As Zika virus spreads in Florida, Gov. Rick Scott blames the Obama administration and Congress for not spending enough to help. He neglects to mention his record of cutting mosquito-control problems over the years, and this includes the closing of a state-funded pesticide-testing facility that was once called “the mosquito lab.”
Under his watch, state aid to mosquito control programs was slashed by 40 percent in 2011—from $2.16 million to $1.29 million. Fellow Republicans begged him not to cut a $500,000 appropriation for the laboratory, known as the Public Health Entomology Research and Education Lab (PHEREC) in Panama City Beach. Scott ignored lawmakers, cut the funding and the lab which was founded in 1964 shut down.
These actions were completely irresponsible when you consider that 408 Zika infections have been documented in Florida since Friday.
This nasty virus mutates rapidly and shows relatively few symptoms in adults, although in some cases it can cause a rare form of temporary paralysis known as Guillain-Barre Syndrome. In infants and the unborn, it can be devastating, causing severe microcephaly, a condition in which a baby’s head is considerably smaller than expected.
On NBC’s Meet the Press, Scott had this to say:
“What we’ve done is allocate the dollars better. We reduced some funding in one area, but we dramatically increased the funding over the last five, six years I’ve been in office.”
According to Scott, state health officials have identified 16 cases of Zika that were spread by local mosquitoes. But he criticized the federal government for not getting more involved in fighting the virus.
The governor said he asked The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Thomas Frieden for 10,000 additional Zika preparedness kits. Then he began the blame game:
“We still need the federal government to show up. The President and Congress have to work together. This is a national, international issue. It’s not just a Florida issue.”
Scott, of course, ignored the fact that President Obama wanted to help combat the virus. So much so that he requested $1.9 billion in funding from Congress, but the GOP only approved a fraction of the funding and tried to add cuts to healthcare and lift the ban on Confederate flags in cemeteries to the bill. Meanwhile, Rick Scott has also glossed over how important the research lab that he closed was.
The Director of PHEREC John Smith placed the blame squarely at the feet of Scott:
“The governor had the chance to keep things going but he chose not to and at that time it seems the driving force was he was trying to show everybody how he was cutting government,” said John Smith, who was the lab’s director for 20 years. “Five years later, now people are concerned and appreciative of the folks who work behind the scene to not only control mosquitoes but to conduct the research.”
Smith notes he played a key role in the discovery of Aedes albopictus (one two species of mosquito that are chiefly responsible for Zika virus) in Florida. He believes that the lab could have played an important role in combating the virus.
“I have and continue to perform considerable repellent research on Aedes aegypti,” Smith said of the resilient mosquito that also spreads Zika virus, as well as dengue fever and other viruses.
For Smith’s former counterpart at the facility’s sister lab in Vero Beach, Walter J. Tabachnick, a professor at the University of Florida, “2011 will be remembered as a defining moment for Florida mosquito control,” he wrote in a blog.
“How does one put a price tag on lost opportunities to make progress? What is the cost of not having new information and not having new improved mosquito control strategies,” Tabachnik wrote. Some state aid for fighting mosquitoes remains, but it has “remained the same for nearly 20 years. Many times I have pointed out that this level of funding is clearly inadequate to face the challenges now confronting mosquito control.”
In a Friday conference call with Florida lawmakers, Scott once again asked Congress to pass $2 billion in emergency Zika money, but that call came just hours after Politico reported on the cuts to mosquito-control the governor has made. At least 1,800 people have contracted Zika in the continental U.S. as of Thursday, and that number keeps rising with each update.
Earlier this week, President Obama called on Congress to approve additional funding to fight the spread of the virus in the U.S., noting that money to fight the outbreak is running out. While Floridians face the terrifying reality of Zika, lawmakers are lounging around on vacation and they aren’t due back until after Labor Day. So Obama has called on Americans to contact the vacation lawmakers and tell them to come back to Washington to pass the stalled emergency spending measure.
However, this Congress has done whatever it can to obstruct Obama at every turn, so I’m not holding my breath and waiting for them to come back. They just seem to be allergic to helping the president in any way.
Rick Scott, a typical Tea Party nutball in every sense of the word, was trying to save money by cutting funds that keep mosquitoes under control, and in so doing he may have sacrificed the health of his constituents. Even worse, he instigated a failed program to force welfare applicants and tens of thousands of state workers to submit to drug tests, leaving taxpayers stuck with $1.5 million in legal fees. For a program that didn’t even work. Money that could easily have been used to bolster mosquito control.
Let’s hope people remember this when he’s up for reelection.
Watch Scott on Meet The Press: