Dispatch #4 from the Crist express: A risky strategy

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It’s hard to determine who executing a risker strategy. Charlie Crist, who is counting on people understanding the mix of local, state and federal funding that goes to schools or Gov. Rick Scott who seems intent on blaming Crist for the deepest world-wide recession since the Great Depression.

Crist’s Restore the Cuts campaign swing rolled into Orlando and Tampa Thursday. At stops in Tallahassee, Jacksonville and Orlando Republican members of the Florida Legislature were on hand to counter Crist’s claims that public schools are not a priority with the Scott administration.

At each stop Crist reminds voters that Scott’s first budget proposal called for a $3 billion dollar cut to schools, which the Legislature trimmed to $1.3 billion.

“Think what he will do when he doesn’t have to face reelection,” Crist warned.

The Crist line of attack brought Rep. Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne to Crist’s Orlando news conference.

“The yellow school bus is a fraud because Charlie Crist is not, in comparison of the two, is not the education governor,” said Workman.

The three-term lawmaker who is running unopposed this year finds it “interesting” how the two gubernatorial candidates sniping about education funding seem to absolve the Legislature of all responsibility for how Florida spends its money.

He said he was “proud” of the work the House has done on education and was willing to sit out the gubernatorial campaign and let the two candidates “go at it” but Crist touring the state in a school bus bothered him.

“With the two governors running in this election, you got one who cut education in the net, and one who didn’t cut education in the net. And you got one who mandated an increase in teacher’s salaries and one who didn’t,” said Workman.  “And the one running around in a yellow school bus is the one who cut education, in the net.”

Yet, the state’s largest teacher’s union has endorsed Crist.

The current state budget directs $18.9 billion to public schools. It is the largest amount of money the state has ever spent on schools. But when adjusted for inflation the money has less purchasing power than the final budget Crist signed when he was governor.

Crist is expecting people to understand that.

“During the Great Recession, with the global economic meltdown, I was able to maintain education funding at a level higher per pupil than Rick Scott is doing with an almost three billion dollars surplus,” Crist told a Tampa crowd.  “When you have almost a $3 billion surplus and you only allocate about 7 percent of that to education that is hardy a priority and when you can’t match per pupil funding that I did during the Great Recession that’s embarrassing.”

Crist’s fourth budget when adjusted for inflation directed about $271 dollars more than Scott’s fourth budget.

His five-city, three-day bus tour is an attempt to explain the economics of school funding.  And at each stop, Republican operative wave signs which hold him responsible for the loss of 800,000 jobs during a world-wide recession while a person in a chicken suit wears a sign calling on him to quit ducking his opponent in the Democratic primary and debate Nan Rich.

The Restore the Cuts bus tour concludes in Miami Friday. There are 82 days until the gubernatorial election.