TALLAHASSEE – Gov. Rick Scott turned aside criticism Wednesday that his administration is shutting out the news media and the public during an appearance before newspaper editors, broadcasters and the Capitol press corps.
The multimillionaire Republican also said he’s confident he can cut taxes by about $2 billion and still balance a budget that’s already facing a potential $3.6 billion shortfall despite open skepticism from GOP legislative leaders.
Scott insisted he’s been transparent and open but defended a gag order he’s issued to agency heads while responding to questions during the annual legislative editors meeting hosted by The Associated Press at the Florida Capitol.
He was asked about the ejection of reporters from public events and it was suggested his staff had shown favoritism in selecting certain reporters to provide pool coverage instead. Scott did not respond directly.
“I do press conferences. I do gaggles. Anybody can come to those,” Scott said. “I feel very comfortable that we’re very open.”
The governor said his department heads need to focus on fixing their agencies rather than doing media interviews.
“That’s their first job,” Scott said, but then added, “I believe in giving people information. I believe the public has a right to know. I believe the public has a right to know more than what we give them as a government and I’m going to do that.”
Responding to a complaint about public records requests going unanswered, Scott said his staff is processing them as quickly as possible.
Scott – a political newcomer who was successful in his first try at winning public office – did not visit newspapers or seek their endorsements during his successful gubernatorial campaign.
He also said he did not read news accounts of the campaign. Scott said he still doesn’t read about himself but gets news briefings. He said if he pays too much attention to what’s being written he might be tempted to seek favorable press instead of sticking to his agenda.
That agenda is to create jobs by making Florida friendlier to business growth by cutting taxes and regulations and shrinking government.
Scott offered few specifics on how he intends to cut corporate income and school property taxes while closing the $3.6 billion budget gap for the fiscal year beginning July 1. He did, though, say the state needs to do a better job of purchasing goods and services.
He said his staff is conducting a line-by-line budget review to determine what spending is essential and what’s nice to have but not needed.
“I believe our existing budget is bloated,” Scott said. “We’re not cautious enough about how we spend money.”
Scott is expected to unveil his proposed budget recommendations to the Legislature on Feb. 4.
Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, last week said he didn’t think the state could afford Scott’s budget cuts and still maintain essential services.
House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, agreed when he spoke to the editors before Scott.
“If there’s a way that they can be reduced and still meet the critical needs then I’m open to it, but I think its going to be a big challenge,” Cannon said. “I haven’t seen a way yet that I’m persuaded it’s doable.”
Scott said it’s a matter of making tough choices and predicted many people won’t like his choices.