Rick Scott Turns on Charlie Crist in State of the State
Around the State
Florida Gov. Rick Scott's State of the State address Tuesday showcased the state's economic gains under his watch, but it also served as a platform to diss political rivals as he readies for a tough battle to win a second term in November.
During his speech, Scott referenced President Barack Obama and former Gov. Charlie Crist. The governor came to political prominence in 2009 by opposing Obama’s federal health-care law. Despite spending most of his political career as a Republican, Crist is the favorite for the Democratic nomination to challenge Scott in November.
“A lot has happened since I spoke to you last year,” Scott said. “I could talk about how our unemployment rate is now down to 6.3 percent. How our crime rate is at a 42-year low. How we have invested record funding in protecting our environment while our tourism industry is breaking records, or how we have added more than 460,000 new private-sector jobs since the end of 2010.”
Scott instead opted to talk about his family and his grandson’s dreams. Hoping his grandson’s future dreams would flourish in Florida, Scott pivoted with an attack on Crist.
“That’s not where our state was headed a few years ago,” Scott said before turning his fire on Obama’s federal stimulus, which Crist supported. “Like Washington, Florida’s economy was driven into the ground by spending what some embraced as ‘free money.’ Of course, there is no such thing.”
Scott proceeded to pound Crist’s record in office. “Florida’s big spending racked up big debt,” Scott insisted before focusing on 2010, Crist’s last year in office. “Florida was in a hole. Unemployment was above 11 percent. More than 1 million people were unemployed and our debt ballooned to more than $28 billion.”
“Some say these statistics were all because of a global recession,” Scott added. “They say it doesn’t matter who was running our state – that anyone would have been just a victim of the times. I disagree. As Americans, our freedom and our optimism make us anything but victims – even in the worst circumstances and the toughest times. Our leaders especially – and every person in our state – are not simply bystanders in the arena of life where the hard battles are fought and history is made.”
The governor attempted to contrast his time in Tallahassee with former Gov. Crist’s. “We could have kept embracing spending and debt – but we didn’t,” Scott said. “We could have kept growing government and expecting our challenges to solve themselves – but we didn’t. Together, we made government more efficient. Together, we have cut almost 3,000 regulations on small businesses. Together, we have now paid down $3.6 billion in state debt. And paid back another $3.5 billion borrowed from the federal government for unemployment assistance.
“Working together, Florida rejected the tax-borrow-and-spend strategy that was hurting our future,” Scott insisted. “It wasn’t easy getting Florida’s fiscal house in order. And it wasn’t any fun, either. In my three years as governor, I have yet to have anyone come into my office and lobby me to spend less taxpayer money. The simple truth is that our state, just like our small businesses and our families, has to live within its means. We can’t spend more than we take in.”
Scott continued jabbing at Crist’s record. The governor insisted he had “inherited a terrible mess: growing unemployment, dangerous levels of debt, growing deficits and a crippled housing market.”
The governor also contrasted Crist’s policies, which he defined as the “usual way out by raising taxes and running up more debt" to his own record. Scott said he had done the “politically hard thing and trim(med) our budget.”
Attacking the “previous administration, which lost almost 1 million jobs,” Scott insisted his record was much better with Florida “now tied for having the largest drop in unemployment out of all 50 states, Florida is one of only a few states that has gone from above the national average in unemployment to below the national average in unemployment.”
He pushed his proposal to cut $400 million in vehicle registration fees approved by Crist and slashing $100 million in commercial rent taxes.
“We have added almost a half a million jobs,” Scott said. “Together, we have cut taxes 24 times already and my hope is that we are about to cut them again by another $500 million this year.”
Scott pointed to his record in education, “proposing to invest record amounts in our K-12 education system” and highlighting his budget proposals.
“This budget will invest a total of $18.8 billion in education – the highest in Florida history,” Scott said. “This record investment builds on our previous budgets, which invested an additional $1 billion in K-12 education for two years in a row. Of course, ensuring students get a quality education means they must have excellent teachers. That’s why, last year, with your support, we gave every full-time public classroom teacher the opportunity to get a pay raise.
“This investment is sure to pay off,” Scott continued. “Florida teachers are ranked among the most effective in the nation. Because of their hard work, our fourth- and eighth-graders have had the largest achievement gains in the nation. Our fourth-graders are now second in the world for reading. And, Florida high schools are fourth out of the top 10 in the country."
Scott also drew attention to his call for “$80 million in our budget this year for those colleges and universities who graduate students best positioned to get a job” and trying to keep tuition from increasing.
“We are changing how we fund higher education, but if we want to make higher education more accessible to low and middle-income families we have to make it more affordable,” he said. “Last year, I vetoed a tuition increase that would have taken a total of more than $42 million from Florida families. And, this year, with your help, we want to get rid of the 15 percent annual increase and inflationary increase on tuition.
“My commitment to every family dreaming to send their children to college is simple: we will hold the line on tuition,” Scott pledged. “Parents saving for their children to get a four-year degree from a public university today need to save over $53,000 ... we shouldn’t celebrate how accessible higher education is until we can make it more affordable. That’s why I am proud that all of Florida’s four-year state colleges now offer bachelor’s degrees for only $10,000. These degrees aren’t just affordable – they are also geared toward high-demand job fields so students are prepared to start a great career when they graduate.”
