Tallahassee, FL - Gov. Rick Scott heard an earful Wednesday from state employees who could lose their positions under budget cuts proposed by Florida’s self-described “jobs governor.”
Taking questions from workers at the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, Scott was asked repeatedly about his plans to privatize some state functions and to increase the amount state workers have to contribute to their pension fund, all part of an effort to right-size government so he can put Floridians to work.
“State employees are Floridians too,” one worker, who didn’t give his name, reminded the governor.
And that worker actually likes Scott.
Florida Governor Rick Scott fields questions from Department of Business and Professional Regulation employees in Tallahassee on Tuesday, February 23, 2011.
“I love your ideas and I respect you and I thank you very much for what you’re trying to do for Florida,” said the employee, who said he came from the private sector to work for the state. He asked Scott if someone from the governor’s office might be made available to talk to his team at DBPR’s Bureau of Education Testing to figure out what options might be out there to keep the bureau open.
Another worker in the same bureau, which may be eliminated, questioned the governor on why that was, when the bureau has generated $1.28 million for the state.
The exchanges stood in contrast to some of Scott’s earlier visits to state agencies, when he joked that employees must have been told not to ask him questions.
Scott’s $65.9 billion budget proposal, his first since taking office, includes eliminating some 8,600 state government jobs, which could result in a number of layoffs.
He also is asking 655,000 public employees to contribute 5 percent to their pension fund, which another DBPR employee also questioned Wednesday.
“Sir I understand the budget crisis, but we’ve all been given the opportunities (to get) higher paying jobs with the private sector. I came out from one of (those private sector) jobs to serve the citizens of Florida and settled for lower pay in wages,” the employee told Scott. “As state employees, we trust the government’s commitment to retirement and to health care benefits. My question is do you fully realize the gross unfairness of that proposal?”
Scott’s answer for that was that fairness was not the question.
“Every employer in the state has figured out the only way to control health care cost, is to have the individual that’s receiving them more responsible for the cost, because they’ll buy health care better,” Scott said. “That’s what everybody’s having to do. Whether any of us like it or not, whether it’s fair or unfair.”
Scott also told the DBPR employees that he was trying to protect their pension plans by asking them to contribute more to them.
“Everybody here wants a plan they can rely on,” he said. “Right now, your plan is underfunded, whether anybody wants to acknowledge it or not…whoever the youngest is, everyone else should thank them, because there might not be a pension plan, just like we’re worried about Social Security.”
Scott also said financial problems causing angst for state workers aren’t unique to government.
“Everybody in the private sector is dealing with the same thing that governments are dealing with. There’s less money,” he said. “There’s less money in all these companies and you guys all cause it. As example, y’all shop at Wal-Mart right? You don’t say ‘golly, I’m going to buy the product because they have a better pension plan, a better 401 (k) plan, a better health care plan or they pay more taxes.’ You say ‘I’m going to buy based on price.’ That’s what taxpayers are doing now. They’re moving around the country to pick states where they can keep more of their dollars.”
As for the Bureau of Education Testing positions that would be eliminated under Scott’s proposed budget, the governor told the employees he was not proposing any cuts just because he was anti-state employee.
“Here’s the way I look at things,” he said. “If state government can do it better than the private sector, state government is going to do it. If the private sector does it better, the private sector will do it. You as a taxpayer, that’s what you expect. If there’s no reason why the private sector can do it any better, it won’t happen.”