Gov. Rick Scott’s strengths and weaknesses were on display as he gave his State of the State address to the Florida Legislature on Tuesday.
He might have been slightly more polished than usual, but Scott will never be a winning speaker. His attempts at warmth or humor often are forced.
And although he frequently praises Floridians, he conveys no real sense of passion for the history, resources and diversity of his adopted state.
What he does convey is commitment and purpose. Scott believes a robust private sector is the key to prosperity, and he can supply plenty of evidence that his tax-cut, small-government approach is working.
Tuesday he detailed the narrative that surely will be the foundation of his re-election campaign.
Scott says he inherited a “terrible mess” from former Gov. Charlie Crist and turned things around.
One can argue whether Scott deserves all the credit he claims in the state’s recovery, but we find it impossible to believe that his policies did not play a role in the state’s unemployment rate dropping from more than 11 percent, to 6.3 percent. The state’s unemployment rate was once far worse than the national average. Now it is better than the national average.
It is also impossible to believe that cutting 3,000 regulations on small businesses and 24 tax cuts did not contribute to the state’s economic revival.
Perhaps alluding to his still sluggish poll numbers, Scott said “it wasn’t any fun” getting Florida’s “fiscal house in order.”
But no one can say he shrank from the task.
Scott told lawmakers, “Let’s be honest about it. We inherited a terrible mess: growing unemployment, dangerous levels of debt, growing deficits and a crippled housing market. We had two options. We could take the usual way out by raising taxes and running up more debt, or we could do the politically hard things and trim our budget. When the hard thing is the right thing, we need the courage to do the hard thing ... and we did.”
This message, you can be sure, will be heard frequently on the campaign trail as Scott contrasts his resolve with Crist’s propensity for change.
Crist, a former Republican, is now running for governor as a Democrat.
Some of Scott’s narrative can be challenged. During his first year in office, we thought he cut indiscriminately, particularly in education and the environment, and was too quick to jettison state policies without sufficient review.
But since then he has been more judicious. With increasing state revenues, he has been able to restore funding to education. One doesn’t have to agree with all his decisions to recognize that Scott imposed a painful fiscal discipline on a state in crisis. Now, with tax revenues rebounding, he is investing in selective state needs, while still trying to hold the line on spending.
Among the goals Scott outlined to legislators: $500 million in tax cuts, including rolling back the detested 2009 tax hike on motor vehicle fees; checks on higher education tuition rates; more money for schools; and paying down the state’s debt.
Scott, the former CEO, believes empowering people means making sure they can keep more of the money they earn. He is focused on creating jobs, not government programs.
Whatever missteps he has made along the way, and whatever awkwardness he may have at the podium, he has an advantage as governor and candidate. He’s firm in his beliefs. And even his harshest critics cannot deny he has gotten results.