Fabiola Santiago

Fabiola Santiago: Niceties at Florida Legislature’s opening are all about power-brokering

Florida Gov. Rick Scott reacts to the applause from members of the Florida Legislature as he gives his State of the State address in Tallahassee on Tuesday.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott reacts to the applause from members of the Florida Legislature as he gives his State of the State address in Tallahassee on Tuesday. AP

The night before the Legislature’s opening day, Associated Industries of Florida — the self-anointed “voice of Florida business” — threw its annual bash honoring legislators, the governor and Cabinet members. It was a networking opportunity for lobbyists and lawmakers, and liquor flowed under the stars of a chilly Tallahassee.

Already, one of the state’s most influential lobby groups was hard at work.

“Everybody’s in a great mood,” Tom Feeney, president and CEO of AIF, told the Tallahassee Democrat. He ended his upbeat description of the evening as “a great opportunity… to get together, have a good time and make sure we’re on the same page.”

Same page, no doubt. The former congressman, legislator and Jeb Bush running mate, now a lobbyist, had reasons to be optimistic. With Florida’s legislators’ record of eagerly pleasing the influential and Gov. Rick Scott’s economic policies aimed at benefiting business above all else, Feeney’s got it made.

Scott’s opening speech Tuesday before a joint session of the Florida House and Senate — the Capitol adorned with the traditional overload of flower bouquets more reminiscent of funeral services than law-making — didn’t disappoint business interests. It was vintage Scott: Same old single-issue focus on jobs — and how he’ll generate them by cutting $1 billion in taxes.

Don’t get excited. The tax cuts aren’t for us working stiffs but for businesses. This governor believes that when you let money-makers keep more of their earnings, that turns into jobs instead of a yacht purchase.

In addition to tax cuts, Scott plans to secure more jobs by giving Enterprise Florida $250 million in incentives to bring new businesses to the state. His simplistic formula doesn’t take into account state needs. But Scott will try to buy support for a budget plan that includes eliminating 1,386 state jobs through $1 million in TV ads and a seven-city state tour. Legislators must vote on the budget, and with hometown funding at risk in an election cycle, a skirmish is likely.

Promising tax cuts and jobs, however, is a safe bet. Every legislator up for re-election wants voters to forget the discord and misbehavior of the last session, which started with a punch thrown at a bar by a Miami lawmaker, sponsor of a potty bill, and ended with special sessions that only led to healthcare failures. The refusal to expand Medicaid — that Republican obsession with setting up obstacles to the success of Obamacare — has left low-income Floridians in limbo.

There’s not enough money in the federal low-income pool, shrinking another $40 million this year, to take care of people without health insurance. And the bills filed are proposals for “free-market health care reform” backed by a conservative lobby. They don’t even serve the purpose of putting a Band-Aid on a wound.

Expanding gambling and gun owner rights also are on the agenda, as is a potential blow to Florida’s public records law and citizen access to information. It’s the bills that matter — and some are disastrous. But there’s no shame in eliminating the $700 million tax bill of manufacturing and retail industries and sealing the corporate welfare with a drink.

In Florida, there’s only shame in letting the working poor and low-income seniors access Medicaid.

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