There may have been a more uninspired State of the State speech than the one Rick Scott gave the other day, but I can’t recall one. And I’ve heard most of them since the glory days of Reubin Askew in the 1970s.
Askew and every governor who followed used the State of the State to lay out a broad vision for the future and his agenda for the coming year, singling out a few top priorities. For Askew, it was transparency —government in the sunshine. For Bob Graham, improving Florida schools and protecting the environment. Bob Martinez sought collegiality and a tax on services. Lawton Chiles focused on early childhood programs. Jeb Bush promoted school choice, tougher sentencing and shrinking the size of government. Charlie Crist protected teacher tenure and restored ex-cons’ civil rights.
Rick Scott? Do we even have to ask? “Many of you know,” the governor intoned in his peculiar, stilted style, “my three favorite topics are jobs, jobs and more jobs.” The lawmakers and audience tittered as if the governor had delivered a sparkling line of repartee. Truth is, most of Scott’s lines were flat. No fizz. No poetry. No inspiration. And no vision beyond the needs of business.
Lawmakers received the governor cordially and clapped obediently at all the designated applause lines. But without much enthusiasm. “He’s kind of a weird dude,” a major Scott donor confided the other day. Truer words were never spoken. We could, of course, live with some weirdness, even welcome it — if it were balanced by charm, wit, a warm human touch now and then or flights of rhetorical brilliance. We certainly didn’t get any of that from Gov. Scott in his State of the State.
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We got the same old redundant rap about taxes and jobs. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Everyone wants a good job and fair taxes. That’s a given.
But $1.4 billion in permanent tax cuts to benefit mostly business interests, as the governor is proposing? That’s way too much in light of the state’s unmet needs. Besides, state economists estimate additional tax revenue this year at about $650 million. The governor appears to have pulled that $1.4 billion number out of his cummerbund. Which is the same place he would put $250 million for Enterprise Florida, the semi-autonomous agency that tries to lure new businesses to Florida.
To its credit, the Legislature doesn’t appear ready to give the governor anywhere close to $1.4 billion in tax cuts or $250 million for Enterprise Florida. Lawmakers will give Scott something because a) He’s got a veto pen and b) some tax cuts are called for — for everyday working stiffs, whom our governor generally ignores despite regularly dredging up his own childhood poverty.
The fact is, most lawmakers don’t find the governor terribly relevant to their mission. They work through committees and consensus; he’s a CEO used to giving orders. He doesn’t speak their language. The one he does speak is often a simplistic jumble.
Even some Republican legislators say privately that Scott’s agenda is too rigid, too narrow and ideologically driven. They want to use some of this year’s additional tax money to give state employees a raise since they haven’t had one in eight years.
GOP leaders also want to start fulfilling the mandate of Amendment 1, approved by three out of four voters in 2014, to buy and preserve environmentally fragile land and waters. The governor didn’t mention it in his speech. Nor did he mention the open-carry and campus-carry bills, the Seminole gambling compact, the challenge of climate change and sea-level rise (verboten terms), the epidemic of teen gun violence, threats to the sanctity of state parks, etc.
He did brag about proposing record spending on education, but neglected to say the increase will be paid for mostly by local property taxes, not the state.
Most notably, Scott made no mention of the crisis in the state prison system, which the Herald’s Julie Brown has reported on so unflinchingly. I asked the governor the other day what he thought after reading her outstanding series of reports, especially the latest installment about frightening, twisted and possibly criminal activity by guards at the Lowell women’s prison.
“Some people on my staff told me about it,” was all that Scott said. I find that shocking. The governor’s just too busy to read about possible criminal activity at the state prisons for which he’s ultimately responsible?
There was a lot the governor could have said in his State of the State speech. What he did say should be of great comfort to Florida business interests. The speech confirmed that Scott is not just the “jobs governor,” but the “business governor.” For everyone and everything else, not so much.