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A Conversation With Florida Governor Rick Scott

Friday, March 11, 2011

HH: Pleased to welcome now Florida Governor Rick Scott to the Hugh Hewitt Show. Governor, welcome back, always good to talk to you.

RS: Nice talking to you.

HH: Governor, it’s sobering to watch this news out of Japan. Do you think Florida, specifically, and the United States generally, is prepared for the kind of natural disasters that can befall anyone at any time?

RS: Well, in Florida, you know, we have a world class emergency management department in our group. We’ve responded to hurricanes, wildfires, so we’re well-positioned. We have a new individual, Brian Coons, who ran emergency management for Wal-Mart that I brought in, and we’ve got a great National Guard. So we’re prepared. It’s horrible what’s happened in Japan, and the destruction of a number of people. In Florida, if something like that happened, we’re in a position that I think we’ll be able to respond very well.

HH: You know, my friend, Pete Wilson, used to say he was like governor of disasters, so many happened on his watch. Have you been giving that much thought as you take over the chief executive of a major state with a lot of natural disasters, about how you’re going to respond to the first one?

RS: Well, we do practices. I mean, we focus on how we’re going to respond to different types of, whether it’s a hurricane, whether it’s a wildfire, whether it’s mass migration, all these things, during the year we take, sort of, we have a practice to make sure we can respond well.

HH: Let me ask you, Governor, what’s your reaction to the events in Wisconsin over the last three weeks?

RS: Well, Scott Walker, I know Governor Walker, and he is doing the exact same thing every other governor is having to do from the standpoint he’s responding to a big budget deficit. Now governors are doing different things. As you know, in our state, we have a big budget deficit also, and we are reducing our costs of government, and also reducing taxes. Some governors, as you know, are raising their taxes, which I’m not going to do. I’m going to make sure that we’re the state that everybody wants to do business, because we have fair taxes. As you know, we don’t have an income tax, and I’m phasing out the business tax. But what Governor Walker’s doing is in his state. You know, he’s got a real problem with the cost of his government workers, and this is what he, this is his response.

HH: How big is the Florida budget deficit?

RS: Our deficit is $3.6 billion dollars. And part of what he’s doing is the same thing I’m doing, is looking at our pension costs. In our state, government workers don’t participate in the pension plan. It’s the only state in the country that state workers don’t. So I’m asking state workers, or government workers, to contribute 5%, and contribute a bigger portion of their health care costs, because historically, they’ve contributed very little. We’ve got to do two things. We’ve got to be fair to our taxpayers, we’ve got to make sure, I mean, most taxpayers don’t have pension plans. If anything, they have a 401K plan, which their employer might not even contribute to. So to have a pension plan, to have all government workers with a pension plan that they don’t contribute to is not fair to the taxpayers of our great state.

HH: Do you expect the same kind of static from public employee unions that Governor Walker has run into, and will you be responding in the same fashion if you get that kind of static?

RS: Well, last Monday, there was, and you never know what’s going to happen, last Monday, there were a few protestors in Tallahassee. But on the other side, we had thousands of people from the Tea Party that came up, because they know we’re doing the right thing. We’re being very, I’ve got the most fiscally conservative budget in the nation, and it’s a jobs budget, and they’re very supportive of what I’m doing. So we’re doing the right things. We are, and I’ve explained it well to everybody. We’re doing things that are fair. It’s not fair that taxpayers don’t get something that government workers get, so government workers are going to participate from now on.

HH: With governors like you and Walker and Kasich and Daniels leading the way, I’m hoping that the House Republicans will be as bold and as determined. Are you confident that they will be, Governor Scott? Or are you afraid that they’ve got round heels in Washington?

RS: I hope not. As we know, we’ve got, I was with the governors with President Obama the other day, and I asked the question to the President. I said tell me how we compete with all these other countries with the highest, if not the highest corporate taxes in the world, with the budget deficits, trillion dollar deficits that we have, with the unbelievable regulation the federal government’s coming out with, with the devastation that Obamacare’s going to have on patients, on businesses, on local and state taxpayers, how do we compete? And so I hope they do the right thing. They’ve got to get their costs down. They’ve got to…take Medicaid as an example. Just give us a bloc grant. I know where Floridians need. I don’t need all their rules. I know exactly. And if I’m doing the wrong thing, you know what? I won’t get reelected.

