As Rick Scott takes to the steps of the Old Capitol Tuesday to deliver his inaugural address as Florida's 45th governor, he remains largely an enigma. He has yet to appoint many key staff members or reveal much about his initial policy proposals. While his transition teams have issued radical proposals about dismantling public education and growth management, Scott should keep his focus on the issue that won him the election: job creation.
Not since 1999, when Jeb Bush became the first Republican governor since Reconstruction to have a Republican-led Legislature, has an inauguration been so pregnant with potential change. Yet the future remains awfully fuzzy. Scott's self-financed campaign spent more time bashing Washington on health care reform and immigration than it did detailing solutions for Florida's problems — including congested roads, vacant homes, crowded colleges, lackluster public schools and an unfair tax system. And Scott's public profile since then — meeting with lawmakers, touring the state to talk with business leaders — has provided little window to what's in store.
Tuesday, hopefully, Floridians will learn more about Scott's vision. The times demand creativity, particularly when it comes to economic growth. Old solutions — broad tax relief and wholesale reduction in regulations — have not worked. Florida homeowners and business owners have seen their property tax burden shrink dramatically in recent years, and growth management rules have been relaxed. Yet unemployment remains far above the national average. To further complicate the challenges awaiting the new governor, Scott faces a $3.5 billion shortfall in next year's budget to pay for services such as schools, prisons and child protection services.
Scott's transition advisory teams, chock-full of individuals from special interests eager to exploit the opportunities that a newcomer to Tallahassee represents, have floated a host of radical ideas: creating universal school vouchers; forcing those receiving unemployment compensation to do community work; combining the state's growth management, environmental protection and transportation departments; and forcing residents to pay higher utility rates so cheap power can be offered to companies relocating to Florida. But there were also ideas not heard before from Tallahassee Republicans, including "a subsidized employment program to stimulate job creation."
With the exception of vouchers, the governor-elect has prudently avoided endorsing many of these plans even as he has expressed sympathy for their perspective. Scott and his team members, most of whom also are expected to be new to government work, face a steep learning curve. Opinions of how to change government without ever spending a day on the job are not always the best formed.
Scott and his fellow Republicans should not misread the election results. Even riding the national Republican wave, the governor-elect won by the slimmest margin in more than a century. He won by focusing on job creation. He did not win because voters want more strip malls, contaminated bayous or road congestion. They aren't ready to relax protections for seniors, children or consumers. And there is no mandate to blow up public education.
Scott now has to move beyond campaign sound bites and quickly get comfortable working in a public fishbowl instead of a closed boardroom. His challenge is to create more jobs without cutting taxes at the expense of vital public services, spoiling the environment or abandoning education. Floridians will be listening Tuesday for more detail on exactly how he plans to do that.