TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ Gov. Rick Scott told lawmakers in his second State of the State address Tuesday that Florida needs to continue to streamlining government, cutting corporate taxes and eliminating regulations in an effort to help existing businesses grow and to lure more here.
But unlike last year, when the former CEO began his first term in elected office dictating the agenda, his new theme this year is cooperation. He's adding a new word to a familiar catchphrase used during his campaign and first year in office.
“Let's get to work _ together,'' Scott's said at the end of his 34-minute speech.
“I'm open to any idea from whatever source that is likely to improve the lives of Floridians,'' the Republican governor said. “No person, profession or party has a monopoly on all the good ideas. The commitment I make to those here today is to keep open and clear lines of communication so that together our time in the Capitol can best be spent in the service of those who sent us here.''
While Scott has a new attitude, the ideas are largely the same. He's asking lawmakers to make the state as business friendly as possible, saying that the two things companies need most to grow are money and time.
“Taxes and regulations. They are the great destroyer of capital and time for small business,'' Scott said. “When growth slows in small businesses, what happens? Jobs are the first casualties. So this session, we need to lower _ lower _ burdensome taxes on small businesses and continue our mission of slashing red tape in Florida.''
The comment earned extended applause by the Republican lawmakers that dominate each chamber. Afterward, Republicans said the speech shows Scott is growing into his role as governor.
“He clearly is, I think, getting comfortable and sort of finding his voice for the future,'' said House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park. “The hallmark of a good leader is they have their own vision for where to go but they are open to other ideas. Especially in our three-branch government, collaboration is a necessary element and I think he's fully embraced that.''
Scott touted job growth numbers over the past year, saying Florida has added 135,000 private sector jobs and an overall total of more than 120,000 when government job cuts are factored in.
Scott is proposing to raise the exemption for corporate income taxes and is giving lawmakers a list of regulations he believes should be eliminated. And while he's calling for cooperation, he said there's one thing that's not negotiable.
“My recommended budget includes $1 billion in new state funding for education. I ask each of you to take my recommendation very carefully,'' Scott said. “On this point, I just can't budge.''
While Democrats say they agree the state needs to spend more on education, they criticized Scott for seeking the increase at the expense of health care programs like Medicaid. They also pointed out that Scott and Republicans cut education spending last year.
“His new emphasis on education is more about poll numbers,'' said Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa. “It's the money that we cut last year that he wants to put back in this year … There was no hue and cry last year to fund education at a decent level, but the people have spoken and his numbers are low and you do what is necessary to be more in favor with the folks.''
Scott noted that Florida's population is growing and that it will soon pass New York to become the third-largest state in the nation. He then compared the two states in an argument why Florida is a better place to live and do business.
“To all of our friends in New York, come on down!'' Scott said. “As I stand here today, our temperature outdoors is about twice as high as yours, and your tax burden per citizen is about twice as high as ours,'' Scott said. “The state of New York, which has just about the same population as Florida does, has a budget roughly twice as large as ours.''
Scott also stressed the need to crack down on auto insurance fraud that leads to higher personal injury protection coverage.
“If we are going to be serious about keeping the cost of living low for Floridians, we have to get tough on the fraud and abuse in the auto insurance system,'' Scott said. “It's the consumers in our state that we need to protect, not trial lawyers and not the others involved in these schemes.''
Scott's speech marked the first day of the Legislature's 60-day session. It's being held two months earlier this year as lawmakers draw new political maps for state and congressional districts. Scott noted the addition of redistricting to an already packed agenda and urged lawmakers to remain courteous. He did not, however, mention one of the other large items being considered this session _ a proposal to allow destination casinos in South Florida. It's an issue that Scott plans to watch, but not wade into. At least for now.