HH: You know, that bloc grant for Medicaid idea, that…the Health Care Compact folks at, they want the states to get together and make that pitch. Are you familiar with that effort by the Health Care Compact people?

RS: Well, I’m familiar with…so many of us, the governors, we’ve talked about, and we talked about it a lot at the Republican Governors Association meeting, national Governors Association meeting, we need to be in the position that they give us the money. You know, the federal government forgets those dollars were pretty recently, those were the hard-earned dollars of Floridians. And then they want to give it back to us with a whole bunch of strings attached. That is absolutely the wrong thing to be doing. This is our revenues, it’s our hard-earned dollars, that we don’t need all these strings attached. And we don’t need the federal government telling us how we should create a safety net for the poor. We care about the poor. We can do it much better than they can do it.

HH: You know, that’s what the Compact people want the states to agree to. I hope you take a look at that, Governor, because they’ve persuaded me that it’s a pretty good operational path to go to bring the issue before the Congress of the United States. Back to the Congress for a moment, do you want them, the House of Representatives, do you want Speaker Boehner and Leader Cantor to shut the government down if necessary to make serious advances in the national deficit to keep costs down?

RS: Well, all of us hope that it doesn’t come to shutting the government down, but what we need to do is, we need to live in reality. We cannot run trillion dollar deficits. We don’t need the federal government telling us how to run our states. And you know, whether it’s the Medicaid, health care for the poor and disabled, whether it’s the EPA telling us how…in Florida, they want to tell us what our water standards should be. We know what our water standards should be, or whether it’s giving us projects that we know that we don’t need instead of projects we do need. I mean, you remember the high speed rail? What I’m focused on is our ports. I mean, we’re in a great position to be the shipping capitol for at least the East Coast, if not the entire United States, based on the Panama Canal expansion, the expansion of the economies in Central and South America. You know, if they’re going to invest money in our transportation infrastructure, let’s put it into our ports, let’s put it into our highways, let’s put it into our rail cargo, not some federal boondoggle like high speed rail.

HH: Well, I agree with that, but do you sense that the Republicans are willing to go to the mat on this kind of stuff, because I don’t see them…

RS: You know, I hope they are. You know, you don’t know. I hope they are. I hope they understand that the American public is tired of this, tired of these deficits. They’re tired of the federal government wasting their money. They’re tired of the federal government telling us how to lead our lives.

HH: Now one of your colleagues, Mitch Daniels, has said you know, what we need to do is have a truce on the social issues in order to focus on these fiscal issues. Do you agree with that?

RS: Well, I think that social issues are important. At the same time, right now, the biggest issue we’ve got is, in Florida, we’ve got 1.1 million Floridians out of work. So when I go and give talks, what do people care about? Jobs. They care about jobs, jobs, jobs. And they want me to focus on two things. They want an opportunity for a great education, and an opportunity for a job. So that’s what they want us to focus on.

HH: Now I know that your critics, I’m not one of them, but I know that your critics would immediately say well, we want to cut 8,700 jobs from the state employment workforce, Governor Scott. How can you talk about jobs on the Hugh Hewitt Show, and say you know, I’ve got to cut 9,000 people’s livelihoods from the state budget?

RS: Well, what I’m focusing on is private sectors jobs. So those are the jobs that are going to be there, and there year in, year out. Just like right now, we’re dredging our port in Miami to get ready for the Panama Canal. That’s going to be over 33,000 permanent, private sector jobs that will be there year in and year out. It won’t cost taxpayers anything. As a matter of fact, we’ll get sales tax and property tax revenues out of that. That’s the type of jobs that I want. I don’t want more government. And you know what? The public agrees with me. They’re tired of the size of government. They know that government is way too big, and they can say that at the federal level, at the state level, and at the local level. Government is way too big, and they expect it to be cut.

HH: Now on the Obamacare side, you’re a health care expert, and you’ve demanded the Medicaid dollars back on a bloc grant. Great idea. But would you tell the Republicans in the House they’ve got to stop as part of this, whatever deal that comes down on Obamacare, a regulatory moratorium?

