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Rick Scott Can't Let the Race Turn Into a Spending Contest

August 21, 2014 - 6:00pm
Rick Scott came into office in 2010 by running as a fiscal conservative but, as he faces a tough re-election challenge from Charlie Crist, hes increasingly calling for more spending on government programs.

Scott upset Bill McCollum and beat Alex Sink by stressing his business background and how he would use that experience to be fiscally responsible in Tallahassee and keep the state government out of the way so the private sector would grow and create jobs. Despite Scotts awkward public persona, it worked. Floridians gave Scott the keys to the car instead of career politician McCollum or Sink who had some private-sector credentials of her own.

But now Scotts attitude increasingly seems to be if you cant beat them, join them. Scott is calling for an extra $800 million for transportation projects, called for $1 billion spending on the environment earlier this month and, on Thursday, boasted that he would raise education spending to its highest level based on per-student spending.

Even though Crist has a long past with the GOP, Scott has nailed down the Republican base despite some grumbling on the right over immigration and other matters. After trailing badly in the polls for all of 2013 and the start of this year, Scott has moved up and now has a narrow lead over Crist in most surveys. While not fond of the governor, independents are backing Scott over Crist in the polls. Scotts recent rash of spending proposals seems designed to keep the independents behind him as opposed to going back to Crist.

But there are dangers in this strategy. Republicans are more likely than Democrats -- and much more likely than independents -- to come out and vote in off-year elections. The Republicans who come out to the polls are often the most committed conservatives, and if there is one thing they agree on, its that theres too much government spending.

Scott faces the challenge of trying to woo independents with more spending on education and the environment while keeping conservatives in the Republican base happy. He might be counting on the GOPs continued dislike of a turncoat like Crist to keep conservatives behind him, hoping theyll overlook his plans for more spending.

But Crist can also play this game. Crist is already going after Scott on education and environmental spending, saying, if elected, he will work with the Legislature to spend more on both fronts. Scott wont be able to win if the race turns into a contest of who can spend more. The Democrat can win that contest hands down.

Scott has one issue at his disposal which could give him an advantage over Crist: tax cuts. The governors chief legislative priority this year was $500 million in tax cuts, including rolling back the vehicle registration fees Crist enacted by $400 million.

For the moment, Scott has put tax cuts on the back burner. But, if he insists on going toe-to-toe with Crist over who can promise to spend the most, Scott might want to put tax cuts front and center to remind the GOP and independents who want to keep a few bucks in their pocket why they should keep him in office.

Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis exclusively for Sunshine State News.

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