Melbourne, FL (Florida Today) -- Florida Gov. Rick Scott took credit for helping turn the state around in his four years in office, while also taking jabs at his Democratic opponent and predecessor, former Gov. Charlie Crist, during a wide-ranging discussion Friday with FLORIDA TODAY editors and reporters.
Scott said his top four priorities if re-elected would be education, jobs, safe communities and the environment, saying water supply and water quality is "our biggest issue in the state."
Here is some of what Scott had to say on the issues and his opponent:
Scott touted "record funding" for K-12 education.
"This year, we did a little over $500 million for K-12, which is the highest overall funding in the history of the state," Scott said. "Next year, it will be the highest per-pupil, on top of being the highest ever."
Scott said debt accumulated during prior administrations made it difficult to borrow more for capital spending for schools.
When asked about funding for school capital expenses, called PECO funds, Scott pointed to Florida's growth.
"I'm going to continue to invest in education," Scott said. "But (capital) funding, they're still leveraged to the hilt. So all the money is coming out of the general revenue in the state, but we've been increasing it since I've been governor."
Scott said additional funding will come into state coffers as more people move to Florida.
"We're going to have more money, as long as this happens: More people move here, more tourists come here, more people have jobs here, and home prices go up," he said. "What we have to do is to spend the money well."
Scott continued, saying: "My focus has been primarily on how to create an environment so more people move here and we create more jobs."
When asked about the Lee County School Board's decision to opt out of statewide standardized testing, Scott said he understood the unrest with federal mandates — but he cautioned there might be some unintended consequences.
"I think people are tired of the federal government," he said. "They're just tired. They're tired of all the regulation."
The Southwest Florida school district is the first in Florida to stop Common Core testing, now known as the Florida Standards.
"I don't know all the details of what they did," Scott said, "but I think there is probably some unintended consequences, what's going to happen with some federal funding, and how that'll impact our kids."
Scott also discussed state colleges and universities, focusing on tuition costs for students.
"Tuition is too high," Scott said, adding he asked state colleges to offer a selection of four-year degrees for a total tuition of $10,000. "And they did," he said.
Eastern Florida State College is among those that met the challenge. Thanks to a $500,000 donation to the college's foundation, students can earn a scholarship that reduces the cost of certain four-year degrees to $10,000.
Other bachelor degrees at Eastern Florida cost around $12,000.
Jobs and the economy
Scott cited the declining state and local unemployment rates and economic development wins since taking office.
"I ran on a campaign to get the state back to work," Scott said. "I ran, and to everybody's surprise, I won," defeating Democrat Alex Sink in 2010.
Scott listed such local economic expansions as those involving Northrop Grumman, Embraer and Harris, while also complimenting the work of Lynda Weatherman, president and chief executive officer of the Economic Development Commission of Florida's Space Coast, for her local economic development efforts.
He said tax cuts, combined with efforts to "streamline" the business and environmental permitting processes, helped draw jobs to the state.
Scott also said it was important for the state to provide money to ports, which he sees as an economic driver of the economy. He said that includes the $24 million allocated to help pay for widening and deepening of the Port Canaveral channel and $10 million for a cargo development project there.
Scott said it is crucial to find solutions to help clean up the Indian River Lagoon.
"There's not just one answer," Scott said. "It's not one solution."
He said the work on the lagoon is part of a comprehensive approach to the environment that also will include restoration of the Everglades and of Florida springs.
Scott would not commit one way or the other to the proposed state constitutional Amendment 1, which is on the Nov. 4 ballot.
The amendment would dedicate 33 percent of net revenues from the existing excise tax on documents — collected every time real estate is sold — for 20 years to the Land Acquisition Trust Fund that counties and cities can tap for matching money. If approved, the measure would raise about $10 billion and sunset in 2035.
"I can argue both sides of it," Scott said. "I haven't decided yet" how to vote on the amendment.
Polls show Scott and Crist in a tight race, with a third-party candidate, Libertarian Adrian Wyllie, also getting some support that potentially could affect the outcome.
Some television ads from the Scott camp have portrayed Crist as changing his views on issues as well as political parties. Crist was a Republican when he was governor. He ran as an independent in his unsuccessful U.S. Senate campaign in 2010 against Republican Marco Rubio, who won, and Democrat Kendrick Meek. Now, Crist is a Democrat.
During his hourlong discussion with FLORIDA TODAY, Scott several times dismissed the work Crist has done as governor.
"This state was a mess when I ran," Scott said, referring to the last year of the Crist administration.
"Charlie will give a great speech and will give a good sound bite," Scott said. "He will do good on the debates. But he won't get anything done."