by David Royse
The News Service of Florida
With an empathetic nod to more than 1 million out-of-work Floridians, Gov. Rick Scott took office on Tuesday promising to alleviate the pain of joblessness by taking on its causes, an “axis of unemployment” made up of taxes, cumbersome regulations and lawsuits.
Scott campaigned almost entirely on the same theme, with the mantra “Let’s Get to Work” propelling him into the governor’s office as unemployment here rose to 12 percent. He stuck mostly to that topic on Tuesday in a roughly 20-minute inaugural speech.
“Job creation is an absolute mission,” Scott said.
Outgoing Gov. Charlie Crist was elected as a Republican but finished his term having left the party last spring to be an independent.
Restoring the governorship to the Republican Party, Scott hit on themes that were red meat to a GOP angered by Crist’s defection.
Scott repeated campaign promises of lower taxes, including an end to the corporate income tax, and took up a newly zealous interest in making it harder to sue, saying, “we will not allow excessive lawsuits to strangle job creation.”
Despite suggestions from his transition team that unemployment benefits should be cut for some out-of-work people, Scott took a compassionate tone in laying out the urgency of reducing the ranks of the jobless.
“This morning, more than a million Floridians got out of bed and faced another day of unemployment,” Scott said. “For months they’ve searched for work. They fill out applications. They beg for interviews. They face rejection after rejection.
“Many people who once earned a good living on a construction site, when the economy stalled, building stopped, found themselves with skills, but no degree and absolutely no job,” he continued.
Scott said he knows from experience that many parents are trying to put on a brave face, but can’t hide their fear that “the wolf is at the door.” If unchecked, high unemployment, Scott said, creates a spiral into hopelessness.
“For all the unemployed, life without a paycheck is a desperate daily scramble to provide the basics,” Scott said. “I’ve been a child in a home like that. My father was often laid off. My mother took in ironing just so we could have food on the table.”
Scott said his childhood experience has driven him as an adult to help parents avoid the same fear and uncertainty he saw in his parents by creating jobs.
“My personal memories fortify my commitment to this mission,” Scott said.
Scott acknowledged that the traditional promise of success arising from hard work seems hollow when the jobs just aren’t there. But expanding the role of government is the wrong answer, he said to cheers.
Instead, Scott promised to get government out of the way so the private sector can create jobs. He said lower taxes, less regulation and fewer lawsuits would pave the way to recovery.
“Florida has to offer business people the biggest opportunity for financial success,” Scott said. “Not a guarantee, just a fair chance.”
He continued. “Three forces reduce that chance for success. Taxation, regulation and litigation. Those three form the axis of unemployment.”
Scott ruled out any new taxes or fees, saying the state raises enough money to meet its needs. Instead, officials must focus on spending the money smarter while setting “better priorities” and “demanding more accountability.”
On regulations, Scott said he would conduct a top-to-bottom review. Following his speech, he signed an executive order creating a new office to carefully vet proposed rules by agencies and go back over state contracts.
On another front, Scott warned that his administration would return to the battle with trial lawyers that marked the Jeb Bush years, promising to reduce lawsuits as a way of enticing new corporate residents.
“We will not allow a small group of predatory lawyers to stalk the business community in search of deep pockets,” Scott said.
“In the absence of serious tort reform, Florida will lose opportunities for job growth. No special interest group can be allowed to triumph over the goal of full employment.”
Scott’s message went over well with Republicans.
“His comments on … making sure that we create a better environment to create jobs in Florida was probably what stuck out the most,” said Rep. Will Weatherford, who is expected to be speaker of the House during the second half of Scott’s tenure. “Frankly, that’s what the Legislature’s been talking about and that’s what we’ll be focusing on as well.”
The audience for Scott’s first official remarks as governor included many of the lobbyists he railed against during his populist campaign, many of whom had prime seating right in front of the podium.
Weatherford said those who share Scott’s goals aren’t the “special interests” the former health care executive ran against.
“If what you mean by special interests is tax cuts and deregulating industries that have been far too overregulated for far too long, if it means helping out small businesses, if it means creating a 21st century education system and putting free markets into our health care, than I’m OK with those special interests,” Weatherford said.
The speech brought dismay to some environmentalists, who figure to be a prime targets in his quest to reduce government regulations.
Audubon of Florida Executive Director Eric Draper said he was disappointed Scott did not talk much about the environment in his introductory remarks.
“Part of what attracts people to Florida is our natural heritage, our clean beaches and water,” he said. “If we want to keep Florida prosperous, we also need to mention and protect those things people love.”
Scott made one curious remark, coming from a campaign in which he fashioned himself an outsider out to take on government. He tried to keep that notion going, seeming to overlook that he now is part of the government.
“The truth is, he who pays the piper calls the tune,” Scott said. “Now we’re going to call the tune, not government.”
Scott came off as a true outsider in another way, in contrast to professional politicians like Crist.
Clearly not used to making big speeches in front of large crowds, Scott had a halting, nervous delivery in which he flubbed a few lines, including one in which he accidentally said he would eliminate all state agencies. He recovered from that mistake well, though, with a laugh, noting “that’ll be in the papers.”
But he got kudos from several observers for laying out some actual proposals and for his laser focus on what got him elected: The promise to get the economy going.