To many voters, Rick Scott and Alex Sink must seem like two sides of the same coin. Both are successful business executives beset by lawsuits and accusations of fraud, and though they met for a Spanish-language debate earlier this month, voters know both candidates primarily through salvos of negative ads.
Wednesday’s debate at Nova Southeastern University offered a chance to talk to voters directly and break the stalemate of vacillating polls. The attacks continued, with Scott calling Sink a “failed fiscal watchdog,” and Sink hitting Scott as a “corporate raider.” But as far as debates go, it was fairly substantive. The ideological chasm between the policies offered by the two candidates offered astute viewers much to chew on.
Scott defended his “7-7-7″ plan — to create 700,000 jobs over seven years through seven steps — from several charges. Sink criticized the plan as unrealistic: “To take the budget back to 1994 — $54 billion — would mean to cutting $18 billion out of the budget.” Florida’s budget deficit next year is projected to be approximately $2.5 billion already.
Scott said that one of the keys to closing the gap is accountability budgeting. “You go back and do exactly what you do in a business. You start, you look at every agency and you say, ‘Can I do that less expensively? Is it a priority — should we continue to do that?’”
The plan also calls for a reduction of the state government workforce, which would amount to approximately 6,000 jobs, according to one of the debate’s panelists. But that wouldn’t necessarily mean layoffs or more Floridians on the unemployment line, he said.
“Every year we have somewhere between, generally, 12 to 16 percent attrition in our workforce in the government,” Scott said. “So we’ll be able to do it just through normal change. We’ll do everything we can to keep everybody employed, but — look, we’ve got to get this money back into the hands of the taxpayers, the people that built businesses, the people that are worried about making sure that they can make ends meet.”
Sink’s plan to close the budget hole relied on cuts in middle management, increased government efficiencies, and combating Medicare fraud. She also reiterated that she would be Florida’s “Chief Economic Officer.”
“When I am the governor, I am going to wake up every day and ask for a list of names of companies for me to call to recruit to come to Florida,” Sink said.
Scott, in turn, said Sink’s policy proposals are unrealistic, and suggested they contain overpromises that amount to $12.5 billion in new spending. When Sink protested she didn’t know where he got the figure, the exchange became heated.
“What is the number? You’re proposing significant — you have big promises. What is the number that you’re proposing? Because we’re walking into a two-plus billion dollar deficit. Obama math doesn’t work here.”
Sink retorted, “I don’t know what Obama math is. What I do know is that I was a 4.0 math major at Wake Forest University.”
Their opposing philosophies to business were also clear when discussing how to bolster Citizens Insurance, a state-government backed property insurance company that rests on very shaky actuarial ground.
“It started out as an insurance company of last resort. Now it’s an insurance company of first resort,” Scott said. “First off, you have to understand why insurance companies don’t want to do business in our state and why they’ve been pushed out of our state.”
Sink became visibly unsettled during her response. “Well the CEO of State Farm did come to Tallahassee, and I was the only cabinet member who agreed to meet with him. And the reason I did was because they were threatening to pull out of Florida entirely,” Sink said. She later suggested that Scott’s plan to deregulate insurance premiums is irresponsible.
“Rick Scott is calling for deregulation of insurance rates in this state,” Sink said. “That’s something I would totally oppose. There has to be a way for insurance companies to stay honest, frankly.”
In response, Scott acknowledged the need for oversight, but deferred price-setting to the free market. “We have to make sure that insurance companies treat policy holders fairly. We have to make sure, though, that we treat insurance companies fairly that they can make a profit so they stay in business,” Scott said.
Asked about a sales tax on internet purchases, Sink said she is not advocating the idea, but said that “we do have to address the fairness issue,” to level the playing field for mom-and-pop stores. Scott was more unequivocal. “I am against any tax increases. Our taxes are too high,” he said.
On social issues, Scott said he is a supporter of traditional marriage, and that children “are raised in a more healthy environment if they’re raised by a married couple.” Sink said decisions about the best environment for a child should be left up to the judge and social worker closest to him or her.
During his primary campaign, Scott advocated a version of Arizona’s controversial immigration law. He pushed the idea again during the debate, to provide contrast to his opponent, whose immigration plan is to, “increase the penalties and fines on businesses that knowingly hire illegal immigrants.”
“In contrast to my opponent who wants to beat up on employers, we need to come up with a way where employers know how to comply with the law,” Scott said. “Finally, it’s common sense. If you’re in our country illegally, and you’re stopped by law enforcement, they ought to be able to be asked if they’re legal or not, just like we get asked for our IDs.”