Bruce Ritchie: Scott can’t call his environmental promises ‘investments’

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Gov. Rick Scott can say what he will do if he is re-elected to another four years in office — but not beyond that.

In a re-election campaign document released Sunday that the governor is calling his “Keep Florida Beautiful” plan, Scott says he will propose 10-year “investments” to provide $500 million for springs restoration and $500 million for alternative water supplies.

Scott’s campaign document also says “the state must invest more” in land conservation and that he will request $150 million a year for the Florida Forever land-buying program.

The document continues on to describe his efforts to protect the Everglades, set nutrient pollution limits for waterways and protect Apalachicola Bay and the Florida Keys.

 But here’s the news flash: Scott will only be governor for another four years — and only if re-elected in November.

As a reporter covering environmental issues at the Capitol, I don’t have a problem writing about what the governor has done.

There is plenty there to debate. I give Scott some credit for raising the environment as an issue in the campaign after ignoring it in 2010. And former Gov. Charlie Crist’s on-again, off-again support for the environment while he was governor also shouldn’t be ignored.

But I do question the smoke-and-mirrors game of describing future budget requests as an “investments,” since Scott, if he’s re-elected, will be governor for only four more years.

Economic conditions can change, just as they did in 2009. That’s when Crist requested $300 million for Florida Forever but the Legislature provided nothing, after it had given the program money for 18 years.

Of course, Scott’s campaign document ignores the fact that he requested $0 for the land-buying program after taking office in 2011.

And then when the Legislature provided $305 million from the possible (and unlikely) sale of surplus state land, Scott vetoed that while claiming credit for opposing those “special interests’ spending projects.”

Earlier this year, Scott requested $30 million for the Florida Forever program but the Legislature appropriated only $12.5 million (plus $5 million for agricultural conservation easements).

Scott began claiming credit for “investments” last year when he announced that $10 million for springs in the 2013-14 budget would be combined with nearly $27 million from local governments and utilities.

But Scott hadn’t requested the $10 million — it was provided by legislators who were alarmed at how springs have become choked by algae because of nitrogen pollution.

This year, Scott requested $55 million for springs, including some agricultural water programs. But in the end, the Legislature provided only $30 million while shoving other money into local water projects.

Scott can say what he will do if he is elected. But he can’t say what the Legislature will do, or what other governors will do after he leaves office.

Bruce Ritchie is an independent journalist covering environment and growth management issues in Tallahassee. He also is editor of Floridaenvironments.com.