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Gov. Scott "extremely disappointed" in opponents of prison privatization, cites pension fund as a reason for the plan

Gov. Rick Scott said he is "extremely disappointed" in officials who won't vote for a massive South Florida prison privatization effort that stalled in the Senate Wednesday. At required savings of 7 percent, the plan is "a simple decision," Scott said.

"We didn't get elected to waste any money. We didn't get elected to say that every program has to be run and staffed by somebody employed and paid by state government. We got elected to solve problems. Now if we can do it better, more effectively, more efficiently by outsourcing, we ought to be doing that," Scott told the Times/Herald. "I'm extremely disappointed that anybody in state government that's elected would not look at this as an opportunity to do a better job at a better price."

His comments came hours after failing to persuade a pair of Republican sheriffs-turned-senators to vote for the proposal, SB 2038. In a meeting with Sen. Steve Oelrich, R-Alachua, and former Alachua County sheriff, Scott connected the privatization deal with providing more money for the state employee pension fund.

Oelrich said Scott called him down to his office and attempted to get him to change his mind on the prison funding issue, but "I stood my ground," he said.

"I'm not a big government guy, but there's some things we ought to do and taking custody and control of the people we imprison is one of them,'' he said. "We investigate the cases. We arrest them and take away their freedom. We prosecute them and sentence them and now we're going to turn them over to a private company to save money. I don't believe in that."

Oelrich said Scott told him the savings are "foolproof," and there are safeguards in the contract, but he still wouldn't go for it.

Oelrich, a long-time member of the Florida Retirement System, said he was taken aback when Scott suggested the reason the state had to save the money on its prisons was because he believes the "retirement system is broke."

"The governor's words were that we are 'lying to state employees,' '' Oelrich said. "That troubles me. I don't think that's necessarily correct."

Oelrich questioned why Scott would use that as a rationale for defending prison privatization, which is projected to save between $16 million to $30 million a year. The state's retirement fund is more than 80 percent funded, he said, a level he believes is considered high compared to other states. Bringing it up to 100 percent funding is not something advocated by actuaries, Oelrich said, and would cost billions.

"He says we're between $25 and $60 billion in unfunded liability because we've assumed a 7.5 percent accrual rate and it's only making 5 percent,'' he said. "I'm very concerned that if in fact the retirement system is broke and we can't fulfill our obligations, then the State of Florida ought to let people know that and make the decisions they ought to make."

Scott repeated his assessment of the pension fund during the Florida Association of Counties annual legislative reception Wednesday night, telling county officials, "It's not fixed yet."

His 2012-13 budget recommendation calls for moving $122.6 million from general revenue toward the retirement system's unfunded actuarial liability. That's along with $180 million for normal costs.

Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, said he was also called down to meet with the governor. He told Scott he wouldn't budge.

"While it's nothing personal with me, I'm certainly not going to step on his toes but I have a right to have my convictions and pursue my distrust or dislike for privitization,'' he said.

Dean said the governor made no threats. "He's very much a professional governor and a professional gentleman and I respect him."

-- Katie Sanders and Mary Ellen Klas