As Republican Gov. Rick Scott laid out priorities Tuesday in his final State of the State address, Democratic lawmakers and members of an advocacy group called “Awake the State” delivered their own opening-day message: Scott’s days in Tallahassee are coming to an end.
“2018 finally offers Floridians not only a new year, but a new way, a unique chance to build a new Florida,” Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, said in a six-minute speech following Scott’s address to a joint session of the Legislature. “A state where we aim higher, reach further and rise to new opportunities.”
Braynon and House Minority Leader Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, highlighted Scott’s legislative record since first getting elected in 2010 and focused on areas where they maintain Scott has fallen short, including job creation.
Braynon and Cruz said Scott — whose mantra has been “jobs, jobs, jobs” — has brought low-paying jobs to the state.
Cruz said more than half of the state’s 67 counties have fewer jobs in 2018 than they did before the recession a decade ago.
Moreover, she also said the state “lags the nation in terms of wages when it comes to jobs we do have.”
But Scott spokesman McKinley Lewis said the information, which appears on the website “Rick’s Recession,” was misleading and inaccurate and noted that it relied heavily on data from 2007, before Scott took office.
Cruz maintained that a quarter of the children in the state today live in poverty and that 10 percent live in “deep poverty.”
“These numbers are shameful. They are a direct reflection of a governor and a Republican leadership who have made the middle class a secondary concern to their desire to give away millions in your tax dollars to the largest corporations and the wealthiest individuals,” she said.
Joining the chorus of Democratic critics was the advocacy group “Awake the State,” which held a news conference in Tallahassee immediately following Scott’s speech and also held media events across the state. The goal of the group was to promote what it calls a “just” state budget.
“After nearly eight years in power, Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leadership’s economic policies have failed to deliver for everyday Floridians,” said Florida AFL-CIO Legislative and Political Director Rich Templin. “Their massive tax breaks for corporations cost our state billions in lost revenue, are unjust and rig the game for big-money special interests.”
In his speech to the Legislature, the governor made a pitch for his 2018 priorities, which include spending $53 million to help abate a growing opioid crisis and requiring supermajority votes of the Legislature before taxes could be raised.
Scott also wants to reduce the amount of money Florida motorists pay to get and renew driver’s licenses.
Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, ignored Scott’s legislative requests in his six-minute speech and focused on some long-standing issues. Braynon said creating high-paying jobs starts with the basics: “a well-trained workforce, good transportation, quality public education, thriving neighborhoods and safe communities; all the things that Governor Scott largely ignored especially in our rural counties,” Braynon said.
The Senate minority leader criticized the governor for not addressing what he called “over-testing” of public-school students, while the state has increased the amount of money available to for-profit charter schools.
“We need to return to our constitutional promise to provide a quality public education, education that gives your children the basic skills and the critical thinking they will need to succeed in life,” Braynon said.
Braynon also criticized the governor for “flip flopping” on expanding Medicaid coverage to an additional 800,000 people. The governor opposed Obamacare, and the Medicaid expansion included in it, while first running for office.
Scott reversed his position on the Medicaid expansion in February, 2013 declaring that he could not in “good conscience” oppose extending Medicaid to uninsured adults so long as the federal government paid 100 percent of the costs. While stumping for re-election, Scott maintained that he supported Medicaid expansion, but he then reversed his position after getting re-elected in 2014.
“In the meantime,” Braynon said, “Floridians missed out on the chance to bring billions of their federal tax dollars back home so that close to 1 million hard-working people could get health coverage and taxpayers could finally get rid of the high cost of hospital emergency-room care that everyone ends up paying for.”
Karen Woodall, executive director of the left-leaning Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy, noted that Florida ranks 48th in the nation for health coverage according to the Census Bureau, with 2 million Floridians uninsured.
“It’s time to awake the state and ensure Florida’s families have access to quality, affordable health care,” she said.