Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Scott treats himself to a $50 million windfall as he signs constitutionally DOA drug-testing law

Gov. Rick Scott said Tuesday that "it is unfair for Florida taxpayers to subsidize drug addiction." What he neglected to say, however, is that it's apparently not unfair for Florida taxpayers to unwittingly subsidize his family's business interests.

Scott's comments came as he signed into law legislation requiring the 60,000 or so Floridians receiving benefits through the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program to line up and pee into little plastic cups.

“This new law will encourage personal accountability and will help to prevent the misuse of tax dollars,” Scott said in a statement issued following the signing. Prevent the misuse of tax dollars?

At an average $42 a pop, the law effectively triggers a $2.5 million annual windfall for the state's drug testing industry. And 90 percent of that money - probably more - will ultimately come out of your pocket.

Rick Scott shows
himself the money.
This is on top of the more than $3.5 million the drug testers are expecting to come their way in the wake of Scott's surprise February executive order requiring all state employees to line up and pee into little plastic cups four times a year. Every penny of this particular windfall is being lifted from your wallet.

And, some might argue, into Scott's.

The Florida governor is the co-founder of Solantic, an urgent care chain with 32 clinics scattered around the state. Karen Bowling, the company's chief executive officer, readily admits drug testing is a major part of Solantic's business.

Scott's people say the governor no longer has a financial stake in the company. They say he signed over his share of Solantic to his wife to avoid any appearance of impropriety. And they say this with a perfectly straight face.

It's pure coincidence, of course, that in his five months as governor, Scott has created more than $6 million annually in new business for Solantic and the rest of the state's drug testing firms. He's become a one-man ATM machine for the industry.

There's just one small problem. The governor and his lawyers are likely going to have to convince the courts that cashing a welfare check creates a "reasonable suspicion" you're a drug addict.

And we already know how this story ends.

The idea of drug testing welfare recipients isn't new. And it wasn't invented by Scott. The governor apparently borrowed it from Michigan, which gave it a shot more than a decade ago. That state's law was struck down in 2003.

"Struck down" is a relatively civil way of putting it. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit didn't bother attempting to hide its outrage. The policy, the court held, was not only blatantly unconstitutional, it was "absurd" and "defied common sense."

Maybe Scott's lawyers see some wiggle room hidden in this one. Michigan didn't. Either did 21 other states that were flirting with the notion of drug testing. They agreed with the court's constitutional reasoning and wisely gave up on the idea rather than risk further humiliation.

But before the brakes were judicially slammed on Michigan's law, the state was able to gather nearly eight years of data from the welfare recipients it tested during the life of the program.

Ten percent of those receiving public assistance initially tested positive for drugs. This figure included those taking certain "scheduled" medications prescribed by a physician. When these and certain non-addictive drugs were factored out, the data showed just three percent of the welfare population testing positive for the kind of habit-forming hard drugs Scott is targeting. Drugs such as cocaine, heroin and amphetamines.

Those rates were, it turned out, slightly lower than drug use among those not on welfare. In fact, studies have shown the majority of drug users between the ages of 18 and 49 hold down full-time jobs. Like, for instance, governor.

In signing the new law, Scott went out of his way to note that those getting public assistance will be required to pay up front to have themselves tested. He didn't go out of his way to explain that those who come up clean will  then be reimbursed by the state. This, of course, means you.

If Michigan's numbers hold true, you'll be picking up 90 percent of the tab - and probably more - for Scott's mini-stimulus program for his family business and the state's drug testing industry.

It took eight years for the courts to strike down Michigan's law. And while Florida's drug-testing scheme faces the same eventual fate, the glacial pace of the appeals process could translate into nearly $50 million in windfall revenue for Solantic and its clones.

Just about what Scott needs to repay himself for the personal fortune he plowed into his Republican gubernatorial campaign. And a nice way to jack up the value of the company he now claims he wants to sell. Make that his wife's company he now wants to sell. Wonder if she knows? And if Scott's no longer involved, how does he know he wants to sell?

The governor's lawyers, of course, will have to use every trick, throw up every legal roadblock, leave no tax dollar unspent in their efforts to stall the case until Scott recoups his investment. Or leaves office. Or the country. Or all of the`above.

But so what? It's not as if Scott's going to be spending his own money. That's how he got elected. Now, apparently, it's our turn to pay.

Scott's drug-testing scheme is nothing more than a solution in search of a problem. Scott has yet to find the problem. But he's clearly zeroed in on the solution. The only welfare that seems to matter in this one appears to be his own. And in politics, as Scott has been very slow to learn, appearances are everything.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is a criminal conflict of interest. Good point about Scott. If he has nothing to do with his company, how did he make the decision to sell. He should have learned about it when he left office.