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Wednesday, Jul 23, 2014
Columnists

Dockery: Scott’s ‘State of State’ underwhelms despite low expectations

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Anybody else completely underwhelmed by Gov. Rick Scott’s “State of the State” performance?

Consider this: An unpopular governor running for re-election has eight months to turn around his poll numbers. He’s sitting on a massive war chest and has the power of incumbency. He also has the next two or three months to dominate the news cycles in his official capacity as governor during the 2014 legislative session.

He got his first huge opportunity with his State of the State speech. He had the chance to lay out a bold agenda to a Legislature controlled by his own party, but he didn’t.

He could have used his soapbox to describe a vision for a Florida with a safe and plentiful supply of water. He didn’t.

Or an education system that values the two most important participants — the student and the teacher. He didn’t.

Or a criminal justice system that focuses on punishment and rehabilitation. He didn’t.

In fact, instead of bold ideas, a dynamic vision, an understanding of voters’ priorities, or a show of leadership, passion or determination, he laid out a modest, almost resigned, agenda of warmed-over ideas that the Florida Legislature is inclined to do with or without his urging.

He proposed that the Legislature roll back some of the drivers’ license and tag fees that they increased five years ago when the budget was $8 billion less than today. Never mind that Republican state Sen. Joe Negron has been advancing this for several years while the governor was focused on corporate tax cuts.

To round out his $500 million target in tax reductions, Scott wants to repeat the popular sales tax holidays on hurricane preparedness and back-to-school shopping. He also wants to offer tax cuts on business leases as requested by the Chamber of Commerce and other business groups.

His entire agenda seemed to be limited to:

♦ $500 million in tax or fee cuts.

♦ Paying down $170 million in debt.

♦ A nebulous reference to spending $80 million for colleges and universities that graduate students who are best positioned to get a job.

♦ Removing 2007 and 2009 laws passed by a Republican Legislature that allowed increases in higher education tuition rates.

He declared, “We will hold the line on tuition.” That might be a great sound bite, but it’s not sound educational policy that allows us to compete with other states and their colleges and universities. Gimmicks and sound bites do not enable our fine institutions, such as the University of Florida, to continue their ascent into national prominence.

So although touting the importance of education and the need to offer every student a high-quality education in order to compete, he could have committed to offset lower tuition rates with an increase in state funding. He didn’t.

He could have shown interest in helping those young, bright college students known as “Dreamers” to achieve their dream of an affordable education by supporting Republican state Sen. Jack Latvala’s bill allowing them to pay in-state tuition. He didn’t.

He could have shown true leadership by challenging legislators to follow Republican state Sen. Rene Garcia’s lead to expand Medicaid to nearly a million Floridians for three years with no state resources. He didn’t.

With two major policy issues appearing on the November ballot as a result of citizens’ initiatives — the Land and Water Legacy and medical marijuana — you might expect the governor to mention them. He didn’t.

With so much attention on the minimum wage and growing wage disparity, you might expect the governor to advance a proposal to help Florida’s working poor. He didn’t.

There was no attempt to accept responsibility for the failed unemployment compensation website or an update on going forward. Likewise, there was no mention of controversial issues such as gambling expansion, Common Core or pension reform that the Legislature is considering. His propensity to shy away from tough issues is troubling.

I’d like to say that what he lacked in substance he made up for in delivery. Unfortunately, I can’t. It was neither passionate nor compelling. It lacked inspiration and motivation. Actually, it was pretty awkward and uncomfortable.

But he did regale us with touching human-interest stories, each from a different geographic region of the state, each ending with a clever little tag of “Let’s keep working.” Funny, that sounds a lot like his campaign theme. In fact, his prepared remarks seemed less like a major policy address and more like a warmed-over campaign speech.

Unlike State of the State addresses of past governors, there was no wonkiness, no audacious goals, no major policy initiatives, no call to action, no sharing of accomplishments with the Legislature or requests to be his partner in advancing a bold agenda on behalf of all Floridians.

Sadly, it was a missed opportunity that left those watching uninspired. He appeared tone deaf to the many constituents in the capital trying to make their voices heard. He needed a home run. He walked.

Paula Dockery is a syndicated columnist who served in the Florida Legislature for 16 years as a Republican from Lakeland. She can be reached at PBDockery@gmail.com.

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