Today, Gov. Rick Scott will tout his economic accomplishments and push for more tax cuts as he gives his State of the State speech on the opening day of the 2014 legislative session.
Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, also will roll out their priorities for the 116th regular session of the Florida Legislature, during a day that will mix substance — lawmakers are expected to pass bills helping veterans and cracking down on sexual offenders — with pomp and circumstance.
Scott, who is running for re-election — possibly against Democrat Charlie Crist, who's had the job before himself — will remind Floridians of the nearly half-million jobs that have been added since he took office in 2011, according to excerpts of his speech released Monday. As part of his proposed $74.2-billion budget, Scott is seeking tax cuts of more than $560 million, including a roll-back of vehicle-registration fees and an increase in the business-tax exemption. The tax-cut proposal comes at a time when the state has more than a billion in increased revenue.
"As I tell the hard-working people of Florida as I travel our state: We want you to keep more of the money you earn, because it's your money," Scott is expected to say during the annual address, his fourth since taking office.
On Monday, Scott's agenda drew strong criticism from the Florida NAACP and others taking part in kickoff of Moral Monday, which drew a crowd of hundreds outside the Capitol. Speakers including Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, state Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, and Rep. Perry Thurston, House minority leader, called on Scott and Republican lawmakers to repeal Stand Your Ground, expand Medicaid, restore voting rights of felons and address economic inequities.
"On the eve of the annual convening of our state Legislature, we've come to have our voices heard," said Adam J. Richardson Jr., presiding bishop of the 11th Episcopal District of the AME Church. "As conscientious citizens, we are committed to the proposition that our state has a moral responsibility to consider legislation to benefit all — not merely the benefit of a temporary political agenda."
Richardson, Williams and others told the audience they will have to get out the vote like never before during this year's non-presidential election if they want a new governor and Cabinet members, now all Republicans.
"We've got to make sure we change the offices on the Plaza level because they're trying to change what's happening in the neighborhoods that we live in," Williams said. "They're trying to change what's happening in the offices that we work in. And they're trying to change the voting booths that we all vote in. We must get to the voting box like never before."
Meanwhile, Democrat senators convened Monday afternoon for a pre-session discussion that included the latest developments on bills from school grades to sexual offenders. Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, urged support of a bill (SPB 7060) that he said would make school-grading systems "simpler and more understandable."
After the meeting, Montford said this year's session promises to be an important and exciting one, with major bills on education, gaming and springs protection, one of his biggest priorities. He said draft legislation on springs protection is a "fluid" document that is likely to pass the Senate, though he isn't as sure about the House. He said he and other lawmakers are still seeking input from the public.
"We've just about made everybody mad, so that makes it pretty good," he said of the bill. "At least we'll put the best minds we have together and come up with what we think is the best for Florida relative to water."
Jeffrey Sharkey, managing partner of Capitol Alliance Group Inc., which lobbies on behalf of Leon County, said one of the county's main priorities will be protecting the state workforce and making sure the state pension plan isn't changed. Weatherford and Gaetz have made an overhaul of the Florida Retirement System one of their biggest goals of the session.
"The good news is that the state has more revenue than it has in the last two to three years," he said. "However, it is an election year, which can change the dynamics on many of these issues."
Monday night, lawmakers and lobbyists mixed away from the Capitol during the annual reception hosted by Associated Industries of Florida on North Adams Street. The event wasn't just for hobnobbing — it was the last chance for lobbyists to give big checks to lawmakers, who are precluded by law from fundraising during the session.
House Speaker-designate Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, said he anticipates a productive session.
"I'm looking forward to a great session — obviously a lot of good things we have an opportunity to get done in the state from cutting taxes to helping with our Florida veterans and the vulnerable citizens of the state."