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Scott Expected to Stay the Course in State of State

By: Michael Peltier, The News Service of Florida
By: Michael Peltier, The News Service of Florida

THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, March 7, 2011--

Don’t expect Gov. Rick Scott to deviate much from his frequent message as he delivers his first State of the State speech Tuesday night before a joint session of the Legislature.

Jobs and the need to attract more of them will continue to resonate through the governor’s public discourse as he makes his first major speech since his inaugural address.

“I’m going to continue to watch how we spend every dollar…make sure that we give money back to taxpayers,” Scott said Monday when asked about what themes would be in his upcoming speech. “Make sure we prioritize things. Make sure our education system is for the benefit of our children, not special interests. Those are generally the things I’m going to talk about.”

House and Senate leaders say they expect few surprises Tuesday evening, saying the governor has remained on message since jumping into the race in April. Given Scott’s strong performance among conservatives, they expect the governor to come back to his mantra of lowering taxes and cutting spending by redefining the role of what state government should do.

"I think he’s going to have an ambitious agenda,” said Senate President Mike Haridopolos. “It's one the American people are looking for."

Scott minimized potential conflicts with his legislative dance partners, who have questioned the ability to provide business tax cuts while dealing with a $3.6 billion budget deficit. House Speaker Dean Cannon said Monday he also wants to put $1 billion in reserve, making business tax cuts even more difficult to deliver.

Scott remained unfazed, but downplayed the idea he might take a combative tone.

“Everybody got elected and they got elected on a platform,” Scott said. “The positive thing is everyone knows the number one issue is jobs,” Scott said.

Not everyone listening Tuesday night will agree with the message.

Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich said she’d like to hear a number of things from Scott Tuesday night.

“I’d like to hear how he is going to get the state back on track in terms of jobs and closing the budget gap without decimating health care, social services and our education system,” Rich said. “I’d like to hear how we can responsibly balance the budget by closing tax loopholes and looking for additional resources, not by cutting corporate income taxes or lowering property taxes.”

That said, Rich is not under the presumption that such proposals will be brought up by Scott when he addresses the chambers in a joint session.

“I expect to hear what we’ve heard for the last 12 years,” Rich said. “We’ll hear about cutting taxes, cutting services to our most vulnerable. We’ll hear about cutting education.”

Protests have been scheduled for Tuesday by teachers’ groups, environmentalists and others to express their concern over Scott’s agenda, which includes reduced funding for environmental programs, support for merit pay for teachers, and increasing the employee contribution level for the state’s pension fund. Scott said he welcomes the protesters.

“One thing that is great about our country is that everyone has the right to speak,” Scott said. “It’s good that people show up and say what they care about.”


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