TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott, who was elected to office with the slogan “Let’s get to work,” proclaimed several times “It’s working” during his State of the State address Monday.
Scott touted Florida’s improved unemployment numbers and 200,000 non-government jobs that have been created since he took office in 2011 and urged lawmakers to continue to make the state more business-friendly by eliminating the sales tax on manufacturing equipment.
Jobs and education were the main points in Scott’s third State of the State speech. It comes as he prepares to seek re-election and at times seemed better received by Democratic lawmakers than his Republican colleagues.
“I believe Florida will be the number one place in the world for job creation; I believe Florida will be the number one place in the world to get a great education; and the number one place in the world where families can afford to live,” Scott said during the 37-minute speech.
The speech was delivered shortly after the Legislature began its annual 60-day session. Scott spent part of the speech talking about his mother, Esther, who died in November, saying that the values he learned from her are a guide to his approach to governing.
“My mom, the wife of a World War II veteran, had a simple formula for raising kids. We had to go to church — a lot; do well in school; get a job. She taught us that in America, hard work plus sacrifice meant you could live any dream you wanted. You could make your American dream come true,” Scott said. “The longer I live, the more I’m convinced that my mom was right, not just for our family, but for every family.”
He evoked his mother again while explaining why he is supporting an expansion of Medicaid under President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul after spending years fighting the plan.
“As I wrestled with this decision, I thought about my mom and her struggles to get my little brother the care he needed with very little money,” Scott said. “I concluded that for the three years the federal government is committed to paying 100 percent of the cost of new people in Medicaid, I cannot, in good conscience, deny the uninsured access to care.”
The remark received enthusiastic applause from Democrats. The idea is less popular with Republicans — earlier in the day House Speaker Will Weatherford blasted the plan to expand Medicaid.
“I was the only Republican standing so I’ve got my work cut out for me, don’t I?” said Rep. Mike Fasano of New Port Richey. “You have a speaker who is very adamantly opposed to it.”
Scott also pushed for his proposed $2,500 across the board pay raise for teachers, and answered critics who say it’s hypocritical to suggest the raise for all teachers two years after signing a bill to create a merit pay system.
“Some say they are afraid raises to all teachers may mean that a teacher doing a bad job gets rewarded. But thanks to our work, we are now in a better position than ever before to reward good teachers and move bad teachers out of the classroom,” Scott said. “We don’t want a war on teachers, we want a war on failure.”
Democrats responded more enthusiastically to the idea than Republicans. Rep. Geraldine Thompson, an Orlando Democrat, said she was “elated” to hear Scott talking about the concerns of working class folk.
“You know, connecting to regular people, he should do more of that,” she said. “That’s the Rick Scott seeking to stay in the governor’s mansion.”
Scott also answered skeptics who say Florida’s job growth is part of the recovery of the U.S. economy and the governor shouldn’t get the credit.
“We came into office saying we wanted to create an environment that would encourage businesses to add 700,000 jobs over seven years,” Scott said. “The debate was about whether or not that was even possible. Now, there’s a debate about how to count all the jobs being created, and who should get the credit for it. Maybe it’s because I am not a politician, but I think this is a great debate to have. It celebrates the fact that our economy is once again creating jobs.”
He ended the speech with the phrase he repeated six times earlier.
“I look forward to joining with all of you as we put Florida families first, and send a message to the world that Florida is serious about job creation,” Scott said. “It’s working.”
Associated Press writers Brent Kallestad, James L. Rosica and Gary Fineout contributed to this reporter
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