Before beginning his final State of the State Address on Tuesday, Gov. Rick Scott said the event was “a little different than the first one.”
Indeed. Seven years ago, Scott was the outsider who won despite early hostility from the state’s Republican establishment. Today, Scott is like so many others in Tallahassee: focused on higher office and aligning his words and proposals to a potential campaign, not the state’s immediate needs.
On Tuesday, Scott talked much more about the political and economic crisis in Venezuela, than he talked about the opioid crisis in Florida. If Scott runs for the U.S. Senate this year as expected, he wants to look tougher on the left-wing government of Nicolas Maduro than incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson.
Scott wants to ban state agencies from doing business with Venezuela, though there appears to be no evidence of any such business. Almost in passing, he said he wants $53 million to combat opioid abuse, with half coming from the federal government. The $53 million is nowhere close to what experts say the state needs.
Though the governor said Florida has “come back even stronger” from Hurricane Irma, he said nothing about increased storm preparedness and response. He did not mention the property insurance crisis that Irma has made worse. And, of course, he did not mention climate change and rising seas that make hurricanes more powerful and storm surge more damaging.
Scott did mention his two trips to Puerto Rico to “help in any way I could” and how Florida should be “the most welcoming state” for Hurricane Maria refugees from that island. They could be a big factor in this year’s elections. Scott did not mention that the administration of his “friend,” President Trump, has done a terrible job of restoring power to Puerto Rico.
We also didn’t hear about the governor’s demand that all nursing homes have generators. Fourteen patients died after a Hollywood facility lost power after Irma. Now the mostly for-profit nursing home industry wants taxpayers to give it $50 million to make needed safety improvements.
Scott continued to portray himself as the savior of Florida’s economy. He noted the 1.5 million jobs created since he took office after the worst of the Great Recession had passed and the Obama Recovery was about to begin. You can’t beat timing.
In his budget, Scott proposes about $180 million in reduced taxes and fees. This includes the annual sales-tax holidays, which are passed every year, instead of made permanent, to count as another tax cut. Still, his proposal is far short of the $1 billion he unsuccessfully sought two years ago.
Scott included his support for a constitutional amendment that would require a two-thirds vote in the Legislature to raise taxes and, presumably, fees. The idea is mostly symbolic. The Legislature almost never raises taxes. During the recession, though, legislators raised vehicle fees to help balance the budget. The Legislature has reduced those fees as times got better. Scott wants to lower them more.
Scott argues that the tax amendment is necessary because future governors and Legislatures might be “not as fiscally responsible” as he and the recent run of leaders in Tallahassee. Scott claims that overall state debt is down by $9 billion since he took office.
But in proposing a budget of $87.4 billion — a $5 billion increase — Scott plays his own financial games. The governor, who was a budget-cutter when his priority was Tea Party voters, finds much of that “new” money by raiding trust funds, including the fund meant to help supply affordable housing.
And his call for “historic” education spending depends on raising local property taxes, in most cases by more than property owners would save from lower vehicle registration fees.
If Scott gave a campaign speech disguised as a session-opening address, so did House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes.
Corcoran’s priority is “sanctuary cities,” where local officials supposedly make it hard for federal officials to arrest illegal immigrants. Really? That’s the most important issue facing Florida?
If Corcoran runs for governor, as expected, he will need an issue to set him apart from Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis in the GOP primary. Immigration could be that issue. Putnam must be noticing. He recently accused Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum of wanting to make Florida a “sanctuary state,” a claim PolitiFact called “Half True.”
The session opened amid new revelations about what critics call Tallahassee’s “culture of sex” — harassment or consensual. With the capital’s image so bad, you’d hope the Legislature and the governor could forget about campaigning long enough to worry about real priorities.
But it’s not likely. They convened the session in early January, rather than mid-March, because it’s a big election year. And the sooner they adjourn, the sooner they can again raise money, hit the stump for higher office and make more speeches like what we heard Tuesday.
Editorials are the opinion of the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board and written by one of its members or a designee. The Editorial Board consists of Editorial Page Editor Rosemary O’Hara, Elana Simms, Andy Reid and Editor-in-Chief Howard Saltz.