Governor Rick Scott delivered his State-of-the-State address Tuesday as part of the Legislature's opening day festivities. There are many crucial issues facing lawmakers this year. But Tom Flanigan reports the governor focused on just a few of them.
Last year, the newly-elected Scott gave a somewhat stiff and formal State-of-the-State speech. Not so this year, as a more visibly relaxed governor went off-script to joke around at the beginning of his talk.
"The senate president didn't have to introduce me because they were all doing it outside. It also took me longer to walk in today because I think I know a lot more people this year."
Indeed, Scott seemed more comfortable and cordial in both his demeanor and his rhetoric during his second State of the State address to lawmakers and the people of Florida. That was even reflected in the title of the talk: "Let's get to work together." The governor kept an upbeat tone. He cited the steady drop in the state's jobless rate since he took office a year ago. He shared credit for that drop with lawmakers. And he restated his commitment to lower taxes and regulations on businesses.
"It's also our duty to help insure that in a time when the state is beginning to grow again, that we do not slow the growth by increasing the cost to live here. We can do this by building a leaner, more effective government, continuing to responsibly manage and reform our pension system and cracking down on the fraud and abuse that some people brought to our auto insurance system."
But there was no reference to any push to reform medical malpractice or workers' compensation insurance other areas in which widespread fraud is alleged. Scott did express a desire to tighten up on those who help people find work as well as those people who are out of work.
"I propose greater accountability for our workforce boards. So that tax money is not wasted and the purpose of those boards is fulfilled; to get people jobs. That's the entire purpose and the only purpose. I'm also asking you to require job training for those who are receiving unemployment checks."
But perhaps the biggest part of the governor's speech had to do with the need for the state to do more for public schools with the centerpiece of that effort being a one-billion dollar increase in funding.
"And as you know and as I've said, on this point I just can't budge. I ask you again to send me a budget that significantly increases state funding for education. This is the single most important decision we can make today for Florida's future."
Afterward, Florida State University Political Science Professor Carol Weissert said Scott's speech was almost as significant for what it didn't contain as it was for what it did.
"He didn't mention Medicaid reform. Medicaid makes up around a fourth - moving toward a third - of the state budget and he has some specific plans to cut Medicaid. He didn't mention that at all. And he basically focused on three issues. He focused on jobs, on education and on this personal injury protection insurance reform and not much of anything else."
Other reaction to Governor Scott's State of the State speech was also quick in coming. At its conclusion, there were two Democratic responses, the first from House Minority Leader Ron Saunders. He agreed with the governor on the education issue, but differed with him in the tax department.
"This legislature must find a way to promote our public schools without harming the care that must be provided for families, or by raising taxes on hard-working Floridians. We can achieve these goals by fighting against fraud in our Medicaid system and by fighting for fairness in our tax system."
That was followed by a somewhat more partisan critique from Senate Minority Leader Nan Rich.
"As 2012 begins, we will once again hear the Republican leadership talk all about the need for shared sacrifices as an army of well-paid lobbyists defend indefensible tax loopholes for special interests. We'll once again face more laws to control women's bodies and other attacks on personal freedom."
Reaction to Governor Scott's speech was a touch more positive from Republican lawmakers and business-oriented organizations.