More than 300 Tampa locals, including USF students, were waiting for Gov. Rick Scott outside of Tropicana Field on Friday evening shouting, “Boo.”
It was Opening Day for the Tampa Bay Rays, and Scott threw the ceremonial first pitch. Yet, protesters, inside and outside of the stadium, many public school teachers and employees of group-home providers, heckled the governor over cuts he has made to state spending.
In February, Scott proposed roughly 10 percent in cuts to education spending for K-12 students. In addition, he announced a 15 percent cut to group homes and services for Florida’s disabled.
Shouts and car horns filled the roadways surrounding the stadium as protesters of all ages brandished multi-colored protest signs and shouted things like, “Boycott Scott.” Another person said, “Scott is an Orioles fan.”
The rally was started by Peter Schorsch, executive editor of the award-winning blog Saint Petersblog, who created the Facebook group Boo Rick Scott on Opening Day. The group’s page asked people to attend the rally regardless of whether they had tickets to the game.
Those with tickets had the opportunity to join tens of thousands of fans in the stadium for a glimpse of the Florida governor.
At 6:45 p.m., the stadium public address announcer introduced Scott to a wave of boos that grew louder as Scott jogged onto the field. The governor threw the pitch, which was caught by Rays’ catcher John Jaso. Scott ignored the boos and jogged off the field, waving to the crowd while there were few who clapped for the governor.
The rally lined Third Avenue, which leads into Tropicana Field. People began showing up at about 5 p.m. Within 30 minutes more than 100 people had gathered for the protest. By 6:15 p.m., there were more than 300 people.
Many protesters credited their reason for attending the rally to Scott’s proposed 15 percent cut to providers like the Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD). The cuts became official Friday at midnight.
The state’s funding for programs that help the severely disabled was already $170 million over its budget. APD is a state agency that helps fund providers that assist people with developmental disabilities – such as Down Syndrome, autism and cerebral palsy – and their families, according to its website.
Scott used his emergency powers to make the cut. Florida Constitution Statute 14.021 allows the governor the ability to create and enforce emergency rules during any emergency declared by the governor to exist.
Elizabeth McNaughton, a sophomore majoring in criminology at USF, said she attended the rally to support her aunt, Selena Roe-Jordan, owner of Roe & Associates Integrated Behavior Supports Inc., which provides housing and care to the mentally and physically disabled.
“Rick Scott is cutting 40 percent (of funding from) our company specifically,” McNaughton said. “We just cannot help people with those kinds of cuts.”
Matt Potak, president of the Bay Area Association for Behavior Analysis and a USF alumnus who graduated in 1999 with a degree in psychology, said his company provides services to persons in the Medicaid waiver system.
“Over 30,000 people in the state of Florida will have to suffer because of these cuts to those people who are providing services,” he said.
Potak said the funding cuts will negatively impact patients treated by his company, and others like it.
“This is not the place to cut the funding,” he said. “It is taking homes away from the severely disabled in the state of Florida and it’s ruining the lives of those individuals. Those individuals are losing their homes and their structure, and their lives are going to be gone because of this.”
Karis King, who graduated from USF in 2004 with a degree in English, works for Potak’s company and said the budget cuts led to her and her co-workers each receiving a $5-per-hour cut in pay.
“You can imagine if you have a job and you get paid $5 per hour less. It just completely rocks our world.” King said. “I have to look for other work now. I can’t provide. I can’t pay my bills.”
McNaughton said more students should get involved in the outcry against Scott and not simply to support adults with behavioral disabilities.
“(Budget cuts) not only affect disabilities, but they affect education as well,” she said. “For students, education is one of the things most important to us, even if it is only affecting the teachers’ (pay and benefits), that’s going to indirectly affect us, and then directly affect us.”