Scott Ignores Important Issues In State of State Address

Mar 8, 2015 by

The 2015 legislative session is officially underway and the opening day was filled with the customary pomp and circumstance. Legislators’ desks were filled with flowers, dignitaries were present, prayers were offered, patriotic songs were sung and the Senate president and speaker of the House presented their visions to their respective chambers.

Then the governor got the chance to address all 160 legislators in a joint session. This is a great opportunity for the governor to set the tone for the 60-day session; to set out lofty and ambitious goals; to urge the Florida Legislature to adopt his agenda; and to make his case to those who control both the policy and the purse strings.

So how did Gov. Rick Scott do?

This was Scott’s fifth State of the State address and I think he’s getting a little better at public speaking. He started with an endearing and self-deprecating line about his “world renowned oratorical skills.” This not only humanized him but it also lowered expectations.

Scott has often mentioned that Texans know how to brag about their state and we should do that more in Florida. He used his address to the Legislature and the TV audience to do just that. He rattled off all the positive economic indicators like reducing unemployment from 11.1 to 5.6 percent and adding over 700,000 private sector jobs. He bragged about a 43-year low in the crime rate, reducing debt, becoming the third largest state and attracting 97 million tourists last year.

There is a lot of good happening in Florida and everyone loves to hear positive news. His address stuck to two related and positive themes — Florida exceptionalism and making dreams come true. He highlighted several individuals and companies and focused on those started long ago that have become synonymous with Florida like Disney World, the Columbia Restaurants and Publix Supermarkets.

For delivery, setting a positive tone and a cohesive theme, Scott fared well. He then ventured into the actual substance of the address outlining five familiar goals.

As he has done in his past four addresses, he expressed his desire to continue cutting taxes with his oft-used phrase, “Floridians can spend their money better than government can.” His tax-cutting wishes for this session include the tax on cell phones and TVs, the tax on manufacturing equipment and the sales tax on college textbooks.

The Legislature loves to cut taxes and will most likely do so this year with increasing revenues making that possible. We’ll have to wait and see whether they will cut them in the areas Gov. Scott suggested or somewhere else.

Scott’s second goal is a college affordability bill that will prevent increasing tuition — an admirable endeavor.

While we all would like college to be affordable, we have to keep up with changing technology and recruit and maintain quality professors. College costs are paid for by a combination of tuition, scholarships and state investment. If we want to keep tuition low, we need to invest more or else we risk lowering quality.

Scott’s third goal was to invest in workforce development. He listed $56 million of spending proposals, some of which appear to be ongoing.

His fourth goal is to increase K-12 education funding. On the campaign trail, Scott boasted about historically high funding for education. Fact checkers determined the lump sum was the highest but since we had more students to teach; the per pupil funding was not. Scott vowed to increase per pupil funding to $50 more than the highest level funded under former Gov. Charlie Crist.

This is a large-ticket item but with home values on the rise, an increase in property tax revenue will generate more for education without putting the entire fiscal burden on the state.

Lastly, Scott expressed a commitment to environmental and agricultural programs and rattled off some promising funding numbers. Unfortunately, his actual proposal does not fully fund Florida Forever nor does it adequately address the voters’ wishes when they passed Amendment One with 75 percent of the vote.

The Legislature will consider nearly 1,500 bills in the 60-day session dealing with a plethora of issues. The governor’s limited agenda was anything but bold. While I applaud his efforts to cut taxes, keep college tuition low, train workers, increase education funding and restore environmental funding — the devil is in the details and those were lacking in his address.

Also lacking was any mention of expanding Medicaid or dealing with the billion-dollar shortfall in his budget due to the lack of federal dollars for indigent care. He also failed to address the suspicious deaths and corruption reported in our prisons, the crumbling prison buildings and the need for more funding and staff.

Other hotbed issues that he ignored were school testing, solar power, gambling, medical marijuana, minimum wage, child deaths under Department of Children & Families supervision, and criminal justice reform.

What’s remarkable about the governor’s speech had more to do with what he didn’t say.

Paula Dockery is a syndicated columnist who served in the Florida Legislature for 16 years as a Republican from Lakeland. She can be reached at

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