TALLAHASSEE (CBS4) – Florida Governor delivered his first State of the State speech Tuesday night amidst a growing concern over the depth of cuts and the path Florida will chart in the next few years.
“Doing what must be done will not make me ‘Most Popular,’ but I’m determined to make Florida ‘Most Likely to Succeed,’” Scott said.
Governor Scott used his speech to extol the virtues of the tea party and also reiterated the distrust that he has for government and government using the money of the people.
Scott said that his “jobs” budget is “targeted to create private sector jobs, increase accountability, and reduce the size of government.” However, the cuts that he has proposed will add a significant number of unemployed workers to the state’s unemployment rate of 12 percent.
Governor Scott referenced the unemployment rate by saying that “this legislative session is a regular session, it is, in many ways, an emergency session.” At that point in the speech, the first-term governor pivoted to show people the jobs.
Scott had several employers that he referenced including Anthrex, a medical devices maker; Vision Airlines; and Bing Energy. Scott lauded his plan to eliminate the corporate tax as the reason Bing came to Florida.
But when it comes to the state’s own employees, Scott wants to change the way Florida pays for pensions. Right now, employees contribute nothing. That would change.
“We will bring Florida’s retirement system in line with other states by having government workers contribute toward their own retirement, just like everyone else,” said Scott to a round of applause from supporters.
But Hollywood Democratic Representative Elaine Schwartz said, it’s not fair.
“It was always that government jobs paid less, but they were getting their compensation deferred so it would come in as a pension. “
Scott said he wants to use his “business experience on behalf of the people of Florida. I’m asking this legislature and the people of Florida to give me the tools and hold me accountable for results.”
But Scott will run into some resistance on some of his cuts as his political novice will run head-on into the political bureaucracy that Scott once railed against, yet now heads.
“We also need to focus on our incredible opportunity to improve our K-through-12 education system,” Scott said. “We now have real innovators offering a 21st century approach to education. And many of those new approaches offer better outcomes without increasing costs.”
However, Scott’s current budget takes over $1 billion out of the current education budget, which runs counter to his state of the state education priority.
“The reality is, you can’t do education on the cheap and that seems to be his motivation, that we can somehow get a tremendous amount from the school system while spending less than states around the country are doing,” said Miami Beach Democrat Rep. Richard Steinberg after listening to the governor’s address.
Scott talked about a few basic principles that will govern his view of education.
“First, that individual student learning must be the touchstone for all our decision. Second, I think we can also agree that the single most important factor in student learning is the quality of teaching. The third principle worth remembering is that we all improve through competition,” Scott said during his speech.
Governor Scott called for an increase in the number of charter schools, which he said, “are public schools that are allowed to work independently of their school board and can innovate in ways that encourage all schools to improve.”
Scott’s final education requirement was that “we can all agree that measuring results is a key aspect of education. We must test our students, and we must evaluate our educators. Those measurements need to be fair and thoughtful, and they need to have rewards and consequences.”
Scott moved on to health care and said that low-income and disabled citizens health care is an, “important state function, but the costs of this program have been spiraling out of control.” Scott blamed the federal government for not allowing Florida to expand “innovative, cost-saving programs.”
Scott then threw down the gauntlet with the federal government again saying “with or without the cooperation of the federal government, we will find a way to meet these health care needs without jeopardizing other priorities.”
Scott talked about unemployment insurance and said that the costs, “which are borne by the very employers who are struggling to stay in business, threaten to create even more job losses.” That took Scott into his final point, “lawsuit reform.”
“Every Floridian should have access to the courts for redress of harm,” Scott said. “At the same time, we can’t allow frivolous suits and unreasonable awards to give our state a reputation that frightens away new jobs.”
Scott’s framing of tort reform in a sphere of job creation, will give him the political protection needed to cut lawsuit awards to bare minimum, regardless of the harm of the alleged problem.
Governor Scott then reached for the reliable fallback of referencing conservative icon Ronald Reagan near the end saying that Reagan said, “America is a place unimpressed with what others say is impossible, I think that’s especially true about Florida,” Scott said.
Scott faces critics from both sides of the aisle who are bristling at his my-way-or-the-highway policies and with his budget set to gut much of the state government, it’s going to be a long, hard fight to pass Florida’s budget that all parties can agree on.