Florida Gov. Rick Scott gives his annual State of the State speech on Tuesday. Sceen capture courtesy The Florida Channel
(Tallahassee.com) - Gov. Rick Scott bragged about the state's economic turn-around, discussed his own early years as a struggling businessman and took a jab at his opponent in the 2014 governor's race Tuesday during his State of the State address.
Speaking before a joint session of the Legislature in House chambers, Scott said that since taking office in 2011, taxes have been cut 24 times, more than 3,000 regulations on small businesses have been cut and nearly 1 million jobs have been added. Though he didn't mention former Gov. Charlie Crist by name, he said the previous administration presided over the loss of nearly 1 million jobs.
Scott, discussing his proposed $74.2-billion budget, said he wants to invest nearly $19 million in education, the most in state history. And he wants to cut more than $500 million in taxes, including reducing vehicle-registration fees that went up during Crist's tenure as governor.
He also talked about his own hard-scrabble early years, including growing up in public housing. He remembered the look of heartache on his parents faces when their car was repossessed. He talked about joining the Navy and going off to sea while his young bride, Ann ,stayed behind in their tiny apartment.
Eventually, they started a small business, a doughnut shop, that began to thrive. Later, they opened a second location. Eventually, Scott would start Columbia Hospital Corporation, which grew to become the largest health-care company in the world. He said he wanted to share his story because "it explains just a little about my passion for creating jobs and opportunities for Florida citizens."
"I know that some people think I'm too singularly focused on growing Florida's economy," Scott said. "All I can tell you is that we are all products of our own experiences in life."
Scott repeated his latest jobs mantra - "Let's keep working" - at least eight times during his speech. The phrase is a variation of his "Let's get to work" campaign slogan from 2010.
His speech prompted criticism from Democrats, including former governor Crist, who is seeking the Democratic nomination as part of his bid to reclaim the Governor's Office. In a written statement, Crist said Florida deserves a governor with "bold ideas" who can strengthen small businesses, create jobs, cut wasteful spending and restore funding to education.
"Rick Scott has done the opposite, including raiding billions from our education system that should have been invested in building a stronger economy," Crist said. "With the blessing of the people, next year I will deliver a State of the State that puts people first."
Scott said he wants to get rid of the state law that allows up to an annual 15-percent increase in state university tuition and the increased cost it requires of Florida's pre-paid college program to make higher education "affordable and accessible" for families. He pointed out that last year, he vetoed a 3-percent tuition increase "that would have taken a total of more than $42 million from Florida families."
Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, differed with Scott's stance on tuition.
"We have to have excellent universities," she said. "I don't think we can get there without raising tuition. Sometimes you get what you pay for, and we can't keep doing it on a shoestring anymore."
Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, said Scott should have discussed expansion of Medicaid, something the governor supported last year. Lawmakers rejected expansion under provisions of the federal Affordable Care Act, which critics said would have extended health care to nearly a million Floridians.
"He shied away from that, and that was very disappointing," Williams said.
Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, said he was glad Scott talked about jobs and was satisfied he focused on education.
"We have a record amount of money going into education, but we also have to realize we have more students, too," he said. "I'm convinced the governor understands the need for funding for education, but we've also got to realize we've got to pay our teachers more."
Barbara DeVane, a retired teacher, helped deliver a response to the speech by the organization Florida for All.
"He's still leaving federal money on the table that would help almost a million people have health care in this state," she said. "He's still taking credit for creating thousands of jobs, which have not materialized yet. So we're here to remind him that we see through his broken promises and his election-year pandering."
Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, said Scott's policies have benefited the state, which he said is faring better than some of the other larger states.
"The state of the state is improving and headed in the right direction," he said. "And I think this governor deserves a lot of credit for it."