THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, March 8, 2011 --
Just like the cold calls he says he makes to businesses that he wants to move to Florida, Gov. Rick Scott gave lawmakers in his first State of the State speech a sales pitch for a government-cutting agenda he promises will create jobs.
In his first true public overture to legislators, Scott on Tuesday evening urged lawmakers to join him in “making job recruitment a daily task.
“I want to encourage each of you to become a ‘Jobs Ambassador’ and direct new prospects to me, so we can work together to recruit potential job creators.”
Scott asked a Legislature that’s been skeptical so far to help him with his budget, assistance that the outsider governor has seemed up to now unconvinced he would need.
But Scott was firm, too, telling legislators that they would be wrong if they didn’t go along with his proposals, which he predicted insiders and “special interests” will try to thwart, and urged lawmakers not to blink in the face of criticism.
“My ‘jobs’ budget has plenty of critics,” Scott said. “Some critics are accustomed to big government and will fight to protect special interests, and there are others who agree on our policy but say that our agenda is too bold – that we need to trim the sails of our imagination and settle for small improvements.
“They’re wrong,” Scott said.
“I did not fight to become the 45th Governor of the greatest state in the nation to settle for a status quo that does not promote the enormous potential of our people,” Scott continued. “And I am completely committed to this mission. It is achievable.”
Scott made no new policy proposals that he hasn’t already rolled out, saying that focusing the state’s economic development and recruitment efforts would be the main thrust of his effort to lower the unemployment rate, along with cutting taxes and reducing regulations.
Even fellow Republicans in the Legislature have been cool to Scott, who has given little indication in his two months in office that he wants to share power with lawmakers.
But GOP legislative leaders have said this week they’re generally in agreement with Scott’s agenda.
“I think what is so important…is that his message in the campaign is his message as governor,” Senate President Mike Haridopolos said after the speech. “That is the kind of leadership that we need where you are focused on the job at hand. Too often people hear one thing at campaign time and something different as they govern. He is matching up his campaign theme with his legislative theme and I think he will be very effective.”
While mentioning the word “job” or “jobs” 31 times in the 27-minute speech, Scott did hit a couple of other themes in his speech, the traditional opener of the annual legislative session.
He acknowledged that school budgets will have to shrink, blaming “the exhaustion of one-time federal handouts,” but said there must still be commitment to make schools better.
He restated his support for teacher merit pay, saying that Florida should “end the practice of guaranteeing educators a job for life regardless of their importance.”
He also called for competition in schools, by expanding charter schools and vouchers for private education.
Scott also renewed calls for lowering unemployment taxes, making it harder to win lawsuits against businesses, and cutting costs in the Medicaid program that provides medical care for the poor and those in nursing homes, though without any new specifics.
But most of the speech focused on his effort to grow the number of jobs in the state. He said businesses were looking at the Capitol before deciding whether to make Florida home.
He pointed into the audience to recognize Dean Minardi, CEO of Bing Energy, who said when the company decided to move its headquarters to Tallahassee from California that while he had been talking to Tallahassee officials since before Scott was elected, the new governor’s proposal to eliminate corporate income tax was a clincher in the decision.
Companies “can locate anywhere,” said Scott. “They will be deciding whether to invest in Florida, based, in part, on our ability to work together to remove the obstacles to business success.”
Democratic critics mostly said Scott’s narrow focus on making the state friendly to businesses missed a larger picture in making the state the kind of place where people want to live.
“Gov. Scott has proposed a 10 percent cut in public school funding and major cuts to our colleges and universities,” said House Democratic Leader Ron Saunders of Key West. “Will businesses want to come to a state that does not properly fund the schools their employees’ children will attend or the colleges from which they will hire their employees?”
Senate Minority Leader Nan Rich of Weston said the recession was caused by largely deregulated “Wall Street insiders.”
“That’s the same kind of hands-off policy Gov. Scott is now seeking for corporations,” said Rich. “…Rather than make meaningful investments to turn around our economy and reduce our budget gap by getting people back to work, the Republican solutions pit health care against education: our seniors in nursing homes against elementary school students, our desperately ill against teachers, our transplant patients against school books and classrooms.”
--News Service of Florida reporter Lilly Rockwell contributed to this report.