By John Celock
Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) focused his State of the State Address Tuesday on economic domination.
Scott outlined a series of initiatives focused on what he said is growing Florida’s economy internationally. He had used parts of the speech to tout his first term record and introduce entrepreneurs as part of a theme of saying people are starting businesses in Florida. Scott started his second term in January following a narrow victory last year over former Gov. Charlie Crist (D).
“Florida is an exceptional place,” Scott said. “As far back as the 1800s people were moving to Florida to make their dreams come true. We want more people to chase their dream in the great state of Florida.”
Scott said that he wanted a renewed focus on tax cuts as part of his economic plan. He noted that he and the Republican-controlled Legislature had cut taxes 40 times in four years and he wanted to continue. Among the tax cuts called for by Scott were for taxes on business equipment, cell phones and television.
Marrying his higher education plan and his tax plan, Scott called for the elimination of the sales tax on college textbooks.
“I recommend that we get rid of the sales tax on college text books,” he said. “Students can spend their money than government can.”
In the area of higher education, Scott called for lower graduate school tuition and for universities in the state to be transparent about their costs. He said that tuition hikes should be in line with other states to make Florida universities more competitive.
“It shouldn’t require a federal loan and decades of debt for students to get a college degree,” he said. “If we are going to out compete the world we need to make college education more affordable.”
Scott also called for increased investment in workforce development programs along with touting a $3 billion budget for environmental and agricultural programs in the state. Among the environmental programs Scott touted was funding for Everglades protection.
In the area of education, Scott touted what he said would be hikes in spending on schools in the state. Scott acknowledged the cuts he and lawmakers made earlier in his term to education but said they could now put more money into school spending.
“Four years ago I stood before you and said we had to make hard decisions,” he said. “We made cuts to education knowing that when the economy improves we could add more.”
Legislative Democrats used their response to Scott’s address to say that while the governor is listening to Democrats, there is more to be done. State Senate Minority Leader Arthenia Joyner (D-Tampa) used her part of the response to say that Scott needs to create more middle class friendly jobs. She said that many of the 728,000 jobs that Scott boasts of creating in his first term are minimum wage jobs.
“Unfortunately Governor Scott doesn’t get it but I think you do. Any Floridian stuck in a low wage job in a state flush with low wage job gets it,” Joyner said. “Any student facing crushing debt gets it. Anyone stuck in an emergency room because the governor is at war with the president on health care gets it. Anyone trying to start a small business but they cannot get any help because Tallahassee is too busy helping big corporations gets it.”
House Minority Leader Mark Pafford (D-West Palm Beach) used his part of the response to focus on education. He said that high stakes testing needed to be toned down in Florida.
“These tests are too stressful for students and take up too much teaching time,” Pafford said.