March 31, 2011
--> ..Fla. Gov. Rick Scottâ€™s Big Govt Program to Drug Test State Workers Could Cost Taxpayers $23.5 Mil Per Year
Will a Big Chunk of It Go to Scott's Own Company, Solantic?
Jon Ponder | Mar. 30, 2011
Part of the series, Assault on Florida.
Last week, Floridaâ€™s already wildly unpopular new Republican governor, Rick Scott, issued an executive order requiring state employees to submit to drug tests at least four times a year.
Last night, Rachel Maddow cited Scottâ€™s order to illustrate the wide gap between Republican campaign rhetoric about small government and the sort of big-government policies they pursue when they get elected.
â€śFloridians deserve to know that those in public service, whose salaries are paid with taxpayer dollars, are part of a drug-free workplace,â€ť Scott said, when he announced the order. â€śJust as it is appropriate to screen those seeking taxpayer assistance, it is also appropriate to screen government employees.â€ť
Scott has only lived in Florida for a few years and so was not in the state in 1998 when an earlier government experiment with drug-testing poor people proved not to be cost-effective. At a cost of $90 per test, the program was zilched after it failed to produce evidence of widespread drug abuse among people on public assistance.
Who will be tested, when and how often?
Hereâ€™s the key paragraph from Scottâ€™s Executive Order Number 11-58 [PDF]:
I hereby direct all agencies within the purview ofthe Governor to amend their drug-testing policies to provide for pre-employment drug testing for all prospective new hires and for random drug testing of all employees within each agency. The amended policy should provide for the potential for any employee, including all full-time and part-time employees, and employees of any employment classification â€” including but not limited to, Senior Management Service, Select Exempt Service Career Service; and other Personal Services â€” to be tested at least quarterly.
So â€śall full-time and part-time employees, and employees of any employment classificationâ€ť are to be tested â€śat least quarterly.â€ť
How many state employees are there in Florida?
According to the State Personnel System Annual Workforce Report 2009-2010 [PDF],â€ťThere were 167,797 total established positions in all state employment systems at the end of fiscal year 2009/2010.â€ť
And how much will each drug test cost?
It appears that the cost of drug-testing has gone down from $90 each in 1998. The governorâ€™s office did not release an official figure, but here perhaps is a clue:
One of the more popular services at Solantic, the urgent care chain co-founded by Florida Gov. Rick Scott, is drug testing, according to Solantic CEO Karen Bowling.
Given Solanticâ€™s role in that marketplace, critics are again asking whether Scottâ€™s policy initiatives â€“ this time, requiring drug testing of state employees and welfare recipients â€“ are designed to benefit Scottâ€™s bottom line.
The Palm Beach Post reported in an exclusive story two weeks ago that while Scott divested his interest in Solantic in January, the controlling shares went to a trust in his wifeâ€™s nameâ€¦
Solantic charges $35 for drug tests.
It is unclear who will provision the testing â€” and thereâ€™s no indication it would be Solantic â€” but that decision will have to be fast-tracked. The governorâ€™s decree orders testing to begin on job applicants in less than two months.
So Whatâ€™s the Bottom Line?
Using Solanticâ€™s price as a base, at $35 per test for 168,000 employees, the cost for one round would be $5.8 million. If all employees are tested once a quarter, thatâ€™s a cost to Florida taxpayers of $23.5 million per year. (If the tests still cost $90 each, the price tag for taxpayers would rise to $60.4 million a year.)
Scottâ€™s spokespeople deny thereâ€™s a conflict of interest here, but given Scottâ€™s history of corruption â€” Columbia/HCA, the company he headed for 10 years, was fined $1.7 billion for defrauding Medicare in 1997 â€” itâ€™s hard to imagine why anyone would give him the benefit of a doubt.