Political Animal


August 26, 2011 10:35 AM When bad governors try bad ideas

By Steve Benen

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) came up with an idea he considered pretty clever. First, he told Floridians that people on welfare were more likely to be drug addicts. What did Scott base this on? Nothing in particular — he seemed to just make it up — but Scott was quite fond of the argument.

Second, the governor approved a policy based on his faulty assumptions: those who apply for welfare benefits will have to pass a state-mandated drug test. How’s that working out? Not well.

Since the state began testing welfare applicants for drugs in July, about 2 percent have tested positive, preliminary data shows.

Ninety-six percent proved to be drug free — leaving the state on the hook to reimburse the cost of their tests.

As part of the Scott administration policy, those applying for benefits have to pay a $30 out-of-pocket fee to pay for the drug test. If they pass, Florida reimburses them.

And while the state saves some money by not making benefits available to those 2% who fail the test, Florida is forced to reimburse everyone else, plus pay for staff and administrative costs for the drug-testing program, plus pay the legal fees associated with the likely court challenge.

This really wasn’t a great idea.

I’d also note for context that Rick Scott’s drug-testing policy is limited to low-income Floridians needing temporary aid. It doesn’t, in other words, apply to everyone seeking public funding — only the poor, who the governor assumes are probably drug-addicts.

And speaking of the nation’s worst governor, remember the $2.4 billion Florida was set to receive for high-speed rail? The project that enjoyed bipartisan support and was going to create tens of thousands of jobs? With Scott rejecting the funding, the money has now been officially reallocated for rail upgrades in the Northeast, high-speed rail in the Midwest, and related projects in California.

Florida’s unemployment rate is only 10.7%. It’s not like the state needed the boost.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • T-Rex on August 26, 2011 10:47 AM:

    It was worth every penny to Scott if it established the assumption that poor people have to be considered criminals until proven innocent. How else will we criminalize poverty and punish the lazy moochers for existing?

  • Daniel Kim on August 26, 2011 10:48 AM:

    You forgot to point out that the drug testing company was co-founded by the governor. Scott has no personal interest, since he divested himself of his shares . . . to his wife.

  • kindness on August 26, 2011 10:48 AM:

    Yes but you are forgetting that the 'good' Governor's Health Care companies are making bank on the drug screening tests. How a sitting governor can mandate money to his own company and not get recalled by the citizens are beyond me. Yea, I know it's Florida we're talking about but still....

  • James on August 26, 2011 10:58 AM:

    Well, yeah, bad governor! bad governor! But at some point you have to blame the majority of Florida voters, who are getting the government they voted for, and deserve. So I have very little sympathy for them. They must love the way they are being screwed or they wouldn't vote for these lunatics. It's not like it should be a surprise.

  • c u n d gulag on August 26, 2011 10:59 AM:

    Someone needs to force this guy to take a tinkle-test.

    Can you be this stupid and cruel, and NOT be on something?

    OK, then - PROVE IT!!!

  • James M on August 26, 2011 11:01 AM:

    One point that many posters on the site are making recently is that these Bozos don't just appear out of thin air. They are voted into office.

    You have to wonder about the electorate. These days American voters increasingly remind me of the religious pilgrims(fanatics?) in the opening scenes of The 7th Seal who are circle whipping themselves as an act of self-contrition to stave off the plague. The people who could benefit most from progressive government are instead voting for mean-spirited, billionare-financed right wing crusaders who are steadily working to lower living standards for the average American.

    The 'Trouble with Kansas' paradigm seems more apt than ever these days. I hate to say this because it applies to many mistakes I have made as well, but there is some point where you have to say that people get what they deserve. Lower middle class and working class voters who elect these kooks in order to keep down the immigrants, minorities, welfare recipients, etc., are almost gleefully pulling the noose around their own throats. I grew up in Oklahoma, but recently I am beginning to join 'we should just give up on the South' crowd.

    The damage done to the body politic by ignorant and unprincipled reps from the Southern and Western states is almost incalculable these days.

  • Grumpy on August 26, 2011 11:06 AM:

    "Net savings to the state -- $3,400 to $8,200 annually on one month's worth of rejected applicants."


    Peace of mind from knowing that dirty junkies aren't getting any of the state's money: priceless.

  • Equal Opportunity Cynic on August 26, 2011 11:25 AM:

    There is some measurement bias here. It's perfectly plausible that a good number of drug users who would otherwise keep using drugs and file for welfare will now either stop long enough to pass the test or just not file. Furthermore, one could argue that the societal benefit of diminishing drug use or at least not giving more cash to drug users would offset the cost of this program.

    Doesn't make Scott any less of an idiot, obviously.

  • dede21206 on August 26, 2011 11:29 AM:

    Anybody know what Rick Scott's connection is (if there is one) to the companies making money off of the drug testing?
    Follow the money - see where it leads.

