As Governor, Ex-CEO Rick Scott Aims To Run Florida Like A Business Tea Party favorite Rick Scott ran as an outsider, spending $70 million of his own money. Now he promises to use his experience leading the nation's largest for-profit hospital chain to restart the economy and downsize government. But the state's $3 billion budget deficit presents challenges.
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Gov. Scott, Ex-CEO, Aims To Run Fla. Like A Business

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Gov. Scott, Ex-CEO, Aims To Run Fla. Like A Business

Gov. Scott, Ex-CEO, Aims To Run Fla. Like A Business

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

A new Congress is making most of the political headlines this week. But many states are also getting to know their new governors.

INSKEEP: The governors face many of the toughest choices right now.

MONTAGNE: Unlike the federal government, most states can't run deficits.

INSKEEP: They're running out of the stimulus money that some used to stay afloat.

MONTAGNE: And they're straining to get their economies moving.

INSKEEP: So over the next two weeks, we're going to profile some of the nation's 29 new governors. We start in Florida, where the new governor is Republican Rick Scott.

Here's NPR's Greg Allen.

GREG ALLEN: Some other states have toned down their inaugural festivities this year in a nod to the economy, but not Florida.

(Soundbite of music)

ALLEN: Rick Scott's inauguration festivities stretched over two days and included a parade, dinners, breakfasts and a ball. The price tag: Some $3 million - mostly raised from lobbyists and business interests.

Governor RICK SCOTT (Republican, Florida): I, Rick Scott, do solemnly swear...

Unidentified Man: That I will support, protect and defend...

Gov. SCOTT: ...that I will support, protect and defend...

Unidentified Man: ...the constitution and government...

ALLEN: It's been a tough few years in Florida. The housing collapse has made the state a leader in foreclosures. Unemployment is at 12 percent, two points above the national average.

Outside Florida's old State Capitol in Tallahassee Tuesday, under live oaks and Spanish moss, Scott told Floridians he's ready to make good on his campaign slogan: Let's get to work.

Gov. SCOTT: Once we take the right steps, I'm absolutely convinced that Florida will become the most exciting place in the world to live and work.

ALLEN: Scott is a millionaire and the former CEO of the nation's largest for-profit hospital chain, Columbia/HCA. Shortly after he stepped down, the company paid the biggest fine ever for Medicare fraud.

Scott won the governor's race by running as an outsider, spending some $70 million of his own money. He's promised to streamline government and weed out unnecessary regulations. In his address, he said the government should be lean, and do little more than provide a safety net. Prosperity, he says, comes from the private sector.

(Soundbite of applause)

Gov. SCOTT: Faced with a deep recession, some say the answer is to expand the role of government. That's the approach the administration is taking in Washington. That is absolutely the wrong approach.

(Soundbite of applause)

ALLEN: Scott has long criticized President Obama and the new healthcare law.

His first challenge as governor will be to come up with a plan that closes Florida's $3 billion budget deficit. To do so, he's floated a raft of ideas -many of them controversial. He wants to cut the state workforce by five percent. He's vowed to slash a billion dollars from the state prisons and to reform the state's pension system. He's also promised to phase out the state's business income tax and slash property taxes.

He'll be aided by the fact that Florida's legislature is controlled by Republicans, many of whom share his governing philosophy.

But Lance deHaven-Smith says finding the money for all that won't be easy. DeHaven-Smith is a political science professor at Florida State University.

Professor LANCE DEHAVEN-SMITH (Political Science, Florida State University): We've got a budget that's really lean as it is. And many of the obligations we have are things you can't just undo. You're not going to be able to do away with Medicaid or something like that. Even small changes are difficult there. So, I just have a question in my mind about just how realistic these plans are.

ALLEN: As a first-time office holder - who only moved to Florida several years ago - to many in the state, Scott is still an enigma. With his election, he proved that he has determination, money and strong convictions. Floridians now wait to hear his agenda.

He's said, for instance, that he wants to expand Florida's small school voucher program to include all of the state's students - a proposal tried on a smaller scale by former Governor Jeb Bush and which the courts found unconstitutional.

Coming after four years of the moderate Charlie Crist, Scott is returning Florida to conservative leadership reminiscent of the Jeb Bush era. Bush attended Scott's inaugural and acknowledged the two men have similar views about government.

Former Governor JEB BUSH (Republican, Florida): I think he instinctively - he's an instinctive conservative. He doesn't start with the premise that the government's role is to solve a problem if there's another way to do it.

ALLEN: Scott has said he'll run government like a business. He's already finding that doing so presents its own challenges. To staff his administration, he's looked mostly to the private sector, but has had problems filling many of the jobs - in part, because of the lower government pay scale.

After first requesting their resignations, Scott has asked hundreds of Crist administration staffers to stay on for another few months while he searches for replacements.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

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