Gov. Rick Scott and fellow Republicans are spending millions of dollars on TV ads attacking Democratic challenger Charlie Crist for raising taxes and fees by $2.2 billion when he was governor, letting state universities raise tuition by up to 15 percent each year and allowing a power company to charge customers billions for a nuclear plant it will never build.
What the ads don’t say is that Scott’s very own running mate, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, and other top Republicans voted for all those same policies.
Crist has called the latest ad blast in the bitterly fought Florida gubernatorial race hypocritical.
“They’re trying to win an election,” Crist said. “They’ll say anything to win an election.”
Crist was a Republican when as governor he signed the measures into law after they had passed the Republican-dominated Legislature with votes from top party leaders, including Lopez-Cantera, then a state representative.
A former Republican state Sen. Paula Dockery, who dropped out of the 2010 Republican gubernatorial primary to back Scott, said she was angered by the ads and called them disingenuous. “If you want to criticize something Crist did when he was governor, then criticize what he did, not something the Legislature did,” she said.
Scott insisted, though, on blaming Crist for those policies.
“It takes leadership to decide the direction of the state, and here’s what we learned under Charlie: Charlie promised that he would cut taxes, he didn’t. He raised taxes $2 billion. He said he was against tuition increases and he signed legislation that allowed tuition to go up 15 percent a year,” Scott said recently. “Charlie has to take responsibility.”
Scott has had his own problems getting his proposals implemented. Scott came into office promising to phase out the corporate income tax and impose an Arizona-like immigration law. Last year he said he supported Medicaid expansion. None of those policies came close to passing the Republican Legislature.
Dockery noted that on each of the issues where Scott is attacking Crist, the ideas came from the Republican Legislature. The bulk of what Scott calls a $2.2 billion tax increase were then called fee increases. They included increases on a wide range of fees, from motor vehicle registration to fishing licenses. Scott hasn’t rescinded the bulk of them.
“I remember vividly at the time that I wanted to vote no and we were told by leadership that … this was the only way to balance the budget,” said Dockery, now a syndicated news columnist. “Many of us voted for it not because Charlie Crist asked us to. It was because the legislative leadership asked us, forced us and somewhat threatened us to do it.”
The ability to allow universities to raise tuition by up to 15 percent a year was pushed by the University of Florida, which said the state wasn’t giving state universities enough money, and the Republican Legislature supported it, Dockery said.
The Legislature, including current U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, passed a bill that allowed Progress Energy to collect money for a planned nuclear power plant. But Duke Energy, which bought Progress Energy, abandoned plans for the plant and continued charging customers.
“It was sold to us as a way of recouping money ahead of time,” Dockery said. “Nobody considered that it wouldn’t be built. That’s where the real rub comes in.”
The project wasn’t killed until after Crist left office and Scott became governor.
Crist is standing by his record.
“The guy he picked as his running mate supported those policies. They thought it was the right thing to do at the time because it was,” Crist said. “Sometimes you’ve got to make tough decisions to get what’s right for the people of your state and get us through a difficult patch. That’s exactly what I did and a lot of the Republicans around then did the same thing.”
Re-posted with permission of the Associated Press.