Scott continued to paint a stark picture of life in Florida when Crist left office. “Four years ago, people were down on Florida,” Scott insisted. “High unemployment, shrinking home values, Florida was in retreat. For the first time in decades, more people left the state of Florida than moved in from other states.”
The governor insisted things had turned around under his watch. “Now, we are on the rise,” Scott said. “Jobs are coming back, career opportunities are growing, home values are improving and there is simply no reason that Florida cannot be the No. 1 state in the country to find a good job, raise a family and achieve the American dream. Working together, we are making Florida No. 1.”
Scott shared the stories of many Floridians who have worked and found success, including his own, and reflected on the passing of his mother last year.
He also said his story shows the importance of having a job. “I hope it explains just a little about my passion for creating jobs and opportunities for all Florida citizens. I know that reporters get tired of me constantly talking about creating jobs when they are asking other questions. I know that some people think I’m too singularly focused on growing Florida’s economy. Well, all I can tell you is that we are all products of our own experiences in life. I’ve seen what happens to families who are struggling to find work. I’ve had Christmas without any presents. And, I don’t want any of our people to ever feel stuck in those situations.
“I didn’t start caring about jobs when I ran a company,” Scott added. “I started caring about jobs when I saw my father lose his. That’s why I want Florida to be the land of opportunity. I want every entrepreneur to move here. I want every business that is already here to expand. And, I want every Floridian who has an idea to open a small business to be able to do it. Every time a new job is created, some family, like mine growing up, is better off.”
Scott also laid out his conservative beliefs when it comes to the role of the government in the economy.
“Government cannot create jobs,” the governor said before taking a swipe at Obama. “Washington has proven that. But, government can create an environment where Floridians can create jobs. We have proven that.
“I want us to keep cutting taxes and keep cutting regulations so every small business can succeed. Let’s keep working to reject the tax-borrow-and-spend approach of D.C. Let’s keep working until everyone in our state,regardless of what country, family or zip code they were born into – has their shot at the American dream. Let’s keep working until we are not only the destination for the world’s tourists, but for the world’s businesses.
"Let’s keep working until all of our children and grandchildren can have any career they want right here in Florida.”
House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, responded for his party. Thurston is running for the Democratic nomination to challenge Attorney General Pam Bondi in November.
“Today, the 116th regular session of the Florida Legislature gets under way with Gov. Rick Scott and Republicans still in charge of your state government,” Thurston said. “Democrats are committed to working with the governor and Republican leaders where we can. But we believe that after 16 years of Republican control, their strategies are failing to meet the needs of working families and are favoring wealthy special interests.”
Focusing more on the Democrats’ agenda, Thurston backed Obama’s call to raise the federal minimum wage and said he would fight to raise it at the state level.
“One of the most important issues of this session will be the plight of our state’s workforce,” Thurston said. “Right now, there’s a bill in the United States Congress to raise the nation’s minimum wage. But when it comes to our workers, we need not wait for Congress to act. In Florida, we have a state minimum wage of $7.93 an hour that should be increased because raising Floridians’ wages is good for business and good for our economy. Doing so reduces turnover. It boosts productivity, and it gives folks more money to spend at local businesses. That’s why I support Democratic-sponsored legislation this year that would raise Florida’s minimum wage to a livable earning of at least $10.10 an hour.”
Thurston used Scott’s call for lower fees to point out the Democratic record on the issue.
“House Democratic Caucus members have, for several years now, unanimously opposed fee hikes on drivers’ licenses and automobile registrations,” Thurston said. “But unlike Gov. Scott, we didn’t think the idea of repealing those consumer costs should have to wait until an election year like this one.”
Insisting the “best way to create jobs and secure a strong economy is to invest in our future,” Thurston attacked Scott over education.
“We need to educate our children and increase the success of our public schools,” Thurston said. “We also need to make sure that Floridians have health insurance. And we must allow for the health coverage expansion using available federal dollars. We’ve got to do better. And we certainly have to do better than what occurred when Gov. Scott took office.
“We need new leadership in the Legislature, the governor’s mansion, and in the attorney general’s office and other Cabinet posts,” Thurston added, looking to November. “Gov. Scott and the Republican-run Legislature slashed more than $1 billion in funding from Florida’s schools. They’ve also made cuts to Bright Futures Scholarships that students need to attain a college education.
“Frankly, on no issue are Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature more divergent than in our approach to education,’ he continued. “Democrats believe that a solid public education is the best economic investment we can make. Unfortunately, Rick Scott’s election-year promises aren’t in keeping with the way he’s governed. He’s attacked teachers and raided public school funding.”
Thurston also waded into the Common Core debate. “While Democrats have no major objection to the standards themselves, we are concerned about their implementation,” he said. “Our students are our most valuable asset. We can’t afford to get this wrong. We must create some time before these new standards are used in the testing of and evaluation of our teachers and schools.”
On Medicaid expansion, Thurston held the party line: “Millions of dollars are being lost and Gov. Scott’s administration is no closer to a solution for the thousands of Floridians waiting on their chance at quality, affordable health care coverage. I hold responsible -- and I think you should, too -- the Republican legislative leaders and Gov. Rick Scott for this moral and mathematical failure of our state. ..."
Reach Kevin Derby at email@example.com.