Gov. Rick Scott brought his new going-green budget sales pitch to Palm Beach County on Monday, telling local leaders that his plan to invest more in Everglades restoration would be a long-term economic boost for South Florida.
The same Republican governor who was criticized for advocating deep cuts to everything from environmental spending to education after taking office in 2010, this year also proposes $2,500 pay raises for teachers and more than $60 million to help Everglades restoration.
A new “cost effective, achievable” Everglades restoration plan helps the environment while also protecting South Florida’s drinking water supply, according to Scott.
“The health of the Everglades ecosystem is critical to the future of our state and clearly critical to this area of the state,” Scott said. “I am personally committed to making sure … that we do the right thing for the Everglades.”
Environmentalists are “very encouraged” to have the governor, who they contend in previous years pushed for cutting too deeply, now advocating more investment in Everglades restoration, said Eric Draper, Audubon of Florida executive director.
“We are really turning the corner with this governor,” said Draper, who joined Scott on stage at thePalm Beach County Convention Center luncheon. “Florida’s environment is an important part of economic growth. I think he is getting the message on that.”
The governor’s $74.2 billion state budget proposal to the Florida Legislature would include $60 million for restoration efforts that reach from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades. It also includes a proposed $75 million for the Florida Forever land-buying program, used for conservation.
The Legislature, which approves the state’s budget, starts its spring session in March.
Scott’s proposal would help pay for the initial phases of a new Everglades restoration plan pushed by the governor, which calls for increasing stormwater storage and treatment to clean up water needed to replenish Florida’s famed River of Grass.
After years of Everglades restoration efforts getting “waylaid” by litigation between governments and environmental groups, as well as delays from changes in state and federal politics, Scott’s new Everglades plan brings renewed hope for a resolution, said Barbara Miedema, vice president of the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida.
“If this doesn’t do it, we don’t know what will,” Miedema said.
Scott Monday also highlighted his push to boost education spending by $1.2 billion for public schools, including a $2,500 salary increase for “classroom teachers.” Scott estimates that would cost about $480 million per year.
“We have got to make sure that we fund education properly,” said Scott.
This follows Scott in 2011 backing $1.3 billion in public-school funding cuts and then last year supporting a nearly $900 million increases for schools.
The speech comes as the governor tries to reverse poor public opinion polls as he gears up for his 2014 re-election campaign.
During the question-and-answer portion of the speech, Scott was asked about issues ranging from gun control to immigration.
When asked by a high school student if he would support an assault weapons ban in the wake of recent school shootings, Scott said he “will continue to defend the Second Amendment” and that he supported working with law enforcement to improve school safety.
When pressed afterward about his stance on gun control, Scott told reporters that he hadn’t seen a specific proposal for an automatic weapons ban and repeatedly said: “I believe in the Second Amendment.”
For immigration reform, Scott said it would have to start with securing the border and then establishing a worker visa program that allows foreign workers in for two or three months to “work and go home.”
To help increase manufacturing in Florida, and the jobs that could follow, Scott advocates eliminating the state sales tax on manufacturing equipment. He said the tax puts Florida at an “economic disadvantage” in competing with other states for new businesses.
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