- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 3, 2015

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Gov. Rick Scott gave a State of the State speech Tuesday that was as much a Florida history lesson as it was a vision for the state’s future - telling lawmakers he wants more tax cuts, more money for education and more affordable college tuition.

Scott recalled some of the major achievements that helped Florida grow to become the nation’s third largest state. That included Dr. John Gorrie’s work in the 1800s that led to air conditioning, the railroads and hotels Henry Flagler built more than 100 years ago, the founding of the Publix supermarket chain in the Great Depression, and the opening of Walt Disney World in 1971.

“Florida has long been a place where dreams come true. But, this is not just our past - it’s our future. We have to ask ourselves who has the next big dream for Florida? Who are the inventors? Who are the builders? Who are the trailblazers? We want more people to chase their dreams in Florida,” Scott said.

Scott listed his priorities for the year to achieve that goal. That included permanently ending the sales tax on manufacturing equipment, cutting a tax on cellphones and television services, boosting school spending, and making college more affordable.

“Let’s never again say that we have to raise tuition because tuition in other states is higher than ours. We don’t raise taxes when other states have taxes higher than ours, and we shouldn’t raise tuition when tuition in other states is higher than ours,” Scott said.

Scott also urged lawmakers to spend more on the environment, pointing out his recommendation to spend $3 billion on environmental and agriculture programs. He said that to compete with the rest of the world Florida needs to remain beautiful.

“Florida is an exceptional place - we have the economy and we have the opportunity to keep it that way,” he said.

Scott also said the state’s economy is thriving and noted that unemployment has been cut in half since he took office four years ago. He noted that Florida has the fewest state workers per capita than any state in the country.

“I believe that our rich history is only a glimpse of what we can do in the future. Everything is possible in Florida. We are now in the lead, and it’s ours to lose. We have to avoid any temptation to stand down or rest on our laurels,” Scott concluded.

Democrats said Scott ignored many issues important to Floridians - stagnant pay and economic prospects for the middle class and working people, problems with the state’s educational testing scheme, and budget problems that may arise because of the demise of federal health care funding.

“We didn’t hear about quality of life, we didn’t hear about 45 percent of the people in Florida … having a really hard time paying month-to-month bills,” said House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford, of West Palm Beach.

Republican Sen. Tom Lee, who is his chamber’s chief budget writer, warned that legislators can’t promise they will have enough money to do everything that the governor wants because Florida is in line to lose more than $1 billion in federal aid that now goes to hospitals to help pay for the health care of the poor and uninsured. It would wipe out the entire projected surplus if state lawmakers decided to use state tax dollars to replace the lost money.

“We have so many unknowns that I think it would be premature to start spending large sums of money on projects and increased spending in the budget until we have a resolution,” Lee said.


AP writers Gary Fineout and William March contributed to this report.


Follow Brendan Farrington on Twitter: https://twitter.com/bsfarrington

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