Gov. Rick Scott has been making the rounds of goverment agencies, speaking to employees. On Tuesday, he swung by the Department of Community Affairs, the growth management agency Scott wants to cut from 358 employees to 40. He wants to slash the agency budget from $779 million a year to just $110 million, in part by moving emergency management workers to his office and eliminating more than 150 jobs. Scott's pick to head DCA, Billy Buzzett, last week told lawmakers the agency can operate with less by cutting out state review of development plans, and put that work in the hands of local governments. It's a proposal the legislature may well embrace.
Dozens of employees gathered in the lobby of the DCA building to hear Scott's remarks, which began with him telling them they do a good job, he's looking forward to restructuring the department and he hears a lot of complaints about how "fast you guys do permits." (The assumption is people complain those permits aren't issued fast enough.)
During a question-and-answer session, Robab Fayazi, a 42-year-old application developer who has worked for the agency since 2005, asked Scott to justify his plan to eliminate 10,000 state jobs over the next two years at a time when lawmakers are talking about cutting unemployment benefits. Scott told her he is focused on creating private sector jobs, and elaborated on his plans to make Florida the most attactive state to do business in the country, saying one of the ways to do that is to reduce unemployment insurance costs.
"It's clearly a significant issue," he said, but added he would work hard to make sure state employees who lose their jobs find other work for the state.
After Scott left, Fayazi said the governor provided little comfort.
"I cannot wait seven years until the private sector comes here and decides to do something about it," she said, refering to Scott's highly publicized plan to create 700,000 private sector jobs in seven years. "What am I going to do tomorrow?"
Similarly, Tom Robinson, who works for emergency management, said he wasn't wholly satisfied with the governor's response to his question about how he can guarantee companies given corporate tax cuts in Florida will actually create jobs in Florida.
Scott answered by saying that it business owners pays lower taxes, they will have more money to hire, and they're more likely to create those jobs in Florida if there's a favorable business climate to go along with the great weather.
"They don't want to go to a faraway place. The easiest thing is to do it right where they are. So everybody that's in business in this state, when you put more money in their pockets, there's a greater chance they're going to grow private sector jobs in this state," he said.
Robinson, though, was skeptical. "It's unrealistic to expect we're going to get a trickle down job effect. We tried that in this country before," he said.
Ken Reecy, 48, who has worked for the state for nearly 30 years, questioned Scott about making sure people who lose their jobs can maintain their pension benefits if they are rehired by the state. Scott told Reecy he would take a look at the issue.
Scott also railed against regulations, saying he was stunned when he froze all new rules and regulations after his inauguration and discovered there were more than 900 in the works. Those regulations are an impediment to business, he said.
He challenged the crowd: "Name a regulation, that if you're just an average consumer, name one regulation you say, 'Boy, I couldn't live without that one.' Go around the state and I'll tell you what people will tell you. There's not many regulations they like," Scott said. Business owners, in particular, are bothered by regulations in Florida and how long it takes to open their doors. He told the story of a developer in Naples that needed 75 permits just for the land to open a university.
"I'm absolutely committed. We are only going to have the regulations we need," he said. "We're only going to have taxes and fees we need."