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Capital Report

Lawmakers debate merits of gov's state-of-the-state speech

By Tom Flanigan

Tallahassee, FL – Reaction to Governor Rick Scott's first State of the State Address hasn't been limited to the official Democratic responses that followed the speech. Tom Flanigan found some of the governor's main talking points are still drawing cheers and criticism from other lawmakers.

If Rick Scott was nervous as he prepared to give his first-ever State of the State speech, he sure didn't show it.

"Thank you very much. Please be seated." (audible sigh) "Gosh, this is great!"

As expected, most of Scott's remarks revisited the prime topic of his inaugural address .creating Florida jobs.

"Our jobs budget is targeted to create private sector jobs, increase accountability and reduce the size of government. Every day since elected, I've gone job-hunting for the people of Florida. In my business career, I was never shy about picking up the phone and making a cold call to try to make something good happen. As governor, I've been making those calls each and every day to recruit job creators."

Senate Minority Leader Nan Rich took issue with that in the official Democratic response, which followed the governor's address.

"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 to the wealthy and big business, it sure doesn't seem like average Floridians the governor is working for."

Governor Scott said one of his job creation priorities would involve changing the way Florida educates its students.

"Practices that improve student learning must be adopted. Practices that impair student learning must be abolished. Second, I think we call agree that the single most important factor in student learning is the quality of teaching. Florida has to recruit, train, support and promote great teachers, great school principals and great school superintendents."

House Minority Leader Ron Saunders of Tavernier took exception to the governor's words during the second part of the official Democratic response.

"Governor Scott has proposed a ten-percent cut in public school funding and major cuts to our colleges and universities. 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'll hire their employees?"

There were also reservations from at least one Republican lawmaker. State Senator Paula Dockery of Lakeland.

"I don't think there's much of an appetite in the legislature to cut as much as he was cutting on education and it was a little interesting that he focused so much on a world-class education, yet cut so much out of the education budget."

Perhaps the part of Governor Scott's address that has gotten the most attention was towards the very end and was aimed directly at lawmakers.

"A vast majority of legislators were elected, as was I, on our promise: a smaller government; lower taxes; less regulation; support for job creation; individual opportunity; individual accountability; and more freedom. Don't blink!"

In other words, he was exhorting lawmakers to resist any attempt by others to sway them from those core principles. That line had the backing from many Republicans, such as Jacksonville Senator John Thrasher.

"If a legislator ever blinks in this process, somebody else out there is going to grab you by, you know, the .hair and you can't blink. You cannot blink if you're committed to being a conservative, you've got to stay the course you've got to stay the course. And the people of Florida I think spoke pretty loudly in the last election about where they wanted the state to go."

Democratic Representative Alan Williams, whose Tallahassee district includes tens-of-thousands of state workers, used the governor's phrase in a different context.

"Our state employees, you know, they're blinking every day. Every time they hear another proposal by the governor to do away with their way of life, they're blinking."

And there's no way to tell how much blinking may take place in the legislature, despite the governor's urging. Parts of his budget plan, especially his two billion dollar tax cut proposal, are already considered in trouble. More will become clear in the weeks to come.