Scott's message to Florida: Policies to improve jobs, education are working

Rep. Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, left, and Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando join Gov. Rick Scott, right, in greeting guests prior to Scott delivering his State of the State address Tuesday, March 5, 2013, in the Florida House of Representatives in Tallahassee, Fla. The Florida Legislature convened for its annual 60-day session. (AP Photo/Phil Sears)

Photo by Phil Sears

Rep. Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, left, and Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando join Gov. Rick Scott, right, in greeting guests prior to Scott delivering his State of the State address Tuesday, March 5, 2013, in the Florida House of Representatives in Tallahassee, Fla. The Florida Legislature convened for its annual 60-day session. (AP Photo/Phil Sears)

Gov. Rick Scott's State of the State

Legislature begins 60-day session.

DREAMers sing before legislative session

Today is start of legislative session.state

TALLAHASSEE — Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s message was simple: The state’s efforts to reduce costs and taxes are working.

“Two years ago, we met together facing crippling debt, record-high unemployment and a downward spiral of job losses,” the Naples Republican said. “Today, because of the tireless work of the men and women in this room, our businesses are creating hundreds of thousands of jobs and our unemployment rate is nearly down to the national average; and we aren’t stopping there. It’s working.”

Scott delivered the annual State of the State address Tuesday. The speech came as the Legislature began its annual 60-day session. Scott, who ran for office with the slogan “Let’s get to work,” proclaimed several times during the speech: “It’s working.”

The hourlong speech focused on the state’s improved unemployment numbers and the boost in private sector jobs. Scott also used the opportunity to once again highlight his primary priorities in 2013 — education and eliminating the manufacturing sales tax.

“He’s clearly laid out his priorities,” Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, said afterward. “I thought the speech was very good.”

Scott once again talked about the need to invest in the state’s education system, specifically teachers.

Scott said he told legislators two years ago that the single most important factor in student learning was “the quality of teaching.”

Since then, the state has eliminated teacher tenure and signed performance pay into law. The education system, he said, has made tremendous progress over the years.

But the state, he said, needs to continue to build on that progress and one way to do that is teacher raises. Scott has proposed giving all of the state’s teachers a $2,500 raise, and on Tuesday he responded to critics who said that may not be the best approach.

“An investment in Florida teachers is an investment in Florida’s future,” he said. “Teachers change lives.”

Scott has proposed a $1.2 billion spending increase for K-12 public schools in his fiscal 2013-14 budget. That includes $480 million to increase classroom teachers’ salaries and $74.9 million for school safety. Last year, he asked for — and received — an additional $1 billion for K-12 education.

It may be a step in the right direction, but critics were quick to point out Scott has cut education in the past.

“We’ve got to do better,” Rep. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, the state House Democratic Minority Leader, said in prepared remarks following the governor’s speech. “We certainly have to do better than what occurred only two years ago when Gov. Scott and the Republican Legislature slashed $1.3 billion in funding from Florida’s schools.”

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Thurston said in his remarks that the House Democratic caucus plans to focus on education and health-care in hope that “Florida can begin to shift state investments from addressing problems after they develop to preventing them in the first place.”

The governor’s focus on health-care — primarily the expansion of Medicaid — came into play during the speech. Scott said the state had the option of either having Floridians pay for the program in other states or use federal funding to help Floridians.

Scott has said he supports expanding the program for the three years the federal government has committed to pay 100 percent of the costs of new people.

That comment drew applause from Democrats in the Legislature on Tuesday, but the expansion already may be stalled. During his opening remarks Tuesday, Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, criticized extending health insurance coverage to roughly 1 million Floridians.

Weatherford’s remarks on the House floor came one day after a House select committee on the Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare, opposed the expansion.

Daily News Staff Writer Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster and Scripps Howard Treasure Coast reporter Jonathan Mattise are in Tallahassee covering the 2013 two-month state legislative session. Follow their reports through early May at and in the Daily News.

Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, who sits on the select committee, said that means the committee won’t be presenting a bill to expand Medicaid.

“I think the sentiment is there’s too many unknowns,” she said Tuesday following the governor’s speech.

Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples, who also sits on the House committee, said he wasn’t surprised that Scott brought up the expansion.

“He has a position he’s advocating for,” he said.

Not having the support of the House could be detrimental to Scott’s proposal though.

Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, said the state Senate hasn’t yet taken a position on the expansion, but even if it did it may not matter.

Florida Senator Garrett Richter, R-Naples, on NewsMakers 02-03-13.

Florida Senator Garrett Richter, R-Naples, on NewsMakers 02-03-13.

“It takes three ‘yeses’ to get a yes, but one no to get a no,” he said, alluding to approvals by the House, Senate and governor.

Richter, who was named Senate president pro tempore earlier this year, said this year’s State of the State address was more exciting than previous years. This year, rather than sitting on the floor with other members, Richter was on the dais with party leadership and led the Legislature in the Pledge of Allegiance.

“That was thrilling,” he said.

The Legislature now has 60 days to push through legislation and pass the annual budget. State lawmakers went to work shortly after Scott’s speech, taking up ethics and elections legislation.

Scott encouraged state lawmakers to work together this session and said Tuesday he looks forward to working with legislators this year.

“Every Florida family wants not just to dream, but to have the opportunity to make those dreams come true,” he said. “Like my mom’s formula, our formula this session is simple. We must invest in our education system, support our teachers, and cut taxes to help create more jobs.”

© 2013 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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