Explaining his vision for state government to staff at the Department of Corrections, Gov. Rick Scott said Monday that in order to compete with other states for jobs, Florida, like America’s largest retailer, must offer its services at the cheapest price.
Scott has targeted the corrections agency for reform, looking to increase job training, drug treatment and education programs for inmates in an effort to reduce recidivism and save money. The department’s focus, he said Monday, should be on the rehabilitation of prisoners. He has brought in Edwin Buss, who led an overhaul of Indiana’s prison system, to run the agency.
Scott’s budget also proposes cutting nearly 1,700 corrections positions and increasing the use of private prisons.
The agency’s rank and file asked him about his plans to reduce state employee benefits and his overall governing philosophy.
One employee, who described herself as a recent transplant from the private sector, wanted to know: How does Scott plan to run government more like a business?
The key, Scott said, is to set clearly defined goals for each part of state government, create a plan for achieving that goal and then “measure the living daylights out of it.” If the plan isn’t working, change it.
Another employee asked him to set the record straight on his plans for state pensions.
State government is making promises it can’t keep, Scott said. To ensure that the state can keep its promises to its employees, it will have to stop paying for benefits it can’t afford, like the deferred-retirement program (known as DROP) and future cost-of-living adjustments. State employees will have to start contributing to their pensions, like employees in the private sector.
That prompted a question that drew loud applause: Since the Jeb Bush era, state government has been forced to do more with less. Since state employees would bear a portion of the state’s pension costs under Scott’s proposal, what will the wealthiest Floridians be required to contribute to state revenue?
In the private sector, Scott responded, companies are expected to become more productive each year. Overhead costs, as a percentage of revenue, must decline as the business grows. That hasn’t happened in Florida’s state government.
Customers don’t shop at Walmart because the company has high overhead or because it offers its employees good benefits, he said. They choose it because it offers the products they want at the best price.
Florida is competing with other states for jobs, he said, and he wants to make sure we win. That means keeping taxes — the price of living and working here — low, to attract companies and residents that might otherwise head for other states.
When people buy things at Walmart, many of the things they buy come from China, he said. American companies like General Electric are investing more money overseas, where regulations are less burdensome and labor is less expensive. Making things harder on businesses here will cause more jobs to go elsewhere.
If Florida can remain “a high-growth company,” attracting enough new businesses and residents, then the state will be able to afford “the state government that we want, the safety that we want, the environment that we want,” Scott said.