$8,800 Worth of Welcome Signs: What's the Ruckus?
Modernizing borders with new governor's name fitting for prestigious state going into 2012
Around the State
The governor spending tax dollars to spread his name around? It's an easy way to fire up readers. A cheap wind-up toy for a press corps at war with the governor's office.
Any reader who has a bone to pick with Rick Scott is ready to gasp in horror at the latest media revelation with Scott's name on it. Even if it makes a molehill out of an anthill.
But cooler heads might see "Signgate" in a different perspective.
We're talking about 35 painted metal "Welcome to Florida" signs that now have the words "Governor Rick Scott" added. For each sign, that's a cost of $251 and change.
I don't know about where you come from, but in New England, where I grew up, new governors get billboards with their pictures on them. Always. And $251 wouldn't even pay to rent the scaffolding.
"Every change of administration, that's what we do," said Garrett Mayer, an aide in the office of former Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell. "The general feeling is, we want our welcome to feel as personal to visitors as possible. A billboard with the governor's picture says, 'here, this is a special invitation from the state's highest elected official' and it's a symbol that we are a very open-door and transparant state."
Mayer said he is unsure exactly how the annual contract for Connecticut's outdoor advertising breaks down, but "I feel confident the cost of the billboards eclipses $100,000 annually." Do taxpayers complain? "About everything else except the governor's billboards," he said.
In fact, nearly half of the 50 states welcomes visitors with governor billboards. And most of the others find a way to get the governor's name on their interstates.
Calling Scott's new signs a frivolous waste of money in a bad economy strikes an even more absurd note when you consider the $50 million BP paid the state in April to reignite its promotion of tourism after the Gulf oil spill. And Florida will receive a share of the $5 billion to $20 billion in BP fines (that really is billion, not million) when the currently convening Gulf Coast Caucus decides how to divvy up the money.
My question is this: Why can't the drop-in-the-bucket "Governor Rick Scott" plates on 35 metal signs appropriately come out of the BP tourism promotion money? Out of millions, $8,800? It's almost laughable why nobody is making the connection.
Speaking of BP, here's an expenditure the media can look into if they want to continue probing chump-change payouts. The state spent $7,500 on clothes during the spill, nearly half of that on embroidered shirts to identify state officials. Another big revelation! Oh, wait a minute. Rick Scott wasn't in office then. Never mind.
Again checking out oil spill expenditures from last summer: The state spent $12,000 on handheld GPS devices, $105,000 on telephone equipment and temporary phone lines and $31,463 on digital and live web cameras. Where is that equipment now? If only that fell under Rick Scott's office budget, I'll bet the media big dogs would be growling all over it.
Florida is increasingly one of the most politically influential states in the nation. There are solid reasons to modernize and broaden its border welcome, particularly in the face of all the attention the state will get in 2012. Luring more visitors and new business and industry -- ways to grow jobs -- that was the top goal not just of Rick Scott but of the majority of Florida voters in the last election.
It seems to me, the signs are something we did right, not for Gov. Scott but for Florida and Floridians. They really are a good idea. Florida's welcome mat isn't the place to be $8,800 worth of stingy.
About this column: Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at (850) 727-0859.