  • Josef K on August 26, 2011 11:40 AM:

    Is it too much to hope that Scott, Perry, Christie, and all the other monumental idiot Governors are going to be one-term-only?

  • BKT on August 26, 2011 11:41 AM:

    What's also not addressed is the false positive rate -- just because 2% are testing positive does not mean that those 2% actually used any drugs. At $30.00 bucks a pop one thing is certain, Florida is using a cheap ass test and not using the kind of "gold standard" forensic labratory that produces the kinds of results that could be used, for example, in court. These cheap tests are notorious for false positives (heck, "mythbusters" even did a segment on OTC drug tests and false positives).

  • ET on August 26, 2011 11:44 AM:

    This was the governor 49% of Floridians wanted - buyers remorse gets no sympathy from me. I would hope they would learn their lesson but I won't hold my breath.

  • FRP on August 26, 2011 11:49 AM:

    Every post here possesses some trenchant point , particularly those reminding me of how Herr Scott engineers The States wealth specifically into The Scott's wealth . Tidy .
    My own flyspeck to the mighty whitey sheen from over here in Scott freed America , is that if it is okay , by and large foregoing a nit picky considering of the collateral "whatever" , should you be amongst the blessed , (hereinafter referred to as r or Republican) , then why not remember the commandment it is worth doing specifically in that it annoys a "______?" as well .
    The Über liberal expansion of annoyance targeting has provided a small jobs boom for small jobber alrightee (sic) , an often overlooked socially responsible position that is dangerously close to , dare I say it ? Shoshalism .
    Thank you

  • zeitgeist on August 26, 2011 11:49 AM:

    remember the $2.4 billion Florida was set to receive for high-speed rail? . . . With Scott rejecting the funding, the money has now been officially reallocated for rail upgrades in the Northeast, high-speed rail in the Midwest. . . "

    It may not be used in the midwest, either. Iowa's Republican Gov. Branstad (who returned, undead zombie style, after serving a dozen years ago) has withdrawn Iowa's support and planning participation in a Chicago-Des Moines (and eventually Omaha) high speed rail line.

  • John D.--in Florida on August 26, 2011 11:56 AM:

    Rick Scott won by the big margin of 1%. He spent more than $70 million of his own money to defeat a colorless long-time hack mainstream Republican (McCollum) in the primary, before continuing on to defeat a female Democrat with little state-wide recognition and weak campaigning in the general election. Alex Sink had considerably less money to spend, can't recall how much.

    I didn't vote for him and I don't deserve him. He and the Republican legislature have pretty much eviscerated K-12 education in Florida and demonized public employees in a right-to-work state. I can't wait to see what they'll do next legislative session to higher-ed. There have always been problems in education but yahoos with literally no idea of the classroom are exactly the ones to fix it all. Standardized Tests Ueber Alles!

  • FRP on August 26, 2011 11:56 AM:

    The Über liberal expansion of

    Should read The ooober liberal ...
    The preview seems able to boldly display what the published post cann knot , so to sprechen .
    10 4

  • Equal Opportunity Cynic on August 26, 2011 12:12 PM:

    This was the governor 49% of Floridians wanted

    Man, voter turnout must have been really high there!

  • Primigenius on August 26, 2011 1:02 PM:

    Rick was too busy bilking Medicare back in the day to notice all those professional folks around him with a lot of disposable income that went straight up their noses. But of course like the lardo from Cape Girardeau, they were decent people who innocently ran afoul of the laws on controlled substances. The leeches who avail themselves of social welfare programs deserve no compassion.

  • jjm on August 26, 2011 1:11 PM:

    The rate of testing positive for drugs among the general population in Florida is OVER 8%.

    So are the poor more moral or less able financially to buy drugs or a mix of both?

    Or is the fact that so many Floridians appear to be getting high what permitted them to be duped by this criminal governor?

    I hope that he gets sued up the wazoo for discriminating against a group that is clearly behaving better and is more law abiding than the general population of his state!

  • Aaron Worthing on August 26, 2011 1:17 PM:

    And did the number of people applying for welfare stay the same?

    Because if suddenly a bunch of people quit welfare before taking the tests then it might just vindicate him, you know.

  • new york nick on August 26, 2011 1:36 PM:

    Governor Scott is a Republican and like all Republicans, they could care less about the implications of the policy choices they make. In the world of wingnuts, any and all problems are the fault of liberals and tax cuts for billionaires are the solution. How they manage to get these fat trailer park morons to vote in droves in support of an agenda that ships their jobs overseas, cuts their benefits and is designed to create a nation of serfs and overlords is beyond me. They can't really believe their interests are exactly alligned with that of our overlords do they?

  • 2Manchu on August 26, 2011 1:50 PM:


    I was hoping for an Omaha-to-Iowa City route. That would make going to future Husker-Hawkeye games less tedious.

