”
Sen. Joe Negron, the Stuart Republican who is heading the Senate’s Medicaid reform effort, said he agrees with the transition team that reforming the way the state delivers and pays for Medicaid should be a top priority for the next governor. But while Negron believes “there are some innovative ideas in the report,” he’s not exactly ready to adopt them.
“We’re in the process of writing the Senate bill now and we started from scratch -- with a blank sheet of paper,” he said.
Another economic development proposal offers to save businesses $3.25 billion a year on their electric bills by offering corporations that agree to relocate to Florida or expand businesses already here a special “economic development” rate.
The challenge would be to convince legislators that, in exchange for luring jobs, they might see their constituents’ utility bills increase.
Legislators may resist many of the reforms proposed by the transition teams if Scott doesn’t manage his proposals carefully, warned Dominic Calabro, director of TaxWatch, a business-backed research group.
“Historically, agency consolidations cost more money than they saved,” he said. “But times are different and this governor understands consolidations.”
Nevertheless, Scott must be patient if he wants to enact big changes, Calabro said.
Former Gov. Jeb Bush had one of the most accommodating legislatures in history and it still took him more than a couple of sessions to get his education and civil service reforms through.
“The Legislature is almost designed not to change radically,” Calabro said. “We probably won’t get everything done in the first legislative session, but we’ll make a tremendous amount of progress.”
Pushback has already started from interest groups determined to protect their regulatory turf. Florida Medical Association senior vice president Tim Stapleton, for example, said doctors don’t like the transition team’s idea of merging the department that regulates doctors with the agencies that regulate hospitals or serve the disabled and elderly.
“The FMA feels strongly that the chief medical officer of the State of Florida should report directly to the governor,” Stapleton said in a statement. “This is a public safety concern and the governor must have a medical doctor advising him of these issues rather than another government bureaucrat.”
The transition reports are loaded with business metaphors that cater to Scott’s business background and urge him to “restructure the company” and “rebrand” its assets. Growth management, for example, should be called “growth leadership.” That approach will make sense if Scott remembers that while he’s the chief executive, legislators are not his staff, said Ken Plante, a Tallahassee lobbyist and former Republican Senate leader who served as Bush’s first legislative liaison.
“He should view the Legislature as a board of directors elected solely by stockholders who are not beholden for their job to the governor,” he said.
“They want to work with him but they are independently elected.”
Scott’s press office said in a statement that he met with the 200 members of his transition teams in closed-door meetings in Fort Lauderdale last week and “will consider all of the recommendations presented.” But neither the governor-elect or his staff would comment on how whether they consider the ideas wish lists -- or to-do lists.