Jobs, jobs, jobs. That was the takeaway from Gov. Rick Scott’s state of the state address. The Republican governor touted Florida’s s improving economy, championed deeper tax cuts and discussed his plans for education reform as he made the case for his reelection.
The speech, which opened the legislative session on March 4, focused on state investment in the job market and emphasized the role of public schools and universities in bolstering employment numbers.
“Florida was in a hole,” Scott said. “Unemployment was above 11 percent, more than one million people were unemployed and our debt ballooned to more than $28 billion … The year was 2010.”
Scott wasted no time ripping into the record of his predecessor and opponent in the 2014 gubernatorial race, Charlie Crist. Citing climbing employment numbers and a decrease in crime, Scott pulled no punches when referencing Crist’s tenure in Tallahassee.
“They say it doesn’t matter who was running our state – that anyone would have been just a victim of the times,” Scott said. “I disagree.”
Scott argued that the 24 tax cuts enacted during his time as governor have boosted Florida’s economy and said that more cuts should be expected, “And my hope is that we are about to cut them again … by another $500 million this year. As I tell the hard-working people of Florida as I travel our state: We want you to keep more of the money you earn. Because it’s your money!”
While the gubernatorial race clearly weighed on Scott, the job market was the central concern of his address. Taking a jab at Crist, Scott boasted that his administration has added about half a million jobs since 2010.
“The result is that Florida is now tied for having the largest drop in unemployment out of all 50 states, Florida is one of only a few states that has gone from above the national average in unemployment to below the national average in unemployment,” Scott said.
With the gubernatorial race heating up, Scott is facing an uphill battle against dropping approval ratings. A poll conducted by Bay News 9/Tampa Bay Times/AM 820 News Tampa Bay found that only 23 percent of respondents think that Scott is doing a good job.
The race between Scott and Crist is expected to be heated. A poll conducted by Scott’s campaign found that Crist has eked ahead of Scott by four percentage points and is currently favored by 49 percent of likely voters. Scott proposed extended tax cuts that would wind up exempting four out of every five businesses in Florida, arguing that these cuts would take financial strain off of small businesses. According to the Bureau of Labor Statics, Florida’s unemployment rate is currently at 6.3 percent, down a full percentage point since July of 2013.
Scott also said that he wants to spike current legislation that allows state universities and colleges to increase tuition by a maximum of 15 percent per year.
“We are changing how we fund higher education but if we want to make higher education more accessible to low and middle-income families we have to make it more affordable,” Scott said. Florida has the fourth lowest average tuition cost in the country with a year of in-state tuition and fees costing students an average $6,263. Scott stressed the connection between his jobs initiative and his plans for a scorecard system to guide merit funding for public colleges and universities. “That’s why we are recommending $80 million in our budget this year for those colleges and universities who graduate students best positioned to get a job,” Scott said.
Scott also struck a personal note, recounting his hardscrabble childhood as his parents, both teachers, struggled to make ends meet. Scott said that education is one of his top priorities and that the state will continue investing in Florida’s public education.
“With your support, this budget will invest a total of $18.8 billion in education – the highest in Florida history,” Scott said. “This record investment builds on our previous budgets, which invested an additional $1 billion in K-12 education for two years in a row.”