Gov. Rick Scott will be on a big stage in Tallahassee today, but he'll clearly be in a New York state of mind.
As he takes the oath to begin his second term, Scott will contrast Florida with high-tax and cold-weather northern states such as Illinois, Pennsylvania and New York, which Florida recently overtook to become No. 3 in population.
But Scott isn't satisfied with leading a state of nearly 20 million people. In his inaugural address, he'll issue an open invitation to people in those northern states to come on down where the weather is warmer and taxes are lower.
"Move to Florida!" Scott's speech text says. "We want you to keep more of the money you make."
Millions of New Yorkers have moved to Florida and Scott's criticism of northern states is not new. Two years ago, he wrote to hundreds of CEOs, urging them to move their companies to Florida from New York and other states.
But by singling out New York for its wicked fiscal ways, Scott will overlook another state with even higher taxes.
In three of the past four years, New Jersey has ranked dead last among all 50 states for its antibusiness tax system, according to the Tax Foundation, a conservative think tank. That's obviously due in part to New Jersey's heavily Democratic Legislature.
But why stick it to New York and let New Jersey off the hook, governor?
It just might have something to do with the fact that a special guest at Scott's swearing-in ceremony will be New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. As chairman of the Republican Governors Association, Christie steered more than $18 million in campaign money to Scott's re-election, more than the RGA gave to any other governor.
Scott has made job creation and corporate relocations the centerpiece of his agenda, and he often brags about Florida's good weather and comparatively low tax burden.
Yet Florida is home to 17 companies on the Fortune 500 list, while New York has 54, including such giants as IBM, Verizon and Goldman Sachs.
The reason is that taxes alone don't explain why corporations put down roots. Many other factors are at work, including the size of a skilled labor force, proximity to markets, the quality of schools, and the overall quality of life.
Scott's inaugural address also will include references to his opposition to "the silent growth of government."
"Many states, like Florida, are fighting to limit the growth of government, and grow opportunity instead," Scott's speech says.
But there's a problem with that, too.
The governor who rails against more government has cut taxes and the size of the state work force, but he also has increased state spending by billions of dollars over the past four years.
The current budget that bears Scott's signature is a record $77 billion — the biggest in Florida history. The next budget is likely to be even bigger, with Scott proposing higher-than-ever spending on public schools plus billions for the environment, highways and seaports.
If that isn't a government that's growing, I don't know what is. Or as Billy Joel sings, "It comes down to reality."
Contact Steve Bousquet at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263.