Rick Scott, the nation’s least popular governor, can’t seem to escape bad press this week. First, he was roundly criticized for vetoing $615 million in budget funds — a move that will hurt Florida’s most vulnerable population. Then he was lampooned for signing a bill that mandates drug testing of all welfare recipients — and forces the state’s poorest residents to pay for their own drug tests if they want to receive aid. Now, it turns out the budget Scott signed included $370 million of federal stimulus money the governor has spent years railing against. Scott had pledged to “fight all stimulus money,” and when confronted with his hypocrisy, he fumbled to find a plausible answer:
Florida Gov. Rick Scott campaigned against President Obama’s “failed stimulus” program — yet the freshman politician kept nearly $370 million of the federal cash in the Florida budget he signed last week.
Scott’s decision to keep the stimulus money stands out in a year when the governor touted record budget vetoes of up to $615 million. He emphasized the vetoes of “wasteful” spending at a Thursday event that featured a campaign-style “Promises Made, Promises Kept” banner.
But as he ran for office last summer, Scott said he “would fight all the stimulus money.” He also told reporters “I would have figured out how to balance the budget without it.” When asked Tuesday why he appeared to reverse himself by keeping stimulus money, Scott didn’t specifically answer.
When asked why he didn’t veto the stimulus money, Scott reverted to his standard talking point — bashing the federal government. But when pressed by the Miami Herald reporter, Scott said he went through every line of the budget and considered each through the lens of job creation. “That’s the filter I used,” he said. “So if the stimulus money helps creates jobs, then it’s okay?” the reporter replied. Scott immediately reversed himself and denounced stimulus money again, saying, “I think it’s a mistake. It’s taxpayer money and we have to watch how we spend all that money.” “But you okayed it,” the reporter pointed out.
Scott’s staffer then stepped in to try to end the interview. Scott walked away hedging about how he would need more detail about which lines the reporter was talking about, again contradicting himself by suggesting he didn’t know which lines of the budget contained stimulus money. In all, 61 lines of the budget contained stimulus money, and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 is specifically referenced 66 times.