Meanwhile, the press is making problems for Scripps. The Palm Beach Post noted that, from 1992 to 2002, Lerner and another Scripps scientist served as paid consultants to Philip Morris. This is sensitive in Palm Beach County, in which one of the largest tobacco-industry lawsuit settlements took place in 1997. The tobacco associations "ended several years ago," says Scripps's McKeown.
The Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel pointed out that all the money being spent on Scripps means that Palm Beach County residents won't get a tax cut in this election year.
The Palm Beach Post noted that the woman initially named to chair the audit committee overseeing state expenditures for Scripps "has left a trail of federal and state tax liens, contested debts, and litigation in her rise from real estate agent to self-proclaimed nursing home mogul." Also, the woman, Elizabeth Fago, a big Republican donor, keeps forgetting about her marriage in 1985 to a drug dealer. (It was one of several marriages.) "Fago is the wrong choice to oversee Scripps money," editorialized the Post. Late last week, she resigned the position.
So what will happen? "The tide is turning," says Rampell. "County commissioners are looking at the deal more carefully with a sharp pencil. But nobody talks about Scripps except the people who will benefit economically."
Like many, he questions that the county will ever become a science center or attract biotech companies. "The educational system in south Florida is really poor -- poor public schools, universities. We don't have the educational infrastructure" of Boston or Silicon Valley. But companies may like the fact that there is no personal income tax, and "If you have a good accountant, corporate taxes are easily avoidable." All things considered, he thinks the deal will go forward in some form.
"It's a beggarman's bet whether it will actually go through," says Davis, saying that the county, Scripps, or lawsuits could abort it. But Beaudet says it's only a "slim possibility" that the deal will fail. And Scripps isn't even considering dropping out, says McKeown.