Gov. Rick Scott presented his vision for the second year of his administration with a good dose of ad-libbing throughout a 30-minute speech. He cited three priorities: gainful employment, quality education and a promise to keep the cost of living low.
Maintaining as he did last year that government doesn’t create jobs, the governor told a joint session of the Legislature in his annual State of the State speech that “what government gives has to be taken from someone else” – taxpayers. His mantra is that the best that government can do is to create a level playing field and then get out of the way.
The “Let’s Get to Work” governor deemed taxes the “great destroyer” and made it clear that burdensome rules and regulations slow growth, calling jobs the first casualty. With Florida ranking as the third-fastest growing state in the nation with 250,000 people moving here over the last 15 months, Scott said, “The promise of Florida is still bright.” He pledged to balance the budget despite a $2 billion revenue shortfall, pointing out that, with the Legislature’s help, Florida netted more than 120,000 jobs – the third highest total in the United States. The Sunshine State also saw the second largest drop in unemployment in the country.
Scott also repeated his pledge to invest $1 billion in education, “the bedrock of our economy,” and emphasized the need to reform our auto insurance system. Floridians, Scott said, are paying 30 percent more in premiums because of rampant fraud and abuse, singling out the trial bar as a part of the problem.
The once-a-decade redistricting process and the annual budget are the only two issues that the Legislature must address, according to Florida’s Constitution. With the imposition of litigation-friendly Amendments 5 and 6 by the Democrats, trial lawyers, labor activists and all-around government do-gooders, rest assured that the courts will be overrun by questionable lawsuits filed by anyone who can afford an attorney. Savvy leadership by Senate President Mike Haridopolos and House Speaker Dean Cannon will ensure that the state and federal plans will be submitted early in the 60-day session so that the justices can issue their verdict on any flaws with time to spare for the Legislature to fix them by the March 3 deadline.
The budget, which is required to be balanced every year, is being dealt with earlier than normal due to the re-drawing of political lines for all 160 officials. This is exacerbating problems for each chamber. The Senate is taking the predictably long view. It wants to address the budget in the spring, after the budget estimating conference finishes its work, so as to avoid any more draconian cuts than are necessary. Meanwhile, the more conservative House wants to tackle the inevitable budget cuts now, with the expectation that unanticipated revenues can be invested in the state’s rainy-day fund.
Aside from the battle over PIP reform, destination resorts will be the other high-profile issue this session. Promoted by the Associated Industries of Florida and the construction industry as a 100,000-job fixer for Florida’s economy, a coalition comprising Walt Disney World, the Florida Chamber, Florida Retail and the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Associations is lined up to defend the state’s family-friendly reputation.
Although I’m not a gambler, I don’t get the opposition to expanding gambling in South Florida. I appreciate the fact that Mickey Mouse doesn’t want to spoil its family-friendly atmosphere in Central Florida, but must the rest of Florida suffer this head-in-the-sand attitude as well? Shouldn’t it be good enough that expansion will only happen where the taxpayers have already voted their conscience and said they want this entertainment for themselves, and the tourists it attracts?
In the meantime, we allow dog, horse, harness and even barrel racing, jai alai, ships to nowhere, Indian tribe casinos, card rooms, Internet cafes and, of course, the state-sanctioned and heavily-promoted lottery and Powerball. But somehow South Florida adding world-class architecture, much-needed construction jobs for the next four years, and well-paying jobs for desperately-seeking Floridians is a stretch too far. No proponent is saying that this is the solution to all of our ills, but you’d think Florida is going to go to hell if we allow developments of this type to exist. While it is unlikely to pass this year because of staunch opposition by the House speaker, destination resorts will eventually arrive on our shores. And for those who oppose them, I hope they refuse to have their conferences and meetings there because it will leave room for the rest of us who don’t need others telling us what we can legally do with our own money.
There’s a good reason why an early legislative session is warranted only every 10 years. Our founders knew we would need 10 years to get from over the last hurrah.