In his third State of the State address, Gov. Rick Scott laid out a pragmatic vision for Florida — one that would serve his Republican Party well by investing in key sectors of our economy.
There were no big surprises, but the governor reiterated his support for investing in the state’s ports and attracting more trade, as well as raising public school teachers’ salaries by $2,500 and the expansion of Medicaid to serve one million more Floridians who can’t afford health insurance.
The numbers don’t lie.
Gov. Scott has added up the numbers and subtracted the liabilities to find that the only reasonable course is to invest in Florida’s education system and participate, too, in the federal healthcare expansion that’s part of Obamacare.
Florida’s business community knows that it’s past time to invest more in education, too. Teachers rank near the bottom in pay nationally. During the tough years of the Great Recession they did not get a raise. The proposed increase would make teachers’ salaries more competitive with other states, but, even so, they would not be anywhere near the top.
Merit pay, which we support and the Legislature already adopted, should be based on performance, of course. But first, Florida’s teachers’ salaries have to catch up to at least the middle of the U.S. pack. That’s what the governor is proposing.
Unfortunately, some legislative leaders don’t seem to see the need to invest in education with a one-time across-the-board pay increase for teachers. Yet this year is the first time in six years the Legislature doesn’t face a budget deficit.
Is the education funding a political tactic by the governor to try to change his tea party image and an attempt to turn around his dismal popularity numbers? Sure, and there are various Republicans lining up to take him on in two years. But the math hasn’t changed. The investment is well worth it.
Same goes for Gov. Scott’s Medicaid turnaround. He campaigned against Obamacare, but facing the reality of the funding formula for Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act he now backs a three-year expansion. Once again, the former hospital executive added up the numbers.
“Our options are either having Floridians pay to fund this program in other states while denying healthcare to our citizens or using federal funding to help some of the poorest in our state with the Medicaid program as we explore other health care improvements,” Mr. Scott told legislators on Tuesday.
Gov. Scott, not known for soaring rhetoric, nevertheless offered a touching portrait of his youth by recalling his mother, who died recently, and the challenges she faced as a single mother. “As I wrestled with this decision, I thought about my Mom and her struggles to get my little brother healthcare with no money. I cannot, in good conscience, deny the uninsured access to care,” he said.
Whatever his motivation might be, this is the appropriate course, despite House Speaker Will Weatherford’s strong opposition to expanding Medicaid.
Still left to do: fixing the voting mess that led to hours’ long lines during the 2012 elections. Nor did the governor mention protecting the environment or the Everglades, though his budget includes money for continuing to clean up Florida’s fabled River of Grass.
On Tuesday, Gov. Scott showed a kinder, gentler side but also took a practical approach to governance.
It’s a welcome change.