- Associated Press - Monday, January 11, 2016

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - When he stands before the Florida Legislature for the sixth time on Tuesday, Gov. Rick Scott will repeat the same message he has given every year since he took office: It’s all about jobs.

Scott will open the 60-day session with his annual “State of the State” speech where he will call on Republican leaders to embrace his $1 billion tax cut package. He also is expected to make a push to set aside tens of millions to lure new companies to Florida.

Scott, who has begun running TV ads touting his proposals, continues to argue that the tax cuts are needed to keep Florida’s economy on track. Florida’s unemployment rate has steadily dropped since Scott was first elected in 2010.

“We need to continue to cut these taxes,” Scott said Monday, shortly after appearing before a state Senate committee to testify for his tax cut package. “This is an investment to get more jobs.”

For skeptical legislators, however, the main job of the first few days of this year’s session won’t be about endorsing Scott’s top priorities.

Instead it will be about trying to repair deep divisions that occurred in 2015 when lawmakers were forced to hold a rare summer special session just to get a state budget passed. Legislators also held two other special sessions where they were unable to reach agreement on new boundaries for both congressional and state senate districts.

Part of that repair work includes passing out a comprehensive water bill championed by House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and measures backed by Senate President Andy Gardiner to help children with developmental disabilities.

Lawmakers did not pass those bills last year after a budget stalemate led the House to shut down the regular session three days early. This time both are expected to go to Scott within the first few days.

“The relationship is going to be far better,” predicted Rep. Richard Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican who is in line to become House speaker. “I think it’s going to be a great year.”

After lawmakers deal with the priorities of their leaders they will spend several weeks grappling with everything from gambling to guns. But while the debate over guns is likely to be one of the most passionate this session, the biggest drama will likely surround the budget and Scott’s leading priorities.

Legislative leaders have already cautioned that it may be difficult to endorse both the dollar amount and the type of tax cuts that Scott wants. Scott is targeting most of his tax cut proposals toward businesses, including the elimination of corporate income taxes for retailers and manufacturing companies.

Scott insists Florida has “the money” to pass his tax cuts. But lawmakers responsible for the budget caution that large cuts now could cause a budget deficit three years from now. Some legislators have also questioned Scott’s decision to rely on a rise in property values - which will translate into higher property taxes paid by homeowners and business owners - to boost money for Florida’s public schools.

Sen. Darren Soto, an Orlando Democrat, asked Scott on Monday whether he would be willing to compromise and use state money to offset local property taxes instead of cutting taxes for business. Scott said ‘no’ and instead said that the only way to have money for tax cuts in the future is to grow the economy now.

“I think the important thing this year is to focus on the tax cuts that we’ve proposed,” Scott told Soto.

Follow Gary Fineout on Twitter: https://twitter.com/fineout

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