Leaders across Florida weighed in on Gov. Rick Scotts first State of the State address, a message in which the governor focused on job creation and advocated for his proposed budget.
Responses to the address broke down on partisan lines, with Scotts fellow Republicans praising the speech and Scotts record during his first weeks in office, and Democrats assailing them.
I share the governors vision to reduce unemployment and grow our economy by creating jobs, said Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Adam Putnam. I look forward to working with the governor, the members of the Cabinet and the Legislature to accomplish this goal.
Im focused on fostering an environment in which businesses can grow and thrive in Florida, added Putnam. I believe we should invest in higher education, research and grants that will enable Floridians to create, innovate and, ultimately, generate more jobs across our great state.
Republican Party of Florida Chairman Dave Bitner had this to say: I commend Governor Scott on his first successful State of the State address. ... He reiterated that he is committed to keeping the promises he made to the voters while on the campaign trail. He clearly communicated to the people of Florida that he is willing to make the tough decisions to ensure our state enjoys a prosperous future. The Governors message of fiscal restraint and job creation showed that he is focused on doing what is right for Florida and getting people back to work.
Said Senate President Mike Haridopolos, "I make the analogy that it's like pruning a tree. If you make cutbacks, the tree will grow. Because our goal is to grow jobs, not the government."
Asked if Scott will get everything he wants in the end, Haridopolos replied, "It's a give-and-take process and he recognizes that. And I think he's a very strong team player. He made some very good recommendations and we're going to come together as a team. Speaker (Dean) Cannon's remarks and mine today were very similar to the governor's."
Asked what part of the speech made the biggest impression on him, the Senate president said, "I think just the message that the government is on their side for a change. And again, it's so impressive that a person who campaigns as a conservative is going to govern as a conservative. And we're going to do the same thing."
The House Republican leadership -- Speaker Cannon of Winter Park and Majority Leader Carlos Lopez-Cantera of Miami -- also had kind words for Scotts address.
Last year, Governor Scotts commitment to bold, decisive action inspired countless Floridians on the campaign trail, said Cannon. As our governor, he has successfully converted his energy, enthusiasm and dedication into a meaningful plan for empowering private-sector job creation in our state.
I share Governor Scotts commitment to making the tough policy decisions that will benefit our state in the long-term, rather than settling for a knee-jerk Washington approach that tries to put off short-term problems regardless of negative long-term consequences, continued Cannon. I look forward to working with the governor on the many issueswhich he has advocated which require legislative approval or oversight. I am confident that we can work together to refine the best ideas that come from each chamber and the governors office.
Governor Scott delivered a message today that resonates with all Floridians -- the need for responsible governing, said Lopez-Cantera. I, like Governor Scott, believe that Florida should not rely on handouts from the federal government or participate in the reckless spending practices that have become so commonplace in Washington, D.C.
The governor highlighted the need for a fiscally responsible government that eliminates wasteful spending, curbs the growth of entitlement programs, and restores jobs to Floridians, continued Lopez-Cantera. Although addressing these difficult issues may not be easy, it is necessary to ensure the future economic prosperity of our state and our states citizens. I look forward to working with him this session.
Senate Majority Leader Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said of Scott's address, I was pleased to hear Governor Scott focus on many of the efforts we are working on in the Senate. We heard him discuss job recruitment, improving our childrens education and rewarding teachers, creating a more efficient government and controlling the costs of Medicaid. Senate Republicans join the effort for less regulation and more individual freedoms, tightening our states belt and streamlining its structure.
I think Governor Scotts ambition will serve our state well in the long run and agree with his sentiment that the government cannot afford what some have come to expect. Real change will always bring emotion and debate. We must welcome the challenges ahead of us and remain determined to do whats right for our state to help our economy get back on its feet.
Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Brandon, said she is impressed with the governor. "I think that people who believe what they say ... I find that very attractive and inspiring and I think we need more people like that in public service."
On her way out of the Capitol, Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, said of the Legislature's relationship with a new governor, "This is kind of a marriage. So you know we have to cooperate with each other -- and we will try to live lovingly with each other for the next 59 days. I'm a senator, so we all have our agenda. We all have what we think is right. (The governor) is doing what he thinks is right and the rest of us are doing what we think is right, and hopefully that's the same thing."
Democrats, on the other hand, attacked Scotts remarks and took aim at the policies he has backed in his first weeks in office.
Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich of Weston offered a taped response to Scott and attacked his proposals, arguing that his budget would hurt working Floridians including public-sector employees.
When Governor Rick Scott was campaigning around the state last summer and fall, his mantra was, Lets get to work. It was a catchy campaign slogan, that played on peoples desire to get out of the recession and return to the economic growth we once enjoyed, said Rich. But after watching Governor Scott over his first few months in office, many of us cant help but wonder just who Governor Scott is getting to work for?
With policies that look and sound a lot like the same trickle-down policies of the previous Republican administrations that squeezed budgets for education and health care, while handing out massive tax cuts for the wealthy and big business, it sure doesnt seem like its average Floridians the governor is working for, continued Rich. And unfortunately, along with reckless deregulation of financial institutions, these are the same policies that set the stage for the severe economic crisis we now face.
The Great Recession was caused by greedy Wall Street insiders who had been largely deregulated and left to their own devices. Thats the same kind of hands-off policy Governor Scott is now seeking for corporations as a way to presumably bring jobs to our state, insisted Rich. He is also proposing requiring state and local government employees to return 5 percent of their salaries into the state pension fund, even though the Florida Retirement System is one of the top performing pension funds in the country. This isnt because were in danger of being unable to meet our pension obligations, but because Governor Scott wants to give large corporations and other wealthy CEOs more of our tax dollars and eliminate the small share of our tax burden these same corporations currently pay.
Rich responded to Scotts lets get to work slogan with lets get real, attacking the governor for rejecting federal high-speed rail funds and for proposing Republican solutions that 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.
House Democratic Leader Ron Saunders of Key West offered a live video response after Scotts address.
Florida Democrats agree with Governor Rick Scott that job creation is the No. 1 issue facing our state, but many of us disagree with some of the governors decisions, said Saunders. The governor says that cutting the states corporate income tax is the best way to attract businesses to our state. But giving tax breaks to big businesses will not help our economy if it takes money away from our states public schools.
Governor Scott has proposed a 10 percent cut in public school funding and major cuts to our colleges and universities, continued Saunders. 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?
Saunders went after the governor for supporting drastic cuts to our states health care programs that will cost taxpayers more money and for hurting working class Floridians.
The governors budget uses a reverse Robin Hood approach, insisted Saunders. It takes money from the poor and middle class and gives tax breaks to the rich and to large corporations. While that may make a few big campaign contributors happy, its not fair and its not what most citizens want.
Reach Kevin Derby at email@example.com or at (850) 727-0859. Gray Rohrer and Lane Wright contributed to this story.