Scott stays focused in annual speech
BY BRANDON LARRABEE
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
TALLAHASSEE – In a narrowly-tailored speech focused on his two main priorities, Gov. Rick Scott used his State of the State address Tuesday to push lawmakers to adopt $1 billion in tax cuts and boost economic-development incentives.
Scott, who told lawmakers during the first day of the legislative session that he wanted accomplishments of “lasting significance,” highlighted what he said were the successes of his administration in helping create 1 million new jobs since he took office in 2011.
The governor’s office also announced that Scott would visit Orlando, Tampa and Sunrise on Wednesday on the first leg of his “Million Miles for a Million Jobs” bus tour.
“The state of Florida is, in one word, growing,” Scott said. “Together, we have completely turned our economy around and more families are thriving here today than five years ago…But we cannot let up.”
The governor has essentially staked his legislative session on the success of two initiatives: The tax cut and devoting $250 million to a new “Florida Enterprise Fund” to help lure employers to the Sunshine State.
While hammering away at those two topics in his address, the governor gave short shrift to other proposals, including an increase in education spending to record levels and measures he says would curb “price-gouging” by hospitals.
Scott used the words “job” or “jobs” 31 times in his speech, according to the prepared text, and “tax” or “taxes” another 19 times. By contrast, he used the word “education” twice.
‘Forgets other Florida’
Democrats hammered Scott’s focus on tax cuts and business incentives. Senate Minority Leader Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, said Scott’s wealthy allies have “the best governor money can buy,” even as the governor ignores other problems.
“He’s fond of helping his Florida,” Joyner said in response to the address. “But he’d rather forget the other one.”
House Minority Leader Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, suggested that political maneuvering shaped Scott’s remarks.
“Maybe was this was his vie for vice president under Donald Trump, I don’t know,” Pafford said.
“But it was a real waste of time.”
About 200 protesters rallied Tuesday at the Capitol after Scott’s address, saying the governor’s call for tax cuts would help corporations but not ordinary Floridians who need health care and living wages.
The rally drew House and Senate Democrats, along with advocates for immigrants, Medicaid expansion, a higher minimum wage and tax reform.
Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, decried Scott’s opposition to giving pay raises to state workers – especially firefighters, a priority of Commissioner Adam Putnam that the governor vetoed last year.
“Our state workers are languishing because the governor refuses to increase their salaries,” Bullard said.
Rich Templin of the Florida AFL-CIO said Scott’s push for jobs has yielded a high percentage that don’t pay living wages. Other speakers called for lawmakers to take up expansion of Medicaid coverage again this year, following last year’s bitter clash between the House and Senate over the proposal.
House Minority Leader Mia Jones, D-Jacksonville, said 800,000 Floridians fall into a “coverage gap,” as they don’t qualify for subsidies under the Affordable Care Act.
She is sponsoring a bill (HB 629) that would expand Medicaid eligibility. Neither her bill nor the Senate companion (SB 856), filed by Joyner, has had a committee hearing.
Republicans, though, defended the governor’s focused agenda after a series of special legislative sessions in 2015 that featured grinding conflicts between the House and Senate. Counting the regular session, lawmakers met four times last year, and finished their main task in just one of those gatherings.
Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, said Scott’s approach would give lawmakers “flexibility” in dealing with issues confronting the state.
“I think that there was probably a strategy to it because of the fact that we’re coming off a rough session and, going into this session, having some narrow goals to try to get to I think was a good move,” Diaz said.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican in line to become the Senate president after the 2018 elections, said the focus on jobs was nothing new for Scott, who ran for office six years ago promising an economic turnaround.
“To his credit, he’s maintained the same message his entire tenure as governor and during his campaign as well,” Galvano said. “We do have many more issues that need to be addressed other than simply addressing tax cuts.”
Galvano said he was surprised that Scott didn’t mention a proposed extension of a gambling agreement with the Seminole Tribe that would bring the state an additional $3 billion over seven years.
House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, said Tuesday his chamber would try to meet the governor’s goal of $1 billion in tax cuts.
However, the speaker also indicated that lawmakers instead might focus more on one-time tax cuts, to avoid weakening the state’s revenue picture in future years. Legislative leaders have expressed concern that providing too many tax cuts that continue year after year could create shortfalls down the road.
“We obviously have a lot of commitments, whether it be education or other issues in the state that we obviously have to make sure that we take care of, but at the end of the day, a $1 billion total number is what we have in mind,” Crisafulli told reporters.