Gov. Scott and the bike trail: What a difference an election year makes

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What a difference a year makes — an election year especially — when it comes to a bike trail connector across Central Florida.

In May 2013, Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a $50-million appropriation for the “Coast to Coast Connector” that would link 275 miles of bike trails across the region.

Scott told reporters last year when he signed the budget, “We love to bike,” but said the projects should be funded through the Florida Department of Transportation.

Within six months Scott was lauding the Coast to Coast Connector during a speech with incoming Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, and a champion of the project.

This year, the project was funded by the Florida Legislature through the DOT budget to the tune of nearly $16 million. And the governor’s office this week issued a news release singing praises for the connector.

“Our tourists increasingly desire new ways to explore this beautiful state and the Coast to Coast Connector will do just that as the only trail in America connecting the Gulf to the Atlantic,” Scott said in a news release.

DOT points out that the nearly $16 million was a more appropriate annual amount to pay for segments that were ready to go forward.

But Scott has been changing his tune on other areas of environmental spending since getting elected.

While running for governor in 2010, Scott railed against the South Florida Water Management District’s purchase of 26,800 acres of U.S. Sugar Corp. land for $197 million in a scaled-down version of a deal engineered by then-Gov. Charlie Crist.

Scott in 2011 proposed what he calls a “historic” Everglades restoration plan. He has made it a talking point in response to almost any question about the environment.

Then there’s the issue of conservation land-buying in general.

After taking office in 2011, Scott vetoed $305 million in possible spending for land-buying.

But this year Scott proposed $30 million in new revenue plus $40 million from the sale of non-conservation lands, including state prisons.

Sure, state budget revenue has improved. But Scott’s rhetoric has changed even more.

“I think we ought to continue to make strategic investments,” Scott told the news media in March. “Florida Forever is a good strategic investment.”

Likewise, Scott’s Florida Department of Environmental Protection in 2011 eliminated springs task force groups that were working around the state on springs restoration plans. Since 2013, Scott has championed springs spending.

“Each year the governor looks at each project and looks for a return on investment for Florida’s taxpayers,” John Tupps, the governor’s press secretary, explained this week.

Scott’s campaign earlier this year tried to portray Crist, his likely challenger for governor as a Republican-turned-Democrat, as a flip-flopper on key issues.

But Scott knows how to move on an issue with the best of them, at least on some high-profile environmental issues.

Bruce Ritchie is an independent journalist covering environment and growth management issues in Tallahassee. He also is editor of Column courtesy of Context Florida.