Gov. Scott touts tax cuts, economic recovery in 'State of the State'

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Underscoring the priorities his administration already has started laying the groundwork for, Gov. Rick Scott opened the 2014 legislative session Tuesday with his annual State of the State address.

“Together, we have cut taxes 24 times already,” he told a joint session of the Legislature. “And my hope is that we are about to cut them again ... by another $500 million this year.”

That half-billion-dollar cut is Scott’s top priority. It’s comprised of roughly $400 million by rolling back vehicle registration fees that were increased in 2009. The move would mean a savings of roughly $25 for the average motorist. The remaining $100 million is from reducing the amount charged on commercial leases.

The issue helps frame an important two-month period for Scott: his final legislative session before running for re-election.

Scott’s speech was replete with references to Florida’s rebounding economy, which mirrors the talking points both his campaign and the Republican Party of Florida have been using to hammer Democrat Charlie Crist, a former Republican governor seeking his old job.

Many of the speeches Scott gives now include the phrase “the four years before I took office,” a reference to Crist’s administration. Scott’s campaign manager Mellissa Sellers was in attendance.

It has sparked a messaging war between the two campaigns, as Scott tries to blame Crist for the state losing 825,000 jobs under his administration. In reply, Crist blamed a larger global economic collapse for the job loses, and says Scott hasn’t done enough to help the recovery.

“They say it doesn’t matter who was running our state – that anyone would have been just a victim of the times,” Scott said during the address. “I disagree.”

In a statement released after the speech, Crist said Florida “deserves a governor with bold ideas.”

“Rick Scott has only delivered campaign talking points and pay-to-play politics,” the statement read.

Scott also has made tuition decreases one of his top priorities. This year he has called for doing away with the so-called “differential tuition,” which allows university boards of trustees to raise tuition up to 15 percent without approval from the Legislature.

“My commitment to every family dreaming to send their children to college is simple: We will hold the line on tuition,” said Scott, who vetoed a tuition increase last session.”

It marks one of the lone early gaps between him and legislative leaders, which have proposed capping the increase at 6 percent, but keeping the program in place.

In a pre-emptive strike, the Florida Democratic Party sent out a news release before the speech, hammering Scott’s record.

“Rick Scott’s priorities have consistently put the wealthy special interests and biggest corporations first,” the party said in its release.

Specifically, the party hit Scott for failing to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, for his so-called “voter purge,” and not passing in-state tuition for students with undocumented workers.

On in-state tuition, House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, is at odds with other top Republicans. During his opening remarks to the House, Weatherford stressed his importance for an in-state tuition plan.

“Let’s exercise our state’s rights and open the door of opportunity for all of Florida’s children,” he said.

Scott has promised to “consider” the issue, and Gaetz has said he’s opposed, but the Senate will hear the plan. It has been a hot-button issue annually, as some version of the plan has been filed for the past decade. It’s the top priority for the Hispanic Legislative Caucus.

During his address, Scott also touted the “record” $18.8 billion in public education spending he has included in his proposed budget.

“This record investment builds on our previous budgets, which invested an additional $1 billion in K-12 education,” Scott said.

Opponents of Scott’s plan are quick to point out that the per-student funding level trails the 2007-08 levels by $177 per-pupil.

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