    And Dave Heinemann makes Branstad look like a fucking Rhodes scholar.

    Go Big Red

  • Sam Houston on August 26, 2011 1:55 PM:

    I have NO PROBLEM with policies like this only as long as the Governor, his staff, and the state legislature are also tested, too.

  • myiq2xu on August 26, 2011 1:57 PM:

    Because if the Republicans are for it, we have to be against it, right Steve?

    Let's give money to welfare recipients, no strings attached. And if those parents of dependent children spend the money on drugs, that's just a lifestyle choice.

  • Brautigan on August 26, 2011 2:47 PM:

    This is a feature, not a bug. Scott has financial interests in the testing companies.

  • 4dede21206 on August 26, 2011 3:13 PM:

    what dede21206 said

  • melanerpes on August 26, 2011 3:33 PM:

    You utterly fail to consider the number of potential welfare applicants who opt not to apply for welfare (because they fear exposure by the drug test).

    It's as if you never conceived it as a possibility. You should have bounced this thesis off of some friend outside your echo chamber.

  • docweasel on August 26, 2011 4:14 PM:

    Wow, the herd mentality is strong here.
    If you actually read the referenced article, however, you find some interesting data which supports Gov. Scott: normally, there are about 1500 requests a month for assistance. Since the program has been enacted, they've been getting about 1000 requests a month. This suggests that a full third of welfare users _were_ drug addicts and, knowing they would fail the test, didn't bother to apply. However, 2% of the remaining applicants were too stupid to figure this out and are now out $30, probably the cost of a couple of rocks, according to Marion Berry.

    However, anything that stands in the way of government wealth redistribution and hand-outs certainly seems to drive leftists into a hissy fit (see above comments).

    Good on Scott, hope he succeeds President Perry in 2020 ;)

  • ohhenery on August 26, 2011 4:14 PM:

    and another survival bender prevented

  • Stu on August 26, 2011 4:30 PM:

    Everyone who is claiming the article shows a drop in people applying need to go back and read again. It says that 1000 people were tested through the middle of the month, with 1500 expected for the whole month. So there is no drop in applications, for the month because the month isn't over yet.

  • RickD on August 26, 2011 4:38 PM:

    "docweasel on August 26, 2011 4:14 PM:

    Wow, the herd mentality is strong here.
    If you actually read the referenced article, however, you find some interesting data which supports Gov. Scott: normally, there are about 1500 requests a month for assistance. Since the program has been enacted, they've been getting about 1000 requests a month."

    What did the article actually say?
    "But at least 1,000 welfare applicants took the drug tests through mid-August, according to the department, which expects at least 1,500 applicants to take the tests monthly."

    There is nothing in the article that says that the number of applicants has dropped by 33%. The number 1500 refers to the expectation of future applications, not to a historical number of past appplicants.

    docweasel just made this statistic up.

  • RickD on August 26, 2011 4:44 PM:

    "You utterly fail to consider the number of potential welfare applicants who opt not to apply for welfare (because they fear exposure by the drug test)."

    Um...ok...if you think that there's such a drop in the number of welfare applicants, go ahead and demonstrate the point!

  • Robert Green on August 26, 2011 4:51 PM:

    having been to three top tier boarding schools, and two ivy league colleges (it's a long story), i can say with some confidence that 2% would describe "dies from overdose". as for "uses a shitload of coke" i'd go with 24%, "is currently stoned" stands at 47%, and "will never have to use welfare because mommy and daddy are too rich for that sort of thing" stands at 110%. overall, docweasel and gov. scott, what you have managed to prove for the millionth time is that there is one set of rules for rich people, and another for the poor.

  • jjcomet on August 26, 2011 5:14 PM:

    docweasel, called on his bullshit and having his illiteracy and innumeracy pointed out, slinks away to lick his wounds. C'mon weasel, where are you to defend your argument?

  • gradstudent on August 26, 2011 6:52 PM:

    The article says 1000 applied from mid July through mid august. That is a month. So the number who have applied is 33% lower than the high figure. That is neither innumerable or illiteracy. Maybe he should have taken the average of the 2 and gone with about 20% but it is a judgement call. Either way selection bias is something the author would like to look up.

  • gradstudent on August 26, 2011 8:57 PM:

    the article also just says they expect 1000-1500/month not what it was before. This estimate may have already taken into consideration drug users who self select out. Be nice for someone to ask. Maybe someone calling out a politician as "bad" should actually check that out

  • DEhrman on September 14, 2011 2:23 PM:

    The problem with the mentality of "These Bozos elected him into office ... they got what they deserve ... " is that the people who voted him (and those like him) into office, are *not* the same people, in general, who suffer from these policies. The people who are affected by this more then likely do *not* deserve it, as they probably didn't vote for the nut job.