TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Gov. Rick Scott vigorously defended the Florida state agencies that recruit businesses and promote tourism and pushed for more money to fight terrorism in a speech Tuesday that also touched on the impact the Zika virus, two hurricanes and two mass shootings had on the state.
Scott told lawmakers in his annual State of the State speech that it would be shortsighted to make cuts at Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida and touted both as important economic drivers. It was a shot at Republican lawmakers who are proposing eliminating or significantly cutting state money for the agencies.
“Let me be very direct about this subject,” Scott said in the prepared version of his remarks. “I know exactly how businesses operate, because I’ve done it. For our state to simply say, `We are not going to compete with other states, we are not going to make it easier to incentivize job creators to grow in Florida,’ that’s just a big mistake.”
House lawmakers made it clear they weren’t going to back down on their fight with Scott, with Rep. Jose Oliva using Scott’s first business — a doughnut shop the governor often mentions in his rags-to-riches life story — as an example.
“Imagine if the governor, while he had that famed doughnut shop that he started, imagine if his tax dollars from that doughnut shop would have gone to Dunkin’ Donuts so they could come across the street and compete against him. How difficult would that have been?” asked Oliva, who added that he had moved his cigar company from Georgia to Florida without tax incentives.
Scott similarly defended Visit Florida, which was recently criticized for agreeing to a $1 million secret contract to pay rapper Pitbull to promote Florida and film a video for the song “Sexy Beaches.”
While Scott acknowledged mistakes, he said the solution is to fix problems — not get rid of the agency in a state that had 113 million tourists last year.
“Getting rid of Visit Florida and ending advertising for tourism doesn’t make sense in the real world,” Scott said. “Coca-Cola and Chick-fil-A didn’t stop running ads when they reached the top of their industry.”
Scott also pushed for a package of tax cuts, including the elimination of a tax on business leases, a three-day sales tax holiday for active service members and veterans and a nine-day sales tax holiday for hurricane supplies.
“Let’s remember, when jobs are created, it helps the poorest, most disadvantaged families who need a job the most — families just like mine when I was growing up,” Scott said.
Scott urged lawmakers to approve his budget proposal for $6 million to fight terrorism of the sort that resulted in the Pulse gay nightclub shooting in Orlando last year that left 49 dead.
“The hardest thing I have ever had to do as governor is try to find the words to console a parent who lost their child,” Scott said.
He said the state was also rocked by the Fort Lauderdale airport shooting that left five dead, the spread of the Zika virus and two hurricanes.
“While heartbreaking, these tragedies have given me a new perspective,” Scott said. “We must be even more resolved to build a society where any child, no matter where they are from, has the opportunity to live their dream.”
Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon criticized the governor for mentioning Pulse without talking about other issues raised by the shooting.
“I continue to hear him talk about the terror attack in Orlando and how upset he is about it but I have yet to hear him talk about any protections for the LGBT community, gun control or what happened in Fort Lauderdale,” Braynon said. “I hear him talk about problems and not solutions.”
And both Democrats and Republicans took issue with Scott’s suggestion that members of the Legislature might not know what it’s like growing up poor.
In his speech, Scott said, “It is probably more difficult for people who have never gone hungry, or gone through foreclosure, or seen their family car repossessed to understand this.”
Scott also described having to work since the age of 7 to help his family out. He eventually built the Columbia/HCA hospital chain into the country’s largest health care company. His net worth exceeds $100 million.
“There are 120 members in the Florida House. I’m sure some of them have felt and experienced what it’s like to be poor. It’s a very unfortunate circumstance and it’s not unique to only the governor,” said Republican Rep. Carlos Trujillo.
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