Friday, February 25, 2011

Florida's Constitutional Crisis

Gov. Rick Scott does not care about the constitutional authority given to the Florida legislature. Florida Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander questioned whether Scott had the authority to sell state planes without legislative approval. Bruce R. Jacob, dean emeritus and law professor, at Stetson University told Politifact Scott overstepped his authority as governor.

"What Alexander is complaining about is that, under this section, where the Legislature has appropriated money for the expense of the planes, the governor is required to spend that money," Jacob said. "I am sure the governor from time to time does not spend money that the Legislature has appropriated for a particular purpose, and I doubt that anyone gets upset about it.

"However, the main point, it seems to me, is that if the governor was thinking of doing this, he needed to consult with the leadership of the Legislature," he said. "Common courtesy called for such consultation. The governor and the Legislature have to work together. The governor should not be allowed to 'go it on his own,' so to speak, in a situation such as this."

Jacob also says Alexander has a "point" by claiming that the amount owed on the Cessna should have been appropriated by the Legislature and paid from the state treasury. "Money of the state should not be spent unless it is for an authorized purpose and complete records should be kept so that anyone in the state can see what was spent and for what purpose. In this case it seems to me that the governor short-circuited the process," Jacob said.

Scott overstepped his authority again by killing the Orlando to Tampa high-speed rail project. Gov. Charlie Crist and the Florida legislature approved the plan. Scott can not change what has been made into law just because he opposes it. State and the federal governments have three separate branches of government to insure that such power grabs do not happen. Scott's actions dictate a man with utter contempt for the rule of law.

Scott rejected the last ditch proposal to the high-speed rail project. Republican lawmakers are now talking about suing the newly elected governor.

In Tallahassee, Sen. Thad Altman, R-Melbourne, said he hoped U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood would grant Florida more time before reallocating the $2.4 billion to other states so lawmakers can explore challenging the governor on constitutional grounds. The deadline had been today and LaHood’s office showed no sign of backing away from that.

“I believe that he exceeded his executive authority and in a very strong sense we have a Constitutional crisis on our hands,” Altman said. Senate Republican leader Andy Gardiner acknowledged there are concerns about the “parameters” of the governor’s use of his executive power. He did not reject the possibility that a fellow caucus member would have a legitimate basis for suing the Republican governor. Altman noted that the Legislature voted to accept the federal money and build high-speed rail in a special session.

“We have a law on the books,” he said, and quoted the portion of the Florida Constitution that reads: “The Governor shall take care that the laws of Florida are faithfully executed.”

“The governor has completely ignored that,” Altman said.

The plan presented to Scott would guarantee that the state government does not have to pay for cost overruns of the rail project. A non-recourse entity between local goverments (Tampa, Orlando & Lakeland) and the private sector would be formed. The rail line would be run by a private entity. All costs overruns would be paid by private companies. The only roll Florida government would have is handing any rail grant money directly to the non-recourse entity. This was Scott's response to the plan.

“I remain convinced that the construction cost overruns, the operating cost risk, the risk that we would give the money back if it’s ever shut down, is too much for the taxpayers of the state,” Scott told the Times/Herald.

Scott's statement is factually wrong. Scott is standing by his rail killing stance because he is pandering to Florida Tea Party leaders. Florida has a state constitutional crisis because the governor is placing self-interest above his gubernatorial duties.

Update: The St. Petersburg Times editorial board shares my sentiments on Scott.

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