TALLAHASSEE – Florida Gov. Rick Scott told lawmakers in his first State of the State speech Tuesday that his plans to reshape government, cut corporate taxes and other moves to make the state more business-friendly can make it a national model for job creation.
Scott acknowledged critics who say his proposals to reduce the size of government, get rid of regulations and streamline government functions go too far. Scott is also being criticized by state workers who protested outside the Capitol because he wants them to begin paying into their pension plans while cutting other benefits.
“Government grew way beyond its ability to pay for its promises, and the jobs disappeared,” Scott said. “The first step to better times is acknowledging that government cannot afford what some have come to expect. Doing what must be done will not make me most popular, but I’m determined to make Florida most likely to succeed.”
The emphasis on Scott’s speech was jobs – a word he used more than 20 times.
“Every day since elected, I’ve gone job-hunting for the people of Florida,” he said. “In my business career, I was never shy about picking up the phone and making a cold call to try to make something good happen. As governor, I’ve been making those calls every day to recruit job creators.”
He encouraged lawmakers to do the same and asked them to be “jobs ambassadors.”
“Ask … business owners, ‘What can we do to help you expand your business?’ Ask business leaders around the world, ‘Why wouldn’t you move to Florida?'” he said.
Scott, a millionaire former hospital chain CEO who had never served in office, also said the state needs to make changes to civil lawsuits.
“We can’t allow frivolous suits and unreasonable awards to give our state a reputation that frightens away new jobs,” he said.
His speech received mixed reviews, though Senate President Mike Haridopolos praised him for sticking with the conservative theme he campaigned on.
“It’s right on,” said Haridopolos, a Merritt Island Republican who is running for U.S. Senate. “This is how he campaigned for governor, making sure we tighten our own belt as a government first, and it’s impressive he not only campaigned as a conservative, he’s going to govern as a conservative. I think that’s what’s everyone’s looking for right now.”
Scott asked lawmakers to promptly pass his budget proposal, which calls for about $5 billion in spending cuts – including $3.3 billion for education – and eliminating 8,645 state jobs. The cuts go beyond the projected $3.6 billion budget shortfall so he can include $1.7 billion in tax and fee reductions, mostly through cutting corporate income and property taxes.
Legislative leaders have said their focus is first to make cuts to meet the shortfall, and only then will they consider the governor’s tax cut proposals.
“I don’t think there’s much of an appetite in the Legislature to cut as much as he was cutting on education. It was a little interesting that he focused so much on a world-class education yet cut so much out of the education budget,” Sen. Paul Dockery, R-Lakeland, said after the 27-minute speech.
Scott also called for changes in the school system that would allow more school vouchers, more charter schools and higher pay for teachers who perform better.
“Educators, like other professionals, should be rewarded based on the effectiveness of their work, not the length of their professional life. That’s why Florida needs to pay the best educators more and end the practice of guaranteeing educators a job for life regardless of their performance,” Scott said.
Democrats aren’t happy that many of Scott’s proposals would affect state workers, teachers and vulnerable citizens.
“If he can get people back to work and make Florida the most exciting place to work and play without doing it on the back of seniors, universities, K-12, state workers and retirees, then I’m all for it. But if he does it on the backs of those folks, then I can’t support it,” said Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee.
Scott closed his speech by saying other states will be watching to see if Florida can succeed through lowering taxes and shrinking government.
“We are a state that has regularly done the impossible. We build magic kingdoms. We launch ships that fly to the moon. Florida can be the state where the American dream continues to be a reality,” Scott said. “The world is watching, and God is watching over us. Our success will be the model for the nation.”