PolitiFact Fl. On Gov. Scott And Mosquitoes; Is Carlos Beruff A 'Charlie Crist Republican?'

Aug 17, 2016

What's the buzz on claims that Gov. Scott somehow abetted the Zika crisis by cutting back on funding to combat mosquitoes? And how much of a "Charlie Crist Republican" is U.S. Senate candidate Carlos Beruff?   WUSF's Steve Newborn digs down to the truth with Amy Hollyfield of PolitiFact Florida.

Zika is all over the news lately, with reports of dozens of people infected in Florida by mosquito bites. But there was bit of a buzz when Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the former national Democratic chairwoman, had this to say about Gov. Scott:

"While he seems to be saying out loud that he wants Congress and the president to provide more funding, he conveniently leaves out that he cut nearly $1 million dollars from mosquito control and closed down the state’s mosquito research lab a few years ago," Wasserman Schultz said at a town hall in Broward County on Aug. 8.

Here's PolitiFact Florida's ruling on this:

Wasserman Schultz told reporters that she was referring to Scott’s budget decisions in 2011. Her spokesman pointed to an article in Politico that explained cuts to state aid to local mosquito control programs. That was Scott’s first budget year after he ran on a platform to slash spending amid the recession.

State budget records show that while Florida under Scott cut money to mosquito control his first two years, the state later raised it substantially:

2010-11: $2.2 million (Gov. Charlie Crist's last budget)

2011-12: $1.3 million (Scott’s first budget)

2012-13: $1 million

2013-14: $2.7 million

2014-15: $2.8 million

2015-16: $2.7 million

2016-17: $2.8 million

Jackie Schutz, a spokeswoman for Scott, said that he has invested more than $13.2 million in funding for mosquito prevention and control.

Separately, "Gov. Scott has allocated more than $26 million to combat Zika and will continue to allocate more if necessary," she said.

Mosquito lab

Wasserman Schultz’s claim about the closed lab relates to the Florida A&M University Public Health Entomology Research and Education Center in Panama City Beach. In 2011, Scott vetoed a one-time $500,000 appropriation for the center intended to keep it open after it had faced threats of closure.

The center, first opened in 1964, was referred to as the "mosquito lab" or PHEREC, and came up with ways to combat mosquitoes. It was once a part of a state department, but in the 1990s it became part of Florida A&M while still receiving state health department dollars and other grants.

In 2010 as Florida A&M was cutting millions of dollars from the university amid state cuts, it announced that PHEREC was on the chopping block.

Provost Cynthia Hughes Harris said at the time that the university decided to eliminate non-teaching units such as the mosquito lab.

Meanwhile, the state has funded research at a different university center. The Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory at UF has received $500,000 annually from the state since 2013-14.

That money is for research to develop and test formulations, application techniques, and procedures of pesticides and biological control agents to control mosquitoes that can cause public health or a nuisance.

Our ruling

Wasserman Schultz said that Scott "cut nearly $1 million dollars from mosquito control and closed down the state’s mosquito research lab a few years ago."

In 2011, the Legislature under Scott did cut about $1 million for mosquito control dropping the total to about $1.3 million and cut it again by about $300,000 the following year. But the state then increased the budget to about $2.7 million the next year and it has remained in that ballpark for four years.

Scott also vetoed a one-time appropriation of $500,000 in 2011 for a mosquito lab at FAMU, and the university then shut it down. But the center was already on the university’s chopping block, and the state has since funded another university’s lab.

We rate this claim Mostly False.

A super PAC called the Florida First Project - which supports U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio's re-election campaign - released an ad July 14 calling  Rubio’s primary opponent Carlos Beruff a "Charlie Crist Republican," a major insult among the Florida GOP faithful. The PAC supports Rubio’s re-election bid and is managed by several staffers from Conservative Solutions PAC, which backed Rubio’s presidential run.

"Beruff supported Crist even after he switched parties, and stabbed Republicans in the back," the ad says.

Here's PolitiFact Florida's ruling on Beruff supporting Crist after he left the Republican Party:

Crist as governor appointed Beruff to three political boards: the Sarasota-Bradenton Airport Authority, the State College of Florida Board of Trustees, and the Southwest Florida Water Management District. Beruff also has donated thousands to Republican candidates over the years, including to Crist’s Senate campaign.

Crist announced his Senate candidacy in May 2009. Federal Election Commission reports from June 2009 showed Beruff gave Crist the maximum allowed for individuals — $2,400 for the primary and $2,400 for the general elections. (Beruff’s companies also had donated to Crist when he ran for governor in 2006.)

As Rubio gained traction, Crist toyed with the idea of switching his registration. An April 2010 story in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune listed Beruff as a donor who would continue to support Crist if he made such a move.  

The story also listed other Republicans as faithful to Crist, including former Sarasota Republican Party chairmen Bob Waechter and Eric Robinson, and prominent chiropractor Gary Kompothecras. By the end of April 2010, down 20 points to Rubio in the polls, Crist announced he would cede the Republican nomination for Senate by switching to no party affiliation.    

Several weeks later, in June 2010, Beruff attended a fundraiser for Crist (with several Democrats) at Kompothecras’ Siesta Key home. It seems peculiar that Beruff would have gone to any Crist event during the politically charged atmosphere of the 2010 Senate race had he disagreed with Crist’s decision.

At the time, Republicans faced a bitter rift in their party over Crist's defection, and choosing sides was a very public issue. To give you an idea of how contentious Crist's decision was, state Rep. David Rivera of Miami called it "one of the biggest betrayals in American history since Benedict Arnold."

Our ruling

Florida First Project said Beruff "supported Crist even after he switched parties."

Beruff had supported Crist’s 2010 Senate run when Crist ran as a Republican, giving the maximum legal amount in donations. After Crist switched to an independent run, Beruff also attended a Crist fundraiser, although he denied supporting Crist in any way at that event. The Bradenton developer was listed as dependable Crist supporter in a news report prior to the switch, and didn’t ask for a refund of his donations. We found nary a mention of Beruff beyond that.

But the bottom line is, even if Beruff denies it now, there's evidence that he didn't give Crist the same cold shoulder other Republicans immediately did. 

We rate the statement Mostly True.