So far it’s all been a dress rehearsal.
Lawmakers convene Tuesday for the 2011 legislative session. For Rick Scott, the day’s largely ceremonial activities including his State of the State Address represent an opening night of sorts for the new governor who is playing the role of a lifetime.
That’s because over the next 60 days (and more if they can’t agree), Scott and the Legislature both take the stage in an unfolding drama in which the lead character has yet to emerge.
Will it be Scott? The daring entrepreneurial newcomer who transformed a lifetime of hard work and incredible achievement in the business world into a self-financed tenure as the leader of the fourth largest state in the country. Scott’s rise to the top was not without controversy, but give the man credit. He’s paid his own way.
Or will the Legislature steal the limelight? Republican leaders of both chambers have campaigned on a platform of radical change. Yet in less than a year, these agents for change have become the established order as the tea party-backed Scott sweeps into office as part of a larger political storm.
To repeat, the next 60 days will be telling.
Scott has spent the first few months travelling the state to visit his employees, meeting with dignitaries and releasing his annual list of things he wants done. In the meantime, he’s taken some unilateral steps including the largely symbolic action of selling the state planes and a more significant decision to cancel a $2.4 billion federal government handout to build high speed rail in the state. Most recently, he’s committed $77 million on taxpayer money to dredge the port of Miami.
Scott’s actions are CEO-like, decisive, authoritarian and with little outside counsel. Such independence has drawn some criticism from key lawmakers who say the constitution puts most spending authority in the hands of the Legislature. The governor, they argue, is a constitutional equal and nothing more.
During his campaign and since his inauguration two months ago, Scott has called for reduction in property tax, an elimination of the corporate income tax, higher employee contributions for pension benefits and raising cost for employee health care. All such actions are necessary to bring jobs to the state, a mantra that has not changed much since Scott entered the race in April.
Lawmakers, however, have another problem they have to address: a nearly $4 billion budget deficit that has hit a state with 12 percent unemployment, a housing glut and continued tight credit. Spending committees have already taken sometimes painful testimony from groups likely to be affected by the cuts, the elderly, the disabled, the poor and for whom a promise of an expanded economy several years down the road has little practical value.
So far, legislative leaders have been gracious and noncommittal in regard to the governor’s proposals, saying only that their first priority is to balance the budget before offering economy priming tax breaks.
Scott’s tune, meanwhile, has not changed. Promises made during the campaign are being repeated almost daily. Lawmakers can accomplish his agenda despite budget deficits and other financial commitments.
The next 60 days will prove which one of those scenarios prevails. And the Oscar for best performance in a governmental role goes to ...
E-mail Michael Peltier at email@example.com.