- George Bennett Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Florida Gov. Rick Scott, in Palm Beach County Tuesday to highlight the state’s $83 billion budget, saluted President Donald Trump as a “partner” in efforts to accelerate repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee.
Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land-O’Lakes, recently transformed from fiscal foes to budget buddies, stopped by the South Florida Water Management District headquarters, west of West Palm Beach, during a five-city tour to “celebrate” the 2017-18 budget, which lawmakers approved in a special session last week after months of disagreement.
Scott drew particular attention to $50 million in the budget that he hopes will “jump start” a $930 million U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plan to complete repairs of the earthen dike around Lake Okeechobee by 2025. Scott, who wants the dike projects done three years sooner, said he hopes the $50 million and any future state expenditures will be reimbursed by the federal government.
“Under President Obama I kept asking for help with the dike and we didn’t get anywhere,” Scott told reporters at the South Florida Water Management District headquarters in unincorporated West Palm Beach. “President Trump has committed to being a partner. He’s going to make sure we get that dike finished. My goal is to get the dike finished by 2022.”
Asked how Florida will get reimbursed, Scott said, “We’re still working through how that would happen.”
Scott said Florida has made similar arrangements with the Corps for a Port of Miami dredging project and a project in Jacksonville.
“We have to take care of our state. This is part of our state. It might be a federal project, but the dike’s important to everybody, especially in this part of the state,” Scott said.
Scott said part-time Palm Beach resident Trump understands the importance of Lake Okeechobee.
“I sat down with President Trump and I let him know the importance of the dike and he had some knowledge of the dike because he’s been down here in Palm Beach,” Scott said. “And so he is committed to making sure we get that done. Now, every dollar adds to, accelerates it. My goal is to get it done by 2022. In his case, he’s going to work through Congress getting it done. I’m going to continue to work through the speaker and the Senate to have funding every year to get this done.”
The White House did not respond to a request for comment on the nature of Trump’s commitment to Lake Okeechobee.
Scott and Corcoran visited Miami earlier Tuesday and were scheduled to visit Fort Myers, Tampa and Jacksonville later in the day to promote the budget. Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, couldn’t make the tour because he and other Senate Republicans were attending a previously scheduled fundraising retreat in California.
Corcoran disparaged business incentives favored by Scott as “corporate welfare,” but ended up agreeing to $85 million in incentive money after the program was changed to benefit public projects rather than specific private businesses. Corcoran also relented on tourist-promotion money after saying he was satisfied that additional accountability safeguards were added in. Corcoran also agreed with Scott on a higher level of public school funding than he and legislators originally approved.
Many Tallahassee insiders speculate that Corcoran agreed to some of Scott’s spending priorities in exchange for the governor’s agreement to sign a Corcoran-backed education bill (HB 7069) that promotes charter schools.
Both Corcoran and Scott said Tuesday that no deal was struck. Scott said he is still “reviewing” the education bill before deciding whether to sign or veto it.