RS: Well, look. Obamacare is going to be, it’s going to ration care. Before I ran for governor, I organized a group called Conservatives For Patients’ Rights, and we did documentaries on the U.K. and the Canadian health care system. And you know, those patients are coming, going to other countries to get care. There’s absolute rationing of care. It’s horrible for patients. On top of that, if you talk to employers around the country, especially new employers, you know, small employers that are starting to understand what that law is, they’re saying I can’t afford to hire anybody else. And in our state in particular, the agricultural community says look, I cannot afford that Obamacare. And then on top of that, the unbelievable expansion, our taxpayers are not going to be willing to spend that money and have that expansion of the Medicaid program. It is not feasible. So from my standpoint, I don’t care if they’re Republicans or Democrats. This is not good for people. It’s horrible, it’s going to be horrible care for people. It’s not…we could fix health care very easily if we allow the private sector to work right. But no, the government wants to set all the rules. Whenever government sets rules, things always get rationed.

HH: Now Governor, I want to close with a couple of political questions. Do you think Florida will keep its January 31 presidential primary date?

RS: Well, I hope that we get to a date, I’d like it to be as early as possible, but I don’t want to lose any delegates. Florida is clearly a very important state, we’re a swing state. I’m very comfortable that this year, we’re going to swing Republican, but I would like our primary date to be on a day as early as possible, but not lose any delegates.

HH: And so are you advising your Republican colleagues in the House and the Senate to work with the RNC to move it back after South Carolina?

RS: Absolutely.

HH: Now let me ask you, thus far, we’ve got three serious candidates on the Republican side – Romney, Pawlenty and Newt Gingrich. Do you have a favorite among those three?

RS: Well, you know, I’m focused on who’s going to do the things that Floridians believe in. We believe in smaller government, we believe in lower taxes, we believe in getting the federal government out of our hair. Let us run our state, we can do it better. So that’s, in the end, that’s who we’ll support.

HH: Is there anyone, though, that not on that list that you want to get into the race, not Pawlenty, Romney or Gingrich?

RS: Well, I think that we’re going to have a lot of good candidates. I think the more the merrier. I think it gives us the opportunity to really pick and choose. So I’d like to have as many candidates as possible in the race.

HH: Will you endorse someone before that vote is taken, and not on the last weekend like your predecessor did in the surprise…

RS: You know, I haven’t decided what I’m going to do. I talked to, and I know, I think I know all the potential candidates. So I’ll be talking to them, but I haven’t decided whether I’m going to endorse one or not.

HH: Do you have a favorite in the race to be the nominee to stand up against Bill Nelson in 2012?

RS: Well, I think we’re going to have a lot of good Republicans running, it appears. I work well with Senate President Mike Haridopolos, but it looks like we’re going to have three or four other great candidates running. But I’ve not endorsed any of them.

HH: You know, some of the press reports suggest you don’t get along well with the legislature. Is that just the MSM trying to drive wedges between the GOP down in the Sunshine State?

RS: Well, we get along well, because we all know the big issue is jobs. And so everything that I’m doing, and everything that they’re doing, is saying how do we get our state back to work? How do we put our state in a position? And we should be, if you just think about it, I think about it simply. We should be the number one state for job creation – no income tax, a right to work state, we’re going to phase out the business tax, we’ve got the best weather, we’ve got the best beaches. People want to live in Florida. We’ve got the expansion of the Panama Canal, expansion of the economies in Central and South America. We will be the jobs creator over the next eight years.

HH: Last question, Governor. I’ll be down there broadcasting, as I always do, from the RNC. So I’m just getting you on record early. You’ll stop by the booth every day, won’t you?

RS: I’d love to stop by your booth.

HH: All right. That’s every day, Governor. We’re just looking for like the iron-clad commitment.

RS: (laughing) I would love to stop by. I’m pretty sure I would be interested in stopping by every day.

HH: Great. Governor Rick Scott, a pleasure talking to you, thank you for joining us on the Hugh Hewitt Show.

End of interview.

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