In his final address to the Florida Legislature, Governor Rick Scott pledged to “fight until the last minute” and stumped for measures to keep tax cuts made by legislators during his term more difficult to overturn during his State of the State Address at a joint session of the Florida House and Senate in Tallahassee on the first day of the 2018 legislative session Tuesday.
Scott has been pushing for a constitutional amendment that would require a two-thirds majority, rather than a simple majority, by legislators for any future tax increase.
“Like many of you here, this is my last year in this position. This is my last session to cut taxes. And, we must acknowledge that, unfortunately, at some point, there will be politicians sitting in this chamber who are not as fiscally responsible as we are today,” Scott said. “I want 2018 to be the year that Florida voters pass a constitutional amendment that makes it harder for politicians to raise taxes.”
The governor also promoted a tax cut package for the 2018 session, which includes lowering the fees charged for obtaining or renewing a driver’s license, and would add a series of sales tax holidays for back to school and disaster preparedness. Florida had a one week disaster preparedness sales tax holiday in 2017, under Scott’s proposal there would be a total of three weeks of tax holidays – something he called more important than ever after September’s Hurricane Irma.
“After the storms we experienced last year, we need to have a longer sales tax holiday so people have time to buy the supplies they need like generators, batteries and flashlights,” Scott said. “I don’t think anyone in this room could have predicted the mammoth storm Hurricane Irma would become. There wasn’t a portion of our state that was safe from Irma. We saw it shift, turn, and literally cover our entire state. It was like a scene from a movie.”
Long one of Scott’s key talking points, the governor took a victory lap over the state of the economy, citing a vastly improved economy since he took office in 2011 as a sign of his stewardship, along with a Republican-controlled legislature showing results.
“Working together, we’ve created an environment where our private sector has added nearly 1.5 million jobs, our GDP has grown 26 percent, home values have skyrocketed, we’ve decreased state debt by $9 billion, and our unemployment rate has dropped from over 10 percent when I took office to a more than 10-year low of 3.6 percent – even lower than the national rate,” Scott said. “Those are some great statistics. But this is not about statistics. It’s about real people.”
But those jobs numbers have come under fire from Democrats, as they seek to become stronger in the statehouse. Republicans have controlled both houses of the state legislature since 1997, and while Charlie Crist defected from the Republican Party while in office as governor, no Democrat has held the governor’s mansion since Lawton Chiles.
Former Congresswoman Gwen Graham, one of the Democrats running to replace the term-limited Scott, blasted the state’s “one-party rule” in a video Tuesday morning.
“For 20 years they have rigged our economy, polluted our environment, and attacked out public schools,” Graham said. “In November, we are going to hold them accountable.”
After the address, Graham tweeted that Scott’s speech was “full of the same stale ideas and wrong priorities the Republican politicians in Tallahassee have been peddling for 20 years.”
The Democratic Senate Campaign Committee was even more pointed in its words.
It’s widely expected that Scott is gearing up to take on Democratic Senator Bill Nelson in 2018 for U.S. Senate, and the DSCC fired off at Scott as if he were already a candidate, with committee spokesperson David Bergstein calling Scott a “creature of the Tallahassee swamp” in a prebuttal speech released before the address.
“Hardworking Floridians are paying the price for Rick Scott’s self-serving agenda: fewer good-paying jobs, higher health care costs, and funding stripped from public schools. His motivation is and has always been to advance the interests of his wealthy, well-connected cronies and donors at the expense of Floridians who actually work for a living,” Bergstein said in a statement.
The DSCC argued that despite Scott’s claims that the state has added 1.5 million jobs since he’s taken office, more than half of the state’s 67 counties – most of them rural – have lost jobs since 2011, while also attacking the governor on education and health care.
Elsewhere at the Capital, progressives held a rally, dubbed “Awake the State,” to highlight what they believed were Scott’s failures while in office, including on immigration and climate change. State Senator Jose Rodriguez(D-Miami) wore galoshes around the Capital, tweeting he was wearing them to signify the need for the state to address climate issues.
“If you see me at the Capitol Complex this Session (though not on Senate floor) I will be wearing these rain boots to highlight the need #ActOnClimate,” Rodriguez tweeted.
One issue that was addressed, and has become a hot-button issues both in Tallahassee and around the county, was sexual harassment. Scott said the state has changed its processes by executive order for how sexual harassment is reported and investigated when complaints are made by employees of state agencies – including ensuring that the identity of those who make the claims are kept anonymous, and wants to see them made law for all state employees. The governor referenced sexual harassment scandals in the statehouse that cost multiple legislators, most notably former state senator Jack Latvala, their jobs.
“Things have got to change, and it starts right here in this building,” Scott said. “The people of Florida deserve better than what they are reading about in the news. We all must join together and send a very strong message: Florida stands with victims.”
Session is scheduled to run through March 9.
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