- The Washington Times - Monday, March 14, 2011

Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Monday that fellow Republican Gov. Scott Walker did the right thing by limiting the collective-bargaining rights of state workers in Wisconsin.

Mr. Scott said in an interview that Florida is trying to close a similar budget shortfall of more than $3 billion, and, like his counterpart in Wisconsin, he is asking state workers to share the burden with taxpayers.

“I think Scott Walker is doing exactly what you should be doing as a governor,” Mr. Scott said during an appearance on the Washington Times-affiliated “America’s Morning News” radio program.

“He’s saying, ‘Look, I have a $3 billion deficit’ — we have the same thing in Florida — ‘and the government workers, the cost of government is too high.’ Just like what we have in Florida. So he’s doing the same things from the standpoint of saying, ‘Look, you’re going to have to participate in your pension plan.’”

As governors around the nation weigh the impact of the Wisconsin battle in their own states, the partisan fight continued Monday in Madison.

Wisconsin Secretary of State Doug La Follette, a Democrat, said he would delay publication of the law stripping most public employees of collective-bargaining rights until the last day possible, March 25, to give local governments more time to push through new labor deals.

The law doesn’t take effect until the day after it is published by the secretary of state, and the Associated Press reported Monday that union-friendly school boards and local governments across Wisconsin are rushing to circumvent the new law.

In Florida, Mr. Scott has offered to shave $1.4 billion annually from the state’s current spending levels — $70 billion in 2011 — by requiring state and local workers to contribute for the first time to the state’s public employee pension fund.

“In our state, almost nobody has a pension plan in the private sector. If you have a 401(k) plan, your company might not be paying in anyway,” he said Monday. “So we’re saying for new workers, you’re going to go into a 401(k)-type plan. For existing workers you’re going to have to start participating [in funding pensions]. One, to make sure it’s fair to taxpayers and, on top of that, we have a pension plan you can rely on.”

As in Wisconsin, there have been noisy protests in Florida of the proposed cutbacks.

Skeptical state lawmakers are watering down the new governor’s proposals, but with Republicans firmly in control of both chambers of the Florida Legislature, Mr. Scott is is likely to win concessions on pension contributions.

Mr. Scott, a tea-party favorite who recently drew national attention for rejecting $2.4 billion in federal funds for a proposed high-speed rail system, urged state lawmakers to stand firm on promises to rein in spending while delivering on his campaign promises to cut taxes at the same time.

“Government grew way beyond its ability to pay for its promises, and the jobs disappeared,” he said last week. “Doing what must be done will not make me most popular, but I’m determined to make Florida most likely to succeed.”

The former hospital chain executive, who spent millions of his own funds to win his first bid for public office last year, also asked lawmakers to make the state more business-friendly.

During Monday’s radio interview, he said he has been traveling the country promoting Florida’s beaches, its attractions and its pro-business atmosphere — sneaking in a quick jab at a couple of Democratic governors who are supporting tax hikes to help balance shortfalls in their states.

“It’s great that governors in Illinois and Connecticut are raising taxes, it gives people more of a reason to move their companies down here,” he said.