Editorial: Scott's leadership vacuum

Published March 4, 2014

Gov. Rick Scott's State of the State address on Tuesday offered a rose-colored view of Florida that he hopes to sell in his re-election campaign and ignored the biggest issues facing lawmakers. The governor offered little beyond more tax cuts and shortsighted limits on university tuition as he took credit for the economic recovery and criticized his predecessor and presumed November opponent, Charlie Crist. But the Sunshine State is more complicated than Scott suggested, and his agenda should be broader.

The Legislature is expected to address sweeping issues such as destination casinos, protecting vulnerable children from abuse and pension changes for future public employees. The governor mentioned none of those, and he often miscast the issues he did touch upon during a 30-minute speech.

On public school funding, Scott boasted that he proposes record spending for 2014-15. Actually, Florida spends less per student now than when the governor took office. Even with his proposed increase next year, per student spending would be $177 less than what the state spent in 2007-08 before the economic recession.

Scott went beyond opposing any tuition increases for colleges and universities. He wants lawmakers to eliminate automatic inflation adjustments for tuition and the state's differential tuition policy that allows individual campuses to increase tuition up to 15 percent a year. He said he vetoed modest tuition increases last year that would have taken "$42 million from Florida families." What he did not acknowledge is that without more investment from taxpayers, campuses get even more crowded and lose the best faculty to better-paying states.

Scott took credit for the improving economy and falling unemployment rate, indirectly blaming Crist for the economic pain of the recent recession. He ignored the broader factors that both triggered the recession and the recovery, from the stock market to housing prices that have little to do with who occupies the Governor's Mansion. Instead, he made the familiar conservative argument that tax cuts create jobs.

Even as he highlighted individual success stories, the governor made no mention of the state's shrinking middle class or the increased cost of living traced to higher electric utility bills, property insurance premiums and flood insurance rates. He didn't mention the 1 million uninsured Floridians who cannot get coverage because the Legislature refuses to accept federal dollars for Medicaid expansion.

Scott also was silent on legislative plans to expand private school vouchers for schoolchildren; grant in-state college tuition to children of illegal immigrants who graduate from a Florida high school; and jail fewer nonviolent drug offenders. He didn't even promote his $55 million plan to improve protection of the state's springs.

The governor continues to promote his performance solely on economic terms, specifically job creation. But the governor's role is much larger than promoting economic development. Scott offered no indication where he stands on many of the key issues facing the Legislature, and lawmakers won't hesitate to fill the leadership vacuum.