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PolitiFact Florida On Gov. Scott's Water Management Budget Cuts; Mexican Opioids

Red Tide has devastated Southwest Florida beaches
Red Tide has devastated Southwest Florida beaches

The outbreak of red tide that has devastated beaches and wildlife along the Gulf Coast has naturally migrated to the waters of political ads.

WUSF's Steve Newborn explores that claim - along with Republican Ron DeSantis saying the bulk of opiods smuggled into the country come from Mexico - with Allison Graves of PolitiFact Florida.

Did Florida Gov. Rick Scott slash funding for the state’s water management oversight?

That’s what a recent tweet by the Florida Democratic Party claimed.

"Rolled back safeguards and septic-tank inspections. Cut $700 million from water management. Appointed cronies who act on behalf of polluters. Banned the term ‘climate change.’"

"This water crisis has a name, and it’s Rick Scott," it concludes. Scott, who is term-limited as governor, is challenging Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

Here's P olitiFact Florida's ruling on that claim:


The state’s five districts have a variety of responsibilities, from water supply and quality management to flood and natural systems management. All five districts release their budgets on their websites annually.

The districts release data for each financial year, which runs from Oct. 1 of the previous year to Sept. 30 of the named year.

The first budgets that Scott had a say in came in the 2012 fiscal year, from Oct. 1, 2011, to Sept. 30, 2012.

From the 2011 to 2012 fiscal years, the budgets of all five districts were cut across the board.

The South Florida district suffered the most in cuts. Its FY 2011 budget was $1.07 billion while its FY 2012 budget was $576.1 million. That’s a reduction of $493.9 million, or 49 percent.  

Meanwhile, the Southwest Florida district’s budget was slashed by $124.3 million in FY 2012. Combined with the $13.9 million, $35 million, and $14 million cuts to the budgets of the Suwannee River district, St. Johns River district, and Northwest Florida district, respectively, those numbers add up to just over the $700 million.  

However, since 2012, the overall budget of the five districts has risen by almost $300 million. So the difference between pre-Scott cut budgets and the current budgets is now not $700 million, but rather closer to $400 million.

We rate this statement Mostly True.

In our next fact-check,  one of the candidates who wants to succeed Scott in the Governor's mansion, Republican Ron DeSantis, said this during a recent barbecue campaign event:

"This drug crisis is driven by a lot of the drugs that are pouring across the southern border," DeSantis said. "Yeah, there are problems with prescription medication and things like that, and Florida's done some stuff to rein that in. The bulk of the problem with the opioid epidemic is the fentanyl and all the synthetic drugs coming across the southern border. When you have a weak border like under (former President Barack) Obama — that's a wet kiss to the drug cartels. They love that, because they can move so much product into our country."

Here's PolitiFact Florida's ruling on the Mexican connection:


International gangs based in Mexico "remain the greatest criminal drug threat to the United States," and their most common method of smuggling drugs is vehicles legally coming into the U.S., according to a 2017 Drug Enforcement Administration report.

But that’s for all drugs, not just synthetic drugs like DeSantis said.

They type of drugs that DeSantis singled out tend to enter the country through other points of entry — including, but not limited to, the southern border.

According to a 2017 DEA report, China is a main supplier of fentanyl and fentanyl-related compounds.

Some of the fentanyl comes straight to the United States from China through the mail. Other shipments come in from China to Mexico or China to Canada before making its way into the United States. In addition, fentanyl and fentanyl-related compounds are also sold and distributed through illicit drug markets on the dark web, the report said.

Between 2013 and 2017, Border Patrol seized 286 pounds of fentanyl, 3218 pounds of heroin, and 23 pounds of morphine, according to the Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee from May 2018. We don’t have an exact breakdown of how much fentanyl reaches final users through Chinese labs and how much comes from across the border.

That’s because China-sourced fentanyl concealed in mail parcels can be difficult for law enforcement officials to trace back to the original sender. Traffickers forward the package multiple times to different people, according to the DEA report.

Experts are skeptical that enhancing southern border security (like a wall) can do much to improve the opioid crisis. That’s because traffickers have a history of circumnavigating patrol measures, using catapults, drones, boats and tunnels. In other words, securing the border patrol might change where drugs are trafficked but it might not change the amount.

We rate the statement Half True.

Copyright 2020 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7. To see more, visit WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7.

Steve Newborn is WUSF's assistant news director as well as a reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.