Many newly elected Republican governors have pledged to run their states like a business as they grapple with low revenues and multibillion-dollar budget gaps with little relief from a fragile U.S. economic recovery.

But since they took office last month, few have gone as far in advancing campaign promises for less government and lower taxes than Florida's Tea Party-backed Governor Rick Scott.

A political newcomer, with a controversial past as chief executive of a healthcare corporation that paid a record $1.7 billion in fines for defrauding Medicare and other federal programs, Scott has taken to the job of running the fourth-largest U.S. state like a hostile takeover.

An uncompromising conservative, Scott unveiled his first budget last week at a rally attended by about 1,000 Tea Party activists in a Baptist church hall in Eustis, a town some 200 miles outside the state capital Tallahassee, where the state legislature will have to approve his proposed budget.

"Governor Scott said he wanted to present the most conservative budget in the nation," said Alan Stonecipher of the nonprofit Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy.
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"It certainly appears to be hugely pro-business which was his stated intention," Stonecipher added. "I would say Florida is right in the mix, or maybe leading the nation, in a movement to, in effect, eviscerate government."

Even by the standards of a state renowned for political scandals and shenanigans, 58-year-old Scott, who has emphasized that he was never charged with any crimes as CEO of the giant Columbia/HCA hospital chain, has raised eyebrows.

His declared intention to cut regulations and taxes, and a 'slash-and-burn' approach to putting Florida's financial house in order with little apparent regard for real-world implications, have prompted warnings of dire consequences.

There may be backlash against Republicans in a presidential battleground state as the new governor, who has never served in elected office before, takes budget-slashing to new heights.


The carefully orchestrated budget presentation cast Scott, who beat his Democratic rival by a single percentage point after spending $73 million of his personal fortune on his own campaign, in the role of a Tea Party man of the people.

But he also ranks among the most unpopular newly elected governors in U.S. history, with a favorability rating of just 28 percent, according to a recent Quinnipiac University poll.

Critics cited his budget proposals -- deep cuts in state spending on education and healthcare to close a deficit of nearly $4 billion, while slashing corporate income and property taxes -- as signaling a disconnect between fiscal conservatives and ordinary Americans reeling from unemployment and the loss of homes and benefits in the recent recession.

"Retreaded voodoo economics," Florida Senate Democratic leader Nan Rich said of Scott's budget plan, referring to the trickle-down economic theory popularized under President Ronald Reagan. "The tentacles of this budget will reach the most vulnerable people in our state," Rich told Reuters.

She said the real trickle-down effect would add to the pain of most Floridians while leaving open many tax loopholes in a state that is home to some of the Republican's richest patrons.

Florida is not alone in contemplating large spending cuts to offset revenues only slowly recovering from recession and the winding down of $150 billion of federal assistance to states from the economic stimulus program of 2009.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, nearly all states are considering spending less in fiscal 2012 than in 2008. That was the last year before recession devastated revenues.

The nonpartisan center has warned that reduced spending on education, healthcare and other important services will delay the U.S. recovery and undermine efforts to create jobs, especially in states where new Republican governors like Scott are pushing for corporate tax cuts.

Illinois, where Democratic Governor Pat Quinn successfully pushed a hefty income tax increase to ease a $15 billion budget deficit through the legislature last month, is a rare exception to a national trend toward flat or lower taxes as the best tool to lure investment to recession-hit states.


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He pledged to create jobs, but since he's also reducing government, lots of state employees have lost their jobs. He's gutted education spending, and Florida was already ranked low in per-pupil spending. The man is a disaster.