TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – Things are getting a beat heated in Tallahassee.
Striking a combative note to kick off the 2017 legislative session, House Speaker Richard Corcoran lashed out Tuesday against the judiciary, state spending and one of Gov. Rick Scott’s top priorities while vowing to keep up his crusade to upset the status quo inside the marbled halls of the Capitol.
The Land O’Lakes speaker’s remarks were unusually antagonistic coming on the opening day, typically dominated by pageantry and conciliatory speeches in which leaders set the tone for the 60-day session by extending olive branches to one another.
Corcoran hauled out a laundry list of accomplishments achieved since taking up the gavel after the November elections: imposing tougher ethics requirements, making it harder for lawmakers to tuck special projects into the state budget, going after wayward judges and suing one of Scott’s agencies over how it awarded a contract.
And Corcoran boasted of exposing “failures and abuses” at one agency and bragged that the House “forced another agency into the sunshine, sued a rapper and won, only to reveal more wasteful spending.”
Corcoran was referring to the economic-development agency Enterprise Florida and tourism-marketer Visit Florida, the two agencies at the heart of a dispute between the governor and the speaker.
Scott has asked the Legislature for $85 million that would go to Enterprise Florida for business incentives, but Corcoran has proposed doing away with the public-private organization altogether, calling incentives “corporate welfare.”
A defiant Corcoran on Tuesday warned “anyone waiting for us to slow down, to drop the big ideas, to stop trying to shake up the system, to cower in the face of attacks, or to cave to the demands of special interests, here’s our message to you: We will not.”
Corcoran also said he intends to push for an additional $25,000 homestead exemption for property owners, which would bring the total annual tax break for homeowners to $75,000, a tax cut that would amount to more than $700 million statewide, according to the speaker.
And Corcoran hit on one of his most controversial proposals — a constitutional amendment that would restrict appellate judges to a maximum of 12 years on the bench.
In his “State of the State” address, Scott hammered back at Corcoran about the economic initiatives, saying it was wrong to call spending to lure businesses to the state “welfare” and calling on his own experiences growing up poor and eventually becoming the head of one of the country’s largest health care companies.
“When most kids were playing little league or riding bikes, I had a job,” Scott said. “It’s easy to throw out catch phrases like ‘picking winners and losers’ and ‘corporate welfare.’ … But that’s not what we’re doing.”
Corcoran upset the Tallahassee establishment, and Scott’s administration, long before the onset of the session, even apart from the duel over the economic incentives and tourism agencies.
The speaker sued the Florida Lottery over a long-term contract, alleging that the agreement is illegal. A Tallahassee judge heard arguments in the case Monday, the day before the legislative session began.
Corcoran also targeted two judges accused of wrongdoing. One of the judges, who was accused of making racial and sexist slurs, resigned the day before a House committee began an impeachment probe.
The contentious atmosphere between Corcoran, Scott and Senate President Joe Negron has led to speculation that lawmakers would be unable to complete work on the state budget before the end of the two-month session.
After the Senate considered suing the House over guidelines for the state budget process, leaders in the two chambers finally settled on a joint rule that could put state spending negotiations back on track.
But Corcoran on Tuesday may have stoked concerns about going into overtime, saying “even a special session is not a disaster — it’s just a more complicated, longer discussion.”
While Corcoran’s aggressive stance was a departure from the typical pomp and circumstance of opening day, it wasn’t entirely a surprise.
“I have heard his speeches over and over,” said Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens. “He doesn’t like to use the word compromise, which is going to lead to stalemates. If you’re not going to compromise and I’m not going to give you your way, then we’re not going to come to an agreement.”
Sen. Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican slated to become Senate president after the 2018 elections, said he was “still optimistic” that lawmakers would complete their work on time.
“There’s usually a lot of posturing that takes place early on in session, but eventually we all have a constitutional duty to uphold, and that’s to pass a budget and sine die (end the session). So I think he’ll come around,” Galvano said.
Speaking to reporters later in the day, Corcoran called “spirited debate” and differences of opinion healthy for the process.
“Hopefully it’s always civil. But when you have that right, that’s when democracy is working,” he said. “When you have calm ships and everyone’s just walking step-in-step and line-in-line and we’re not really fighting, and we’re rubber-stamping bills, that’s when people should be worried.”
“The News Service of Florida’s Dara Kam contributed to this report.”
(©2017 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.)