TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - A WINK News exclusive: We go to the governor's mansion for a special one-on-one interview with Governor Rick Scott about his first few months in office. He rarely grants interviews with the media, but sat down with Chief Investigative Reporter Melissa Yeager to answer her questions. She covered everything from state employee pensions to his flip-flops in his first 100 days in office.
Melissa: "What's on your priority list for the rest of the session?"
Governor Scott: "We have two weeks of the session left. I think about jobs and getting our state back to work. Step one is phasing out the business tax which will have a big impact on the state. Making sure we have a budget that the dollars are allocated well we have to make sure we have a pension plan that our taxpayers are willing to pay for and is fair for government workers, so we have to do that."
Melissa: "I know your heart is with the pension issue and you've taken a lot of flack for that especially from members of law enforcement who campaigned for you. Do you listen to what they're saying about their pensions and their concerns?"
Governor Scott: "Oh absolutely. Look, we have to be fair to the people who participate in the pension but let's talk about being fair. What is worse? Do you want to have a pension you know you are going to get which is what my plan does because our state pension plan is underfunding right now."
Melissa: "What do you mean by underfunded? Because everything I've seen is we are solvent even if 90 percent of people retired today we would have enough money."
Governor Scott: "We are 13 percent underfunded and that's assuming we have a 7.75 percent return on dollars forever. So you can make a decision. Whether you think-- when you go to the bank right now and look at the interest rate you're getting on that money-- so somehow putting that money in a retirement plan we're getting 7.75 percent-- not what you're getting at the bank today. You can decide on your own whether you think that is something that is realistic. If you look at the last year, we were 13 percent. So someone isn't getting paid."
Melissa: "I know there are a couple issues where you have gone out the gate with cuts, like to disabled Floridians, then changed your mind. I am wondering what kind of surprises have happened like that for you or why that happens?"
Governor Scott: "Why that happens is this: you have to understand I don't get to spend money. I only get to spend what the legislature allocates. So in last year's budget, they appropriated a certain amount for the agency for persons with disabilities and when I got in I found out, I sent in an inspector general, I found out they were dramatically over budget from the expenditure standpoint. So, as governor here are your choices: you can have it run out of money which is not a good answer because that means people are going to run out of services. You can change the provider rates for a period of time so you don't run out of money so the people who are vulnerable can still get their service, or you can do nothing and you can run out of money. So what I did is I did the responsible thing to do, which is I said here is the problem. We are significantly over budget in terms of expenditures: 174 million dollars. The right thing to do is change the provider rates to the end of the session or the fiscal year, June 30th and go back to the legislature and see if they can fund it. So I did the right thing for that group which is a group we do want to take care of and fortunately the legislature approved funding the shortfall for the rest of the fiscal year.
We had many more questions we wanted to discuss with the governor, especially about education, but because of the governor's busy schedule were not able to fit all of our questions in the 15 minute window allotted by his staff.