After a series of activities, including conducting a Cabinet meeting, the Governor joined much of the Hillsborough County political establishment — Democrats and Republicans alike — as they gathered inside the Charles M. Davis Special Event Center, the site of the annual Governor’s Day Luncheon, where corn dogs were de rigueur on the plates of the high and mighty.
The Governor did break some news during his address, announcing a new $45 million partnership with the Port of Tampa that will enable the port to expand to handle up to five million more tons of petroleum products per year after improvements are completed in 2014. According to a press release from the Governor's office, the port estimates the project will create over 641 construction jobs, as well as more than 8,200 direct and indirect jobs over the next 30 years. The $45 million is being split down the middle, with $22.5 million coming from the Florida Department of Transportation and the rest from the Tampa Port Authority.
In his speech, Scott also said one of his priorities this legislative session is to pass a bill addressing the state crises in auto insurance fraud, also known as PIP (personal-injury protection) fraud. He singled out Hillsborough County County Commissioner Kevin Beckner for his work in getting an ordinance passed locally to combat the problem. "He worked hard to fix it," Scott said, giving the Democrat a nice boost that Beckner might want to use on some campaign literature when he's challenged in the fall by a (yet to be determined) Republican opponent in his bid for re-election.
Speaking to a handful of reporters after the luncheon, Scott was asked about the announcement earlier in the day by the White House that Florida is one of 10 states given a waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act, the 10-year-old federal education law that has received much criticism over the years from educators who say it has forced schools to become laboratories for drills designed to improve test scores.
"As you probably know, I proposed a billion more in education funding in both the House and the Senate," Scott said when asked about the waiver. "Anytime we get to make our own decisions because we know how to take care of our own children, that's a big positive."
Scott spoke to reporters a little after 1:30 p.m., ending nearly seven hours of activity for him at the State Fair, including turning the lights on to officially open the fair around 6:40 a.m (where he joined his fellow Cabinet members Pam Bondi, Adam Putnam and Jeff Atwater a few minutes late), conducted a tour of the fish and wildlife sections of the fairgrounds, and then held only his third Cabinet meeting outside of the capitol before participating in the luncheon.
Scott didn't say too much when asked about Wednesday's stunning development in Tallahassee, where a surprise bill to immediately split the University of South Florida Polytechnic into the state's 12th university was filed in the Senate higher education appropriations committee. "I haven't seen the bill myself," he said, deflecting a response to how the bill was inserted and passed in committee at the last minute. That incident happened after months of angst between officials at USF-Tampa and state Senator J.D. Alexander regarding the idea.
Cl inquired about what the nature of Scott's upcoming address to CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) will be in Washington on Saturday, but frankly we regretted posing the question shortly after asking it. That's because the Governor simply went into a rote description of saying he would be talking about "what we're doing in Florida," repeating the mantra of his goal to reduce taxes and regulations to make the state ideal for businesses to flock here. "We're heading in the right direction, and that's what the country ought to be doing."
Former and current lawmakers dotted both on the dais and the audience, including former Governor Bob Martinez, current Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, all of the Cabinet members, and various Hillsborough County Commissioners and Tampa City Council members.