Scott: Job creation is a mission
Published: Tuesday, January 4, 2011 at 2:04 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 4, 2011 at 11:40 p.m.
Culminating a dramatic climb from political obscurity to the state's top executive job, Richard Lynn Scott became Florida's 45th governor on Tuesday, promising to put Floridians back to work by aggressively seeking to limit taxes, state regulations and lawsuits.
In his first official act, Scott, a 58-year-old Naples businessman who has never before held public office, immediately issued an executive order freezing state regulations in place in the agencies under his control, while ordering all regulations and major state contracts to be reviewed.
In another order, Scott — who used a tough stance on immigration to win the Republican primary — directed state agencies, when hiring new employees, to use the E-Verify system, a federal Internet-based portal for checking work authorization and Homeland Security information. The verification system will also be used for state contractors and their workers.
Additionally, Scott issued executive orders creating a stronger ethical standard for state employees and committing to avoid discrimination in hiring practices during his administration.
While the executive orders are not unusual for a new governor, these — particularly the regulatory freeze — signal Scott's willingness to assertively take on the Tallahassee establishment. And the early moves are reflective of Scott's campaign theme of running as a political outsider.
"I will be resolute in seeking bold — probably more bold than some people like — but bold positive change," Scott said in his 20-minute inaugural speech.
At one point, Scott, whose speech delivery was sometimes uneven, inadvertently said he wanted to "get rid of the agencies," when he meant to say he wanted to eliminate programs that don't work. "That wasn't part of the script," Scott joked.
In his noontime address on the steps of the historic Old Capitol, Scott promised to carry out his campaign pledge — "Let's get to work" — to confront Florida's extraordinarily high unemployment rate that has left more than a million Floridians without jobs.
"The people of Florida elected me to get this state back to work," Scott said. "I believe in this mission."
The former hospital company executive, who spent more than $70 million of his personal fortune on his campaign, called regulations, taxes and lawsuits "the axis of unemployment."
"Unless they are pruned, regulations grow like weeds," Scott said. "It's past time to demand that every regulation be re-evaluated."
In his executive orders, Scott created an Office of Fiscal Accountability and Regulatory Reform, which will be headed by Gov. Charlie Crist's former budget director Jerry McDaniel. The office will review proposed rules as well as existing rules to determine whether they may be hindering economic growth.
Business groups praised the move, with the Florida Chamber of Commerce's David Hart saying it was making good on a campaign promise "to reduce job-killing rules and regulations."
Some Democrats, who are in the minority in the Legislature, said Scott could have been more inclusive in his initial address to the state.
While saying job creation is a priority, Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, said: "I think there is more going on in this state than just business. I think there was an opportunity for him to bring the entire state together."
The speech also raised concerns for some environmentalists, who figure to be prime targets in Scott's quest to reduce government regulations. Audubon of Florida Executive Director Eric Draper said he was disappointed Scott did not talk much about the environment in his introductory remarks.
"Part of what attracts people to Florida is our natural heritage, our clean beaches and water," he said. "If we want to keep Florida prosperous, we also need to mention and protect those things people love."
Scott has also promised to cut more than $2 billion in taxes in his first year in office, including a $1 billion reduction in school property taxes and the beginning of the elimination of the state corporate income tax.
He also promised to curb lawsuits against business, saying "excessive" litigation "strangles job creation."
"We will not allow a small group of predatory lawyers to stalk the business community in search of deep pockets," Scott said.
Scott's leadership abilities will be immediately tested. He still must fill a majority of top agency heads under his control, ranging from the state Lottery to the state Department of Transportation.
He also must put together a proposed state budget in the next month, with state economists projecting a $3.5 billion shortfall.
But Scott will find plenty of allies in the Legislature — which is more strongly controlled than ever before by conservative Republicans.
House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, said Scott's inaugural message of creating jobs, streamlining government and cutting regulations "resonates with hard-working families and businesses looking for new opportunities in Florida."
"It's all about creating jobs," said Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island. "We're going to work together to turn around this state. I think we've talked about litigation reform and reducing taxes. More importantly we've got to tighten our own belt and that's exactly what we're going to do."
Haridopolos said the Senate would look to reduce the $3.5 billion budget shortfall by cutting spending and then would consider tax cuts.
He also said the Senate was open to Scott's ideas about reorganizing state government — which could include some dramatic mergers of existing state agencies.
"The governor has outlined some ideas and we're going to make sure those get a fair hearing in the process," he said.
In his speech, Scott also touched on his goal of providing "more choices" for Floridians in health care and education. His education program is expected to include an expansion of the use of publicly funded vouchers to send students to private schools.
Former Gov. Jeb Bush, who attended the inauguration, said he supports Scott's efforts to expand the use of vouchers — which may require passage of a state constitutional amendment.
"I think more choices create better quality," Bush said. "Those who hold on to the old, old, old antiquated ways are really doing a disservice to our state."
When asked whether Scott was trying to do too much in his initial foray into public office, Bush, who had his own ambitious agenda, said Scott will find a Legislature "that is very supportive" of the goals he laid out in his speech.
"The work has just begun," Bush said. "You've got to put together plans. You've got to bring people toward your ideas. You've got to build coalitions."